Posts Tagged With: Thailand

China? Us? What? The Fortune Cookie didn’t mention that.

As Kim will readily attest, it’s dangerous leaving me idle with a nearby laptop on a snow-pounded day. First, as per routine, I will scour the real estate listings in Prince Edward County and surrounds like a public health nurse armed with a nit comb. In the event of a search with no immediate house crushes, I default to enticing emails promising seat sales and last minute escapes.

I always say never say never—but, Kim and I had already said, in bold and fine print, that we’d never go to Vegas, India or China. So, I’m full of blog baloney. I’d like to retract the last crossed off destination and cheerlead it for a few reasons.

The deal was too good not to go. The clincher was the add-on flight and seven nights at a beachfront Le Meridien property in Phuket for $599 each. A hotel AND a flight for $599? The only place you can do that is Sudbury (no offence, Sudbury).

So, because I couldn’t find a house for us to buy in the County, I found a three week trip to China and Thailand instead. We were anti-China for obvious reasons: pollution, a bazillion people and that niggling exotic animal trade and aphrodisiac thing that is decimating rhino, dolphin, tiger (insert any animal) populations. Oh, and the hawking and spitting at every turn. I’ve skidded on a few globs on Spadina’s sidewalks in my urban past.

But, on the flip side: The Yangtze River. Oh yeah, we said we’d never go on a cruise either. But, but, but…this is a river cruise, just 140 cabins, not a floating small city with a 18-hole golf course, IMAX movie theatre, rock climbing wall, waterslides and casino aboard.

Ironically, I had just researched the most enticing bits of China for an article on 10 luxury trips of a lifetime for Grand magazine (on newsstands now!). I knew zilch about China except the sneering-with-disapproval above smog-smacked opinions. As I read about the must-dos of Beijing alone, I felt a slight tug of responsibility. The marvel of the Great Wall seemed like something every human should see.


China promised a solid dose of the unfamiliar, cuisine, dynasty lore, neon cities and emerald landscapes. Hell, the Great Wall can be seen from outer space (which makes me wonder—what’s faster? Space shuttle or 15 hour direct flight from Toronto?). The 20,000 km snaking wonder of manmade toil and ambition can be accessed from many points. The most visited entry is Badaling, which was the first part of the wall to open to tourists in 1957. Thatcher, Gorbachev, Queen Elizabeth left their mark here. Recently renovated, Mutianyu is easily accessible from Beijing and appeals to families with a cable car, chairlift and even a toboggan ride. No, that’s not a typo. Tobogganing. At the Great Wall.


The Forbidden City, protected by a 52m moat around the heart of Beijing is where China’s largest collection of ancient buildings are found. Known as the Palace Museum, previous uninvited visitors were executed (now you can safely pay $9-13 entry). The Chinese Imperial Palace from the Ming Dynasty houses 5,000 years and 8,700 rooms of heritage: marble bridges, a calligraphy gallery, bronze elephant statues and classical gardens.

My mother is already researching these things in tandem. It’s probably the first time she’s ever said, “I want to come too!” when I told her we had booked China. Her excitement over the river cruise to Gorge Wu and Qutang and the panda sanctuary does not compare to her held-breath and knuckle-whitening as witnessed when I announced we were going to Uganda or Zanzibar or the Congo or Kenya.

“They have any bugs there?” was my dad’s concern. My parents should work for WHO with their memorized mapping of the Zika outbreak and dengue scares. My mom later emailed, “What do they think of gays there? Never mind, I probably don’t want to know.”


sex livesI’ve been reading J. Maarten Troost’s Lost on Planet China as preliminary research. I’ve read his other two brilliant travel memoirs, Getting Stoned With Savages and The Sex Lives of Cannibals. This guy has lived on remote atolls in the South Pacific. He’s no Accidental Tourist a la William Hurt. But, his expose of China at ground zero and the lung-collapsing pollution has left me panting a little.

What terrifies me most is probably the karaoke. Other things—like the government’s attempt to overcome increased rates of childhood obesity with a mandate that kids learn to waltz also makes me quiver. A place that loves to waltz and karaoke—that’s pretty much my nightmare in black and white.

planet chinaCourtesy of Troost I’ve also learned:

  1. The only four-legged thing they don’t eat in China is a table.
  2. “Death Vans” are the solution to messy firing squads. The mobile execution trucks visit jails, perform injections as necessary and then harvest viable organs for transplants.
  3. The swastika symbol is visible everywhere–but it is the Buddhist symbol for love and peace.
  4. China has the world’s highest suicide rate among women–and they do so by swallowing pesticides.
  5. It’s illegal to carry a photo of the Dalai Lama in Tibet.
  6. To corner the market on grain export, Mao ordered the death of every sparrow in China (because they ate grain seeds). He didn’t predict the locust plague and starvation that would follow.
  7. You can buy watermelons the size of oranges.
  8. At the Yuyuan market (which requires a flashlight to visit), one can find tiger paws, mammoth tusks and monkey skeletons
  9. A typical menu might offer fried swan, boiled frog in radish soup and stewed pig lung
  10. Driving in China is “one long cardiac event.”

In China we will also be privy to the cardiac event that is the high speed train from Wuhan to Shanghai (topping out at some 330km per hour). We can experience reverse vertigo at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai in the Bund while taking in the optical roller coaster of the 30 storey atrium. Maybe have a cocktail at the Fairmont Peace Hotel where Charlie Chaplin used to hang.

Maybe we’ll see the rare-as-a-unicorn Baiji Yangtze river dolphin. Prior to the construction of the behemoth Three Gorges Dam, the river was just a few feet deep. It’s now a swollen vein with 450 feet depths. Shades of the Aswan Dam in Egypt cloud my mind. The mile long and 610 foot dam buried many villages and temples in its path in an underwater grave. The government has kindly reintroduced macaque monkeys to the region and trained them to beg for food from the tourists (I’m sure you’ve seen the images of the demanding troops, robbing starry-eyed visitors of their sunglasses and even flip flops). All to ensure visitors have a good time. Better yet—if the wonder of the limestone gorge isn’t impressive enough, there are acrobats in Hubei Province that ride MOTORCYCLES on wires suspended across the river. Acrobats jockey for attention as this is also the area where 2000-year-old wooden coffins are tucked among the rocky outcrops and caves. They were once a thousand feet above the river, but thanks to the damn dam, they are even closer. And, who doesn’t love a little Cirque de Soleil while passing through an ancient burial ground? Cue up Michael Jackson’s “Beat It!” on the karaoke machine.

It’s all so perplexing. Toboggan rides down the Great Wall. Acrobats in the Gorge. Prostitutes. Phone calls in the night offering special massage at the hotels. Hello Kitty! Hopefully cheap tiger balm. And, fried everything (insert: seahorse, scorpion, duck heads, flying lizards–

Reading Lost on Planet China probably wasn’t the most fabulous introduction. However, we are expecting mass confusion, eye rolling, sky-high frustration and big gobs of spit but also, sheer wonder and startling scenery. Plus, this trip is for investigative purposes. China is actually hiring panda wranglers or “Panda Nannies” at the Giant Panda Protection and Research Centre in Ya’an. $35,000US to cuddle pandas and Instagram the cuteness!

Homework, continued…

The Last Emperor (I think was the first movie I went to that had an intermission! The 1987 flick is 2 hours and 43 minutes long). Based on the true story of Pu Yi, the last Emperor of Imperial China.

The Beach—because we will be in Phuket for a week, and Thailand is the setting of Alex Garland’s backpacker fantasy novel about finding nirvana and cheap banana pancakes

Up the Yangzte—troubling 2007 documentary about the impact of the Three Gorges Dam on rural China

Last Train Home—the human cost of China’s economic success

Kung Fu Panda—for obvious reasons. Po the overweight Panda works at his father’s noodle bar but dreams of being a kung fu warrior. Referencing this movie might help in the Panda Nanny job interview.

Categories: Passport Please, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cat Crap Coffee, Bird Dung Facials and Nibbling Fish Therapy

Tess, dreaming of cat shit coffee

Tess, dreaming of cat shit coffee

If you missed the cat shit coffee craze of five years ago, it’s back, and better than before. Even Dr. Jane Goodall is backing the Vancouver-based Doi Chaang Coffee Co.’s newest product because it’s organic and sustainably collected from the wild. At $500 a pound though, it may be cheaper to fly to the Doi Chaang village in Northern Thailand to scavenge for your own.

The cat crap brew that is the cat’s meow again is a product of the civet cat. When someone put two and two together, meaning civets & coffee and barf & poop, a beautiful thing was discovered. Civets eat the beans and pass them, creating lucrative stooping and scooping for the entrepreneurial Akha Hill tribe of Doi Chaang. Even regurgitated beans (cat barf) are collected and marketed as “spat” coffee as opposed to “passed” coffee.

Unfortunately, the Western popularity of civet crap coffee resulted in many of the wild civets being captured and caged to maximize profits. Apparently the civet-passed coffee has been around for decades, but only appreciated in Asian markets.  As reported in “Brother, can you spare $500 for coffee?” (The Vancouver Sun, May 23, 2009) hunky Toronto chef Jamie Kennedy detected “honey notes and a deeply mellow chocolately earthiness.”  Online food sites suggest bright and fruity flavour profiles for the litter box coffee. Deeply mellow chocolately earthiness? Really?

The civet coffee buzz can only lead to one thing: a really expensive crappacinno.

It seems like everyone is cashing in on shit lately. The swanky Shikuza Spa in New York is promoting a Geisha Facial which uses traditional and natural Japanese ingredients, like dried bird droppings, or uguisu no fun (and I didn’t even make that up). This spa treatment gives a new meaning to “getting shit-faced.” Somehow, some Geisha with waterproof mascara discovered that nightingale droppings could be used to remove make-up (I would love to know how exactly this discovery came about. Hmm, this soap and water just isn’t working. I know, that big pile of bird droppings on my window sill, I bet that’ll do the trick!). The Shizuka Spa website even suggests that this same Geisha noticed that the droppings helped “to brighten, heal and retexturize the skin due to natural enzymes and guanine, which imparts a pearly luster to the skin.” After all those years of dedicated Clearasil and Oxy Medicated Cleansing Pads use.

Pearly luster? I say save your $180 for the 60 minute facial, side-step the $500 pound of coffee and buy a flight to Mexico. Blast that potentially pearly porcelain luster with UV rays and H1N1. More than 20 coastal Mexican hotels have launched a “flu-free guarantee” this month in response to the Swine Flu that has drastically reduced the number of tourists tanked on tequila. With this guarantee, if you catch the H1N1 virus while vacationing (and obtain a blood test to prove it), you can get your next three vacations for free. As of May 17th, the virus had infected nearly 6,500 people worldwide, so odds are good. Besides, Mexico is generally associated with diarrhea anyway, what ‘s a little touch of the Swine Flu?

Real Resorts, AMResorts and Karisma’s El Dorado and Azul hotels (Cancun and Mayan Riviera) are participating in this promo for travel until December 20, 2009. If you are a winner and test positive for H1N1 within five days of departure you will be magically granted three return stays (valid for one traveler and one companion), one per  year.  This is an exceptional deal, provided you don’t die.


A Tang in my brother Dax's aquarium, not involved in any spa treatments

A safer bet that doesn’t involve cat or bird droppings would be a visit to Malaysia’s Sampuoton Spa. Flipping through a copy of Elle at lunch last week, I was sucked into the “ELLE HOT 100 List” that suggested an alternative beauty fix for dry, winter skin. Branding itself as the first “fish-therapy designer concept spa,” Garra Rufa fish from Turkey will nibble at your dead skin cells. The fish are intelligent too—they will only eat the dead and infected skin cells. Kindly, while snacking, the fish emit an enzyme that “prevents the fast development of cells on the skin.” The hour long treatment is inviting. Who wouldn’t want to slip into a thermal pool filled with Garra Rufa fish? I’m thinking NIGHTMARE, but the Sampuoton suggests that the treatment is relaxing, and you will only feel a mild tickling sensation.

When I visited the site to read more about this seemingly horrifying treatment I clicked on “The Fish” page. Here I learned that the Turkish Garra Rufa fish is actually from the carp family, is known as the “Doctor Fish” by working professors (not sure who they are referring to in that statement), and outside medical circles, the fish is better known as the Reddish Log Sucker. I can see why they decided to incorporate the more exotic Latin fish reference. Who would want a Reddish Log Sucker to eat their dead skin cells? The Garra Rufa Doctor fish, well, that fish has credentials and sounds smart.

The site wisely appeals to those searching for Zen and balance. “Recreation and Nature return. People may realize harmony between human and nature while playing with the fish in the pool while reaching the goal of promoting health recreation.” Who plays with fish? I had Sea Monkeys as a kid, and they were a scam. The comic book adverts said you could teach the smiling Sea Monkeys to play baseball. Yeah, right. This alone discourages me from playing with Reddish Log Suckers who have been eating  the garbage off people I haven’t even met. And, if these Doctor fish are so awesome, shouldn’t they be in every public pool and hot tub? Imagine the dead skin available to those hungry nibblers. What a fantastic surprise for unsuspecting YMCA swimmers too as they feel the odd tickle while doing laps and later learn that the Suckers are providing a beauty treatment while they exercise.  Sampuoton Spa goes even further—“after an hour of the fish nibbling session the skin becomes elastic, smooth and gives a healthy shine and a feeling of freshness.”

Civet crappacinno?

Civet crappacinno?

For feelings of freshness I use Dove green tea and cucumber deodorant and give my skin a healthy shine with eight glasses of water and a daily bowl of oatmeal. But, maybe I’ve fooled myself all these years by not trying to achieve the pearly luster of a Geisha by smearing bird shit on my cheeks. I willingly drank and ate fecal matter when I was in Africa which was just foolish. Now I know that a refined palate only chooses spat and shat civet coffee beans.

I guess the spa I work at has a long way to go. We thought clients enjoyed aromatic blends of citrus, lavender and eucalyptus. Tomorrow I’m going to submit a proposal to my boss about creating a Canada Goose Dung Facial and a Coast Mountain Crow Crap body wrap. If that goes successfully, I’m going to gather wild scat in the ravine behind my house and see what shit works best for removing tomato sauce and red wine stains. If the nightingale droppings helped the Geisha with her make-up removal, I bet bear poop studded with blueberries is good for something.

Tall, skim spat coffee

Tall, skim spat coffee

Categories: All Things Spa-like, Things with Fur and Feathers | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Blog at