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My partner and I boarded a flight to Tokyo at JFK ten years ago last month. And for ten years, we’ve been expats. The plan was always to move back to New York after a few years, settle down, buy an apartment, get a dog, grow organic shit on the balcony, run along the Hudson, pretend not to notice our favourite actor as she walks past us in the Village, you know, settle into a respectable middle-age New York life. But now I’m not so sure.

It bothers me that I prefer London to New York. I feel like I’m cheating on New York as I type this, like I’m turning my back on the city that opened her arms to me as I ran fleeing conservative Texas. “That’s right my little beaner, come running to Mama. She’ll love you. She’ll shelter you. She’ll nurture you.” And she did. I never knew what home felt like until I moved to New York. I remember riding alone in a taxi one evening thinking about this feeling I had. I couldn’t put my finger on it and then I realised it was contentedness. I felt content, and for the first time.

All our friends who have moved back to their respective countries miss living abroad. They’ll reminisce about the good old days wandering Shibuya’s neon maze of alleyways and pedestrian-choked street crossings; or the private junk boat day trips spent downing beers in Hong Kong Harbour, the stretch of skyscrapers and lush mountains as far as the eye can see. It’s real but it’s not. You go to work but you’re on vacation. It jolts you at first and then seeps into you slowly. The formerly exotic becomes mundane. The once imitating outdoor market becomes scouted and explored, the vendor who sells you mixed nuts and dried fruit begins to recognise you, starts to give you a better price because of your loyalty. And with each bit of acceptance and moment of familiarity, you become your adopted home’s citizen.

And then you move. Restart.

We have English friends living in Bangkok who’ve been away from the UK for nearly twenty years. They’ve lived in West Africa, Japan and Singapore among other places. And they have no intention of returning to the UK, planning instead to retire to their home in the South of France.

Most of our friends here in London are expats themselves. Don’t get me wrong, we have English friends too but this is one of the most diverse cities in the world. You’d have to go out of your way not to be friends with someone from another country.

 

In fact, my partner and I hosted a party this past weekend and the majority of our guests were not English, they were Finnish, Indian, Polish, Canadian, Israeli, Swedish, German, Jamaican, Italian and yes, American. And all of them call London home. Some have the desire to return to their home countries one day, others do not. I increasingly put myself in that latter bunch.

I’ve done this three times now. And though I’d like to stay put for the foreseeable future, if the right opportunity presented itself, I would gladly move and start again. That’s the thing about being an expat. You begin to crave the adventure.

 

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First, I want to say, announce, declare, hell shout that I enjoy being an expat. Love it actually. Ever since my partner and I started on our adventure nearly nine ago, I’ve had the privilege of travel and all the opportunity and experience that allows. I’ve been places I never thought I’d see. Sure, many people would travel around the world to visit Sydney or Beijing but Kuala Lumpur and Seoul? Living in Asia for over seven years meant all these cities were relatively easy to get to. And I can assure you, all those places are worth a visit.

Now that we’re in London, I’ve been able to easily revisit Rome, Genoa and Nice and explore new places like Lisbon an Istanbul. It’s a dream come true really. So what’s the problem you ask? Every home is no home.

There is no such thing as a citizen of the world (Who came up with such a pretentious phrase anyway?). In the end, you have to live somewhere. Maybe it’s a hotel room in Singapore or a serviced apartment in Buenos Aires, but you collet your mail somewhere. And if you are lucky enough to have several homes, you consider one of them your primary residence.

I used to think of New York as my adopted home town. I still do somewhat. Mostly. OK, maybe not really anymore. But that’s not true. I feel like I’m losing my identity. I envy my friends back in states. They’re New Yorkers or Chicagoans or San Franciscans. Friends I met while living in Tokyo or Hong Kong are back in their original cities whether that’s Sydney, Cape Town or elsewhere. They bought property, built homes or returned to old ones.

And maybe this is the problem. We don’t yet own a home. I don’t have a primary residence. Sure I live in a flat in London but it’s rented. And I didn’t grow up in the UK. I always felt like a drifter in Tokyo and Hong Kong because I knew my time there was limited. Now that we’re in London and loving it…well maybe it’s time to put down roots.

I feel like I’m cheating on my hairstylist here in London if I’m back in New York and get my haircut elsewhere. I feel the same way about New York. Even admitting that I love London and in some ways more than New York makes me feel guilty. As if New York would shake me and cry, “Is that mushy peas on your collar? Do I smell vinegar!? How could you goddamn you!!! How could you!?”

Christ, I make New York sound like an overacting suburban woman from a bad 1970s melodrama. And she most certainly is not. New York was the city that called when I was a gay kid and living in nowhere Texas. I longed for big city life, to dance and party with all those people I saw on TV. Crime? Yes. Trash on the streets? Please. Time Square hookers? I’ll take a dozen. The New York I longed for when I was a kid, was the New York of the 1970s. My parents would ask me why on earth I’d want to live there and I’d answer “Because it’s not here.”

And now nowhere is here. I’m lost. A gym bunny gone mad. A house spouse whose primary responsibility is to cook, decorate, shop, run errands and plan trips. I even have a housekeeper for God’s sake–a Russian with animal print bras. She doesn’t speak English and smiles a lot. We’re constantly smiling at each other, like we’re high on Zoloft together.

But I digress.

I’ve played Lady MacBeth for too long. Not that I don’t enjoy strategizing with my partner, helping him with his career. He always thanks me for my “vindictive, conniving, calculating Mexican advice”. Believe me, we take that as a compliment. But maybe I need more than a thank you. I don’t want to work right now because I enjoy tagging along with him when he travels for work. I’m thinking about volunteering again. I love the roaming but I need a rudder, my own rudder. My partner always steers while I look ahead and point. Maybe I need to do some of my own steering for a while. Take command of this boat. Hell command of this goddamn metaphor before I run it into an iceberg (ground).

And maybe write more in this blog that was so important to me when I was losing my mind in Japan.

OK, I’m tired of waiting for that bloody phone repairman! Yes, I said bloody. Where the hell is he? Has he got his knickers in a bunch? I’ve been in my gym clothes for three hours now, waiting for his ass. I need to get to the gym. And it’s sunny! Finally. I need to go to Whole Foods. And as if on cue. Wow. Love when stuff like that happens. Must buzz him in.

Yesterday afternoon while shopping for linens and bathroom accents I held up a soap dish and said, “Ten pounds for this? It’s a small fucking piece of metal.”

The other day at my local Waitrose supermarket I announced, “Do we really need more salad onions? And they’re scallions. Salad onions.”

I talk to myself when I’m alone. It’s a bad habit I developed when we were living in Tokyo. I’m not sure how it developed, I only know that is was soothing and reassuring to hear the sound of someone speaking English, even if that someone was me.

Tokyo was all neon signs, moving billboards, bicycle rings, happy commercial jingles and background chatter. That relentless background chatter. Even with the Japanese I learned, I couldn’t process it. It was a sea of murmuring that threatened to overcome me as I shopped for tofu.

This bad habit was like having a wing man back in Japan, a friend. It was a sarcastic traveling companion, the honest inner voice, my sassy sidekick. The token gay male friend for white women, or straight black woman for gay men. “Girl you know you know nothin’ about cookin’ them Japanese mushrooms. Martha Stewart you ain’t. Best put them back”.

I did as the voice instructed but eventually learned how to prepare maitake mushrooms.

My bad habit died down a bit in Hong Kong. If I were in a large expat supermarket or upscale international shopping center, my sassy friend usually kept quiet. But if I ventured outside central Hong Kong, especially into Kowloon and the New Territories, Sassy would return.

“Where the hell is this bus going?”

“Where the fuck am I?”

“Oh my God I need a drink”.

“Do we need more tomatoes. I should get more tomatoes”.

“HA! It’s Captain Crunch!”

Now that we’re in London, it’s time for Sassy to go home. She’ll be there in my head of course, but it’s time for her to shut her mouth.

Since November I’ve spent more time in London than I have in Hong Kong. So although I’ve been living in London for two weeks, I’ve actually spent a total of about three or four months here (give or take a couple of weeks). My life a blur of airport lounges, martinis and mummified mornings.

I’m doing all the things you do when you move to a new country. I’m just doing them by killing more trees. My God do they love to push paper here. If I’m not completing one form, I’m opening up another. ┬áIt took four tries and one small forrest to open up a joint account with my partner. And I’m learning that securing a new place to live is the mental equivalent of an obstacle course. This would be so much faster in New York or Hong Kong. Cities where real estate agents and landlords play fast and loose with contracts. London is more like Tokyo. Every little “i” must be dotted, every detail fretted over.

So as first impressions are lasting impressions, I’ve already formed some opinions that will now be hard to shake, both good and bad. The good far outweighing the bad. Thank God.

First, they love their pubs here. And I love that they love their pubs here. I’m not much of a beer drinker but I’m on board with any society that believes in a pint or two at lunch and several more after work. As in Japan, the locals bond with colleagues over drinks. Yes, I know most people do this the world over do but believe me, the British and the Japanese have perfected it. When the weather turns warm and the clouds clear, you’ll see people cut out of work early just to enjoy a beer with their mates. Everyone is laughing and drinking and you can’t help but want to join in on all the fun.

Of course the flip side of this is that some people can’t hold their liquor and/or don’t know when to call it a night. Vomiting, shouting, fighting, smashing glass, that fleeting warm afternoon can lead to a night of drunken, mean-ass zombies looking for a fight and a fag. And by “fag” I mean cigarette.

This leads me to observation number two. People love smoking here. Like most big cities in the industrialized West, they can’t smoke in their office buildings so they do it outside. Same for pub crawlers, restaurant goers and club kids. Everyone is outside lighting up. I like their defiance. In New York, smokers are banished to the outdoors in an attempt to help make them stop. In London, you get the feeling that it’s more a way of life than a bad habit. They smoke, so they go outside. Not, Mayor Bloomberg’s frowning Dear Leader shaming everyone into behaving the way he wants them to.

And if I’m going to include, drinking and smoking, I might as well include eating. Hong Kong was a sea of mostly mediocre restaurants. Yes, there were good ones too, but then you’d have to pay up. Tokyo was the land of excellent restaurants that were all mostly expensive. You pay for what you get. New York is and was New York, a mishmash. And that’s what it’s like here. I’m surprised by how many gastropubs there are in London. I’m not talking about places back in the US that claim to be gastropubs but are really just bars that serve bad food. I’m talking real gastropubs. That whole movement to elevate British food with locally sourced ingredients is now a way of life. That and you have a bunch of gastropubs that experiment a bit or take standard dishes from other countries and just do them right. I highly recommend The Eagle on Farringdon Road. Great local place with excellent food. And there are always vegetarian options.

A good friend of mine back in Hong Kong said that most people gain about 15 pounds when they first move to London because of all the cakes, pies and pastries. She’s from Pakistan, married a funny English guy and used to live here. I didn’t really believe her at first but she’s right. If you have a sweet tooth, the UK is the place to be. I find myself staring into bakery windows, wiping the drool off my chin. If I could, I’d place my hands behind my back and plunge my face into a gooey chocolate cake, the icing like heroin, the chunky bits of chocolate like crack, an orgasm for the palate.

But thanks to an iron will and a determination to lose a couple of pounds before my birthday, I’ve actually lost weight. My resolve actually scares me. I basically eat very little if anything during the day and have a sensible meal at dinner. Sensible as in mostly fat-free and usually vegan. Of course, my iron will implodes when a bottle of vodka or red wine is opened. Hell, I’m sipping Cotes du Rhone right now. But I digress.

The thing I most appreciate about London right now is the weather. I’m wearing a sweater and it’s July. Now, I know most people would disagree with me, but I love sweater weather. Even in summer. Does it get old? No. What gets old is not being able to walk a few blocks without turning into a pile of sweaty goo, your shirt clinging to your back, your underwear a moist snack cake, your face dripping of moisturizer and that shit you use to make the bags under your eyes disappear. That’s what gets old. Hong Kong summers were a long nightmare of embarrassment and rage. London summers are like winter days in south Texas. And there is light in the sky until about 10pm. The joy.

Aside from paper pushing, form completing and forrest destroying, my only real gripe so far is the service industry. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all bad. I’ve had some great experiences at shops. restaurants, bars, museums, supermarkets. But I’ve also had some really bad ones. This one bitch had the never to glare at my partner after he failed to follow protocol at our local Waitrose supermarket. I smiled but I wanted to smack the ugly right off her face. I explained later to my partner what he did wrong. I had to learn it the hard way. Something about how you put the groceries on the shortest conveyor belt in the history of the world. I’ve decided not to lose my temper or tell anyone off until I’ve lived here at least six months. That way, I’ll know more or less what I’m talking about.

They might speak English in London but if you are an American, you must understand that the UK is a different country full of different ways of doing things. It’s a different flow, a different rhythm. And right now, this American is loving it.

After over seven years in Asia, my partner and I are finally moving. I say “finally” because seven years is a long time in my book. Hell, we were in Tokyo for four years and that was two years too long. I damn near lost my mind. Who am I kidding? I did.

If you had told me twenty years ago that I’d be spending my 30s in Asia, I would have told you to pass the bong. Fast forward two decades and I sit alone in my Hong Kong living room, 32 floors above the noise of the city, the busy sidewalks slowly calming as night falls.

This move has been in the works for some time now, but I’ve learned not to take these things too seriously. For me, it’s not a done deal until I’m on the plane headed for my new home, glass of champagne in hand, looking out the window at clouds. And where is this new home exactly? London.

That’s right. We’re moving to the land of merry men, Jack the Ripper and Madonna. Tally-ho! I’ll be a chap, not a chav. Drink tea instead of coffee. And say things like “Bloody Hell!”, “God save the queen.” and “Shall we have a fag?”

But I’ll believe it when the plane takes off. You see, these things have a way of changing. We could be moving back to New York. Yes, back to New York. In which case I’ll return to saying things like “Fuck off!”, “You’re not the boss of me.” and “Gotta cigarette?”

And therein lies the rub. You see, I miss New York. Last night, my partner and I were talking about Alicia Keys after we saw her perform at Whitney Houston’s memorial (still can’t believe she’s gone) and he put on “Empire State of Mind“. Now I’m not into hip hop, but what a catchy tune? Jesus, I sound like some old fuck. “Catchy tune” my ass. That song is the bomb, yo!

But if we go back to New York, the adventure will end. I hate saying that but I kind of feel that way. No more exotic vacations. I’ve been able to travel to places like Bali, Malacca, Hanoi, Nagasaki and even North Korea–I stepped over the border in Panmunjom. I’ve got to say Cape Cod looks like a hell of a let down after you’ve sipped a margarita on a beach in Bali while a volcano appeared in the distance as the clouds dispersed. Don’t get me wrong, Cape Cod is great, fine. It’s just not Bali.

Moving to London would mean the beginning of a third adventure. I envision a train trip from Istanbul to Prague via Budapest and Vienna; a week exploring northern Portugal and the northern Spanish provinces of Galicia and Asturias; a holiday traveling Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. You see, there are exotic vacations to be had in Europe.

I’ve been bitten by the expat bug. I’m not sure I want to settle down just yet.

I used to tell my partner that when we returned to New York, that would be that, we would never move again. I no longer feel that way. His experience in the world’s financial capitals means his career could take us back to Asia, keep us in Europe or even see us in a BRIC country. Brazil? Wouldn’t mind that at all. Me in a helicopter in Sao Paolo. Yes, I see it now.

But all I have to do is hear Billie Holiday sing “Autumn in New York” or watch the beginning of “Manhattan”, or hell, the ending. And then I miss living in the greatest city in the world. New York City.

I love Hong Kong. Love as in like a lot. A hell of a lot after Tokyo–that place was a different planet. Last night, I was on my way to meet a friend for a drink at the Shangri-la Hotel. Given that the subway takes you right to the mall above which the hotel is located, I couldn’t bring myself to hail a taxi. So I walked my familiar walk to the metro station.

The sounds, sights and smells of Hong Kong surrounding me, I decided to slow my pace to take it all in. It was just after 6:30pm and most people were headed home from work. A kid hanging on to his mom’s hand, an elderly woman looking for cardboard in the trash can, a suit with a cigarette hurrying off to close a deal, a Filipina helper carrying a bag of groceries back to her employer’s residence, this is Hong Kong. Below the impossibly tall skyscrapers and pollution, life winds down while New York is waking up. Believe me, New York is the city that never sleeps when you’re in your 20s, a prostitute, or a junky. For the rest of us, it’s just a place you can booze it up until bedtime without fear of those silly Blue Laws.

As I walked down the steps to the Sheung Wan Metro Station, I wanted to be walking down the stairs to the 14th Street Station in the West Village. I remembered being turned around when I entered the Union Square Station only last month. I used to transfer trains there. I knew that place like the back of my hand. But I was momentarily lost, a tourist in my adopted home town. It made me feel old and nostalgic. I miss New York.

I miss New York because it was only there that I ever felt at home. I miss New York because my friends–my adopted family–are there. I miss those Sunday brunches they do especially for me because I’m in town. I miss the walks in the park, the marches down the sidewalk, my runs down the Hudson River, my alone time at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, my “fuck it” shopping days at Saks or Bloomingdale’s. I miss Union Square Cafe, Malatesta, La Palapa and that simple slice of cheese pizza you can pick up after having one too many with your friends.

On my last trip to New York over the New Year holiday, I went out for a drunken pizza run with my sister and one of my best friends. They were hungrier than I was, I was drunker than they were. I slipped in the snow, we laughed, most places were closed given the weather and the time, but we managed to find a pizza place masquerading as a burrito restaurant. Fellow Mexicans ran the place, not the legal kind. I inhaled my slice of cheese while my sister laughed that we were the only people not having a combination plate. Somehow we got back home to my best friend’s apartment where my best friend was in bed with her partner and my man was passed out on the sofabed. It all felt so right. So perfect.

I see the ferries in the harbor, the skyscrapers, the lights across the water in Kowloon. I love this place, but we’ve been living in Asia for over six years now. I want to go back home. I miss New York.

Food poisoning in Hong Kong is a sad fact of life. Nearly everyone I know has been felled by bad pork buns, tainted noodles or turned shellfish. It’s often mom and pop places serving Cantonese cuisine that gets you sick. My rule is, if I can’t read the menu, I’m not eating the food.

There is a joke that the Cantonese eat anything on two or four legs excluding tables and chairs. As a vegetarian, this makes my life easier. Unless the restaurant bills itself as vegetarian, I tend to stay away. Even my partner, an inquisitive carnivore, won’t venture into local dives.

I like to say, “Wow, and you went into all those sushi stalls when we were living in Tokyo too.”

“Yeah.” he says, “But they were clean.”

So it’s with guilt, shame and a little bit of irony that my partner got sick on Mexican food. Or as I like to call it MexiCANT food. Except for Agave, all the other Mexican restaurants in Hong Kong are terrible. Think Taco Bell meets Panda Express. One crunch of that taco and your bowels explode.

Originally, we hopped on a bus thinking it would get us to Kennedy Town where we planned to have pizza. Instead, the bus veered right and entered the cross harbor tunnel to Kowloon. Normally, this would have made my partner see red.

“Goddamn it! I thought we were going to have pizza. Did you even look at the bus number? I didn’t want to go to fucking Kowloon today. It’s already late in the afternoon. Didn’t you want to see The Social Network?”

But he was surprisingly calm.

I attempted a preemptive cool-down by saying, “Wow, isn’t this great? You think you’re headed to Kennedy Town for a pizza and BAM, you end up in Kowloon. Life’s an adventure. Besides, I’m the hungry one. If I can wait to eat a bit longer, I’m sure you can.”

We got off on the first stop near the new ICC Tower. It might be the tallest building in Hong Kong but the mall below it has the shittiest restaurants. Last time we were at the Elements mall for brunch, the W Hotel had a BBQ buffet. No thanks. We ended up at Wooloomooloo, an Australian steakhouse. I had a salad. A very bland salad.

This time I was determined not to get screwed out of a proper meal. We headed up to the “Civic Square” area of the mall. Elements is so confusing. You need bread crumbs to get back to the subway. But I know my way around that mall so I headed for the escalator near Gucci.

I said, “Hey, I’m in the mood for my people food.”

“But isn’t that restaurant bad? I thought you never wanted to go there.”

“I went there for a margarita and guacamole once. It was OK.” I lied.

The truth is, I just wanted to sit down and eat.

We entered Cafe Iguana and I ordered the guacamole to start and the chicken quesadilla minus the chicken. My partner got the smoked salmon salad.

Now I have to say that as a Mexican, I have never seen smoked salmon salad on a my people food menu. That’s like something a white person would put on a menu if he opened a MexiCANT restaurant. It was fitting then that my partner ordered it. And even more fitting that a white guy seemed to be running the place. I mean, what self-respecting Mexican would ever name a restaurant Cafe Iguana? That would be like me opening a burger joint and calling it Chez Honky.

The guac reminded me of cow cud. You know, like guacamole only after it has been digested a bit. My quesdilla was dry and nearly cheese free. They should have called it a tortatilla. I noticed that the salmon on my partner’s plate looked rather red. You know, like it had been out a while. I chose not to say anything because I know it would somehow be my fault that his salmon was bad.

“Well, you know what? I ordered it so I’m just going to have to eat it.” He would have said.

Unlike me, he’s somehow above sending things back. I just wanted to get out of there, but not after a second glass of wine–the only good thing about our meal.

After we paid, we walked back down to the mall and almost immediately I could tell something was wrong. My parnter didn’t want to go Christmas shopping for his mom. He wanted to sit down near the ice rink. He didn’t think my game about counting the number of children who fall would be fun.

“OK, I said. Let’s walk to Nathan Road.”

The heart of Kowloon, Nathan Road is lined with restaurants, shops and hotels. We were headed to The Peninsula for a martini and to marvel at the Christmas decorations. Let me tell you, they do it right. I mean, it’s The Peninsula after all. Santa would shit himself if he saw it.

And that is exactly what I was afraid my partner was about to do once we entered the crowded sidewalks.

“Let’s go home. Now.” He said.

“Are you sure? We’re nearly there. You’ll feel better when you sit down in that lobby.”

It is my belief that it’s impossible to feel bad or be sick in beautiful places.

We made it on the train and luckily my partner got a seat. The door opened at Hong Kong station and as he got up to leave, my partner said, “I think I’m going to be sick.”

I had no idea he meant right then and there. Boy, what a mess. I’ve never seen anyone projectile vomit before in real life. Poor baby turned into Linda Blair on the subway platform. He reenacted the vomit scene in Team America. You should have seen the crowds scurry away in horror and disgust. And just when I thought it was over, he walked two more steps and BAM.

My first reaction was to pretend I didn’t know him. I know that sounds harsh but I like to vomit in peace. I would never want my partner to see me vomit. It’s so unsexy. But as I scanned the frowns, scowls and rolled eyes, I became a Mama Grizzly, just like Sarah Palin but gay, male and not crazy. Who were these people!? Who were they to sneer at my sickly partner spewing chunks like a fire hose? I put my hand on his lower back and rubbed.

We made our way home in a taxi. I told him to put his vomit clothes in the washer. He took a shower and I put his barf boots on the balcony. The rest of the weekend up until Monday morning, I was Nurse Betty. He stayed in bed with the New Yorker shivering, napping and complaining.

Cafe Iguana robbed me of my playmate last weekend. My partner in crime put out of commission by some skanky fish at some tasteless joint.

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.

A few weeks ago, I decided to tag along with my partner on his business trip to Tokyo. It had been nearly a year and a half since we left that godforsa…I mean glorious place for Hong Kong. We spent four long, life-challenging, mind-breaking years there, and I was nervous about the possibility of experiencing a second panic attack in Shinagawa Station.

Instead of rocking myself in the fetal position in the middle of a busy subway platform, I spent the week catching up with old friends, revisiting favorite restaurants, pubs and hotel bars. My partner and I even had time for a quick hanami in Ueno Park. Crouched under a ratty cherry tree, a Sapporo in his hand, an Asahi in mine, we reminisced about life in Japan.

The day we returned to Hong Kong, I found myself waiting for a taxi at the hotel wondering where the week had gone. And for that matter, where those four years had gone. Was it all a dream? A lie? That’s when the taxi pulled up. I knew we were in for a ride when I saw our driver’s shit-eating grin as we entered his cab.

“Good morning! Good morning! Good morning to you!!!” he shouted. “How are you!? I speak English! Good morning!!!”

In Latin America and Singapore, it’s common to get chatty drivers. In Mexico City, they want to steal your money. In Panama City, they’re proud of their burgeoning Miami. In Buenos Aires, they’re Italian. And in Singapore, they want to introduce you to girls. But in Tokyo? These guys drive around town in their little white gloves and blue hats, their eyes glazed over with thoughts of just making it through yet another tedious day.

“Where you from!? You like Tokyo!? I speak good English!!!” he shouted as he smiled at us through the rear view mirror.

My partner shifted in his seat. For all his fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants travel mentality, the truth is he hates talking to locals in any country. He gets uncomfortable and starts to play with any facial hair he can find. He gave me that “Please get rid of this situation” look and went back to work on his blackberry. But I was happy and in no mood to be a bitch.

“Ohio Gozimasu. Watashi wa blankdes. Tenki desne.” I said in Japanese (Good morning…My name is…And nice weather).

He lit up like a Christmas tree.

He and I chatted in Japanese and English for the next several minutes, and when I couldn’t remember the verb for lived, as in “We lived in Tokyo for four years”, I turned to my partner who had mysteriously turned genki (Japanese for happy) for help. The three of us spent the remainder of the taxi ride discussing beer, gambling and the driver’s ex-wife–his favorite topics–in English and Japanese.

When we arrived at Tokyo Station, the driver asked me if he spoke English well.

“Yes!!!” I lied. “Very well.”

He lied too. “You Japanese is very good. Very good.”

We waved goodbye and walked towards the Narita Express, the train back to the airport. My partner said that he thought the guy took the long way because he was having so much fun talking to me.

“I know.” I said.

My partner knows I hate being taken for a ride, both literally and figuratively. “But he was fun.” I said. “And what a great way to leave Tokyo. Hey! Let’s get a beer on the train!”

Hong Kong is currently a sea of tacky red trinkets, golden ornaments and brick-red globes. The locals are pushier than normal, the salespeople more helpful than usual. Everyone in the service sector is mustering a smile in anticipation of their upcoming “tip” or Chinese New Year appreciation gift.

Today, even the laziest doorman in my building opened the door for me when he saw me entering with flowers and several bags of produce. He managed a mangled grimace when I said thank you. Poor guy always looks like he’s passing a very hard turd when he tries to smile.

Tacky red traditions always remind me of the daruma doll in Japan. You see, the Japanese celebrate the new year by giving a hideous red doll a black eye. During the new year festivities, you buy the daruma at your local daruma vendor and color one of its ghostly-white, Little Orphan Annie eyes black. Then you place the one-eyed devil doll near the entrance of your home to collect dust for an entire year. If after twelve months, you can look back and say, “Gee, I’ve had a great year!” you then color the other eye black.

Stupid, right? What the hell are you going to do with the tiny red devil doll at the end of the year? It’s already time to buy a new doll and give it another black eye. But then my people like to stuff candy into colorful paper mache donkeys and watch as their blindfolded children then beat them to death.

I like to celebrate the traditions of my host country, so for our first full year in Tokyo, I bought a daruma doll. My partner came home to find the creepy little monster staring at him with the one eye.

“What’s this?” he asked from the foyer.

“What’s what?” I said from the living room playing a little game my partner loves to play called Catch Me if you Can.

“That red doll.”

“YOU don’t know about the daruma? It’s a Japanese tradition. I thought YOU would know.”

My partner started playing this passive-aggressive little game with me soon after we met. It’s a kind of oneupmanship in the how-clever-are-you department. I hate it, but I’m not one to lose a game.

Twelve months later, the joke was on both of us. That fucking little doll brought nothing but misery. Tears, profanity-laden tirades, anti-depressants and several broken dishes later, I chucked the damn thing down the garbage chute.

Tokyo was not New York. Tokyo was another planet. A place where passive-aggressive games were played for life and death. I kid you not. The losers are scraped off sidewalks and train tracks on a daily basis. I have since made my peace with The Land of the Rising Sun, but that year was one of the worst years of my life.

This morning, as I walked back home from my local fruit and vegetable market, sunflowers in hand, a smile on my face, I looked up at the tacky red globes and golden ornaments and thought, “I love Hong Kong.”