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Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Chinese Bus Tour Day 2

I woke up to a rude awakening from Alan, the tourguide. Apparently, Holiday Inn Select staff had forgotten to set a wakeup call for the group and now it was 6:30AM...20 minutes before our bus was scheduled to leave. I hung up the phone, packed up whatever I could find scattered about the room, washed my face, and ran out of my room for the lobby. There was a free breakfast and morning paper waiting for us there, but I thought this was small consolation for the massive screwup. Every "free" USA Today was tagged with a sticker telling its readers to "Relax..." because it's "Holiday Inn." It seems no one at frontdesk appreciated the irony of telling you to "relax" after they've forgotten to give you your morning call.

Our bus pulled out on time at 6:50AM and we headed for the Big Apple. Alan informed us that Greg, our driver, can't focus well in the morning with movie soundtracks playing in the background, so for this leg of the trip there would be no movies, only softrock hits of the 80s and 90s. Suddenly, the free USA Today was welcome relief. I only managed to read a few pages of the Olympics coverage (USA is number one! on D1...and other countries also competed on D15) before I was overcome with sleep.

By the time I woke up, the sun was up and our bus was parked at a truck stop near Hartfort for a group washroom break. I wandered away from the group to browse the trucker giftshop and was having a tough time deciding between a 5 dollar travel-sized bottle of mouthwash and a 6 dollar trucker cap emblazened with the words "Big Rig Club". Sadly, I only had 4 dollar bills in my pocket so I could only get 2 bottles of Gatorade (I figured if it was good enough for atheletes, it would be good enough for a bus-riding doughboy like myself).

We hit the outskirts of New York City at noon and Alan spent the next 30 minutes warning us of the dangers of New York, starting each sentence with the words, "I'm not a racist, but black people..." and ending each one with " watch out for black people". To spice things up a bit, we were regaled with anecdotes about the time one tourist was pickpocketed and another time when Alan personally saw one black person (or hah gwei, in Alan's cantonese) shoot another one. This caused some degree of alarm amonst our group of Chinese tourists and as we passed through the streets of Harlem I could feel an uneasy tension on the bus. To be honest, I felt a little nervous at this point too. The FUBU clad Harlemites I saw through the bus windows didn't look like the FUBU wearing 5'4" gangsta-wannabe highschool kids I was used to seeing at Metrotown; These guys were the real deal, "dawg". I shifted my wallet from my back pocket to my front pocket and took a swig of my strawberry Gatorade to calm my nerves. I was ready to rumble.

Thankfully, there were few tourist attractions in Harlem which meant that we were able to skip the "hood" and head down to the more glamourous parts of Fifth Avenue in short order. As we passed by the Gugenheim and the Metropolitan museums, I made mental notes of coming back here on my own one of these days. It's one thing to hear about how "overrated" these museums are from the tourguide, it's quite another to discover this "overratedness" through my own cynicism and comtempt for "modern" art. Eventualy, the bus managed to find an illegal parking spot (finding one for a bus in Manhattan is apparently quite hard) just off Time Square and we were each allotted a whopping 60 minutes to have lunch and go for a tour. To be honest, Time Square wasn't as impressive as I had imagined it would be; It's not so much a square as an intersection decked out with gaudy billboards and dizzying neon lights. I spent most of my generous allotment of time at the Hershey store and headed back to the comfort of my air-conditioned bus to get away from the New York humidity. I don't like to rough it.

Next stop: the Intrepid, a retired American aircraft carrier that was converted into a museum. I didn't realize until after the tour that this behemoth is actually parked right across the street from the Chinese Consulate...someone in the US Navy must have a good sense of humor. Imagine coming to work everyday and seeing the might of the American juggernaut right outside your window. That's got to be somewhat demoralizing for the ultra-patriotic communist cadres that occupy the consulate.

I wish I could remember more about the tour aboard this glistening, steel killing machine, but I don't know my B-52's from my U2's so all the planes looked pretty much the same to me. I'm sure they were all powerful stuff, though. I didn't have time to read all the display descriptions, but I think the take home message for the tour of the Intrepid is this: "Don't screw with the US."

Having been shocked and in awe of US military might, we were next treated to a tour of Manhattan by boat. Half way throught the tour, the Circle Line Tour representative pointed out that we could have gotten a similar view by taking the free ferry, so in essence, we got the shaft...but at least he was honest about it. I like that. Aside from getting shafted, I really enjoyed this tour and being able to see most of the island in under an hour. I was so overwhelmed with taking in the views that I almost failed to notice my light headedness and slight nausea, the first signs of heat stroke and dehydration. Thankfully, I have an uncanny ability to recall trivia such as this and was able to resolve this problem by going below deck to get some $2.75 bottles of water.

Last stop of the day was Pier 17, home of New York's finest foodcourt, or so I was told. I'll let you in on a secret: It's not that fine, although being able to see the Brooklyn Bridge while you eat chicken teriyaki is a neat experience. To complete the New York experience I bought a Yankee's cap and right before boarding the bus, I bought a five dollar "I heart NY" t-shirt from a black guy who could say "3 T-shirts for $10" in Cantonese. I thought this multilingual street hawker was wasting his talents until he handed me my change from the absolutely BIGGEST wad of cash I have ever seen. To each his own. To each his own.

Tomorrow we're heading to Washington. USA! USA! USA!

Your Favorite Jerk


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