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Travels

A Couple Photos from Chicago this Past Summer

October 16, 2016

chicago66View from the 606

 

img_6235Breakfast pasta!

Summer ended in Chicago eating spaghetti in the morning and playing at the beercade in Lakeview at night. I loved every second of it, but I was also glad to come home to the city of readily available toilet seat covers.

Goodbye summer, hello…summer? What are you still doing here?

Food Travels

I’ll Have What Phil’s Having

November 6, 2015

phil[Image credit: pbs.org]

I was on the phone with my dad the other day and he took the opportunity to let me know where he’d like us to eat next time he visits LA. He’s been watching a show called “I’ll Have What Phil’s Having,” which is a program on PBS where Phil Rosenthal travels to cool places and eats good food. As someone who never had cable, I have a real soft spot for public television and all its unadorned sincerity.

My dad described every place referred to in this episode and explained exactly why he wanted to try them (“the way they prepare their calamari!” etc., etc.) and now, naturally, I’ve tasked myself with revisiting every place I’ve been to and pre-visiting all the places I haven’t. There’s a Seinfeld bit where the joke is that we always get another appetite so it’s fine to ruin one, which is true, but each one is especially important when you’re traveling, so I need to make sure they all count when my dad gets here. Seinfeld is one of those things I associate with my dad because it’s his favorite. Food is another.

I’ve been to a few of the places visited on the show, like Langers Deli. Pastrami is one of those foods my dad loves, but my hometown doesn’t have much of a Jewish deli scene. Don’t hold me to that, though, because I’m going off observational research done at 11 years old. When you’re from San Jose, you eat pastrami from Togo’s. It’s #9, and I didn’t have to look that up to know that. My dad knows that, my 7th grade P.E. teacher knows that. That’s what pastrami is there. Wait, is this just something everybody knows? Is this not special to the beloved city of my upbringing?

Like my father, I’d travel far and wide for something memorable to eat without a second thought. Now I really want to blow off work and get a Pastrami sandwich. It’s not even 9AM yet.

Activities Anything Goes Travels

Taking Baths as an Adult

December 20, 2014

Another airport terminal, another post. I applaud myself for getting here early, but then again the seating area by my gate smells like socks. I tried exhaling three times for every one inhale, but it just makes me lose my breath and then I have to take one giant whiff of sock air just to steady my breathing again.

If you know anything about me, you know that once I get an idea in my head I have to try to see it through. That goes doubly if it’s an idea I don’t need anyone else’s help to execute. A couple of weeks ago I got the idea that I should start taking baths again. I imagined myself being more relaxed than I’ve felt in years, lost in my thoughts before coming up with some genius idea for a story–sort of the way men swear urinals are the ultimate atmosphere for inspiration. Well, the bath would be my urinal. Wait.

Then I’d emerge from the bath smelling like lavender or something surgary, the cold air sharp on my skin the way a spicy mint makes your whole mouth tingle. And I’d feel so sublimely renewed because somehow some sort of mental and physical toxicity would leave my body and spin down the drain. Then I’d pass out happy and wake up a new person.

A part of me did wonder if I was too old for a bath, but don’t adults take baths while drinking wine or something? I feel like I saw that on TV, or on Pinterest.

I nixed the idea of drinking while bathing (surprising, I know) since I had a horrible image of myself falling asleep in the tub, but I tried to do everything else right–epsom salts, a candle, some coconut oil. The epsom salts were scented since I was really determined to smell like a sprig of lavender (see pipe dream as described above) but CVS brand epsom salts just make your bathroom smell like detergent. I even tried bringing a book since reading in the tub is a thing, but I didn’t know how to sit and hold it. Sitting too upright with the book made it feel pointless since my whole torso was out of the water, but if I really lied down in the tub I would start sliding forward and the book would get wet, so that didn’t really work out, either. So I put the book down and after I kicked around the salt for a while, it finally dissolved and I eased into the whole thing. It was hot and once in a while I’d lift a limb out of the water and it would feel like my skin was inhaling something crisp and cool. I liked that part best of all. I emerged nowhere near the new woman I thought one bath might transform me into, but more of a wet happy raisin.

Well instead of toweling off and falling asleep straight away, I’m relaxed, a little sleepy, but sitting in a crowded airport about to board a plane. The guy who kicked my duffel bag twice as he walked by is now leaving voicemails and singing the name of the recipient.

Here’s hoping I can get to sleeping in a window seat!

Rambling Travels

Asian Zodiac Snake (Me) On a Plane

December 1, 2014

I’m on a plane back to Los Angeles from my hometown yet again. I say again because I had a last-minute trip home just two weeks ago and of course, this weekend was the holiday. I’m starting to feel like I could use a lesson or two in travelling efficiently, since I still employ a somewhat disgusting habit of packing dirty clothes when I fly to my parents house, doing several loads of laundry once I get home and using that as my wardrobe for the trip. What can I say? A) I’m gross and B) Save the quarters!

I fumble awkwardly through security as always despite the satisfaction I have with myself for remembering to wear slip on shoes. The Sunset News by Gate 20 doesn’t carry jalapeño Cheetos, only regular. I decide that this is a tall order and will settle for limón hot Cheetos. The Hudson News by Gate 22 carries hot Cheetos, but no limón ones. My flight leaves from Gate 18, so by now I’m walking away from my flight only to be disappointed. I decide the whole ordeal is a bust and starve.

Fine, “starve” is definitely too strong a word and only a half-truth, because I am currently enjoying airplane pretzels and ginger ale. It’s literally the first time in years I’ve been awake when the flight attendants pass out snacks. Are we allowed to ask for seconds?

My usual yet intense motion sickness is suddenly getting worse and this flight is shorter than some people use to take a shower, so I’ll have to cut this short for now and leave some Thanksgiving stories for next time. A next time that will come within a week instead of a month, I promise.

Until then!

Travels

San Simeon Adventures

August 9, 2014
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When I was a kid, my dad tried to take my sister and me to Eureka to go camping, and I couldn’t wait to get there for no other reason than to be able to scream “EUREKA! I’ve found it!” most un-ironically. For whatever reason, it was getting late into the day and we realized it would be much too long before we got there and camped somewhere else–I don’t remember where, only that there was a peaceful lake around there and I had outrageously bright fruit-patterned clothes from K-Mart that summer.

I guess some things never change because I was supposed to meet people at a campsite in San Simeon last Friday but didn’t make it anywhere near the time we projected. We had a roomy Highlander lined up for the trip that decided to take a long weekend at the repair shop and on top of that, another trip-mate got into a car accident (the humans are safe, the car–RIP). So my precious and often underestimated Corolla had to step up to the plate to take three of us there. We didn’t hit the road until late Friday night and I gulped down an entire monster to hold me over, but my caffeine tolerance is so high these days that I might as well have been drinking chamomile. It was 2:30AM in the middle of the night when we hit San Luis Obispo and I was too tired to keep going. I parked, tied a sweater around my face to block out the street lamps, and three of us slept sitting right side up on a residential street for the rest of the night.

We met the rest of the group in the morning and rest was as smooth sailing as 21st century life without running water can get, if you ask me. I napped on a warm beach, watched other people have close calls while chopping firewood with axes, and served as a good little sous chef to friends who served up the most amazing meal of grilled vegetables, lamb chops with rosemary, baja shrimp, and three types of salad. I don’t even eat this well in LA. It reminded me of when I was reading Heidi when she came back to her grandfather from living in the city and he nursed her back to health with goat milk and cheese…or was it goat cheese and milk? Well, it sounded terrific, especially since she had those warm bread rolls from her foster family in the city. OK, now I’m sure I’ve completely messed up the plot.

I think LA has a gourmet cuppa culture that would deem instant coffee sacrilege, and while I admit I often contribute heavily to that pretentiousness, sometimes I just couldn’t care less if my caffeine was poured over some science lab setup. Drinking a cup of steaming coffee while tending to a grill of crisping bacon has to be the greatest breakfast there is, and maybe I can afford to step away from my typical combination of kale-chia-almond-goji-cacao-oat whatever just to keep things a little simpler. My cast iron pan got a lot of use on the trip and someone told me I’ll have to re-season the pan with bacon.

Best news I’ve heard all week.

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Only kosher meat here at our prep station

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Cooked over the campfire

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Bedazzled bows in Morro Bay

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The boys decided they needed to check out the infamous fountain bathroom at Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo

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I obviously didn’t see the bathroom myself, but I did see this gumball machine inside a cave.

Anything Goes Travels

4th of July With the Parental Unit

July 10, 2014
home_yard_070414

I was listening to “Skin and Bone” by Heartless Bastards as the bus I was on rolled into my hometown, which has to be as on-the-nose as a homecoming can get. Every time I visit my parents back home now, I get super nostalgic about this place that I spent years wanting to move away from. 

It’s been a while since I’ve been in my hometown on the 4th of July. We used to go downtown to watch the fireworks. It was always too crowded to go right to where the show was, so we’d be a few blocks away, on some side street in a random neighborhood watching the show from my dad’s truck bed. You have to go downtown to see the good ones because that’s where the legal ones are, and as one man reminded us as he handed us 10% off of Chinese food: “Come to the free show–your tax dollars paid for that.” But now we just sit in the backyard and see what we catch, which ends up being a more spread out smattering of fireworks and a million more stars than LA skies ever reveal.

My mom constantly quotes the scene from “Pretty Woman” where the newly made-over Julia Roberts walks into the store on Rodeo Drive and tells the snobby saleslady who wouldn’t wait on her before: “Big mistake. Big. Huge.” Except my mom doesn’t wait until anyone’s made any drastic mistakes, she just uses it in every situation remotely related, i.e. if we’re driving somewhere and someone makes a wrong turn. I think the only time she didn’t say it the entire weekend was when we went to lunch and the waiter literally made a huge mistake and got everybody’s orders completely wrong.

My parents have remodeled almost every room since I moved out so the house I grew up in sort of exists only in memory. But the place is nice as hell now and I feel like I’m in a very suburban resort whenever I visit. There’s a little corner in the backyard with these grapevines next to an old bench, and my mom always tells me I could move home and write a novel on that bench (“like Steinbeck!” she says). It’s damn hard to resist when my mother is so nice and encouraging about me writing. Plus, a Nothing Bundt Cakes has opened up less than a mile from their house. I don’t know how to break it to her that I’m not even writing a novel.

I’m back in LA now, and when I went through security, I heard a TSA employee tell another to “pat down her hair,” and so the guy just reached out and pet my hair for a bit. I don’t know what about my hair looked suspicious, but I secretly enjoyed it. It was like they were saying “Good job. The way you put those shoes in that tub–you did good, Nhi Hong.”

Travels

Eurotrip Part 3: Paris

April 23, 2014
Euro Trip 2014 - 388

I’m sure this is because I’ve never been on a cruise, but the idea of a retail store being able to fit on a ship just baffles me. What also baffles me is what this says about the limits of my imagination.

I boarded a bus in London to go to Paris at 9PM and took two dramamine to force myself to sleep (you’ve never seen an adult fit so comfortably across two seats of a bus, by the way, but now I’m just bragging). Nobody announced over an intercom that we were leaving, or where we were going, the bus just took off. Several hours into the ride and well into the night, the bus driver woke me up and it was just me and my sister on the bus and told us we had to get off. I asked him why but he kept pointing to the exit and speaking in French, using none of the seven French words I know. I was quite foggy from the double dose of medicine so I kind of wandered off, panicking because I didn’t see anyone from the bus in sight. My sister said she thought we were on a ferry, but my internal monologue was like “um, you mean bus,” and I ignored her and walked up the flight of stairs behind the bus. I saw this lady and told her I didn’t speak French and had no idea where I was.

“You’re on a ship. There’s a bar right there. The stores will open in five minutes. Breakfast is upstairs. The bar is right there.”

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Part of the bar

I was pretty excited to indulge purely for the novelty of a full bar, hot breakfast, and shopping at 2AM, but instead of doing any of that the dramamine decided it wasn’t done with me and I fell asleep on a table.

This confusion could’ve been completely avoided had I bothered to look at a map beforehand.

Anyhow, Paris was beautiful, but not in that quiet, romantic way that I thought it would be. I didn’t expect it to be so metropolitan, but if writing about my trip has taught me anything it’s that I’m naive enough to always be surprised but not ignorant enough to experience culture shock…yet.

One more very important note about Paris is that the croissants have real butter and when you walk down a cobbled street on a warm day eating something that’s mostly made out of butter, life is pretty sweet for 45 seconds or so. I think that’s how long it takes me to eat a croissant.

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I saw this at every market in Paris. What is this?!

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Someone please tell me this reminds you of Arrested Development too.

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View from the Eiffel tower, which I thought would be this awfully touristy experience, but seeing the orange sun over the gray city was actually wonderful.

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Inside the Louvre. At first it seems bizarre but intriguing that this man is recreating this painting in real time, but he’s NOT. He’s just dusting this dry brush across the replica for hours and hours and the idea turns from compelling to possibly insane.

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This is what it’s like for people to look at the Mona Lisa in 2014.

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Weirdly enough some of the most fun my sister and I had was at this soap store. I snorted that soap ’til my eyes watered and bought some for everyone.

That’s all for my European travels, but I can’t end the post without mentioning that I am truly indebted to my sister for being my travel companion and sharing her travel knowledge with me throughout the whole time. I can’t wait to go back one day but until then, I’ll just be that annoying friend who always talks about her time abroad and sporadically says things in foreign languages. Cheers!

Travels

Eurotrip Part 2: London

April 13, 2014
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I wonder what makes a person decide where they want to travel to. I, for one, never feel like I have a “good enough” reason when I have my heart set on going somewhere. A stock image of a city’s most famous architecture? How much I enjoy the Americanized counterparts of a country’s cuisine? Maybe your reasons don’t matter as long as you have the $$$ to get there.

Admittedly, I have always wanted to visit England for no other reason than that it simply seemed cool. That’s it! No cinematographically-epic movie, no classic English novel, just some foggy (ha!) idea that it would be wonderful.

And it was.

My sister and I flew from Copenhagen to London early in the morning after what was for me a night of endless tossing and turning. When I went through customs, I told the man I was just hanging out in Europe and he told me my plans sounded “a bit vague” for three days, so I had to backtrack and say that of course I had specific plans to see the glory that is Big Ben. Thank goodness for my sister who I’d half-listened to when she mentioned a few things London was famous for, or I would’ve probably told him I was there for the Indian food.

The hostel we stayed at was surely a maid’s quarters at one point, or so my sister says. You had to go down to the basement and through these narrow hallways lined with mirrors (creepy. so creepy) to get to the bedrooms.

The city itself was much less eerie. Actually, it was really beautiful. We stayed right by Hyde Park which was incredibly serene and picturesque, and just a short walk in any direction took us to the more metropolitan areas of the city. The first night we walked everywhere from Piccadilly circus to Covent Garden and there were so many little streets in between that I felt like I would never reach the end of anywhere. That’s what I like–feeling like there’s always more around the corner.

 

Euro Trip 2014 - 179Our first proper English meal. Not the most delicious but maybe if the steak inside the pie had been more tender…

 
Euro Trip 2014 - 187One thing I wished was that I’d had tea more than just once. We had a fruity tea so it wasn’t one of the flavors that went with milk which I wanted to try in my tea…though now that I think about it, I’ve had milk tea at boba shops plenty of times here in the states. Huh. Is it similar? (And how ’bout this stream of consciousness blogging, huh?)

 

Euro Trip 2014 - 170Carnaby street

 

  Euro Trip 2014 - 194Funny fellow at Covent Garden

 

Euro Trip 2014 - 203Piccadilly circus, which I guess isn’t the kind of circus I thought it was.

 

Euro Trip 2014 - 208One of my FAVORITE sightings of the whole trip was this blue rooster. How cool you are! This was right in front of the London Museum of Art, another great spontaneous decision. I know it’s all about the Louvre in Paris, but I personally loved this museum much more.

 

 Euro Trip 2014 - 247Scotch eggs–soft boiled eggs with sausage and breadcrumbs around it. Couldn’t get enough.

 

Euro Trip 2014 - 272Pork belly confit with black pudding. Black pudding is a British blood sausage, and as a Vietnamese person I know all about eating blood sausage. Oh, and this meal took place in front of a fireplace and next to a typewriter. When I’m alone in my apartment, I eat dinner over the gas stove while reading a book, but it’s not quite the same.

 

Euro Trip 2014 - 276Sticky toffee pudding! My favorite rendition of the dessert is still here in Los Angeles, but it was great to try the real deal. Twice.

 

My sister and I brought back a lot of candy from London, so excessive sugar intake has been this masochistic joy in my life for the last couple of weeks. There’s this candy bar called Crunchie that’s honeycomb in the center and chocolate on the outside and though I’m fresh out, I may have discovered that it’s available on Amazon and that there’s a recipe for crunchie ice cream.

I might. I just might.

Travels

Eurotrip Part 1: Copenhagen

April 7, 2014
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There’s a saying the Danish have.

Unfortunately, I don’t know it because three days in Copenhagen apparently wasn’t enough for me to learn so much as a phrase. It has something to do with the lack of anything annoying, though, and that is a philosophy I can get behind. Flying from LAX to CPH was an 11-hour flight, which is the longest I’ve ever been on a plane and the farthest I’ve ever traveled. I’d never been overseas before but I’ve heard enough about friends being bit by the travel bug (metaphorical and actual diseases during travels) to be interested. Thanks to the Danish bakery close to my apartment that is a place of magic, I pretty much assumed that the entire city of Copenhagen would be equally mind blowing. Before I left, my friend told me that Copenhagen has a flavor of Fanta (the drink) called exotic, which isn’t here in the states. It kind of became this thing where any time I’d see a supermarket or 7-11, I had to check if they had it, which actually every store did because it’s very common there. I wanted to bring back some Fanta exotic for him but in fear that they wouldn’t sell it past security at the airport, I brought one giant bottle and asked if I could check it in to be sent with the other luggage. The employee (let’s call her sassy airport lady even though this is the first and last time she’ll appear in this story) brushed me off with a stern: “For fifty dollars. Throw it away. It’s not worth it.” I proceeded to sit down on a bench ten feet a way from her and decided to drink all the fanta in front of her in spite, but the only spite was for the hype because that stuff is GROSS. If that wasn’t enough, it was readily available at the 7-11 by the gates. Gift fulfillment always seems to get the best of me. 

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A heart-shaped apple slice in my drink, AKA reason enough for this restaurant to charge me an arm and a leg for everything.

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Nhi-sized transportation?

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The bike culture here is amazing! I miss biking, but maybe not enough to try my hand at it here in LA.

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Smørrebrød, or a dark brown bread topped with fish. This came from a tiny deli and I was hoping it’d be one of those delicious mom and pop hole-in-the-wall type places, but alas, it was only alright.

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Flowers from a marketplace (Torvehallerne)

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So how do the Danish feel about sandwiches with the bread on top? Would that be too much for them? Is top bread unacceptable?

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This does taste like your standard American fare, except that they offer remoulade and fried onions and the bun feels a little more substantial. Considering that the food in Copenhagen is generally pretty expensive, we had a lot of hot dogs from street vendors. But these were awesome, especially inside a layer of bacon.

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Danish Porridge that was delicious! I am now interested in making grains creamy, so let me know if you’ll join me on this journey.

Euro Trip 2014 - 156Can we just take a moment to look closely at this mannequin? Au naturale at it’s most au-y naturale-y. Maybe before cavemen chiseled rocks down to razors.

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Copenhagen has a unique mannequin culture, and what I can’t believe about that statement is that any place would have a mannequin culture at all.

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The main room of the hostel

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This is the auditorium (it looks like a Barn from the outside) from my favorite area, Christiana–a self-governed neighborhood near the edge of the city. For lack of a better description, it has the hippie feel of Berkeley or Haight Street in SF but rural, not urban. And some of it reminds me a little of the look of Beasts of the Southern Wild, if you’ve seen that.