07 August 2009

Hooters China: A Post LONG Overdue

So Moglie did such a good job these past few months writing about our trip to China last November, that I felt little need to blog about my experiences there, or my trips to London and Zambia that followed. She's been reminding me that I still need blog about the trip, and at the very least post about our trip to Hooters in Shanghai.

So, what would motivate us to visit a beacon of American "culture and cuisine" in the megalopolis of modernity Far East?

One word: MarfDirt (Hi Marf!).

Knowing that he is a big fan of Hooters Restaurants in the US, we wanted to send him something special from our trip to China, we thought we'd get him a Hooters Passport stamp and t-shirt.

Well, finding this place wasn't exactly easy. Even though it opened in late 2004, it seemed like many people didn't really know that it was there at all. It's quite a long walk from the train station, and you really have to know where you're going. The restaurant is located inside a pretty big shopping mall. It took us a while to figure out how to get to the restaurant, but along the way we found Dairy Queen, and took the opportunity to each have a cone for our efforts. It must've done the trick, because it wasn't long before we found the place!

I've since read articles that say you need a reservation to get a table if you plan on coming in before 10pm. I guess that now that it'd been 4 years since the opening, it's no longer the case-- we walked into a sleepy restaurant practically overstaffed with tiny, scantily-clad Chinese girls in tiny orange running shorts, and flesh-toned pantyhose (those things must be a nightmare in the summer!).

We were ushered to a table almost immediately by the seriously friendly waitresses. We peruse the menu, and really it's pretty Hooters-standard, and we know why everyone goes to Hooters in the first place: WINGS! That was exactly what I wanted to eat, buffalo wings and a coke.

While we were eating, we noticed that there was one other person in the restaurant. The waitresses started serenading him with the repertoire of "hooters favorites." I managed to catch them on film, so check it out.

When they saw that I was recording their song to another patron, they quickly filed over to serenade Moglie and I with one of my favorite old-time songs:

China's Hooters girls really love their jobs! And while they may not "measure up" to your typical American Hooters Girl, these girls bring the dedication and pride in their work that the Chinese are known for...you just don't find that among many Americans in the service industry anymore. In one article I read , the waitresses really enjoy what they do, and look at it as an opportunity to practice their English, meet people, and earn tips when normally tip-making is not allowed. When the restaurant first opened, 80 of 1,000 applicants were selected. Apparently Hooters China prides itself on finding beautiful, open-minded Chinese girls to put in their tiny tanks and shorts. At first, many people were concerned about the dress code, arguing that it was too scant for Chinese taste. Although looking out onto the streets and in the clubs of Shanghai, you'll see many more women wearing even less than the Hooters girls in Shanghai.

When we finished our meal there, I took a picture with a few the girls before buying Adam's t-shirt. I think that finding this restaurant was really one of my favorite (and surprising!) parts of Shanghai (besides the pearls, and the hostel, and the shopping, and everything else I liked about it), really it just adds to the list of reasons why Shanghai was one of my favorites.

Long Awaited Sarajevo

Ever what would happen if you smooshed together Austria and Turkey and dropped the outcome in the Alps? Well wonder no longer!

I have been to Serbia now seven times I think and for every trip I said that I wanted to go to Sarajevo for a weekend. Seems that seven is my lucky number because I finally made it! Granted this was the busiest and most stressful visit I’ve ever had to Serbia (including the time I was evacuated) so maybe the timing was not perfect but I was not turning down the chance. One of my colleagues here is from Sarajevo and, happy for a chance to go home for the weekend, went with me and toured me around the city.

If I ever go back to Sarajevo via Belgrade I am going to make sure first that I have an international driver’s license and rent a car; because dude. The trip there was not horrible…per say. The bus was comfortable and empty enough that it was ok, air conditioned, left on time, kept the volume of the techno folk fairly low, and only took 7 hours give or take. I was dreadfully ill the entire trip though. I started it with a migraine and the windy mountain roads did me no favors at all. It was like a horrible flashback to the horrible bus ride from Delhi to Dharamsala that was the most horrible trip I’ve ever taken.

Seeing Sarajevo made the trip worth motion sickness. It was like Austria and Turkey got smooshed together then dropped in the Swiss Alps; completely charming and familiar with a hint of the exotic. According the great wisdom of Wikipedia, there are 186 mosques in Sarajevo which I am more than willing to believe. There is also a Serbian Orthodox cathedral, a Catholic cathedral, a Franciscan monastery, and two synagogues. To the casual observer (i.e. me) everyone seemed quite laid back and happy, or at least resigned, to living with the various religions. The monastery and attached church of Saint Anthony of Padua are home the inter-faith Pontanima choir. The choir, which means bridge for souls (or of or soul bridge or whatever, my Latin is only so-so), was established after the war in 1996 by Franciscan priest Ivo Markovic. Lacking enough Catholics to create a choir, Father Markovic reached out to the community. Now the world famous choir consists of people of all faiths, has a repertoire that includes religious pieces from Catholic, Protestant, Islamic, Orthodox, and Jewish traditions and helps bridge gaps and heal wounds from the war.

Sarajevo, like many cities, has an old city which is where all the charm is, and a new city that is generally not so attractive and full of tall buildings. We, with no argument from me, stuck entirely to the old city. And like most of the Balkans, Bosnia has seen its fair share of wars and rules from the Ottoman Empire to the Austrian Empire to Yugoslavia and now independence as Bosnia and Herzegovina. One of things I found so interesting about Sarajevo was that the heart of the old city, the baščaršija, or market, was built during the Ottoman Empire and the Austrians built around it, preserving the original buildings and streets. So while you wander around the very Austrian looking pedestrian area

all of the sudden BANG!

Turkey. Cool, no?

Food in Bosnia is brilliant. Typically Balkan it is meat heavy and Turkish influenced, Bosnia is the home of the best cevapci and burek ever. In fact, the only thing all my Balkan friends and colleagues (those from Macedonia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia)agree about is that the Bosnians make the best burek. Breakfast was an intriguing affair. I went with my colleague to a restaurant up in the hills called Biba. Breakfast was Bosnian coffee (i.e. Turkish coffee) and this:

I cannot remember what the bread is called but it's like a not sweet donut. There was also several kinds of cheese and a cured meat. Two of the cheeses I couldn't identify, one tasted a bit like a cheddar and the locally made cheese tasted like I would think licking a cheese coated sheep would taste. But kind of good all the same.

Speaking of food, we also visited one of the open-air markets in the city. The space was full of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as flowers. I am normally shy about taking pictures in these kinds of situations (which is why Moglie took all the pictures in big market in Beijing). However I tried a technique in this market that I'd never thought of before. My camera was hanging around my neck but I held the camera with one hand, as if keeping it more secure, angles it a bit, and started clicking while hoping for the best. The pictures didn't actually turn out too bad.

And while it now looks like a nice venue at which farmers sell their flowers and produce, in 1994 it was the sight of a bomb that killed 68 people and wounded 200. called the 'single worst atrocity' of the conflict in the 90's, the market, like the people, survives.

I also got a good look at the bridge near which Archduke Ferdinand was assassinated in 1914 thereby beginning the first World War. Like many places in which such major events have occurred, the bridge, which is one of many, is very unassuming and is in fact, quite charming.

After a lovely weekend I sadly had to leave Sarajevo. And I was even more sad to leave the city during the actual trip. While I was a little motion sick on the way, the trip back was so very much worse. Rather than take the bus back we got seats in a tour van. It was jam-packed, the driver smoked, I couldn't see anything in front of me except the back of some guy's head, and it took longer than the bus! I tried to fight the nausea as we careened madly down the twisty turney mountain road. Convinced that I was about to die I did the only sensible thing a person could do...I started my Rosary. Now (small aside) when I was in college I decided I was going to learn how to pray the Rosary in every language I knew. German and Spanish were easy enough as there are readily available booklets for those. Chinese had to wait until I could buy said booklet in Taipei and have a friend painstakingly write out the bo po mo fo for all the characters (which I'm very sorry to say I have since misplaced), and Latin came after I started regularly attending Latin Mass. So all this together means that I pray a weird Rosary. The Apostle's Creed (which opens it) I only know in German. I actually couldn't recite that in English to save my life. The Our Father (Lord's Prayer) and Hail Mary I can do in Latin, the Glory Be is a little shaky and comes out half and half, and the Fatima Prayer and the Hail Holy Queen in English. And you know what? It totally worked.

At one point during this oh so miserable journey through, what I am quite sure, were beautiful mountains and countryside, my colleague told me to look to the right. We had apparently been driving along the Drina river for sometime and at that moment were passing the city of Visegrad and the bridge immortalized by Nobel prize winning author, Ivo Andric, made famous in his work Bridge over the Drina. I had jut finished reading the book about a month before I came to Serbia this time and thought it was very cool that I got to see the bridge. Even if it was while shooting past it at an inhuman speed while racing around yet another turn. Ave Maria, gratia plena/Dominus tecum...

While two days was not nearly enough time for me to have enjoyed Sarajevo, I was very grateful for the opportunity to finally make my first trip (motion sickness not withstanding). Fortunately tough, I drank of the waters from the fountain in Sebilj square and if legend holds true, I am destined to return.

04 August 2009


Because I am incredibly lazy; I never got around to blogging about my last trip to Kosovo…which was in April. But I’m doing it now while I sit in yet another country that I’ll probably write about in another three or so months. And honestly, now that I am trying to write about Kosovo, I am remembering why I never wrote about it in the first place. I had nothing to say. Which pretty much negates any need to read further really...but ooohhh...pretty pictures.

I had the misfortune to be in Pristina during the tail end of the mud season (they have three seasons in Pristina: ice, mud, and dust) but was lucky enough to have a colleague who took pity on me and got me out of the city for a day. We visited Prizren which is an interesting city in the south of Kosovo. According to my colleagues in Pristina, people in Prizren all speak Turkish, Albanian, and Serbian which they use interchangeably and all mixed up in the same sentence. Like many cities in the Balkans, it got smashed during various wars as far back as the Ottoman Empire and as recently as the 2004 unrest in Kosovo. Despite that it remains a charming town and I should like to visit again.