The Reason Why

sta-clara-university I owe you an explanation.  Normally, I don’t time-stamp past entries back into the present.  In this case, though, I felt the need to time-stamp the “Getting to Know Me” entry because I anticipated some new visitors after I participated Wednesday morning in a panel discussion about working overseas.

A few months ago, the director of the Santa Clara University career center contacted me.  She was looking for alums who currently live and work overseas to participate in a panel discussion.  I eagerly accepted the invitation, being a strong believer in the importance of networking.

This was to be the university’s first-ever panel discussion hosted via Skype video conference call and streamed live.  It took a few practice calls for the director and the panelists to work out most of the technical glitches.  The experience actually served to illustrate one of the challenges of living and working overseas: unreliable internet service!

SCU Mission Gardens
The lush grounds of Mission Gardens at my alma matter.

The discussion itself lasted an hour and featured eight panelists: two from Thailand, three from China, and one each from India, New Zealand, and Nicaragua.  An hour didn’t give us a lot of time but we were able to talk about what made our work-abroad experiences unique and what suggestions or advice we would give people interested in working abroad.

While there were a lot of different experiences, there were at least two common themes:

  • First, the importance of networking.  Whether through your alumni association or just through informal socializing, when you live abroad, many of your best breaks will happen because of a friend-of-a-friend or an “Oh, I was just talking to someone the other day who is looking for someone with that skill” conversation.
  • Second, you really have to be patient and take the big picture view.  Living overseas – and especially working overseas – involves a lot of challenges and uncertainties.  Few things ever go the way you plan and even fewer go easily.  Being able to put things in context and not let small things bend you out of shape will help save your sanity.

Near the end of the call, I shared my blog address as an additional resource for people who might be curious what life in Thailand is like.  That’s why I anticipated some new traffic.  If the first thing they saw was a picture of the emergency slide rafts of a Boeing 747, they might get the wrong impression.

If you are interested, you can view the recorded event here at  There were a few technical glitches but all in all, still interesting.


Food in LA: Warszwa

So busy running around LA visiting friends and family that I’m a week behind in reading subscriptions and responding to comments – but I want to keep the posts uninterrupted so here’s another!

Polish restaurants fall into a category of dining experiences that rarely hit my radar screen.  I’ve been to them perhaps twice before in my life, enjoying both times but not feeling so compelled that I rushed back.  Plus, given my circle of friends and where I live, it is much more likely that I’ll end out at a restaurant serving Asian food rather than Polish.  They say vacation is an opportunity to gather new experiences and perspectives, so it was fitting when one of my high school friends suggested we go to Warszwa, a Polish restaurant in downtown Santa Monica.


Warszwa relocated from Berkeley, where it was a neighbor to a recently-opened Chez Panisse, to the LA area in 1979.  For the past 25 years it has occupied a former house on Lincoln Boulevard in Santa Monica.  As you walk through the different small dining rooms, you get this sense of being in your Polish great grandmother’s home rather than being in a restaurant.  Service is friendly and efficient, making for an enjoyable dining experience.


I started out with the borscht, a beet-based soup that is a staple of Polish and Russian cuisine.  Because it is summer (or, at least, is supposed to be summer), they were serving a chilled borscht, which has buttermilk, sour cream, and cucumbers and is rich, tangy, and very refreshing.  I’ve experimented with borscht and would like to try making this chilled version.


The six of us shared two appetizers – the first was crispy fried potato pancakes (similar, but more refined, than most latkes I’ve had) served with cinnamon apples and dried plum compote and a dollop of sour cream and chives.  Very tasty starter.  


Handmade pierogi – Polish raviolis – with three fillings: white cheese, potato puree, and caramelized onions; wild mushrooms with shredded cabbage; and chicken breast with herbs, served with sorrel sauce (on the right).  All were very enjoyable and different than I expected. 

The main courses mostly had a similar look and feel, as most were accompanied by the same side dishes.


Lamb dumplings served with a Dijon sauce, which the menu claims is an Eastern Polish specialty.  These were tasty.


Tawn had a variation of the dumplings filled with salmon, served with a basil sauce.  Also tasty, although as we were sharing these two dumpling dishes, we filled up quickly!


One friend had cabbage leaves stuffed with beef, jasmine rice, and sauteed onions, baked in a tomato and paprika broth.  Now, my mother made stuffed peppers a lot when I was a child and I think this stuffed cabbage calls forth certain pleasant childhood memories.


Schnitzel – either pork or chicken, I don’t remember – which is a fillet that is pounded thin, breaded, and fried.  Kind of a Polish katsu, if you will.  The meat was tasty, although it is hard to describe it as anything other than fried meat.  Not much nuance.


The specialty of the evening was a fish dish, served in a cream sauce.  Tasty, too!


Our group after a delightful, if slightly filling, meal – Tawn, Anita, Lilian, Samantha, Lalima, and me.  If you are craving something different and find yourself on the west side of Los Angeles, a visit to Warszawa may be just what the doctor ordered!


Christmas Comes Early

Friday evening, finished with work, I flew from Houston to Kansas City with a quick Southwest Airlines stop in Dallas.  In other words, twenty minutes on the ground as one load of passengers deplaned and another load promptly took their place.  At about 10:00 pm I was met at the KC airport by my father, who had decided to drive 9 hours from Indiana to see me.

We arrived at my sister and brother-in-law’s house well after the nieces had gone to bed, but did everything we could to keep the noise to a minimum, lest they wake up and have their surprise spoiled.  I wrapped their Christmas presents and placed them – “From Santa” – under the tree before going to bed.

About 7:00 Saturday morning I came upstairs from the basement guest room to find the two girls, going on ages 5 and 8, glued to the cartoons.  “Good morning,” I said.  They turned around and for a moment you could see the wheels turning as they tried to process the disconnect between what they were seeing and what they knew to be true: that their uncle was thousands of miles away in Thailand.

The youngest niece actually turned back to the TV before doing a double-take that would have been at home in a slapstick comedy.  “How did you get here?!” she asked.

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I made my case that Santa had brought me along with the presents.  To prove my point, I used as evidence the photo of me and Santa that had been taken the night before as part of a Southwest Airlines / Microsoft promotion at Houston Hobby Airport.  For any number of reasons, they were skeptical of this evidence.  “He looks like family,” the older niece said.

Here is a four-minute video of the present opening, if you would care to watch it.  I imagine relatives will be more interested than most of you will be, but it has a few cute comments made with the sheer innocence that only children can.

If you elected not to watch the video, here were their presents:

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Ava received the larger hedgehog (which she has named “Judy”), a beachball sized stuffed animal that took up half my suitcase and made it inexplicably light for the baggage handlers.  This one matches a smaller hedgehog we gave her on a previous visit, of which she was convinced she already had the larger one of the pair.

Emily received a Hello Kitty watch – her first watch ever as she is now finally able to tell time – and a stuffed tiger that was a Christmas gift from one of my colleagues, but which will have a more loving home in Kansas City than in Bangkok.

We had lunch with my grandparents and uncle and then after running several errands we met another family friend for dinner at Lidia’s Italian restaurant in downtown.  Andy and Sugi were unfortunately not able to drive down from Omaha to join us as they were experiencing blizzard conditions.

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That evening, Emily practiced reading (she has become very proficient and devours chapter books) with “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas” while Ava (in her “To Wong Foo with Love, Julie Newmar” outfit) practiced her alphabet, shouting triumphantly, “Look!  I drew an ‘h’!”

After putting the girls to bed and saying my goodbyes, I reloaded my bags, filling the void left by the hedgehog with cans of chipotles and tomatillos.  By midnight I was in bed for a few hours’ sleep before an early trip to the airport at 4:00 am.