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After nine and a half years of committed, monogamous bliss and servitude, guess who finally got hitched? After eight years of living abroad, guess who finally took care of some loose ends on a recent trip back to New York and finally got married? That’s right. Me. Us. We. Just don’t call it gay marriage.

My partner and I have been married in our minds for years now. He has had to endure my near breakdown when we were living in Tokyo. I’ve had to endure the way he eats his cereal. He has had to endure my strict adherence to time and obsessive compulsive nature. I’ve had to endure his being late for everything and sloppiness. This is marriage. And there is nothing gay about it–except the couple.

You see, I’ve come to really dislike the term gay marriage. Hate is too strong a word here. For example, I hate Rush Limbaugh, the Ace of Base and reality TV shows (don’t get me started on Toddlers and Tiaras) but I dislike the term gay marriage. Do we say straight marriage? No. It’s marriage.

Adding gay in front of marriage, simply and unfairly classifies it as something other than a traditional marriage. I’m typing this on the sofa, half watching the Metropolitan Opera’s production of La Traviata on cable. I’m sick but I still managed to get my ass out of bed to make it to the supermarket and the dry cleaner. I’ll have dinner on the table when my partner gets back from work. Tea lights will be lit. Jazz will be playing. Wine will be opened. If there is anything gay about this marriage, it’s that every night is like this. I make coming home a production, a low-key production of a relaxing evening at home. Hell, if I made the bacon and he played pampered expat housewife, you’d better believe I’d expect nothing less of him.

I told my partner that I wanted to wait until New York state legalized marriage equality. Growing up in South Texas, I always knew I wanted to leave my home state and move to the big city. New York City has meant a lot to me. It was the first place I ever really felt at home–and I moved there when I was 24. Screw Vermont and Connecticut, I was going to get married in New York.

The recent presidential election, however, sped the process along in a big way. My partner has been following Nate Silver for months now so I knew Obama was ahead in the key swing states. But still, I was worried. What if Mittens pulled it off? What if an amendment to the constitution was passed denying me of my legal right to marry my partner? What if we had had all this time to close the deal in New York state and blew it. Our relationship would not be valid in the eyes of the law. We wouldn’t even be in a legal gray area, married in one state, overruled by our government. And so on my partner’s recent business trip back to New York, I followed as I often do, but with a goal in mind.

The day of the ceremony, one of our best friends (and our witness) arrived with boutonnieres and a camera. As always, she went above and beyond what was expected of her. I wanted her signature and a pair of eyes, she brought a mini party. My partner, as always, was constantly checking his Blackberry. He had arranged a meeting with colleagues after the ceremony. This annoyed me and I made a joke of it but I got it. We were already married in our head. This was just a formality. Years from now, we could laugh that he went to a meeting directly after our wedding ceremony.

When the city clerk who would marry us called us into the east chapel, I smiled. When she had us stand before the podium, I giggled. When she had us face one another, I thought I’d break out laughing. It was all so formal, this ceremony. I get church giggles so anything formal or ceremonial always puts me over the edge. But then something happened. My eyes started to tear. Here, in front of me, was the man I was about to commit to, officially, for the rest of my life. I recently turned 40. If I’m lucky, I’ll have another 40 years, and with this man in front of me. I said I do. He said I do. We kissed. He ditched the meeting and the three of us took a cab to the Algonquin Hotel for a drink. He even got us a last minute reservation at one of our favorite New York restaurants, Union Square Cafe.

We surprised most everyone on facebook when we posted a picture of us in front of the podium. We kept our plans under wraps, surprising both family and friends. I’ve never received so many warm electronic messages. People cheered us from Switzerland to India, Japan to the UK. People wrote that they had teared up, been caught off guard, completely surprised. Pictures of champagne glasses in our honor appeared. I received an email from his mom welcoming me to the family. But wasn’t I already family? Weren’t we already married? No. We weren’t.

So that’s what marriage is all about in the end. Maybe you know you are married in your mind. Maybe you don’t care for the government to acknowledge your relationship, certify it, validate it. Maybe on principal you think it’s wrong for the state to get involved in what is very much a highly intimate and personal relationship between two people. And maybe you’re right. I just know that after I said “I do” I’ve had a newfound appreciation for our union. It’s official. We’re official. Our friends and family, strangers, see it as official. Hell, it’s a political act for some people. But for me, it’s time to start dinner.

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A few weeks ago my partner asked me what my favorite non resort hotel was. “Easy,” I said, “The Metropole in Hanoi. That was like staying in a museum.” Incidentally, resort hotel would be The St. Regis in Bali. That place was heaven on earth. When my partner reminded me that it had been exactly a year since Vietnam, we began reminiscing about all the places we’d been to in the past year: New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Sydney, London, Singapore, The Philippines and of course Macau. “Hey!” I said. “We’re jet set.”

We laughed and then I said, “Oh my God, we are.”

I’m very lucky to have found a great guy who has a good job that requires him to live and travel internationally. First it was Tokyo, now Hong Kong and soon it will be London. But having that luck and ability to travel isn’t everything. You’ve got to make it work for you.

First, join an airline loyalty program. We’re on American Airlines which is part of the One World Alliance. This includes Japan Airlines, Cathay and British Airways, very convenient airlines for us. You have to choose the program that is right for you, where you live and where you want to travel. And it doesn’t have to be an airline that uses your airport as a hub. Check out an airline’s website, see if it flies or easily connects to the destinations you’d like to visit.

We chose American simply because they had this deal whereby you could fly to Europe for free provided you flew twice to either California or Florida from New York. This was not long after the terrible tragedy of 9/11. The airline industry was still reeling and making very attractive offers to join in order to boost sales. My partner and I signed up for the American Advantage program and booked a trip to San Diego. He later had to go to Florida to see family so I decided to a fly to San Francisco for the night. I literally arrived in San Francisco, went to a cabaret show, had a very late dinner and then hopped into a cab back to the airport. Done. Free ticket to Europe.

After moving to Tokyo, we continued to stay loyal to American and One World. One day at Kennedy airport loyalty paid off. I was told by the American agent that I had reached Gold status which meant that I could go through the much shorter security line and would be accumulating 500 mile upgrades thereafter.  Soon, I reached Platinum status and was enjoying Admiral’s Club access, partner airline lounge access too. Now I use my upgrades domestically to travel first class and my miles internationally to travel business class. I get to have a glass of bubbly before the flight and sleep horizontally over oceans.

My partner is now Executive Platinum at American–the bastard. This means they actually smile when they kiss his ass. I joke but I am a bit jealous. His tier means a lot of perks for me too as his traveling companion. Four free international upgrades. The bonuses, like gravy.

Second, join a hotel loyalty program. Again, choose a program that is right for you and where you want to travel. I suggest doing some online research. For example, the Hyatt brand does not have many beach resorts or properties in Europe or Asia but it does have some key city hotels and even a few marque properties–the Park Hyatt in Tokyo is simply amazing.

My partner and I decided we would join the Starwood program. Starwood hotels include W, The Westin, Sheraton and the St. Regis. We chose the program because it was easy to use accumulated points towards free stays. There are few restrictions or blackout dates. And given the names of the hotels in their portfolio, you can always count on finding a Starwood property on a beach or in a city. And they have a number of hotels and resorts in Asia too.

Now I know the Sheraton isn’t anyone’s idea of living the high life, but I must say the Westin does a good job. Their “heavenly bed” is well, heavenly. And the perks you get for keeping your gold level status mean you get free room upgrades, late check out and lounge access. W hotels are great if you are in your 20s, early 30s or are desperately trying to be hip in your 40s and 50s. That  ship has sailed for me. I prefer the St. Regis. Classy, elegant and sophisticated, the St. Regis does it right. It’s on par with a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton. The more expensive the property, the more points you accumulate. The more points you accumulate, the more nights you have free. We paid quite a bit for our four wonderful nights at the St. Regis Bali but then used the accumulated points towards a free weekend getaway at the Westin Macau–our preferred non casino hotel. Peaceful, with views of the South China Sea and within walking distance to Fernando’s restaurant, the Westin Macau is the perfect weekend retreat from hectic Hong Kong.

While I suggest being as loyal as possible when flying, I recommend being a whore when staying. If you are not staying at a hotel in your program, join that hotel’s rewards group too. You’d be surprised the number of incentives they give you. Of course, only join if it’s a hotel brand that you could see yourself staying at in the future. In addition to the Starwood program, we are members of the Shangri-la and Hyatt programs. Shangri-la because we currently live in Asia and they have many properties here. Hyatt because our preferred hotel when we’re back in New York is the Grand Hyatt or the Andaz. Incidentally, the Andaz is a great, fairly new Hyatt launch. We were upgraded to a swanky suite in September. We had a group of friends over for drinks to share the space. It was a perfect night.

Third, get the right credit card. I know some people like to bray, “Oh, and I have no annual fee!” I say, “Yeah, then you have the wrong card.”

Get an airline or hotel credit card that compliments your airline or hotel program of choice. These are mostly free and your charges translate into points. I have a credit card linked to my American Advantage account. The points ad up quickly and it’s very straight forward. No questionable moves on the part of either the bank or the airline.

American Express is one of my best friends. You pay for it, but it pays you back. I have a platinum card. Do I have to pay $450 a year for the privilege? Yes. Do I get free travel, concierge, insurance, premium access to special events, lounges, etc? Yes. It is amazing the number of perks AMEX gives you.

First, you get a $200 credit in airline incidental charges. And we all know the airlines love to charge for their incidentals. Second, you get access to the airline lounge corresponding to the airline you are flying, even if you are traveling coach. Third, you get access to the AMEX travel website. If you book your hotel through them at one of their “fine hotels and resorts”, you get free upgrades, breakfast, dinner, lounge access, late check out, hotel credits (usually totaling $100) and sometimes a free massage. You even get free nights. For example, a hotel might be running an exclusive AMEX special whereby you stay three nights and get the fourth free. We’ve taken advantage of that perk many times.

The hotels listed in the American Express “fine hotels and resorts” are choice hotels in choice markets–Four Seasons, St. Regis, Mandarin, Peninsula, St. Regis. When the weather is cool, our preferred Macau hotel is the newish Mandarin near the historic center. We stay three nights, pay two. In St. Regis Bali, we stayed four, paid three. In the Four Seasons Mexico City, stayed seven, paid five. In Tokyo…

AMEX pays for itself. And no, I’m not an employee of American Express.

Lastly, check the internet for hotel deals. The Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and Ritz Carlton often run their own stay four, pay three schemes on their respective websites. Some hotels like the Four Seasons and The Peninsula are not owned by a larger, more accessible brand (Marriott owns Ritz Carlton, Hilton owns Conrad, Sheraton owns St. Regis). For these hotels in particular, it’s best to check their websites for deals. Why pay full price for five nights at a Marriott when you can pay four and stay five at a Mandarin?

I rarely travel coach, rarely stay at average hotels and have cashed in points for free international biz class tickets and luxe hotel rooms. I’m not special and my last name is not Warbucks. I just know how to work it. It upsets me when friends and family don’t pick an airline or hotel awards program. You are literally throwing money away if you don’t. Hell, I recently flew round trip biz class on Cathay from Hong Kong to New York for free. Free.

And remember, always have the glass of champagne they offer you on the plane before departure. If things go boom in the sky, you don’t want your last thought to be, “I should have had that glass of champagne.”

I love Macau. Everyone who knows me knows this. An hour ferry ride away from Hong Kong, I can literally wake up in the morning, go about my day, decide that I want to have lunch in Macau, grab my passport, and in less than two hours, I’m seated in the lovely dining hall of the colonial gem that is Club Militar, glass of red wine in hand, delicious Serra cheese on the table.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in China. Inspired by trade, they set up shop on what is now the peninsula of Macau and began a long and often combative relationship with their landlord. If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend A Macau Narrative by Austin Coates. Reads like a real life version of One Hundred Years of Solitude. A comedy of errors really. But what a comedy!

I go to Macau about once every six weeks. Sometimes I go alone, occasionally with friends, always with visiting friends, but mostly I go with my partner. In the beginning, he was happy to go along. Then it became, “We always go to Macau. I want to spend weekends visiting other places in Asia. Why do we always have to Macau?”

I ignored him of course.

Obviously, we spend a few days or longer at other Asian destinations. But we always go back to Macau. Go back for the relative calm of its cobblestone streets, its centuries old churches, its ancient Buddhist temples, its grand colonial buildings, its glitzy casinos, and its secluded beaches. But mostly, we go back for the food.

The Portuguese had to sail around Africa, India and Southeast Asia to make it to Macau. That’s a lot of spice they brought with them. Mix that in with Chinese cuisine and you get one exotic wallop. Macanese cuisine is fusion cuisine, and was so long before “fusion cuisine” was made hip by modern chefs. African chicken, coconut curry crab, clams bathed in garlic and cumin, cod so soft it slides off the fork, slow-roasted pork. And that’s just what I can’t eat.

As a vegetarian, people often think that I miss out on all the fun. Sometimes they’re right. Not in Macau. Just typing the words “Portuguese cheese” makes my stomach growl. Egg tarts, flan, egg custard, samosas, butter rice, steamed veggies in garlic broth and herbs, and this amazing bread that is a bit more doughy than a traditional baguette and even more delicious.

At A Petisqueria, our favorite restaurant in Macau, they even have this rich and oh so spicy red chili sauce you can use to drip on your meals. I drip it on my bread and cheese, snap into a fetal position and melt onto the floor. And don’t let me get started on Macau tomatoes. I know what you’re thinking, but trust me. Especially at Fernando’s in Coloane near the beach, the tomatoes are amazing.

If you’re a lush like me, you’ll enjoy “learning” about and “discovering” all the wonders of Portuguese wine. The ports too. In fact, there is a wine museum–one of the many museums in Macau. We went there last weekend. A drunken Filipino poured my tasting selection. He asked me where I was from. And when I said I was American but that I lived in Hong Kong, he said, “No, like you know: Chinese, Indian, Portuguese…”

And that’s one of the things I also like about Macau, there is a lot of blending in its people. Sure, it’s mostly Chinese. And there is a small, active and very proud Portuguese community. But there are many Eurasians. How could there not be after over 400 years of Portuguese rule? As a Mexican with Spanish, indigenous (Aztec/Mayan) and German blood, I look like I could be from a number of different places. I get some mix of Chinese, Italian, Filipino, Middle-Eastern all the time. You should see how much fun I have at airports back in the US! In Macau, I fit right in.

Then, there is the main reason people visit Macau. Gambling. I’m not a big gambler but I do like to play roulette now and then. My partner prefers blackjack. We cap off most nights in the city with a visit to one of the many casinos, The Wynn being our favorite. I usually watch my partner gamble while I keep the vodka coming. Chinese gamblers don’t like to drink alcohol when they play, only coffee or tea. So you have to flag down a waitress to special order a drink.

Lastly, there are the hotels and resorts. Most big name casinos operate their own hotels, but there are a number of hotels, both big and small, that are not in the gaming business. We tend to stay at those establishments. As I said, I’m not a big gambler, so it’s not important for me to have a casino downstairs (nearby, but not downstairs). I prefer a morning at the gym and a noon spa treatment followed by an afternoon margarita by the pool. Lately, we’ve been staying at both the newish Mandarin Oriental and its sister property, the old Mandarin Oriental, now called The Grand Lapa. Neither one runs a casino, but there is one a short walk away. The MGM and The Wynn for the Mandarin Oriental, The Sands for the Grand Lapa.

I’m always a bit sad when I step on to the ferry that will take me back to Hong Kong. Don’t get me wrong, I like Hong Kong. I just love Macau.

Be careful what you wish for.

After a lot of nagging on my part, my partner finally agreed that we should vacation in a country that doesn’t have elephants, demilitarized zones or soy sauce. I took the opportunity to insist that we visit a place that has kidnappers, drug violence and taco sauce. Mexico City.

You see, after nearly seven years in Asia, I was growing tired of visiting only Asian countries. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve loved exploring this part of the world. I list Hanoi, Macau and Kuala Lumpur among my favorite finds–love places with mixed cultures. But my partner’s rational that we visit as many places in the region while we’re still here broke down after he told me we’d likely be here two more years.

Me: Are you fucking kidding me? Two more fucking years of being away from my family and friends? Two more fucking years of not being able to run along the Hudson, brunch with my best friends, visit MOMA and up the number of Julianne Moore sightings?

OK, I didn’t say that. I wanted to, but didn’t say that. I’m a stand by your man kind of man. Instead I went for a run, asked my doctor for Xanax and scheduled a spa day at the Four Seasons. Hong Kong is a great place to live when you have a lot of time on your hands.

So I got my mind around it and said to my partner, “OK then, I want to go to Mexico City for my birthday. The world is a small place. You said so yourself. Besides, I’m freakin’ Mexican and you’ve never even been to Mexico or stepped foot in Latin America for that matter. What’s up with that!? I haven’t been there in nearly nine years and I want to show it to you. You’re gonna love it! Mexico City is awesome!”

“OK, let’s do it!” he said.

As soon as I hugged him, my heart sank. I thought, Fuuuuuuuuuccckkk. Now the pressure is really on to not only show him a good time but avoid getting us mugged, robbed, kidnapped or killed. It’s Mexico after all. I know my people. We’re all tequila and sunshine until we’re not. And then we’re all torture and attitude.

A lot of people think Mexico City is just some massive, polluted monstrosity where danger lurks on every corner of its smog-choked streets. And it is! Kidding. Mexico City (or DF as it’s most commonly known for Federal District) is one of the world’s most fascinating cities. It has colonial era churches, haciendas and public buildings, ancient pyramids, archeological excavations, Art deco and Art Nouveau treasures, the largest cathedral in the New World, Diego Rivera murals and one of the largest public squares on the planet. And that’s just in the historic downtown. My poor partner. That first day, he’s going to be doing a lot of walking.

My parents moved to Mexico City shortly after I went away to college. They were there just shy of four years and so I’d visit a lot during my breaks. I even lived there one summer. Back then, in the early 90’s, Mexico City was a lot more polluted and even more dangerous than today.

Now, much of the drug violence happening in the country occurs along the US/Mexico border. I grew up in Texas less than ten miles from said border. I remember when you could cross with family or friends for some dinner or dancing. No more. It’s too dangerous.

While northern Mexico has devolved into a hell on earth, Mexico City has evolved into a very cosmopolitan place. Award-winning restaurants experimenting with Pre-Columbian recipes, a boatload of new furniture design shops, and a number of boutique hotels have sprung up in the past decade. Even neighborhoods that were once no goes have become gentrified hotspots. The city is turning into a Wallpaper Magazine’s wet dream.

But you’d never know this if you watch the news. Nine severed heads found in a large duffle bag (I wonder which brand?), the mutilated corpse of a young woman found “posing” in the woods, Swine Flu. It’s no wonder most tourists stick to the Pacific and Caribbean beach resorts.

And so my partner’s mom is screaming that we’re crazy for wanting to holiday in a hellhole. My mom is starting to light candles and say prayers in advance. Even when I announced our vacation plans on facebook, friends didn’t comment “Have fun” or “I want to go with you!” but “Be careful!” and “Don’t go out at night.”

But we will go out at night. Every night. I’ve already made the dinner reservations. But just to be safe, we’re hiring a hotel car and driver each night. It is Mexico after all.

When my partner and I first moved to Sai Ying Pun ten months ago, I thought I’d miss our old neighborhood. We had lived on Star Street in Wanchai for over two years. There, funky furniture shops mixed with art galleries and trendy restaurants. The quiet of the street broken only by the occasional toddler or drunk. But when Tyler Brulee decided to put his Monocle shop near our building, we knew it was time to leave. That and I was becoming increasingly convinced that I was going to kill our landlady and serve her to stray cats.

Now that we live in Sai Ying Pun, we rarely visit our old neighborhood. Even our favorite restaurant in the area, Cine Citta, has moved out. Now, when I step out of my apartment building, I’m no longer greeted by French bankers and cigarette smoke but by pig entrails and fresh tofu. I figure I traded the frog for the pig. That’s fair.

On a typical Monday summer morning, I leave our flat with a bag of dirty laundry and a canvas grocery bag. The doormen smile as they open the door. I say “good morning” and “thank you” because I’m not an asshole–like some of my neighbors. Out on the sidewalk, I see elderly locals buying fresh (bloody) pork, Filipina nannies taking their “kids” to school, men in tank tops lifting bags of rice onto flatbed trollies, and I smile.

Sai Ying Pun makes Star Street look like Walla Walla, Washington by comparison. I love the energy, the commotion, the pulse of my new neighborhood. Middle-age daredevils with canes and walkers dash across oncoming traffic. Mangoes and bananas are sold by the kilo to passersby. Dark puddles of water mixed with the grime and chaos of Hong Kong pool in potholes and near sidewalks. I dart across the street with a ragtag group of locals and we barely miss getting hit by a taxi, the morning sun set to broil.

By the time I reach my dry cleaners, my brow is already starting to sweat. I say hello and dump off whatever I have to be laundered or cleaned with the nice, elderly couple who run the shop. Their Scottish Terrier comes out to say hello. I pet his rump to get his hind leg shaking. This dog is so cute I want to knock out the nice, elderly couple with a karate chop and run back home with their pride and joy.

I walk up the steep slope of the hill and pop into Pacific Coffee for my ice soya latte and to read the morning paper. The woman working the counter knows my order, so I just show up with my face aglow with sweat, 32 Hong Kong dollars in hand. Afterwards I head to the ATM machine and later the International supermarket near Hong Kong University. Tofu, tortillas and tampons and I’m good to go. OK, not the tampons.

Making my way down the hill, I stop into the local bakery to pick up some wheat bread. I like that it’s not a chain and so I forgive the middle-age prig behind the counter who needs to get laid worse than Sarah Palin needs to get a clue. Further down the hill, I pick up my flowers, usually orchids and maybe some hydrangeas or Calla lilies if they look good. Further down still, my banana lady smiles as she brings down the bananas I’ve chosen. She displays them on these hooks, like they’ve been bad or something. Maybe she’s seen Texas Chainsaw Massacre too many times.

Finally, I make my way to the large market across the street from my building, but only to the produce section on the first floor. The stuff upstairs make the pig parts on my street look like child’s play. Come to think of it, my banana lady must go up there to get ideas on how to display her bananas. I even took my carnivore partner up there once just for shits and kicks. He saw a barrel of frogs staring up at him, freaked out and wanted to leave. Sissy.

I like to get my peppers and tomatoes from this little person who runs a stall smack dab in the middle of all the chaos. I figure she has to work extra hard to keep up with her competitors. It’s not easy when you sometimes can’t reach what you’re trying to sell. She’s a real trooper–got good produce too.

By the time I make it back to my building, I’m drenched in sweat, carrying a heavy canvas bag, flowers, and whatever wouldn’t fit inside said bag. The doorman smiles as he opens the door. I smile back and make my way up to my air-conditioned apartment, views of the harbor greet me as I open the door. I’m home.

In an era of manufactured bimbos, reality TV stars and prepubescent Canadians with lesbian hairdos, Amy Winehouse was the real deal. While the plastics paraded around in their sequence and stilettos, Winehouse flicked her cigarette at a bottle of gin and said, “Fuck it.”

Undeniably talented, she had more musicality than Britney’s muffin top, more bravado than Christina’s fake eyelashes and more artistry than Justin’s bangs.

I remember when she first burst onto the scene. As a lover of jazz, I was happy to see a young performer breathe some new life into those classic tunes, especially some of the more obscure ones.

Back then, I saw some of her earlier performances on youtube. She just stood there on stage, smiled and then effortlessly belted out a tune like it was no big deal, as if she were doing some silly card trick she learned as a child. Made me wonder if she realized the enormity of her talent. “Who IS that girl?” I thought.

Later, when she dipped into booze, bad boys and drugs, I quietly rooted her on. I was happy that there was someone real out there, someone unwilling to settle for the mundane. Winehouse was willing to embrace her demons, nurture them. I envied her fearlessness, her ability to explore that self-destructive side we mostly choose to deny.

On the day she died, I held up my glass of wine at dinner and said, “To Amy Winehouse.”

My partner thought it was an odd way to celebrate her, but I told him I thought it was perfect. I tried to explain why but failed miserably. I said that I know we’ll marry one day but that part of me (a small part) hates the idea of marriage because it’s so traditional. Ever since I was a kid, I questioned everything. I saw the hypocrisy in my Episcopalian elementary school, the discord in my parents’ marriage, the phoniness of my neighbors, and I thought, “Why? Why is this normal and acceptable?”

I wanted something real, something on the edge, something different from the norm. And after a spectacular start, somewhere along the way, I retreated. Now, scared of cable cars, clowns and the dark, I shop for produce, arrange the flowers, cook dinner and wait for my man to get home. I live life safely, securely, far away from deep water and my own balcony. But not Amy. Fearless in her disregard of societal norms, she straightened her beehive, took a swig from her flask and flicked her cigarette.

Yesterday, I finally had lunch at that well-known vegan restaurant, Loving Hut. With outposts the world over, I was expecting something grand, something earthy, something crunchy cool, something that would feed that inner holier-than-thou mindset we vegetarians secretly nurture but deny publicly.

Instead I was greeted by silence. No one came to help me. So I walked around the restaurant looking for a table where I could spread out, a Sogo bag filled with brand new bath towels needing a chair of their own.

After several minutes, a mentally imbalanced middle-age woman in a Loving Hut uniform came storming out to help me. At first, I loved her unbridled enthusiasm. “We vegetarians,” I thought, “a wacky bunch.”

But I quickly realized that this woman needed to be medicated. She wildly pointed at things on the colorful wall menu near the cash register repeating things like “so good”, “very good” and “all good”. The pictures of the food looked “all bad” to me but I took one of her suggestions and ordered this tofu/noodle/curry concoction with mock meat. I hate mock meat but it’s all the rage in Hong Kong vegetarian restaurants.

When I finally went to the counter to pick up my order, I realized that those pictures had been doctored. The food looked worse in real life. Mock meat turds floating in a veggie, shit-colored broth, stringy noodles clumped in a corner. Yum!

I sat down to eat and briefly thought of skipping out. I had already paid so it would be easy to make for the door. But then I thought of that poor mentally imbalanced woman. Would she take it personally? Would she start to dislike all gweilo after I walked out on her food? Would she reconsider her own vegetarianism?

My food was bland–ugly and bland. So I decided not to read my book and instead focus on eating just enough so as not to be rude. Silly, I know. In a regular establishment I would I have walked out. Here, I felt a certain kinship.

Mentally Imbalanced must have thought I was bored so she came over and gave me some vegan pamphlets and flyers with pictures of smiling piglets and a creepy looking Asian woman with dyed blonde hair and a crooked face.

Mentally Imbalanced said, “Be vegetarian, so good, so bad our planet environment meat, the ice melting, so bad, look Japan, so sad.”

I looked up at the television and saw more propaganda. That crooked face, Asian dye job was speaking in a monotone, her words translated into ten different languages after each announcement. I’m guessing she’s some type of local guru, a sage with an ax to grind.

My eyes wandered over to the wall of “Vegan and Vegetarian Elite”. A black-and-white picture of Albert Einstein next to glossies of Paul McCartney and Anne Hathaway. There, a sliver of confirmation. I’m in good company.

But then my eyes made their way across the wall. For every Natalie Portman, there was an Ashley Judd. For every Paul McCartney, a Joaquin Phoenix. For every cool celeb, a weird one.

My eyes wandered again, this time to my fellow vegetarians. A hunched over, prematurely graying woman with a growth above the part in her hair huddled over her pumpkin soup. An elderly man dressed like a Native American stood in line to use the restroom. The man who ran the cash register staring out the window blankly, a big smile on his face, his eyes shining. These are my people? The crazies of the world?

I feel more at home in steakhouses. A lot of vegetarians don’t understand that nice steakhouses not only have an amazing selection of salads and sides, they know how to make a mean martini. And you always feel so wonderful sinking into those comfy booths, surrounded by wood paneling, and the hum of conversation peppered with occasional laughter.

Vegetarian restaurants? They often look like they were designed by blind sadists from former Eastern Bloc countries. Utilitarian and unloved, these interiors remind me of that creepy surgery scene in Jacob’s Ladder. Even my favorite vegetarian restaurant in town, Life Cafe, could use some help. Those wooden chairs will give your ass splinters.

And who says just because you choose not to eat meat you have to abstain from alcohol? How about serving at least some beer? Hell, make it some hippy, organic mirco-brew. I could get into that.

Sanctimonious vegetarians annoy me. Creepy ones scare me, make me reconsider my choice. I’ve been a vegetarian and occasional vegan for eight years now, and plan to be veg my entire life. I just wish there were a green restaurant that resembled a swank steakhouse. Is that asking too much?

My partner and I recently visited Vietnam for the first time. We chose Hanoi over Ho Chi Minh because of its history, colonial architecture and blend of East and West. I’m a sucker for blended cultures.

I booked a room in the historic wing of the Sofitel Metropole Legend in the heart of Hanoi’s French Quarter. Our first room faced a roof, literally. Absolutely no view. Now I don’t know about you, but I like to get what I paid for. And I didn’t pay extra to stare at tile. My partner said, “I’m going to lie down, you do what you want.”

This being my first time in a rather die-hard communist country, I was antsy and in a Dora the Explorer mood. I grabbed the camera and made my way downstairs taking pictures of the gorgeous hallways, tapestries, furniture and fixtures on the way down. When I got to the front desk to complain, I did so politely. I’m a firm believer in being friendly first. It usually works. When it doesn’t, I go into vengeful Mexican bitch mode. This always works.

Yuku was so helpful, she actually escorted me to the new room first to make sure I liked it. It was a bit smaller but had two big windows that opened onto the top of a tree and overlooked the street below, a colonial building in front. She offered to have the porter transfer my bag but I declined. I went back to my original room to wake Sleeping Ugly. My God, the road to hell really is paved with good intentions.

“I was napping! Why the hell did you change our room? It’s going to be noisy looking over the street. I didn’t come to Hanoi to be woken up by traffic. That’s why we left Hong Kong!”

Two hours later, my partner was praising our new room and it’s view. Not once did I get a thank you or an apology. I’m used to this but still. Pisses me off.

But I digress.

We met some Hanoi based friends for a drink downstairs at the Bamboo Bar overlooking the pool. It was a cool evening, the candles flickered in the breeze as we talked about Hanoi, Hong Kong and the US. Eventually we made our way to Club De L’Oriental, a beautiful restaurant in a restored French villa, where we dined on fresh Vietnamese food. Lots of vegetarian options by the way, very thankful for that.

The next day, we walked to Hoan Kiem Lake. I was lucky enough to see the revered giant turtle stick his head up above the water. This is supposed to bring you good luck. Here’s to hoping.

We continued on to the Hanoi Cathedral, a dreary but beautiful cousin of Notre Dame in Paris. It was Sunday and the service was in Vietnamese. I said a little prayer and took a photo on my way out. I don’t like taking photos of people praying. I think it’s disrespectful and rude but I just had to get a shot of that alter.

Along the way, I kept snapping photos of colonial era buildings with modern day Vietnam literally growing up around, on top of and below them. Again, I love the blending of cultures. And why not? I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Spanish and Germans screwing Aztecs and Mayans.

In the Old Quarter, I haggled for a table runner/bed runner. Very colorful and hand stitched. My partner can’t haggle to save his life so he waited outside.

We visited a couple of art galleries, entered into some narrow alleyways and wandered into a Buddhist temple serving vegetarian food, and another with elderly women chanting, the incense rising up to the trees and ornate roofs. Everywhere, a little quiet amid the chaos. A courtyard here, a coffee shop there.

In Hanoi, you are either dodging scooters, bicycles and people or sitting down having the best coffee of your life and taking it all in. We sat down at a popular cafe, Long Van, with a view of the park surrounding Hoan Liem Lake, the traffic and the street vendors. Later, we had a vegetarian lunch and a well deserved nap. That night we had dinner at Le Beaulieu, the Metropole’s French restaurant. They even had a vegetarian tasting menu for me, the highlight being this mango dessert that made me want to pleasure the pastry chef it was so good.

Incidentally, the French food served at the Metropole’s restaurants and bakery is like Paris but on the other side of the world. You can’t get baguettes this authentic in Hong Kong. And in the hotel, you couldn’t turn around without being offered one. Hell, you’d see street vendors hawking baguettes next to fish head surprise.

On our final full day in Hanoi, we explored the French Quarter. I’m not sure why, but except for a few grand buildings including the must-see Hanoi Opera House and our hotel, it seemed like most colonial buildings could be found in the Old Quarter or in the embassy district surrounding the Temple of Literature (tranquil and lovely but not a must-see in my opinion).

We didn’t get to see Ho Chi Minh’s embalmed body because frankly I’d rather stare at locals walking down the street than a dead man playing Snow White.

Thoughts of Anthony Bourdain in his head, my partner tried some street food for lunch. I was surprised when I didn’t have to rush him to the hospital. I ate a proper cheese baguette sandwich at an airy cafe popular with moneyed locals. Yes, Commies with dough. Who knew?

Dinner that last night was in yet another restored French villa, the Ly Club. Again, fresh Vietnamese food. The interior of this place is a bit fussy in an old world kind of way, very different from Club De L’Oriental’s Asian minimalist chic. The woman playing The Carpenters on the upright piano didn’t help. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Karen but it’s a bit cheesy and somewhat disrespectful given that Karen wasn’t much of an eater. Better to play Mama Cass.

That last night, we went (again) to Le Club for a martini(s). Located next to the Bamboo Bar inside the Metropole, this swanky venue offers live jazz. The resident singer, a Canadian who sings a bit like Anita O’day, was a real treat. The Island Shangri-la Hotel in Hong Kong needs to book her, Heddy Something-or-other. The Lobster Bar at the Shangri-La is my hangout but some of their live acts are tired. Heddy would be a welcome change. She sings classic numbers, Gershwin, Porter, keeps it real. Love jazz standards.

The driver who picked us up at the airport when we arrived, brought us back when we left. Nice guy. I’m a big tipper but this isn’t a tipping country. I hate that, really feel constrained. Back in New York, not tipping is a capital offense. I tipped our driver. He works hard. Hanoi traffic is a nightmare. Besides I can pretend I don’t know better.

On the drive over, I said to my partner, “Last night, I was ready to go back to Hong Kong. Hanoi can be so overwhelming. But now, I just wish we could spend one more day here. We’ll come back.”

And we will.

I mimic the people I talk to. But only if their accent is strong or unintelligible. This got me into trouble when I was a kid. My mom always knew when I was playing with the Salvadoran neighbor whose mother she hated. Mario was a BB gun-toting, buck-toothed menace with a hatred of red ants.

“Have you been playing with that little Mario kid again?” My mom would demand.

“I no know what you talking about. I no play with guns. I no lie.”

Three years ago, I spent seven hours in the backseat of a car with a girl from Brooklyn. We had become fast friends over a week playing Left, Right, Center and drinking beer at a beach house on Duck Island. She was my best friend’s partner’s colleague. And by the time we pulled up to her apartment in Bensonhurst, I was already talking like a local. “So good tawkin’ ta you. Come ovER to da city for dinnER tomorrOW. My treat. K?”

My best friend in the driver’s seat glared at me through her rear view mirror.

Here in Hong Kong, I say hait (Japanese for yes) to anyone who asks me anything in a thick Asiany accent. This, unfortunately, includes my Spanish teacher.

She says, “Why jew say hait? Jew are so funny.”

I say, “Well jew know, I spent a four jears in eTokyo.”

Unlike Tokyo where Americans have the upper hand when it comes to English language pronunciation, here in Hong Kong the Queen’s English reigns. You hear it spoken everywhere, see it written everywhere.

It’s not color, it’s colour. It’s not behavior, it’s behaviour. I’ve even found myself typing British English in emails.

If you want to take your pizza home, you tell the cashier not takeout but take away. And while this is all well and good at Pizza Express in Hong Kong, you’ll get strange looks if you say it at a New York pizzeria. Believe me.

When I was back in the US this summer, I asked my dad, “Do you want to head to the restaurant straightaway or do you want to stop by the bank first?”

He grinned. “You’ve said that on the phone too.”

After he explained what he meant, I said, “Well, it is also considered proper English to say straightaway instead of right away or right now.”

I later made a point of using straightaway that afternoon. Then I used it without thinking. Seven months in Hong Kong without setting foot in the U.S. was changing me.

I play the British English game when I’m here in Hong Kong. I’m a good sport. I say, “I went to university in Austin.” God forbid you say college by mistake.

“Did you go to (the) hospital?”

“You must maintain good marks if you want to graduate primary school.”

“Did your work colleague phone you just now?”

“I reckon that you’re keen on attending afternoon drinks.”

“Where did you go on holiday?”

Me? I went for a very long, extended trip in Asia. Years in fact. And I’m not quite sure when I’ll be returning, or if I’ll be returning, but I know I won’t be the same when I get back.

I just returned to Hong Kong after a six week vacation in my home country, America. Land of the free, home of the brave, the place where morbidly obese children labor and toil to raise the Chicken McNugget to their quivering lips, special sauce smeared across their pudgy, sweaty faces.

It’s been great to see old friends and family. New York, Virginia, Chicago, Texas, Las Vegas–I’ve trained, planed and automobiled all over the place. Unfortunately, I’ve also dined in all but the Mountain Time zone. And let me tell you, even a vegetarian can pack on the pounds in America.

I blame my heritage. I’m of Mexican descent so that means margaritas. It’s mother’s milk to us. And while those godsends of lime and tequila aren’t inherently bad for you fat wise (don’t give me any of that Weight Watchers points bullshit), what you eat with them is. In Texas, they give you a basket of chips and a side of salsa for free, refills too. And your cheese enchiladas arrive piled high, a coronary on a plate. If only Karen Carpenter had lived in San Antonio, she’d be alive today. Yeah, she’d probably look like Mama Cass, but we’d just prop her up in front of the microphone, lure her on stage with a chimichanga.

In New York, I hit my three favorite restaurants, my personal culinary trifecta: Malatesta for Italian, La Palapa for Mexican, and Union Square Cafe for American fine dining–do yourself a favor and order the not on menu black bean soup with sherry and lemon, you’ll feel like an in-the-know snob, but will be rewarded when that bowl of blackened heaven arrives.

In Chicago, I hit Adobe Grill for Mexican and my favorite steakhouse, Gibsons, for dinner. You might be wondering why a vegetarian would go to Gibson’s. I wasn’t a vegetarian when I lived in Chicago and Gibsons had (has) the best fillet mignon on the planet and–and this is most important–they make a mean martini. I’m talking ice crystals in the vodka, the lemon rind straddling the rim of the glass in ecstasy mean. Plus, my partner and best friend in Chicago had never been. I ate a baked potato.

In Vegas, I sobered up with Italian. Bread, pizza, pasta, I might as well have injected the dough straight into my belly. One healthy bright spot was the signature salad at Spago’s in Caesar’s Palace. That crunchy concoction of greens minus any lettuce was a real find. In fact, I’m going to try to recreate it at home.

I turn 38 in just over a month, so I have that time to Master Cleanse my ass back into shape. I’m going vegan for the next couple of weeks (it leans you up, try it and see). And I’m going back to running 25 miles a week. I’m monitoring my food intake and am craving a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as I type. But you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to drag my jet-lagged ass down to the gym. It’s not vanity, Babies. It’s insecurity. Besides, I’m gay, if I don’t maintain college weight, they take away my membership card.