Cobblers

Within my first few days back in the United States, it occurred to me that I should be making a list.  What are the differences I particularly notice between life in the US and Thailand?  Of course, I wouldn’t include the obvious things like there being no elephants plodding down streets in the US.

The occurrence didn’t translate into action, so I’ll just have to share observations as I think of them.  A few differences that do spring to mind:

Car alarms – I just don’t hear these in Thailand at all, although I know cars have alarms.  In the US, both in San Francisco then again in Kansas City, blaring car alarms were a frequent auditory intrusion.

Fresh cooking – Far from an exhaustive and scientifically valid analysis, my perception is that the percentage of restaurants that cook food from scratch, using fresh food, is much higher in Thailand than in the US.  Chains, chains, chains is what I see a lot of here, followed by many restaurants that still rely on a lot of canned and frozen goods.  Sure, the fine dining restaurants are a likely exception, but that’s not what most people eat most of the time.

Those are just two observations.  If I remember more, I’ll share them.

P1080161 My sister and her family have a new puppy.  They lost their companion of seven years of so, Zoe, to cancer about two weeks ago.  It was a tough loss for them and I don’t think they were planning on finding another dog anytime soon.  But a trio of puppies literally appeared on their doorstep and after the owner was located, they decided to adopt one of them, another blonde labrador.

He arrived two days before me and I was honored to participate in the name selection process.  It looks like “Jasper” in the one that will stick.

Jasper was still adjusting to life with a new family and seems to have an inverted biological rhythm: he is up at night and sleeps a lot during the day.  Maybe this is just an adjustment phase and he isn’t used to sleeping alone at night?

Anyhow, he is cute and a lot calmer than Zoe was.  Definitely not an Alpha Male.  Jenn and Kevin are reading a small book about training their dog as Zoe didn’t have the same opinion of her position in the family as they did.

Ava was best friends with Zoe whereas Emily was a little cool towards him.  Jasper, however, receives the full affections – some would say abuse – of both girls.  His kennel is an interesting addition to the sun room, too.  Several times we found Ava and Jasper playing together where Ava was inside the cage and Jasper was outside, looking confused by the arrangement.

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Saturday morning was buttermilk biscuits.  You’ve seen these on the blog before, homemade, flaky, just begging to be slathered in butter and preserves of – better yet – sausage gravy.  So that’s just what we did: whipped up a batch of country sausage gravy.

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With that satisfying start to the day sticking to our ribs, we set off for the Overland Park Farmer’s Market.  When you think about the number of farms in Kansas and Missouri, it is amazing that farmer’s markets aren’t more prevalent.  For those of you outside the United States, these are just like your regular fresh markets almost anywhere else except that the actual farmers (or their families and friends) do the selling direct to the public.  The other difference is that this way of conducting business is seen as a novelty rather than the standard way of buying your produce.

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My objectives were clear.  The things I missed from the Midwestern US that you can only buy in Thailand at a dear price were stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums, cherries) and ripe beefsteak tomatoes.  Sweet corn is on that list, too, although we get pretty good corn in Thailand throughout the year.

Knowing that the extended family would be over Sunday for lunch and I was responsible for dessert, I loaded up on peaches and blackberries.  Blackberries the size of my thumb!  Yum!

Pictures in a moment.

Saturday night I met up with Trish for an interesting night at KC Pride – the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered Democratic Party organization for Kansas City, Missouri.  I know what you are thinking: Is there such a thing?

Indeed there is and while a pretty small group, it is tight knit and active on the political scene, ensuring that Democratic candidates understand the issues relevant to the community and act on them.

The evening’s event was a series of auctions, both silent and live.  Wine, cheese and snacky food was served.  Trish tells me that turnout was much better last year – there were only about fifty people there this year and ten of those were elected officials or those running.  In fact, the number of “straight allies” seemed to outnumber the members of the GLBT community.

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One highlight of the evening was the game of “heads or tails”.  The prize was a fabulous package included a hotel stay and a nice dinner.  You bought a strand of beads for $10 and then when the time came, all participants stand up and place their hands either on their head or their “tail”. 

A coin is tossed.  Those with their hands in the same place as the coin, continue to the next round.  Eventually, it came down to a pair of people.  Unfortunately, Trish was knocked out in two rounds.  But you have a fifty-fifty chance each step of the way, right?

P1080296 Afterwards, we stopped by the Coffee Cup on the Plaza for a shared dessert.  Blackberry cobbler, pictured right.  Just a preview of what I would bake the next morning.  The restaurant was shutting down but we lingered, catching up on what was going on in each other’s lives.  As I finished my glass of port, the bartender came over and gave me my second glass of free wine on this trip: a double, in fact, of an even nicer port wine.

He said something, but I didn’t quite understand why I was the recipient of this generosity.  No matter, though.  As my mother always said: never look a gift glass of port in the mouth.  Or something like that.

 

Sunday

While everyone was off at Church Sunday morning, I started my baking.  First the blackberry cobbler, then the peach.  Interestingly, the topping for the peach cobbler (right) was more moist than the one for the blackberry cobbler, making for a different result when I baked it.  Both tasty, I might add.

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Later in the morning, Tawn called and gave me an update on his trip to Italy.  It sounds like things are going well and he is having fun with his parents, although with the occasional frustration that comes when you spend a lot of time with the same people all day and night long.  This happens on most trips, I think.

Below, Ava talks to Tawn on the phone.  How much of it he understood, I don’t know, but they chatted on for several minutes.

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You might have noticed that there are more pictures of Ava than of Emily.  By the fourth day of my visit, after she would only make silly faces when I took snaps, Emily announced that I take too many pictures.

I found myself channeling my parents when out of my mouth came my reply, “When you are my age, you’ll appreciate having all these pictures.”  Yikes!  “When you are my age… !?”  Where did that come from?

Sunday afternoon my grandparents, aunt and uncle, another uncle, and two cousins came over for an indoors “picnic” as temperatures were very hot outside.  Jenn bought sandwich makings and my grandmother made deviled eggs.  Not the fanciest food, but quintessentially American cuisine.

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Below, my grandfather reads to Ava.

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One of my cousins, Kari, actually flew in to KC for the weekend from her home in Nashville.  It was nice that she did that, as I don’t have enough opportunities to see my cousins.

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We posed for some pictures in the back yard.  Above: me, Kelly, Kari and Jenn.

Finally, it was time to serve dessert.  Topped with a little freshly whipped cream, we had the peach cobbler (the more popular of the two):

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And my personal favorite, the blackberry cobbler:

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Blackberry cobbler with a biscuit dough topping is just one of those great foods.  Very satisfying, it captures the essence of summer.  The berries were so ripe and sweet that I had to add only a little bit of sugar, maybe 1/4 cup for the entire cobbler.  It was fantastic.

 

Summertime and the Cooking is Easy

After the business was wrapped up, it was time to focus on the family – James Dobson allusion intended.

This meant staying at my sister and brother-in-law’s and spending maximum quality time with the nieces, Emily and Ava.  Since I last saw them in October, they’ve grown up so fast.  Emily, in particular, has gone from being pretty whiny to being a young lady who is very capable and interested in helping.  Such a pleasant change!

We did a lot of cooking and most of the time, Emily decided to be sous chef.  She’s at the age where she can handle a knife (under very close supervision) and has only lost a few fingers so far.  Just kidding…

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Above, in preparation for dinner Emily chops peppers and I slice carrots to go with my homemade hummus.

Below, our spread of pasta with fresh tomatoes and onions, mixed green salad with walnuts (Jenn made this), and a gratineed dish of summer squash and zucchini.

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Emily was very proud of her contributions to the cause.  I was very proud of her contributions, too.  Below, she points to the pasta she helped make.  Worth noting that, true to form, she refused to actually try it.  There is a precedent to this that you might find funny.

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Our pickiest customer was Ava, Emily’s younger sister.  She was even less willing to try my food.  How could someone from my family not be willing to try new things?  Maybe they aren’t actually related to me!

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Above, Ava has decided she is too grown up (at two years old) to wear a bib, so she wears an oversize t-shirt during her meals.

After dinner, we took a trip to the park.

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It is nice to see my family again. 

 

Off to KC

There’s a one-week delay going on right now, just so you know.  As I write this entry about heading from SF to KC I’m actually just one day away from doing the return trip.

After a pleasant and, as you’ve ready, busy and filling few days in San Francisco, I headed back to Kansas City.  While I was born and raised in the SF suburb of Sunnyvale, my parents are from Kansas City and that is where grandparents and many other relatives have always been.  My sister moved there for university and married and settled down there, so KC continues to be a primary destination anytime I head to the United States.  Finally, I spend fourteen months living in KC immediately before moving to Thailand (I love contrasts), so I know my way around very well.

Below: Midwest Airlines 921 at the gate in San Francisco.

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My airline of choice for flights to and from Kansas City is Midwest.  This regional carrier offers a lot of nonstop service into KC and while they have suffered the same challenges of the rest of the US airline industry, they’ve managed to retain their friendly service and are still more comfortable than most airlines.  Plus they fly these great old McDonnell Douglas jets, nicknamed “Mad Dogs” for the amount of takeoff power they have.

Sadly, Midwest has just announced they will ground their entire fleet of MD-80s, leaving only their smaller but more modern B717s.  Along with this is the reduction of 40% of the employees and a similar percentage of the route structure.  Tough times but I understand the strategic decisions they are making and hope that the company survives and eventually thrives again.  Best wishes to all the YX employees!

Below: Views from the air.

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When I arrived in KC Tuesday evening, I was met at the gate by my sister and two nieces.  Thankfully, they are now both at the age where there isn’t a lot of shyness, hiding behind their mother’s legs, etc.  Hugs, kisses and fighting over who will carry the bag, abound.

My presence back in the US during a non-holiday time is quite rare.  My manager and six colleagues decided to take advantage of it to hold a team meeting.  Instead of having to fly somewhere else to meet them (thankfully, KC is in the geographic center of the continental US), they all flew to meet me.  I’m honored!

P1080129 Wednesday and the first half of Thursday were spent in very productive meetings, which lends credence to my theory that if you only have meetings once every twenty-four months, they can be very effective uses of time.  From left to right: Becci, Debbie, Darla, Keith, Jenni, Kim and my manager, Sally.  Expert corporate trainers, all.

Half the team members are people I used to manage (or managed their managers), so it was a fun reunion.  The other half of the team are new since I left, so it was an opportunity to meet people face-to-face for the first time, after having worked together remotely for a long time.

Lydia The highlight of the two days was dinner on Wednesday.  We went to Lydia’s restaurant.  You might know Lydia Matticchio Bastianich from the United States Public Television (PBS) shows Lydia’s Italian Kitchen and Lydia’s Italy.  She is the grandmotherly Croatian-Italian who makes wonderful, no-nonsense food.

For whatever reason, Kansas City was the location selected when Lydia and her husband opened their first restaurant outside of Manhattan, where the flagship Felidia’s still operates.  Perhaps because of the large Italian immigrant population or maybe just the carb-happy populace, but Lydia’s – located in a renovated rail freight depot on the back side of Union Station – has been a huge success.

For an appetizer, I tried the Frico, shown below.  From the menu: “A speciality of the Friuli region of Italy, the Frico is an envelope of golden-brown, crisp Montasio cheese with potato, leek, onion and Luganega sausage and roasted tomatoes. 

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This was like a quesadilla made with cheese on the outside rather than tortilla.  Really tasty!

For the main dish, I had Gnocchi con Anitra in Guazzeeto, below.  These hand rolled potato dumplings are served in a rich sauce of slowly-simmered pulled duck and vegetables.

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The duck meat was succulent and the portion size just right.  Not too filling, which was perfect because I had my eye on the dessert menu!  The nice thing about eating in groups is that you can sample others’ desserts.

First off, the Tiramisu, below.  This traditional Venetian dessert is made with layers of espresso-soaked ladyfingers and rum-flavored mascarpone cream, topped with a generous sprinkling of cocoa powder.  You know it, you love it, and this one was not only beautiful but very well made.

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Torta del Marchese, below.  A very rich (emphasis on “very”) and silky chocolate cake with candied Amarena cherries and fresh spearmint ice cream on a bed of bittersweet chocolate curls.

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When it was ordered, Keith initially expressed skepticism at how small the serving was.  Once he tried it, though, he was shocked by how much flavor and richness was stuffed into such a small package.  A single bite shot your glycemic index through the roof!

Lastly, the dessert I chose for myself (but graciously shared a few small bites with others) was the Torta Di Oliva e Limone, below.  This was a most unusual dessert, a moist olive oil and lemon cake served with Meyer lemon ice cream, sweet basil sauce and candied basil leaves. 

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This was such an intriguing combination.  It shouldn’t have been a surprise – basil and lemon are a natural pairing, after all – but the herbal flavor of the basil was such a nice complement to the sweetness of the cake and ice cream.  And the candied basil leaves?  What a refreshing idea!

Our service was impeccable (other than a fly landing in my glass of wine, which was promptly replaced) by a flirty waiter named Michael.  This was actually one of two restaurants in KC where I was given an extra glass of wine on the house, for no explanation other than, “With our compliments.”

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The treat to end the evening (besides having a surprise for Darla’s birthday next month when a cake and candle arrived) was when Lydia came over to visit, above sitting next to me.  With her many restaurants and multiple responsibilities, it was a surprise that she was in Kansas City.  She graciously sat with us for a picture and some small talk.  I left the restaurant with an autographed copy of her latest cookbook, so there will be some Italian cooking going on once I’m back in Thailand.

After the conclusion of meetings mid-day Thursday, my vacation officially started.  More on that soon.

Ice Cream Here

P1070994 Monday morning I took BART over to Berkeley for lunch with Ethan (right), a Wilcox High School graduate (but a few years after me) who has been reading and commenting on this blog for some time. 

It is interesting to hear the perspectives of someone from the same school but at a later date.  And interesting to find out that some of the same teachers – Mrs. Owens, the AP English teacher, for example – were still there.  Some things never change.

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Based on Samantha’s recommendation, we sought out an ice cream shop in the Elmwood district on College Avenue called Ici (French for “here”).  Opened by Mary Canales, graduate of Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse restaurant, all of the ice cream is made daily on the premises with the highest quality, freshest local ingredients.

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The interior has a lovely European charm, clean and bright, with the current ten or so flavors listed in neat script on the walls.  There are a variety of confections and cookies to accompany your ice cream.

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Above: Sneaked peek into the back of the store where a pile of fresh melons will be turned into something wonderful.

The advantage of having multiple people is that you can try a greater variety of flavors:

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Above: Molasses gingersnap ice cream, black cherry ice cream and peach habanero sorbet. 

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Above: Santa Rosa plum, white sesame praline and peach leaf ice milk

Here are my thoughts on the different flavors:

P1070995 Molasses gingersnap ice cream: Rich flavor and nice contrast.  Ginger flavor was very pronounced.  Pleasant but maybe a little too heavy.

Black cherry ice cream: Very fresh cherries capture the flavor of summer along with refreshing vanilla.  Very nice. 

Peach habanero sorbet: The peach flavor was nicely balanced, not too assertive, with an interesting and unexpected chili bite that snuck in as the ice cream melted in your mouth.

Santa Rosa plum: Just like biting in to a fresh, ripe plum.  The bright color was as vibrant as the juicy flavor of the ice cream.

White sesame praline: Such a clean, satisfying flavor with a southern sweetness and a crunch that contrasted nicely with the ice cream.

All things considered, it was worth the effort to take the bus across Berkeley and try this really good ice cream.  It was also a pleasure to meet another reader of the blog.

And thanks again to Samantha for her recommendation.

 

Sunday Evening

P1070959 The whirlwind continued Sunday afternoon as I stopped by to visit Anne Marie, Brad and Sydney.  Sydney performed a Bach minuet on her violin and then docented two of her paintings, right

A renaissance child if ever I met one!

It was still a very cool summer afternoon and with only a sweatshirt to protect me, my teeth were chattering as I waited for the MUNI streetcar to take me back to Church Street.

Despite the chilly weather, when it came time for Anita and me to drive down to the South Bay and meet up with our high school friends, we opted to convert to topless mode. 

Her new car, a Mercedes two-seater, is a fun and stylish little thing.  Good quality construction, fun handling, tight suspension, and a nifty mechanism to draw down the top and stuff it away in the trunk.

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So nifty that I decided to film it.  I know, geeky, huh?

 

It was a bit chilly on the drive down.  Near Candlestick Point we encountered a little misting but persisted because we could see the sun just beyond the airport.  The sun stayed just beyond our reach until we hit Menlo Park.  From there, it was a very pleasant ride.

Dinner with the Wilcox gang was at Frankie, Johnnie and Luigi’s, too.  This South Bay establishment has been around since I was in junior high school.  We have good pizza in Khrungthep, but I still miss this more American style of pizza.  The one with a more substantial crust.

Below: Grilled salmon with a tomato sauce

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Below: Pasta with spinach, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese.

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Below: Onion, mushroom and basil pizza

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Below: Lilian describes the Strombli – a monster of meat – to Anita

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Brad, Donna and their children were there, as was Samantha, Lilian and Albert.  Sadly, Eric, Jimmy, and Maggie weren’t able to make it.  Brad and Donna’s children, Evan and Cara, taught us some new games including “chopsticks” – an addition game of strategy that is beyond me.

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Above: Back row from left – Samantha, Anita, Lilian, Brad.  Front row from left – Evan, Chris, Albert and Cara.  Below left: Evan and Cara make the strangest faces while Brad and I are posing normally.  Below right: Lilian, Anita and Samantha pour over my senior year yearbook.  My twentieth anniversary reunion was the Saturday before I arrived so we were looking at pictures discussing who was where and doing what these days.

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Above: Evan patiently listens as I repeat my understanding of the instructions for “chopsticks”.

It was fun visiting with friends and wish there had been even more time to catch up.

 

Sunday Daytime

Sunday morning dawned overcast and cool, as is often the case in San Francisco.  Once Anita was awake, we headed over to Elite Cafe on Fillmore Street for breakfast.  San Francisco is a breakfast city, a city awake early enough to enjoy its eggs an endless variety of ways.

One our way over, we passed the Webster Street fire station where the fire fighters were out for morning ladder drills.

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Below, outside Elite Cafe

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Elite is a New Orleans style restaurant, specializing in Cajun cuisine.  For breakfast there were Bloody Marys, Arkansas scramble (eggs scrambled with bacon), corned beef hash, and beignets.  No pictures of the beignets, I’m afraid.  Ate them too quickly!

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On the way back to the car, we passed a beautiful dog with a rather interesting haircut.

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The results of some surgery?  Or just an overzealous groomer?

 

Saturday Evening

First off, apologies to the Xanga friends to whom I’m subscribed.  The first six days of my trip have been so busy that I am very behind on reading and commenting on your entries.  I’ll get back into the groove.

Spoke with Tawn this afternoon and he arrived in Verona in one piece as did his parents.  They went this evening to the house of their hosts, the Mamones, whose daughter is getting married this Saturday.  When I called Tawn, he was inside a shop and just stepping out.  “Arrivederci!” he said.  Cute, huh?

 

Updates

Before I write about Saturday evening, let me embed two videos I shot Friday evening at Martuni’s in SF.  Both are of Anne Marie singing.  The first is of “I’ve Got the Sun in the Morning” from Annie Get Your Gun and the second is of “Close to You” by the Carpenters.  Video quality is doubly poor: bad light and then a lot of compression.  Add to that a lot of ambient noise.  But it will give you an idea of AM’s wonderful voice and the fun we had.

And now, on to our show…

After returning from the East Bay on Saturday afternoon, I ran some errands to check off the shopping list.  Last stop: REI at Eighth and Brennan.  Inconvenient location for transit access and I ended up walking all the way back to Anita’s house at Church and Market.  You quickly come to realize that walking on hills uses different leg muscles than walking the flat streets of Khrungthep.  My shins were aching!

Below: Walking past the San Francisco mint, where your coins come from.

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No sooner had I returned home and freshened up then I had to head out to meet Chris and his new boyfriend Rob for dinner at Catch, a seafood restaurant in the Castro.  For years I have lamented the general lack of good dining in the Castro and Catch proved to be a nice exception to that perception.

Below: The intersection of Market and Castro Streets, ground zero of the gay community in SF, on a very cool and overcast early evening.

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Chris and I met on the CalTrain commuter rail in the days when I regularly commuted to Mountain View to conduct training classes.  It turned out that he lived just down the street from Anita and me (Tawn was also living with us at that time before he moved into his own place near USF) and he quickly became a special person in our lives. 

Below: Chris and Rob in front of City Hall.

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It was especially nice to see him again and after dinner, the three of us headed to the Herbst Theatre in the Civic Center to see GAPA Runway.  GAPA is the Gay Asian Pacific Alliance, an organization dedicated to furthering the interests of gay and bisexual Asian/Pacific Islanders by creating awareness, developing a positive collective identity, and by establishing a supportive community.

Below: Me in front of City Hall.  how come I’m so much smaller than Chris and Rob?

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Runway, an event that can best be explained as the annual Miss GAPA and Mister GAPA pageant, celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.  It is a fun time and I ran into many friends, several of whom I have not seen in many years.  I also understand that several other Xangans and boyfriends of Xangans were there.  Just a reminder of how tightly knit the community is.

Below: Jordan, Wilford, me and Jordan’s sister Angel.  Jordan was Mr GAPA 2006 and, as such, was both in full costume and also a judge.  Wilford was dressed in something classier but less flashy.  Angel flew up for the event from Arizona.  What a supportive sister!

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The event ran on quite long.  Longer, in fact, than the Miss America pageant.  There were many creative participants and a good time was had by all.  Sadly, by the time it wrapped up, I didn’t have the energy to go to the after party.

To give you some idea of what the event was like, here are a couple of videos from YouTube.  I didn’t take or post these, so no speaking to the quality or how risque they are.

 

Another busy day of vacation filled up!