All Day at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Saturday was aquarium day.  I coordinated meeting two sets of friends, one from the North County of San Diego and the other from Culver City.  Long Beach’s Aquarium of the Pacific seemed to be a great meeting place as it is central and appeals to children, which both sets of friends have.

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P1090156 Unfortunately, coordinating the timing didn’t work quite as well as it could have, so I essentially did two tours of the aquarium.  That’s okay, though, as it is a surprisingly good aquarium and when seeing it through the eyes of children, you can always find something new to enjoy.

Danielle and Ian drove up from San Diego in the morning and were waiting for me outside the aquarium with their children, Piper and Devin.  The last time I saw them was in July 2005, when Piper was only about a year old.  (Trip report here on airliners.net that covers the First Class flight I took after that visit from LAX en route to BKK aboard Asiana)  Needless to say, she has grown quite a bit in the meantime.  Very well mannered, she shook my hand and said hello.  Devin also was very outgoing.  Right: Ian watches as Piper and Devin get up close and personal with the sea lion tank.

The most popular parts of the aquarium were the two petting tanks.  One for the sharks and another for the rays.  Below: Danielle, Devin, Ian and Piper at the shark petting tank.  Remember, we use two fingers to pet the sharks, not our whole hands.

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From the upper outdoor level of the aquarium, you get a view of the Queen Mary in the harbour.  Quite a view and somewhere I should visit one of these days.

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The aquarium was fascinating for me just because all of this sea life amazes me.  Especially the jellyfish.  How in the world do these things work?  It seems impossible.  Plus, they are amazing to watch.  Put on some ambient music and just stare at them for hours.

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A bit after lunch, Piper and Devin were starting to tire so Danielle and Ian got ready to pack them up and head home.  Perfect timing, too, as the second wave of friends had arrived so there was a few minutes of introductions and chit-chat.

Below: We pose beneath a blue whale that is suspended in the aquarium lobby.

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With that, I started my second round of the aquarium, this time with Lalima and Aaron and their son, also named Devin.  Lilian and Samantha flew down from San Jose to join us, so it was a high school reunion. 

Below: Lily, Samantha, Lalima and Aaron observe the rays at the ray petting tank. There was one very playful ray who liked to swim right along the edge and flap his wings and splash people.  Such a character!

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After a quicker breeze through the exhibits and a search for Nemo and Dory in the tropical fish section (we found them), we headed out for a mid-afternoon lunch at The Corner Place, a Korean BBQ restaurant in Cerritos.  This, according to Samantha, is one of only two restaurants she knows of on the west coast that serve dong chi mee kuk sul, a cold rice noodle soup with a vinegar/ginger broth, garnished with green onions, julienned cucumbers and a slice of tomato, pictured below.

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A refreshing summertime specialty, the restaurant is so jealous of its recipe that it won’t even sell you a to-go order of the soup.  In fact, Samantha was once apprehended trying to sneak some of it away in a plastic container!  They are serious about this soup.

If was enjoyable, reminding me a bit of khao chae, the jasmine-scented cold rice soup that Thais enjoy during the hot season.  Not so much in the taste or flavor but just in the idea of a refreshing cool dish to eat when the weather is warm.

In additional to the soup, we enjoyed beef kalbi, the typical Korean grilled beef with garnishes, shown below.

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What most amazed me was that Devin, all of two years old, was so adventurous that he would try each of the different varieties of kimchee that were on the table.  Spicy?  No problem.  Sour?  No problem.  If he didn’t like a flavor, he would chew and swallow his mouthful and then politely decline any more.  No spitting out his food.

It probably helps that several months ago his parents brought him to Bangladesh to visit Lalima’s extended family, so he’s been exposed to a lot of different types of food.  But some of it must be personality and he’s just a very easy-going, open-minded sort of child.

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Below, Lalima and I wait patiently for our food.

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After a few hours of napping back at Bill and Alex’s place, I drove to Culver City to join the gang at Aaron and Lalima’s house.  We had a very nice barbecue dinner sitting on the patio.  The menu included grilled shrimp and pineapple with roasted squash and a tomato and avocado salad.  Dessert was Lalima’s famous homemade peppermint ice cream.  Delicious.

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It was a bit late when dinner was finally ready – nearly ten o’clock! – but Devin was a trooper and stayed up to eat with us, conking out just as soon as he had finished eating.  Below: Aaron, Samantha, Lalima, Lilian and Devin.

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Poor Devin suffers from a mother and two aunties who like to take lots and lots (and lots!) of pictures.  He must have the strongest cheek muscles of any child his age from all the smiling he’s asked to do.

It was a really fun Saturday in SoCal and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to see this friends.

 

Torched Saba at Musha with Curry

Friday was a day of reunions and a lot of good eating.  Sounds like the same story as every entry when I’m on vacation, doesn’t it? 

First there was a lunch at the Shoreline Cafe in Long Beach with Aaron and Jose, former colleagues from my days working at AMC Theatres.  Aaron had just moved to Los Angeles two days earlier, after living abroad with his partner in Mexico City for the previous two years.  Having followed similar paths, we have had a lot to talk about and I’m glad we have stayed in touch.  Hopefully now that he is in LA, he’ll find the next path that he needs to follow.

Jose is someone I haven’t had any contact with in years, and he was able to give me the low down on the universe of former AMC colleagues (a few of whom actually still work for AMC!).  My days working in the motion picture exhibition industry were formative.  One of these days I’ll write more about it, to try and capture just how much fun and how difficult running a movie theatre is.

After lunch, I continued my way to the west side of LA, making a stop at the pocket park next LAX.  Located across the street from an In-n-Out Burger, this park is directly under the short final approach path for runway 25R.  This is where many of the large planes coming from Europe, Asia and Australia land.  Great spot for plane watching.  Notice that I’m restraining myself and not posting any more airplane pictures.

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About 3:00, a little Xangan pow-wow began as I met Gary at Cafe Surfas in Culver City, above.  Surfas is this combination of a cute cafe and a store that sells restaurant supplies and gourmet foodstuffs.  Credit goes to Tony for including this in one of his photoblogs and giving me the idea.  Oddly, I got into trouble for taking pictures, so I guess Tony was just more clandestine than I, as he was able to get many beautiful shots.

Below, Gary is shocked by the high price of imported Thai coconut milk.  What goes for fifty cents in Thailand (or the equivalent in baht) is three dollars at Surfas!  This must be designed for Angelenos who aren’t comfortable walking into a local “ethnic” market, where you could get many of these ingredients at a much lower price.

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On the kitchen supply side of the store I found my dream oven: an industrial sized convection oven in which I could cook a few hundred cupcakes at once.  This is where a passing employee admonished us to not take pictures.  I would have been more favorable in my comments above, noting the broad selection of foreign foods rather than their significant prices, had they not been so camera shy.

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We were joined by Steve.  Because he doesn’t regularly include any photos of himself on his blog, I made the decision not to include any photos of him in this entry.  But he’s coming to Thailand soon so maybe you can encourage him to jump in front of the lens.

After browsing as Surfas, which really does have a great selection of things, especially cookware, we headed to the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica.  This is one of my old stomping grounds.  When I lived in Los Angeles in 1995-96, I worked in Century City and spent a lot of time in Santa Monica with friends.  Glad to see some things have not changed despite the continual “mallification” of the Promenade.  Below, a group of hare krishna perform at the corner of Arizona and Third Street.

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How do you know when you’ve really arrived in LA?  When, in the course of two blocks, you hear hare krishna chanting at dusk, watch a group of youngsters break dancing for tips, get bored with a French mime doing slow motion sleight of hand, observe a man with his monkey, and are a bit shocked by a pair of books on display in the Barnes and Noble window: The Big Book of Breasts and The Big Penis Book.  It is always 74 and sunny here, right?

P1090096 For dinner, we were joined by William and tried Gary’s recommendation of Musha on Wilshire Boulevard, a Tokyo cuisine restaurant that also has a location in Torrance.  Musha is often described as a Japanese-French fusion tapas restaurant.  I’m not sure how accurate that description is.  It might be better to describe it as an izakaya restaurant, kind of a sake bar that offers more significant food than your regular sake bar. 

In the same way that Spanish tapas evolved from small bites provided to bar patrons to keep them from getting too drunk, izakaya serve small plates of food to satisfy customers over several hours of drinking.

Musha has received positive reviews for some of the spins it places on traditional izakaya dishes, as well as some downright non-Japanese food on the menu.  We skipped the heavy drinking part (other than a beer that William and I split) and focused on the food.

The interior of Musha is small, with a bar at the front and a dozen tables behind.  Lanterns and warm colors keep the space intimate and cozy.  Service is friendly and efficient, primarily by a pair of Japanese-speaking wait staff that keep things running smoothly.  Other than a noisy group of office workers who gathered at the bar to celebrate something, the volume of the restaurant was tolerable.

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Let’s take a look at our culinary tour.  We started with a spicy tuna dip served with rice crackers, something fun and tasty:

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Also arriving early was duck breast marinated in ponzu sauce (the citrus-flavored dipping sauce common with things like gyoza) served on grated daikon oroshi with Tokyo leeks.  The duck was very tender and the ponzu sauce really cuts through the richness of the meat.

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The highlight of the evening – the culinary highlight of my entire trip, in fact – was the torched aburi saba.  This was mackerel sliced sashimi-style, marinated in vinegar, then torched at your table.  Here’s a video:

The finished product was a perfect balance of textures and flavors.  Saba is a meaty fish with a slightly salty disposition.  It wasn’t marinated too long, so it still had the sashimi texture, but the saltiness was balanced by the sweet tanginess of the marinade.  To top it off, the skin was slightly crisp and had a charred smokiness from the torching. 

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Such a delicate layering of flavors.  I’d like to try making it at home, but don’t want to buy an industrial grade torch.  That’s a bit too much.  Maybe I can find a pipe-fitter who will lend me a torch.  Below, a closeup of two individual pieces.  Notice the color of the flesh.

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Next we had a grilled portobella mushroom and acorn squash with a miso-citrus dipping sauce.  A charcoal brazier was placed on the table and we were able to cook our own mushroom.

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I wasn’t the only person taking photos.  William provides many of the excellent photos that appear on Gary’s blog.  I’ve been thinking about this idea – I should have a crew with me when I’m out.  Someone to take pictures, someone to take notes, while I just savor the experiences and write about them later.  Applications now being accepted!

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About this time, Steve had to take off for business.  Sadly, he missed out on a number of great dishes that followed.  Here are homemade tofu fries with a creamy wasabi sauce and a sweet chili sauce.  I’m going to share a secret with you: I think the chili sauce is the same sweet chicken dipping sauce you can buy in large bottles at Asian supermarkets throughout the US.  The tofu, being homemade, was very fresh and the concept of tofu fries is very fun.

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We took a distinctly non-Japanese beat with the arrival of a risotto, typical ham and cheese but served from a hollowed out round of Parmesan cheese.  Sadly, they didn’t leave the round at the table, but instead served the risotto and took it back to the kitchen.

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The risotto was probably the low point of the savory meal.  It was tasty, maybe a bit gloppy, but it was just risotto.  I didn’t see how it fit into the larger theme of the menu.

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Our final savory dish was the takotama.  This is a two-layer omelet with chopped octopus, leeks, red ginger and bonito broth.  It was very geometrically laid out, so I needed pictures from both sides.

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The takotama was tasty, although a little sweet.  By this point we were getting quite full and decided to share a dessert.  Japanese restaurants aren’t known for their desserts.  Traditionally, if you want something sweet you’ll head over to a bakery or sweet shop after dinner.  This might explain why the dessert menu was lifted straight from any western restaurant: tarte tartin, creme brulee, molten chocolate cake, etc.

We opted for the molten chocolate cake, which was served on an ice-cold plate.  Good for keeping the ice cream frozen but the cake didn’t feel like it had seen the inside of an oven anytime recently.  In fact, given the soft exterior, I think it was zapped in the microwave.  Not long enough, though, as the interior wasn’t molten by any stretch of the imagination.  Molasses moves faster in a Minnesota winter!

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The chocolate cake aside – really, what was I expecting of a chocolate cake ordered at a Japanese restaurant? – the meal was really tasty and surprisingly inexpensive.  Would you believe that the total bill for all of the above plus a large bottle of Japanese beer, was under $80 before gratuity?  A very good value.

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Of course, more than anything else, the company was wonderful.  Sorry that Steve wasn’t there to see the meal to its conclusion.  I did enjoy visiting with Gary and William and look forward to our next culinary adventure together.

 

Cake Wrecks Blog

erin-m-11 So rarely do I actually laugh until I cry, even though it is so good for one’s health. 

Alex made mention of the Cake Wrecks blog on her site so I went to check it out. 

Well worth a visit and take the time to scroll through previous entries about cakes that went oh so wrong.

You’ll laugh and laugh until tears run down your cheeks and then you’ll want to eat a cupcake.

 

 

Behind the scenes at Long Beach Airport

Those of you who aren’t aviation geeks will be happy to know that, pretty soon, I’ll run out of blog entries about airplanes and airports and aviation.  I’ll get back to normal things like food and travel and… more food.

LGB_logo Saturday morning I work early.  Alex headed back up to the Bay Area and Bill and I headed on a secret behind-the-scenes tour of Long Beach Airport.  Bill’s one of those affable people who makes friends with everyone and, as such, always seems to know just the person to help out with any need.

When I mentioned that I’d love to get a peek behind the scenes at LGB, he started putting those connections together and the result was this early morning tour.

To protect the integrity of those connections, I won’t give a any details about how we got onto the other side of the fence.  Suffice it to say that we were escorted at all times and were well within the bounds of the law.

LGB Map Long Beach Airport has a long history and despite having very low levels of commercial traffic (caused by some of the strictest noise control ordinances in the nation) it is also one of the busiest general aviation fields in the United States.  The airport is probably most famous as the home of the Douglas Aircraft Company.  During World War II, more than 4,200 C-47 aircraft – the military version of the workhorse DC-3 – were manufactured at this airport.  Additionally, more than 3,000 B-17 Flying Fortresses were produced here, too.

The entire tour took place within the secured grounds of the airport, mostly following a service road that runs alongside and around the end of the runways.  We started on the righthand side of the map, near the passenger terminal, and continued clockwise around the airport.

I’ll group these pictures in as logical a sequence as I can and try to make the explanations as interesting for you as possible.

The road took us down to the arrivals end of the main, 10,000-foot runway, in the lower right of the map.  The road actually ran right alongside the taxiway and we stopped so I could get out and shoot some footage and take pictures.  I’ll include the video footage when I write my trip report at airliners.net, but here are a few pictures.  As I mentioned, LGB has very low levels of commercial passenger traffic, so there aren’t that many flights.

A jetBlue Airbus A320

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Delta Connection (operated by SkyWest) CRJ-700

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We stopped by the different facilities operated by Gulfstream, the manufacturer of corporate jets.  Gulfstream operates a completion facility here, where planes that have been constructed are flown in, unpainted and unfinished, and then are completed here.  They are pretty secretive about their customers so I had to snap pictures on the go.

Below, a new, unpainted Gulfstream sits on the ramp.  I believe this is a Gulfstream G550.

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On the other side of the airport, one of the Gulfstream jets is masked and partly painted.

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Next door to that is a shiny new Gulfstream, just out of the paint hangar.  Note the weights that are on the nose gear.  Note sure why that is.  My theory is that the interior is still empty so there the center of gravity is behind the main landing gears, making the plane at risk of tipping back onto its tail.

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Military jets.  Long Beach is still the production facility for the Boeing C-17.  Boeing purchased Douglas several years ago but the heavy lift C-17 is still manufactured here and ones that have been damaged are returned here for extensive repair.  There is one at the airport that suffered a lot of damage in Iraq and had to be flown back at 10,000 the whole way (compared with 30,000 – 40,000 feet normally) so that the cabin would remain unpressurized.

Below, a new C-17 is finished at the Boeing hangar on the northeast corner of the airport.

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The B-1 bomber shown here is undergoing some sort of testing or modification, although of it isn’t clear for what purpose.

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The legacy of Douglas Aircraft is shown by this decades-old sign that Boeing has kept on the facility where the Boeing 717 (a derivative of the MD-80, which was a derivative of the DC-9).  Sadly, it won’t be around forever as I understand that this facility is to be torn down.

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We saw some classic older jets, including this Grumman HU-16A Albatross.  This flying boat was dates from the 1950s and its unique fuselage design allows it to land in the open ocean, handling waves better than most of its counterparts.

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The following planes are two DC-3s (or Douglas C-47, as it was originally manufactured as part of the war effort) operated by Catalina Flying Boats, an on-demand operator who flies mostly cargo flights to Catalina Island.  They have contracts with all the carriers like FedEx and UPS along with the Los Angeles Times to deliver copies of the daily paper to the island.

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About thirty minutes after I took this picture, we were on the other side of the field and I was able to take video of this plane taking off for a trip to Catalina Island.  One of these days, I’m going to fly on a DC-3.  There is one that does excursion flights in Melbourne, Australia and I have my eyes set on it for a future trip.

Other cargo operators have a presence at LGB, including UPS and DHL (formerly Airborne Express).  Here are some shots of a converted DHL B767-200 freighter.  It started out as a passenger jet for All Nippon Airways (ANA), a Japanese company, before being converted in September 2000 to freighter duty.

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Private jets abound at LGB.  As mentioned, it is one of the busiest general aviation airports in the country.  It is kind of funny that local residents who complain about noise and don’t want any increase in commercial operations, fail to realize that these private jets – especially the Learjets and Gulfstream corporate jets – make much more noise than the commercial passenger planes that are flown these days. 

Here is a small corporate jet ready for its passengers on the ramp outside AirFlite services, a fixed base operator owned by the Toyota Corporation.  Toyota’s North American operations are headquartered just up the 405 freeway in Torrance, so it makes sense that they would operate a service for corporate jets at the closest airport.

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A few minutes later a valet brought the luggage out of the lounge using the same type of cart you would find at a fine hotel.  What service!

Some very rich people have converted former commercial aircraft to be their own private jets.  Here is an MD-87 (again, a derivative of the DC-9) that is now privately owned.  Compare that to the tiny prop jet next to it!

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For those with truly vintage taste, may I suggest a Boeing B727-21?  Dating back to 1966, this air frame first flew for Pan Am before being sold to Alaska Airlines.  It now is operated by Valeant Pharmaceuticals, previously known as ICN Pharmaceuticals, manufacturer of exciting drugs like the synthetic cannabinoid Cesamet.  Yes, fake marijuana fuels this plane.  I’ll skip the obvious jokes about getting high.

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From the northwest end of the field I had the privilege of sitting at the end of the runway and watching a plane land.  Here’s a jetBlue A320 in the distance with the pyramid-shaped gymnasium at Cal State University Long Beach on the horizon.

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Standing near the arrivals end of the runway (close to two miles from where the picture above was taken) I get a good view of an Alaska Airlines MD-90 on short final approach as a SkyWest CRJ700 waits to enter the runway.

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As one of the busiest airports, LGB is equipped with a state of the art emergency services department.  Here is one of their newest crash trucks, always on the ready in the event of a crash landing.

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Finally, for those of you who live in the Southland, the aircraft that brings you news and traffic, Sky Fox 11.  It also brings you badly biased political views, but that’s probably not the fault of the pilot.

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After the tour ended and the morning overcast started to burn off, I took this last picture from the top of the car park, looking past the overcrowded little terminal at LGB and you can see the B-1 bomber and DHL 767 that are pictured above.  Based on this, you can get an idea of where I was on the field.

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Many thanks to Bill and his connections for making this once-in-a-lifetime tour happen.

 

SFO to LGB

Arriving in San Francisco after that beautiful flight across the western United States, I made my way to Anita’s, dropped off my bags and headed to Union Square to complete some last-minute shopping.

While there, I was hungry and wanted a quick, easy and relatively healthy bite to eat.  That desire made me realize another notable difference between life in Thailand and the United States.  In the US, if you are out and want a quick bite to eat, it seems that more often than not you end up at a fast food restaurant.  In Thailand, you can end up eating something fast, but I wouldn’t call it fast food.

King of Thai 2 My hunger led me to the only Thai restaurant I went to on my entire trip: King of Thai Noddles, the small San Francisco chain that does a good job of approximating the Thai wok-style street food experience.  The surest clue is that the entire staff is Thai – my first time hearing Thai spoken in nearly two weeks.  The pad siew, wide rice noodles in a soy sauce with chicken and chinese broccoli, were a flavor memory of Sukhumvit Soi 38’s night dining and a much-needed reminder that home is where the taste buds are.

After completing my dining and shopping, I headed to Newark and dinner at my aunt and uncle’s house.  Like many houses around the Bay Area during summer, once the sun begins to go down the onshore breezes pick up, making a sweatshirt or even a roaring fire necessary.

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Above, clockwise from upper left: my uncle Dick mans the grill; Cousin Patrick prepares hamburger patties; I try to light a fire while extended family members look on; Cousin Jackie poses with a plate of watermelon.

We had a number of extended family members in town, including my cousin’s cousins (their first cousins through their mom’s side of the family) whom I had not seen in probably twenty-five years as they now live in Arkansas.  They were visiting with their respective families and it was interesting to catch up with people whose lives have taken an entirely different path than my own.

P1080668 I also had the opportunity to meet my cousin Michael’s future in-laws.  He and Sara are getting married next summer and this was my first opportunity to meet Sara’s parents and younger siblings.  All very nice people and I look forward to them being a part of the family.

As a result of all these new people, we had a lot of young children running around.  Jackie decided that smores were the answer to keep them occupied and so, ever the girl scout, she pulled out the smore making gear.

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Notice that some people didn’t wait to put the marshmallow between the chocolate and graham crackers, opting to just eat it straight from the fire.

Patrick, ever the chef, made a chocolate chip and tequila bread pudding that was really tasty.  The serving was also way too big!

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Thursday morning I headed down to San Jose to catch my flight to Long Beach.  My decision to fly out of San Jose was based both on low prices as well as a desire to see how the airport from which I flew a great deal as a child has changed.  The old terminal still uses air stairs instead of jetways, something of a throwback to an earlier generation of air travel.  A new terminal is under construction, threatening to modernize the airport to an entirely unrecognizable point.

Thankfully, though, the outdoor observation deck is still open and I spent two hours watching planes, taking pictures, and getting a sunburn on my forearms.  The best of the shots, a Southwest 737 rotating and climbing into the sunny afternoon:

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Below, my flight on a jetBlue Embraer E190.

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You’ve probably had enough pictures from the air after yesterday’s entry, so I’ll ask that you indulge me with just a few more.

Below, “Silicon Valley” – the San Jose area – just after takeoff, the airport visible in the background.

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Smoke from the many fires still visible as we head down the coast, just past the Monterey Bay.

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The art deco terminal of Long Beach Airport, complete with palm trees.  What could be more Southern California than that?

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Since Bill works for jetBlue, he met me at the baggage claim and then took me on a little tour of the airline’s west coast operations center, a nondescript building near the terminal.  It is interesting to see how they still have much of the start-up mentality, making it a fun place to work.

We headed to their house, just a five-minute drive from the airport in the city of Lakewood.  Alex joined us a little bit later and I had a tour of their backyard, which they’ve recently done some work on.

Below, Bill (or Bill’s arm) feeds Alex some wild grapes that grow along their fence.  Turns out to be pretty bitter.

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After the grazing, we headed to the nearby city of Bellflower.  During the summer months they do a weekly Thursday evening block party.  The main street is shut down and a combination of craft fair, farmer’s market, and concert takes place.  There are many people who show up, especially families, and the crowd shows the diversity that is very much a part of Southern California.

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Below, Bill stands by as Alex snaps pictures.

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We opted for a barbecue dinner at Johnny Rebs, a Carolina-Georgia style BBQ place that has buckets of peanuts on the table and encourages you to throw the shells on the floor.  Despite this, they received an “A” rating from the public health department.

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The food is good, although I think Lucille’s – another of Alex and Bill’s favorites that we went to last September – had smokier meat.  Here’s what we had:

Bill had the deep fried catfish with hush puppies and fries.  The tartar sauce was homemade and the hush puppies were, surprisingly, not oily.

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Alex had the pulled pork shoulder, which I found a little dry and not very smoky.  The sauce, which is a regional matter, is pretty vinegary but I found it lacked a distinctive flavor profile.  Of course, taste in BBQ is very individual.  Something that one person loves, another will not.

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I chose the tri-tip sandwich.  Tri-tip is a unique central California treat and it should be medium rare with lots of juicy pink in the center.  Unfortunately, the meat for this sandwich was overcooked and, subsequently, a little tough.

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We wrapped up sharing a peach cobbler that we barely made a dent in.  Too much dessert and the cobbler itself was a little doughy and undercooked.

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Overall, my impression on Johnny Rebs was that it was okay, but it was not the real deal.  It was BBQ done Los Angeles style with lots done to make it look authentic but not enough to make it taste authentic.

Back at their home, we stayed up until after 1:00, visiting.  I realized as I rolled into bed at 1:30, that I’ve spent too many nights on this trip staying up too late and getting up too early.  Something that ended up catching up with me.

 

Beauty of the West from 35,000 feet

My eight days in Kansas City ended too soon.  Packing my bags on a wet Wednesday morning, I said goodbye to my nieces and headed to the airport for my flight back to San Francisco.  Below, see you at Christmas.

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Normally, I save my pictures of airplane trips for trip reports on airliners.net, but this was such a beautiful day for flying that I want to share some of the pictures with everyone.  Below, a soon to be vanished sight – Midwest Airlines’ MD-87.  In the next few weeks they will be cutting their fleet by some 40%, removing all of these planes from service and cutting their staff by about the same number.  Tough times in the US airline industry.

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The western United States is a rugged, mostly barren land and it gives some idea into the American psyche: there is lots and lots of room, lots of frontier to be civilized, and always the possibility of reinventing yourself somewhere new.

Some of that land is flat and ugly (much of Nevada, based on having driven it) but much of it has great beauty, beauty carved by the elements over untold millennia.  Much of it is hard to appreciate when you are driving across the country, because much of it is hidden.  But from 35,000 feet you can see the sheer size of some of these geologic formations, a vastness of scope that is both vertical and horizontal.

Let me share these photos with you:

The Rocky Mountains just west of Colorado Springs, Colorado.

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A deep glacial valley on the left, carved into the alpine mountains.

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A small town lies in the valley below a mountain, somewhere near Aspen, Colorado.

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A river winds through dry lands, cutting across the face of a butte.

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Area near Moab, Utah and Canyonlands National Park.

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West of Canyonlands National Park, heading towards Nevada.

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Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.  Notice all the smoke from various fires.  In the upper-right quadrant is Yosemite Valley.  If you look carefully, you can see what I think is Half Dome.

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I may be wrong (and I’m sure someone will correct me if I am) but I think this picture – a close-up of the one above – shows Half Dome in the center of the picture about one-third of the way in from the left side.  Amazing how much smoke there is.

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Hopeton, California in the foreground with the Merced Airport and the city of Merced in the background.  This is west of Yosemite Valley where the Sierra Nevada foothills give way to the Central Valley – California’s agricultural engine.

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The airport shown below is in Patterson, California, where the Central Valley gives way to the Coastal Range.  San Luis Reservoir is visible in the distance.

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As we descend over the Coastal Range the path of a high tension power line is visible, a clear swath cutting through the trees.

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We enter the Bay Area in the Warm Springs/Irvington district of Fremont, turning northwest towards the airport and flying over the colorful salt evaporation ponds near the Dumbarton Bridge.  Moffett Federal Air Field is visible in the background.

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As we head for Foster City and the San Mateo Bay Bridge, I spot a United Airlines A319 slowly moving closer to us.  It is clear that we will be executing a parallel approach for runways 28 Left and 28 R, something that can only be done in the right weather conditions when visibility is excellent.  This is because the runways are only 750 feet (229 meters) apart.  Below, the city of San Mateo with Coyote Point Regional Park just coming into view in the foreground.

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What follows is an aviation enthusiast’s dream: an excellent view all the way in of another aircraft landing.  I captured it on video and am including it below for your enjoyment.  Rather humorously, when my seatmate, a retiree who spends her time between Milwaukee and Sonoma, saw the other plane, she announced that she hoped he would pull away soon.  She apparently thought we were playing chicken for only one runway.

Wrapping Up in KC

When we last left our hero, he was galavanting around Kansas City after writing a non-chronological entry about ramen soup noodles in San Mateo.  After my colleagues left KC, I was able to properly focus on my holidays, spending time with family and friends and just enjoying a different setting and schedule than usual.

One evening, I met up with Jack.  He’s a Thai expat now living in the Kansas City area and we connected through airliners.net.  Recently, he bought a 70-year old house in the Waldo neighborhood, a funky little area south of the Country Club Plaza.  This was my first chance to see his new home, a typical two-story cookie cutter that has four small bedrooms on the second story, all sharing one bathroom!

Since there are just two of them living in the house, the single upstairs bathroom is hardly a problem.  And, liking clothes every bit as much as Tawn, Jack wisely converted one of the bedrooms into a walk-in closet, below. 

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Of course, the “closet” has two of its own closets.  There is a small one to the left (which you can’t see in the above picture), which holds the off-season clothes.  Then there is the dormer attic space, which Jack uses as a shoe closet, below.  I had to take pictures because I know that if we had the space, Tawn would love something like this.

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We’ve talked about buying the 32-square meter (330 square foot) studio condo next to ours, tearing a door into the wall between the unites, and turning the whole thing into a closet for Tawn.

After showing off his house and introducing me to his pair of very outgoing cats, Jack suggested we head to the aforementioned Country Club Plaza.  The Plaza, the first shopping center in the world to be designed specifically for people arriving by car, is a landmark of Kansas City and really is one of the nicer outdoor shopping developments in the US.  While you are seeing these kind of developments more commonly these days, you have to remember that the origins of the Plaza date back to 1907 and it opened in 1923, years before malls and other shopping centers.

The architectural style is very much based on a Spanish/Moorish motif.  There is beautiful tile work and many fountains and while those on the coasts may scoff at “flyover country”, the Plaza is a good example of what makes the quality of living in Kansas City quite decent.

Here are some photos, taken later in the day so apologies for the long shadows:

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P1080459 Jack and I ended up eating at Houston’s, one of my favorite chain restaurants.  I had one thing on my mind: steak. 

Steaks are expensive and imported here in Thailand, and Kansas City is cattle country so I wasn’t about to pass up the opportunity to try a good steak.  Houston’s delivered with a very nicely marbled rib-eye, tender and flavorful.  Combine that with their excellent cous cous and a glass of very nice cabernet, and it was a pleasant meal.

The only thing Houston’s lacks is proper dessert choices.  There are only two items: the key lime pie and the apple walnut cobbler.  The pie isn’t all that great, in my opinion, and they were out of the cobbler, which actually is worth ordering.  Of course, most of the time I haven’t enough room for dessert after having eaten there, so that’s okay.

After dinner, we walked around the Plaza for a while, visiting.  The weather was a little cooler than normal, still in the low 80s, but just ideal for a summer evening.  Wish that Tawn could have been there to enjoy his Houston’s favorite (knife-and-fork ribs) as well as the good conversation.

 

Tuesday morning I was tasked with taking Emily to swim lessons so Jenn could get some things done and have a little time without youngsters around the house.  The morning started oddly cool, breezy and humid, the chance of rain lending a pronounced “fullness” to the air.  Jenn decided to try and get the lawn mowed and no sooner had she started then the first big drops started to fall.  But they remained very intermittent, so she powered on, moving so fast that she was no more than a blur in the photo below.

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Emily and I were unsure whether the weather would force a cancelation of lessons.  I called the pool’s recorded line and the last weather alert was for a month ago, so we went with the assumption that lessons were on.  I grabbed an umbrella and a magazine and we loaded into the minivan.

We must have arrived very early – ten minutes before class didn’t seem early to me – as there were no other students around.  Emily assured me that this was normal and an instructor, a young lady in her late teens, told me that class was still on.  Unsure of where I was supposed to go, Emily told me to sit in the waiting area and she headed out to find her teacher.

Below, Emily jumps up and down, trying to make it difficult for me to get a good picture.

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Sure enough, about sixty seconds before lesson time a fleet of minivans arrived, divulging several dozen young swimmers.  The mothers, a veritable cast of Desperate Housewives, brought their folding chairs and novels and set up shop.  Some read (the lady in front of me was reading Michael Pollan’s excellent The Omnivore’s Dilemma) while most gossiped.  You would be shocked with what’s going on amongst neighbors in suburban Kansas City!

Since it was raining, the instructors decided it was Safety Day.  This is the day when the children at each level learn various safety skills.  In the picture below, you can see Emily holding the safety flotation device, about to throw it to “save” one of her classmates.

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To avoid distractions, the adults were forced to sit in a confined area away from their children, so I had to use the telephoto feature on my camera.  Not too bad, actually, considering how far away I was.

It was a really cool morning and I had on my sweatshirt and was still shivering.  The pool is in an exposed area and the wind blew sharply across the deck.  When Emily finished lessons she was quite chilly, too, so we decided a stop at the neighborhood Starbucks for some hot cocoa would be a good idea.

That afternoon we had BLTs for lunch.  Bacon, lettuce and tomato – what a perfect combination.  I should have this in Thailand as all three ingredients are available.  But the tomatoes here are just not the same.  We don’t do beefsteak tomatoes.

Many insist that mayonnaise is the correct condiment, although I prefer peanut butter.  Everything is better with peanut butter.  Well, not scrambled eggs, but most things.

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I spent a fair amount of time my final few days in KC working on a photo scanning project.  My grandmother made the effort several years ago to organize their thousands of photos into binders, usually by child.  Many of the photos have names, dates and locations, which is a good start.

A few years ago, I decided to start scanning these photos and collecting them digitally.  Then I can post them to the family and ask people to add more details: stories and memories that will bring the photos to life.  Eventually, I’d like to create and print photo albums for the various grandchildren and, eventually, great-grandchildren like Emily and Ava.

During this week, I managed to scan and document about four hundred photos, just a scratch in the surface.  Future trips will have to include more scanning, so I know what I’ll be doing this Christmas.

In a future post, I’ll include some of those family photos, to see if you can trace any family resemblances.

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After one day of scanning, Jennifer and Emily stopped by to pick my up at my grandparents’ house.  While there, Emily went upstairs to check on the progress of my grandmother’s sewing projects.  Among other things, she wanted to take measurements to make a dress for Emily.  Amazing that my grandmother is still working on projects like this at her age.  But then, both my grandparents keep incredibly busy.  They have more on their schedules than I do!

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Finally, on one of my final evenings in Kansas City, Jenn, Emily and Ava tried on the matching pink pajamas that Tawn bought for them.  There was an evening of peace and calm as we read bedtime books together, no fussing, crying, or tumult.  What a perfect evening!