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It's a fine line between living for the moment and being a sociopath.

Patricia B McConnell: For The Love Of A Dog.

Pema Chodron: The Places That Scare You

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Thursday, June 28, 2001

Shang High Life, #1

The Shang High Life, #1. June 28, 2001

The Road to Shanghai

If you’re getting this, it’s because I’m hoping to keep in touch with you and you haven’t yet told me to piss off. If, however, bulk e-mail makes you feel more alien than intimate, let me know and I’ll take you off the list.

This is gonna be a newsy doozie.

Short version: Left Natural HealthLink. Left L.A. Visited Sydney. Vacationed in Fiji. Found love. Flew to Shanghai to start new job, etc.

Long version…

Most of you who read the LA Unconfidential likely already know that, while my last year was amazing in many ways, there wasn’t really any love lost between me and Los Angeles. I can list its many virtues, but it just never got under my skin. It wasn’t the smog or the silicone. It just wasn’t me.

Given that, it was surprisingly hard to leave. My roots at Natural HealthLink were deep (No, Walter, not just the medicinal roots…and no jokes about “These roots were made for walkin’”). The city didn’t enter my heart, but so many people did. Almost none of them had fake breasts.

Leaving L.A. meant saying goodbye to people who had become important to me. It also meant packing up all my shit, again, and it provided a great excuse to drink really good wine. Most of the wine I shipped from Australia to LA a little over a year ago was still untouched. It was high was time to touch as much of it as possible. So, as much sadness as I felt in saying goodbye to folks, it was fun getting them pissed on good Aussie red.

The first opportunity was at an office send-off. I supplied the wine; folks who’d had to suffer my presence provided the cutting roast that, far too quickly, turned mushy. So, we gave up and ripped into the Bin 389.

The second opportunity came at a “trash my place before I move out” party. That was a particularly special night, because my mom and Lowell drove up from San Diego to join the bacchanal. This turned out to be a mixed blessing, however, as the amount of wine consumed was dramatically less due to their attendance. It’s not that the presence of the oldies made people more inhibited; it was Lowell’s expertise at the blender that had many folks sticking to margaritas all night.

A week later, my house empty, I was on a plane to Oz. Thanks so much to Mehrdad, Christy, Jeff, Eric and Margot for making my last few weeks in L.A. so special. Thanks to so many others for making all fourteen months a time I shall never regret, the city of L.A., itself, be danged.

From L.A. to Sydney. After not having been in Sydney for over a year, I won’t hide how good it felt to return. It probably didn’t hurt that I arrived on my birthday. The agenda of activity didn’t suck, either: a birthday dinner with Sylvana in Glebe, a sumptuous degustation at Bather’s Pavillion with Ronnie, Sally, and Geri, and a night at the pub with—strangely enough—Natural HealthLink folks (Annie and Walter), McKinsey alums, the Famous Five (minus one, Shmooz!), Tongue Surfers, and more. The visit was capped by a magical dinner hosted by Ronnie (at his BIG table) and cooked by Sally. Another good excuse for an ocean of red. Gotta check to see how that stuff’s ageing, after all. (For those interested, the wine of the night was a 95 (?) Lenswood Pinot that had become something magical. Disappointment of the night was a tie between my behaviour and an oxidized bottle of Mount Edelstone.)

The next day, I left for twelve days in Fiji.

At this point, I have to come clean to those of you with whom I spoke about my Fiji trip prior to going. I told you that my plan was to spend a couple of weeks alone on a beach, doing nothing but reading trashy novels and drinking foo-foo fruity cocktails with umbrellas in them. Further, I was cagey about exactly where I was going, claiming I wanted to escape so completely that no-one would even know where I was. To each of you to whom I told this story, I apologize for the prevarication.

Although my tenacious new secretary in Alcatel gave me several last-minute reasons to be grateful no one knew where I was, the fact is that I was hiding a secret: I wasn’t going to Fiji alone. And, if I had said where I was going—the little island of Vatulele—several of you would have known I must have had a companion.

I apologize to those of you to whom I told the tale. I went to Fiji betting on finding love with an old, old friend. Because so many people know both of us, we chose to shield ourselves from inquiry and scrutiny until we knew more ourselves. In the event that we came back from Fiji shaking hands and returning to friendship, we wanted to be able to do so without having to explain it to waiting—however loving—speculation.

I was talking about this with my mother and sister the other day. After they grilled me with questions for some time, my mom asked, “Honey, why did you think we’d scrutinize you?” My sister, bless her, saw the irony.

The outcome was wonderful for my heart and crappy for my phone bill. The Prince of Bad Timing went to Fiji to find love, did, then left his heart in Sydney as he tripped off to Shanghai. But, hey, it’s two hours closer to Sydney than L.A. was. Who knew that falling so hard could be so easy, so free of trepidation and doubt? Of course, it’s not a knew discovery that we care about each other, but it’s pretty damn fine to find out that all the fire of a newly discovered passion was also right there, lurking underneath. For those of you still waiting for the punch line—Who, dammit? Who?—there’s a photo or two at the end.

If you want to know how the Fiji trip was in all other respects, corner me and buy me a beer. Then, prepare to be bored by superlatives. Of course I can’t really separate out the whole “love thing”, but I’ve never had a better vacation. The experience defies adequate description in a short space, so I’ll neither try your patience nor represent nirvana inadequately. I’ll limit comment to this: If you ever want to forget the world as you know it, and be reminded of all things worth celebrating in nature and in people, go to Vatulele.

Coming down from the sweet, gentle high of Fiji was actually easier than I expected. As cities go, Sydney’s a pretty good halfway house between an island paradise and the rest of the world. I only had about a day and a half before getting back on a plane: next stop, Shanghai. In that time, however, I had the privilege of rejoicing in a dear friend’s new baby (Yay, Lu and Stu!), and the fun of a belated birthday gift. After a lunch in Paddington, I was led, blindfolded, on a half-hour walk to…the Grand Chapiteau (read “really, really big high-tech tent”) in Moore Park to see Cirque du Soleil’s “Allegria”. (Yep, stunning.) After that, one more sumptuous Sydney dinner (Bel Mondo), and it was about time to find my flight to Shanghai.

I’d be lying if I denied having doubts on the way to the plane. Ignore, for the moment, the profound impact of leaving my heart in Sydney. That trip to the airport was the first time nothing stood between me and whatever would come of starting from scratch in Shanghai: no visits with old friends, no jaunts around my old ‘hood, no explorations of latent romance, no sybaritic vacations in paradise. This was it.

Although I was no less committed as I boarded the plane than I was when I accepted the job a couple months earlier, I was a whole lot more nervous. At that moment, I regarded myself as incredibly naïve—an assessment I’m willing to stand by. It didn’t take much reckoning to sum up just how little I knew about what I was getting myself into on any dimension: culture, language, lifestyle, employer, industry…

I was excited, standing in the queue with my boarding pass. I also thought that maybe I’d never done anything so stupid in my life. It was about then I looked around and noticed all the Chinese people. Everybody getting on the plane was Chinese. Everybody.

Every. Body.

And I thought to myself, “What’re you lookin’ at, white boy?”