Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Encounters With Endangered Species

I am on one of my infrequent trips for business and flew to Chicago yesterday. While in transit, I ran into that rarest of creatures. I was so amazed I had to take pictures.

Yes! The Rare and Endangered Empty Middle Row Seat!!!

I luxuriated during the flight. Putting up the arm rest, crossing my legs into the space next to me. Putting my drink on the table of the seat next to me while I worked on my computer on mine.

As an additional reward, while there were thunder storms,  we managed to beat them with our flight arriving early. In fact just as we finished landing and taxiing to the gate, the skies broke open.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Golden Grey Photos

So channeling still the spirit of my muse and photo master*, Wife, I ruthlessly culled pictures and tried to get only those that had some kind of artistic merit. This has been VERY DIFFICULT because I have NO SENSE OF ARTISTIC LOOK whatsoever. But for better or worse here we go.

*(So since Wife is female is the term 'photo master' incorrect? Should I use 'photo mistress'? I think that creates all kinds of bad connotations. Maybe 'photo guru' that's more gender neutral?)

Embracing the Shadow

Focus on Color

I love this because I think it captures the intensity that Wife brings to her photography
First every Black and White attempts

Capturing those few moments where we had the 'magical golden light'

Using our workshop leader in Tokyo's idea on diagonal lines


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Chasing The Golden Gray

Golden light...it's what the photographer craves. At least that's what Wife tells me. When last year we were in Bryce Canyon National Park Utah, Wife bemoaned the fact that we did not have a chance to take pictures during the sunset period when the light is supposed to be the best. Coming on a separate trajectory, Wife and I have been saying for years that we really need to do more short trips around our own area which is just filled with natural beauty. I noted that because I tend to go right into work mode after we return from our big trips, that my schedule doesn't allow easily to do this type of thing on an impromptu basis. Therefore, the answer was to start scheduling things. I threw out the idea of running up to Bryce Canyon to do that shoot she wanted. It was booked into our calendar.

So on Friday we tootled up the 550 miles/9 hours to get to Bryce Canyon. This morning we went out to scope the various places where we wanted to take pictures. We also took a lot of pictures; I in particular as I wanted Wife's critique on my composition. After a break in the afternoon, we set out again at 6 PM. Having watched the sun setting on the drive in yesterday, we knew that we had about 2 hours from 6:30 to 8:30.

We got to our first stop at 6:15. It was still really bright but one could see the changes taking place. Then as we made to go to our second stop, in came the clouds. Soon there was no setting sun to speak of. Bummer. But we continued on and found that while we were not favored by the 'golden light' at least the scenes were not bleached out by the high midday sun. I haven't looked at the pictures yet from this evening but I'm hoping that the level of color and detail will be much better than the ones from this morning because of the lack of bleaching bright light.

Tomorrow we tootle on back the 550 miles/9 hours back to Albuquerque. AND I DON'T WANT TO HEAR any snide remarks from various offspring that Wife and I are not slowing down! We are slowing down. We're just slowing down very...well slowly.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Asia Mega Tour II Retrospective - Part Three

So for this last installment of the great review of the Second Asian Mega Tour, I am going to list all of the wonderful experiences and people that we met along with links to the posts if you'd like to revisit them.

Asia Mega Tour II Retrospective - Part Two

Continuing on with the deep reflective dive into our trip.

Things we were surprised by:
  • Amount of English in Japan - Everything we read said we'd find little English. Instead we found most places, even out in Kyushu, a wide prevalence of understanding and use of basic traveler English and many more English menus than we would have expected
  • Credit Card Usage in Japan - Again all we read warned that Japan was mostly a cash economy. But no, we were able to use our credit cars at the majority of places we shopped and ate.
  • Room Sizes - Warnings and reviews about the small size of rooms especially in Japan before going, for the price we were paying (NOT super premium), we found the rooms as good as what we find in Europe.
  • Fitting in and Not Being Stared at - There wasn't anywhere on this trip where we felt people were looking at us because we were Westerners. A big difference from our experience in China the year before. 
  • Feeling at Home in Japan - Other than the language and alphabet, the whole vibe of building construction, urban layout, transportation systems, store layouts, etc. in Japan was totally not jarring. I was rather amazed by how at home I felt there.
  • Taipei - My favorite place we visited. It was friendly. There was way more English used and understood than in Japan. People were helpful, even solicitous. In six days there we did not do everything on our list. The closeness of wilderness and countryside to city. It is on my short list of places I really want to go back to.
  • Accepting Being Taken Care of In Bali - Wife and I are pretty self-reliant and at least up to now, not all the comfortable having people who are 'help' doing things for you. Maybe we perceive having 'help' as being snooty. However, finding ourselves in a villa with all kinds of help to do cleaning, cooking, washing, laundry, we found ourselves getting accepting it all with aplomb pretty darn fast.
Things not loved:
  • Eating in Japan - Many people expressed surprised when we commented on this during our trip. But even before going, I would have said that Japanese was on the bottom of my list of Asian cuisines liked. But particularly for Wife, the flavor emphases and the preponderance of highly fatty meat were highly negative. It was only by our last stay in Tokyo that we found means of dealing with the situation.
  • Airbnb in Asia - We only did it in Japan but the difficulty of finding where you were when dealing with a foreign alphabet and the tendency of these places to be crammed with bedding to accommodate the largest number of people made them less that relaxing for us.
  • Discount Airlines - We are really getting tired of dealing with the restrictions of discount airlines. Unfortunately they are frequently the best connections and the price differential can be significant. Not to mention a lot of the full fare carriers have similar restrictions.
  • Driving in Bali - Ugh, developing country driving. Hard on the body. So long to get anywhere.
  • Being Overwhelmed in Tokyo - The sheer mass of humanity that you encountered was really too much. The scope and scale of everything was a bit much for us. Wonder if we would have felt different if we had started here or done this when we were not tired and at the end of the journey
Things Loved!!
  • Rail Travel in Japan - Yes there are some quirks you have to figure out about making certain reservations and paying for the journey and the reservation separately but OMG it is so easy to get around, so dependable, and so convenient. When you add the fact that each major train station is like a little city with hotels and department stores around it, you can make the train the focus of your travel. And there is the whole sub-culture of the tourist trains going into the countryside too!
  • Japanese Gardens - Love em. When we go back to Japan it will be to focus on tourist trains and gardens
  • Japanese Department and Convenience Stores - Oh if only we had figured out earlier that the large department stores have restaurants on their top floors and grocery stores with prepared foods in the basement, I would have just found where the largest department stores were and made hotel reservations near them! And if you needed a quick meal, some inexpensive whiskey, an umbrella, a cash machine...there were the plethora of 7-11's, Family Marts and Lawsons.
  • IC Cards - Whether it was the Easy Card in Taipei or the Suica Card in Tokyo, these prepaid cards made transportation so incredibly easy and there were discounts on transportation associated with using them.
  • Taipei Metro - Not sure quite what made it different but it just seemed that his system of anyone we used was the easiest to navigate and the most comfortable. It was one of the many reasons I loved Taipei so much. 
  • Experiences in Bali - I will give a review of all of our experiences in the next post but truly some of the most extraordinary interactions we had were in Bali.
  • Architecture in Kula Lampur - All the written material plays down KL as a place to visit other than for eating and shopping. I was totally impressed with the architecture and loved the cityscape especially the Petronas Towers and our spectacular view of them from our hotel!
  • Eating in Langkawi Malaysia - A lot of this was because we were with the #2 clan and they love to eat but love of eating doesn't mean that you're always going to find good food. The variety and quality and value we found there was top notch. 

Asia Mega Tour II Retrospective - Part One

After having walked barefoot with only a loin cloth to a lonely spot in the Sandia Mountains where I contemplated for weeks on end existing only tree bark, grubs, rain water, the dew on morning plants and ample amounts of VSOP Cognac, the full truths of the Asia Mega Tour have been organized and are now ready to set down for posterity. It took longer than anticipated to get these truths in written form as Wife had to bail me out of custody after I was arrested for public indecency on my way back from my mountain retreat.

As there is a lot of material, I'm going to put this in three posts. Let's start with the deeper, more navel gazing types of revelations.
  • Finding Our Way to Travel - As I mentioned in earlier posts, it was amazing how energized this trip made us feel. I think we have discovered that there is a process that really seems to fulfill all we are trying to gain from travel. That process is going somewhere, going through the initial 24 hours or so of trying to get oriented, followed by another day or two of gradually feeling we have this particular locale understood, followed by another day or two of saying, "Yes, we got this one figured out, we like it, don't like it, would come back, wouldn't come back", after which we are ready to move on. There is something about this process that results in our being stimulated but not overwhelmed and is deeply gratifying too.
  • Self-Planning Opens the Door for Experiences - We had so many amazing serendipitous experiences that totally enriched this trip. And I can point to all of them as being a result of our doing our own planning. I am the first to admit that I enjoy doing the travel planning and making all our arrangements. But it also allows us to get ourselves into places that would normally not be on the travel radar screen. And it is these places where we keep running into the experiences that are so enriching.
  • We Miss Our Physical Capabilities - When we first were dreaming about traveling like this a decade and a half ago, both Wife and I were big time into hiking. We dreamed of going around the world and being able to combine our travel and hiking loves. Sadly our bodies gave out and hiking a lost pastime long before we got to our ability to travel. We are very, very thankful for the physical ability to do what we still can do. But there is hardly a day that passes on our travels where we encounter something that requires climbing or walking that is now not realistically things we can do. 
  • Smaller Versus Larger - There is certainly a point as far as the size and density of a city, its complexity and just the sheer mass of people where Wife and I both kind of shut down. It's hard to pinpoint exactly where this point is. It's not as if we only want to be in small towns and villages. Far from it. We like being in places where they have metros, tram systems and relatively easy to use buses. On this trip for example, Taipei which has 2.7 million in population and 7 million in the region, seemed to us very approachable. While Tokyo with over 13 million in its prefecture and over 37 million in its metropolitan area was just too much.
  • Developed Versus Underdeveloped - We find we are somewhat conflicted on our enjoyment of going to a developed country like Taiwan versus an underdeveloped country such as Indonesia (Bali). In a developed country we have significantly more freedom of movement, to get around on our own, sometimes driving, other times using public transportation and always walking. In an underdeveloped country we need to have drivers and walking is much more difficult and dangerous. Water and eating are safe in developed countries. You have to be careful in underdeveloped countries. The starkness of difference in our level of economic well-being and what is encountered in developing countries can weigh on you. But some of the best experiences we've had and most interesting things we've done have been in developing countries.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Massive Day of Cooking

To fill the need for Southeast Asian food, you need the curry pastes that are the backbone of the flavors one remembers. Thai curry pastes are fairly easy to find. But the commercial ones we've tried have way too much chile heat for our tastes. And finding curry pastes from Cambodia, Malaysia or Indonesia? Forget about it.

So I have taken to making my own pastes and freezing them. Fortunately (as I think I have posted previously) we are blessed with a great Asian supermarket here in Albuquerque and I can get just about everything I need in terms of raw ingredients. I have had to alter some of the recipes to make them work with some of the things we have here.

Integral to this process is an extreme amount of pounding with a mortar and pestle. I had done a lot or research and almost everywhere I looked it said you could not get the same flavors and consistency trying to do things in a food processor. However, I do chop up all of the various components in the food processor prior to going through the pounding process.

The Cast of Characters
Clockwise from the lower left are turmeric root, galangal root, kefir lime leaves, ginger root, lemongrass, garlic (already chopped), shallots (already chopped), and cilantro stems
These provide the basic components for the curry pastes. Not all of them have all these ingredients and their are other additions for the various pastes

I have found that the key to getting the right consistency is to go from drier to wetter and to add one ingredient at a time. So first in goes that salt and any other dried spices. The the drier roots like the galangal. Then maybe the kefir lime leaf. Then the turmeric, the lemongrass and finally the ginger, garlic and shallots in their turn.

Getting chiles to integrate has proven difficult so I use my already processed NM green chile, harissa and sambal to provide the heat component

Sample of a completed paste - the Malaysian paste in this case
Then putting them in small containers - Cambodian Amok paste in this case

In addition to the curry pastes, I also was smoking - a rack of ribs and two chickens to replenish our freezer.
Most of this work (the rub for the ribs, brining the chickens, cleaning and setting up the smoker) were done the day before. All that needs to be done is turn on the smoker and put the meat in when its hot.
If I must say so myself I am really getting the knack of producing good ribs 😏
Tomorrow I will breakdown the chickens, make some stock from the bones, turn the skin into smoked cracklings, which in turn will give me a little smoked chicken fat.

Hope you are eating well too and REMEMBER all those who have sacrificed for our country!