Reflections on my trip back to Kansas City

While my trip back to the US ended a month ago, I haven’t properly taken the time to reflect on the trip and what it meant to me. It was a short trip – just over two weeks – but it was one of the most meaningful trips I have taken. Was it because of being away for almost two years, or because of the number of people I was able to see, or just because as I get older I am more appreciative? I cannot say. But it was a good trip.

Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was spending time with my grandparents. My grandmother turned 101 this springtime and my grandfather hit the same milestone while I was in town. We had planned a famliy reunion last summer but of course that had to be cancelled. This year, though, everyone was fully vaccinated and it felt worth the risk to make a visit.

They have been inspirations and role models. A video I made for their 90th birthdays captured bits of the story how they met, which is a wonderful story similar to the story of so many people of their generation: a soldier meets a girl at a USO dance and they marry before he is sent overseas. In their 78 years of marriage, they have weathered thick and thin and have maintained consistency of faith and values while being open-minded and always learning.

While there, I had an interesting conversation with them, asking them about how the way they think about their lives and mortality has changed as they get closer to the end of their lives. Their candid and thoughtful answers could be summarized as, live your life as well as you can, be grateful for all you have, and focus on the present rather than the future.

While there, my grandmother said that she wanted to swim again. She was a competitive swimmer in her youth and continued to swim her entire life, up until about seven years ago when she suffered a fall. In fact, she had overseen the Red Cross swimming program in her county for many years and countless hundreds of children learned to swim thanks in part to her instruction.

My aunt loaned her a swimsuit, cap, and goggles and I drove my grandmother over to the pool and my aunt’s housing complex. It was a sunny day and the pool was warm as my grandmother took off her robe and eased her way into the water. And in no time she was swimming laps, especially enjoying the backstroke which she does so gracefully. She did complain afterwards that she wasn’t used to the added buoancy of the salt water – she is famliar with chlorinated water! – but otherwise enjoyed the experience.

Another lesson to learn: don’t give up on the things you love.

While last year’s family reunion was cancelled, another one informally happened this year. All of my cousins bar one arranged to be back, overlapping the weekend before my grandfather’s birthday. They brought their spouses and children with them, with just a few exceptions, and all of my aunts and uncles were there, too. So we had the chance to see nearly everyone and spend good time together.

I am the oldest of my cousins and as I see them grow (and as I see their children grow!), I am increasingly aware of the passage of time and feel a sense of responsibility to collect the stories and keep the connections strong between our generation. If I will not have children of my own, then perhaps what I can bequeath to the next generation is the legacy and history of our family. I work on collecting the stories and memories and look for a good way to share them.

This trip was also the opportunity to stay with my parents in their new home. Some fifty-plus years after leaving the Kansas City area for the San Francisco Bay Area, and then detouring to Indiana some 25 years ago, they have recently moved back to Kansas City. They are just settling in, still unpacking and setting things up.

What is interesting is how the dynamic has changed. Every time I visited Kansas City, they would travel over from Indianapolis. So when I was seeing them, they were also visitors. Now, they live there. I can visit them in their home. It is a different experience and will be interesting to see how this makes visits feel over the coming years. It will certainly be easier to have the family all in one place!

I was also fortunate that on my last evening there, an old Xangan friend, Andy Yang, drove down from Omaha to visit. When Tawn and I married in Council Bluffs, Iowa a dozen years ago (across the river from Omaha), we needed a witness for the marriage license. While we had never met in person, Andy offered to be the witness and invited Tawn and me to stay with him and his now-wife, Sugi, at their place. They have been great friends all these years and have become close to our family. I really appreciate him coming down to see me and love that friendships that came from the days of my Xanga blog have grown such deep roots over time.

There is more from the trip I will write about, but that is the Kansas City portion.

Xanga Meet Up Dinner at Island Tang

Over the new year’s holiday we were in Hong Kong, in part to take part in the second annual Xanga meet-up or, more accurately, the Xanga alumni meet-up. This year’s group was roughly the same as last year’s and once again a nice venue was chosen for dinner: Island Tang.

Island Tang’s owner is Sir David Tang (of the Shanghai Tang retail brand) whose restaurants include China Club, which I wrote about two days ago. The interior of the restaurant is every bit as elegant as China Club but many degrees subtler. As Time Out Hong Kong described it, Island Tang is Hong Kong of the 1940s compared to China Club’s Shanghai of the 1920s.


In fact, it isn’t too much to describe the space as gorgeous. There was tremendous attention to detail in everything from decor to menu design to place settings. It felt elegant from the very start.


The menu is primarily Cantonese food. The pictures here are a selection of what we ordered, although not everything. Above is the wok-fried jumbo garoupa fillets with Hangzhou pepper, garlic, and preserved black beans. Tasty dish although the fish was a bit overwhelmed by all the other flavors.


A traditional braised duck with “eight treasures” – additional ingredients which can vary by recipe but in this case included shrimp, scallops, and mushrooms among other things. Very tasty dish.


We tried several different soups, most of which were similar to what I showed from China Club. One unique offering was a casserole boiled bean curd (tofu) stuffed with minced pork and mushroom. This was a very nice, subtle dish.


One of the non-Cantonese dishes, a very tasty pan-fried Welsh lamb belly seasons with cumin. The skin was crispy, the fat was properly rendered, and the cumin gave it an earthy flavor that was delightful.


Quite an interesting dish was the wok-fried papaya with honey bean and fresh lily bulb. Most of the time in Thai cooking, we use green papaya, so I was caught a bit off guard to find ripe papaya used in this stir-fry. The most interesting ingredient was the lily bulb, something I don’t think I’ve had before. The combination was light and flavorful.


For some more vegetables, we had wok-fried kale with crushed ginger and rice wine. A simple dish, well executed.


We ordered a variety of chilled, pudding-like deserts that were tasty but did not photograph well. The only item I did photograph were these glutinous rice and sesame balls, which thankfully weren’t as oily as I had expected.


A final shot of the dining room. We started eating at 8:30 and by the time we left, were pretty much the last diners. These ladies left before us.

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The obligatory shot of the current and former Xangans plus four non-blogger guests. Will let you figure out who is who.

Putting My Match Down

Friday morning I posted an offer designed to encourage more people to contribute to the “Relaunch Xanga” crowd-funding effort. My offer was to match the next five contributions to a total of $240 – equivalent to five one-year memberships in Xanga. Additionally, I offered to make those memberships available to people who felt they could not afford to pay for blogging on the new Xanga 2.0 platform.

In the three days since that offer, an additional $1,335 was contributed so this morning I pulled out my credit card, went to the crowd-funding site, and added my $240 to the pot. The total is $1,975 contributed in three days, bringing us to $32,728 – 54.5% of our goal of $60,000.

Sunday evening, Alex (@roadlesstaken) interviewed Xanga CEO John on his BlogTalkRadio channel (recorded podcast here). Hearing the interview, there are a few areas where I feel like he and the team haven’t taken some easy steps to raise awareness – splash screen or large banner on the home page, perhaps. At the same time, I also understand that they aren’t doing this because it makes them a lot of money. Instead, they are committed to the community that exists here at Xanga, the same reason I am willing to put my money where my mouth is.

If you are a member of the community and you haven’t contributed to the relaunch of Xanga, your help would be very much appreciated! Click here to contribute. The deadline is July 15.


Xanga Crowdsourcing Matching Offer

Just finished with a fun BlogTalkRadio interview with Alex (aka @Roadlesstaken). You can listen to the podcast by clicking this link. One of the things we talked about is the positive aspects of Xanga. I’m a big believer in this community and I am willing to put my money where my mouth is.

This is where our fundraising stood as of 9:30 pm Eastern Time, Thursday June 27th – right as the radio show ended. Some people are complaining that a $48 fee to blog on Xanga 2.0 ($0.13 a day!) is too expensive. Now, I’ve already pledged $240 for five, one-year memberships. Even though I’m only working part time, that’s how much I want Xanga to survive.

To help increase contributions to relaunch Xanga, here’s my offer:

For the first five people to send me proof of pledging $48 after 9:30 pm Eastern Time on Thursday June 27th, I will match your pledges with my own additional pledge totaling $240.

Those additional memberships I pledge will be made available, first-come, first-serve for people who feel they cannot otherwise afford to remain on Xanga.

Have you already pledged? Feel free to pledge some more?

Haven’t pledged already? Here’s the chance to double the impact of your pledge!


Let’s relaunch!


Here’s the “fine print” of the details – pardon my lack of experience writing legalese:

  • The intent of this offer is to drive at least $240 in new pledges to the Xanga Relaunch effort.
  • To qualify for the match, you must send me proof of your pledge that was made after 9:30 pm Eastern time on Thursday June 27th.
  • Once I have received five proof of pledges totaling $240, I will make an additional pledge for $240.
  • When Xanga 2.0 successfully launches, I will invite people who feel they cannot afford to pay for the blogging to contact me for a one-year membership. This process will be subject to whatever steps Xanga management sets up for assigning memberships to other people.
  • Any questions? Feel free to send me a message.

Thanks for supporting the Xanga community! #WeAreXanga


Xanga Furor

As you have no doubt read, Xanga is facing an existential crisis with the need to raise about $60,000 in order to transition to a new platform. Based on the comments on the announcement about this situation, there is a lot of gnashing of teeth and many people who are ready to abandon ship. I’ll just share my own thoughts:

First, I’ve been with Xanga eight years and have made many wonderful friends (including ones whom I now know in real life) through Xanga. The community remains an important reason I continue blogging here. 

I would like to see the Xanga community continue and made my own financial pledge on the crowd-sourcing fundraising site. Yes, there are plenty of other blogging and website services out there but I think the best option is if we could continue this community en masse.

Beyond that, though, I think this is part of the very natural evolution of social media. Most of the Xangans I now know in real life are really “former Xangans” as their blogs have been dormant for years. Even in the past few months, I’ve drifted away from blogging as frequently because as I moved to a Mac, I found the Xanga editing interface more cumbersome. 

Over the next six weeks, I will continue to post on Xanga. I will also be making contingency plans, downloading previous posts and preparing a transition to another platform. Stay tuned for information.

Regardless of what happens with Xanga, though, I’d invite regular readers to connect with me on Instagram (username Christao408) or on Facebook (username Christao408). When you do, please let me know your Xanga username to spare me any confusion.

In the meantime, as the posters in World War II Britain said, “Keep calm and carry on.”


A Proposal to Reduce Xanga Spam

My blog receives an ever-increasing quantity of spam comments. The comments are usually incoherent, sometimes just text copied from my entry, and always include a link to whatever site the commenter is trying to promote. These comments take a lot of time to delete and are annoying. This seems like a problem that Xanga should be able to help us solve or, at least, manage.

What current options exist to help me deal with this spam? I could enable the sign-in lock feature, but many of the commenters set up a Xanga profile before commenting. I could enable friends lock, but that restricts people who want to view my blog without signing up for Xanga and sending me a friend request. My grandparents, for example. 

I’ve thought of two potential solutions that Xanga could implement:

  • Introduce a feature, similar to YouTube’s and other blogging sites’, where comments must first be approved before being posted. This moderation would make it easier to quickly delete spam comments.
  • Alternatively, any comments that contain a link in them (or, alternatively, comments that contain a link and are from someone without a Xanga username or with a relatively new Xanga username) are flagged as potential spam and are sent to a spam folder, much in the same way that email providers flag potential spam.

What do you think? Have you had a problem with spam comments on your site? How do you think it should be dealt with?

Back from Hong Kong

Returned Sunday afternoon from four days and three nights in Hong Kong. The purpose of the trip was to meet a group of Xangans who were visiting from Los Angeles, Vancouver, Jakarta, and Singapore. Our own mini Xanga meetup, I guess.


The city was lit up with holiday displays, as spectacular as ever, if not more so. The weather was moderate for the first few days, but took on a damp chill near the end of my stay. It made for a pleasant break from the warm weather we have had in Bangkok.

Different people were available on different days, as many had other friends and family members to visit while in Hong Kong. Nonetheless, there were plenty of fun activities.


We rode many different modes of transportation, including the gondolas on Lantau Island.


After soaring to new heights, we visited the Po Lin monastery and had a vegetarian lunch.


We had the opportunity to learn about the intricacies of Chinese tea while dodging some rain.


We found ourselves in crowds, waiting to eat at popular places.


We tried intriguing and tasty foods.


And, of course, we took lots of pictures of the food – even things as mundane as dinner rolls! More details in the coming days.


Friends and Xangans and Xangan Friends

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several Xangan friends. In addition to meeting Jason (Wangium) for dinner at Nopalito in San Francisco, I met with Andy (ungrandvoyage) in Mountain View, and Kenny (kenpcho – not really active anymore) in Cosa Mesa. I’ve known all of them for some time and had met them before.


While in Los Angeles, I also had to opportunity to have brunch with Gary (currypuffy – to my right) and Jimmy (Rm2046 – to my left), along with their friends William and Chris. Wonderful brunch at 3 Square Cafe in Venice Beach and I appreciate them making the time to see me. Sadly, Jimmy has been AWOL from Xanga for two years.


After several years of knowing and just missing each other on my travels to the Bay Area, Kevin (Devilgaysianboi) and I finally had the chance to meet while I was in Southern California. He’s every bit as nice as he comes across on his blog. 

There are still plenty of Xangans I haven’t yet me whom I hope I’ll someday meet. These include, but are not limited to, the two Megs (Passionflwr86 and TheCheshireGrins), Val (murisopsis), Sheldon (brooklyn2028), Vivek (Dezinerdreams), Ben (bengozen), Alex (Roadlesstaken), Aaron (kunhuo42) and of course Matt (the appropriately-handled ElusiveWords). Well, I still have my whole life ahead of me, right?


Of course, the trip wasn’t all Xangans. I also met with my high school friends (including their children and nephews, some of whom are pictured above). It was the seven-year-old (in the Groucho Marx glasses) who spurred me to finally cave in and buy a smart phone. During dim sum, the children were playing with their parents’ smart phones. Joaquin asked if he could borrow my phone. I fished out my inexpensive, old Nokia candy-bar phone. He looked at it for a moment, looked at me, and then said, “No, Uncle Chris, your real phone!”

I went to the Apple store that afternoon.

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This US trip was also the visit of babies, several of whom have been born in the last six months and all of whom I was pleased to spend time with. None of them starting a Xanga account yet, but at the rate that young people are adapting to technology, I expect they should be ready to blog by kindergartern. 


No sooner had I returned to Bangkok than another pair of Xangans (well, former Xangans – how long can you be away before we give up hope that you will blog again?) came for a visit. Aaron (toypetfishes – the middle of the picture), who was the one who introduced me to Xanga more than seven years ago, and Tae (sagicaprio – between me and Aaron), shown here at brunch along with Tawn and our mutual friend Louis.

I’m amazed how many people from Xanga I’ve had the chance to meet in real life – 32, based on a quick count from my friends and subscribers list. That doesn’t include about a dozen relatives or friends I already knew who post (or used to post) on Xanga. Pretty successful for a social networking site, no?


Meeting Janet for Tea


Near the end of our trip to Los Angeles, Tawn and I drove south to Oceanside, CA to spend the night visiting some friends.  Along the way we stopped in beautiful San Juan Capistrano, a small town on the south side of Orange County, to visit Janet, a fellow Xangan who keeps us enthralled with her photos.


San Juan Capistrano is a mission town, home to one of the 21 missions and settlements founded by Father Junipero Serra and his band of merry Franciscan friars.  At the heart of the town is a railway station, at which Amtrak and commuter trains regularly call.  On the left side of the tracks is the old town area, Los Rios, where several antique shops and tea rooms are located.


Antique shower from Paris, filled with rocks and sitting in the garden of the tea house.


In her entry on the meeting, Janet has more pictures including a better one of the three of us.  The tea shop was very cute, though, with all sorts of fussily elegant cups, saucers, tea pots, and creamers, hilariously mismatched.


Their scones were very nice with locally made preserves and fresh cream.  Was it clotted cream though?  Not sure.  Anyhow, it was a pleasant visit and I’ve glad we had the chance to meet Janet in person after several years of knowing her virtually.

Tags: @slmret