Set up for a photo shoot on the Pont Alexandre in Paris, France

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Mission Accomplished

Here it jumping picture on the Great Wall!

“Hospital transforms Asian woman into Italian-looking twenty-something"

When I landed an interview at the New Generation Cosmetic Surgery Hospital in Shanghai, I could hardly believe it. Rather, I could hardly believe them. This hospital was just in the news for offering to help a a woman look more like Jessica Alba to please her boyfriend, so I was a bit startled when the doctors accepted my invitation to meet with them. I expected a brief chat, maybe 10 minutes or so until the surgeons were swept back into the operating room.

My translator and I set out on our journey, and in the taxi she explained to me that, aside from this publicity, the hospital I was about to visit was one of the most famous hospitals in Shanghai. This did not help my nerves, but I was excited. I was in China, going to one of the most famous hospitals for my own interview with two of the most talked-about surgeons at the moment. This was cool.

The waiting rooms in China are not like the ones in America. Instead of stark, white walls and 5-month old magazines, the New Generation Cosmetic Surgery Hospital had restaurant-style booths where my translator and I could talk privately and even order drinks.

A young woman came over to get us, and two minutes later I was sitting in the office of Dr. Xu, who has been practicing cosmetic surgery for more than 20 years and is also the manager of the cosmetic surgery unit. I calmed myself down by thinking, “OK, you’ve done this a million times. You have your questions, all you have to do is ask them.” But what happened next, I definitely wasn’t prepared for.

It all started with a middle-aged man who came into the room and started recording me asking Dr. Xu my questions. Slowly, as Dr. Xu pulled out her “before and after” portfolio of procedures she has performed, other photographers trickled in and started taking pictures. The room filled up to the point where we were directed to leave the small office and move into a bigger one, which was clearly used for promotional purposes – as the back wall was filled with Chinese and American signatures from top to bottom.

I sat down in a chair across from Dr. Xu in hopes of continuing with my interview, but the photographers rushed me back up because it wasn’t a good angle for them. For the next five minutes, the doctors, translator and I were rearranged like a couple of kids playing musical chairs.

I began to get worried when the photographers were not only telling me to pose by pointing at the “before and after” portfolio and smile at the doctor, but they were now screaming at me to point at my own eyes and smile at the camera. I envisioned headlines in the next morning’s China Daily newspaper: “American goes to Shanghai for cosmetic procedure,” or “Hospital transforms Asian woman into Italian-looking twenty-something.”

I finally asked my translator what they were doing, and she told me that they were simply trying to point out the differences between Eastern and Western beauty. Did that really require me pointing at a “before and after” surgery book, I thought? Maybe they sensed my hesitation, because seconds later my translator also said the photographers thought I was a “good actress.”

Once we were done with my photo-op, I was told for about the fourth time that I could “continue my interview” after we did “one more thing.” In Katie Couric/Sarah Palin form, the doctors and I were filmed walking down the hall as I asked tough questions that they didn’t want to answer. Was the whole thing just a genius delay at answering my questions?

I learned at the end of the interview that the hospital was excited by the idea of an American journalist coming to their hospital. I came into the interview thinking they didn’t really want me there, and, turns out, it was the highlight of their day. Either way, faithful Bon Voyage blog readers, if you see New Generation Hospital billboards featuring my face on your next trip to Shanghai, you know what the real story is.

Friday, March 26, 2010 China?

I promised a few stories from China, and did I ever find some! Below is a preview of the story you can find here, on my international reporting class blog, where I compared Shanghai's French Concession with Paris, France. (Of course I would find a way to talk about Paris. Surprised?) Feel free to look at posts from the other students in my class, too!

A building exterior along the French Concession in Shanghai, China.

A building exterior along Avenue Montaigne in Paris, France.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Pre-China Diary

Dear Blog: I'm sorry for neglecting you these past few weeks (things have been a little busy between school, Valley, Ed2010, Her Campus, oh -- and looking for a job!) but I'm leaving for China at 4:30 a.m., and I'm bound to have some exciting stories for you when I return. In the meantime, here are my thoughts pre-China on China:

First, I need to vent about my suitcase. I consider myself a 5-star packer (this is based on the fact that I went to Europe for a week during my freshman year of college and only took a carry-on bag), and I think it's ridiculous that I'm taking the same suitcase I took for four months in Paris! That being said, SpaceSaver Bags really do work wonders. I fit four months worth of clothes in the suitcase I'm currently staring at, which is now filled to the brim with plain-old folded piles of pants and sweaters.

I can't wait for this trip because it combines my two loves: traveling and writing. It all started with an e-mail about an international reporting class, this year going to Shanghai and Beijing over spring break, offered through the College of Communications. After two summers in New York City and a semester abroad in Paris, France, I wasn't about to ask my parents for a $1,500 trip to Acapulco. I took a chance and interviewed for the class, and now I'm going to a place I never thought I'd have the opportunity to see. To be honest, it hasn't really set in that I'm going until now, late at night, when I have nothing to do but wait to board a 14-hour flight. First I had to get through standing for 46 hours in THON, then I had to worry about the big "spring break" deadline for Valley, and now, 12 hours before takeoff, I realize that I am really about to go halfway around the world! I'm also pumped because I get to experience this with my best friend. We've done Mexico, New York City (and I don't know how I did Paris without her), and now we're taking China by storm!

So here are my goals for the trip:

1.) Come home with a great story.
2.) Order something off the menu without knowing what it is -- and eat it. And not throw up after.
3.) Take a jumping picture in front of the Great Wall!

Friday, February 12, 2010

When travel plans go wrong...

Last weekend I didn't travel far, because I could barely make it three hours away! I have never seen a worse snowstorm in my entire life. My friends and I decided to go skiing for the weekend at Seven Springs, a ski resort in Pennsylvania. I was so excited to finally glide down the slopes again, since the last time I went skiing I was listening to Destiny's Child on a CD player in my snowsuit. What a great idea to drive up a mountain at a time when Western Pennsylvania was expecting about 20 inches of snow. The SUV carrying five of my friends constantly needed willing groups of men to leave their cars and dig them out of the snow, I was lying to my friend, who was driving a Honda, telling her to "continue down the road" when the directions read "go up a long hill" to avoid hysteria during an already three-hour-long drive, and the car that left two hours after us crashed head on into a snowplow (and they were in a Commander, mind you). When everyone arrived to the condo safely, our friend who was hosting the trip literally broke into tears of relief. Traveling definitely brings out everyone's true colors, but luckily we pulled together and ended up in the perfect place for a snowed-in weekend -- full of food, friends and lots of wine.

The first picture is just to give you an idea of just how much it snowed last weekend. The rest are just for fun!

Those are CARS under that snow!

My friends and I, safe and sound.

I wonder how good gorillas are at skiing?

Finally skiing again!

My friend Liz and I after a fun day on the slopes!

Despite the bad weather, Seven Springs really is a great place to ski in Pennsylvania. Check out their Web site:

Saturday, February 6, 2010

24 Hours in New York City

This article by the New York Times crammed the coolest things to do in the Big Apple during a short 36-hour weekend trip. Last Sunday I had to make an even shorter trip to NYC, so I thought I'd try documenting my own 24-hour adventure.

6 p.m.
1.) Arrival

This was the first time I actually drove into the city, so I was relieved when I finally pulled into the parking garage on 3rd Ave. and East 90th. I was quite sure my car would be in at least 50 pieces by the time I landed in Manhattan. I imagined by meticulously packed Theory dress pants, Burberry scarves and J. Crew tops flying just like all those Hermès scarves in the traffic scene of "The Devil Wears Prada".

8 p.m.
2.) Upper East Side

I came into New York on the night of the Grammy's, so unfortunately I wasn't clinking champagne glasses at Tenjune or Pink Elephant. I was fine grabbing dinner at a great gourmet restaurant up the street, Milano Gourmet, and watching Beyoncé and Taylor Swift clean house.

8 a.m.
3.) Upper East Side

The thing about New York that most fascinated me as a child was the apartments -- or the people who lived in them. I just thought it was amazing that people actually lived in New York City. I am very lucky to have a friend in New York who graciously allows me to stay at her apartment when I have to come into the city last minute, and I absolutely love the view from her guest room. At night, it sparkles with light from neighboring apartment buildings, which still fascinate me. In the morning, it's bursting with sunlight and in the summer I go out on the terrace (yes, she has a terrace in the middle of Manhattan) to have coffee.

11:30 p.m.
4.) Park Avenue

I love, love, love walking down Park Avenue. I left the apartment where I was staying and walked down to 85th St. before hailing a cab through Central Park to get to lunch on the West Side. (OK, this is also because I'm broke. But I could still choose my route!) It's one of my favorite places to people watch -- every woman is flawlessly dressed from head to toe. I feel like I'm walking in one of those chicklit novels like "Bergdorf Blondes" or "The Nanny Diaries".

12 p.m.
5.) Midtown

I had lunch with a woman who recently discovered this great little eatery that I now love, too. It's called Gina la Fornarina. For you West Siders, go to the one we visited at 279 Amsterdam Ave. (between 73rd and 74th). For the East Siders, don't worry! They have a second location on 1575 2nd Ave. I had a delicious bruschetta panini and, in the middle of the day, the "Chocolate Bomb," which is a chocolate soufflé cake with vanilla ice cream. I couldn't resist. Oops.

2:30 p.m.
5.) ???

This part of my day is Top Secret, and while I can't give you the full details I will tell you that during a mad scurry to find a restroom I noticed that there are still ice skaters at Rockefeller Center! For some reason, I thought that stopped after Christmas.

4 p.m.
6.) Columbus Circle

My favorite building in New York will always be Hearst Tower. Aside from the fact that it's absolutely gorgeous (and environmentally friendly!), it's the building where I had my first big magazine internship at CosmoGirl. I still remember coming out of the subway in the middle of Columbus Circle on my first day and walking toward the triangular building until I was standing right in front of it. I had just seen the Sex & the City movie the night before, and who did I pass on the street? Cynthia Nixon. I love New York. I came here to visit my friends at O, The Oprah Magazine, where I interned last summer.

5:30 p.m.
7.) West Village

In honor of NYC's famous Magnolia Bakery opening in Dubai, I just had to grab a quick bite of deliciousness before I left the city. If you know someone in New York and want to send him or her a gift, go to Magnolia Bakery. If you're having a bad day, go to Magnolia Bakery. Even if you're on a diet, go to Magnolia Bakery. It's totally worth it. (Some people think they're too "New York" to go to Magnolia because it's "touristy". A) Who cares? It's yummy. B) If you fall into this category, try the cannolis at Rocco's on Bleecker St. They're great, too, and no one knows about it but snarky New Yorkers like you.)

Au revoir, New York! I'll be back after graduation. ;)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Q&A: Alyssa Antalis on Las Vegas

Alyssa Antalis is one of my all-time favorite dance teachers. (I have to say that because she has very embarrassing videos of me tap dancing when I was eight.) Really, though, she choreographs dozens of dances year after year and never runs out of ideas. How? She travels to Las Vegas once a year with her family (her mother, Sharon, owns a dance studio in Indiana, Pa.) to inspire new routines -- and also have a little fun. We talked about all of her favorite things in the country's biggest party city.

Bon Voyage: Why is Las Vegas one of your favorite places to visit? What keeps you coming back?

Alyssa Antalis: Here are my top ten favorite reasons!

1.) Shopping! Each hotel has so many great places to shop…some are affordable and others are not, but window shopping is always an option. The Forum Shops at Caesar’s are my favorite, followed by the Fashion Show Mall at the end of the strip.

2.) The Water Show outside the Bellagio is a must. The dancing fountains are choreographed to music and change all the time. I always make sure I see at least one during the day and one at night. I think they run every 30 minutes, but it is worth it to get a good spot a few minutes early. Also check out the gardens in the Bellagio. The flowers are beautiful, and they always change for the seasons.

3.) The rides on top of the Stratosphere are a must if you are looking for an adventure. You can hang off the edge of the tallest building in the city and the views are unbelievable.

4.) Riding the rollercoaster at NYNY is something you should do at least once.

5.) You can’t leave Vegas without seeing a Cirque du Soliel show. They have quite a few running right now, but my current favorite is Beatles Love at the Mirage. There is a brand new Cirque show at the Wynn that I can’t wait to see.

6.) Headliners put on amazing shows in Vegas. Loved seeing Celine Dion, Bette Midler, and Elton John at Caesar’s, as well as Barry Manilow at the Hilton. I'm looking forward to seeing Garth Brooks at the Wynn next.

7.) It is totally worth it to hop in a cab and go to downtown Vegas. It is a whole different atmosphere. The street is covered in a giant electrical canopy that turns into a light and music show in the evening. It is a must see!

8.) Gambling! If you want to win, stay away from the slot machines! (When I get the urge to lose money fast, the Wheel of Fortune slot machine is my favorite.) Learn to play blackjack and craps -- if you are a beginner, find a nice dealer during the day to help you. At night it is way too crowded to learn.

9.) There is an awesome club in each hotel. The lines can be so long, but if you meet the right people during the day, it is pretty easy to get your name on the list. Find one club and stick to it for the night because it is way too expensive to hop around.

10.) Impersonation shows are everywhere! Some are cheesy, but they are so much fun. “Legends in Concert” at the Imperial Palace is a classic. I have seen it least three times, and I continue to go back!

(Alyssa, right, and her friend Kellie with a Justin Timberlake impersonator in Las Vegas.)

BV: What can visitors do while in Las Vegas to avoid looking like tourists?

AA: Stopping to take pictures every step of the way causes major traffic jams, so limit yourself to a few really good ones. Also, Paris sells giant Eiffel Tower shaped drinks, New York New York has giant Statue of Liberty drinks, etc. As fun as they may be, if you don't want to look like a tourist, stick to regular cups. Finally, as you are walking down the strip, men will be handing out cards with naked girls and 800 numbers (as if you would actually get a visit from the same girl on the card if you called the number) -- only tourists take them.

BV: What should visitors pack in their suitcase before coming to Las Vegas?

AA: Fashion varies a lot from day to night! For day, pool/sun attire is a must! (Bathing suit, cute cover up and flip flops). If you aren’t spending the day by the pool, just anything casual is completely appropriate. It is so, so, so hot in the summer, so if you can’t be found at the pool bar, you are crazy. At night, you will see everything! I would recommend a cute black dress or even dark jeans and a dressy top with cute heels. A lot of people dress over the top in Vegas at night (actually, day time too) but try to keep it classy.

BV: What foods should no visitor leave Las Vegas without trying?

AA: Well, it depends how much you want to spend! There are so many great restaurants in Vegas that you could go to a different one every day for a year and not run out of options! If you have the money, Michaels is an unbelievable restaurant that can be found at Southpoint Casino, just a short cab ride from the strip. If you are looking for a great view, check out the ‘Top of the World’ located in the Stratosphere. The restaurant is continuously turning and makes one full rotation per hour. It is the best way to see the entire city while enjoying a 5-star meal! Each hotel has their own signature restaurants, so I recommend trying a different one each time! Stay away from the chains -- you can eat there at home! And you will see 24-hour buffets everywhere. You will get a good deal, but the consequences the next day may not be worth it.

BV: What is your favorite memory while in Las Vegas?

AA: There have been so many that it is so hard to pick just one! I have always said that New Year’s Eve is an overrated holiday, but let me tell you, ringing in the New Year in Vegas was unbeatable! We went to a private party at the Golden Nugget downtown -- a five course dinner, unlimited drinks, live music, and dancing all night.

(Alyssa and her friends and family in Las Vegas for New Year's Eve 2009.)

BV: What is your favorite travel destination (other than Las Vegas)?

AA: If I am looking to relax, definitely a resort on a tropical island. Lately, I’ve loved Punta Cana, Jamaica, and the Bahamas! If I am looking for a fun weekend getaway, New York City is probably my destination of choice!