Artificially Induced Jet Lag

P1090529 If you had asked me on Wednesday or Thursday, I would have told you that I was finally over my jet lag.  My sleeping hours were back to normal, I didn’t need an unusually long afternoon siesta, and my appetite had returned. 

But then somewhere in the past thirty-six hours or so, I’ve managed to re-introduce jet lag into my life.

It started Friday night, when I had hour-long conference calls with the United States scheduled for 10:00 pm, 1:00 am and 3:00 am.  I should say, I had the calls scheduled for me, as I wouldn’t have voluntarily scheduled such late calls on a Friday night.

The first one I stayed up for, trying to spend a low-key hour or two before the call so I was still alert.  Then I went to sleep at 11:00 for about ninety minutes, waking up in time for the 1:00 call.  Second call went well but by this point I was dragging.  Finally, about 2:20 I chatted with my manager on MSN messenger and, upon hearing that I was planning on staying up for another call, insisted that it would be recorded and I could review it later.

So I finally went to sleep at about 2:40 Saturday morning.

Of course, I woke up by 8:00 because I’m just not made for sleeping in.  Something about the muted glow of sunlight from the curtains just turns on my internal clock.  Saturday was chock full of errands including a trip to the stone store to buy new marble tiles for the bathroom shower, which has to be redone.  (More on that in the future.)

The jet lag would have worked itself out had it been a single night, but Tehlin – a university classmate – her husband Chris and their two children were scheduled to arrive from Hong Kong at midnight Saturday.  Of course I wanted to be there to pick them up.  Arriving in a strange city late at night is tough, especially when you have two young children with you.

Because of the category nine typhoon in Hong Kong, their flight was delayed.  The first delay was to a 2:00 am arrival and the second was to 4:00.  Tehlin messaged me each time to keep me informed.  Between the messages, I slept in fits and spurts from 11:00 until 3:00.

Tawn was a good sport and accompanied me to the airport.  The good news about 4:00 am arrivals is that there isn’t any line at immigration!  Tehlin and Chris were out very shortly after landing, their two very sleepy children in tow.  By the time we arrived at their hotel along the river, it was 5:00.

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Since we were up and since we were in the heart of the old city, Tawn suggested we go to the flower market.  This is the wholesale district for flowers, which are abundant and relatively inexpensive.  The market stretches for about five blocks, trickles off down side streets and is interspersed with some fresh vegetable markets.  (Never sure where they put the edible blossoms: flower market or vegetable market.)

We browsed several blocks before finding three large bunches of flowers including some orchids, some carnations, and something I’ve never seen before.  Tawn doesn’t even know their name in Thai.  We just call them “pretty”.  The total cost was less than US$15 for all the flowers. 

Some pictures.  Below, Tawn waits for his first bunch of flowers to be wrapped.  This is in the section of the market with stores that sell arrangements to hotels, embassies and the like.

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Below, an elderly lady makes garlands, used at temples and spirit houses throughout the city to pay respects to whichever local deity, teacher, or other respected figure you choose to honor.  One whole section of the market has stall after stall of these yellow flowers, which I think are marigolds.  (Maybe?  Tawn says they are an Indian flower but doesn’t know their English name.  Dok dao duang in Thai, literally “shining star”.)

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One of the ladies selling orchids just piles her flowers on tables, halfway burying a telephone line junction box.  If your phone doesn’t work in this district, it may be due to moisture from the flowers.  Bunches of these purple orchids are about US$1 each.

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It was getting close to six and we decided to get something in our stomachs before returning home.  You’d be amazed the number of small restaurants and street vendors who are selling food at this hour, but when you look at the number of people who work throughout the night here in the City of Angels, maybe you wouldn’t be so surprised after all.

P1090534 Adjacent to Sam Yan Market, near Chulalongkorn University on Phayathai Road just around the corner from Rama IV Road, is a forty year-old institution that serves just one thing: jok

Also known as congeejok (pronounced “joke”) is rice that is boiled in stock until it is thick and creamy.  Some farang compare it distastefully with oatmeal, but I like oatmeal so it is no surprise that I find jok to be something of a comfort food.

Jok Sam Yan, as the restaurant is known, is popular with taxi drivers, university students, police officers, and all the other types who keep odd hours. 

The open air restaurant was full and we ordered two bowls of jok muu sai kaijok with pork and egg.  The secret to their jok is the pork, which is marinated in sweet soy sauce and mixed with ground toasted rice.  It is so good that you can buy it in bulk by the kilogram to take home and use in your own soups, stir fries, and dishes of spaghetti and meatballs.

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Garnished with some fresh spring onion, shreds of ginger and – if you want – fried Chinese croutons, the jok is filling, warm, soothing and very tasty.  A great way to end the night or start the morning, depending on how you are living your life.

In my case, I was a bit unsure which I was doing.

 

In other news…

So I managed to get an entry featured on Xanga’s front page.  After watching Kari, Zakiah, Steve and Sandelion’s front page fame, I was enjoying life in obscurity.  It is really weird to be receiving “friend” requests from totally unknown people.  I’ll visit their sites first just to see what they write about and a bit about who they are.

It is also funny because I notice that of the several thousand people who have read that one entry, very few took the time to look at any of the adjacent entries.  When you read a featured entry, do you ever ready anything else the author writes?  Maybe I’m just strange that way, but if the entry is any good at all, I read other entries on the author’s blog because I’m curious if that entry is representative of the type of things he or she normally writes.

Anyhow, welcome to those of you who are new readers and thanks to the longer term readers for recommending the entry in the first place.

 

There is a Chiang Mai based coffee chain called Wawee Coffee.  It is a small chain, locally owned and it serves really tasty coffee, much better and a bit more reasonably priced than the big green mermaid.  Their shops are also really beautiful.

They just opened their first Khrungthep branch near the Ari BTS station, literally a sixty-second walk from the station exit, in a beautifully restored 1950s-era house.

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This is going to be my new place to bring my laptop and work.  Isn’t it cute?

 

Progress was made on using up the rest of the chicken stock.  With two extra zucchini hanging around from the risotto, I decided to make zucchini and potato soup for lunch. 

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First I cooked the sliced zucchini in a pan with onions, shallots and garlic.  Spices included tumeric, curry powder, cardamom and cumin, lending a bit of an Indian flavor.

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Then I boiled the diced potatoes in the chicken stock until tender.  I added the zucchini and heated them through, then brought out the Kitchen Aid immersion blender and made quick work of the soup.  Two minutes later, I had a smooth soup.  I added about a half-cup of buttermilk to give it a tangy edge and a little bit of creamy richness and then corrected for the flavor.

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Let me just tell you, I love my immersion blender.  What a quick and easy way to make a healthful meal.

 

Okay, just received the word from Tehlin that they are up.  It is about 11:30 am Sunday morning, so they were able to get five hours or so of sleep.  I’ll go get them in a bit and we’ll see some palaces and temples.

 

Something Healthy to Eat

Since returning from our respective trips abroad, Tawn and I have been taking a lot of our meals at home, making them ourselves.  I’m not sure if this is just in response to being away for so long, or whether it is in response to a pair of books I’ve recently finished reading: Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food and Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon.

In Defense of Food Plenty

Both of these books talk about our relationship with food and both discuss the virtues of eating whole foods that are produced locally and in sustainable ways.  Interestingly, neither book is preachy.  Rather, they simply explore the issues and let readers draw their own conclusions.

This is something I’ll probably write more about in the future as it is something I’ve thought a lot about and continue to think a lot about, especially here in Thailand where concepts such as “organic”, “local” and “sustainable” are very different and often less well-developed.  Also, the novelty of processed foods is high as this is a newer phenomenon in Thailand than in, say, the United States or Canada.  That’s why I’m seeing more and more young Thais – secondary school students, for example – who are big, really big.

Anyhow, I’m not going to get into that now.  Let me instead share with you the dinner we made Wednesday night.  Hot on the heels of his two weeks in Italy, Tawn has been craving Italian food.  (This seems to be the case with his parents, too.  Speaking with Khun Nui – Tawn’s mother – last night, she told me that Khun Sudha has been preparing spaghetti nearly every night since they returned!)

To address this craving, I cracked open the risotto cookbook to see what sounded appetising.  The zucchini and ricotta risotto sounded lovely, fresh and seasonal with hints of mint to brighten the dish.

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The recipe is actually quite easy.  You dice and fry zucchini in the skillet then set it aside with some mint and parsley to cool.  Wanting to add a bit of meat to the dinner, I also marinated and pan-friend some chicken breasts.

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Then you cook the risotto, a process that consumes a bit of time (30 minutes) and all of your attention (you have to keep stirring, stirring, stirring) but is not complicated:

Sweat some onions, garlic and shallots in olive oil and butter over medium heat until translucent.  Add the risotto rice and stir for a few minutes until very lightly toasted and glistening with the oil.

Add a bit of dry white wine and stir until the liquid evaporates.  Then start adding hot stock (I used homemade chicken stock, but vegetable stock works, too) one ladleful at a time, stirring continuously until the liquid is evaporated. 

Once the liquid is evaporated, add another ladleful of stock and continue the process for the next twenty minutes or so, until the mixture is thick, creamy, and the rice is done al dente

At that point you add the ricotta cheese, the zucchini mixture, and shave in some Parmesan.  Stir for a few minutes until the cheese melts and, if necessary, add a little more stock to fix the texture.  Season to taste then serve.

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Sadly, the brand of ricotta at our local market is one I don’t like.  The texture is too dry, like feta, and it never really melts.  Instead, it just breaks into smaller and smaller pieces.  As such, the risotto didn’t have as much creamy cheesiness as I was looking for.

Nonetheless, it was a tasty risotto.

I also had the time to pull together a bottomless apple pie, although I cheated and used prepared pastry dough.  In a hot kitchen in a hot country, making pie dough from scratch is quite difficult.  It simply gets too warm.  Maybe if I get a marble pastry board that fits in the refrigerator I will have more luck.

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Nonetheless, a pretty decent Wednesday night meal.

 

On other notes, thanks to all of you who commented on and recommended the previous post about lessons I wish I had known when I started working.  Somehow the word got out and the blog received a spike in traffic.  Lots of new people walking through this corner of the internet.  Welcome to all of you!

 

Things I Wish I Had Known When I Started Working

j0426646 A few weeks ago, Kari wrote a very thoughtful entry titled “Things I Wish I Had Known in My 20s“, which I linked to from this blog.  Kenny left a comment on my blog that, as someone in his early twenties just entering the workforce, he had hoped there would be some career advice.

I’ve spent the past few weeks mulling over the lessons I’ve learned in twenty years of working and would like to share these things I wish I had known when I started working.  Of course, I don’t claim that it is comprehensive.  What things do you wish you had known when you started working?

 

Lessons About Myself

I am responsible for my own growth and development.  My manager, the training organization and HR are all resources to help me, but ultimately I am the responsible party.

As such, I should always be learning.  Learn from each situation: ask what went well and what could be done better next time and then apply the lessons. 

Step up and volunteer for things.  Timid and shy people who are afraid of new assignments and more work, are the ones who miss out on the opportunities.

Manage expectations.  “Under-promise and over-deliver”, as they say.  By setting realistic expectations with others, I avoid some of the the stress of trying to meet unrealistic deadlines.  That doesn’t mean that I won’t have tough deadlines to meet, but at least they won’t be tough deadlines of my own making.

 

Lessons About Companies

Yes, it is my job and yes, I am paid to do that.  My job is to help the company succeed and as long as I am not breaking any laws or violating company policies, then I’ll enjoy greater success by doing it, even if the task is outside my normal job description.

“Up” isn’t the only way to get ahead.  Lateral moves and moves into other parts of the organization can sometimes be better for my long-term prospects than standard promotions.  Consider alternate routes to get where I want.

Sometimes it is better to have to wait for a promotion.  Each time I didn’t get a promotion, I took the opportunity to be much better prepared for it when it I did finally get it.  As a result, I always performed very well in my new role.  Had I been promoted before I was really ready, I would have struggled and possibly failed. 

 

Lessons About Customers

Treat customers the way I want to be treated as a customer.  I had a manager who was an expert at empathizing with customers.  No matter how angry the customer, she won them over and made them feel that she was on their side.  She did the by treating them with respect and caring and by truly listening to them.

Related to that, I wish I had known that I can’t “win” an argument with a customer.  While there may be customers I choose not to do business with, feeling any sense of satisfaction after trouncing a customer in an argument is pointless.  What have I won?  I have lost their business and have sullied my company’s reputation.

 

Lessons About Managers

Offer solutions, not problems.  If I notice a problem or opportunity, think of at least one possible solution before approaching my manager.  That way, I am welcomed as someone who brings solutions rather than being someone my manager regrets seeing at her door.

Managing and doing aren’t the same thing.  I was a great widget maker but when I became the manager of the widget makers, I discovered that it required a new set of skills.  Remember this when criticizing a manager or “the big wigs in HQ”.  Remember this also before gunning for a promotion to a management or supervisory position.

Make my manager look good.  Even if my manager isn’t perfect or has major flaws, trying to make him look bad will only reflect poorly on me and my entire team.  My first manager was a tremendous a**hole and I almost quit because of him.  But I decided I wouldn’t leave on his account.  Sure enough, a few months later he had been fired and I went on to enjoy a very good 15 years with the company.

 

Lessons About Coworkers and Vendors

Treat everyone as a customer.  When I respond to people with a “How can I help you?” attitude, I don’t necessarily get any additional work, but I do get the appreciation of coworkers and vendors who feel like I am a nice person and someone who helps them rather than hinders them. 

Related to that, success in business (and maybe life as a whole) is based on good relationships and strong networks.  Treating people well – not bullying, intimidating, yelling, name-calling or back-stabbing them – paves the road to success.  Because, sure enough, at some point in the future that “little person” I treated well will hold the key to a door through which I want to enter.

 

Lessons About Retirement

Start investing in my 401(k) or other retirement savings from day one.  Even if I can only afford to invest a small amount – even $20 a month – it is better to get into the habit from the very beginning.  The benefits of compound interest and time (forty or more years until retirement) can only accrue if I start saving.  I’ve done well with this, but wish I had started much earlier.

 

Reviewing these, I feel like there are plenty more things I could share, but these are the most critical ones that, had I known them on March 17, 1987 when I entered the workforce, life would have been a whole lot easier and working a whole lot more enjoyable.

What additional advice would you give Kenny?

 

Willing Workers on Organic Farms

m160676285 Sheldon just returned from a working holiday, where he and his friend volunteered as workers on a small organic farm in Ontario. 

This is through a program called WWOOF (see title of the entry to figure out the initials) and he came back with a load of pictures, video, and some really interesting insights gleaned from first-hand experience.

Well worth a read here.  Note that you need to have a Xanga user name and password and be logged in to read his entry.

Immersing and Blending

Now that I’m all caught up on my blog entries, you’ll be disappointed because there isn’t any fabulous jet setting about which I can write.  Just normal, everyday entries.  Prepare yourself for the mundane!

After discovering that the NY-style pizza place was closed, I decided to walk across the street and try Mes Amis Cafe, the “down market” location of the nearby upscale Mes Amis French restaurant.  To call the cafe “down market” is a bit of a stretch: white tablecloths, attentive waiters, high prices – it is still relatively upscale.

The food was good, though.  Pretty authentic (for Khrungthep) French cafe food.  I had roast chicken with a side of vegetables and mashed potatoes.  Looks beautiful, no?

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One of the waiters seemed quite intrigued by my ability to speak Thai and he kept engaging me in conversation.  Or, more accurately, he would keep thinking of additional questions to ask me, which resulted in an uncomfortable (for me) desire to be able to read my book and eat my lunch in peace.  Finally, dessert arrived so I had an excuse to stop answering questions.

Immersion Blender On my trip back to the United States, I bought a Kitchen Aid immersion blender.  This is an addition to my stash of kitchen appliances that I have been considering for two years, so it wasn’t an impulse buy by any stretch of the imagination.  I’ve found that using a traditional blender is not very effective for things like pesto and hummus, and is downright messy and even dangerous for blending soups.

Additionally, I’ve previously owned a food processor and found that I rarely used it because of the amount of clean-up necessary.  Unless I’m chopping and slicing for a dinner for dozens of people, it is faster to do the prep work with a knife.

But I have been reading how an immersion blender makes quick work of soups, pestos, hummus, and sauces – as well as how it can be used in the pot or container the ingredients are already in.  Talking with several people who use them, I realized that the immersion blender would be a very handy addition to my kitchen.  As for which model, I settled on Kitchen Aid because of the very high review it was given by Cook’s Illustrated magazine, who rated it their best value.

Thankfully, Macy’s had them on sale for $20 off the regular price, so only $49.99.  Oddly, they only had red and black in stock although Kitchen Aid does make a white body as well.  Sadly, no yellow to match my Kitchen Aid stand mixer.

Inspired by T. Susan Chang’s NPR story about chilled summer soups, I made some chicken stock and then prepared this roasted tomato and pepper soup.  It was very easy to make, although I had to substitute the broiler for a grill as we don’t have a grill.  This led to a less smoky flavor, but it was tasty nonetheless.

Before and after pictures, below:

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Tawn isn’t a big soup person to begin with and there was a bit of cognitive dissonance as the expectation (soup=warm) and the temperature (cold) did not match.  Still, he liked the flavor.  I thought I could dial back the peppers a bit and find some more flavorful tomatoes.  Tomatoes in Thailand aren’t as tasty as summertime tomatoes in the United States.  Maybe I can enrich the soup with a little tomato paste. 

 

Starbucks Worth reading: Sonny shares a funny, true story about his trip to a Starbucks to get one of their mango-banana blended drinks, where he had to contribute the banana because the store was out of them.  Link here.

 

Ten Days Magically Evaporate

There may have been a little confusion: I am actually back in Khrungthep.  My vacation actually ended on the sixty.  My entries are just ten days behind, that’s all. 

But watch how I will now magically get caught up and condense ten days into one.

I was away from the Big Mango for something like sixteen days but am amazed how much can happen in such a short period of time: 

The NY-style pizza place I like on Thong Lor has closed.  Not a surprise as it was rarely busy but still a disappointment.  There is now a gourmet donut place at the top of the escalators of the fifth floor at the Emporium mall.  Ostensibly as good as Krispy Kreme, but haven’t tried them yet.  Ben and Jason opened their cafe at the Thailand Creative and Design Centre (TCDC) and it is very cute and Kobfa plays piano there on Friday nights.  And Markus and Tam are housing a friend from China who is seeking political refugee status from the United Nations, fearing political persecution.

Proof that you just can’t stay away, otherwise this crazy town just leaves you behind.

Other news:

The governor of Khrungthep (you know that that’s the Thai name for Bangkok, right?) continues to beautify the city in advance of the upcoming gubernatorial elections, in which I think he is not running.  Below, Before and after… and after.

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Notice how bricks are used to form the border.  They aren’t cemented together, yet another sign of how the Buddhist principles of impermanence find their way into Thai culture and governance.

 

There are still farang here.  Including some who embody, style wise, the reason that some Thais would just as soon not have any farang here.

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No sooner had I returned from San Francisco than Brad came to Thailand on a business trip.  Tawn and I had the pleasure of meeting him for dinner at the very fancy Thai restaurant Basil, located at the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit hotel. 

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We got back to eating at our favorite local places, including this small noodle shop on Sukhumvit just on the other side of Thong Lor.  What a great way to eat.  Watch that man move – so fast!

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Tawn waits patiently for his noodles.

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I like my noodles with soup (left); Tawn prefers them dry (right).

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So good to be back home.  I feel particularly in my element and even discovered that I hadn’t forgotten all my Thai.  Whew!  (Actually, Khruu Kitiya is even more relieved – she’d hate to think that two years worth of work had been lost.)

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In addition to eating out, we quickly jumped back into the habit of cooking at home.  I pulled my whole wheat sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and brought it back to life.  Thankfully, it had done pretty well and took only two feedings before I was able to bake another loaf.  Here are some things we made:

A sauce for pasta made of marinated chicken breast, onions, and tomatoes.  This was really good:

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Tawn, inspired by his trip to Italy, decided to try making panini with our combination waffle iron/grill/panini maker.  Using my homemade bread, homemade pesto, and some mozzarella and tomatoes, he produced these tasty (if not so beautiful) sandwiches.  Nice salad of mixed greens, walnuts, goat cheese and apples.

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Finally, no sooner had we returned then our bedroom air conditioner crapped out.  We’ve had it serviced three times in the eight months since we moved in and this time, we realized it was time to replace it.  Bam!  There goes $1,000.  Ouch.

Old unit.  The mirror has been removed to protect it.  Wish I had removed the sconces, too, as we now have a cracked shade.

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This man has an open flame in my bedroom.  Can I borrow that to try making some torched saba?

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Then he stands on the narrow metal frame that supported the old condenser unit, while installing a new one.  Call me crazy, but that frame doesn’t look like it should be supporting him, especially with a four-story drop below him.

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New unit, significantly narrower than the old one, by about 10 cm on each side.  Resulting in some unsightly areas at the back of the cabinet that had been previously hidden.  Guess we’ll have to bring someone in to address that.

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So that’s it, ten days condensed into one entry.  Now we’re up to date.  Gosh, I hope something interesting happens today so I have something to write about tomorrow.

 

Eighteen Hours in Taipei

As my trip in Los Angeles wound to a close, I found myself increasingly under the weather.  By mid-afternoon Saturday I felt some aches in my shoulder and neck and popped an ibuprofen tablet to keep down a mild fever. 

Whether because of a bug I had acquired or simply running around too much and not sleeping enough along the way, I was hitting that dreaded obstacle to fun travel: being sick.

After returning from dinner in Culver City, I took a light weight sleeping pill and settled in for a good night’s rest. 

 

Zombie much?

Sunday morning, some nine hours later, I could barely pull myself out of bed and shower.  I felt like a zombie, like there was a layer of cement covering my body.  Bill had agreed to join me for brunch with Gary and William in Venice Beach and I didn’t want to miss another opportunity to visit with them, so I forced myself to get up.  But I was so tired that not only did I doze in the car as Bill drove to the west side, I could barely function over brunch, speaking very little, not eating much, and not taking any pictures – shocking!

Embarrassed by the awful impression I made (especially as I was just meeting Gary’s brother for the first time – “Hi, this is my friend Chris, he’s a zombie.”), but too tired at the moment to care much, I spent another couple of hours sleeping in the afternoon before catching my flight back to the Bay Area.  And then I slept on the flight to the Bay Area.

 

Returning to Life

By the time I arrived in Oakland I was starting to feel human again – a little bit – and had dinner with Paul and Anita.  We ate at Chow, a long time establishment at the corner of Church and Market Streets, that has been “around the corner” from most of the places I’ve lived in San Francisco, although not quite all of them.

I made the amazing discovery that eating some dinner, overcoming the lack of appetite I felt, actually improved things for me and I started to function more normally.  After a very pleasant meal and good visiting, I returned to Anita’s to finish packing and take another two-hour nap before calling a taxi at 11 pm.

My flight from San Francisco to Taipei, which left at 1:40 am, actually was quite smooth.  Originally seated in an aisle seat in the center seating section, I switched to a window seat so that a husband and wife could sit together.  Normally, I don’t like to be stuck in window seats on long flights in economy class, because I can’t easily get out to stretch my legs or use the facilities.  This time, however, it was fine because the lady on the aisle was about one-third my size.  Teeny-tiny.  Very easy to climb over even when she was asleep and everyone reclined their seat.

To top it off, I slept for about six hours of the twelve-hour flight.  God bless Tylenol PM, protector saint of the jet setter.

Once again, EVA is to be commended for very good service in their “Elite” – premium economy – class.  The food was tasty, portions generous, response to call buttons prompt, etc.  Perhaps I should sell sponsorships?  “EVA Airways is the official transpacific airline of this blog.”  What could I get for that?

 

Loooooong Transit in Taipei

The flight arrived nearly an hour early into Taipei – about 4:45 am!  This gave me about eighteen hours, a long layover I had intentionally scheduled so I would have an opportunity to explore the city.  Thankfully, my friend Jay was in town and had time to meet for lunch.

Knowing that it was much too early to try to head into the city – the busses weren’t even running plus there wasn’t anything to do at that hour – I proceeded through security to the departure level and checked into the transit hotel.  I love transit hotels.  The ability to freshen up and even take a nap makes a long trip so much more pleasant.

I booked a room for five hours and was able to get almost four hours of sleep, although a on-and-off fever had me throwing the covers off then pulling them back on throughout the morning.

At 10:00, after showering, shaving and getting a cup of coffee from Starbucks, I retraced my route back through security (“Oh, I need to go to the transit desk, please.”) and then proceeded to immigration where I threw everyone off.  It seems that there is a bank of early morning arrivals into the airport and then nothing for several hours, so immigration was literally closed.  Nobody at any desk.

An officer came over to her station and waved me through, and a few other officers came over, curious where this random foreigner arrived from.  Looking at my arrival information, the officer took several minutes to mentally process why, if I had been on a flight that arrived five hours ago, I was just passing through immigration now.

After explaining that I had been at the hotel, sleeping, she stamped my passport and then accidentally stamped my onwards boarding pass with the arrivals stamp.  Whoops!  That is meant to be stamped with the departure stamp when I leave Taiwan.  So she grabbed her “void” stamp and tried to undo the damage, which would cause confusion later that day when I headed through the outbound immigration line.

Customs was equally empty, with a lady officer having to set down her breakfast and jog over to my line, only to wave me through without a second glance.

After storing my roll-aboard bag at the bag check (left hand side of the terminal as you exit), I bought my bus ticket into the city and headed on my way.  Below, the view from the bus as I catch my first glimpse of Taipei 101, currently the world’s tallest building.

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[As a side note about how one’s English degenerates after living overseas, it took me about a minute to decide how to spell “glimpse”, above.  I couldn’t remember the “e” a the end and was sounding it out and spelling it different ways before I finally looked at a dictionary.  Sad, sad, sad…]

 

P1090286 Lunchtime

By the time I made it into central Taipei, a good 45-minute ride from the airport, it was nearly lunchtime.  Jay met me in the lobby of the Shangri-La hotel, where I had frittered away a few minutes reading the Sunday NY Times, which I had carried for the past thirty hours and not made much progress on.

Jay’s a friend from San Francisco who moved to Taipei to start Portico Media, what originally was an animation company but now does production, distribution and a wide range of other media-related tasks. 

It has been seven or eight years since we first met through the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival.  If I recall, Jay worked as an intern with the festival’s former director and there was some screening at the Castro Theatre in which we were both involved.

Anyhow, it is good to know nice people all around the world.  Especially nice people with good taste in food!  Jay took me to Yongkang Street, in the western end of the city, where we ate at the well-regarded Yong-Kang Beef Noodle Shop, left.

The neighborhood is a web of small streets mostly filled with small buildings, a very walkable neighborhood that reminded me a bit of New York’s Chinatown, but cleaner.  Along the way we passed so many good-looking restaurants and I instantly regretted having but one day to give to this city.

 

Beef Noodles & c.

Yong-Kang Beef Noddle Shop is a compact, clean but not fancy two-story restaurant.  We found room on the second floor and set about perusing the menu, which is limited to about fifteen key dishes, many of which we had the opportunity to try:

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Working from the top row, across and down: Seaweed with garlic, steamed hog spareribs, cucumber with acorn jelly, the famous spicy beef noodle soup with soy sauce broth, spicy Schezhuan style pork dumplings, stacks of the hot spareribs steaming away in the downstairs kitchen.

The food was really good and I regretted that, as there were only two of us, we left some food on our plates.  The beef noodle soup is made of very tender stewed meat with lots of gelatinous fat and connective tissue.  Sometimes this is a little hard for me to get used to, as this is what I learned to leave on the plate when I was growing up, but you realize just how delicious it is, you realize you have to enjoy it!

Of course there was time for some dessert at Ice Monster (below), a local chain that serves various fruits, beans and jellies over shaved ice. 

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We shared a triple serving of fruit: mango, strawberry and kiwi topped with a scoop of mango ice cream.  Oh, that was good!

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Below, we get a photographer (you see him shooting two pictures above) to take a picture of us.

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About Taipei

Since Jay had to go back to work, he put me in a taxi headed to the National Palace Museum on the north side of town.  Along the way, I was a little surprised to see less traffic and far fewer scooters than I had expected.  My vision of Taipei has been formed by the movies of just a few directors.  Most notably, Tsai Ming-Liang and Edward Yang.  From these films, I built the image in my mind of a Taipei that was perpetually polluted, crowded, and a teeming hornet’s nest of scooters. 

While there were a lot of scooters, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I had expected.  In fact, given that the city has much more land to work with, it was less crowded and less vertical than, say, Hong Kong.  To top it off, there was a monsoon working its way up from Hong Kong so the winds were very strong, making for beautifully clear skies and a very pleasant afternoon, despite the 34-degree temperature.

Below, one of many dogs I saw riding on scooters.  How does he not fall off?

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The front of the National Palace Museum and below that, the view looking at the entry garden.  The museum has one of the largest collection of Chinese artifacts in the world, which were moved from Beijing by the nationalists during the Chinese civil war.  While controversy surrounds many aspects of the museum’s existence, much as the China-Taiwan question is a live wire that sparks many conflicts, the museum has an excellent collection that is very well presented.  On a future visit I will have to give it more time, as I didn’t want to spend my entire afternoon indoors on this trip.

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From the museum, I caught the bus down the hill to the nearest MRT station.  The transit system in Taipei is extensive and fairly easy to navigate.  There are signs and announcements in English, including “next destination” signs inside the buses.  You have to watch, though, as the English flashes by pretty quickly!

The MRT system is likewise easy to use and I found may way back into the heart of the city with no difficulties.  Below, my train arrives.  In the main stations, there are safety gates along the edge of the track.  At smaller stations, it is open.

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There were two things I still wanted to do: visit the observation deck at Taipei 101 and then also take the Maokong Gondola from the Taipei Zoo station.  Somewhat along the lines of the Nong Ping 360 gondola that has opened in Hong Kong, the Maokong Gondola is an extensive line, built into the MRT system, that takes you up a series of hills and mountains to a temple from which you get a good view of the larger Taipei area.

The engineering of the system is fascinating as at one point the gondola line has to drop below a large number of high-tension power lines.  The view is less spectacular than, say, from Victoria Peak in Hong Kong, but is still very nice.

Below: Sunset as seen from one of the gondola cars.  Note that you can see Taipei 101 in the photo, which looks roughly northwest.

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By the time I descended the gondola, the sun was tucking into the western horizon, ready for bed.  Knowing that the airport was quite a ride away, I didn’t want to risk being delayed by going to the top of Taipei 101, which was a good thirty minutes away from the Taipei Zoo station where I picked up the gondola. 

I called Jay to report my whereabouts, lest he feel responsible for having lost a visitor to the sprawling Taiwanese capital, and we agreed to meet for a quick dinner near his office.  We headed out to a night market, a familiar site in Chinese cities around the world.  Once again, we had some really tasty food to eat.

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Above: Various meats and veggies are added to hot broth to make a satisfying soup.  Below: A fresh oyster omelet is prepared for us.

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Above: Our oyster omelet and zoh geng or meat noodle stew with pork sausage.  Tasty, unfussy food for the market shopper. 

Even though it was a Tuesday night, there were plenty of shoppers looking for bargains, below.

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By this point, it was pushing 8:30 and I had an 11:05 flight.  Not wanting to risk heavy traffic, we headed back to the Shangri-La Hotel and five minutes later I was on a bus to the airport.  Many thanks to Jay for taking time out of his busy day to ensure I had a proper introduction to Taipei food.  I’m going to pack Tawn up and head back one of these days soon to get some more.

Conclusion

The trip to the airport was smooth.  I reclaimed my checked bag about thirty minutes late, but the lady didn’t charge me anything extra.  Outbound immigration was a little confused why my boarding pass was stamped with an entry stamp and then subsequently voided.  After a brief explanation, the officer added an exit stamp to the mess and I was on my way.  Just enough time to shower and change at the transit hotel so my final flight would be made in comfort.

Eighteen hours doesn’t seem to be enough time to explore a city, but I found a lot to enjoy about Taipei and look forward to a trip back.  It is much less intense than Hong Kong, a city I love, and that is a positive thing.  Not everywhere needs to be so vertical and intense.

The flight back to Khrungthep was smooth and I enjoyed a long conversation with an American-born Thai from Arizona who was flying in to visit relatives and explore business opportunities.  With the number of times this young man called me “sir”, I assumed he had served in the military at some point.  Turns out to just be good manners on his part combined with a touch of looking middle-aged on my part.