I\'ve made it to Beijing, China!
I\’m nervous, I didn\’t get in until 8:30 p.m. last night, and I begin tomorrow at 9 a.m. No chance to get used to the 12-hour time difference, but then I think maybe the 180-degree change will actually help. When you travel to Europe, it hits you mid-cycle in your sleeping pattern, and I think that maybe that\’s what really hurts. Anxiety is beginning to set in. It\’s a new crew with new producers and directors. The camera crew is Chinese but speaks some English. My stylist speaks no English. We have an interpreter for the first few days to help me communicate with her to say things like \”more cheek color, please\” or \”I like brown eyeliner.\” We don\’t work in front of a mirror, so the first time I see my face is when she is all done. When she gives me the mirror, my face is something like I\’ve never seen before.
My skin is about three shades darker than normal, and my eyes are darkened by black and purple eye shadow that mingle together not only on my eyelids but in thick lines below my eyes, as well. I can\’t decide if this makes me have a smoky sexy look or if I look like the clear loser in a barroom brawl. I decide in an instant that there is so much that is wrong with my new look that we couldn\’t possibly attend to it all and start on time, and so I ask for a heavy powdering and head out.
I arrive to shoot the rickshaw scene in the hutong, and the camera is already set up on its rig. I meet my guide, Fred, and he is a very cheerful-looking young fellow that wears a permanent smile on his face. He tells me he\’s nervous because he has never done anything like this before; I tell that I\’m nervous, and I have been doing this for eight years.
It\’s hard when you have to start a travel show after only just arriving. As Fred and I were driven through these fascinating back streets, no bigger than alleyways, I just wanted to take it all in. I\’m not the type of person who is at once inquisitive and begins immediately with questions like \”what are these hutongs?\” \”how long have they been here?\” \”who lives here?\” etc. For me I am naturally a quiet observer not yet wanting to know how everything works and what it all means but wanting to be caught up in the moment, to be simply fascinated by something without knowing it. What you don\’t know barreling through these hutongs like a pin ball in a machine is the beauty that exists behind the stark grey cement walls. Luckily, many families have realized the money potential of the nosey neighbor syndrome and have opened up their house to visitors. Unless on foot, you can\’t choose which one as there\’s a deal worked out between rickshaw man and the family, but I will say the two times I did the tour, each house was equally impressive and each similar in its floor plan in that there were jewel-box-like rooms that surrounded a small courtyard landscaped with small perfectly pruned trees and caged birds that sang. The experience was enchanting, and I wonder if these women who run the homes know what a bed and breakfast is. We still have a night scene to do, but jet lag hits me like a ton of bricks. And my brain is operating so that my speech resembles announcements made in the NYC Subway. \”The–r is _____ service running from Grand Cen — al to Wall St. — please take the — train instead.\” When I have jet lag, I can literally feel my synapses not making connections with their corresponding neurotransmitters. Then my director Greg Tillman and producer Mike Gattanella say to me something I have never heard in the eight years I\’ve been shooting a travel show. \”Sam we can cancel and reschedule if you want; it\’s up to you\” I was in bed in 45 minutes.
Easy and uneventful day until we arrived at the Peking Duck restaurant. At first we were not allowed to go into the kitchen and see the 50-some-odd chefs each preparing their own thing, but when we arrived, we were told no, then yes, then no, then \”She can go into the room where they put the ducks in the oven\” Okay, a hot oven filled with ducks — now that\’s just great television. I was supposed to have the manager of the restaurant or someone like that with me to talk to and tell me what was happening. But that was a yes, then no, then yes, but they don\’t speak any English so we said no. I had girlfriends with me for the scene, so one of them got the short straw and had to go into the oven room with me. We were told not to talk to the chef in charge of putting the ducks neatly into the oven. But Chung started to ask him questions, and he responded, so we went for it.
The man then handed me the long wooden tool he uses for the ducks. I wasn\’t expecting this and also wasn\’t expecting how heavy those birds were. My 2 1/2-inch heels that already naturally thrust me forward weren\’t helping me brace for the weight either and my knees buckled but I didn\’t drop the bird. So table 45 got to eat. Back at the table with me and my girlfriends (a group of fabulous women from the Chinese production office and our hotel), we started the ritual of eating duck with a few traditional starters. Duck feet and duck tongue were two of them, and I thought I would go for the tongue as it looked rather meaty while the other just looked slimy. When I bit into the tongue, I wasn\’t expecting to crunch down on bones, the unexpected sensation triggered my gag reflex, which I tried desperately to calm.
This was all caught on camera, so I am looking forward to seeing my reaction and how I tried to handle the situation without offense to my very gracious company. There was no need for me to be so kind as when I said in a rather non-emotional tone that I did not like that (as opposed to \”that has to be the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten\”), my tablemates all said that they would NEVER eat that, It\’s Gross!!!! Well actually one girl really liked them, and so the plate of five duck tongues was passed over to her like a bowl of Life cereal to Mikey.