The Twinkie Times

The life and times of a Chinese American. Born a Jersey boy, lived the expat life, attended boarding school (Lawrenceville), converted to a frat boy (Sigma Pi), got an MBA (Columbia), returned to China, and back to the East Coast now trying to carve out an identity and life as an Asian American dad (gulp) in the midst of a "tertial life crisis" ©

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Episode V: Hennifer Strikes Back

*SPOILER ALERT* - please watch Episode 5 above before continuing

Betty the Lamb

Another day, another Speed Bump, no problem.  We began dead last at the Pit Start and the clue says we have to make our way to the Ancient water town on Xin Shi.  Jenn and I each flag down a taxi and proceed to quiz them both on our destination.  Having been burned one too many times by cabbies already we both agree that the female driver seems confident in the quickest route and we hop in her car.  We definitely made the right choice because we ended up being the 3rd team to arrive at the water town despite how they may have edited the final cut.

This time we are immediately faced with our Speed Bump and when we saw that it was yet another eating challenge we were both dubious.  One look at that giant plate of steaming snails and my stomach turned.  Being a firm believer of "try something new at least once" we sit down and each pick up one small mollusk.  I reach into my MacGyver fanny pack (these had to be worn at all times) and found some toothpicks that I had stashed away.  We manage to fish out the "meat" and chew hesitantly.  Jenn winces loudly and then spits out a pebble the size of a Tic Tac.  We tried our best and managed to get through about 5 of the slimy critters each but the pile of rocks we were building was almost as big as the shells.  I'm sure it's a delicacy but we could smell the river when we walked into the town, saw the dead fish, witnessed the dirty dishes being washed in the waterways, and noticed the chickens/livestock wading in the water.  The restaurant worker admitted that the snails were not washed and there is only so much that soy sauce can mask.  Contact me privately if you want to know what became of the plate of salty rocks.  I can tell you but then I'll have to kill you  ;-)

The next task was very fun and creative.  We stupidly chose the fattest sheep so she would barely move and I had to carry her into the boat almost risking a Grandpa-Ryan-like moment of throwing out my back.  Luckily I remembered to lift with my legs and we got Betty the Lamb into the canoe.  We observed the Fiancés lamb take a nose-dive so our strategy was for me to hold down fidgety Betty while Jenn rowed.  Fortunately, Jenn spent a year doing crew and she had also participated in Dragon Boat racing in NYC so we finished that task quickly.  We were on our way to the resort in 3rd place and we swapped cabs yet another time because one driver admitted that he did not know the way.

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon

We arrived at the resort at the same time as the BBQ Cousins and began searching the ground for the right pool.  Luckily we thoroughly explored the area because Xiao Bing and I were prepared to jump into this dark murky pool to see if the clues were hidden on the deep end.  Instead Jenn spies a kayak in the wading pool and I jump into the boat to retrieve the clue.

The choice to head up to the bamboo forest was made because we were concerned about going head-to-head with the all male teams in a physical challenge.  After we climbed into the hills, Jenn's eagle eyes spotted a clue high up in the trees and we brainstormed on how we could get it down.  Nobody told us there were axes further up the slope so I pull out my Swiss Army knife to try to saw through the bamboo, no dice.  I shake the trunk as hard as I can but the clue is securely tied up there.  I try to climb up but it is so dirty and slippery that I can barely get off the ground.  Finally from another part of the forest we hear chopping sounds and spot the Trainers wielding an ax.  They point us towards the hatchets so I run up to retrieve one and then start slashing the bamboo with all my might.

Bubbles in the Brain

So we were on our way to the reservoir and had made a significant comeback from 8th to 3rd.  Unfortunately our good taxi karma was about to run out.  Our driver knew how to get to the resort but he had no idea where the reservoir was.  We circle around the mountains for 30 minutes and finally pass the Fiancés and Socialites on the road.  Nobody knew how to find the reservoir.  At one point, we were a bumbling congo line of taxis heading up the mountain but I really doubted the reservoir was any higher up.  We finally found a local who knew the area and he gave us directions.

When we finally arrived to do our scuba diving, we had already dropped several places.  It just so happened that I have my scuba diving license and although I have never gone since my open-water dive 12 years ago, the little piece of plastic sitting in storage back in NJ gave me the confidence to breeze through this challenge and find the sword at the bottom of the reservoir in no time.

We needed a Light Saber

Another taxi snafu cost us a few places but we made it to the Sword Pond in one piece.  Unfortunately, the hike down went on forever.  Going to the pond was fine but we dreaded the return hike up the steep stairs and our bags seemed to get heavier with each additional step.  By the time we reached the bottom of the mountain it was dark out and we could barely see what we were doing.  Luckily we had packed a headlamp so this helped even though Jenn looked like Inspector Gadget.  We huffed and puffed our way back up the mountain with our heavy packs and finished in 5th place for the 5th Episode.  Yes!  :-)

Big congratulations to the Twincredibles on their first place finish and really unfortunate that their prize was for a destination about an hour away from their tropical hometown.  It would be like if we were back home and won a trip to the Jersey Shore - whoop-dee-doo.  BUT we would gladly take those Phuket tickets off your hands . . . ha ha ha.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Episode IV: A New Hope

Part I:  "Dude, where's my Pinghu?" 

Wow, what a roller-coaster ride.  We started this leg off on the wrong foot, in fact we nearly started it in the wrong city!  So we took a flight back to Shanghai and the clue directed us to Pinghu, a town that nobody had ever heard of.  The race began rather frantically and even the cameramen were not aware that we would begin the race that night as soon as we got our backpacks from the baggage claim.  This would come back to haunt us later in our crazed attempt to reach the ancestral home of Jeremy Lin's grandmother.

The leg money for this portion of the race was 300 RMB.  Our first instinct was to try to take a taxi directly there so we exited the airport and I jumped over the barriers and skipped the long queue to ask a cabbie how much it would be and he quoted me 800 RMB.  Ok that was way over our budget so we had to resort to walking to the train station to try and find a cheaper alternative.  As we waited for the security screening we were relieved to see the Taiwanese Models and the Trainers in line in front of us.  We cleared the metal detectors and headed for the automatic ticket machines.  After a few touches of the screen we soon discovered that the last train to Pinghu was over an hour ago.  We then turn around to try to see what the other two teams were doing and to our dismay there was no sign of them. 

The next stop was the Information Desk and we ask the young teller what would be the best method to travel to Pinghu.  She replied with the Chinese equivalent of "Ping what?" and pulls out this massive book which looks like a Yellow Pages ate an Atlas and starts flipping through these massive pages and then tells us that the next train to Pinghu was tomorrow morning at 6:30 AM.  One thing that you need to understand about China is that folks in the service profession are generally not so helpful and they will only answer a specific question posed directly to them.  This exchange was like a root canal and we finally discerned that there *might* be a long-distance bus that could take us there but the last one was *probably* at 9 PM which only allowed us about 5 minutes to get to the bus depot, figure out where to buy tickets and get on the bus in time.  We ruled this out as well and by this point we had attracted quite a little crowd with our rugged German cameraman Jonas standing behind us with his mini flood-light illuminating these two loud panicked Americans.

One particular gentleman steps up and tells us confidently that he knows how we can get to Pinghu.  He walks us to the ticket window and advises us to buy high-speed train tickets to Hangzhou (about 110 miles from Shanghai) and from there we could take a taxi to get us to Pinghu.  He shows us his ticket and tells us that he will also be on the same train to lend some validation.  After asking a few other bystanders they all agree that Hangzhou is the only option so we proceed to purchase the train tickets.  When the attendant asks for all of our passports, our cameraman starts cursing because he does not have any of his documents since he did not think we would start racing at 8 PM upon landing in Shanghai.  We start arguing with the clerk and the camera assistant busts out her press credentials and starts yelling that we are filming a TV show.  In hindsight, I suppose this should have raised some red flags that a train was not the expected route but we felt like we were really out of options at that point.  When the teller finally agreed to sell us 4 tickets and it was 75 RMB each using up ALL of our leg money, we probably should have regrouped but the race adrenaline had me blindly focused on progressing forward so I handed over all of our money.

At this point, Jenn is in full-on panic mode.  We have no money, no cell phones, no credit cards and we were about to board a train to a city which may or may not get us closer to our final destination.  I was still confident that we could figure something out or perhaps talk our way to a free ride so we went down to the tracks to board our train.  As we were looking for our train car number Jenn overhears a group of people talking about Pinghu.  They must have seen our ordeal upstairs and Jenn jumps inside their circle and asks them if they know how to get to Pinghu.  These 4 nice people renewed my faith in the Chinese people as they asked what we were filming and it turned out they were big fans of the Amazing Race.  We explained our predicament and they confirm that we could take a taxi from Hangzhou to Pinghu.  However, our major obstacle at that point was that we were bankrupt and the nice woman, Sophie, asks if she is allowed to give us money.  The Race Rules clearly stipulated that we could not beg for money UNLESS we were out of funds and there was no other choice.  This obviously met the criteria and we gratefully accepted her help.  She opens her wallet and starts counting bills.  Her friend Kevin confirms that 600 RMB (~$ 95 USD) should be more than enough to get us to Pinghu and she hands us the stack of cash.  I insist on exchanging business cards with her and promise to pay her back once we returned to Shanghai.  (Note: I wired her the funds once we were home and recovered)

Sophie and Kevin tell us that they will meet us on the platform once we arrive and they will help us arrange a taxi to take us to our final destination.  With our coffers replenished, we thanked God for this blessing, and made our way to our assigned seats.  The high-speed train was very nice (akin to the bullet trains in Japan) and we all relaxed a little as we sped towards the next stop in the race.  Thirty minutes later Kevin comes rushing down the aisle and says in Chinese "thank goodness I found you" (uh oh).  He explains that there is one stop before Hangzhou (C) called Yuhang (B) which is even closer to Pinghu (D) and we should get off at that stop instead.  We did not have time to ask for more details since the train was already slowing down and Yuhang was the next stop.  I trusted Kevin and after all they had funded the next portion of our trip so we grabbed our bags and hopped off the train.

At this point it is about 10:30 pm and the station is absolutely deserted.  We find one cab around the corner but he tells us that his battery is dead so we would have to help push the taxi to get it started.  We were desperate so we agreed and once the car was moving we ask him how long it will take to get to Pinghu.  When he tells us 2 hours, our hearts sank.  We thought it would be maybe 20 minutes away and had entertained some fantasies that we might have jumped from last place to maybe the top 5 with our creative travel plans.  When we finally arrived at 1 AM to receive the next clue we were still in dead-last 8th place, ugh.  We found out the next day that most of the other teams had gone to the train station and from that taxi stand the cabs were willing to go for 300 RMB.  I'm still perplexed as to why the airport taxi's would try to gouge passengers but in the end we were no worse off than when we had started.  In 5 hours it would be the beginning of a new race day and we would need to draw some Linspiration to compete fiercely and try to stage a comeback.  Read on below for Part II of our Pinghu Pitfalls.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Episode 4: Part II

*SPOILER ALERT* - watch Episode 4 above before reading on

Do the Right Thing

In the morning, we were back at the park for the Pit Start.  The first challenge was an intersection so we had to pair up with another team.  Luckily it was basketball and once Yelin told me that he plays every weekend, I knew this would be easy.  We had 6 minutes to finish an abbreviated round of H-O-R-S-E (technically H.O.R. since it was only 3 shots) and we could see several other teams waiting as they endured a penalty.  We started off strong and were making good time but then Jenn hit a snag on the free throw shot.  She was quite nervous and getting frustrated as she tried to use pure arm strength to muscle the ball to the rim.  Instead, I told her to try a granny shot and throw it underhand and she got a swish on her first try!  Last up was me and my adrenaline was going warp speed at this point like most of our local taxi drivers.  Anyone in our foursome could take the final 3-pointer and originally we had agreed Zhang Yelin would take it since he played basketball so frequently but after I drained the free throw, I felt like I had hot hands.  They did not show my first attempt which bounced off the rim but as soon as my second try left my fingers I knew it was good.  We ended up being the only team who completed that challenge on the first attempt and this gave us a much needed boost in confidence.

As we left the school, we got separated from the Fiancés and we did not know where they wandered off to.  We made it back to the main entrance and the road was deserted.  One taxi was waiting and we asked him to take us to the farm.  He said that the other couple had reserved him and told him to wait.  While Jenn and I considered our options, we ultimately decided to hike down the road to try to find another cab rather than being underhanded and steal their taxi.

"Hello Rope & Bamboo: We Meet Again"

Luckily about 10 minutes later we were able to flag down a passing taxi and we were on our way to make a scarecrow.  We arrived at the farm to a hectic scene.  The Twins were carrying this massive bamboo/straw body into the fields and a cool helicopter cam was whizzing around above us.  After my Episode 1 fiasco with tying knots on bamboo, I was determined to do this quickly.  Fortunately, this time we were able to work together and we quickly constructed our straw man making doubly sure that all the knots were extra secure.  After the race had concluded we heard about the taxi stealing incident and rightfully so, the BBQ Cousins and the Twins were very annoyed.  Either one of them would have almost certainly won this leg instead and we were disappointed to learn that Team Harvard would have stooped so low.  When we watched the show, we thought it was interesting how they justify that their victims could simply steal the next team's taxi.  Before Jennifer and I agreed to participate on the show, we had made a pact that we would not stab anyone in the back and we would NOT let the show make us contemptible.

Cabbie Catastrophe

  The Mo Mansion was massive but while we were searching the grounds Jenn luckily spotted one of the production assistants on the second floor.  We immediately found the staircase and then made our way to find the next clue.  We were still not completely recovered from the kimchee so we decided to do the Chess showdown.  About an hour later we were back at the farmlands from the Scarecrow task and the driver pulls into an abandoned warehouse.  This did not look right.  He steps out of the car and starts walking around.  We finally encounter an old grandma in her pajamas who looks like a Chinese Gloria Stuart (Rose) from the Titanic and he asks her for directions!?  Ok, this was definitely not good.  We start arguing with the driver and he tries to call 411 and then his dispatcher.  Incredibly, nobody knows where this Chess School is so we drive back into town.  We stop two other taxis and both of them also shrug their shoulders, take a puff on their cigarettes, and offer no help.  Finally, we pull up next to another taxi and we ask Dumb & Dumber if they know where the restaurant was for the other Detour.  They confer and acknowledge unconvincingly that they know how to get to the restaurant.  At this point we had wasted an hour and a half and we were out of options.  Thankfully he finds the restaurant and asks us if we want him to wait - yeah right!  I cannot remember if I paid him the full fare but I certainly hope not since he took us on a scenic tour of Pinghu and probably secured us a last-place finish.

"I would rather eat kimchee"

As expected, we were the last ones at the restaurant and so we had no idea what to expect.  The first part required patience and precision.  Unfortunately not a great combination for Jenn as these delicate duck eggs required us to gently crack the shells with soft taps from a chopstick.  While I was waiting for Jenn to finish her 5 eggs, I was chatting with the chef about these pungent delicacies.  He admitted that he did not like to eat them and then laughs as he tells me that usually one egg would last a family of 6 a full week as they slowly add small amounts to their congee.  Wonderful.

After Jenn's eggs passed inspection he scoops out one egg each for us.  The smell itself was revolting like an animal had died in a vat of cheap gin.  The egg itself looked like a ball of mozzarella cheese soaked in urine.  Before I bit into this horrible culinary monstrosity I dug out the aromatherapy clips that I had packed with us.  This was a new fad in Shanghai that had appeared recently and they made dispensers for energy, for calm, and for sleeping.  We had brought one of each just-in-case and this seemed like a perfect opportunity to try the "calming" one (right).

Although in the Episode it might look like I have boogers coming out of my nose, I assure you it was this Nasaroma clip in our desperate attempt to cover up the smell of these fermented alcoholic duck eggs.  For me, I poked a hole in the embryonic sac and essentially squeezed out all the contents into my mouth and then did my best to swallow it without chewing or tasting anything.  Unfortunately, it was a big egg and I had to bite into it and the disgusting combination of rice wine and salty yolk exploded in my mouth.  As my eyes were watering, I forced myself to swallow the soft salty slime.  Luckily I was done in two mouthfuls but Jenn took a different approach and tried to bite the egg itself.  This only prolonged her suffering and she had the added foulness of pulling the rubbery embryonic sac out of her mouth since it was too tough to chew.  She also ended up with some of the soupy mess on her plate so she had to shovel it into her mouth to finish the egg.  If given the choice, I would gladly eat another 1.5 kilos of kimchi versus seeing another one of these eggs ever again.

比伯高热 (Bieber Fever in Chinese)

Our final stop was an elementary school and when the Road Block says "Who can carry a tune?" we know it has to be me.  That is not saying much since I am pretty tone-deaf too but compared to Jenn, my one verse of Extreme's "More Than Words" that I can play on the guitar was light years ahead of her.  When we walked upstairs we were very surprised to see the Trainers still there and they tell us it took them two hours - whoa.  Upon entering the classroom, there were still quite a few teams there so I thought that maybe we still had a chance to recover from our earlier taxi delay and simultaneously I was also thinking that this challenge must be pretty hard.  After studying the teacher intently, I went over to the little girl judge and she promptly gives me a "No!".  No pointers or elaboration so I go back to the drawing board to perfect my pipa.  This time rather than relying on my useless ears, I focus on the notes (strings + struts) on the whiteboard and try to memorize them.  Jenn keeps telling me it sounds good so with a false sense of confidence I stroll over to the girl judge again and she rejects me.  My head (and stomach) were still swimming from the drunken duck egg so this time I write down the notes on my hand rather than relying on my fuzzy brain and luckily I play all the notes right - woohoo!  (16-14-17-12  16-14-16-17)

We were clearly the last team so we hung around the classroom a bit chatting with all the school-children.  They had been there all day sitting in that classroom so they were eager to ask about the show and learn more about us.  We posed for some pictures and it was Bieber-like to have a crowd of cheering girls seeing us off as we departed for the Pit Stop.

Jenn and I were ready to go home and supposedly it would have been just a quick cab ride away.  Our interview was quite long and Jenn goes into a long soliloquy about being tired mentally and physically and how she misses Calvin (dog) who was being boarded back home.  Allan says to us "sorry guys but you will have to stay to compete in another round" but the final edit is a strange choppy mash-up of his quotes.  I was still ready to fight on but Jenn was slowly losing interest in the crummy hotels, insufficient nutrition, and disorganization.  That night we treated ourselves to Pizza Hut for dinner thanks to our donation from Sophie the night before.
One of our favorite parts of this episode.  Sibling love. 

WORST Quote: "It diffuses the area in which it receives it" 

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Episode 3: Backstage

*SPOILER ALERT* - watch Episode 3 above before reading on

Say 'Ni Hao' to Kim Jong-un

Another early start for us.  We were checked out of the hotel by 6:30 AM and both Jenn and I wore our glasses since we thought it would be a Travel Day again.  Unfortunately we were wrong and after a quick 6 hour bus ride we had arrived on the border of North Korea.  One funny bus anecdote as we were always with the Socialites in the back of the bus.  They were re-reading the clue and trying to figure out what autonomy meant as in "Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture".  Janelle was like "I think it has something to do with the body" and I told her that was anatomy.  Then Karin says, "doesn't it have to do with the moon or stars?" so I answered with astronomy.  Note: autonomy = independence or freedom; autonomous = self-government.  It's ok though because English is Karin's second language.

So the race started and unfortunately neither of us knew Korean so we were totally out of our element trying to read the clue.  We asked a passerby to help us decode the Korean hanja characters and he told us to head to the elementary school.  Our taxi driver, Xiao Zhao was really friendly and he had heard of the show and kept turning around to wave at the camera.  That was cute until he almost had a head-on collision.  The editing was again quite aggressive in Episode 3 because that Korean bowing challenge really stumped Jenn.  We took 3 penalties attempting it and eventually we had to go back in the hallway to the giant posters that the Taiwanese Models commented on in the Episode to give Jenn a refresher.  We finally passed the test and decided to skip the Fast Forward since we assumed one of the earlier teams would have gone for it.

On our way to the Detour our cab driver got totally lost and he dropped us off at some restaurant on the other side of the village.  We busted into this really local joint which only had 1 round table and scared the bejesus out of the patrons as we frantically asked them where the challenge was.  Just imagine two lous Americans carrying humongous backpacks interrupting your meal trailed by a foreigner wielding a bulky professional video camera.  I would like to apologize to the people of the Korean Folk Village for our rudeness.  It was our cabbie who eventually came back and found us and told us he brought us to the wrong place, ahhh, Xiao Zhao - killing me!

Kimchee Calamity

When we finally arrived to eat the kimchi we were pretty nervous that we might have been the last team.  Remember, it was a Detour so we had no idea how many people went to try the Pot Luck balancing act.  Before we even walked into the room, we saw Wei Wei standing outside hurling everywhere tears running down his cheeks.  Oh great, the super soldier could not even handle this, how are we going to finish?  Once we entered the room, things got worse.  Lee Yang and Christine were both crying and the smell was just awful.  We put on the plastic gloves and dug in.  Jenn was doing quite well in the beginning.  She likes kimchi (in moderation) whereas I have a notoriously sensitive stomach and don't really like Korean food to begin with.  I could not force myself to chew that cabbage so I would rip off small pieces, wipe away as much of the sour spicy orange sauce as possible and swallow it whole like a vitamin.  We were making good progress for about an hour and then it finally hit us.  My fingers all of a sudden got numb and my hands started shaking.  Jenn tells me she's about to lose it and I tell her to just throw up if she has to, no point in either of us seriously damaging our health with an overdose of kimchi.  She moves to the window to get some air hugging a garbage can and promptly vomits.

So we had a 20 minute penalty and still had at least a third of the 1.5 kilos of cabbage to finish.   We pretty much assumed we would be going home that day but right when we were ready to call it quits, in walks the Father/Daughter team.  They tell us that they tried the Fast Forward but were too late.  With our chances of survival renewed, Jenn hurried back to polish off her kimchi and she asked whether she could go throw up again.  The Game Producer told us that until both team members were done, each vomit incurred a cumulative penalty of 20 minutes.  So she had to wait for me but at this point the cabbage was screaming to be released from my bowels.  After some rule clarifications, we determined that going to the bathroom was legit so I ran to the restroom to unload much to the horror of our cameraman who had to listen to the whole thing as my mic was still on (sorry Sam).  After about 10 minutes, I come back and the father was already done.  Luckily for us the daughter looked liked she was struggling and when she puked I was relieved and felt like we had a 50/50 chance of not being eliminated.  But timing be damned once I finally finished my cabbage I had to make another emergency toilet run while Jenn proceeded to throw up 5 more times outside.

The Aftermath

The rest of that day was a bit of a blur.  My stomach hurts just thinking about it and it took all my strength not to poo my pants.  This made me quite unhappy the rest of the day especially when I learned we had to ride a giant swing.  Originally we thought since I was taller I had a better chance of hitting those bells but we quickly realized it was much more important to have the stronger person on the ground.  When the next clue took us to a cold noodle shop I told Jenn that if I had to eat anything else my intestines might explode.  Thankfully it was not another eating challenge but you may have noticed in the show that we were running around the kitchen like headless chickens and could not find the clue.  But for Team Harvard the chef practically presents it to them, again, white nepotism - darn it!

When we get to the Exhibition Hall, it was pitch black inside and we had to find our way to the main stage on the 3rd floor.  We knew we were in the bottom 2 and the Father/Daughter could very well have passed us in their taxi given our impediment searching for the clue.  We finally find the Pit Stop and Allan Wu tells us we were 8th.  Quick high five and he starts to ask us about the day and I politely interrupt him and say, "sorry Allan but I really need to go to the bathroom".  He is caught off guard and asks me, "one or two".  I grimace and hold up 2 fingers and he understands so we cut the interview short and I rush off to find the restroom.  The entire floor had its lights turned off on purpose and since 1 more team still had to check-in, they could not turn them on for me.   A nice camera assistant took pity on me and let me use her iPhone as a source of light while I crouched in the stall.  Those toilet torpedoes were only a precursor to the full-on war that my stomach would wage with the bathroom that night.  When I was done, we had to wait outside because the Father/Daughter team had arrived and they were filming their elimination interview.  Once they were finished, they asked us to do another take of our Pit Stop even though I thought it would have been really funny to use the original one but I guess toilet humor is too base for China Rush.

For supper we only ate white rice and it was like some cruel joke that the dinner boxes contained more kimchi.  I went to the bathroom at least 7 more times throughout the night.  Let me just say that the hot shower that night was one of the most painful experiences ever.  To this day we have yet to touch kimchi again.

For more stories check out Khai Shing's blog here.  Major props for completing the Pot Luck balancing act!

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Sunday, September 09, 2012

Episode 2: Behind-the-Scenes

*SPOILER ALERT* - please click above to watch Episode 2 before reading 

From Russia with Love

Taxis can make or break you on the Race.  
After we got the clue to head for the Sino-Russian Exhibition Hall, they totally cut our 1 hour ordeal to arrive at our destination.  Although we had the address in Chinese and showed the driver, he took us to the wrong building on the opposite side of town.  He then asked 3 other taxi drivers for directions to no avail and finally we had to switch taxis after we finally found someone who assured us he knew where to go.  Although it might have seemed quirky and fun on TV, the Russian Doll Game was a complete circus for the contestants.  Luckily, Jenn just stormed in and found a doll which just happened to contain 10 pieces so we immediately headed for the curator.  While waiting outside his office, the neighbors appeared and Brandon eloquently posed the question, "what the f*ck is going on here?".  We explained to them to just find 10 dolls of the same color making sure not to miss the final piece which was the size of a pencil eraser.  After that it was smooth sailing for us.  The Speed Bump was awesome cause our picture was up on a giant billboard and it was the first time anyone had seen any of their studio portraits.  Chopping wood was also fun and it was the first time Jenn or I had ever tried that outdoor activity.  The final misleading edit came during the military bed-making.  I bring this up only because it was all over the Chinese blogosphere (Weibo - like a Twitter/Facebook hybrid) about how we must have bribed the soldier to pass us.  The clip shows Jenn with a pretty messy blanket and then they cut to our final approval.  She was actually denied at least 3 times before we were granted permission to leave at last and her blanket was no worse than any other teams.  In fact we found out later that the Harvard team were passed on their second try even though their blanket looked like a typhoon had hit the barracks.  When asked why, the soldier said he was being nice to the white foreigner - messed up!  Maybe if Nick had done the challenge they might have knocked out the Socialites.  All in all we were still happy to have come back from last place to lucky number 7.

Suifenhe Sendoff
After the adrenaline subsided, both of us were quite sad to have to bid adieu to Nick and Brandon.  Although they talked tons of subtle sarcastic trash in all their interviews, the truth was that those two Thundercats & Spartacus-loving guys were constant comic relief.  We remain close friends and will cherish the wild blowout we had at Club MAKIM on the edge of Russia.  Since they got their phones and wallets back, we got to enjoy a night out with a bottle of Smirnoff and a surprise rendezvous with the Slavic clue girl from the train station.  It turns out she was one of the "dancers" at this club, go figure.  Before the neighbors headed to the airport, they gave us their remaining supply of hand warmers, chewing gum, and Cottonelle wet wipes.  They made us promise them that we would continue competing and make it as far as possible despite the debilitating race conditions.  Message received - das vedanya comrades.

My favorite part of Episode 2:  "Wait, wait, listen".  For more behind-the-scenes check out Khai Shing's blog  

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