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" ©

Friday, October 12, 2012

Episode 7: Swan Song

*SPOILER ALERT* - please watch Episode 7 above before reading below

"Su Chef"

We started off the day in great position.  Despite being on the second bus, we made good time and actually arrived in Nanjing before the first bus.  After we found a taxi, we were quite excited to be headed to the Hilton since we mistakenly thought we might be staying there that night given their sponsorship of the show.  The clue says something about "slice and dice" and at home I am always the sous-chef that helps wash and chop all the vegetables so we decide that I should do it.  Unfortunately, it ends up being a cooking challenge and that is definitely not my forte.  I can barely tell the difference between a cucumber and a zucchini and other than boiling pasta am a pretty slow cook.  Luckily with Jenn's help, I was able to pick the right ingredients and seasoning on my 3rd try and ended up being the first male to complete the challenge.

Famous Historical Nanking

We were very excited to be in the former capital of Imperial China and were looking forward to visiting some of the famous sites such as the City Wall, Sun Yat-sen Mausoleum, or numerous Temples/Gardens.  Instead we find ourselves at a railway factory and I tried to get excited since I thought we would get to operate some heavy machinery like forklifts and what not but alas we used granny carts to haul scrap metal over a total length of 4.5 miles in a stuffy warehouse wearing thick uncomfortable uniforms.  Jenn tells me that she has a splitting headache (probably a combination of dehydration and lack of circulation in the warehouse) so she balks at running.  Instead we teased the Harvard team on always being so serious and how they should smile more often.

Stop, Collaborate and Listen

As we finished our last lap of transporting scrap metal, we could see the Taiwanese Models working on their task and we were very curious what the 'Screw This' challenge was.  We departed the railway factory at about the same time and made our way to the Zhening Tower.  The Models beat us to the tower but we ran into them outside the elevator.  They gave us some gloomy high-fives and then when we got to the clue box we saw why.  We had been Yielded by the Fiancés!  Well this gave us an excellent opportunity to rest and recuperate since Jenn was still not feeling well and both of us were starving having just walked over 4 miles.  I had spotted a KFC at the base of the tower so I ran back down to buy us a snack.  Our cameraman was also hungry and nobody had gotten an opportunity to eat yet so I bought burgers for everyone.  Once the Yield was done and the hourglass had run out we opened the clue to see what was next.  Uh oh.  We had to spin like astronauts at the University of Aeronautics!  Maybe KFC was not a good idea after all.  Damn you Colonel Sanders and your enticing secret recipe!

Top Gun

It was rush hour in Nanjing so it was very difficult to find a cab.  I suppose this added time helped our digestion since I can almost guarantee I would have thrown up if we had spun immediately.  We finally made it to the University and there was a platoon of soldiers waiting for us.  They strapped us into what looked like giant hamster wheels and started spinning us.  Jenn was laughing so hard and she later tells me that a rock flew into her mouth.  They showed us 10 pictures of different aircraft and we had to identify them out of a total of 20.  Our heads were still spinning so of course we got it wrong.  I was really dreading going back on the wheel but we were determined to complete this challenge and this time we decided to divide & conquer with Jenn memorizing the first 5 pictures and I would take the last 5.  This strategy worked and we got it right the second time.  We do the Top Gun high-five and head to the Danger Zone (ie. Olympic Stadium).


We walked to the center of the stadium to meet Allan Wu.  It was an amazing feeling to walk onto the field and it gave us a small impression of what professional athletes enjoy regularly.  Our luck had run out this time and it was NOT a Non-Elimination.  The two of us were proud of our performance and the fact that we made it more than halfway through the Race.  We walked off the field with our heads held high and as we approached the track, the other teams popped out near the stands and started cheering for us.

It was a wild ride but a memorable experience and we have made some lasting friendships with the other contestants.  Since we got our wallets back, we wanted to take everyone out for a nice dinner so we found a restaurant close to the Motel 168 and booked 2 private rooms.  We ordered up a feast that night to go along with the 18 one-liter beers that we finished.  It was a great farewell dinner and everyone had fun.  After we were done, Jenn and I grabbed our huge backpacks and hopped in a taxi to go back to the Hilton.  We went to the front desk, gave them our credit card, and told them to give us whatever room was available.  That might have been the best night's sleep I have ever had and then in the morning we ordered room-service:  breakfast-in-bed.

A final thank you to everyone involved with the Amazing Race China Rush for giving us this opportunity to be a part of this adventure.  To the fans for watching, thank you for your support.  There is so much work that goes into producing a reality TV show and many of them are never seen.  To our cameramen: Paul, Jonas, Sam, Lou, and Jason it was great working with you and we look forward to catching up soon, off-camera of course.  Same for the assistants: Molly, Nikki, Rainbow, Sophie, and Jesse.  For the post-production crew and video editors, it is amazing how you have taken hundreds of hours of raw footage and weaved such entertaining stories every episode.  Congratulations and thank you.

Some people have asked who Jesse Burke is - the one mentioned in the closing credits.  He was one of the Game Producers on the show who tragically died while on another assignment after filming completed for China Rush.  Jesse was hands-down the best Game Producer: organized, transparent, and fair; he will be missed.

Watching the finished product now on TV and having settled back into our normal lives we miss the Race and wished that we had further continued the journey.  However, for us, it was never about winning or losing, more about sharing this incredible experience together and enjoying yet another adventure as a couple.  We tested our limits, visited some interesting, off-the-beaten path places, and met some really great people.  I am proud of Jenn for lasting as long as she did and if we had to do it all over again, I would say "on your mark, get set, GO!"

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Sunday, October 07, 2012

Episode 6: Deleted Scenes

*SPOILER ALERT* - please watch Episode 6 above before continuing


This leg brought us to Huangshan in Anhui.  I was very excited because my mom is originally from this province but I never had the chance to visit.  Having started Leg 1 in Shanxi which is my dad's hometown as well I could now proudly say that I have been to both of my ancestral homes.  Luckily for us, we would not have to scale Yellow Mountain with our heavy packs and we only stopped off at the base entrance to find our first clue.  Actually, Jenn and I were very curious to visit the majestic mountain so we recently went back for a visit.  Pictures are here: Picasa Web Album.  What a huge difference money, credit cards, and leisure time can make!

1, 2, 3. . . 199, 200

When we arrived at the village, it was a total maze.  Every alleyway looked the same but Steven and I worked together to navigate the narrow lanes.  At the counting challenge, the stress of the Race finally got to us.  To our credit, this was the ONLY time where we had a brief chink in our marital armor.  Each giant scroll that we had to count had somewhere between 220 - 280 characters on them and there were 8 huge scrolls.  Perhaps it is my database engineering background that had me immediately dividing them into columns and rows to multiply for the sum but Jenn was counting every single character.  When I delicately and politely tried to persuade her to attempt a different method I was shot down.  Actually she did eventually switch methods and after comparing our notes we were able to clinch the correct total.  Surprisingly, we later found out that the Trainers did in fact count every single character in that room, all 2,421 of them!

"Hairy Tofu, get your Hairy Tofu Here!"

Selling the hairy tofu was one of our favorite tasks to do during our adventure.  We had always wondered what it would be like to work at a food stall and now we had the opportunity to find out.  It might not have been very clear on TV but the hairy tofu was really very hairy and the hair was mold.  Imagine if you left a piece of wet bread out on the counter for a week.  The green and white hairy mold that appears is the same white stuff that covered this mushy stinky tofu.  I cannot fathom anyone eating this let alone enjoying it but fortunately for us, people seemed to be quite excited.

We had such a good time that even after we sold the required amount of 100 RMB worth, we just kept going and cooked up the rest of our supplies to give to some of the children and other passersby.  The one scene I wish had made the final cut was when an older European gentleman was strolling by.  Being an astute salesman, I immediately saw dollar signs and I ask him if he speaks English.  He replies "a little" but tells me he is German.  Bingo.  I took 4 years of German so we chat briefly about how I love Audi's and Jürgen Klinsmann and then I ask him to buy some hairy tofu.  Unfortunately, he says he spent all his RMB and all he has is one Euro.  So then I start asking everyone who will exchange the Euro for RMB and finally another shopkeeper agrees to take it for 10 RMB.  We then joked about the United Nations working together as he politely tried to swallow some of the moldy smelly bowl of pan-fried sludge we sold him.

Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls

The next day we headed to the 9 Dragon Waterfalls for the Roadblock: who's at the end of their rope?  Well Jenn was pretty exhausted and she was missing the comforts of home so figuratively it made sense for her to take this one.  Strategically, we thought it might have something to do with rock-climbing and since she is an intermediate climber having spent some time in Colorado, we agreed that she would perform the challenge.  Of course it ended up being repelling down the waterfall so if selling the hairy tofu was the funnest task so far, this one was by far the coolest.  It was a long hike up to the pavilion and then an even more treacherous and difficult climb up the muddy path to the top of the falls.  Jenn has no problem coming down the mountain but then when she has to drop into the freezing cold water, she hesitates.  From the rocky shore 50 feet away I could hear her howling once she plunged into the lagoon but we got our clue and were on our way.

We arrived at the rope bridge at the same time as both the Socialites and Fiancés but then it was a foot-race to the Pit Stop.  Jenn was pretty tired from hiking up and down the mountain and her legs could not run any more.  I offered to take her backpack but she wanted to finish on her own terms.  When we arrived to face Allan we were again prepared for the worst and were totally baffled when he tells us we were lucky #7 again.  Allan Wu tells Jenn that she is very hard to read and he cannot tell whether she is disappointed, happy, or relieved but he tells her to get fired up!  加油

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Friday, October 05, 2012

Golden Week - Gangnam Style

National Week and Mid-Autumn Festival both fell on the first week of October which meant that it has been really crazy here.  We wanted to avoid the 34 million tourists in China so we headed to sunny Busan in South Korea.  It was a fantastic 3-day trip but unfortunately this meant that I have not had a chance to update the blog and comment on the latest episodes of Amazing Race China Rush.  I did however get to satisfy my Psy fix and perfect my Gangnam Style dance!  Check out pictures from Korea here: picasaweb.

Since our return, work has been extremely busy as Steven so astutely pointed out:

Please stay tuned for upcoming stories about our adventures on Amazing Race China Rush!