Saturday, May 23, 2015

AT in STL: Forever Friends

Some things never change.

And some things do.

AT in TW: Formosa Hospitality

The first time I went to Taiwan a few years ago, my godfather asked me on the first day, "How do you feel about Taiwan?"

"It's not so different from China." Spoken like a true white person.

On the last day of the week we spent there, I made sure to tell him that I was very wrong about what I'd said before. Because Taiwan is clean and orderly, and the people are friendly and hospitable. Sorry, China. I'm sure some of you are great.

On this trip, I went to Taiwan with two colleagues from Japan. We will call them M and K for ease of conversation. M has always lived in Japan and has excellent English, and K grew up in Korea but she is Japanese and Chinese by heritage. K's English is good, but not as good as her other languages. So between the 3 of us, we spoke a mix of Japanese, English, and Chinese in various orders:

A: English -> M: English to Japanese -> K understands
K Chinese -> A Chinese to English -> M understands
M English -> A: English to Chinese -> K understands
K Japanese -> M Japanese to English -> A understands

and so forth.

Anyway, despite our varied backgrounds, we all agreed that Taiwanese people are very hospitable and it seems like they genuinely want to talk to you. And they have a lot to say. 

From the day I arrived, I eyed a 大餅 "da bing" stand that was across from my hotel. I thought about it every day until I finally went to go check it out. The pieces they served were MASSIVE though, so I asked if she could sell me a smaller piece. She didn't even pick up her head and snarled a terse, "No. Cannot." So I just got a giant piece of 大餅, but I only got one variety instead of two.

When I realized that I was in Taiwan and this giant piece of bread cost me pennies, I went back and got the other variety (pumpkin). When she saw that I'd come back, she launched into a monologue about how this was a company policy to only sell huge pieces of bread and that it made sense because if they sold smaller pieces then people would buy smaller pieces and then they would have smaller profit and that the company has changed a lot and it used to be different and now the owner says that...

I didn't actually understand most of what she was saying between the street noises and her Taiwanese accent and my poor comprehension, but I got the general idea. I couldn't help but thinking, "Could I have that bread now?..." as I pretended to understand, nodding and staring at her missing teeth. She just needed someone to talk to. I just needed that piece of bread. 

On my last night in Taiwan, I left M and K and got into a taxi. In one simple sentence, I asked the taxi to take me to the hotel and the name. "Where are you from?" he asked. "Your Chinese doesn't sound like you're from here." 

I explained to him that I'm an ABC and apologized for my Chinese being so bad (this is my best conversation in Chinese). He said it wasn't bad, but it sounded like I just don't use it very often. I told him that he's right.

When I told him that my parents are from Taiwan, he warmed up a lot. "Welcome home! Oh it's so good you came home." This is a reaction I get a lot from Taiwanese people. They seem glad that I've come to my senses and returned to my true homeland, a place I'd never visited. Still, I do feel connected and I'm glad they'll still consider me their people.
The nice taxi - you can go into any convenience store and have them call a taxi for you.
We made arrangements for him to pick me up from my hotel in the morning (early flight), and then he gave me his card and told me to call him if I needed any help getting around. He got off work later and he could accompany me to one of the night markets if I wanted to go eat. This would be creepy in a different context, but he was genuinely concerned for my well-being.

His concern for my well-being continued in the morning. 

"Did you get breakfast?"
"No, I didn't."
"You can ask the hotel to make you a breakfast! Did you ask the hotel to make you a breakfast?"
"No, I didn't ask."
"Because you didn't know you could ask? Do you want to ask now?"
"No, it's okay. I think I'll be fine."
"Well...okay...I guess you'll know for next time...You're sure you're okay?"
"Yeah, I'll be fine! No problem!"
"Okay...guess you'll have to eat breakfast in the airport..."

Skipping meals is not an option. In fact, skipping meals between meals is not an option. When I was with my colleagues, the host Taiwan office kept bringing us giant snacks in case we were hungry. We weren't hungry, but the snacks were always welcomed.
Egg scallion pancake, the size of my hand and folded over several times.
Just a GIANT fried chicken quarter on top of everything.
I had to save room for the best part of Taiwan - Taiwanese breakfast! That rice stick on the left was actually the most surprising. So good.

It's a little island country filled with little people with big hearts. Who walk around the park hitting themselves to strengthen their meridians. I guess they are my mother's people, after all.

Friday, October 24, 2014

#LostInDubai Brings New Beginnings

December 2013
With no one to feed him peanuts, Simone was feeling lonely.  And hungry.  Not to mention that Monkey's pile of bananas was quickly turning brown with Monkey nowhere to be seen.

It was time to enlist outside help.  The stories of of P.I.Robot's successful investigations had been circling about the watering hole lately, so Simone went to seek help.

It wasn't hard to find him -- she found him near the watering hole.  He talked about his successful investigations a lot.
Learning about Simone, Monkey, and Leo's friendship and travel adventures, P.I. Robot immediately began the investigation.  There was no time to lose. But where to begin?

February 2014
First following a tip that the missing pair had been seen in Costa Rica, P.I. Robot and Simone hopped on a plane to follow their trail.

But they always seemed to be a step behind of the tips and selfies left at the scene.  And why were they wearing funny hats and bowties?

October 2014, 11 months after the initial missing report 
P.I. Robot and Simone were getting weary.  11 months of searching and little to be found except for banana scraps and mane clippings every so often.  Would they ever find each other again?

Downtrodden, P.I. Robot and Simone decided to return to the scene of the disappearance, the Burj Khalifa, to pay a last homage to their two friends they may never see again.  The irony that the sight of a building that inspires so many could bring such pain to little Simone was too deep to be spoken.  The two looked up at the twinkling 828 meters of lights in silence.
But then...
the tiny hoots of a monkey and the yowling mews of a lion who's struggling to grow up as fast as his peers broke the quiet night air.

"Simone! Simone! And...stranger robot?"

Simone couldn't believe her big floppy ears.  "Is that really you?"

In a mighty whirl of emotion, the three friends embraced and celebrated their reunion in the glow of The Dubai Mall Fountain dancing in the background.

Latest Updates from the Investigation
as of October 23, 2014

In November 2013, Leo and Monkey were asked to leave immediately on a one-off covert mission with the Secret Safari Society. The SSS was part of their past that they had never shared with Simone, and it was a tough decision to leave without telling her. But it was for her own safety.

The two stripped their old identities and took up new ones as Ferdinand and Bernadette.  After completing their 11 month mission with SSS, the two returned to the Burj Khalifa hoping to pick up their old lives where they left off.

Since the happy reunion, Simone, Ferdinand, and Bernadette have been traveling again to make up for lost time. See more of their adventures here. They have also agreed to always meet at The Assembly Point in the event anyone is missing in the future.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

AT in CR: Blue River Summer Camp

This is Alexa's guide to enjoying your stay at Blue River Resort, or as I like to call it, Blue River Summer Camp.

To arrive at Blue River Summer Camp, you will need to drive down the World's Bumpiest Road for 60 minutes at 15 mph. Please pack Dramamine. On the up side, you will see some very nice views along the way.

Upon arrival, please check in at the main cabin. If you have not scheduled any excursions, please look for Camp Counselor Felix in the Mess Hall. As all the staff will tell you, he is the only black man on the grounds so you can't miss him. You also can't miss him because he's the charming one that's best friends with every guest at Blue River Summer Camp. Don't worry - in just another day, you too will be sharing a hearty guffaw with your BFF Camp Counselor Felix.
Camp Counselor Felix making memories with the campers

The mess hall is open from 7 am - 9 pm. Sometimes we refer to this as the "restaurant," but as it's the only place to eat within 50 miles (remember the hour long drive on the bumpy road), we all recognize that it's actually a mess hall with tablecloths. Say hi and thanks to the chef who has proudly prepared each of your meals.

We have botanical gardens where you can enjoy the lush abundance of the Guanacaste region, a butterfly sanctuary, a (questionable) volcanic mud bath, and four mineral hot springs for you to relax the day away.

If relaxing in all this beauty leaves you antsy, then book an excursion with Camp Counselor Felix. He'll take you on hikes, horseback riding, zip lining - "Felix" is synonymous with "fun" around here, so just let him know what you're looking for.

At night, we'll meet over dinner at the mess hall to chat about what fun things we did at summer camp that day.

"I went zip lining over the trees!"
"I rode a horse for the first time and my butt is raw!"
"I rode a military convoy fitted with car seats up to the mountains for a hike!"

Oh, how we'll laugh as we reminisce about the memories that we just made together hours ago.

And when dinner is done, we'll push aside the tables and cue the dance party. With lights, music, and Counselor Felix leading the way, we dance into the night.
Alright, this part of the guide is wishful thinking.
But look how much fun we would have!

We look forward to your stay at Blue River Summer Camp.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

AT in CR: Pura Vida is Everything Nice

My friend and local musician Ori Kawa has a song called Everything Nice. The chorus goes:
Everything Nice
Everything Nice
When I look into eyes
Look into eyes

I sang it throughout my stay in Costa Rica because I couldn't think of a better way to describe such a wonderful vacation in such a wonderful place.

Every morning we woke up to the crippling decision of what to do that day. Enjoy a breakfast of fresh fruits, rice and beans? Swim in the ocean? Or the luxury pool with a swim-up bar? Collect shells along the beach? Read a book in the shade? Say hello to sea urchins nestled in a rock?

Our saving grace was that we got to do just about all of these every day. I will be scheduling more beach vacations into my life from now on.

On top of our strenuous agenda of relaxing, we scheduled one big adventure for each day. These were my top 3 adventures for the week.

1. Surf Lessons
On the beach, we met a fellow named Chino who offers surf lessons. Why "Chino?" Because he has small eyes, see?

"Oh," I said. "Soy china." And we moved onto surf lessons.

I wasn't so great at surfing, but I managed to stand up enough times to impress Chino. He let me practice my bad Spanish with him, bought me fresh coconuts, and offered me another lesson the next day. I accepted. I drew the line when he tried to exchange my wipe outs for kisses. But, he has promised me free lessons the next time I return to Playa Tamarindo. So perhaps Chino and I will meet again.

2. Zip Lining
Outside of Tamarindo, Pura Aventura offers well, pure adventures for the fun-seeking traveler.
Tip: Book your zip line adventure at 8:30 am on Sunday so you are the only people in the group. 

Our guides, Byron and Ricky Martin, were great and congenial. Every time they received us at the end of the line, they'd say, "Pura vida," and you'd think, "Why, this is pura vida." Walking between lines, Ricky Martin caught a lizard with his bare hands for us. I didn't actually want to touch it, but I was pretty thrilled when I did.

They helped us through all 11 lines, and they let us go upside down on a few. That was thrilling! Seeing how excited I was, they told me I could come back and work for them because they could use a lady guide. I said OK.

3. Blue River Waterfall
We took a half-day excursion for a hike that would end with a swim in the blue river waterfall. It was a little rainy, but it was actually rather pleasant and they don't call it the "rainforest" for no good reason.

The hike was nice, but the real gem was that waterfall. It was so beautiful, blue and refreshing - I could have stayed there all day if my fingers hadn't gone numb (whether it was from the excitement or the cold, I'll never know).

We swam in the waterfall/infinity pool, jumped off rocks, and took lots of pictures of us squealing with delight. This is my favorite picture of the whole trip.
What are we doing up there in the corner? Probably singing Everything Nice.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Birthday Soup: A Labor of Love

An old family friend called to wish me a happy birthday.  She asked, "What kind of cake will you have?"

And I said, "Well, I really love soup."

I could get all metaphorical and say that I love how it represents making something from nothing to warm the bellies (and hearts) of many, but I won't go there. Instead I'll say that I simply love soup because it is hot and delicious.  Plus, there's an endless number of souper puns to dish out.

For my birthday this year, I celebrated with many soups.

Soup No. 1: Hot Pot
Hot pot is like the story of stone soup come to life. I'll boil some cabbage and shrimp skins, you bring some mushrooms, we'll add some meat, and voilà! We have soup and we made it together! Don't forget the fish balls.
I don't have a picture of hot pot, so here's a picture of a fantastic birthday gift,
"Everybody Poops" in its original Japanese form. 

Soup No. 2: Pho Sho
Melodie asked what I wanted for my birthday. I said soup. So she boiled me an amazing pot of pho for 2 days, and on day 2 we feasted. It was gone instantly. We will be making this again. 

The Soup that Keeps On Souping
And then Melodie gave me the pinnacle soup gift of all, a Le Creuset enamel coated cast iron pot! This will be host to many a delicious soup I'm sure, the perfect good omen for a fantastic 27th year.  

It was a lovely birthday, truly un-pho-gettable.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

2013 Year in Review

2013 was good.  I'll tell you about it in pictures.

I wandered Hong Kong looking for internet, stopping for delicious soup along the way.  

I followed a bowl of soup that brought me back to a new home just in time for my birthday, Chinese New Year, and a great big bowl of soup with friends. 

We participated in the Open and made ourselves tired.

While not actually specific to April, a big shout out to Ho Etsu Taiko goes here. 

In 3rd grade, my best friend wore matching patterned jumpers and called yellow her favorite color.  In May, she got married (in a beautiful dress, not a jumper).  We were this cute when we met.

I went to Japan and learned what sushi really tastes like.

I broke my butt.  It was exhausting.

JT! Jay-Z! This picture just about sums it up.

Also, the ice cream geniuses churned out delicious creations.

Another dear friend gets married!  This is the bridal party 20 minutes before we are supposed to be at the wedding - proof that we get each other. 

My 2 year anniversary in Chicago (already!).  This is what I did on my first anniversary: Visited the Bean with my original Chicago friend and a certain brand of a striped tin. 

I made some friends and lost some friends in the Middle East.  Luckily, I got to come home and wash away my sorrows with good friends and roasted turkey.

December Happens.

Predictions for 2014:
More adventures, food, and friends.