Taipei Wrap Up

Despite traveling from one end of Taiwan to the other on the High Speed Rail, I was back in Taipei by ten minutes after noon.  I rushed to one of the subway lines and a few minutes later, met my friend Jay for lunch at a large hotel.

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Jay and I worked together during the San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival many years ago.  He has since moved back to Taiwan and is running a company that produces and distributes various media with an emphasis on television channels.  After lunch, he invited me to attend a press conference that was being held to promote a competition held by the Syfy channel.

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Lin Yu-hsien, Director of the 2011 Taiwanese hit film Jump Ashin, appeared at the press event with two young ladies who, if I understand correctly, work with the tourism board and produce all sorts of internet media.  Their “thing” is that they plank all over the place in Taiwan.  Why anyone would choose to lie face down on a hotel conference room’s carpeting is beyond me.  How they relate to the Syfy channel contest is beyond me, too.  Made for an interesting experience, though.

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Afterwards, Jay and I embarked on a somewhat whirlwind series of events.  First stop, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum where we breezed through several exhibits including one featuring works by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.  Maybe we weren’t in much of an art mood, but neither Jay nor I were particularly impressed by the artist’s works.  The one above, “Forever Bicycles,” is perhaps the best-known work in the exhibit.  It is visually interesting but I’m not sure that it really says all that much. 

We also stopped for coffee at the downtown Taipei airport and hung out on the observation deck, which has good views of flights coming and going for “near international” destinations like Tokyo and Shanghai. 

I headed back out to Taoyuan Airport, the main international airport, using the high speed train and bus connection.  As our schedules worked out well, I was able to meet Xangan Jack (made2order), who had just returned to Taipei a week earlier and was helping a chef friend at the Novotel airport hotel conduct a cooking class.  No pictures, unfortunately, but enjoyed talking food and cooking with him and the chef friend, an Indian man who has worked in Taipei several years.

Back at the airport, I zoomed through security and immigration and headed to the lounge, where my carry-on bag was waiting for me in the locker.  Enough time to shower again, change clothes, and catch my breath before boarding the flight to Bangkok.

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As I mentioned in my previous post, I used miles to upgrade to business class on this final segment of my trip.  I did this primarily to make sure I had access to the airline lounge, lest I end up stuck at the airport for my entire 15-hour layover.  The other benefit, of course, was that my final three-hour flight was an extremely comfortable one!

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Menus were distributed before takeoff along with glasses of Champagne.   EVA has started distributing menus for the economy class on long-haul flights, too, which seems a little silly but at least you end up feeling like your choice of meals is a bit nicer than just “chicken or beef”.

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Business class cabin on the A330.  The load on this flight, which continues from Bangkok to Vienna, was light, maybe 40% in business class and not much more in economy.  The man sitting across the aisle from me was also taking lots of pictures so I guess someone else has blogged about this flight, too.

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Appetizer of a chicken pate served in crust with salmon roe and salad.

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Choice of various breads including garlic toast.  The one of the right is a rustic whole grain bread.

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My selection for dinner, poached noodles with braised beef shank and tendon served in superior sauce.  Very tasty, although a little bit of tendon goes a long way for me.

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On-board espresso machine produces lattes and other drinks to order with a rock sugar stir stick.

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Dessert was a modest fruit plate.

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Business class passengers were given an immigration priority lane pass, which was really pointless for a 2:30 am arrival as that is after the last wave of arriving flights and there are no lines at the immigration counters.  That said, I breezed through and was the first to arrive at the baggage claim.  I then had to wait fifteen minutes for the bags to start arriving.  Thankfully, mine were among the first few bags to come off the belt!

Catching a taxi home, I was in bed by 4:00 am, exhausted from my more than fifty hour journey from Kansas City.

Riding the Taiwan High Speed Rail

When booking my flight back to Bangkok, I was able to find a cheaper fare if I included a 15-hour layover in Taipei.  Not only did this save money, it also afforded me enough time to finally take a ride on Taiwan’s High Speed Rail system.

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A trio of trains sits in the winter sun at Zuoying station, the southern terminus of the Taiwan High Speed Rail. 

I’ve prepared a seven-minute video that tells the whole story, embedded below.  Or else you can just browse a selection of pictures and descriptions below.  Your choice.

After a nearly 15-hour flight from Los Angeles, of which I managed to sleep more than 10, I arrived in Taipei a few minutes before 6:00 in the morning.  My extended layover had caught the attention of EVA staff, who met me at the entrance to the security screening for connecting passengers.  The agent wanted to know what I was going to do for that length of time.  If I was going to go into the city, she explained, they wanted my boarding pass back.  That way they would know when I had returned and checked in again, reducing the uncertainty of a potentially missing connecting passenger.

Not keen on doing that, I explained that I was going to go through security and wait in the lounge.  “Okay,” the agent said, “but if you come back please stop by the customer service counter and give us your boarding pass.”

“Sure,” I lied.

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For this final leg of the trip, I cashed in some miles and upgraded to business class.  The only reason to do this is that the lounge facilities are nicer and there was a risk I’d end up having to stay in the lounge the whole time if my plans to go into the city went awry. 

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First thing upon arriving in the empty lounge was to take a shower.  My tote bag contained three changes of clothes: one for the previous night in LA, one for this morning after arrival in Taipei, and a third for the end of the day before heading home to Bangkok.  One key to comfortable long-haul travel is to be able to change your clothes every so often.  Fifty hours is too long for one outfit!

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After the shower and a shave I enjoyed a spot of breakfast from the lounge.  The food is better than you might expect and there is a variety of both western and Asian food.  A latte helped wake me from my drug-induced drowsiness and steeled me for my day ahead.

On the way out of the lounge, I explained that I was going to go out for a while and inquired whether I would have any problem re-entering the lounge since they had already taken my invitation card.  “No worries, sir,” I was told.  “Do you want to leave your bag in a locker?”

That was a helpful offer as I would otherwise have had to pay for a rental locker in the main terminal building, something that isn’t very expensive but made for one more step.  My bag securely stored in a complimentary locker in the lounge, I walked back downstairs through security (explaining to the guard that I had gone the wrong way and had meant to go to immigration), passed the EVA agent who had spoken to me about getting my boarding pass (didn’t make eye contact; just kept walking), and continued to Immigration, where I was the last person in a modest queue.

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After breezing through Immigration and Customs, I followed the signs to the High Speed Rail shuttle bus.  This is U-bus number 705.  The ticket counter is inside the doors and the service, which runs every 20 minutes or so, was just 30 NTD (about US$1).  Interestingly, I had thought that it was a free service, but it seems to only be free for the return portion.

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The Taoyuan HSR station is a ten-minute drive from the airport.  The station itself isn’t much to look at from the outside, although the interior is clean and inviting.

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Across from the HSR station is the construction site for the Taoyuan Airport MRT line, which will provide direct rail service to the airport starting in 2013.  This will ease some of the load off the High Speed Rail as there seem to be many passengers who use the HSR to connect to and from the city, causing a surge of passengers on this approximately 36 km portion of the route.  Once the MRT line is open, the High Speed Rail will be used by the longer distance passengers while local passengers can just use the MRT.  It will also provide an easier connection for passengers riding the HSR from points south and then connecting to the airport, eliminating the bus ride.

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The interior of the Taoyuan station, modern but plain.  Lots of clear signage, though.

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The Zuoying station, the southern terminus of the HSR, has a much more spacious looking terminal, similar to many recently built airport terminals.  

After purchasing my tickets and stopping by Starbucks for another latte (they have Starbucks at each of the HSR stations, save one, as I learned in the seat back pocket magazine), I descended to the platform and waited less than five minutes for my train to arrive.  Service seems to run about once every half-hour, although there are some express trains that run in between, skipping many of the stations on the route.

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For the southbound journey, I bought a ticket in the economy cabin for NTD 1330, or about US$ 44.  This is for a roughly 300km journey that took 1 hour, 40 minutes.  An airline ticket (although the HSR has resulted in a significantly reduced the number of flights offered each day) is about twice that much and takes about one hour, not including check-in time, etc.

The seating is five-abreast in seats very comparable to airline economy class seats.  With the exception of three of the cars, seats are assigned.  Unassigned seats cost NTD 1260, a modest discount.

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While I haven’t done a lot of train travel, I can understand the appeal.  These seats are similar to an airplane’s but have much more legroom and the ability to get up and move around the cabin any time you want.  Compared to the experience on an airplane these days, the train sure looks like a nicer way to travel. 

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The train also offers two cars of business class, which I tried on the return trip.  The fare for the same Taoyuan to Zuoying is NTD 1760, a 32% premium over economy class.  For the money you get a wider seat – only two-by-two seating – and several other features.  Notice, though, that the carpet in the aisle is badly worn.

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Legroom is even greater than in economy, with wide armrests to ensure you aren’t elbowing your seatmate.  The footrest confused me a bit.  The only position it folded to was nearly on the floor of the train, which doesn’t raise your feet very comfortably.

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Several channels of music are available, although you have to bring your own headset.  In this day and age, I wonder if anyone is not already traveling with their own digital music player?

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The business class seats also come with power plugs in case you want to recharge your digital music player, phone, etc.  Interesting that they are not the three-prong grounded plug.

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The back of each tray table has a map showing the amenities on the twelve-car train.  These include a trio of vending machines as well as several lavatories.  There are also phone booths but they do not actually have any telephones in them.  Maybe just a quiet spot in case you need to make a call?

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Attendants roll up and down the aisles with snack carts, featuring drinks and food items.

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My business class ticket entitled me to a free beverage (coffee – not too bad, actually), snack mix, and a chocolate cake/cookie thing.

My overall impression of the system, which reaches its fifth anniversary on January 5, is very positive.  The timing was perfect, as I had listened to a KQED podcast about California’s High Speed Rail Commission just a few days before and was thinking about the pros and cons of building a high speed rail system there.  There is also an initiative here in Thailand to get Chinese investment to help build four high speed rail routes, so I was very keen to have the chance to actually try high speed rail.

Ultimately, high speed rail is an expensive proposition.  But it is also one that can be very convenient to use and bring a lot of benefits to a state or country, not the least of which is a reduction in automobile and aircraft trips, which are less efficient than rail.  I’m not saying that high speed rail is necessarily the right choice for California or for Thailand, but it is certainly worth exploring.

 

Dining in LA: Lukshon

While only in Los Angeles for a few hours between flights, it was time enough for my cousin Jackie and me to join Gary and William for dinner at Lukshon , a small plates restaurant in Culver City where chef Sang Yoon turns out clever takes on food from across east Asia with precision and, for the most part, a lot of flavor.

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Lukshon is located in the Helms Bakery complex between Washington and Venice boulevards, just a few doors down from the chef’s other restaurant, Father’s Office.  Jackie and I arrived on a Tuesday evening about 6:00, just as the restaurant was opening for business.  Some corporate function was being set up on the outdoor patio and the two of us were the first customers into the restaurant.

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We sat down at the bar to enjoy a drink while waiting for Gary and William to join.  The bartender was an affable man who displayed a stunning breadth of knowledge about the wines and the cocktails on the menu.  There is an elaborate machine in place for dispensing wines, a restaurant owner’s dream in terms of portion control I suppose.  The nice thing was that we could get tastes of several wines before selecting one we wanted to order.

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Over dinner, I tried one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails, the Yokohama Romance.  It features Prunier VSOP cognac, cherry heering (a Danish cherry liqueur), kaffir lime, lemongrass, and shaoxing wine.  What caught my attention was that while Jackie and I sat at the bar enjoying our wine, the bartender was preparing this drink in front of us.  The last garnish is the kaffir lime leaf, which he placed in the palm of his hand then smacked with the other hand.  This bruised the leaf, immediately releasing the very pleasant aroma.  Intrigued, I ordered one over dinner and found it to be enjoyable and complex in the way a cocktail should be.

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There are two parts to the dining room: a brighter space featuring the bar, some long tables, and the clean and modern open kitchen.  The other part of the dining room is more intimate, with tables and banquettes set among a cozier ambience.

The menu, as the bartender explained it to us, is intended to be a journey through eastern and southeastern Asia, tracing the paths that various ingredients, techniques, and dishes have taken across the region thanks to migration and trade.  As an example, I’ve written before about northern Thai style curried noodles that owe much to a Muslim region of southwestern China.  Chef Sang Yoon plays with these culinary ethnographies.

Gary and William joined us soon after and we moved to the table, where they used their experience from previous visits to help guide us through the menu.  The menu is composed of about 20 small plates, 3 noodle dishes, and 5 rice dishes.  Everything is served family style which means that it is placed in the middle of the table for sharing by all diners.  Here’s what we enjoyed:

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Choosing a rice dish was a challenge as they all sounded good.  We settled on XO rice, which is jasmine rice stir fried with XO sauce, long beans and scrambled egg.  XO sauce is a sauce made of seafood, usually scallops, and chilies that is somewhat similar to Worcestershire sauce.  Only “somewhat,” though.  This was a pleasant dish but odd that it arrived first since fried rice is usually more of a concluding dish.  The portion was modest, though, so no worries about us filling up on it.

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The baby Monterey squid stuffed with Chiang Mai style pork sausage, candlenut, mint, and rau ram.  This dish was technically well-made but didn’t inspire me as much as I had hoped.  The squid was fresh and not too chewy.  The pork sausage was a less common variety using fermented pork.  The candlenut and rau ram provided nice flavors.  Each component was solid but when the flavors came together I found it interesting but didn’t long for another bite of it.

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A stand-out dish (one also mentioned by many professional reviewers) is the spicy chicken pops.  These feature chicken drumettes cooked in a sauce of garlic, kecap manis, and Szechuan pepper.  Think Asian style buffalo wings. Kecap manis is an Indonesian style sweet soy sauce.  Szechuan pepper, which is not related to black pepper or to chili peppers, has a mild numbing effect on the tongue and, in larger quantities, the lips.  This was a dish for which I could have done something very un-family style: hogged the entire plate.

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Another interesting dish was the Chinese eggplant, which was braised with tomato sambal (a chili sauce) and served with fennel raita (a kind of yogurt sauce) and eggplant “fries.”  It was a very satisfying dish, comfort food that seemed very appropriate given the cool weather LA was having that evening.

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Our next dish was a lamb belly roti canai.  Roti canai is a flatbread with Indian roots that is common in Indonesia and Malaysia.  Here the tender lamb belly is served with chana dal (split peas), cumin, mint, and pickled cauliflower and topped with a raita (yogurt) sauce.  This had a lot of pleasing flavors and was also very enjoyable.

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The next dish to arrive was som tam, the Thai green papaya salad.  Made with a lot of carrots and only a bit of green papaya, the dish also had cherry tomatoes, long beans, peanuts, crispy shallots and fish sauce.  Now, maybe I’m a bit biased because I live in Thailand and received this dish with certain expectations, but my thought was that it was a poor representation of som tam.  Not only was the kitchen stingy with the green papayas, but the dressing was very one-note.  Normally, you have a combination of sweet, salty, umami, and acidic all in one dish.  Here it was mostly sweet.

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The next dish was garlic pork belly, stir fried with do ban jiang (a Chinese style paste made of fermented beans, usually soy or broad beans, and often with chilies), small nuggets of mochi (glutinous rice cake), cabbage, and garlic chives.  This was another comforting dish with lots of full bodied flavors and some interesting textures (still crisp cabbage, chewy mochi).  Serve this with a bowl of rice and you’d have a nice meal just by itself. 

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Our final dish was dan dan noodles, a Szechuan classic that features a spicy sauce made of preserved mustard greens, chili oil, Szechuan pepper, and minced pork.  Think spaghetti with meat sauce done Chinese style.  While I’m no expert, this version of dan dan noodles was very similar to what I’ve had at other restaurants, reminding me especially of a version I had in Taipei at Kiki Restaurant with Andy and his parents.

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Dinner concluded with a plate of complimentary desserts, three types, each with small portions.  I don’t recall specifically what they were, something like custards with sorbet on top, all of which featured Asian flavors.  While I didn’t write down the details, I do recall that they were flavorful and at just two or three bites each, were a satisfying end to a pleasant meal.

All in all, I found Lukshon to be a meal that was not only tasty and reasonably priced (about $30/each including a drink) but mentally engaging, too.  Add to that the pleasant company with whom I dined, and it was a memorable meal with which to end my visit to the United States.

Kansas City to Los Angeles

After about eleven days in Kansas City, it was time to begin the return trip, a lengthy journey that would take me more than 56 hours from door to door.  The first leg was from Kansas City to Los Angeles, cashing in some credit card points I had for a one way ticket on American Airlines.

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It has been nearly a decade since I’ve flown American.  Now that they are in bankruptcy, the last of the major carriers (other than Southwest) to have gone through that process, I was curious to see if there was a perceptible air of distress among the employees.

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I have to say, while none of the employees were spectacularly friendly, they didn’t seem to be any worse for wear than the employees of any other major US airline.  They did their jobs, tried to smile from time to time and be pleasant, and got me safely from point A to point B.  Knowing many people in the airline industry, and being a former employee myself, my sympathy extends to them during this uncertain time.  The only thing that is certain is that they’ll not make it through bankruptcy without some amount of pain.  Most likely, this will include losing a large portion of their pensions.

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There was some holiday spirit in the air, though, despite the bankruptcy.  This gate at Kansas City was decorated for the season, ready for a charity flight they do for disadvantaged children.  I’m not sure if it is an actual flight – that’s become quite expensive to do anymore – but they board the children on the plane, let them visit the cockpit, have them sit down and enjoy snacks and a drink, etc.  All in all, a nice treat for children who may otherwise never get such an experience.

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Flying into the greater Los Angeles area, we were treated to clear skies and great visibility.  Here’s a shot of the city of Riverside and, smack in the center (to the right of the freeway), the University of California, Riverside campus.  I actually attended UCR for six months in the first half of 1990, before moving back up to Santa Clara University to finish my studies.

Video of our landing in Los Angeles.

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A shot of my plane after arrival in Los Angeles.  The construction for the expansion of the Tom Bradley International Terminal is in the background, the new saw-tooth roof clearly visible.  Also, two Boeing 747s, the one on the left from Fiji Air and the the one on the right from China Airlines.

My cousin Jackie, Alex’s younger sister, picked me up and helped me kill several hours.  We ran errands to Trader Joe’s and a few other stores.  We stopped for In-n-Out burgers, where we saw a family of three who had dragged their suitcases all the way from the airport to get a burger.  That’s about a two-mile walk, depending on which terminal they came from.

In the evening, we met Gary and William for dinner at Lukshon.  I’ll share pictures from that fantastic dinner tomorrow.

 

Spending Time with the Family

Of course the biggest reason for heading to the US was to visit family.  My two nieces are growing up quickly and it won’t be too many years before they decide they’d rather play with their friends than hang out with their uncle.  Thankfully, that point has not been reached, yet.  I’m also fortunate to have two of my grandparents still going strong in their 90s, giving me two additional reasons to make a visit.

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I tried to fit in several different activities with the girls, sometimes with both of them and sometimes just one-on-one.  I’ve observed that their behavior is a lot better when they are separated.  When they are together, the level of antagonizing skyrockets.  Here we made some Christmas cookies.  I prepared the dough, refrigerating it, then they helped roll it out and cut out the individual cookies.

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After the cookies were baked and cooled (“Are they cool yet?” every three minutes for a half-hour) we were able to ice them.  The only food coloring at the house was a set of neon colors, which produced pastels very suitable for Easter eggs but not quite spot-on for Christmas.  Nonetheless, they happily iced away, adding prodigious layers of sprinkles on top.

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Emily seemed to be busy much of the time while I was in town, what with her two soccer leagues and a basketball league, too.  Thus, I ended up with more photos of Ava than I did of Emily.  On the left, Ava and her mother talk while at my grandparents’ Sunday School’s Christmas luncheon.  On the right, Ava (with Emily hidden on the sofa behind her) watches TV and drinks some hot chocolate I made for her.  Something about this picture makes her look very adult to me.

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As an added bonus, my uncle Dick flew into town while I was there, with his eldest daughter, my cousin Alex, and her first son, Tommy.  Here, Tommy, Dick, and my grandmother enjoy a pancake breakfast with Santa at my nieces’ school.  Tommy, who is going on two, had a blast playing with his older cousins.

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Here’s the visit with Santa.  Alex had to join the picture as there was no way Tommy was going to sit on Santa’s knee by himself.  Tommy held it together just long enough for a few pictures, then left his two cousins to bend Santa’s ear with their wish list.

Whether because I’m getting older or just because I’ve lived out of the country for a half-dozen years now, I find that I feel the family ties tugging more strongly at my heart.  While I don’t know that I want to move back to the US, I certainly wish I could spend more time there and, by extension, more time with my family.

 

Visit to Omaha

Near the end of my trip, I drove up to Omaha to spent a night with Andy and Sugi.  It is normally about a three-hour drive form Kansas City to Omaha.  After about the first hour, I started to encounter snow which grew heavier the further north I went.  By the time I hit the Iowa border, I was passing cars that had spun off the road and took that as a clear warning to slow down.  Arriving in Omaha to sluggish and slushy late rush hour traffice, my trip took about an hour longer than normal.

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Sugi and Andy at the Mexican restaurant they took me to, Cilantro’s.  Sugi managed to order the really good dish, a mixed fajitas that included some tasty chorizo.  Andy had some tamales that were decent.  My fish tacos totally missed the mark.  Using tilapia, the tacos had a muddy flavor that I couldn’t get past.  All in all, I decided not to post pictures because the dishes pretty much looked like American style Mexican food from just about any American style Mexican food restaurant.  That said, the company was fantastic.

Now, I’m not totally unfamiliar with snow.  But at the same time, I live in Bangkok so it isn’t something I have to deal with very often.  Here’s a short video capturing my impressions.

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View of Andy’s street the morning after my arrival. My poor little rental car really wasn’t up to the task.  I wasn’t able to get it all the way up the driveway without it slipping on the ice.

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The culinary highlight of the trip to Omaha was a drive across the river into Councli Bluffs, IA, where Tawn and I were married a bit more than two years ago.  In the downtown area, just a few blocks from the courthouse, is Dixie Quicks, a combination restaurant and art gallery, which just recently relocated from Omaha.

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The space is fairly large, much more so than their previous space, and features an eclectic style of decorating.  Chef René Orduña’s menu is a hodge-podge of southern, Mexican, and Cajun, done to good effect.  It was featured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives” although you shouldn’t hold that against them.  The staff is friendly (ask Andy about his new nickname) and the food is good. 

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A vintage toy robot stands guard on the beautiful terrazo counter.  The restaurant definitely has a retro-chic vibe.

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A real stand-out item on the regularly changing menu is the cornbread crab cake.  Loaded with plenty of lump crab meat, the use of cornbread gives the cakes an added dimension.  The sauce is a tomato butter which is made, interestingly, using the steamer on an espresso machine.  If I had it to do over, I’d just have ordered three of these and called it a day.

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Chicken Tortilla soup with a wonderful mixture of vegetables.  Good flavor and the avocado was a nice touch.

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Sugi ordered tortas, which were filled with avocados and lots of other tasty things.  Served with a side of pickled collard greens.  I’ve never had pickled collard greens which were, as you might expect, vinegary.  Made for a pleasant contrast.  While I liked the tortas, I do think that a crustier bread would have been nicer.  Just my preference, though.

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My breakfast was chilaquilles, a first for me. A common Mexican breakfast dish, chilaquilles makes use of leftover tortillas, which are fried then simmered in salsa.  In this version, tomatoes and peppers are used to create something that is reminiscent of lasagna but with Mexican flavors.  Served with black beans and two soft fried eggs, this was a really tasty treat and something I look forward to seeking out at other restaurants. 

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We managed to get on really well with one of the owners, the one who gave Andy his nickname.  Before we had even finished our main courses, two types of French toast had been sent out for dessert, compliments of the house.  The chocolate and banana is on the left and fresh berries are on the right.  The bread is the same as is used for the tortas and while I still maintain that a slightly crustier bread would be better, it was hard to fault this French toast.

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The gallery next door was open for browsing, getting ready for a three-artist show that was debuting that evening.  Here, a giant inflatable black squirrel holds an acorn.

All in all, Dixie Quicks was a highlight meal during my trip to the US.  A drive up to Omaha is worthwhile if for no other reason that to visit Andy and Sugi. But having this restaurant there provides an added incentive.

 

On the Way to Kansas City

Now that I’m safely back in Thailand, let me share some highlights from my recent trip to the United States.  This first portion covers the trip from Bangkok to Los Angeles and San Francisco on my way to Kansas City.

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Self-portrait on the Flight Information Display Signage.  Thankfully, I scheduled a 12:40 pm departure which meant I didn’t have to get up too early or rush to get to the airport.  Instead, time for a leisurely breakfast before hailing a taxi.

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On the climb out of Bangkok, I could still see some lingering effects of the flooding.  While these rice paddies normally have water in them at this time of year, you can see how the vertical boundaries between many of the paddies have been erased.  The water is still high enough in this area to the northeast of the city that water flows across dikes and roads, combining multiple paddies into small lakes.

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The connection through Taipei was smooth and we landed about thirty minutes early in Los Angeles in the mid-afternoon.  Here, I snap a photo of my plane before boarding a bus at the remote parking area.  Winds were very high and were blowing offshore, the opposite of the usual direction.

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Los Angeles is a great place to see the world’s largest passenger airplane, the Airbus A380.  Qantas sends multiple planes there daily, one of which is hidden behind the other in the picture on the left.  Singapore Airlines also sends an A380 to LAX (above right) and Korean Airlines and Air France will soon join them, too.

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I connected to Southwest Airlines for a flight up to San Francisco.  Had I realized that my 6:00 departure was going to be delayed, I would have hustled over from the international terminal and tried to make the 3:30 flight instead.  While waiting for my flight, a teenager practiced his violin, playing very well for an appreciative crowd of passengers.

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A young girl gets her start as an aviation enthusiast, watching the planes as her father “flies” her through the air.

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My high school friend Ryan, pictured above with his 2-year old son, picked me up at the airport and we were able to catch up over dinner – Vietnamese noodles! – before I crashed on an air mattress at his house.  While I was only in the San Francisco area for about 12 hours, it was very nice to be able to see Ryan and his family again.

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After some coaxing, Elliot decided it would be okay to pose for a picture with Uncle Chris before heading to the airport.

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The weather on Friday morning was crisp and clear, allowing for a beautiful view of San Francisco as we took off to the north, climbing towards Oakland. 

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After buying Midwest Airlines, Frontier adopted their practice of serving fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies onboard.  A nice touch at an airline that is hard to distinguish from all the other domestic carriers.  After a tight connection in Denver, I arrived in Kansas City about 5:45 Friday evening.