Si vs. Sh vs. SF

International travel is eye opening. This time around my trip got me thinking about commonalities and differences among Singapore, Shanghai, and the US.

Commonalities

People staring into their phones, oblivious to the world around them. It makes me kind a little sad to see it.

Bikeshare. Everywhere. It’s a great idea, but will this industry survive?

Gig economy 1: Hailing a ride on your phone. Also a great idea, but will it survive either?

Gig economy 2: Food delivery, by bike, by scooter, and in the US, by car as well. We used this in Singapore, and I use it all the time at work. Definitely a great idea, but unsure of survival here as well.

Contactless payment.

  • Singapore has NETS (NFC, QR). Happily, the NETS terminals accepted my contactless Visa card.
  • Shanghai has AliPay and WeChat Pay (both two-way QR). I love that it can be deployed without special equipment.
  • We have NFC terminals deployed in many places now. (Thanks Apple Pay! Love, me and Google Pay.) My one upgraded contactless credit card is now my go to and I look forward to the day the rest of my cards get an NFC chip as well.

Differences

Multilingualism.

  • Singapore has four official languages, and most people speak more than one. The term “melting pot” comes to mind here.
  • Shanghai operates completely in Mandarin, but if you listen closely you’ll hear a smattering of other dialects. The ability to speak English is a bonus skill.
  • We operate in English, and if you listen closely you’ll hear languages from around the world. I love languages, and think it’s really cool that we have access to so many of them here, but for some reason the language diversity here feels divisive. I suspect this may be a reflection of how I feel about our country right now.

Public transit. It’s cheap and easy to get anywhere in Singapore and Shanghai by metro and bus. In the San Francisco Bay Area, many things require a car. That, and my 1 stop BART ride from the airport upon returning home cost several times more than any the multistop metro rides I took on my trip.

I’m sounding a bit grass is greener whiny here. Shanghai and Singapore have downsides as well.

Okay, here, some balance:

Weather.

  • Singapore is HOT. Expect anything you’re wearing to get soaked with sweat the moment you walk outside.
  • Shanghai is smoggy. Your lungs will probably hate you if you live there.
  • San Francisco weather is so nice it spoils you. We never get snow, and even when we have a heat wave it’s dry.

San Francisco weather is actually one of the reasons I live here.

Shanghai

After Singapore, we flew to Shanghai on Singapore Airlines. A+++++!! Would fly again! I really enjoyed their thoughtful seat back design. Plus, they had holiday wreaths in the economy cabin.

A few hours later, we were in China, which, if we’re talking about paying for things, is a totally different world from the rest of the world.

Paying for Things

Firstly: Bring cash. If you haven’t already exchanged it, exchange a chunk of it before leaving the airport, because you may have a hard time finding an ATM that works for your international card. We tried 3 or 4 different ATMs in Pudong with no success. Thankfully, the one at our hotel worked. So there’s that. Try ATMs in hotels.

Having said that, cash is not king here. AliPay and WeChat Pay are. They’re super convenient and I wish we did our payments that way here as well. Unfortunately, you’re going to have a hard time getting money into AliPay or WeChat Pay without some help. As of this writing, AliPay funded from a friend or Swapsy “friend” was the only workable option.

Credit cards aren’t a thing at most places, and even where they’re accepted, they have to be UnionPay. If you’re from where I’m from, your cards probably won’t work. Discover cards will supposedly work, but I brilliantly left mine at home when I was packing because its acceptance rate is so low. Totally outsmarted myself there, didn’t I?

Fancier establishments will likely take Visa, but that’s no way to explore China.

I’m hopeful things will soon evolve to be more foreigner / tourist friendly.

Maglev

I tuned into NPR a few months ago and heard NDGT talking about the Maglev at Pudong Airport. I made a mental note: Take the Maglev from the airport!

And we did. I was excited to go for a ride into the future. Take me away, Maglev time machine!

We got on, and, well, it felt like a time machine all right. A time machine from the 1970s.

I felt surprised and not surprised all at the same time.

The train only hit a top speed of 300 km/h. I was disappointed, except when we passed the other train. It was over in a split second. FOOMP!

The Bund

All the visitor guides said to visit the Bund, so I did. I got on the Metro, got off at East Nanjing Road, and started looking at signs, which, from where I was standing, were all in Chinese.

I remembered that the Bund is along the water, and my Mom’s lesson about Chinese words having to do with water having the three water strokes on the side. So I looked for a character that fit the bill and walked in the direction of its arrow. Success!

This is probably a good time to write about the air quality in Shanghai. It’s terrible. That’s not fog in the picture. It’s smog.

Smog or not, I went for a nice long walk along the water. Also, the buildings light up all pretty at night. Animated, too!

Shanghai Tower

All the visitor guides also said to visit the skyscrapers. Aaron and I chose the Shanghai Tower because wowowow it’s the second tallest building in the world!

I mentioned skyscrapers plural. There are 2 supertall and 1 megatall skyscrapers in Shanghai, all next to each other. Looking down at two of the world’s supertalls is not something you get to see every day:

What really gets me about that picture is when you look past the 2 skyscrapers in the foreground and at still-tall yet tiny buildings a couple blocks out. That really drove home just how tall the Shanghai Tower is.

A couple notes if you visit: You need to buy a special ticket at the main ticket window to see the mass damper. If you don’t, you’ll find out once you’re at the top of the building, at which point you’re out of luck. Don’t do what we did. *cry*

Enjoy the elevator ride! You can’t tell because the acceleration and deceleration are so smooth, but you get to ride in the fastest elevator in the world.

Pearl Tower

I visited the Pearl Tower with my aunt and cousin’s son Marcus. The view from the top is pretty good, but it was the overall experience I enjoyed. There’s an observation deck, the space capsule, a glass floor, and outside deck, futuristic displays (about the future, of course), an arcade, a 5D theater, a VR roller coaster, a gift shop, a shopping center…

I’m sure I forgot some things, but you get the idea.

It’s pretty neat to look down through the glass floor, 259 meters off the ground:

Ocean Aquarium

I hadn’t planned to go to the aquarium, but it was next to the Pearl Tower and seemed like a fun thing to do with Marcus. And it was! There’s something wonderful about seeing an aquarium through the eyes of a child. It’s a great reminder of how I want to take in the world.

We saw a lot of divers in various tanks. I think it was poop vacuuming day.

It was pretty neat to watch this hitchhiker glide by:

Tianzifang

Tianzifang is a fun neighborhood of alleys filled with shops and restaurants. Aaron and I wandered and snacked and shopped for refrigerator magnets.

All of a sudden, a kid popped in front of me, looked right at me, and said, “Auntie Vivian!”

It took me a second to figure out what was going on. It was Marcus! My cousin had arrived from Hong Kong and they were out shopping and eating in Tianzifang as well. Randomly running into family is pretty darned awesome.

A couple alleys later we came across this savory soft tofu stand. So fresh and delicious!

Old Town & Yu Garden

Old Town felt like a bigger version of Tianzifang, on steroids, with less variety and charm. It looks pretty cool in pictures but when you’re there it’s just crowded and fabricated. I took a bunch of pictures and realized they all had McDonald’s, Starbucks, or Peppa Pig in them.

Peppa Pig is a thing here. That in itself seemed interesting, and then I looked it up and read about how she almost got banned in China for being a gangsta. Not even kidding.

I went back to Old Town in the evening a few days later with Aaron. It’s definitely more photogenic with the lights on.

Yu Garden is accessible from Old Town. It’s small, crowded, and fabricated as well. Not terrible, not great. Good luck getting a shot of the buildings without power lines or skyscrapers in the background.

Humble Administrator’s Garden

The Humble Administrator’s Garden, on the other hand, is vast and beautiful. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and most certainly deserves this distinction. If you get a chance, go. Wander for a couple hours and take it all in.

If you do decide to go, you may consider hiring a car. I’d totally recommend our driver Felix. Solid English and just the right amount of guiding to get us on our way at each location.

Zhujiajiao Water Town

You probably also want a car to visit Zhujiajiao. (You can do it on the same day as Suzhou.) It’s a network of alleys and canals, complete with touristy boat ride.

There’s definitely a touristy main drag, but there are also smaller shops run by locals, for locals. There was an entire store of pickled things, which I have not done justice with words. An internet search turns up “century-old pickle emporium”, which comes a little closer, but really, you just have to go visit this place yourself.

The other thing you need to experience here is the scent of stinky tofu wafting down the alley. It’s super potent, and you can’t get away. I loved this.

Longhua Temple

There are a few temples you can visit in Shanghai. We chose the Longhua Temple because it has the tallest pagoda, but when we got there we pretty much looked at the pagoda and shrugged. The true experience came behind the temple gates. I was surprised to find myself in a fully operational temple with hall after elaborate hall of deities. This was far more extensive than the temples in Singapore and Taiwan, and far less touristy than the temples in Bangkok.

I have only this picture of the front gate to show for my visit, because I felt it would be disrespectful to take pictures once inside.

Marriage Market

Even more of a surprise than the temple? Coming across the Shanghai Marriage Market.

We had no idea this was even a thing. Sunday afternoon, we decided to check out People’s Park. It had a nice exercise area, tables with groups gathered around mahjong and card games, a kid’s play area with construction equipment. We were following signs to the waterfall when we spotted a huge crowd to the right. We were curious, so we walked over.

We saw walkway after walkway lined with umbrellas along the sides. Each umbrella had a sheet of paper fastened to it. The paper had stats of some sort. Age, height, weight, and sex, along with some additional information. Missing persons?

The stats were all for 20 and 30 something year olds. Ohh… these were personals ads! The Marriage Market is where parents go to find a match for their children.

I snapped only a couple hasty photos of unattended umbrellas. It felt wrong to document parents and the ads for the world to see.

Propaganda Poster Art Centre

In a total change of pace, there’s a guy who collects Chinese propaganda posters and displays them in a museum of sorts in the basement of an apartment building. To get there, you walk about 20 minutes from the Metro to a residential neighborhood, scratch your head at where the heck you’re supposed to go, walk into an apartment complex past the guard booth, and turn around to find said guard handing you a piece of paper with directions. You follow the directions to the correct building, then walk down some narrow stairs to the basement.

And then… propaganda posters! There were a lot of expected themes: the US imperialists are bad, the Soviets are our brothers, the Tibetan people welcome us, Mao is teh bestest. What I didn’t expect were posters in support of the Vietnam War protests, and the black civil rights movement in the US.

This poster reminded me of my Dad and his stories of his super patriotic childhood:

I didn’t take this picture, but this is my favorite of all the posters on display. (Thanks internet.) Something about how science is hard, but we must do it.

Starbucks Roastery

As of this writing, the Starbucks Roastery in Shanghai is the largest in the world, and it is freaking amazing. Just… go. Go and marvel at the ceiling and walls and merchandise, then spend forever watching the giant machines roast and cool and transport and degas and package. Then go watch them brew said coffee 5 different ways. Then go upstairs and do it all over again. I don’t care if you don’t like coffee, or don’t like Starbucks. Just check this place out.

Food

Food here is cheap, fresh, and tasty. Procuring said food without speaking Mandarin can be an adventure.

I had my first adventure on day 1, when I ordered noodles for lunch. I fat finger pointed at whatever was next to the intestine noodle soup, and got intestine noodle soup. It was delicious! Best fat finger ordering ever.

Also on day 1, I had noodle soup for dinner with Aaron. I pointed precisely at beef tendon noodle soup, but didn’t realize the type of soup I had ordered had numbing spice in it. Um, why does my mouth feel weird?

Later in the week, we had potato noodles in Zhujiajiao. I got mine with large intestine on purpose.

Just like in Singapore, pork floss is popular here. (I like to call it pork sung, or pork fluff.) We came across a place with spicy pork floss egg waffles and decided we had to try it.

Me: *points at spicy pork floss on menu*
Employee: *asks me something in Mandarin*
Me: *looks confused and shrugs*
Employee: *points at 3 sub-choices on menu*
Me: *randomly points at one*
Employee: *looks worried says something to coworker about* … hao la!
Coworker: *shrugs*
Employee: … hao la!!
Employee: *to boss looking lady* … hao la!
Boss looking lady: *says something unintelligible*
Me, realizing “hao la” means really spicy: Oh! Bu yao hao la! (Do not want!)
Me: *makes gesture for small*
Employee: *looks relieved*

Our mildly spicy pork floss was delicious.

The next day later we encountered sticky rice balls with salted egg and pork floss filling. It sounded weird so we tried it. That was also delicious.

Xiaolongbao. People kept asking if we were going to have xiaolongbao in Shanghai. Yes, of course we did! Aaron loves xiaolongbao, so we made sure to try it in its city of origin. We even stood in a giant line for it.

It was all right. But then, I don’t actually like xiaolongbao that much compared to other kinds of dumplings.

What I loved were the fried dumplings. They’re filled with soup as well, but they’re also doughy on top, crispy on the bottom. There’s a place called Yang’s Dumplings across the street from the picture above that sells them. I could eat them every day, they’re so good.

Speaking of doughy and crispy, I was quite fond of all the green onion pancake stands on the street. You can get a warm crispy perfectly salty green onion pancake for 5 yuan. That’s less than a dollar. It’s oddly satisfying to watch them make it.

Those stands also sell fried cake things with shredded turnip inside. It was actually hard to choose which to get because I liked them both so much.

Also sold from stands: skewers of all sorts. There are to go skewer shops and sit down skewer stands both on the street and at food courts. Here’s Aaron with a cup of 20 skewers for 10 yuan:

On Tuesday, I had Shanghainese food with my aunt. My Dad had asked me to eat his favorite dish for him, Shanghai style “smoked” fish. My aunt did even better and we also ordered Shanghai style tofu, jellyfish, plus a couple other dishes. Shanghainese cuisine is pretty sweet. I loved it.

I discovered midweek that McDonald’s serves congee for breakfast. I love congee for breakfast, and I’m on a quest to try a local item at McDonald’s everywhere I go. It was exactly what you’d expect from a McDonald’s breakfast: not gourmet but gets the job done. Bonus: We had a taro pie for dessert. Deep fried, like they should be, like they used to be in the US, and like they still are outside of the US.

Aaron continued his boba consumption from Singapore. Brown sugar boba is popular right now (I hope it’ll spread to the Bay Area soon) and we ordered that a few times. Thanks to the language issue, we accidentally got a default hot boba the first night. It was actually quite enjoyable because it was cold out, and we purposely chose that for the rest of the week. As Mom would say, warm drinks are better for your stomach; they don’t shock your system like ice does. Along those lines, the water dispenser at the airport has two options: hot and warm.

There was an exception to the warm boba, in the form of Hey Tea boba ice cream. Hey Tea is all the rage right now, and it took us 3 attempts over the course of several days to try this dessert. It was decent, but I’m not sure what the hype is all about.

Finally, haw is a common flavor here. It’s a flavor I grew up with in Haw Flakes, and I was happy to have it again in juice form.

General

My first couple days in Shanghai were kind of stressful. Not being able to understand a language everyone expects you to understand based on how you look felt really uncomfortable. Eventually I got over it, and I was actually able to understand some things based on a rudimentary grasp of certain characters and sounds.

English translations for things range from bad to ridiculous and unintelligible. In Shanghai of all places you’d think it wouldn’t be too difficult to find someone for a one-time sign translation, but really, I think they just don’t care.

Along those same lines, I decided after a few days in Shanghai that China is a perfect example of how you can do things at 70% quality, but push nonstop at 110%, and progress in leaps and bounds.

My aunt put it pretty well when she said, “The hardware (technology) here is good. The software (people) needs to catch up.” Spoken like a Hong Konger!

Speaking of Hong Kongers, apparently they like to come to Shanghai on vacation. As Christmas weekend started, I all of a sudden started hearing a lot more Cantonese. One vacationing family even helped us translate the Chinese-only menu at the xiaolongbao place.

Back to hardware. Scooters are everywhere. They ride on the streets, they ride on the sidewalks. They’re also 100% electric. Even the rattiest scooter on the street is electric.

Actual software: Don’t trust Google Maps here. It gave me walking directions for a vehicle-only tunnel under the river. I walked a LOT of steps that day.

People software: It’s crowded here, and jostling is accepted practice. It didn’t bother me while I was in Shanghai, but the moment we landed at SFO, the lady behind me who tried to push her way off the plane got a death glare.

People hardware? Statues here are very nationalistic. Also, they have captions that speak of “significant contributions” and “great accomplishments”. Yup, our current president talks like a propaganda statue.

People: In many countries, lower wage jobs are filled by foreign workers. I didn’t see this in China. Instead of importing workers from across the border, I think they just import workers from poorer parts of the country.

Random

We didn’t see a lot of dogs in Shanghai, but Aaron made the following observation from the few that we saw: Chinese dogs wear sweaters. White people dogs are naked.

I have no idea how a Chinese card catalog works.

When we were walking around in Suzhou, pairs of nervous young adults would attempt to talk to Aaron, fail, and giggle about it with each other. He had been warned by his coworkers about scams, so he ignored them. After a while, I decided there couldn’t be THAT many pairs of incompetent scam artists, and slowed down enough for a couple girls to build up the courage to approach.

“Hi, we are from Suzhou Early Childhood Education College.” It turns out they needed to interview a foreigner for a homework assignment.

Aaron didn’t want to do it, but I was curious, so I did their homework for him. He still had to take a picture with them, though, for proof.

Do they look super nervous in this photo? Because they are.

Photo album here.

Singapore!

I’ve been wanting to visit Singapore for a few years now, since I first read about Supertrees. I wanted to see them in person, and to Eat All The Things.

Lucky me, Aaron’s team has an office there. I tacked on a week of vacation to his week of work.

Aaron picked me up at the airport. He made me the best sign evars. <3

And now, a recap of All The Things.

Supertrees

Supertrees! What the heck are they, and why am I so excited about them? They’re giant, they generate electricity, and they’re vents for their super awesome greenhouse neighbors. Also, they’re covered with plants and you can walk from tree to tree 160 feet in the air.

We visited them twice, once during the day and again at night. They totally lived up to the hype.

Cloud Forest & Flower Dome

Like the Supertrees, the Cloud Forest and Flower Dome are part of the Gardens by the Bay. They’re two separate greenhouses with totally different growing environments. It’s fairly frigid inside considering how hot it is outside, but amazingly the buildings in conjunction with the Supertrees are carbon neutral. I have no idea how they do that. Magic.

Also, wowowow this Cloud Forest waterfall:

Botanic Gardens

I don’t care if you don’t care about plants. You have to see the Botanic Gardens. It’s one giant public park and something like 20 completely different types of gardens, all meticulously maintained, almost all free to the public. You can learn there, stroll there, paint there, do tai chi there, take wedding photos there. Just go there!

My favorite garden walk was through the rainforest, which is actually a preserved parcel of land, because Singapore is, well, practically on the equator.

Not a specific garden, just a really nice lily pad pond:

Because 20 free gardens in a national park is not enough…

East Coast Park

The entire southeastern coast of Singapore is one long park. You can BBQ, camp, take your kids to the playground. You can rent bikes and ride for miles, or take your kid over to the Road Safety Community Park to learn the rules of the road on their little bikes. Don’t like bikes? There’s also a skate park and a cable-driven wakeboarding lagoon. They continuously making improvements, because the government wants to create outdoor spaces for family and friends to gather.

The View from the Sands

Everyone says to go to the observation deck at the top of the Sands.

They know what they’re talking about. If you go to Singapore, go to the top of the Sands. It’s an amazing view, and will give you a great idea of where many of the sites you visit are relative to each other.

Yes, it was a great view, but my biggest surprise? The number of vessels in the Singapore Strait. It’s like this as far as the eye can see.

The Merlion!

No visit to Singapore is complete without meeting the Merlion. Why? Because why not?? Does your country have a mythical water spewing mascot of the sea?

I didn’t think so.

National Museum

I didn’t think I’d enjoy this as much as I did. The museum lays out the history of Singapore, and it’s super fascinating. My big takeaway, though, was how far the country has come in its short history as a nation. Its infrastructure, financial standing, and society are a model for other nations. I am truly impressed.

MRT

I’m generally happy with public transit in most big cities outside of the US. Singapore is no exception. It’s convenient, clean, and doesn’t allow durians. The thing that really impressed me, however, were the public service ads and videos. They’re all focused on encouraging people to be good members of society. There’s the ad that teaches people how to help blind persons. (Don’t grab their arm, offer them yours.) The ad that says, “My grandmother has dementia but I still love her.” The video about an emergency situation and how people stay calm and help each other.

I also liked the video about what to do if someone molests you on the train. Call for help! Bystanders detain the offender! Drag him off for caning and jail time! This “outrage of modesty” will not be tolerated.

The Noms

Kaya toast. You have to get this for breakfast at least once, because how can you not like bread and butter and coconut jam? Also, it comes as part of a common Singaporean breakfast: kaya toast plus kopi (local style super strong coffee poured with flair, plus condensed milk) and a couple runny eggs with dark soy sauce. We went to a couple local chains for this. I loved Ya Kun for the toast, and Toast Box for the soy sauce.

Teh tarik. The tea version of kopi. I already have an afternoon English milk tea habit, so naturally I loved this as well.

Durian. I didn’t eat fresh durian, but many things here are available in durian flavor. I enjoyed some pungent durian ice cream on day one, then a durian cream puff for breakfast a few days later. I might not normally choose this flavor, but it was deliciously appropriate given where I was. Aaron was grossed out.

Hainanese chicken rice. This is something you can get in the US without too much trouble, but everyone said to eat this in Singapore so Aaron got it. It was good to try it in its transplanted native environment. Plus, I’ll never say no to rice cooked in chicken fat.

Noodles, noodles, noodles. Everyone here eats noodles. We did too. I’m pretty sure you could eat noodles every meal for a week and not have the same thing twice. They’re delicious, glorious, and cheap! And yes, we had laksa.

Black pepper crab. It was either this or chili crab. We had this at the Newton Food Centre (yes the one in Crazy Rich Asians) from Alliance Seafood. It was good and I’m glad I had it. That’s about all I can say about it, because I don’t go gaga over seafood like a lot of people.

Here’s Aaron getting his noodle on at Newton Centre like a Crazy Rich Asian:

Drinks such as tiger nut milk in my coffee, soursop juice (someone told me to try soursop, and juice stands are everywhere), and Milo Dinosaur (it’s basically an iced Milo with Milo powder on top). We also had a lot of boba. I’ve decided my absolute most favoritest boba drink evars is R&B’s Brown Sugar Boba Milk with Cheese Brûlée. It’s probably a good thing I can’t get this at home.

Ice kacang, a shaved ice mountain dessert. Cousin of halo halo.

Kueh pie tee and popiah. They’re little snack sized dishes with similar ingredients. Sweet, salty, nutty, yum!

Salted egg everything, especially chips. The most trendy brand right now is Irvins. It’s not just potato chips, you can get salted egg cassava chips, fish skin chips, and, my random airport off-brand favorite, seaweed chips.

Bakkwa. People call it jerky but it’s not really. It’s moist and sweet like Asian jerky, but cooked. And delicious.

Nouri. This is a restaurant, not a food. We went here for my birthday dinner, and I loved it. The food was top notch, but just as importantly, the people, vibe, philosophy, and experience were amazing. We got there right as they opened, and it was wonderful to interact with the crew before things got busy. But even after it got busy, folks still took the time to say goodbye as we left, including the chef.

I was without my travel notebook because I didn’t want to come off as a weird reviewer, so our server Chew brought me pen and paper to take notes. We’re Facebook friends now. Because yes.

General

I find Singapore to be thoughtfully planned and designed. From what I’ve seen, it’s a modern financial center that not only takes care of its people, but encourages its people to take care of each other. We could use more of that here.

The multiculturalism in Singapore is like in no other place I’ve been to. The seamless mix of languages and ethnicities is a thing of beauty. You can walk down the street and hear 4 different languages in the span of a minute. I actually started to sound weird to myself speaking English after a while.

Random

The toilet bowl fountain at the Sands. Mesmerizing.

The mall attached to the toiled bowl fountain, a.k.a The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, feels like Vegas. Aaron pointed out that it IS the Sands, and in addition to the hotel and shoppes there’s also a casino.

Not like Vegas: The Mustafa Centre. It’s often referred to as a mall, but it’s not. It’s mall sized, but it’s like one ginormous department, gift, grocery, electronics, medical supply, jewelry, entertainment, global products, everything store. It’s also open 24 hours and insanely busy nonstop. It’s not like anything I’ve ever visited and all I can say is you have to go there to experience it yourself.

Non-fancy restaurants don’t provide napkins. You have to bring your own. I developed a deep appreciation for the menthol wet wipes from 7-Eleven. So fresh and so clean clean!

Something not generally associated with fresh and clean: squat toilets. They’re a thing here! Most restrooms have a mix of seated and squat stalls. I did not expect this when I stepped off my plane and into the restroom. What’s the first thing I did in Singapore? I used a squat toilet.

Dry eye problems with contact lenses? Not a problem when you’re someplace super humid like Singapore!

The problem is your clothes, which pretty much get drenched when you step into the sun. It may look like a city, but you’re actually in a tropical rainforest.

Electric scooters and monowheels are very popular modes of transport. This makes tons of sense because even though the city is super walkable, it’s super hot, so if you have to commute outside, lazy wheels are the way to go.

You can play Punch Buggy Supercar to pass the time when waiting for the bus. Punch Buggy Aventador!

Japanese restaurants and stores are all over the place here. Don don don, donnnki… Don don, donki…

Photo album here.

Nashvegas

I finally made it to Nashville last weekend. I’ve been wanting to visit since I was a wee little Asian country music fanatic living in Boston.

I’m not much of a country music lover these days, but this trip wasn’t for the music. It was for food! That, and the spectacle of Lower Broadway, a.k.a. Bachelorette Party Central. Bars and live music door after door after door, with the occasional boot shop sprinkled in. It was overwhelmingly loud and quite crowded.

Not loud or crowded, but overwhelmingly giant: The Gaylord Opryland Resort. It’s not a hotel, it’s a mini-city! That’s a thing??? Coming soon: a water park! I’m not even kidding.

Back to why I went: Food! I’m pretty sure I had biscuits and gravy every day. (Biscuit Love!) And barbecue. (Martin’s!) And hot chicken. (Boltons!) And meat-and-three. (Monell’s! That was more like three meat-and-threes, in a single meal.)

Also did an overnight trip to Chattanooga. Got a wonderful tour of the Tennessee Aquarium, then learned how to make bánh xèo from Hanh’s Mom. Super awesome unexpected bonus!

It was a whirlwind trip. So glad I go to do it! Much gratitude to Hanh for inviting me and her family for their hospitality.

Portlandia, Whirlwind Weekend Edition

Another year, another visit to Portlandia!

Actually, it was more like, I had expiring hotel points and Portland was the cheapest airfare for the one weekend this summer Aaron said he didn’t have a race. Booked it!

Flew into town Saturday morning and hopped on TriMet to the hotel. I love how easy this is here.

As it turned out, we rolled right into the annual Rose Parade. Strolled a couple blocks and encountered a passing troupe playing wooden wind instruments that wound into the air like upside down charmed snakes. I have no idea what this instrument is called.

Walked another couple blocks and across Director Park, where we stopped to take in a youth production of pirates and princesses and rodents performing an aerials silks routine.

Onward, to Case Study Coffee! The gentleman behind the counter was super friendly and explained their offerings: “Everything we sell here is local. We make our own syrups. All the pastries are local as well; the top shelf is all vegan and gluten free.”

As we enjoyed our coffee, we looked out the window at a pack of red-nosed suit-clad clowns towing a three foot long wooden slug down the sidewalk. They stopped at the TriMet fare machine to buy tickets.

A pair of Rosie the Riveter twins passed behind them.

My toasted hazelnut latte was delicious.

We had arrived.

Properly caffeinated. To the Alder Street Food Cart Pod! Nommed on some pan fried dumplings and a jalapeño grilled cheese. Overheard a passing local talk about moving northeast of the city because of the rising cost of living.

Popped into Billy Galaxy, where they had a Trypticon in a box!!! The store employee was having a heck of a time finishing a Star Trek puzzle, so I asked if Aaron and I could help/play. Success! Yeah, teamwork!

Wandered some more. Stumbled across Wailua Shave Ice. Ate some. Because of course we did.

It was Saturday, so we visited the Portland Saturday Market. Sampled CBD fruit leathers, ate local caramels, tried crazy spicy jerky. Restrained myself from buying all the cool shirts.

Finished up at the market, came across American Panda, a liege waffle / Vietnamese sandwich cart. The lady running it was super nice. Ate a S’mores liege waffle sandwich and got to sample their durian ice cream. It was totally legit.

Next, Ground Kontrol, a retro video game arcade. Played Tetris, DDR Extreme, Mortal Kombat II, plus a couple super classics like Arkanoid and Tempest. They had a CBD soda on tap. Tried one because it was novel… and because everything else was beer.

After that, Powell’s City of Books! Came away with a book and a list of books.

I was surprised to encounter the latest edition of The Art of Electronics, a text book I hauled around when little high school me took a night class at Harvard. Looking at the book again, I realized the author was my instructor.

Not far from this book…

Aaron, to me: I need to find a book on time series.
Nearby patron: Did you say you were looking for a book on time series?

20 minutes and two patrons’ worth of discussions later Aaron had a bunch of tips on things to look into. They both left him with, “Good luck.”

Finally, dinner! I’d been looking forward to visiting Grassa again. Their food is super solid like Flour + Water in SF, but without the formality, impossible reservations, and prices. I had radiatore with clams, Chinese sausage, Thai spices, and fermented black beans. What??? It worked.

Saturday, fin. What a jam packed day.

Woke up Sunday and headed straight for Coco Donuts. Their cake donuts are so good! We followed this up with a latte at Heart Coffee.

Then it was off to the International Rose Test Garden. So many scents and colors! I sniffed until I couldn’t sniff anymore.

After that, a visit to the adjacent Japanese Garden. Admission wasn’t cheap, but wow it was beautiful. I quite enjoyed the fluffy maple trees bouncing in the wind, bouncing from single raindrops, housing entire ecosystems under their fluff.

The garden garden grounds were expansive, thoughtfully arranged, and meticulously maintained.

All that gardening made us hungry, so we headed to AFURI for yuzu shio ramen. Their broth was super unique, very citrusey, and quite good.

After ramen, Division Street. Came across the following quote in a storefront as we walked by, in the rain:

Some people walk in the rain. Others just get wet.

Thanks to the rain, we stood in a very reasonable 40 minute line at Salt & Straw. Their June Guest Chef Collaboration Series flavors were totally worth the wait. Aaron and I both got a flight of four flavors. My favorite? Duck Crackling with Cherry Preserves: A rich ice cream made with duck fat, molasses, and salted custard, swirled with tart cherry preserve, candied duck skin brittle, and a local honey gastrique. What a mouthful!

We left Salt & Straw full of ice cream, on top of being full of ramen. One block later, we came across Townshend’s Teahouse. I love love love this place. What better way to digest than with some hot tea? I enjoyed a cup of white tea and left with a bag of milk oolong tea leaves. If you like tea and have never tried milk oolong, do! And make sure you give a leaves a good sniff before you brew. This tea smells like none other.

Walked over to Hawthorne Boulevard. A few blocks in, saw a sign for Rachel’s Ginger Beer. As in, the entire store served ginger beer. Their pink guava flavor was delish.

Returned to the hotel stuffed, but then realized we wouldn’t get to visit Chizu if we didn’t go right then. So we went, and had an a super delicious omakse cheese plate. Our cheesemonger told us origin stories of all the cheeses we ate. It was so fascinating and tasty I didn’t even realize I was full.

Post-cheese, a visit to Breakside. Because beer, or something.

Monday! Another day, another coffee shop. Went with a Portland classic this time, Stumptown. Then it was off to Screen Door for more eating. Cheddar and bacon hush puppies! For the first time since my initial exposure to hush puppies in North Carolina, I was not disappointed. Screen Door’s hush puppies finally allowed me to appreciate and enjoy a different style of fried corn lumps.

Back across the river to see if we might want to visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden. This required walking through Chinatown, where I once again felt like the token Chinese person. That feeling didn’t change upon reaching the garden, and ultimately we decided against going in. I felt vindicated when we stopped in the gift shop and found Japanese items for sale.

Never mix China and Japan. Never ever Ever.

We wandered back toward the Pearl District and stumbled across Nola Donuts. Beignets??! Beignets!! It didn’t matter that we were still stuffed from Screen Door. We ate beignets.

Then it was time to visit Keller Fountain Park. I’ve really enjoyed all the gathering spaces like this sprinkled across the city. The water is soothing to the ears and the kids have a blast.

Post-fountain-waterfall, Aaron got his slice of Sizzle Pie and we headed to the airport. Our Portland experience continued there, with a few local shorts at the in-concourse mini Hollywood Theatre.

Then it was really time to go. Portland vs. San Francisco (not a head-to-head, just using SF as my point of reference)? There are just as many homeless people, fewer dogs, and way less street poop. We only encountered a single street poop, and a kind passerby alerted me to it as I approached. People are nicer here. I hope Portland manages to stay this way as they grow. And they are growing. Cranes and construction everywhere. Just like in SF.

Grand Canyon Helicopter Tour

October…

Jilly: I’m in planning mode on this Vegas helicopter ride where you land in the grand canyon. Are you interested in going?
Me: ermagerd the thought of a helicopter kind of terrifies me
Me: awesome, definitely must do then

January…

As it turns out, flying in a helicopter is not terrifying at all, because you’re too busy feeling exhilarated.

Not too exhilarated to feel airsick, though. OMG was I airsick. For hours.

Totally worth it! Because floating into the sky and trails and plateaus and mountains and Lake Mead and Hoover Dam and random little towns and eagles’ nests and swooping over crests and into valleys and omigosh the world is beautiful and amazing.

It doesn’t even look real. So much wowowow.

Also, this crazy turn:

And some more videos.

To quote Meri after we landed in the Grand Canyon, “I didn’t know this was on my bucket list until today!”

Check, and check.

Land of Smiles

Two years ago, Raisa invited me to play a hockey tournament in Thailand. I wanted to, but declined because my niece was due to be born around that time and I didn’t want to put off meeting her.

One year ago, Raisa invited me to play in the same tournament. I wanted to, but declined because Aaron and I had a wedding to attend in India shortly after.

This year, Raisa invited me to play once again. I enthusiastically said yes.

Then I had to stop playing hockey.

I wasn’t about to let that stop me from doing all the fun things related to hockey. I asked if I could still join the team in Thailand and Raisa said yes.

I needed that, to not feel like I was leaving everything behind.

The Saturday before Halloween, I set off to explore Thailand with the team.

Flight Notes

I chose my airlines and transfer airports for this trip based on food. On the way out, I connected through Hong Kong so I could eat between flights. On the way back, I connected through Narita so I could bring home some Tokyo Milk Cheese Factory cookies.

My flight to Hong Kong was quite the language experience. I was seated among a large South American tour group, and between them and Busuu my brain was deep into español. At the same time, announcements were made in Cantonese, and there was an assortment of Cantonese language videos available. I took advantage of these videos to practice my Cantonese, and by the time I landed in Hong Kong I found that my Cantonese made for much smoother interactions than the locals’ English. Multilingualism FTW!

On the flip side, I listened to flight deck communications over Chinese airspace in horror. How do people understand each other between two different languages and a world’s worth of English accents over a fuzzy channel? Verbal communication for something so structured and critical feels so outdated. There has to be a better way.

After a week in Bangkok, we flew out of DMK for Krabi. The taxiway at DMK cuts across a golf course. There’s a traffic light for crossing. Definitely not something you’d see in the US.

The return trip had me flying ANA for the first time from Bangkok to Narita. I was pleasantly surprised when I entered the bathroom: The toilets had bidets. I loved it so much I made my aisle seat neighbor get up more than was necessary so I could use the bathroom. A fresh bum makes traveling so much better!

You can quote me on that.

Thailand Notes

I brought a hot pink Field Notes notebook to document this trip, and filled most of it by the end. I’ll start with some general impressions before diving into specific excursions.

Cars are right hand drive here. I had not expected this. For some reason I had thought only a handful of countries were right hand drive. Clearly, there are more. Now I wonder how many more. (Update: The internet says many many more.)

Many people here have monks bless their cars. Every taxi and Uber I rode had some sort of blessing on the ceiling.

Table pepper is white here. I like that very much. Also, it reminds me of home.

Tasty tropical fruits FTW!

Spirit houses abound. Many residences have one on their property.

Tiny “curbs” also abound. It’s not uncommon for boundaries between spaces to be separated a ~1-2 inch difference in ground height. I tripped a lot my first couple days there.

The cost of living here is cheap. Food is cheap (protein on skewers is abundant), non-imported goods are cheap, massages are cheap. I did all my touring, eating, massaging, and shopping over 8 days for about $400.

Shopping malls are everywhere, and they have everything: Multiple levels of restaurants and food courts, bakeries, supermarkets, movie theaters, arcades, hockey rinks, karaoke, and clusters of banks, in addition to shops you’d normally expect to see in a mall. Some of the ones we frequented were 8 levels high, with themed neighborhoods of shops from around the world.

Hokkaido cheese tarts exist in Bangkok. I’ve been searching for these for a year, since Japan last November. We came across both Hokkaido Baked Cheese Tart and BAKE CHEESE TART at the mall and airport. Each time I spotted one I screamed and shared the joy of these tarts with my friends. A handful of us consumed about 14 tarts in 3 days.

Bangkok traffic is terrible. It’s somewhat rule bendingly flowy, but less so than in than India. Motorbikes and scooters are abundant, and work through the traffic much more quickly than taxis and Tuk Tuks. Uber works here, and you can even use it to call a motorcycle.

Public transit is the way to go. The MRT (subway) and BTS (Skytrain) are cool, clean, and efficient. At the final station, cleaners run from one end of the train to the other before new passengers are allowed to get on.

I never quite got over my jet lag. I alternated between nights of super crappy sleep and sleeping like a rock until 5:30 AM. On the upside, this meant I was always awake and ready to adventure as we formed spontaneous outings over breakfast.

Once again, two thumbs up for international travel on Project Fi.

Hockey Notes

We planned for me to assistant coach / work the bench door during our games. Due to a bike tour that ran longer than expected, I arrived at the rink in a tank top and shorts for the first game, so I watched from the stands above, where it was warmer.

Seeing my friends out there tournamenting, my jersey out on the ice, made me miss playing for the first time since I stopped.

I was properly dressed for the rest of our games and was fully occupied with my coach and door duties. I had a great time.

Final game scores:
– 9-0 vs. Kuwait
– 0-3 vs. Malaysia
– 7-0 quarterfinal vs. Dubai
– 0-5 semifinal vs. STC (Singapore Thailand Canada)

Things I Ate

I ordered curry every meal I could. I tried a variety of curries and proteins, and never encountered two similar dishes.

Skewers are common on the streets, and I ate all sorts of things on a stick: beef, pork, chicken, sausages, squid, jellyfish. I also bought bags of freshly cut fruit, sold with a skewer as utensil.

The night markets I visited all had the occasional fried bug stand, and I tried both crickets and grasshoppers. The crickets were fairly palatable, and tasted like dried shrimp. The grasshoppers were more crunchy, had less flavor, and ended up getting stuck in my teeth. I found myself picking grasshopper out of my teeth for an hour. Crickets: 1, grasshoppers: 0.

One thing I wanted to hunt down was the very Thai drink-in-a-bag. It felt as if this is becoming less common as plastic cups become more prevalent, but on my final full day in Bangkok I found a drink-in-a-bag stand in Chinatown. I couldn’t quite communicate to the lady that I wanted whatever herbal thing the locals were drinking and not a Thai iced tea, but it was cool because she made my tea in a sock and I got to check that off my list too.

We came across a lot of random sweet things on our adventures. I ate most of them: mango sticky rice, coconut ice cream, mini coconut pancakes, deep fried gluten things, deep fried bananas (from a market, from a floating market, and once from our Uber, purchased from street vendors selling in traffic), khanom buang pancakes.

If I could eat mango sticky rice every day I would.

If I could eat piles of tropical fruit every day I would. Mango, pineapple, papaya, dragonfruit… I also got to try a custard apple for the first time. It’s custardy, and nothing like an apple.

I made a point to try fairly western snacks in Thai flavors. The local 7-Eleven had all sorts of chips and crunchy pea snacks in flavors I’d never seen before, so I bought them. I couldn’t read all the flavor names, but from the pictures on the packages I gather I was eating sushi, miang kham, cuttlefish. I encountered a bag of scallop butter garlic Lays but didn’t buy them. Regret.

I also made a point to try the local McDonald’s. Ate a pork burger, a deep fried pineapple pie, and a deep fried corn pie. The pineapple pie tasted artificial, but the corn pie tasted like creamed corn in a crunchy shell. Would eat again!

Not related to Thailand, I ate jook almost every day this trip: first at the Hong Kong airport, every morning at our fancy hotel international buffet bar, and finally on my morning ANA flight home. I love jook; it reminds me of my childhood, when I hated jook.

Night Markets

Closely related to much of the food I experienced: night markets. On Thursday night, Linda and I went to a small one we saw in passing: Talad Neon. It had a mix of snack stands, outdoor sit-down food stands, and shops. There were also small food carts on the side street bordering the market. A nice gentle introduction.

The next night, a group of us ventured out for Loy Krathong, and ended up walking down a street along the river. It was lined with street vendors as well, krathong stands on one side, street food on the other. Mostly locals. This didn’t really count as a market, but it’s way more like one than anything we have stateside.

The night after that, Katie and I went to Talad Rot Fai Ratchada. This one was new and hip and bustling and HUGE. There were hundreds, possibly over a thousand, vendors hawking foods, goods, haircuts, and even tattoos. We saw maybe a third of it. I’d totally go back.

Temples

On my first full day in Bangkok, several of us visited a couple of the many temples in the city. We took a ferry down and across the river to start at Wat Arun. It was intricate and shiny and jingly in the wind, and many of its structures were surrounded by what seemed like hundreds of statues of dogs that are actually lions.

Next, we took a shuttle across the river for 45 cents. The river levels were high, and shops on the other side were flooded. This did not pose a problem; shopkeepers simply kept their goods on raised platforms and offered customers bags for their feet off the raised sandbag walkway.

On the other side of the river was Wat Pho, home of the Reclining Buddha. This statue is HUGE.

There are people in that picture, in the lower right.

We walked around for food after touring Wat Pho and found our way into a back alley dried seafood market. It smelled as you would expect. We watched other lost tourists recoil in horror at the smell, then forged on in. This was where the locals purchased their ingredients. A most excellent accidental detour.

Bang Krachao by Bike

On the second day, Eula, Jimmy, Kim, and I toured Bang Krachao by bike.

Getting to the meeting point was an adventure in itself. Pro tip: If you need to get across Bangkok during morning rush hour, do not expect any taxi or Uber drivers to be willing to pick you up.

Crowded rush hour Skytrain and walking FTW!

Bang Krachao is something of an island in the heart of Bangkok. It’s actually referred to as the “green lung” of Bangkok, a lush urban oasis in the middle of a bustling city.

To get there, we rode to a pier, then took a long tail boat across the river. They ferried us across, then ferried our bikes across the same way.

Once across, everything slowed to island pace. There were fewer cars, fewer people, and the locals seemed extra chill and friendly. Not that they weren’t in Bangkok, but we definitely noticed a difference.

We rode through neighborhoods, ate at a local noodle shop, off-roaded through a park, fed some very ravenous fish. Much of the island seems to be build on marsh-like terrain, and side streets were often raised walkways the width of sidewalks. People, bikes, and scooters travel on them. Everyone makes way, and on the day we visited, no one fell into the water.

It was a very enjoyable way to spend a day.

Damnoen Saduak Floating Market

One morning, we woke up to a message on the group chat about a visit to the floating market. Jumped out of bed right quick! We spent a fabulous morning touring a maze of canals and trying all manner of street food from passing long boat vendors. People sold goods as well, mostly from shops on the sides. How to get what you want? Signal! The driver will maneuver you over, and often the vendor will extend a staff to pull your boat in.

After the market, our driver pulled over at a random house in a neighborhood… and a guy came out with a can of gas for the boat. No need for special gas station infrastructure.

On the way back, I convinced everyone on a passing longtail boat to high-five me. I was especially pleased that the passengers were an Asian family that seemed unaccustomed to such silly antics, and that I even got the grandma to give me a high-five. Our boat cheered loudly. Hopefully I’ve sparked in them a lifetime habit of high-fiving passing strangers.

A happy floating market crew, at the end of our tour:

The Grand Palace

We may have spent more time getting into the Grand Palace than actually being in the Grand Palace. There were lines for passport check, bag check, metal detector check, dress code check, buying tickets, and checking tickets.

After that, we were in! Wow, so crowded. But grand! And gold! Very very gold. And ornate. Everywhere.

We looked at some gold buildings, then some gold paintings, then located the Emerald Buddha. Then we headed out so we could procure more tastiness from the market outside.

Cooking Class

On Friday, Eula, Jimmy, Fuller, and I took a cooking class through Courageous Kitchen. We started with a tour of a local market, where locals buy produce, meats, dried goods, curry from giant spicy mounds, and fresh coconut milk.

We finished our market tour with a sampling of street snacks, starting with fresh roti sai mai. We followed that up with fried bananas/taro/sweet potato, coconut custard with pandan jelly, and grilled bananas.

Next, we experienced the magic of butterfly pea tea. 8th grade science project, yaaaaas!

Then we got to cooking. We each made our own tom yum soup and pad Thai, then combined efforts to make bua loy (rice balls in coconut milk) for dessert.

Tom Yum prep:

I cannot say enough good things about this class. I loved our hosts, the non-touristy location, the tour and samples and teamwork and of course, learning to cook some Thai dishes. Even better, it’s all for a great cause. Way to be, Courageous Kitchen!

Loy Krathong

Friday night was Loy Krathong. A group of us ventured out to partake.

Getting there was, um, a bit crowded. And we didn’t actually end up where we had intended, because after waiting forever to get on a water bus we ended up going the wrong way on the river.

All good. We got off at the flower market and walked back down along the river. This was much less of an extravaganza than where we had planned to go, and it was nice to just wander amongst the locals.

We each got a krathong, lit it, and sent it downriver.

The internet says a lot of different things about the significance of releasing a krathong. As I watched mine float away I thought about the end of my hockey playing days and letting that go. It felt appropriate, given why I was there.

After that, we stuffed ourselves with skewers and grasshoppers.

Chinatown

On Saturday, I teamed up with Katie, who had been adventuring solo through Bangkok all week. Destination: Chinatown.

Chinatown is huge! And crowded. Storefronts and open markets and alleys everywhere, every inch of space used. I loved ducking from the main open market into side alleys, shielded from the sun by buildings and awnings from both sides.

I loved popping out from a side alley onto a side street, so full of carts and people and vehicles that they felt just as crowded.

It was so tight that sometimes carts had to relocate to allow vehicles to pass.

The neighborhood itself was divided into sub-neighborhoods. Certain alleys specialized in hot foods, others in dry goods, and still others in household items. Katie tried all sorts of new-to-her Chinese foods. She needs to go to dim sum with us more often.

Shark fin and bird’s nest are commonplace here. It was a weird shift in worldview to be surrounded by that.

Also available here: fish foot spas. Yes, it’s a thing. And it tickles like you wouldn’t believe.

Eventually, you get used to it.

Koh Lanta

On Sunday, Jenny, Fuller, Linda and I journeyed to the island of Koh Lanta. This involved taking an Uber to the airport, a flight to Krabi, a taxi to the car ferry, my first ever car ferry to the island, and taxiing some more to the resort. It think it took us 7 hours to get there, and at least that much to get back. I only had one night to spend there, but it was totally worth it.

Arrived, checked in, to the beach! The water was warm and the weather was perfect. We instantly decompressed from our week in Bangkok.

I touched the Indian Ocean for the first time in my life. Even better, I floated in it. I’ve never floated in any ocean before. I’d never been comfortable enough in water to do so. Until now.

Got massages on the beach, watched the sunset, ate dinner, then headed back to our resort. We encountered all sorts of new creatures in the dark… including a scorpion. Yikes!

The next morning, Jenny and I rented scooters to check out Old Town on the other side of the island.

Rentals don’t come fueled up, so we stopped at a local gas station.

“Where you going?” asked the gas station / activities booking lady.
“Old Town,” we replied.
“Old Town far, need two bottles.”

Bottle service, island style:

Then we were off! We rode to the other side of the island. So green and lush and breezy!

My scooter felt a little squirrely, but I wasn’t sure if that was just the scooter. I’d never ridden a scooter before, so I wasn’t sure if it was because the wheels were smaller compared to those on a motorcycle or bicycle.

Shortly after reaching the other side of the island, I heard a pop while leaning into a turn. After that it was obvious that something was wrong.

We stopped, and examined the rear tire. It was flat. And had a nail in it.

Fortunately, we were able to call the scooter shop. They asked to speak to a local, and we were lucky enough to have stopped in front of a house with a lady on the porch, talking to… a neighbor? I walked over and put the shop guy on speakerphone.

They had what sounded like a very fun conversation for about five minutes. Then the shop guy told me to go up the road to get the tire fixed. “Two minutes,” he said.

I realized later he meant two minutes by functional scooter.

The lady was super nice, and did her best in Thai to direct us in the right direction. She even grabbed her bicycle to prepare to take us there. Except pushing speed isn’t anywhere close to biking speed. We thanked her profusely and started pushing.

All along the way, locals would stop to ask what was wrong. They consulted with each other and invariably directed us onward, up the road.

When we finally reached the repair shop (which was actually a scooter rental shop out of someone’s home), the entire town knew we were coming. A local we hadn’t yet seen had pulled his scooter up by the entrance to wave us in.

The two guys there propped the bike up and got to work.

I didn’t have much time before the shuttle back to the airport, so I hopped on the back of Jenny’s bike and we continued on to Old Town.

Success! We enjoyed a nice lunch on the water, did some souvenir shopping, picked up my scooter, and got back to the resort in plenty of time.

I loved that many of the shops and restaurants we visited in Old Town were also people’s homes. Many of these establishments had kids’ playpens in the back. Our resort was the same. It was run by a family, and the outdoor “lobby” felt almost as if we were visiting their home.

In a broader sense, we were visiting their collective island home as well.

Thanks Koh Lanta for a most excellent 26 hours.

Back to Bangkok for a few hours of sleep. Then it was time to go home.

What an amazing trip this was. I got to adventure with and get to know some truly incredible hockey peeps. Just as they all contribute differently on the ice, I could see how each of them contribute in their own way to the technicolor of our world.

I’m so grateful to have had this experience.

All the pics: Thailand 2017 on Google Photos

Boston 2017.2

Another visit with the folks in the books. Dad is bored in retirement, Mom seems to have found a volunteering/walking/cooking groove, Grandma is sick of being old, Sis has her hands full with little Penny, and Penny is super active and learning every moment.

Day 0: Now I Can Play Golf

Dad: How is your hockey season going?
Me: Well, I don’t play anymore. I retired.
Dad: Oh… now you can play golf!

That’s the spirit, Dad. :)

Day 1: Auntie Viv Phone?

Penny: Mommy phone video?
Sis: My phone is out of batteries.
Penny (to me): Auntie Viv phone?

The next day, she asked for my phone again. When I told her I didn’t know where it was, she proceeded to search my pockets.

Day 2: Up Up Down Down…

Dad and I turned the basement inside out on Saturday searching for the 8-bit NES. I was looking for my Contra cartridge, but instead I found the Atari 7800, Game Boy, Sega Genesis, and Nintendo 64. That, and a tabletop pinball machine. I was super excited and purchased batteries for it right away, but alas, it doesn’t work anymore beyond a sickly extended start beep.

Look super cool though.

Day 3: Observation Point

When I’m in town I like to get Mom outside for some exercise.

Sign: OBSERVATION POINT 300 YARDS
Me: Let’s go see what it looks like from up there.
Mom: 300 yards is far.
Me: We just walked 100 yards from the car. *points at car*
Mom: Let’s not go, there could be bad people on the trail.
Me: It’s the weekend, there are lot of people out.
Mom: 300 yards means 600 total, plus car. What if we get hungry?
Me: We’ll be fine.
Mom: This is steep. What if I climb up but can’t get back down?
Me: I’ll show you how!

In the end, Mom did a great job scrambling up rocks to the top. We were rewarded with a view of Downtown Boston as well as many other landmarks in the surrounding areas. Afterward she went home and took a nap.

Day 4: Hockey Travels

I told Dad about my upcoming Thailand trip to cheer and not play hockey, and he asked me about the places I’ve visited with my teams. He worked for years as a traveling salesman, so he started naming random places he’s been.

Dad: Have you been to Wisconsin?
Me: Yup.
Dad: Green Bay?
Me: Yeah, I got to tour Lambeau Field!
Dad: How about Minnesota?
Me: Yah, I went to the Mall of America!
Dad: Have you been to Detroit?
Me: I saw a Red Wings game there!

Writing about this reminds me that I got to visit the Budweiser factory in St. Louis as well. Clydesdales!

Also Day 4: Paper Sons

Mom and I got to talking about immigration, and she told me stories of paper sons related to the San Francisco earthquake of 1906. Entire families in the US today are here through a paper son. Entire families remained split because their documents were sold to families wishing to send a paper son. Mom knows people on both sides of those stories. I had no idea this was even a thing.

Ultimately, it’s the classic immigrant story: Life is hard, and you do whatever you can to make it less hard.

Days 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6: Umami Monster

For an almost 2 year old, Penny has made it quite clear that she loves seafood. Her favorites: shrimp, lobster, and clams, as well as shumai and sushi. She asks for all of those by name, except lobster, which she calls “monster”.

Cheese is no slouch either: string cheese, Cheddar Bunnies, pizza, and Pirate’s Booty register high on her preferred foods list. This kid loves umami.

She’s willing to try just about anything. We gave her a pickled carrot. “Souwr!” Recoilscrunchyface. OMGSOCUTE.

Day 5: Bahn Gwai

Mom says when I was in elementary school she told me to behave and I told her, “I have to bahn gwai all day at school, I’m not doing it at home!”

Mom has used the phrase “bahn gwai” for as long as I can remember. Turns out she got it from me. It literally means “pretend behave”.

Day 5.5: Frogging

Dad recalled his frogging days as a kid. He’d catch a small frog by the side of the road, tie it to a string, and dangle it from a pole to fish for larger frogs. Larger frogs would leap to eat the small frog, and he’d fish them out and into a bucket. When he was done he’d release the small frog and take the large ones home for dinner.

Day 6: Narwhal

On the final full day of my visit, I taught Penny how to say “narwhal”. Success! I have done my duty as auntie.

Penny, whenever she sees herself in a selfie: Hiiiii…

The Dream Is Alive

Thanks to Aaron’s conference and a couple extra weekend days, I got to spend 5 days eating my way through Portlandia. The Dream of the 90s, whatever that is, is alive!

Saturday

Landed at PDX, stepped into the terminal, and was greeted by a lady playing an accordion. That’s how I knew this trip was gonna be good.

Checked into the Sentinel, which was just across the street from the Alder Street Food Cart Pod. Popped down there for lunch, where I came across Bing Mi, a jianbing cart. I’ve been wanting to try one of these ever since I heard about them. Noms numero uno was a success.

There were lots of homeless folks in the area asking for money. Kind of like in SF. The Dream is part nightmare for some. Portland is no different from other urban locales in that respect.

We went for a walk in the afternoon, but not before we stopped at Public Domain so Aaron could get a coffee. He said he liked their logo.

On our way to check out the Portland Saturday Market we passed by Voodoo Doughnuts. There was a ridiculous line outside. I was glad we went there years ago on a quiet weekday morning, because I would have been sad to have had to wait so long for average tasting donuts. (Cool designs, though. Kind of like Psycho Donuts here in the Bay Area.)

I quite liked the Portland Saturday Market. Lots of art that resonated with me.

Afterward, we stopped at Donut Byte Labs. Not much of a line and super tasty mini donut creations. Voodoo tourists, you are missing out!

As we enjoyed our various donut bytes, a lady started handing out samples by the cart.

Me: Look! Samples! Kind of want.
Me, a while later: Wait… is that a drag queen?

Indeed, it was Bolivia Carmichaels. She was super nice and sooo enthusiastic. <3

I clearly care way more about donuts than I do about how people dress.

After our donut bytes we continued on to Chinatown. It had the requisite gate, but only a couple Chinese restaurants. And I was the only Chinese person on the street.

Chinatown was super meh. And it smelled like pee.

Around this time, I noted that Portland isn’t covered in poop like San Francisco is.

Headed for the Pearl District. Came across a pastry shop so of course we popped in. Picked up a couple canelé and a double chocolate cookie from Nuvrei. Would eat again!

After Aaron did some beer shopping, we stopped for ice cream at Cool Moon. I had a scoop of pleasantly natural tasting coconut. The employees were super nice.

Everyone in Portland is super nice. Perhaps it’s part of the Dream?

Walked some more and came upon Powell’s City of Books. It’s an entire city block, several stories high, of books. Every display and end cap is thoughtfully curated. We spent 1.5 hours in there and could easily have stayed longer. I left with one book, and a list for 7 more.

It is perhaps one of my most favoritest stores evars on teh face of dis planet.

Rested a bit, then ventured back out for dinner at Grassa, purveyors of casual fancy pasta. They had Pok Pok Som in the beverage case, so I got to try my first drinking vinegar. Turmeric flavor.

I’ve not quite leveled up to drinking vinegars yet.

Aaron discovered Beer O’Clock next door to Grassa so we got our food to go and ate there. He got to beer while I got to watch the Warriors game.

Sunday

Strolled over to Tasty n Alder just before opening and got in line. We hadn’t actually planned to stand in line, but we got lucky with our accidental timing and wound up with a seat overlooking the kitchen.

The food was good. All of it. And they serve beef bacon. I didn’t know that was a thing.

After brunch, we got our bike share on with a Biketown ride along the Waterfront Park Trail. There were lots of people out and about by foot, bike, rollerblade, etc. When we reached the southern end of the trail, we headed for Tillikum Crossing. This bridge is for light rail, buses, bikes, and pedestrians only. It was a really enjoyable ride.

I’m happy to report that I did not endo in any light rail tracks.

We returned to the Sunday edition of the Portland Saturday Market so Aaron could revisit a shirt he wanted. The Sunday live music was a xylophone quartet! As if an accordion greeting at the airport wasn’t awesome enough.

There was a local ice cream stand at the market, so of course we had some.

Aaron bought a bike shirt, and then another bike shirt. I got to revisit an artist stand that fascinated me the day before: Tessmer’s Studios. It’s burned wood art. Scenes of trees burned into chunks of tree. I bought a magnet. Todd signed the back.

As we left the market, I heard someone yelling out a window about boiled bagels. Boiled bagels! I had not had one of those in over a decade. So of course I stopped to have one. Charlie’s Bagels. I enjoyed it muchly.

One Stumptown sarsaparilla iced latte, Chrome store visit (they’re leaving SF for Portlandia, like so many of us), and MadeHere PDX (they’re into local stuff here, and their local stuff is fantastic) visit later, we headed for Division Street.

We wandered up and down Division Street, taking in all the cool shops and eating establishments. I was hungry, so we stopped at the Tidbit Food Farm and Garden for a snack. It’s an inviting neighborhood food and art cart pod that’s sort of a microcosm of the neighborhood around it. The perimeter was surrounded by parked bicycles, many of them with kid trailers. I had a super noms Bacontella (Nutella and bacon) waffle sandwich from Smaaken. Aaron had a local craft brew.

With noms in our bellies we headed back up Division Street. I spied a little shop filled with notebooks and pencils. Special notebooks and writing instruments from around the world. Little Otsu, it was called. I spent a while looking at every pencil, and left with a couple I’ve been wanting to try, but only able to find in bulk online. Then I wrote about their notebooks and pencils in my beloved travel notebook.

More walking. We came across a Townshend’s Teahouse. It was laid out like a cafe, but for tea. I love tea. I love being able to order a fresh brew of milk oolong and sit and slowly enjoy it.

After the teahouse, Aaron popped into Five Points Coffee for a cappuccino, then picked up more beer at Imperial Bottle Shop.

Finally, dinner time! Everyone said to try Pok Pok, so we did. Their fish sauce wings lived up to the recommendation. We got a couple other dishes, the papaya salad and a boar collar dish that was so spicy they served it with a side of greens and ice. Ice. Yes, ice.

Fortunately, eating ridiculously spicy food is my new superpower, and I managed to eat, even enjoy, all the dishes. I even ate all the diced chili sauce that came with the boar collar because it had such good flavor.

We took the bus back across the river after dinner. It was clean and air conditioned and everyone that boarded or left said hello and thank you to the driver. The driver, in turn, kept track of people’s questions and stops, gave thoughtful routing suggestions, and made sure not to start the bus until all new passengers were seated. Dis bus, is Dream?

This was also our first experience with TriMet. You can buy your ticket on your phone. Brilliant.

Monday

Aaron started his conference Monday, so I was on my own. I started with an hour of work from Heart Coffee. Next, I migrated to Coco Donuts, reputed to have tastier donuts than the ever popular Blue Star. I walked in just before 11, and the entire store was empty. And clean. “Sorry!” the lady behind the counter said, “We’re all sold out.”

“Wow,” I said, “What time do I have to get here for donuts?”
“Well, we open at 6… but sometimes we get another delivery around 10 or 11.”
“Will you get one today?”
“I don’t know, I’m here waiting for the call.”
“So you’re just gonna be here waiting for donuts to maybe appear?”
“Pretty much.”
“Can I work in the corner over there in case donuts show up?”
“Yes! Of course! Let me know if you want a coffee or anything.”

So I worked in a totally empty Coco Donuts for another hour. And then donuts arrived. And I had one. And it had the most bestest fluffy donut texture. (More accurately, what I wrote in my notebook upon tasting said donut was, “Omg Dis donut So fluffy.”) Totally worth the wait.

Also worth the wait was the steady stream of customers who came and were bummed about not getting a donut, but were invariably super duper upbeat and nice about the situation. Moar Dream.

I remembered seeing a pair of Chuck Taylor-esque high tops in a Doc Martens window display the evening prior, so I stopped there to check them out. I had an extended conversation with a super friendly sales guy who told me they felt it was important to be nice in Portland, then recommended a nice neighborhood for me to check out, and that I could walk there since it was a nice day. I almost forgot to ask about the shoes. But ask I did, and I now own a pair of bright yellow Chuck Martens high tops with a red stripe down the back.

Met Aaron at the Alder Street Food Carts for lunch so he could try a grilled cheese sandwich. I picked up some dumplings from The Dump Truck, then some green tea & azuki balls from Zendako for dessert. Again, more Dreamy interactions with the food cart folks.

Back to Stumptown after lunch where we discovered cans of sparkling cold brew. Ginger Citrus flavor! Sounds weird, tastes amazing. I really hope we start getting these here in the Bay Area soon.

Picked up some local candies at QUIN. I love local. And yes, our visit was Dreamy.

Worked and worked out, then ventured to Breakside Brewery in the evening. Aaron had a bunch of beer, and left with a cool hat.

We then walked down 23rd Ave, which is the street the Doc Martens guy recommended to me earlier. It had an artsy neighborhood vibe. I strolled merrily along, looked to my left, and saw a guy on a porch playing what Aaron described as a Weber.

It was a hang drum, and it sounded, well, Dreamy. Move over, xylophones and accordions (by then I’d encountered accordions on two separate occasions).

Lucky us, there was a Bamboo Sushi another few blocks down. Sustainable sushi, thoughtfully sourced and served. We loved it on our first visit in 2011 and loved it again this time around. Also, any place that serves you raw amaebi nigiri followed by a deep fried head is legit in my book.

We strolled back to the hotel, stopping briefly at a Fred Meyer to explore its everythingness. A couple blocks out from the hotel, things got dark. Really dark. When we finally saw our hotel, the entire building was dark.

As it turned out, downtown had lost power, and it didn’t look like power was going to be restored until the next evening. Fortunately for us, they were able to relocate us to the Westin, which had power, just 3 blocks away.

Tuesday

I had originally planned to visit the downtown Blue Star and Lardo locations to pick up food for my lunch meeting, but all of downtown was closed due to the power outage. Plan B: East side! Hopped on a bus to Hawthorne Blvd, yet another nice neighborhood to visit. As a bonus reward for my effort, I got to visit Waffle Window. I loved this place when I visited in 2011 and I continue to love it today.

Passed by a tea and massage place. I really wanted to go in but didn’t have time because of my meeting. TeaScape looks really cool, though. They even have a guayusa and mate menu! Adding to my list for next time.

Picked up a few Blue Star Donuts, then a sandwich and some fries from Lardo, and Google Maps’ed myself a different bus back to the hotel. Google Maps for public transit is the bomb. It’s served me well around the world. Major props.

Stuffed my face and worked all afternoon. Lardo was good. The Blue Star donuts were creative, but I didn’t think much of the actual donut base. It’s kind of like Humphrey Slocombe here in SF; I like their inventive flavors but the ice cream coats my tongue in a weird way.

Bussed back across the river for dinner with Candi and Steve at a Russian restaurant called Kachka. What a treat to see them! We tried all sort of dishes, big and small, fish and dumplings and crispy barley sprinkled here and there. I quite enjoyed this meal, both for the company and for trying dishes I’d never seen before.

Came across this garage door after dinner. I liked it very much.

Wednesday

Headed out a little earlier than usual to visit Pine State Biscuits with Aaron. We had blueberry cornmeal pancakes and a Reggie Deluxe:

It lived up to the hype. Also, weekday mornings are a great time to visit all the super packed weekend joints.

We took a light rail back to downtown. I took a detour to Powell’s on my return to the hotel. Coming here alone was a totally different experience. Powell’s is so dense with interestingness that I’m forced to slow down. Once I settled into moving slowly I enjoyed my visit that much more. On this visit, I discovered their Espresso Book Machine. Need a reprint? Want to publish yourself? Espresso Book Machine is at your service!

I bought another book.

Found an hour between meetings to meet Aaron at Sizzle Pie (or, as I called it, Foshizzle Pie) for lunch. Their pizza was similar to Speederia in the Bay Area, except Speederia stopped at pizza, while Sizzle Pie branded themselves and became an empire.

Swung by TILT for a quick bite of key lime pie dessert. Solid! Or not, since it was key lime pie.

We were both pretty beat by dinnertime, so we popped downstairs to Kalé, a Japanese curry joint. It was not something we had expected to eat in Portland, but I’m glad we went. And, of course, the lady there was Dreamy nice.

Thursday

We flew out of PDX around 10 AM. I was bummed to see “just” a grand pianist performing in the terminal. After the accordions and xylophones and Weber I was expecting a harpist at the airport.

Paid a final visit to Stumptown and picked up some beans plus a Sparkling Honey Lemon Cold Brew. I wanted breakfast, and lucky for me there was a BAMBUZA in the terminal. I got a giant egg and Chinese sausage rice bowl. It was sooo good, and only $7.95. Portland food prices have been da BAMB.

The wrap: Five days of really nice people, really good food, and arts/music/books for the soul. I enjoyed my time in Portland more than in any other US city I’ve visited.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the stabbing that happened on the light rail the day after we left. I don’t normally react much to news, but given how I felt about so many of the folks I interacted with there this incident made me incredibly sad. And yet, it made me hopeful, because not only did several people do the Right Thing, the city’s immediate reaction was that they did the Right Thing, and that people should continue doing so.

I know some Portlanders may not like the whole Portlandia thing, but if there ever was a Dream, it really is alive in Portland.

Boston 2017.1

It’s been about half a year since my last trip to Boston. Time to visit the folks!

Landed at Logan Thursday evening. My parents came to pick me up, and when we got to the house, Mom handed me a bowl of soup. I dutifully drank it. Then she handed me a duck foot. I dutifully ate it. Nourishment achieved, Mom proceeded to prepare the rest of dinner.

After dinner, Mom and I somehow got on the topic of devices and TV. She reminisced about the first radio they had in Hong Kong. It got its signal from a cable. Next came a radio that received broadcast signals. Then a single channel black and white cable-but-not-like-Comcast TV. Again, that got replaced by a TV that could receive broadcast signals… and colors!

She talked about how TVB came on the market first. As a result, they got all the good broadcast tower locations and had the best signal, which drew more ad dollars and allowed them to produce better shows. The other stations didn’t stand a chance. To this day, TVB is a powerhouse.

Dad has joined a golf club to help ease the boredom of retirement. He loves golf, but really he wants to work again. He hates having nothing to do.

They stocked the house with heavy cream for my coffee and my favorite flavors of Häagen-Dazs. So sweet.

On Saturday, we all went to see the circus. The Ringling Brothers are doing their last ever tour, and we all got to see the circus before it went away forever. It was exactly as I expected, but cheesier. There was tightrope walking, juggling, a human cannonball, strongmen, bikes, trampolines… and a couple acts with camels and tigers. Those animals did not look happy to be there. Circus, check! Happy we went. (Thanks Mike for putting this last hurrah tour on my radar!)

On Sunday, Grandma came over to “supervise” joong production. Mostly we made joong and she came by periodically to tell Mom she was doing it wrong. Everything turned out great; I’m really glad this tradition is being passed down the generations. I should do this more often so I don’t forget how.

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Grandma herself is doing okay for her age. She’s definitely a lot weaker physically. Stairs are hard, even single steps. And she forgets to turn the faucet off all the time.

There’s a Chinese tradition of paying respects to dead relatives every spring called Ching Ming, and even though I visited a little late, my folks waited for me to go.

We visited my great-grandmother’s grave on Saturday. Usually, I spend that time remembering her, but this time I felt a true sense of gratitude for having had her in my life. Thanks great-grandma for taking care of me and sis when we were young, and for always being such a steady loving presence.

We visited my grandfather’s grave a few days later. I’ll always remember how he used to study my toys to figure out how they worked; I see a lot of that in myself. I’d long known that he knew acupuncture and practiced on himself, but Mom told me this week that he actually studied it in school. In his final years at the nursing home, Mom would smuggle him disposable needles. Mom the needle smuggler, hah!

I got to see sis and Penny every day. Every day! What a treat! Penny is growing and learning SO FAST. She has so many words now, and learns new ones every day, always listening and repeating what you teach her. Most of her words are in English, with a few in fairly well intoned Cantonese, learned from Mom (“Poh Poh”). She cracked me up one day with “Harajuku”. If you make a kids show with it, she will learn it.

On day 4 she learned how to say “Auntie Viv”, and my heart melted.

Like most babies these days she loves her video, be it on TV, tablet, or phone. Anything with an Apple logo on it is an “iPad”. It’s a both a blessing and a curse. She learns so much from these videos and it buys her parents much needed time, but she totally tunes out the rest of the world when she watches.

On the opposite end of that spectrum, she is hilarious when you take her to the store. She observes EVERYTHING, and notices details most adult would never see. She loves it, and we love it. Shopping with Penny is the bee’s knees.

Penny is the bee’s knees. Seriously, so amazing. And active. In sis’s words, she can’t be contained. The other day we had to go watch her so my sister could shower, and when we got home both Mom and Dad went crashed early because they were exhausted. I think it’s awesome how much she loves climbing on everything and exploring her world, nonstop.

Penny Boo, active and goofy and curious:

Random encounter with an elementary school age kid riding down the street on his bike, dribbling a basketball, as he passed by my parents’ house:

Me: Hey.
Kid: Potatoes!
Me: Potatoes?
Kid: Yeah.

I proceeded to go inside, where Dad was sitting in a chair talking into his phone:

Dad: Hey Siri.
Dad: Hi Sire-ee.
Dad: Hey Siri it’s me.
Dad: Hey. Siri.

Really enjoyed this trip. A++++++++++!!!!! Would go again!