Tokyo Blond Is Not Porn

Tokyo Blond is not a porn blog, about hair or even, as one pithy friend remarked, a micro beer or late 1980s glam metal band ("Dude, I just saw Skid Row and Tokyo Blond opened and played a killer set").

The purpose of this blog is to chronicle my experiences in Tokyo - poignantly, visually, irreverently - for fun.

Anybody can tag along...that is if I like you. This blog will endeavor to be entertaining and honest and frequent enough to keep those following interested including me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not for all the tea in China but maybe for Prada

So the question everyone has is, “now what?” followed by, “are you going to go back to work.”  I am not prepared for either of these questions.  It wasn’t supposed to be like this.  The plan was to be in Japan for three years, minimum.  The plan was to finish my book, try to get it published and then figure out what to do then.

We can’t even go back to our house in Long Beach. It’s rented until 2013.

But now back in Los Angeles, at the Oakwood, the pressure is on but the answers are not.  Russell has several job opportunities, in spite of turning down two already.  His boss made good on his promise and offered him two jobs, one of them is in Beijing.  As in China.  China!

We went on a looksee trip.  I was there for three days.  After the second day, I was questioning why anyone would want to live there.  It was freezing cold, polluted and rude.  It wasn’t like Tokyo, at all.  I thought it would be.  I was wrong.

The people were rude.  They always seemed to be expectorating.  It was disgusting. 
The food was good, better than America, but not as good as Tokyo.

There was new building going on everywhere.  Because of this, everything was coated in a fine layer of dust.  The cars, the streets, and all the apartments I looked at.  I looked at a lot of apartments and some villas.  Like a target, Beijing is ringed by five concentric circles, or ring roads, that circle the city center.

According to Beijing law, dogs larger than 15 inches at the shoulder, Ranger is 18 inches, are not allowed within the 5th ring.  However, according to our real estate agent, this rule does not really apply to expats.  Huh?

Before flying to Beijing I’d spent a couple of hours online, scaring the shit out of myself, reading about dogs in China.  That is: reading about dog massacres and dogs on the menu.  It seems the Chinese government thinks dog owners are lazy.  Until China received a lot of bad press just before the Olympics, dogs were massacred en masse.  Um, yeah, this does not sound good.

But of course, everyone in China assured us, this was all just propaganda.  There are lots of large dogs in the city.  Uh huh.

A lot of expats live in villa compounds, which are gated communities, designed after familiar neighborhoods in the States.  It was surreal.  One neighborhood looked exactly like a community you would expect to find in North Jersey with bricked brownstone townhouses.  Another looked like an Orange County neighborhood with stucco houses and blond women pushing 1.5 kids in strollers, golden retriever in tow.  The one I liked best was called Beijing Riviera – a picturesque planned community of French country manors.  It was like living outside of Paris, without the croissants and well, the French.

The only problem is, all the villa compounds are located outside the city, a minimum of a one hour commute in.  A driver is required.  Driver?  Yes.  Apparently foreigners are not even allowed to apply for a driver’s license until they have lived in the country for one year.  And the driver’s test is so convoluted it’s almost impossible to pass.  A majority of the questions have nothing to do with driving, more to do with China communist axioms. We thought Japan was hard? But even if you could pass the test you wouldn’t want to drive in Beijing. 

Driving in Beijing is worse than driving in Manhattan. This is not an exaggeration. Traffic lanes are taken as a vague suggestion.  The shoulder and sidewalks are code for “fast lane.”  There are no rules.  Worse, over 90% of the drivers on the road are brand new.  A reported 1,500 new cars, that is new drivers, are added daily.  Daily.  There are already so many cars, a lottery has been established prohibiting drivers from being on the road one day a week.  Yep.

But besides the long commute, living in one of the villa compounds means I would be isolated from the best part of Beijing.  I know I said “best”.  The one good thing I found in my brief visit was the astounding growth of the city.   It reminded me of the internet boom.  Remember that?  The promise of instant IPO induced wealth, Crystal champagne flowing, flagrant, unapologetically conspicuous spending. And I thought this was a communist country?  What the hell?!!  This place is more capitalistic than 5th Avenue at Christmas.  That’s how it feels in Beijing.  There are shiny, state of the art shopping centers going up every where - dazzling buildings flashing with neon and multi-floor digital advertisements encouraging the populace to keep spending, keep shopping, keep imbibing.  I like to spend.  I like to shop. I definitely like to imbibe. Exciting.

Within the city center, skyscraper communities are created just for expats and given familiar, idyllic names like Palm Springs and Central Park.  They are cities onto themselves, with grocery stores, dry cleaners, beauty salons and the ubiquitous Starbucks on every corner.  My favorite is a brand new development called Xanadu.  Yes, Xanadu, like the frothy 1980’s movie starring Olivia Newton-John as a muse.  It’s all dark wood, chrome, and white leather furniture, sunken bathtubs and high-end stainless appliances.  This could work.  I could see us living there, at least on the ground floor.  While I would LOVE to live on the 25th floor looking over the sprawling city, I don’t think the residents would appreciate riding up multiple stress filled floors with Ranger – aka menace to society.

Speaking of dogs, we saw a lot of large dogs frequently, which was just slightly more reassuring.  Whenever we encountered an English probable dog owner, I asked them about relocating their dog.  The answers were all the same. Make sure to get your dog registered and whatever you do, DO NOT allow your dog to be put into quarantine. Dogs die there.  G-r-e-a-t.

On the third day Russell arranged for us to have drinks with one of his former associates who lives in Beijing.  He told me I could ask him anything.  “Anything?” I asked doubtfully, a glint in my eye.  “Anything,” he replied.  Ok, here goes.

My first question was, “Why would anyone want to live here?”  He laughed and replied with a question or was it a statement.  “You just came from Tokyo didn’t you?” 

“Yes, why?,” I replied suspiciously.  He said, “Everyone who comes to Beijing from Tokyo says that.  Everyone expects it to be like Tokyo.  It’s nothing like Tokyo.”  No shit, I thought.

“Think of it this way,” he suggested helpfully.  “Beijing is like Manhattan.”
Excellent explanation.  Beijing is absolutely analogous with New York. If someone had told me that before I came, it would have been exactly what I expected.  Beijing is exactly like New York, albeit before Mayor Giuiliani cleaned it up.  “Oh, now I get it,” realization dawning on me like a blush after a stolen kiss.

Hmmmm.  That perspective changes everything.

“Beijing Blond” does have a nice ring to it.  Hmmmm

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