I arrive in Sydney with three very important items on my agenda: Eat some of the best breakfasts in the world, swim like a saltwater fiend in the city’s gorgeous outdoor pools, and hug a wombat. That furry, bewhiskered marsupial—third fiddle to the koala and the kangaroo—has been on my to-hug list since I was a kid rifling through the W volume of the encyclopedia.
When I was told I was flying to an Indian literary festival via Kuwait Airways, I was ready to arrive in style. Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Qatar Airways—the region is known for its luxurious, pampered version of air travel. Perhaps Kuwait Airways would have a new Airbus A380 with an onboard lounge? High-thread-count bathrobes? Personal air butlers? In any case, I hoped the wine menu would have a nice dry Riesling to help me ease into a different climate, and, heck, some free spa products would be nice.
The headlong rush of Beijing’s booming scene, as seen by T+L—old-school restaurants, futuristic architecture, Internet entrepreneurs, and over-the-top nightclubs.
In Beijing, the past trembles before the future. Nowhere on earth is the fast-forward button pressed with such might and frequency. Nowhere else do the centuries disappear into the night, handed over to starchitect Zaha Hadid’s Galaxy Soho, a building that looks like four UFO’s have landed around a traditional Chinese courtyard, or to shopping malls called the Place or the Village, or to ring roads that encircle the Forbidden City carrying millions of cars, each barely inching forward through the haze of pollution that the government euphemistically likes to call “bad weather.” And yet even as you slide past the ghost buildings that line the impossibly wide boulevards, broken up only by flashing billboards of Western beauties hawking Dior, you start to think: This is where it’s at. Beijing, China’s political capital, is where the future will be partly decided and packaged and presented to large swaths of the globe. Even a few of the foreign denizens of the financial capital, Shanghai, tell me they’d rather move to Beijing, if only to better grease the palms of those who actually wield power, the functionaries of China’s Communist Party. I’ve met many Europeans who proudly announce that they’ve never in their entire lives visited New York. To participate in the 21st century and not know Beijing will require similar pride. Or foolishness. In fact, the saddest flight in the world is from America’s decrepit Newark Liberty International Airport, essentially a giant bathroom with airplanes, to the gleaming and sinuous Norman Foster–designed Beijing Capital International Airport.
Gary Shteyngart takes on Los Angeles’ restaurants and eats his way through the best food in the city right now.
I’m East Coast through and through, but I’m not ashamed to say it: I love L.A. My first encounter with the mega-megalopolis took place at the advanced age of 30. A college friend of mine had a cousin who rented a place by the beach. Which particular beach, I do not recall, but the path to the sands was lined with giant swaths of bougainvillea, which made me think for just a brief moment that I was in southern France. That notion was dispelled when we reached the beach, which abutted a body of water that was no mere Mediterranean. I had never seen the Pacific Ocean before, had understood its vastness only on childhood maps. Made placid by the better portion of a bottle of California Chardonnay, I walked into the moonlit water, bent down, and slapped the onrushing waves. Somewhere up (or down) the coast, an enormous industrial building, a waste-processing plant, perhaps, smoked its way deep into the night. But I refused to let go of the moment’s magic, because that lump of ugliness amid the grandeur of the Pacific was Southern California too. I continued to walk into the ocean, the water dark blue around my legs, the temperature, as always, perfectly set to sixty-eight degrees, my gaze resolutely drawn toward Asia in the infinite distance. And I thought: Oh, this isn’t so bad.