Mainland Goodness

bowl of berries.jpg

Living overseas can be really cool. I see all kinds of new and different things, and that’s always neat. How many people get to go to a Buddha’s Birthday parade in Seoul or swim with a sea turtle? I know that I am lucky.

On the other hand, there are a lot of things that you just can’t get in other places in the world.

Fun Fact: Did you know that cocktails were invented in the United States? Some claim it was in New Orleans, and some claim that it was in New York, but no one disputes that they are a uniquely American invention.

This means that it is also pretty uniquely American to find a wide variety of alcohol and things to mix with it. (For non-US friends, I am talking about things you mix with alcohol like bitters, grenadine, and vermouth.) So, it is cool to see things like that on the shelves.

Then there are produce options!

In South Korea there is a poisonous berry that grows wild. It looks a lot like a raspberry. As a result, they do not think raspberries are food and do not import or grow them. This is a shame, as they are my very favorite fruit.

In Guam we mostly don’t have fresh fruits and vegetables. Everything has to go through costumes in Hawaii (as per US law,) so by the time it gets here it is rotten. And unlike Hawaii, we are not a volcanic island where it is easy to grow things. We are a coral island, which means that the soil is harsh and infertile.

So it’s apples and oranges, and broccoli. That’s what can make it here, so that is what we eat.

don julio on sale

I also miss things that are hard to explain. For example, we do have Chinese food here. However, we are very close to China and so we have Chinese Chinese food here. As it turns out, I don’t really like Chinese Chinese food. I like American Chinese food.

Fun Fact: Fortune cookies are American.

Another thing I really miss is good tortilla soup and carnitas. The people of Guam have some Spanish influence in their culture, but it’s just not the same.

I went all through High School and College in Arizona, and every now and then I am just dying to have some really good Mexican Food.

Thankfully, I can get good Korean and Thai food on Guam, so at least there is that.

tortilla soup.jpg

I guess the hardest part for me living overseas is shoes. Even in the US, I have absolutely broken down crying while looking for shoes.

See, I wear a size 12 in women’s. Yes, that’s right, a size 12.

Don’t bother leaving all the jokes in the comments. I have heard every single one. Yes, if I am in a hurricane I won’t blow over. I don’t need skis to go skiing. I am probably related to big foot. Ha. Ha. Ha.

All I really want to cute shoes like girls wear on TV. I want sexy pumps and cute boots and adorable sandals.

However, no one makes those things in size 12.

In Asia I can’t buy shoes at all. These just aren’t any. I tried ordering online, but so many places have sizes that “run small” and they don’t tell you. I ordered a pair from Chinese Laundry because I was so excited to see a size 12 on their site. I don’t know whose idea of a size 12 it was, but I could have cut off all my toes and still not fit my foot into it. So, I have to buy shoes in person.

I was excited to do this while stateside.

I went all the places that folks had suggested to me, like Nordstrom’s Rack and DSW. And I have to tell you: I have nothing nice to say about those places or the people who work there. Same for Target, Walmart, Journeys, and every other shoe store besides Payless.

Not only is Payless literally the only store in the United States that still carries shoes in my size, but the lady there was nice. I have no idea why shoe salesmen in other stores have to be nasty, act shocked, or ask if I am transsexual (I am not.) However, there are some mean and really rotten shoe salespeople, and I think I talked to all of them.

So at long last, I got two new pairs of shoes. With one more year in Guam, and likely another Asian posting in our future, I sure hope these two pairs last me a long time.

Anyway, I think a lot of times people look at my blog and they think that it’s really glamorous living overseas. And yeah, sometimes it has its moments. But I do live a life without raspberries and shoes, so maybe keep that in mind before you think my life is “perfect.”

Shoes that do not come in my size, sold by a very nasty person who thinks women with size 12 feet are subhuman. Thanks DSW.

Thoughts on Seaside

Hug Point

One of the places that I went while I was on my stateside trip was Seaside, Oregon.

This is a town that is hard for me to explain, because it strikes right at the heart of middle-class American life in a way that makes me nostalgic and a bit sad.

My biological family (who abandoned me, as you all know) used to go to Rio De Mar in California each summer for a family reunion. So, the adopted family also having a beach reunion can -in and of itself- cut a little deep.

However, there is more too it than that.

Seaside is a town full of what I can only call classic American kitsch and, it can make anyone Generic American feel nostalgic. I fear that bit might need explaining…

Seaside

I hate to talk about race/culture differences because people always attack people who bring it up (like if you ignore it, it might go away.) But if I want to be honest about the Seaside experience I have no choice but to mention it.

See, as a kid I went to a summer camp at Sierra College. My two best friends there were a Chinese girl who went by “Christine” (so white people could say her name) and a black girl named Michele.

I used to sit and eat lunch with them every day, and we talked about our lives and our toys, and things we did with our parents.

Their stories were different than mine.

Christine went to CLC (a kind of Chinese school,) watched her mom pay Mahjong, and helped out at the family business. They went on summer trips to visit family in China, too. Christine always brought food that I liked, so we traded lunches. She was excited to eat my peanut butter and jelly, and I liked to eat her cold noodles and rice crackers.

As for Michele, she usually had a bought lunch because her mom didn’t have time to pack her one. Her family came from Somolia and she didn’t talk much because English wasn’t her first language, but she did tell us bits about being Muslim and attending an Eid festival.

I want to stress that their experiences were no less American than mine. But they are not Generic American. They are uniquely American. (Which is maybe cooler since diversity is kind of our thing as a country.)

There are differences in race/culture in this country, and there is no point in denying that some of us had experiences that others didn’t.

The point is: Seaside is nostalgic for people raised in the Generic American culture of the 80’s and 90’s. Christine would not find Seaside nostalgic because her childhood cultural experience is not represented there. But, mine is.

Also, a disclaimer: When I say race/culture it is because it is not one or the other that determines experience. I know white people from Poland who were raised Polish rather than Generic American. I also know people of Chinese or Mexican decent who had the same Generic American experience as me with crystal-growing kits and light brights and the whole thing. So when I say Generic American, it is exactly that. It is the experience that Americans have when they are not raised with extras, and only get the generic culture laying around.

I hope that makes sense, because I think it helps explain Seaside.

Seaside Aquarium

Seaside is a small town with restaurants, an aquarium, shops, and boardwalk attractions like bumper cars and mini golf. It really can’t be described as anything other than Classic American Kitsch.

I saw a Simon game in a store and remembered the hours I used to spend playing with one of those. I saw a tie dye kit and remembered the adults bringing us one when I was a kid to keep us busy while they sunbathed (and yes, of course we all ended up covered in dyes of various colors, as you do.) I saw bottles to put sand in, bags of shells for sale, and every other generic thing you ever had or saw as a kid.

I guess some of it is classically west coast. I mean, I hear that the shells and beaches are different on the east coast. I have never been to an east coast beach, so I really couldn’t say. But my husband is from Massachusetts and he says its different over there.

me in birthday hat

Seaside has a hat store full of silly hats that everyone goes in and tries on because the photos are amazing. There are squid hats and pizza hats. There are huge hats that look like Jacky-O would have worn them, and silly hats for festivals or Halloween.

There is also a carousel, because on the west coast I feel like every beach town is required to have one. The fee was $2, which I considered a bit steep, but what can you do? It might be things I remember from the 80’s, but the prices have inflated (as, I guess, is to be expected.)

And of course, there are store full of junk. I don’t know what else to call it. It’s just stuff.  I know lots of people like stuff and work their whole lives to acquire it. But, as someone who moves all the time, stuff is just dead weight to me. I guess that means I don’t appreciate it properly. Sorry. But you might appreciate it, so I took lots of pictures.

silly things for sale

We have been stationed in Guam for three years now. Before that I was in South Korea for three years. The plants are strikingly different in those places, and so there is something about walking down the streets in Seaside and seeing pots full of succulent cactus. There were also lots of lavender and hollyhocks, and post of petunias and violets.

As you know if you know me at all, I really love plants. I notice them more than I think most people do, and they are a huge part of what I feel to be the soul of a place.

Anyway, Seaside plants are of the same sort that you find in Northern California (Where I was born and spent the first 12 years of my life.) So, it feels a lot like home. I even saw California poppies in front of the little museum the town has.

hands in the air

The air is amazing too.

I post of lot of pictures of Guam. When you look at one, you can see what Guam is like, but you cannot feel what Guam is like. Each picture of a beach in Guam should come with the oppressive heat and sun that only the equator can provide, and mosquitoes buzzing in your ear the way that they always are in Guam. That’s the full experience, you know?

By the same token, pictures of Seaside don’t really cover what it is like. You are missing the biting cold wind that makes you snuggle into your hoodie, and the clean smell of the air that makes you feel happy and alive.

Another thing that I found striking was to remember the sound of the waves. In Guam, the waves break out of the reef, far away from the beach. But in Seaside, the waves come right up to the shore and you can hear them breaking. It’s a lovely sound.

cute little shops

My adopted mom loves the salt water taffy. I think that was a big part of the west coast experience when she was young, about 50 years ago. She talks fondly of seeing it made in store windows and such. I tried it and it is rough on the teeth. (I have a lot of fillings.) However, I don’t hate it.

There are also a variety of other restaurants. When my friends drove down from Seattle to see us, we even found one on the main street that allows dogs (since they brought their new puppy.)

There are quite a few places to get elephant ears, cotton candy, and hot dogs. I guess that is pretty standard boardwalk food, although Seaside doesn’t have a boardwalk. I guess to sum it up, if you were feeling like an old-fashioned root beer in a glass bottle and something on a stick, you would be able to find it in Seaside.

flower by the beach

There are also a lot of places that are only a short drive away. Canon Beach, for example, is just up the road and full of all kinds of lovely art galleries and bakeries. It’s a nice place to spend a day.

There is also Astoria, just up the coast. It’s the town where they filmed a movie called Goonies, and also another cute little ocean-side town full of kites for sale and beach blankets.

We went to Hug Point this year, and the beach there is charming. I also loved the tide pools, full of sea anemones and star fish. There is even an old section of highways down on the beach, which is completely covered in barnacles and muscles.

So, if you get a beach house in Seaside and then want to take short adventures, there is no shortage of nearby places to go and see.

 

 

bumper cars

I guess my strong emotional reaction to Seaside is rooted in growing up on the west coast in a very generic american household of middle class people. It is exactly the kind of place that people like I grew up with go on vacation, and it is really intense that my adopted family should hold their reunion there.

It is no accident that I was re-reading the Harry Potter series on this trip.

The family reminds me of the Weasleys. They are not rich or fancy, but they love each other deeply. And they adopted Harry because he was alone in the world and they felt that everyone deserves a loving family. That is, as far as I can tell, the same reason that the Layman family adopted me.

It’s not exactly the same as having a biological family. Nothing is. But when you don’t have a biological family, the next best thing is to have loving people adopt you. I am very lucky to have been adopted by the family, and I am very lucky that they let me come to their reunions.

 

 

tie dye kit and such

If any of you are also west coast kids, then I hope you can appreciate why Seaside is such a charming place.
And just because it is so different from my beach (or at least, the beach I live on), here is the ocean at Hug Point:

Travel Series: Food and Drink

217624_10150215741635979_2034753_n

I have met people on every part of the spectrum when it comes to food. I once dated a guy who walked around ordering street food by pointing at it, and then ate whatever it was. He never knew what he was eating!

In the time I knew him, I saw him eat reformed fish paste in the shape of a trout, silk worm larva (still in the cocoons!), unknown meat on a stick, and several questionable soups. He always said that he had to try things to know if he liked them or not, and that they “Wouldn’t be selling it as food if it would kill you.”

I have to admit, it was a fair point.

pad-thai

On the other side of the spectrum, I met up with some friends in Bangkok who completely refused to eat street food. They pointed out that it was often cooked with used oil from restaurants, that there was no concern for sanitation, and that they read online about people getting sick from street food.

I humored them and paid the exorbitant prices in a restaurant that night, because there was no room for argument.

When it comes to food of any kind, I personally am not terribly concerned. I ate street Pad Thai in Thailand and lived to tell the tale. I never got sick or even felt bad. However, I did draw the line at scorpion on a stick. I am all for trying new things, but I don’t like the crunchy exoskeletons on bugs. I already had deep-fried grasshopper, and I knew it was going to be similar so I skipped it.

hotsprings 049

I think what I am trying to say is:

Do whatever the hell makes you happy.

I mean, bring along a travel size Pepto Bismo and an Immodium tablet if you are on vacation no matter what, because you don’t want tummy problems to spoil a vacation.

Just don’t let other dictate what you eat (or what you decide to do!) because you may only visit a place once, and you don’t want to regret the things that you didn’t try because someone warned you off of them.

If you want to eat everything you see, then you should. If you want to stick to five star restaurants, then you should. It’s up to you what choices you make about what you eat.

dog-place 023

Now, I admit, I ate dog in Korea because I was curious. It didn’t taste at all good, but I tried it.

I have actually eaten all kinds of weird food, from rattle snake to durian fruit.

In my opinion, I would suggest that you try as much as you can. There are all those cliché sayings like “You only regret the chances you don’t take” and such, and they are right. The brain has a way of justifying things you do once they are done, but always wondering about things that you chose not to do.

So what the hell? Eat the mystery pancake or the weird fruit. It might turn out to be your new favorite food.

20130312_072939

As for my friends who would only eat in restaurants, I think I should share a few things with you about that. I have worked in a lot of restaurants. I bused tables, was a short-order cook, waited tables, and was a bar tender. In all those years, I learned that it’s a very good thing that the customer can’t see behind the walls.

Yes, some countries have food codes. If you don’t know, a food code is rules made by rich people who are afraid that “the help” might spit in their soup.

In spite of laws that may or may not be in place in various countries, it’s important to note that I worked in restaurants in the United States. No other country spends more on “food safety” and the enforcement of the food codes, so in theory the establishments I worked in are best there is.

And like I said, it’s a good thing you can’t see the kitchen. It’s a good thing you can’t see the prep room. It’s a good thing you aren’t watching the dishwasher or the delivery guy bringing the food.

That’s not even mentioning the farm where your vegetables were grown in fertilizer (a nice way to say poop) and had flies walk all over them. And I grew up on a farm so I can promise that the chicken you are eating was dumb enough to eat poop too.

20130312_072924

Anyhow, if you eat at a taco food stand on the beach in Rocky Point, you watch the proprietor cook your food. You also watch the flies walking on the ingredients before he throws them into the oil or onto the grill.

So yeah, you see the gross parts.

But the things is; the gross parts are always there. It’s just a matter of if you see them or not. No matter where you buy food from, a fly probably walked on it. It might have bits of cockroach in it. It could have been sneezed on. And that’s just life.

When I was little I remember seeing how hot dogs were made. After I saw, I didn’t want to eat them anymore. I was horrified that people ate chicken feet and cow liver, all mixed up in a disgusting soup of meat parts that couldn’t be used for anything else.

Even the “all beef” hotdogs that were expensive still had cartilage and organs in them. (Hey- all the parts were from a cow, and that makes them “beef.”)

lunch_was_great

Then one day at a BBQ my boss handed me a hot dog. This was in Asia, and refusing would have been really rude.

They had gotten the hot dogs specially, to make the Americans feel welcome. Not only did I have to eat it, but I had to look like I really enjoyed it and appreciated the gesture. Being polite and never refusing a gift of food is very important in Asia.

And you know what?

It was pretty good.

I mean, it was still chicken lips and cow rectum, but it was pretty good.

second week 241

I guess the moral of the story is that we are just weird creatures made of meat and we eat other weird creatures made of meat. It’s only a big deal if you think about it too much. Otherwise, you’re fine.

Be picky if you want to be picky. That’s fair.

Just remember that even in a nice restaurant, you can still get sick. And, if you turn your nose up at things, you might miss something amazing.

I keep coming back to this, but I think it’s sort of the central theme when it comes to travel, or maybe just to life in general:

You only regret the chances that you don’t take.

dinner

Food in Thailand

20130305_181330

I think my favorite part of traveling is eating. I love food!

This is larb, which is ground meat with spices. It’s eaten by scooping the meat up with the lettuce.

I have always loved Thai food, so getting to eat food all around Thailand was amazing!

20130306_183456

This is Tom Ka Gai, which is a coconut soup with chicken and spices.

When I was young, I worked at  Thai restaurant in Phoenix and I always used to have a nice, spicy bowl of Tom Ka Gai when I was sick.

It’s like my version of chicken noodle soup.

20130305_113807

This may be one of my favorite things in the world.

This dessert is made by cooking rice in coconut milk and sugar, and then topping it with mango.

In English, it is called sticky rice and mango, and it’s awesome!

20130305_142705

Most people think of Pho as Vietnamese, but in all of Southeast Asia, it is popular.

I stopped in a little stall while I was out looking at temples, and I was so impressed.

It was just noodles and chicken with some broth, but it was perfect.

20130315_180300

Of course I ate Pad Thai too!

I know Pad Thai is what most people think of when they think of Thai food, and that is because it’s amazing.

It’s just a simple noodle dish, but it’s the sauce that makes it great! Sweet and spicy at the same time.

I ate a lot of less attractive-looking Pad Thais from street vendors, and those were good too. But it was hard to get a picture while holing the paper cone they put it in, so you get a picture of the one I had at a restaurant.

20130308_192656

Meat and rice is simple, but delicious. This was at a little stand by my hotel.

I know I should be more excited to tell you about the many temples and hikes, but food is really one of my favorite things.

Vegas baby!

Vegas is still awesome, though toned down more and more every year.

I love Sin City at night




Alright, now I know that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. However, I’m not much for personal details in this blog anyway, so I think I’m safe just telling you a few places that I like, and leaving out the more depraved stuff.



My friend Shari sings karaoke on the strip




First off, everyone should see a show while they’re in Vegas. Absinthe was all the rage when I was there a few weeks ago, but there are plenty of classic Vegas shows like Jubilee that are great and probably shouldn’t be missed.



Me at margaritaville




Second, go to Margaritaville. Jimmy Buffet is an American icon and even if you’re not American, everyone should be able to appreciate a good cocktail. The cocktail is an art form that many countries have yet to truly understand, but Americans have a firm grasp on making alcohol into something epic, and that is something you should enjoy if you go to Vegas. I can think of no better place to do just that than in Margaritaville.



Me with some dancers




Now then, if you’re looking for clubs, ask a taxi driver. They usually have coupons for Scores, Spearmint Rhino, and Olympic Gardens (which I recommended). There are dance clubs all up and down the strip too, and taxi drivers can always suggest the right dance club for the type of evening you want. Don’t forget to tip everybody. I know it was a bit hard to adjust to for me, since I’d been in Asia (one does not top there) for 18 months. Still, if you wanted to be treated like a rock star in Vegas all it takes is a little extra cash.



French crape and Italian Gelato for lunch




The food in Vegas is to die for. You can get anything you want. I was homesick for Korean food after a few drinks, and by god, I found some. The multi-cultural aspect is one of the best things about Vegas, in my humble opinion. Oh, and the chocolate fountain in the Bellagio is really amazing. The restaurant there is incredible too.



Bellagio Chocolate Fountain



There is no end to the amount of things you can do in Vegas. Every casino has something cool, like the dolphins at The Mirage. The spas are some of the best in the world, too. My favorite is Qua, at Caesar’s Palace. And of course, you can even hop on a bus and take a tour around spots like the old strip on Fremont Street.



Dolphin at The Mirage



Whatever you do, look out! Vegas lives up to the name Sin City less and less every year I go. Don’t get me wrong- I love it! There’s just a lot of new stuff like non-smoking casinos. There was a time when Vegas was a place to do certain things that you couldn’t do at home. In some ways, it still is. In other ways, well, check the local laws before you visit, okay?



My friend Carl pets a stingray at Mandela Bay