Sunday, May 22, 2016

Parents In Abstentia

Our oldest granddaughter 2.1 graduated from her program on Friday. Without going into all the details, 2.1 has had a difficult challenging number of years as have had her parents. It culminated with a decision  about a year ago to enroll her in a boarding school program for parents and children that feel they've run out of options in how they are going to deal with their relationship and fear for how the future is going to turn out. It is a program with tight discipline, a real focus on academics and a lot...a lot of therapy required by both the child and the parents.

With the program being in Arizona and daughter #2 being in Hong Kong it was very difficult for #2 and 2B to visit with 2.1 or have 2.1 come to them as was part of the whole program design. So as the closest relatives (we're about 6.5 hours away), we were asked to fill in the role a few times. It was kind of hard on our part because we were not really in the loop with all the hard therapeutic work and counseling going on. So you kind of felt like a fish out of water. But we did our best.

This held true for this graduation ceremony. I don't know what Wife and I expected but it turned out to be far more emotional than I expected. 2.1 has come such a long way. But she'll still have much more to do now that she's grabbed (I use that word because it is clear that the students in this program have to decide that they are the ones that are going to take charge of their lives) the tools she needs to succeed.

I had to read my daughter's statement and I had hard time doing so and not breaking up. That was true of just about every parent who talked. The same was true for the girls who had their opportunity to speak. I was totally amazed at our granddaughter giving her talk with no notes, looking directly at the audience, and with real poise and feeling.

Then we had to rush her to Phoenix so she could catch a plane the next morning very early to go to Hong Kong where she will spend the summer after which she will go off to a new school in Michigan. A lot of change for a 17 year old. We spent the evening cuddling with her and hung out in the airport for as long as we could with her. It was very emotional.

Then we went drove home to Albuquerque. It was a long couple of days but as grandparents who are physically far removed from our families you don't often get the opportunity to participate in their lives in a meaningful way.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Asia Trip Perspective


I think a real measure of how successful I’ve been in transitioning out of the full-time work, career mode is how quickly I’ve gone from our balls to the wall travel mode in Asia back to mellow work with lots of personal time lifestyle back at home…and the fact that we are now busy planning our next big trip in the Fall. I’ve so integrated back that I forgot that I wanted to write down an impressions and perspective document about this last trip.

How Much Did We Fly?

We spent a lot…A LOT of time in air travel mode. Each time one took a flight it accounted for a good part of that day considering getting ready to travel, getting to the airport, getting through the airport, actually flying, getting out of the airport, getting to wherever you were going, and unpacking. I had a feeling about this but I actually counted up the number of days that we were in the air travel system and it turns out that air travel (or Airplane World as I like to call it) was the place we spent the most time in during our trip – by a pretty wide margin actually - with the exception of our base in Hong Kong. We were in Airplane World a total of 12 days. The longest we were on the ground in a country where no air travel was involved was 8 days.

Airplane World truly is a country unto itself. The patterns, systems, looks, rhythms, layouts, procedures, smells, everything are the same from airport to airport, airline to airline, country to country. I feel that Wife and I are extremely knowledgeable on the mores of Asian Discount Airlines. We have mastered Hong Kong International Airport and know how to navigate it with our eyes closed (this is like learning a useful language such as Albanian since the chances of us using HKIA on a frequent basis is pretty nil).

I would like to say for the record, I really do not plan on doing another trip that involves so much and so frequent air travel.

What Was Good And What Was Not So Good

  • We were totally immersed in the ‘how’ one travels in this part of the world – a very different way of traveling than what we do in Europe
  • We saw just how different all these countries really are from each other
  • We got food poisoning
  • We had lots of really interesting personal interactions with all kinds of people
  • We were frequently in places where we could neither understand anything nor could we read anything because of languages using different alphabets
  • We ate a lot of good stuff
  • We ate a lot of stuff that was…interesting????
  • We ate a lot of mediocre stuff
  • We saw some the premier tourist sights in the world
  • We almost got heat stroke (really!)
  • We learned to have faith in Vietnam and just step into a whirlwind of motorcycles and motorbikes to cross a street with the confidence that if we went slowly and confidently enough everyone would just go around us
  • I learned the freedom of adopting the Chinese way of just going forth and not giving a shit about anyone else around you, in front of you, or behind you (Wife had to reorient my behavior when we got back in the States and were going through the LAX airport)
  • We learned that China is REALLY BIG!
  • I found out that soup noodles are a form of spiritual pathway to enlightenment
  • Via three cooking classes I’ve taken my East/Southeast Asian cooking up many notches
Will We Go Back?

Going to all these countries so fast left one with the feeling that one had been at a huge buffet where you could just have a taste or two of a lot of things but couldn’t really get to really enjoy anything. That being said speaking personally, there was no one country that really shouted out to me and said “I love this place and want to come back,” such as I feel about France, Italy and New Zealand. I kind of wish Vietnam was later in out trip rather than the first thing out of the gate. The people there are really enjoyable and it is very tourist oriented. I could see going back there some day. I didn’t see anywhere near enough of Malaysia and could see going back there. I was fascinated with China but don’t think I would go back without being with a Mandarin speaker like my daughter. I’m not clamoring to go back to Thailand.

Conclusion

This was truly ‘an experience’. We were challenged in so many ways and came out feeling we’d learned a ton and mentally invigorated and stimulated. We will be going back to Asia.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Celebrating Eight Years

It is 8 years to the day that I said a fond farewell to my left kidney and sent it off to find its destiny as the sole operating kidney for my sister whose two kidneys she'd been born with had decided to take early retirement.

It was a major life event. For those who might want all the gory details (not physically gory...more emotionally gory), here's the link to the long series of posts I wrote starting 18 days before the event.

Amazingly enough both the kidney I gave my sister and the one remaining in me have been working like Timex watches (they take a licking and keep on ticking). That is not always the case with these donations.

It has made me wonder if my parts all work better independently than they do together as a system. I feel there was some great economic opportunity lost being so old when I did the donation and missing out on the opportunity to go to India or some where and auctioning off other parts of me. Oh well I guess we'll just have to putter along with the ensemble as it is.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Bonding

We've had the pleasure of having our oldest granddaughter 2.1 with us this week. As her family is in Hong Kong and she is in boarding school in the U.S., when there are situations where she has breaks from her programs, we are the fall back option.

It is a lovely thing to see the evolution of the child to the adult - not that 2.1 is an adult but at 17 she is showing more responsibility and self-direction. Having her around has been very enjoyable.

She needed to get some new shoes for a program graduation that takes place in a couple of weeks (which once again as the family closest geographically, we will be going to). Wife has been helping her sew a dress this week - which according to Wife was possibly THE most complicated sewing project 2.1 could have ever chosen. So I volunteered to take her shopping for some shoes to match the dress.

She had to take the SAT exam in the morning so I picked her up and after a light lunch of green chile cheeseburgers and green chile cheese fries we headed off to one of the zillion ladies shoe discount emporiums around town.

As luck would have it, when we walked in there were few people there (though it would be crowded by the time we left!) and the very first pair of shoes we saw were almost exactly what she wanted for her dress.

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Then we proceeded to spend another half hour second guessing our choice. We did buy her a pair of every day boot type of shoes though as everything was on sale AND there was 50% off on the second pair.
It was around this time that I decided that if we were to truly get into the Grandfather/Granddaughter bonding thing that my personal ladies shoe inventory was woefully out of date. The first pair I suggested I thought fit nicely in line with what I wear regularly.
But 2.1 thought that they were way too conservative. Having been properly chastened, I decided to go with something decidedly more colorful.
Alas the grandchild thought these were WAY too gaudy and not keeping with the sort of stylish megalomania that is de-I. With her expert guidance we finally settled on:
Truly a pair of heels that will make a power statement of style!

Now all I need is the dress to match. 2.1 suggested I go to Lane Bryant.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Bringing Southeast Asia To The American Southwest

This does not imply fusion cooking. This is about taking all that I learned at my cooking classes and putting them to use here.

One of the things that really excited me as I took the three classes during my trip was how fast one was able to make various iconic dishes. I suppose it makes sense if you live in broiling hot climate, you want food you can prepare quickly so you don't spend too much time over a hot stove.

We are blessed in our little hamlet of Albuquerque (okay 32nd largest city in US Albuquerque) that we evidently have a robust East and Southeast Asian population and we have a number of Asian grocery stores in town. One in particular is very large, has a very large selection of items and is convenient to where we live.

The key ingredients to a lot of the dishes from Thailand, Malaysia, and Cambodia are a series of curry or chile pastes. A number of these, particularly the Thai ones, you can buy ready made. Others you need to make yourself. Each of these pastes is in turn a combination of a number of ingredients but almost all have some combination of shallots, garlic, ginger, galangal, tumeric, lemongrass, and chiles. Then there are other components you add that create the differences.

So I set aside this last weekend to making up a bunch of the pastes and freezing them.

Here's my haul from the local Asian market. In addition to all the stuff listed above there is Tom Yum paste, Tamirind extract, Thai apple eggplant, straw mushrooms and glass noodles. I also bought a heavy duty mortar and pestle. And I placed some of the cookbooks and recipes from our classes.

The essence of the paste making is pounding a whole bunch of rather tough plant ingredients until they break down.
Here's a batch of Malay curry paste about half way there.

Our teaches told us you could make this in a blender or food processor but the taste was better if you hand pounded at least 10 minutes before punting to the machine.
Here's a Cambodian curry paste for Amok after processing

Last night I put this to use and made Fish Amok.
The Cambodian curry, Amok versus the Malaysian curry like Redang are on opposite ends of the taste spectrum with the former being very light and the later being very robust. This comes not just from the curry pastes themselves but from the cooking technique as well.
Here's my Fish Amok cooking and served.



The Fish Amok took about a half an hour to make including cutting the vegetables

Looking forward to making some Malay style fried rice with chicken later this week with a salad. I couldn't find green papaya so I'm going to try it with kohlrabi.


Monday, April 25, 2016

Transition Complete!

Can you believe this a blog post that is not about travel in Asia? Actually it has been a bit of a come down since we've been back. We were going at such a pace and we were being exposed to SOOOO much new stuff on SOOOO many levels that being home seems...well kind of dull.  BUT mellow, pleasant, enjoyable, beautiful too. I've said it in the past and stay with it, our home is one of the most beautiful places in  the world to stay...and we've been in plenty of places around the world.

We are also being blessed with wonderful weather. After the intense heat and humidity of SE Asia and the pollution of Hong Kong being in the moderate temperature (highs in the 70's and lows in the 40's), dry climate and crystal blue skies of Albuquerque are a joy. Unlike when we came back from Europe in the Fall and I was shocked and grated by driving and crime here compared to where we had visited in Europe, the calmness of the roads and the lack of noise of Albuquerque in comparison to all the places we visited in Asia has been a balm.

When I got back from our last big trip, I'd had a bit of a crisis concerning working as part of my transitioned life. With the help of my advisors and Wife, I was able to overcome that (actually if memory serves me correct, I think they outright laughed at me and told me to get back to work). Since then I have pruned what was left of my practice until I had it to exactly where I wanted it, and was able to get out and sell again with enthusiasm...all this within the limits I've set of the amount of time I'm willing to work in semi-retirement.

The acid test was this trip. As in the past there was a little anxiety about leaving but an easy transition into the international traveling life once we were there. As in the past I was able to keep all my business relationships warm, holding a number of phone meetings, doing what was necessary via email, and even signing up a new piece of business while gone. And this time, within days of getting back I was into the swing of things with my at home/part-time life. I'd already scheduled many meetings before I even left Asia. It was all smooth and natural.

I now have the balance that so many seek when they get out of their businesses or retire. I'm feeling very good.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

2016 Asia Mega Tour - The Longest Day

We came home on Tuesday April 19...the longest day that Wife and I have ever experienced.

We started leaving the Pooh Lee Shah Imperial Suites at around 8:30 PM Hong Kong time. It is a sad leave taking...at least I think it was sad...the act of granddaughter 2.2 showering us with confetti as we left turned her bedroom back over to her according to the Honorable Pooh is a traditional act of mourning in Cantonese culture.

Less than 45 minutes later Pooh and 2B had dropped us off for the last time at Hong Kong International Airport. We now know all of the ins and outs of negotiating this airport...it's like having learned an obscure language...the likelihood of us using this hard gained knowledge in the future is just about nil.

Our flight does not leave until after Midnight so we are checking in with plenty of time to spare.

There is no one in the check-in line. We have found out that because of a light load, they've changed the aircraft from a wide body to a narrow body plane. The new plane does not have very nice business class seats. We try to change flights but no, as we are on mileage point tickets no go. This will end up being the only bad luck we have on this entire flight.

Immigration and security are a breeze so it is off to the Business Class Lounge which (in this case) is operated by Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines has a reputation for having some of the classiest service in the skies. The quality of the food service makes the US airline clubs look like elementary school cafeterias.

For those who have followed de-Intimidator for years, this picture of Wife sitting in the airport lounge is a classic. No matter where in the world it is taken, it has this timeless quality to it.
I have to make one more rave for the Singapore Airlines Club...they offered hot, made to order soup noodles! My way of saying Au revoir to East and Southeast Asia.
Laksa - a Malay version

Then just around Midnight, the first hour of Tuesday April 19, we boarded our first flight from Hong Kong to Seoul (Incheon) Korea). There were only three of us in Business Class so we spread out. In spite of the less than optimal seats we caught a few hours sleep during the 3.5 hour flight.

Arriving in Incheon, we ended up being the first people through the immigration line. An American behind us who travels this route a lot told us we were lucky because two jumbo jets arrived just behind us. 

It's pretty quiet in the halls as it is about 5:30 AM Korean time until you get to the main transit area.

If you read up on airports, you hear that the one at Incheon is one of the best for a long layover. They actually have free tours for those who have long layovers. Unfortunately our timing wasn't good and we arrived too early. 
Ah! Here we are. The Rest and Relax area. Here among other things they have a slew of practically flat couches you can use to catch some rest or sleep. You can also 'rent' a blanket to keep you warm for free. There are free showers as well. (more on showers later)
Wife and I were able to catch another couple of hours of sleep here as well. Then it was on to the Asiana Airlines Business Lounge. While the food their doesn't match Singapore Airlines, it was still way better than the US. In fact if you look at the second picture and the guy on the far right with chef's hat...he was making fresh made fried eggs. Nice touch.


Let's talk about showers.
They offer free showers at the Asiana Club (and my understanding at the free rest and relax area). These aren't just 'showers'. These are really nice areas with a sink and toilet, and all the amenities like soap, bath gel, shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, slippers, robes, hair dryers, even shaving equipment. Going into one of these after what has already been a 13 hour overnight travel experience is the height of refreshing luxury. It made you feel new and refreshed. 

Finally! Nine hours after arriving in Incheon, it is time to get on our flight across the Pacific to Los Angeles. 

We are flying an Airbus 380 which is a two level monster. 

Into the Business Class section for some of the widest, nicest Business Class lay flat seats I've encountered. 
Wife is ready to get home!
Only 6427 hundred miles to go!

Asiana Airlines service is a class act. This flight left at 2:40 PM Korean time and was scheduled to get in to Los Angeles at 10 AM. So our plan was to eat, drink and get to sleep. We were both able to get some reasonable sleep due to the accommodations, the timing, and the lack of sleep from the day before. 

We arrive in Los Angeles early! In fact during this whole trip every plane leaves on time and arrives early! Thank you Global Entry! We zip through Immigration and Customs. We walk to the United Airlines terminal. It is lovely, sunny and warm out.


Thank you TSA Pre, we zip through security.
Going to the United Club after the Asian airline clubs is like slumming it. We buy a burrito, enchiladas and drinks for lunch and part with a cool $40+...ah welcome back to the land of overpriced food.

We have a four hour layover in Los Angeles and then a two + hour flight to Denver.
Hello Denver International...I know you. (Actually I'm on pretty friendly terms with LAX too).
A beautiful sight...our fourth and last flight to home.

We used Uber to get home and it worked fine and cost less than a cab.
We trundled into home at around 8:30 PM Albuquerque time still on Tuesday April 19. So far Tuesday April 19 has lasted 34 hours and we still have 3.5 hours before the day is officially over in Albuquerque. 

We have no trouble sleeping.
The 2016 Asia Mega Tour is officially over