Final days in the US

After our big day in San Francisco on Monday, Tuesday was much lower-key.  I baked buttermilk biscuits again, but a smaller batch since Brad, Silvia, Kelly, Pat and Carl had already headed home.

Below left: My mother practices a piano piece while my grandfather looks on.  Both were music teachers.  Below right: Tawn prepares to take a bite of one of my buttermilk biscuits.

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Mid-morning, Jennifer, Kevin, Tawn, the girls and I headed to the South Bay so Jenn could show Emily and Ava her childhood stomping grounds.  We were born and raised in Sunnyvale, a suburb of San Jose.  In fact, I spent the first 23 years of my life in the same house, which I find rather ironic given how frequently I’ve moved since that time.

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We stopped by our old house (above) at the corner of Kennard and Peacock near the Wolfe and Homestead intersection.  It was interesting to see how much and how little things have changed.  The streets in my old neighborhood are actually wider than I remember them but the houses are smaller.  Some have become quite run-down while others are still in very good shape.  We visited briefly with some of the neighbors who are still there, catching up and hearing all about their perception of how things have changed.

One noticeable change, indicative of how the Santa Clara Valley has changed as a whole, is that the neighborhood now has many more Chinese and South Asian families.  When I was attending middle school, that change was just starting to happen and by high school many of my friends and classmates were of Asian heritage.  In fact, the large shopping center up at Wolfe and Homestead – “Vallco Village” – which used to have a Safeway grocery store and dozens of other stores, is now a primarily Chinese shopping center with a Ranch 99 market, dim sum restaurants, and bubble tea shops.  That change happened while I was in university, so it has been a few years, but it really reflects the increasingly diverse demographics in California.

We walked over to Raynor Park, the park where Jenn and I used to play, with the girls.  The playground and the landscaping has undergone a lot of changes and updating, but there are still two concrete dinosaurs in the playground that we used to climb on.

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You can never look at things the same way, I suppose, but it was nice to see how things look these days.  It amazed me to find out from one neighbor who is a real estate agent, that my parents’ house would fetch about $800,000 these days – a far cry more than they were able to sell it for in 1994!

In the late afternoon we drove up to Dick and Sandy’s for a final family dinner.  We had a good time and Dick grilled chicken and sausages.  Dick and Sandy have a gift for making get-togethers of friends and family very special – it was so good to visit and to see all these different people.  Below: Dick feeds chocolate ice cream to Ava.

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P1010063 Wednesday morning we packed up, tidied the house, and set out for the airport.  After dropping Tawn and his luggage off at Paul’s, we arrived at SFO in a brief rain shower. 

The flight back started out horribly as both Emily and Ava were crying loudly when we got on the plane: Emily because she wanted to sit next to her mother and Ava because she was set off by Emily.

Thankfully they calmed down in about ten minutes and spent most of the flight sleeping.  It wasn’t until we returned to Kansas City that Emily’s mood lifted a bit.

Right: The girls finally fall asleep, leaving Kevin and me to chat during the flight back to Kansas City.

We arrived about 6:00 and once we got back home we made a quick dinner of pizza and salad and got the girls to bed.

 

P1010138 Thursday was a free day for me to complete errands and pack my bags.  One thing on my to-do list was to take a trip to Local Burger, a hamburger restaurant in Lawrence, Kansas (home of the University of Kansas) that specializes in local, sustainably-grown and generally organic and all-natural ingredients.  I had a grass-fed beef burger and Kevin had an elk burger.  Sides included “progressive potatoes”, an organic, trans-fat free version of the traditional French fry; organic peas and carrots; house salad; quinoamillet pilaf; brown rice with cayenne, apple cider vinegar and garlic; cinnamon applesauce; rainbow slaw; and “We’re Not in Kansas Anymore” sea veggue salad with cucumbers, onions, dijon mustard, tamari and hijiki.

Both were really tasty and followed nicely on my recent reading of The Omnivore’s Dilemma.  Speaking with a manager, it looks like Local Burger will try to open one or two locations in the Kansas City area, provided they can arrange for local suppliers there.

 

It seems that Tawn’s socks were the highlight of my last entry! 

After five nights in the Bay Area, I’ve returned to Kansas City for a final two nights before heading back to Khrungthep.  Family events were so time-consuming that even waking up at 5 am each morning didn’t give me enough time to do an entry about the post-wedding happenings.

Sunday

Since we didn’t stay at the wedding banquet that late on Saturday, we were all up early Sunday morning.  It was a leisurely morning with lots of coffee, everyone except my grandmother and nieces checking the internet, and Tawn and Emily watching Playhouse Disney together, below.

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P1000558 About 10:00 we piled into the cars and headed to Wat Mongkolwatanaram, the Thai Buddhist temple on Russel Street in Berkeley.  Their Sunday market offers some of the best Thai food in the Bay Area and an interestingly diverse (very Berkeley) crowd. 

Dick, Sandy, Michael, and Sara joined us, making a crowd of about twenty – quite a feat to get everyone fed.  Tawn and I ran around ordering, placing my father and Kevin in line as place holders as we ordered from other counters.

This time, unlike my previous visit in September, my attempts to speak Thai were much more warmly received.  Tawn said that the unfriendly lady wasn’t there, which makes all the difference in the world.

Right: Carl and my father talking in front of the temple.

The most popular dish was the black and white sticky rice with mango.  The curries were well-received and only the minced pork stir-fried with green beans was deemed a little to spicy for some people to handle.  Personally, I thought it was pretty bland.

After lunch we went upstairs to the main sanctuary, where I was hoping the monks would be available to do a blessing for my family.  Unfortunately we were a bit late and they were upstairs eating their final meal of the day.  However, a farang member of the temple – the husband of one of the Thai ladies downstairs – told us a little about the history of the temple and there were small booklets that explained the concepts of nibpan (nirvana) is English.  I had never seen these before but it definitely helps the temple be more visitor friendly in more ways than just serving food.  This is important since the main purpose of the temple is to spread the word about the dhamma to people.

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Sunday afternoon we held an open house for friends and family.  A small selection of Italian foods were catered and Bill brought over a roasted pig as a gift from his family – apparently it is a Chinese tradition for the groom’s family to give a roasted pig to the bride’s family after the wedding?  I think Alex is worth a bit more than that, but who am I to quibble?

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Left: Tawn poses with the pig, whose head we eventually covered to avoid freaking Emily out.  Right: Bill, a true barbecue man, made quick work with the knife to cut the pig into bite size pieces.

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Above: Ryan and Sabrina discover the lemon tree in the backyard, which allows Ryan to display yet another talent which Sabrina never knew he had: juggling!  Below: Albert stopped by later in the afternoon after volunteering at the Haas-Lilienthal house and spending time at Sydney’s birthday in San Francisco.

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Above: Anita and Paul both made it to the party.  Tawn’s been staying at Paul’s house while he’s still in SF and Wednesday night the three of them met for dinner.

Sunday evening we just rested at home, too full from too much eating!

 

Monday

Columbus Day morning traffic was light.  Jenn, Kevin, Emily, Tawn, Kari and my mother loaded into the minivan and I piloted us into San Francisco for a day of doing touristy things.  It is always interesting to revisit your home as a tourist.

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Left: Waiting for the F-Market train at Stockton and Third Streets.  Right: Emily and Jennifer watch the sea lions at Pier 39, perhaps the highlight of Emily’s day.  Below: The cousins – Jennifer, Kari, me and Tawn.

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Afterwards, we went to Fisherman’s Wharf and ate lunch at the Boudin’s Bakery restaurant – clam chowder in sourdough bread bowls!  Below: Tawn and I with a display of breads including a turtle loaf and an alligator loaf.  (Or is it a crocodile loaf?)

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Above: Jenn, Kevin and Kari cross the street in front of the iconic Fisherman’s Wharf sign.

In the afternoon we went to the Hyde Street Pier and then took a break at Aquatic Park so Emily could play on the beach.  This funny series of photos captures Jennifer’s response at her daughter’s slightly-too-big britches:

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From Aquatic Park it was an easy next step to ride the cable cars up to Market Street, where we had parked the van.  Emily was beginning to drag at this point, but Tawn, Kari and I had a fun time riding on the sideboard.  I can recall riding the cable car as a young child (about Emily’s age, in fact) with my grandparents and women were not allowed to ride on the sideboard.

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We drove back over to Ghirardelli Square (yes, backtracking) including a descent on Lombard Street and some squealing tires as we went up and down some of the steeper blocks in the city, much to Emily’s delight.  We topped off the afternoon with sundaes:

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Above left: Me in front of the demonstration of how chocolate is made.  Right: My mother with a butterscotch sundae.  Below: Emily’s day ends with a cherry on top.

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Congratulations Bill and Alex!

It’s Monday morning, a third of our clan has flown home, and there’s a few minutes to blog.

Saturday morning we had several hours at home to prepare breakfast for the whole crowd – 16 people – and put all hands to work.  The menu: homemade buttermilk biscuits with Jimmy Dean sage recipe sausage and gravy, with eggs scrambled with green peppers.

Below: Three generations dance along to the Wiggles’ performance of “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes”:

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Above Left: Silvia checks her email, Tawn occupies Emily, and my mother chops peppers.  Right: Pat (my mother’s younger sister) and her husband Carl prepare the sausage and gravy.

We got ourselves dolled up for the wedding and headed out mid-afternoon for the 3:30 ceremony.

Below: Tawn and Emily pose on the front porch of the villa.

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Above left: Jenn, Kevin and the girls at the ceremony site.  Right: Emily poses in the wine garden.  Below: Chris and Tawn at the ceremony.

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P1000252 Above left: Brad and his wife Silvia, who visited Thailand a year ago July.  Right: Brad with his mother, Pat.  Left: My mother, Sue.  Below: My sister, Jennifer.

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Alexandra is the oldest child of my mother’s younger brother, Dick, and his wife, Sandy.  Alex and Bill have known each other since high school, where they played football (soccer) together.  Bill’s been a regular figure around Dick and Sandy’s house for years and I think for the past three years or so it was a given that they’d marry eventually.

The ceremony was held at a park in Walnut Creek, California with a nice gazebo and enough mid-afternoon shade to keep guests comfortable.  It was a short ceremony and was written by the couple, so it had a lot of meaning for them.  We followed the ceremony with a lion dance and then the tea ceremony. 

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Above: Alex and Bill at the ceremony. 

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P1000331 Above left: Chris and Ava, who was a little under the weather in the afternoon.  Right: Ava looks on during the service.  Right: Jackie, Dick and Sandy’s youngest child, stands in front of Patrick, their number two, while Sandy looks on in her Chinese-style top.  Below: Grandma and Grandpa speak with Dick.

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Above: During the lion dance, everyone stopped to watch.  Kari, my oldest cousin (Pat and Carl’s oldest child, the oldest grandchild after Jennifer and myself), looks on with Tawn and Sandy. 

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P1000457 Right: Tawn and Ava, who got less and less happy as the afternoon progressed, and started running a fever.  Below: Kelly, Pat and Carl’s middle child, Patrick, my father, and Brad, Pat and Carl’s youngest child.

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The tea ceremony was an interesting affair as nobody on Alex’s side of the family was familiar with it.  I arranged the red envelopes for everyone and explained the steps.  Alex and Bill included all of their married cousins, so the ceremony ran a bit longer than expected.

Below left: My grandparents are served tea.  Below right: After the elders were served, Bill and Alex contemporized the service and weren’t kneeling.  But I provided some gentle ribbing that they were not paying us our due and so they brought the pillows back out.  Actually, lots of kudos to them for recognizing us as a couple.  I’m not surprised, of course, as the entire family has been very accepting.  But it might have been a little unusual for Bill’s family.

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Following that, we headed to Ten’s Tea House in Walnut Creek for a traditional Chinese banquet.  It was very nice with good food, lots of visiting, and a very cranky niece (Emily) who was unwilling to try anything that was served.  Actually, she did try a bit of abalone.  Very expensive tastes!

P1000596 Alex is a graphic designer and designed (and made) all of her own invitations, menu lists, programs, and other decorations.  The party favors were fortune cookies with fortunes they wrote themselves, served in take-out boxes with a clever “Wongolian Barbecue” (Bill’s last name is Wong) sticker.

Below: Patrick with Grandma and Grandpa.

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P1000495 Right: Patrick is also quite a skilled baker and made the wedding cake – a cinnamon-carrot cake.  The figures (does that one really look like Bill?) were bobble-heads so when they rolled the cake into the room, they just bobbled along.  Below: Jackie, the budding actress, makes her speech.

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Below: Pat and Carl and their children: Kari, Kelly, Silvia and Brad.

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Congratulations to Alex and Bill!

 

The Tebows travel to San Francisco, en masse

Friday morning at 7:20 we piled everyone into the van, met up with my parents at my grandparents’ house, and began our drive to Kansas City International Airport for our trip to San Francisco.  We had a total of nine passengers, eight check-in bags, a car seat and countless carry-on bags.

P1000071 This was interesting because most of the travelers are not very frequent travelers these days although all have traveled a lot over the years.  With all of the changes in the flying world these last few years – liquids in 3-ounce containers and zipper bags, remove your shoes at the security check, e-tickets and paperless travel – we allowed plenty of time to navigate this complex world.

Left: Ava “helps” my father carry one of the bags.  This is a classic, 1970s-era “Fly the Friendly Skies” bag that would be a collector’s item if it weren’t so well-used.

The day before the flight, my grandmother was still curious how we would be allowed on the plane without tickets.

 

P1000105 Fly the Friendly Skies… of Midwest

The 3-hour flight on Midwest Airlines was smooth enough.  Eight of the group were seated in adjacent seats and one of us – me – ended up on an aisle three rows behind.  Service is pleasant and since the flight is nonstop, it is a good choice between MCI and SFO. 

Ava slept about two hours on the flight, which was a blessing for us.  Emily was pretty antsy, going to the bathroom four times on the flight, probably mostly for the excuse of getting up and walking around.

Right: After her long nap, Ava was in a pretty upbeat mood.

Upon our arrival into SFO, we saw the Airbus A380 – the WhaleJet – which was in town for gate compatibility tests.  It was parked at the American Airlines hangar, or at least what used to be the American Airlines hangar.  I think United either bought it or subleases it these days.

The A380 is a large plane, but isn’t really that much larger than the Boeing 747.  It is just double-deck the whole way.  And that makes its profile look even smaller, in my opinion.  Kind of like a 737 whose proportions are a little off!

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P1000124 Right: We walked down to the baggage claim to discover – surprise! – Uncle Tawn.  He had flown into San Francisco the day before and was staying with our friend Paul.

Emily had been eagerly anticipating seeing Tawn and was very excited.  I think Ava didn’t remember him from our March visit, but she warmed up to him very quickly.

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My cousin Brad and his wife Silvia (above, center between my grandfather and sister) arrived on their flight from New York about the same time and collected their bags then met us in the baggage claim just as we finished collecting ours.

It was during their visit to Thailand in July 2006 that I met Ajarn Yai and got started with the English teaching gig.

Below: Uncle Tawn plays with Ava and Emily on the Air Train ride to the rental car center.

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Getting the rental cars was a horrendous mess.  We had rented a van from one company and the sedan from another, both under my father’s name so we couldn’t get both cars simultaneously.  It took more than an hour to get through that mess before we headed out to lunch at Peter’s Cafe in  Milbrae.

P1000153 Left: Jennifer, Ava and Emily enjoy grilled cheese and fries for lunch.  Below: Tawn helps color Emily’s tongue a pretty shade of red.

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We drove to the East Bay to our rental villa – a 5,000 square foot (500 square meter) Mediterranean style place in Castro Valley.  This is a really great space and if you need a space for 10-15 people in the Bay Area, I’d recommend it.

I took the lead to organize dinner with several family members assisting in the process.  We wound up with a nice green salad, garlic bread, and pizzas.  Below: the family poses before dinner.

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Minivan Uncle

Just four days in the Midwest and I’ve already become a suburbanite, driving my sister to and from school where she teaches in the mornings and picking up my niece in the afternoon from day care and taking her to tap dance practice.  Dance practice was a hoot.  The eighty-something year old teacher is a dance nazi, not allowing parents (or other guests) to peek in the window as it will distract the young dancers.  If you are caught peeking, a blind is closed on the window.

Emily looks pretty cute in her leotard, tights and tap shoes.


 

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As part of my continued efforts to counter the negative publicity that George Bush and the neoconservatives are giving the United States around the globe, I’ve been sending postcards to my students from San Francisco (last month) and now Kansas City.  This is a major operation since it involves forty-plus students and writing messages in both Thai and English.  More English for the older children, less for the younger ones.  I spent several hours this morning at a local coffee shop writing a few dozen of the cards.

The messages I write are varied for each student, so that they aren’t all receiving exactly the same thing.  They include innocuous messages like:

P1000051 Kansas City is in a rural part of the country.  There are a lot of farmers.  They grow corn and wheat.  They do not grow rice because there isn’t enough water.

People in Kansas City are very nice and are curious about visitors from other countries.  Although many of them have never traveled outside the country, they like to learn about other people’s countries and cultures.

There are no canals in Kansas City at all, but there are two big rivers.  One is called the Kansas River and the other is called the Missouri River.  They are both as wide as the Mae Khlong River [a river near Bangkhonthiinai] but much longer.

Hopefully, this sparks their curiosity about the United States and instill a sense that Americans are generally good people.  This, until we end up invading Thailand in order to bring democracy to Southeast Asia. 


 

P1000052 This afternoon I had lunch at a Middle Eastern Restaurant called “Holy Land Restaurant”.  It was quite tasty although I have no doubt that just like the Thai food, Chinese food, Mexican food, etc. that it was very watered down for the local clientele. 

Left: Before the put on these cheesy grins, my parents looked more like a version of American Gothic.

Afterwards, we stopped at a Halal market located next door and browsed the interesting ingredients.  Large medjool dates for $5 a pound!

Tomorrow the whole lot of us (grandparents, parents, nieces, sister and borther-in-law) fly to San Francisco to attend Alex’s wedding.  This will be a lot of fun for us.

 

Saturday afternoon when we went to the grocery store, niece number one (Emily) asked if I’d make apple pie for her.  Her mother was surprised and asked whether she would actually eat it, since Emily has never shown any interest in apple pie.  It seems that as they are learning the alphabet, Emily’s class has identified apple pie as one of the “A” words.

IMG_7127 “Sure,” I replied, “I’ll make apple pie if you’ll help me.”

Sunday afternoon I called in my sous chef and got her started peeling the apples which for a four year-old lefty put her coordination to the test. 

No thumbs were lost and while some of the apples looked unfairly mangled and gouged by the peeler, most of the peel was off.  I sliced the apples and then Emily helped mix in the cinnamon, ground cloves, nutmeg and sugar.

Right: Sous chef Emily with the finished pie, ready to be put into the oven.  Notice the “tattoos” on her arm, a signifier of a kitchen tough gal.

Then we rolled out the pie dough, which I had made earlier in the day and had refrigerated.  Emily’s technique was more “mush” rather than “roll” and the pieces of pasty dough needed some reconstructive surgery when laid into to the pie dish.  Before placing the top layer of dough over the filling, Emily grabbed an apple slice and ate it, pronouncing it tasty.

P1000006 As the pie baked, Emily peered in the oven window, eager for it to finish.  The pie came out a lovely color and when it was cool enough to do so, we posed for some pictures.  After dinner was finished and it was time to cut and serve the pie, Emily decided that she didn’t want to have any pie because she doesn’t like apple pie.  No amount of reasoning would appeal to her: “But these are the same apples that you ate before we baked the pie, and you liked them then!”  No, I don’t like apple pie.

Left: Emily and Chris cut the pie.  Below: Ava poses with the pie, too.

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The pie was left for Jennifer, Kevin and me, which was perfectly okay.  Especially since it turned out very nicely with a flaky, tender crust and cooked but not mushy apples.  Below: The finished product.

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The Royal Thai Consulate with a minivan in the driveway

The Honorary Royal Thai Consul in Kansas City (yes, would you believe there is one here?) is an outgoing and intense middle-aged woman with strawberry blond hair.  When I arrived at the Consulate, I discovered that it is an ordinary suburban Johnson Country house near 103rd Street and Mission Road in Leawood.  The only thing distinguishing it as a Thai Consulate was the Thai flag (below the US flag but above the Kansas flag) and the Royal Government crest hanging near the front porch.

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When I rang the doorbell, the Consul popped her head around the door and invited me in, explaining that there was a bit of a crowd inside.  The crowd was composed of her five strawberry blond children ranging from two in diapers to perhaps six or seven years old, and a docile golden retriever who also seemed strawberry blond in color.

The process of getting my non-immigrant business visa for the next year took all of five minutes and the Consul worked at a standing desk in the living room which contained her official government stamps and logs.  She reviewed my application while shooing the children from the living room and apologizing for one’s stinky diaper. 

On the wall over the sofa were portraits of His Majesty the King and Her Majesty the Queen.  A statue of a traditional Thai angel sat on the desk and the third wall had framed copies of the royal decrees proclaiming her to be a consul, all signed by the King.

Curious, I tried to broach the subject of how she had become an Honorary Consul.  She answered, vaguely, that she has been doing business in Thailand for many years and knows the royal family.  As she finished preparing the visa, she asked whether I had seen the King recently (on the television at the recent ceremony to install the new giant swing in front of Khrungthep’s city hall) and how did he look (pretty well, given that he is eighty this December).  She enquired after the Queen and the Crown Prince as well, which was funny because she asked in a way that made it sound like perhaps I ran into them on a regular basis.

In less than ten minutes I had my visa and was on my way, a much easier and more interesting process than if I had FedEx’ed my passport and application to the Houston Consulate.