Instant Gratification & Sh**tastic Food

Beijing is not a good place for a person with poor impulse control. To be exact, it is not a good place for a foreigner with said problem, as most students and people my age live with family and observe social morays like women not drinking much (if ever), and, you know, sharing their food. For spoiled laowai like myself, kind of like Vegas—where I lived before—it’s host to a wealth of conveniences that can kill a girl, or at least add weight and sloth to her frame. At least in Vegas, you had to get in your car and drive a half hour to reach the heart of “Sin City.” Still, I got in plenty of trouble.

Since I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to money, gambling was never my vice, but casino shopping malls laden with marble walkways and cheap yards to drink definitely were. More than once, I found myself listless at home in the evening, often so overwhelmed with work that good-ol’ escapism set in. I would find myself behind the wheel of my cute little fuel-efficient car, driving to one of the biggest symbols of excess in the world, where I would proceed to spend my hard-earned teacher dough on clothes. Clothes, you see, leave the casino shops with you.

I learned a secret way in to the back of Caesar’s Palace and the Bellagio from Google Maps (aw, Google*), and this cut out the ruinous delay on the actual Strip completely. One five-minute zip down Frank Sinatra Drive from the freeway, and you are in shopping heaven.

My old stomping ground.
My old stomping ground, courtesy of photographsofcalifornia.com, which doesn’t make sense, except that CA people always joke that Vegas is just a suburb of LA.

The Forum Shops are nice because they mix the high-end with realm of the affordable or at least “one-piece-at-a-time-isn’t-ludicrous” stores like Express, Gap, Lucky Jeans and Diesel. I favored the initial two and bought one gorgeous and egregious Coach purse from a namesake store in my tenure as Vegas Teacher/Night Shopper. I bought the purse as much for the lovely shade of pink and gray leather as for the incredible service of the girls there, who ooed and ahhed when I revealed I was a local teacher, no doubt seeing “Repeat Customer” emblazoned on my forehead. Trying on clothes for hour after hour undoubtedly made one thirsty, and the one “drink stand” at the end of the Shops that I favored was none other than the ubiquitous Fat Tuesday’s. These are at Caesar’s Palace in the Forum Shops, Mandalay Bay, Treasure Island (I think) and the MGM Grand (also accessible from a side road without actually driving onto the Strip), and let me tell you: nothing but love.

If you go to Vegas and you want to enjoy the infamous three-foot monstrosities known for their lovely, sugary and intoxicating effects, screw most of the vendors. Right by the biggest H&M in the world at the Forum Shops is an island that serves overpriced gelato and three-foot-drinks at twice the rates of this place. Similar scams are all over the Strip, but if you’ll just waddle your newly fat, gluttonous (for the time in Vegas, anyway—I know how it goes) ass to the other end of the building, you’ll find yourself with a stronger and cheaper drink worth the extra thousand feet of walking.

fattuesday21
Cheap liquor nirvana.

You’ll know where it is thanks to its placement by THE Worst Feature in Vegas, the Gaudy Fountain of Late-80s Amusement Park Shit/Some Kind of Warring Sea God & His Ugly Kiddos + Fire exhibit. I mean, this water show is horrific, abounding in terrible clichés, embarrassing animatronics, and the art of wasting the minutes of every person’s life who makes the poor choice to see it. A couple of years ago, they shut it down for awhile to retool it, and we all got excited (well, the locals who worked or shopped there. Most couldn’t care less). A few days within its reopening, I found myself at the Express right next to it, which also happens to be right next to my “secret way in” (and the way I avoid the long trek from the parking lot through the casino and the maze of slot machines before reaching the Shops).

Since I had just bought my usual refreshment from Fat Tuesday’s—a $7 14-ouncer (after all, I had to drive home eventually, but hey! The plastic cup was reusable, kind of like those Pizza Hut mugs from the early ’90s), I settled in to see the new show…and almost snorted the sweet stuff up through my nose. It was horrible, and yes, I have pictures. The fact remains that I enjoyed the monstrosity while imbibing a fairly cheap, large drink, which (regardless of the dehydrating alcohol within) never failed to give me that last sprig of energy I needed to double back to Gap before sneaking out the hidden entrance to reality.

Just say NO to animatronics, Caesar's.caesarp
Just say NO to animatronics, Caesar’s.

Vegas also majored in great happy hours, easy ways to meet interesting foreigners also known as people from the southeast (just kidding. Mostly), skilled shows, and incredible food from all over the world.

Like my life here in China, it had conveniences designed to ruin your waistline, and also your credit: 24-hour grocery stores, late-night salons, and my favorite, the all-you-can-eat sushi joint. Sooo good. To this day, what I miss most from my six years in Sin City is Inaka Sushi on Eastern Ave in Henderson, Nevada. If you ever visit, rent a car or grab a confused cab driver and ask him to go there. The Inaka Roll is the closest I have ever had to an orgasm in my mouth in my life.

Ahem.

I haven’t even discussed the handful of times I maneuvered into VIP status for just enough crazy stories to fill a book—but I’m sure I’ll get there later.

Here in Beijing, different awesome things abound, but are still enough to stir up trouble. After the migraine from yesterday, I didn’t want to leave the house, so I just pulled up http://www.jinshisong.com. Within minutes, I had my favorite dishes from a local vegan place en route, with less than a $5 delivery fee. If I had wanted to go there in person, I could have taken a cab ride for about the same price, or even better, the subway for about fifty cents. While that would have taken more physical chutzpah than my ravaged mind allowed, it has made getting around the city quite easy.

Not content to be satisfied with the pasta, hummus, warm pita bread and pumpkin soup on its way, I got greedy and ordered a bottle of red wine from my FAVORITE PLACE IN THE WORLD, TRB-wine.com. This place is so dangerous for lovers of instant gratification that I cannot overstate it, because it not only delivers same day if you order by 9 PM, but doesn’t even charge a delivery fee! That’s right—I got a nice bottle of Cotes du Rhones (or something like that) for about ten bucks, delivered for free, within two hours of posting the request on their site.

IMG_0435
Comes wrapped in tissue paper, ’cause that’s classy.

I’m in heaven, and in a Puritan’s version of hell.

Finally, to seal the deal on the relative and ridiculous awesomeness of my current home, I panicked a little because I didn’t have enough cash on hand to pay the wine guy. I had thought I would have enough time to run downstairs to the ATM on the other side of my building, but he got here so damn fast that I didn’t. No worries! The mother-f****er had a debit card machine that he whipped out the second I said, in my incredibly broken Chinese, “Wo meiyou henduo qian!” (Literally, “I don’t have a lot of money,” because I didn’t know the word for “enough,” yet he understood). I was saved a run downstairs in my glasses and ugly sick-self clothes, and though I know better than to touch a bottle of wine with a migraine, I now have it safely tucked away in my home for later. Because I can.

Fancy.
Fancy.

The saving grace is that they don’t do credit cards or even debit cards in most places here (my awesome wine vendor excepted), except in some of the shops that cater to foreigners. If you live here, you’d be an idiot to use a foreign card, because you’ve most likely spent a decent wad of cash just to convert and transfer dollars home, and the last thing you want to do is use the money here, defeating the whole purpose of the transfer.

While that doesn’t save me from splurging with my American bank accounts on Kindle purchases, I generally feel like money spent on books is okay. If I’m growing, I have a deep satisfaction that I don’t often regret. Having to budget how much to transfer helps to keep me on top of bills, too, since it’s such a hassle that you want to get it right the first time. Most of the time, I eat free lunch at school and pick up dinner on the way home, but when I crave certain Western foods, it’s great to live in a place that can deliver. When I want to be both a literal glutton and a glutton for punishment, I can call up Pizza Hut for delivery, too, but what I really like is picking up fruit and vegetables on the way home.

potbr
Purple potato bread? Not so great.
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Mini bananas? Awesome.

While I admire the veggies from afar more than I usually purchase them, it’s hard not to marvel at the gorgeous, shiny purple of the latest eggplant, or at the nice plump shapes of the squash that’s come available. I have gotten a ridiculous thrill this year from seeing which fruits are in season: Ooh! Mango and papaya this month! And later… strawberries and blueberries! Then, dragonfruit! And whatever the hell that funky-lookin’ lotus shaped thing is!

It’s been a tasty ride, and something that is not as convenient in the U.S., where you actually have to get in your car and drive to cold places to buy fruits and vegetables. For me, they’re literally laying at my feet as I walk home—and at dirt-cheap prices, too. Stuff like under two bucks for a few papayas or a couple pounds of tiny bananas or eight mini mangos. It’s ridiculous and tasty.

Outside: scary.  Inside: yummy.
Outside: scary, and vaguely fish-like. Inside: yummy.

I’ve gained and lost weight depending on how much I took the subway, ordered chicken and rice from the super-cheap local place, and drank (both alone or out socially), but it’s been worth it. I have loved getting to know both the local cuisine (even ate dog once!) and the amenities that have cropped up since the Olympics were here in ’08. From Vegas to Beijing, it might not always be the healthiest, but living in cities of such great convenience is always fun. And I feel incredibly lucky to enjoy it.

*Google Maps are much harder to use in China, since Google is all petulant about not allowing censorship and stuff.

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