The trip to the United States has surely been a whirlwind: visiting friends and running errands, all day, every day. This afternoon (Friday), Tawn and I finally decided we had had enough of the errand running and have decided that anything that is on our list, unfinished, will remain so. No hair dye for that certain someone in Khrungthep who asked us to get it.
Let’s recap and expand on the first parts of the trip, then I’ll add some additional information:
In order to maximize our trip, which was award travel through United Airlines Mileage Plus program, I created a routing that included extended layovers in Tokyo, Toronto and Hong Kong in addition to our planned stops in San Francisco and Kansas City. It makes for a somewhat tiring pace, but if I’m going to stop in a city where there is someone or something to see, I’d rather take the time and get out of the airport.
Leg One: Eight Hours in Narita, Japan – We arrived at Suvarnabumi Airport several hours early to find an incredible mess at the THAI Airways check-in counters. A line extended from the check-in area between aisles H and J, all the way back to aisle B. There were no customer service agents helping the line and the scene was rife with confusion. I saw a small sign that indicated that Japan and Korea flights could check in at aisle B so while I waited in line, Tawn went to confirm that sign.
Sure enough, it was small but accurate, so we got out of line and made our way to the nearly-deserted aisle B. Once through immigration, we stopped at an antipasto bar that is fairly nice to enjoy a glass of wine and some light food. (below)
Our overnight flight aboard THAI Airways from Khrungthep to Tokyo was smooth. The flight is only five and a half hours long and after an hour delay from our 1:00 am departure as well as the two additional time zones we headed to the east, we enjoyed only about three hours of darkness before the sun rose.
After arriving at about 9:00, passing through immigration and customs, we checked our carry-on bags at a left-luggage locker and took the train into the nearby town of Narita, for which the airport is named. Narita is about 90 minutes by train from Tokyo, but only one stop from the airport. A small down with a compact center located on a series of small hills, Narita is famous for its barbecue eel and a temple that dates back to around 700 A.D.
Here’s a picture of the main street of Narita, leading from the two train stations to the temple. Notice the neon sign on the upper left – an eel! Below that, Tawn and I in a little restaurant eating anticipating the eel that has just arrived. Below that, two chefs prepare the skewered eels, alternating time on the grill with dips in the teriyaki sauce. Finally, a detail shot of the eel itself!
We arrived back at Narita Airport several hours before flight time. Basically, if you have 4 hours between flights, you could clear immigration, go to Narita, eat your eel, and be back in time to board. If you have more than 4 hours, you’ll be in even better shape. Try it, you’ll love it.
Despite having lost my 100K status with United after a year of minimal flying, we still were given lounge access, so we went to the brand-new ANA Airlines lounge, had some ramen, and showered in their ultra-modern shower facilities. Afterwards, Tawn did some airplane yoga poses with the model of ANA’s new Boeing 787 Dreamliner, below.
Leg Two: San Francisco
Our trip into San Francisco on United Airlines was smooth, tempered with some lackluster (and occasionally downright unprofessional) service. Enough so that Tawn and I are largely ready to leave UA behind and find a new carrier to fly. Below, Tawn tries to get some sleep.
We arrived Saturday morning a bit before 11. The trip through immigration was surprisingly hassle-free and our bags arrived pretty quickly. We had a brief wait as Anita was heading back over to the airport from an appointment in the East Bay. After she picked us up, we stopped by her house to unload our bags then ran some errands in the afternoon. Most importantly we went to eat fish tacos in the Mission District. We can’t get good Mexican food in Khrungthep. Below, Tawn and Anita with a bottle of champagne bought at Costco. Tawn and Chris enjoy tacos pescados at Taqueria Pancho Villa on 16th Street.
Saturday evening Paul drove us over to my aunt and uncle’s house for a St. Patrick’s Day dinner. The entire family was there including all the cousins and their respective girlfriends, boyfriends and fiancees. In addition, we had a small number of friends with us. It would have been nice to expand the guest list, but I didn’t want to over-step my aunt’s gracious hospitality with an even larger number of guests.
Sunday morning Tawn and I were up early and went to the Ferry Building to have breakfast at Boulette’s Larder, a self-described mise en place for your kitchen. In addition to being a little restaurant, they prepare stocks, soups, and other things that would largely serve as ingredients in a meal you’d prepare at home.
On Sunday morning they serve beignets, light, fluffy and totally non-greasy. Last time I was here a year ago, it was Chinese five-spice. Today is was sweet garam masala, an Indian spice. Really good eats. I’m actually buying an oil thermometer on this trip with the express purpose of learning to make perfect beignets. After lunch we spent a little bit of time walking around the Ferry Building, which is glorious after its remodel.
Below: Tawn in one of the shops at the Ferry Building; Tawn with the beignets; Chris with the coffee; the interior of the Ferry Building on a sunny Sunday morning.
Sunday afternoon Anita drove us down to Lilian’s house in Sunnyvale and we had lunch with my High School friends. This is the group of friends I’ve known longest – Brad, on the left in the picture below, and I have known each other since 3-year-old preschool. It is always fantastic to see these friends as we’ve known each other so long and so well. Hard to believe that Brad’s children are both older than he and I were when we met.
Above: Albert and Chris share some cake; Albert, Anita, Samantha and Tawn in the kitchen. Below, Cara in the center of all the activity.
Finally, Sunday evening we had an “open house” at Sweet Inspirations dessert shop for a few hours. Many friends stopped by including JC, Chris, Jackson, Dave and Monty, Howard and his mother-in-law Eleanor, Andrew and Amy, and Tony. Additionally, we met for the first time a new reader of the blog, Jeff, who hosts a queer and questioning youth literary magazine/website called www.oasismag.com. We were sorry that some other friends were unable to make it, but quite thankful to spend some time with those who did.
Monday afternoon we went over to visit Brad and Anne Marie, their daughter Sydney and their newborn, Harper. It is always such a pleasure to see them and for a four-year-old, Sydney is tremendously sharp. To the right, she and I practice writing her name in Thai, which she seemed quite fascinated about. They were in Thailand two years ago and Sydney still has some very clear memories of that trip. She is now advocating a return vacation there to visit Tawn and me.
Below, Tawn and Harper.
Brad and Anne Marie have conducted an extensive remodel of their backyard. In an attempt to cover all the elements, it has not only earth and wind, but also fire and water in the form of a fire pit and a water fall.
There is a play area under the deck that includes padded playground covering, swings, climbing ropes, and other fun playthings. Below: You can see Tawn and Sydney playing on the swings on the upper terrace in this picture taken from the lower terrace by the fire pit.
Below, Tawn and Sydney fight over who gets to sit in the pretty pink chair next to the lawn.
We split our time Monday afternoon, Tawn to Union Square (where he bought only one thing, a pair of jeans) and I to the 1000 Van Ness Theatre to visit the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival. It sounds like things have been running okay there but they have had some teething difficulties moving into two new venues, since the Kabuki theatre is undergoing renovations as part of its new ownership by Sundance Cinemas. I had a 17-minute visit with festival director Chi-Hui as we drove from the theatre to a meeting he had near the Castro. But a worthwhile 17 minutes, I must say.
In the evening, Tawn and I had one final social engagement: meeting Jordan and his partner Wilford. Jordan was introduced to me by another Xanga blogger, Tony, during last year’s SFIAAFF. In the intervening year, he has been crowned Mr. GAPA (click on the link marked “Runway” at the top of the page) so now I know two famous GAPA people including Miss GAPA (Max Lau) from some ten or so years ago.
Anyhow, Tawn and I met up with Jordan and Wilford at Cha Cha Cha on Haight, a Cuban restaurant that is probably number one on my list of restaurants I miss. It was a fun evening, getting to know them better and completing the circle of introductions. Tawn and I have talked in the past about how much we really enjoy knowing a wide mix of people. While we greatly value the friendships we’ve made with other Thai-American couples our age, we also like to know people of different age groups, different cultural backgrounds, and of course a mixture of gay, straight, bisexual, married, dating and single people. It makes for so much richer an experience.
Making it an even more diverse experience: Wilford recently left the Air Force! That’s not an experience we run into with gay men every day, but proof that it really does take all sorts to protect and defend the country. Don’t ask, don’t tell? Puhleeze. I asked. He told.
Leg Three: To Kansas City
We left way too early on Tuesday morning to fly to Kansas City. This early departure was more than compensated for when we were greeted at the airport by my nieces, Emily and Ava. Emily’s fourth birthday is next week and we’re in KC for an early celebration of it. Ava just celebrated her first birthday and is remarkably mobile for someone so young.
Right: Ava and Emily welcome Tawn at the Kansas City International Airport.
The past few days have been spent visiting various family members as well as some of our friends here in KC. Pat came over for dinner with the family on Thursday evening, when we brought home some barbecue from Jack Stack’s Smokehouse. This would be another on my list of things I miss from the US, most of which revolve around the category of “food.”
We also visited Wednesday evening with Jak, a Thai graduate of KU who has been here for several years now. Having dessert on the Country Club Plaza we also met for the first time his boyfriend, John, who as coincidence would have it was in the Marines up to about four years ago. Yes, two military men in the past week. What are the odds? Perhaps higher than we realize.
Some pictures of our time with the family. Below, family dinner at my sister and brother-in-law’s:
Above: Tawn and Chris read Emily a bedtime story. Below: My mother (“Grammy”) reads Emily an afternoon book while relaxing on the family room sofa. Emily really is getting a lot of literary exposure.
On Friday we went to the JC Penny portrait studio to take some family portraits. It looks like they turned out okay and if you’d like a copy, let me know and I’ll have Jenn send you one. Meanwhile, here’s a picture we took in the waiting room of Jenn and Tawn with the girls:
As I mentioned, this trip has been all about errands. We’ve had a list two dozen places long. The most critical are complete and the least critical will probably not happen. Oh well.
I should mention that not all these items were purchases. They also included things like going to the county election commission office to apply for a permanent absentee voter ballot, since I am no longer officially a resident of Johnson County, Kansas. I do still get to participate in all elections at the County, State and Federal level, but not in local city elections.
Also, I headed to the automobile club to renew my international drivers license in case the Thai police need anything to use as collateral next time they pull me over!
Right, Tawn considers how to pack all the things we’ve purchased, which should just fill the space taken by all the gifts we brought with us from Thailand.
Tomorrow, Saturday, we have a combined birthday party for Emily and my grandmother. Then Sunday morning we’re off to Toronto and Hong Kong.
welcome back 🙂 good to see you… sorry couldn’t stay long… I had to take a cab back to the movie. 🙂
Enjoy the trip and nice cool weather!!thank you for the well wishes! Yeah, i’m still searching for a hawkerless (no stray dogs too!) beach in Thailand!
I did not know before that Narita was famous for eel BBQ?
Eel’s scare me and send shivers up my spine.. hehe. I just cannot imagine eating them. Do they taste good?
Oh, Yvonne asks me to say hi…
Hey Chris! This is totally random but I’m Matt, and I stumbled upon your blog via my friend Aaron’s blog, and just wanted to say hi. I saw Aaron’s pictures of when he visited the school where you volunteer. I think it’s great that you volunteer your time to teach those little guys – I’m sure they’ll grow up with fond memories of their English lessons with Khruu Chris! I taught English in Japan a couple years ago, and really enjoyed it. From your photos it looks like you guys are having a fantastic time traveling. I hope you enjoy Toronto – it’s a fantastic city! I studied there, and my bf and I will be moving back in a few months.If your travels take you back thru Narita, there are Y300 showers available that are super clean. Whenever I had to transit in Tokyo, I used to shower if time permitted, and it made all the difference. I haven’t updated my blog for far too long, so hopefully one of these days I’ll be inspired. Safe travels!
ps the pic of you guys reading your niece a story is adorable