It’s been like this for four or five days…

Part 2 in Our “How to Navigate China with next to Zero Mandarin” Series

Remember when we said we'd share with you the good the bad and sometimes the ugly? Well, this is a little of it all.

So, on our way to Chengdu, China (deep in the West of China) we stopped to buy our train tickets for an overnight train there and had to stay overnight in Guangzhou. But that's good, right? Because it means that we get to hear a little more Cantonese, so Tracie can understand things a bit longer, while I'm still in the dark, and we can taste the original true blue Cantonese style cooking, unadorned, right?

Right, but it comes with a catch we didn't quite expect. Morning we leave to catch the train I roll out of bed and ask Tracie how she feels and if the mosquitoes bothered her as much as they bothered me. She says, “…what mosquitoes, I didn't hear anything last night?” I show her the bite on my leg, she shrugs, I shrug, I spray some anti-itch spray on it and away we go on to our great big bad train adventure. But here we don't tell you about the train or about the Cantonese cooking that we all love so well.

Meanwhile, we've been in Chengdu for about 4 days, we've really enjoyed our days here. Its relaxed pace and tasty food and intriguing street life have kept us busy day and night, walking up and down streets, trying to figure out how to order food, trying to get back to our hostel,etc. Amidst all of this, my right leg has progressively gotten worse in degrees of itchiness. So much so that I took pictures one day and sent them off to my doctor sister in Seattle while she was vacationing and asked her for advice.

Well, can't sit still Wayne goes to doing a little research online about bite patterns and reactions to certain insect bites and for the life of me, the symptoms, to my surprise and chagrin, they don't match with mosquitoes they match with BEDBUGS!

Now, I know what you are all thinking at this point, oh m god they are dragging around bedbugs, well we aren't so don't ban us from home or scurry away with disgust, it was only one bite. There is no lagging evidence that we ever encountered them but the symptoms were enough and my leg had swollen up a bit, so we put our traveler's insurance phone number to use and called them up on Skype to get a location of somewhere I could go and get treated or at least examined. We had no idea what to expect.

The next day, we flashed the Chinese words for Sichuan University Hospital of Western China to another crazy-ass cabbie and landed up the street from the hospital. The cab driver, having ejected us at the corner, waved his arm in a general direction we ended up walking and we ventured into the giant Outpatient wing of the sprawling university hospital campus. Now what?

No, seriously, now what? Where the hell do we go? Chinese signs everywhere with a smattering of English hear and there, it's like Jackson Pollock painted the signs, nearly all meaningless when stared at directly but sometimes we felt an inkling of understanding or supposition that we knew what they meant in English.

We head towards the doors with the most people going in and out and towards the sparse English signs here and there that try and re-assure us that “oh..someone will be here who can help you…you just stop your worrying…” No, worry. Worry the whole way. You can't help it.

We go ask one lady, with Tracie plying her excuse me I'm American and we need to see an English speaking doctor. Blank stare followed by rapid Chinese directed to Tracie, her again in broken Mandarin “I don't speak Chinese? May we speak to someone who speaks English?” Attendant laughs a little crazy laugh behind her stupid face mask (these things are everywhere by the way-last I remember they just keep out dust, not germs) and continues in Mandarin, then she tries writing in Chinese characters her probably thinking to herself “Oh, then surely she can read Chinese?”

Nope. Tracie can't, at least not that much. I show her my leg, and she goes looking for a piece of paper. She has two boxes, picture xerox copy paper box-tops turned up-end one at the end of the counter we stand at and one at another. These boxes are filled with post-its with pre-printed Chinese characters on them. I'm guessing this is their way of triaging patients, they hand them a post-it with the right department or what not and off they are shuttled.

We figure out that she's probably directing us to somewhere and she points upstairs. We figure out that she is saying second floor in Mandarin, so we go up there and head to a desk that again has English “Information Center” emblazoned underneath the Chinese part of the sign. Tracie walks with me and we try and figure out what is next, where do we go. We show the nurse/attendant the slip we were handed and then she looks directly at Tracie and rattles off in Mandarin. Finally, she grabs this card out of a guys hand who is standing at the counter forcefully pushing his way past us and gets it across, through repitition of the same Mandarin words and the way she holds the card that “oh shit, we need one of those…she's asking us if we have one of those…”. We motion that we don't and she sends us back to the first floor, where we guess we can get one somehow.

We go up to every machine that looks like it could dispense a card of that type. All in Chinese, none anything more than an ATM of some kind, that may or may not be tied to this card thingy she showed us. Tracie suggests I go up to the other information counter by myself, I can see in her eyes she's exasperated with everyone speaking directly to her when I'm the patient and not being able to help herself much due to her and my own limited Mandarin.

So, I head over to the information desk on the second floor that we were at earlier, where I show the woman the phrase that says I need a doctor. I didn't even want to try and screw it up, we had already been there about 30 minutes by this point and wouldn't you know it, she speaks a bit of English to me. She actually knows enough to sort of get across ideas to me. She says, “Do you have card?” I say no. She gets across that I can get one downstairs, but I give her the deer in headlights look and say “Where?”

Finally, it dawns on someone, that hey, maybe this person is completely screwed and it is going to be just as easy to show them as to try and tell them. She says “Follow me”. So finally, I get to follow someone to where I need to go. There she is with her mask on, we ride all the way back downstairs, she takes me over to this counter, down the hall from where we ever went up to this point. It's a nondescript counter, could have been one of those counters where you sign up for a credit card if I didn't know any better. She asks me for 2 Kuai (2 RMB). With that I get the plastic card that the previous lady waved at my face. “Ah ha!”

Next, she walks me over to a window a few steps away, where we shove through the line and she explains to the attendant what I need, she takes that little post it from earlier that the woman had scrawled some Chinese on and hands it to the guy. I pay 30 RMB and get a ticket.  Then we walk back to the waiting area on the second floor and she says wait here.

We find a seat and we wait. We wait. We wait. About an hour and a half later I look at the ticket and decipher that hey it looks like an appointment time for 3:30-4pm. Right then it was about 50 minutes away. We're hungry. We debate leaving and realize its not a good idea it now being so close to when I should go in. Then we figure out what the rest of the ticket means. It has my patient number #27 and the examining room that I'll be going into #1, specifically for skin problems (yes, that glance that the attendant did earlier was that important). We watch names and numbers go by wondering if we missed mine or what the deal is when suddenly the only Romanized name comes across the screen and makes the automated announcer die a hard death pronouncing my name.

I leap up, drag Tracie with me, we walk into the cubicle, where there are three doctors, two younger and one older.  The older doctor says “Hello, what's the problem?” Which surprises me and makes me asks her to repeat. Once, we get the ball rolling a lift of the pant leg again and a little pantomiming and translating from Mandarin to English and back again, it seems the younger ones know more than the older on certain terms, she tells me it was probably an insect bite and then proceeds to prescribe me a bunch of stuff. I have no idea what, but I can tell that is what she is doing. She hands me the paper and sends me off and away again, I stop and ask them where and she says 1st floor.

We head downstairs only realizing once we get down there that “..hey that was pretty vague directions there being only signs in Chinese!…”  Learning from our earlier mistakes, I head over to a woman in pink with a face mask. She's helping someone else, but I'm not stupid anymore, I've realized these younger “nurses” speak a little English…maybe. I wait for her to finish and show her my prescription thingy. She speak to me in Mandarin. Stubbornly I speak to her in English, I avoid trying to speak Chinese at all, and it works, she tells me she'll take me over there and away we go.

I'm whisked over to the same window that I paid for my “ticket/visit/examination” earlier and I pay 74.60 RMB. Then we walk over to the windows directly across the room, numbered from 1-25+, and I have a specific window to go to based on my receipt received from the previous window. But all this information is in Chinese characters so it's nice to have a little nurse in pink to lead me over there.

She points me to the window and walks away. Her job is done. I hand the woman the receipt and she babbles to me in Mandarin and I stare blankly and she babbles some more and hands it back. I stand there dumbfounded for a bit, but stubborn I remain. I wait. I'm thinking, “ I'll bet she was telling me, ' 'you dummy it isn't ready yet, wait until I call you!' “ So I wait. Eventually, once she has the basket in hand she recruits someone else, who speaks English to ask me “Are you allergic to any medications?” “Anything?” Me-”No. Nothing.” Then she hands me 5 boxes and one bottle and a receipt back. I walk away.

Here is what I got for $106.60 RMB: One examination/consultation with a Doctor(s), One plastic card with my information attached to it and I assume my medical information now (they asked me my name and how old I was and that is it), a bunch of receipts (see photos), 120ml bottle of calamine lotion, 40/250mg Amoxicillan capsules, 12 Clarityne  tablets (note the spelling difference a.k.a. Loratidine), and a tube of topical steroidal cream. All for $17.19 US. Despite the language challenges they still got me in and out and everything I needed all in under 3 hours.

Warning. One of the photos below is graphic in gory detail.

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Taxi Drivers who subscribe to the “Die Hard” School of Driving…

Part 1 in Our “How to Navigate China with next to Zero Mandarin” Series

Seriously, first cab we get in mainland China, picture this. We’ve just rolled off a 27 hour train ride, where of the last 2 hours of the trip we spent at the previous station waiting for the train staff to deep clean the train. I mean these guys ripped the curtains off, tore out the runner carpets, removed all the bedding (except ours) and prepped our train car for what seemed like a mass cleaning or burning once we were off the train. I suggest the latter, but the former would suffice. Finally, the train rolls on to our final destination.

We get off and head with the crowds to the exits and the “taxi circle”. Now, I didn’t take a photo, but I should. Picture your average mall parking lot cul de sac. The taxis were crammed in ways you’d never imagine a car could cram into a space, and as we neared more fit in. We shoved our way passed various “taxi drivers” trying to finagle you into their cab before you got to the circle (and saw how deep they were). We pushed to the line where you “wait” for a taxi, seemingly close to the exit.

We spot a guy with a cab nearby. We get in. He stays outside. We sit their for about 30 seconds before I realize he’s trying to get more passengers. Uh uh. I get out. We get out. He says “Ok, Ok…” He gets in we show him the address that Tracie copied using her first-grade level Chinese handwriting skills and we begin to nudge our way out. About a ten minute process of honking and arm waving.

Once we hit the road the fun really begins. You know those car race or chase scenes you see in movies like “Die Hard” or “Smokey and The Bandit”. There you are laughing here and there because no way would anyone ever try or do that successfully. Oh yea, come to China.

Our cab driver ran no less than every red light he encountered. Some he would slow down for by crossing over into the oncoming traffic lane and then turn from that lane. Other times, he’d turn from the right most lane, going left?! When I say there are no rules, I mean it. But somehow, we got there safe and alive. When he passed up our street, he made an 180 in the middle of the street which raised a police car’s eyebrow enough for them to pull up with flashed lights. He yelled something out the window and pointed to us and drove away. Buford T Justice.

After several other rides between tour guides and other taxi drivers, I’ve learned you just let go. There are no rules, and somehow everyone does just fine. In fact, I haven’t seen a case of anger or road rage at anyone else’s moves. Everyone is so blasé about it, its just normal. Its China.

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Reflecting on our Thailand Sustainability trip from China…

One of the most difficult things about traveling for me, has been taking time to reflect on what we’ve seen. Especially in big cities. In the city, coming from the city,  it very easy to fall into the rhythm and pace of a big city whereby our play acts as a substitute for work. We work hard to find places to go, things to see, good places to eat. It’s not as easy as you think. I hear some of you laugh, but I challenge you to try it. You learn something about yourself and one another when you’re lucky enough to travel with the love of your life.  After all, what it comes down to, is we’re living, simply living. Sure we’re not in a production mode right now, we’re not “producing” anything for the better of humanity, but how many of us, when we are, truly are anyways.

But every place we’ve visited has left an impact on us and I think we have something important or at least interesting to share about every place, it is getting to writing about that that is the hardest thing on the road. When, there is no internet, we’re focused on traveling and when there is internet, we’re focused on planning traveling. It’s a weird thing. So, today we’ve taking a moment out from traveling, to do a bit of reflecting and relaxing. Also, taking time to actually pay attention to where we are and what’s happening here and now.

This moment, I’m thinking about Thailand and how our Sustainability Study trip in Northern Thailand and then our extended stay at Pun Pun has impacted our ideas and thoughts about what we’ll do when we return and also, how we can approach everyday a little differently, even while we travel.

Tracie spoke a little about Jo Jandai and Peggy Reents, but I’ll quickly go back over a little about them from my perspective. From the moment we met Jo in the Isaan province of Thailand, we felt a sense of peace and comfort. Jo is one of those people who exudes wisdom and calm from his pores. It is hard to explain, but his energy and sense of caring for others and the land are something some spend entire lifetimes trying to achieve. A sense of enlightenment. Filled with humility, wisdom, sense of humor and itinerant knowledge. But he’s just a man, just this farmer from Thailand, who is willing to share his experience and hope to create a more sensible world.

Peggy takes that humility and warmth and brings it down to earth and balances it with a touch of realism and well rounded jovial punches and laughs. She’s come to Thailand, fallen in love with the people and the land, and become a native Thai. What Jo lacks in style, settling for a more simplistic and
utilitarian view on life, Peggy comes balances out with a sense of style and grace. You see it in how she raises her son Thon, in the finishing touches of the buildings and systems of Pun Pun, and in her everyday dress. Yet when it comes to teaching self-reliance, she’s on par with Jo, taking no-nonsense approach and sharing her willingness to jump into the mud pits and give a hands on tutorial on earthen brick-making or how to make soap from common ingredients. Not only was our trip a tour of sustainable communities, it was also an in-depth immersion in how to become self reliant.

Over the course of ten days we visited five different farmer communities/families, all of which had one major theme intertwined: “Self Reliance”. Jo used this phrase repeatedly as did many of the farmers we visited. As Peggy and Jo explained it to us, many of the farmers that had returned to the land to farm, and do so organically, were committed to more than just a return to farming. They are very committed to showing and sharing with other Thais and communities ways to become self-reliant and become independent from the consumer driven economies that are seeming to tear the natural world apart. This is not to say that they are against all technological advancement or many aspects of modern society; rather, they have found that for all the good that a consumer-based economy produces, it is not outweighed by the free time lost. In farming, the consumer-based economy has meant a life full of debt, here in Thailand and abroad. Farmers have to buy a specific seed that the government wants one to grow, which requires a certain amount of fertilizer, which increases over time as yields decrease, the inputs into the system become greater and greater, and the debt to keep up becomes ever greater. Many farmers left the farm to pay off their debts by working hard in the city, only to return to the farm with an economic collapse in the early 90’s in Thailand. Jo, and many of the farmer’s we met were directly influenced at this time, to reflect and figure out a way to do it on their own.

For them it wasn’t about disconnecting from society – that is not self-reliance, in fact it’s the opposite. It is about connecting with your communities and sharing with them in the methods each other use, to increase yields in the fields, to sharing of water purification ideas, irrigation, water supply issues, waste management, and the list goes on. It took a gross failure of a consumer based society structure to give people the TIME to figure out better ways. Self-reliance for all of the farmers we met equals more free time, which for farmers like Jo means more time to conduct workshops, to go visit other farmers, to share ideas, to share a meal, to share a story. To live. Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? And the fact is, for most of us it sounds like just a dream, but if you really take a look at your daily needs and what makes you happy, you may find that this sounds more possible than impossible.

Take a look at some of the photos from our Sustainability Trip and our stay at Pun Pun that we’ve posted over on <a href://http://www.flickr.com/photos/emptyhighway/>flickr.com</a> that we’ve linked below. Talk to you soon, the sun is coming out in rainy cool Chengdu and it may be time to go out for a walk and enjoy the day.
Isaan, Thailand: Photos from the Province and photos from Pa Jo, an amazing farmer there…

Bahn Si Than: Jo Jandai’s village

Suan Song Fan: An Organic Farmer’s Collaborative in Isaan Province

Pun Pun, Northern Thailand (Outside Chang Mai)

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Finding Heart and Soul in the Megapolis of Hong Kong

If we’ve learned anything at all on this trip it’s that we live on this small little globe hurtling through the universe, where everyone knows one of our friends or someone in our family and everyone is willing to amaze and surprise us with their hospitality and generosity.

In one day last week we met up with two groups of people, the first were long-time friends of Tracie’s Aunt and Uncle, Chris and Anna and the others were friends of friends from NY.

King, Margaret and Maxine are friends of Anna and Chris and we met them for Dim Sum Saturday morning this past week. They took us to the best Dim Sum we had in Hong Kong at Maxim’s and we chatted for many hours. King, Margaret and their daughter are all beautiful people that shared with us so much information about local traditions and city knowledge that we didn’t hesitate when they offered to let us crash on their couch when our hotel stay was up.

We checked out of our hotel on Monday and invaded their lives for the past 5 days. They really have shared a side of Hong Kong we would have never seen and it has reiterated how important a longer stay is to really get to know the people that live in a place and the place itself. We hope you enjoy the photos below and King will forward us more soon of all of us escapades that he has taken hisself. He’s a terrific photographer to boot and we look forward to seeing them again and hosting them somewhere in the future.

The very evening we met up with the Lai’s, we met up with friends of John and Acacia our friends in NY, Alex and Tammie, who took a risk and met us at a private kitchen in Happy Valley, Hong Kong Palace Kitchen and we are all kicking ourselves for not taking photos of the food, because it was beautiful and delicious homestyle Cantonese cooking. We had a great time with both of them and Alex’s Mom and their friend Ian. It was a regular hoot. And we finished it off with a quick visit to a skyhigh bar at the Crowne Plaza Hotel Bar there in Happy Valley.
And that is just the tip of the iceberg of our visit here.

Now we’re onto mainland China, Guangzhou to start and onto Chengdu in the next couple of days for about 10 days and them back to the East in Shanghai an onto South Korea. Enjoy the pics and talk to you all “soon?”. 😉

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The Here and Now, Chang Mai, Thailand

It’s easy to fall behind in writing about our travels, we’ve seen and done so much since we hit the road a month ago, but I think it time to stop a second and talk about where we are at this moment and where we’re headed next. We’ll get back to our “in-depth” posts, that lag behind our actual travels, as we like to live in the moment and reflect when we are resting.

We arrived in Chang Mai three days ago. It is a chill town, but also a tourist driven town to a large extant. We’ve roamed the streets at day and night, and spent a fair amount of time shopping and doing normal touristy stuff. It actually was a good chance to just sort of relax, despite the town itself being overrun with tourists from all over, sometimes I feel like we see more Anglo’s from abroad than Thai folks in a given stretch of walking, we still manage to find a few hideaway spots to eat and relax, and spent a few moments making and meeting up with friends.

We met up with a woman from Katmandu, Nepal, Tina, who was a friend of a friend, Bremelin (who we’ll visit down the road in South Korea). She was lovely and delightful and shared her experiences living and working for a couple of N.G.O.’s here in Chang Mai. We hope to see her again, somewhere in the future, but she’s busy trying to find a place to move on to, or a way to stay.

Chang Mai itself, is a town of Wats (temples).  It is overrun with wats in fact. Like in much of the states with STARBUCKS, here one readily could throw a rock and hit a Wat (or a monk). But neither would be nice. In fact, if we don’t see another Wat, that might be too soon.

Tomorrow we fly out for Hong Kong. Our original plans of starting our China leg of the Voyage, were to enter by land and water through Laos and the Mekong river, alas it being dry, and all of Southern China being caught in a serious drought, we thought it wise to head East and go up the coast there instead and perhaps later swing back to Yunnan and Sichuan, provinces we were so looking forward to visit.

So, for the next few days we’ll be in Hong Kong, again readily available online at intermittent points. Now it is time to head out for an early dinner and then on to a MUY THAI match (Thai Kickboxing).
See, tourist stuff.

Some of you have been whining about providing more photos of us, so here they are, from the span we’ve been traveling in Thailand. A few of the most choice.

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You mean you’re not from around here? You don’t say…

We haven't really said much about what it feels like to travel around in lands where we're mostly illiterate and probably come across as more deaf mute than anything with all of our pointing, grunts, waving and facial movements that we use to get our ideas across. 

Singapore, was more of a slight introduction to Asia, with it's clean lines, new buildings, ordely systems and missing old people, but where is the chaos and the brash shouting and lack of concern for who was first and who's turn it is anyway? Where's that vibe of foreign that rings so true in small places in the states like NYC's Chinatown.

Oh, here it is, Welcome to Bangkok, Thailand. Sawadi Kup/Ka! This is where that familiar surliness you've been waiting for comes out from yours truly. 

Actually we got a good dose the chaotic feeling in Hong Kong, where our connection to Singapore was so close that we were shuttled through the staff security checks and through immigration just so we could make our connection, but that was even laden with tones of organization that were latent from western values. (Which I have to say, we could learn something from back in the states about their ability to do this. I mean people were actually waiting for us and had a list of the passengers that needed to rush over there. That has never happened in the states, it always equals a missed flight.) 

Savvy travelers that we are, using the “if you walk to the empty line far away technique you'll move faster” logic, we quickly saw where our cultural ideas could be stripped away. The queue we chose for immigration for our tourist visa, while short, was the longest wait, as one person belabored over each passport and traveler. Our line seemed laden with United Arab Emirates, who because of their Arabic wrap and dress, and passport origin, were drilled a barrage of unknown questions. Once they were proven non-threats, they were allowed passage. 

Once through, we walked to several information booths, finally inking out information from one of the last, where we purchased tickets to an airport express bus that carried us to the city rather quickly (about 20 minutes) for a mere 150 Baht each (about $5  US each). Getting to the hotel from the bus station was pretty much a breeze or at least the haze of traveling memories leads me to believe it was.

Once, settled into our most expensive hotel room yet, we relaxed a bit and then headed right back out into the heat to find a day market and find some food. After about a 45 minute trip across town on Bangkok's surprisingly quick and efficient train system (BTS) we found the Sunday market that held forth every item one could ever need. House furnishings, clothing, kitchen ware, food, fresh veggies, fresh meat, shoes, all the antiques and knickknacks one could ever dream of. 

We wondered around the market in a travelers haze leftover from flying in from Singapore early in the morning and the Bangkok heat and after deciding that our bargaining skills left something to be desired we settled on a hawker stand directly across from the market, where Tracie ordered sensible cold noodle dish and I mistakenly ordered a bowl of hot broth soup with noodles and pork and apparently some delightful stomach bacteria, which left me toilet bound most of the night.

From there we took a stab at exploring Bangkok with zero knowledge of bangkok and ended out by the railroad tracks, dehydrated and tired. I took some of my first photos there under and from the overpass of a roadway interchanged (show below) and from there we hopped a free bus (no one else paid, so why should we?) back to a train stop and back to out hotel.
 

After a brief nap we headed over to a night market a minute walk from our hotel, and Tracie ate a fresh mortar ground papaya salad and I got some fresh grilled prawns. All accompanied with little air-poofed baggies of spicy sauces. Sorry no-photos, we were exhausted.

After chugging the local guaranteed hangover beer, Chang, I popped some Imodium and we headed off the next day for an “8hr” bus trip to Isaan Province to a town called Yasathorn in Northeastern Thailand, where our Sustainability Study Trip began. Sure, 8 hours, after zipping over to the bus station from train and taxi, we arrived and asked for a train to Yasathorn, blank stare number one, moved onto another booth, “ahhh…Ya-So-TORN…follow man…”. We were lead to one of hundreds of windows with Bold Thai writing everywhere, no English (welcome to Asia finally), where the woman scribbled the cost down and handed us two fledgling pieces of paper with thai print all over and a time circled. We said,”…when is is leaving?” blank stare. Hand motion to watch. “NOW…GO…THERE (pointing towards the gates)”. Of course, we had just used up almost our last Thai baht, we had 40 left, about a 1.20 USD, and then commence our scramble to find an ATM. After, more hand motions, we found an ATM and scrambled to get money out of it and back to the gates in time. Let's stop right here….

Note: Fellow travelers, nothing points you out as a potential sucker more than rushing around. Hesitate at all times from looking hurried or rushed. Keep a calm air about you and things will work out.

…Yea, you'd think that would prevail from my kitchen job back home, but nope, we scrambled, and when we asked where the Yasathorn bus was…a guy motioned us over and examined our ticket…he then took our bags and loaded them onto a bus that had UBON as the final destination. I said “…YA-SO-TORN?” He said, “…yes…ya-so-torn…sit here (pointing to rows of chairs)”. And so we waited…
and waited. We watched him, for the next hour and a half, try and fill his bus to wherever. We had been swindled off the direct express bus to a long local bus, but we wouldn't figure that out until our next bus trip, that was so much smoother.

For 11 hours, once we got going, we were tormented with uncertainty and this liquid syrupy sugary thai pop music, until finally, the guy who shall forever be known as the prototypical Thai bus attendant type, motioned us to get off. We were nearly 4 hours late. It was dark and in some small town in a land where few spoke English.

We tried a phonebooth to call Jo Jondai, the farmer that was going to lead our Sustainability Study Trip. It didn't like the amount we put in…we hand motioned for someone to change our bill to some change and tried more money. No dice. We spied another booth a block away. No dice.

This booth was in front of a beauty supply store where a transgendered lady, who happened to speak a little English, let us use his cell phone to call Jo.  A little bit later after a nice chat with the lady and a young girl, who walked Tracie over to the local radio station they ran, where she introduced a song, Jo walked up and anxiety melted away. There are some people that have something about them that relaxes you and makes you feel welcome and at home. Jo Jandai is that kind of man. We shuttled off into the night in the back of a pickup he had talked into taking us out to Bahn See Than, in the province of Isaan, where his family farm was and our trip was to meet and begin.

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Landed in Singapore at 11:55pm, Straight to the Food

Jetlagged and hardly able to walk from the excruciatingly long flight. We landed in Singapore airport last night. Over a full day in the East Coast time had elapsed. On the morning of our flight, we dropped a bunch of stuff in the mail our Netflix, taxes, etc. To give you an idea of how long it took us to get here. The Netflix was received and checked in.

But, Anna and Chris, our lovely hosts here in Singapore ( Anna is Tracie’s Dad’s sister and Chris is her husband ), drove us right to Newton Circus, one of the hawker stand, this one “for ex-pats”, so while quiet, it was still really tasty. We had a malaysian style stingray cooked in a banana leaf, an oyster omelet and laksa. I got a Sour Sup fruit drink that was sour and sweet and particularly refreshing after over 24hrs of airplane food.

This morning, we got up and headed out for another delicious meal. We started our day with a Malaysian style noodle dish Mee Siam and sandwich. The Sandwich was called a Roti John and it was a soft baguette filled with an omelette with a chicken meat and cover in chilis and with cucumbers on the side. It was super tasty with the chilis. We also each had a Koppi O, or Singaporian coffee. Think triple espresso sweetened with a little condensed milk. Strong coffee, with deep tobacco flavors, with an almost toffee like finish.

Our afternoon was meandering and relaxed. Singapore, as we supected, is the perfect transition from the west to the east. Being a former British Colony has made it a very multi-ethnic city and english is spoken everywhere, while at the same time all signs are in one of many asian languages. At every corner, we heard a different dialect. Singapore is super clean and organized, we hear the very opposite of the majority of the rest of the asian cities we’ll visit soon. And food is everywhere, the variety and shear density of restaurants is exhilarating and daunting all at once. Singapore feels young and vibrant, in flavors, culture and especially in food. I wish my belly could hold so much more than it did today.

We were especially surprised and delighted by much of the new architecture. We couldn’t help but think that this is what New York should feel like. If only our cities were as creative and open to building as this city feels. We briefly explored the Singapore National Library building, which in itself was a triumph of technology and ingenuity. It had hundreds of different public gathering places, and was enormously engaging in its design. I took a few photos of the exterior and some shots inside and within a few of the public spaces shown below.

For lunch we stopped off at a little Vietnamese spot called Va Va Voom. Tracie ordered a dish that was grilled beef over morning glory shoots, with a scattering of fried shallots. My dish was Lemongrass beef with chilis over rice. It needed more chilis. I forget, they see a Gwei Lo, and figure I don’t want it very spicy. For a drink, because there are thousands of varieties of juices and drink combinations, I got a Plum Lime Soda, which was a really syrupy sweet lime simple syrup served over ice, with a sugar cured and dried plum dropped into it. Think one of those “chinese sour  plums” lots of American kids buy off ice cream trucks, or at least I did. If the lemon grass beef dish had come with more chilis it would have been perfect.

By the late afternoon, the humidity and the heat that I remember so well from my Texas home, had worn us down. Now, resting, sampling three different varieties of Thai mangoes, we are waiting to go see the new Alice in Wonderland, yea, on opening night, and here movies are by assigned seat. Wake up AMERICA. Organize. Get creative, your feel embarrassingly behind from here. 😉

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Remembering How to Take Care of Ourselves

Part of why we’ve decided to get out into the world has to do to our own bad habit of falling back into a pattern of lack of attention to detail of our own lives. I think we all do this to some extent. For me it has been an especially difficult and challenging few years. I’ve been working in one kitchen for four years, well, up until February 19th, when I served my last diner there at 9:29pm. No more Bouchon Bakery for me, but the challenges and the diversity of experiences were all well worth the torment of body and mind, I just wish I had learned how to do it all before without all that pain and misery. 

Our hope is that our place of business, our next step, we’ll think about this as far ahead as we can do it with less physical and mental struggle and more success, but more about that later. Let’s talk about fixing what we’ve let fall to the wayside. For myself, it has been physical health. While outwardly I’m fit more so than I’ve ever been in any time in my life,  and my Dr. ol’ what’s his name, since I see a different one every time I go there, said the same thing in my recent physical, I’ve been plagued with physical problems. Problems that as a cook, one learns to ignore and just work through. We do that, we kill ourselves in the kitchen for you people. It’s not just the burns, its the 17 plus hours on the feet. Four short years of that has taken quite a toll on my back and my skeletal structure. So, the last 3 weeks of work, as my health insurance was winding down, I decided I needed to do something about it. 

I woke up one morning about three weeks ago, and the pain in my neck, was so great I felt nauseous. It just so happened that Tracie was headed to see her Chiropractor, Paul Salinas, who is great in his own right,  on that day and I tried to get an appointment with him, but he didn’t take my insurance (Oxford), but his friend Brad Lipton did.

Thus began my relationship with Brad and his practice Active Spine and Joint Care. Two days after that first visit my neck was nearly fully on the road to mend. I went from pain of the Nth degree to slight soreness in three days, and Brad has shown me ways and continues to show me ways that I can simply improve my own posture and my own skeletal and muscular health. Such simple things can make our lives so much richer. 

So, trying not to be preachy, trying not to be over the top, I really recommend that we all learn from one another’s mistakes. All my cook friends out there, go to Bradley Lipton (he’s on facebook!) 212.686.4040 1 W. 34th St., Suite 1201, New York, NY 10001. His practice is called Active Spine and Joint Care http://www.activespineandjointcare.com and all you TKRG cooks out there it is covered under our plan. He is an extremely knowledgeable Dr. and not a cook and he won’t “fix” you overnight, but he’ll treat you and make you feel better and you’ll be amazed that you could solve some of those lingering issues with a few simple visits and motions. For those of you outside of New York, take care of yourselves and exercise as much as possible. The kitchen has been my gym for four years, but now it’ll have to be more than that. Brad is helping me with some exercises to stay at over the trip and I am already feeling stronger physically and more well balanced than in years.

 

 

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Getting Away From Here to Get Perspective on Here

It is more than a few times of late that it’s come across my mind that we’re going traveling to get perspective on the way we live here and beyond seeking other ways of appreciating life, we also will stumble upon how much we miss and undervalue while we’re here.

That said, I know we don’t have to leave the country, the state or even our Borough to find other avenues of getting perspective. In fact, I often find that New York and the Tri-Boros are in and of themselves a unique local, perhaps unmatched by any other city in the word for having millions of nooks and crannies where one can get exactly that perspective without leaving home. However, we are still stateside and that construct of being in a free and democratic society overlays everything, permeates everything. I suspect changes everything.

Some days, like today, we take a different path to get somewhere we’re very familiar with and we see new things and our mind starts to have ideas it has never had before. That is what I hope our travels will do, but amplifying it even more in that we don’t have that comfortable return trip or place to land. Everything is new, and when everything is new. We just seem to pay more attention.

Why is that?

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