Saturday, June 15, 2013

10 airports, six cities, and an infinite number of fish tacos

Greetings, dear readers--or at least the few that have stuck around through the last few weeks of radio silence. Mrs. Blog and I were on our annual sojourn to the United States of Awesome, a land where portions huge and old friends plentiful.

This is our second trip back to the U.S. since landing in Hong Kong. The first was just a few months after we moved here; we were still settling into the 852 and had not really acclimated or explored the city, let alone experienced all four seasons and the multitude of festivals that crop up throughout the year.

That first trip was pegged to my grandmother's 100th birthday, but beyond that it was a chance to relate the move and our first impressions of Hong Kong to our friends and family firsthand.

This time was a little different. Hong Kong is an incredibly dense place. Space is at a premium; everything is designed to be efficient, if not aesthetically pleasing. Housing is stacked on top of stores, and those buildings are stacked on top of a ruthlessly well-run public transit system. Sidewalks are crowded. Subways are crowded. The harbor is crowded. Even the parks--more remote and larger than you might think--can be crowded.

So when I landed in Chicago (not a small place), it was a little jarring. Where were all the people? Why did all these buildings only have one or two stories?

The city of broad but very spread out shoulders.

It was also shockingly cold. As Mrs. Blog, who served as the advance scouting on this journey, told me: "it's colder than you expect." And yet even with that expectation, I was surprised. And jacketless. But thanks to lots of warm times with good friends, I survived... and even grilled outdoors.

The "wow, things are really spread out!" nature of the trip faded after a week or so. Other things did not. I know America gets rung up all the time for having high rates of obesity and cities get mocked for instituting regulations on restaurant meals and Slurpees, but WOW are the portion sizes big in the U.S. On more than one occasion, I found myself uncomfortably full, or eating more than I wanted just because it was there.

Quick political aside: yes, I do believe in personal responsibility and that people should have the right to be unhealthy--including smoke, drink and overeat--but it seems to me that when there is a collective downside to this kind of individual behavior, we need to consider doing something about it. There is a lot of unfounded complaining about illegal immigration's drag on the economy (it is actually a net positive), but the shared costs of obesity, heart disease and so on should really spur the same kind of outrage. OK, I'll get off my nonexistent soapbox. Back to the travelogue.

Now. Let me be clear about something: the food in the U.S. is outstanding. So many good restaurants in Chicago alone. And indeed, Mrs. Blog and I were craving what I think every American expat craves: Mexican food. Great Mexican food just does exist outside North America. So it is a major part of the agenda whenever we return home. In fact, of all the cities on our itinerary--Chicago, Kansas City, Anaheim, San Diego, Seattle, Sequim, Wash.--K.C. was the only one in which we didn't at least have chips and guacamole. Getting outstanding Mexican food was in fact so engrossing that I didn't even bother to take pictures of any of it.

So you'll just have to take my word for it that I had tacos and a torta just outside the U.S. Navy Fighter Weapons School in Miramar, Calif. You might know it better as Top Gun.

Things I do have pictures of: A trip to Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, where Mrs. Blog got her first taste of Royals baseball, i.e., a heartbreaking loss.

It looks way better than the last time I was there, but the result was the same.

The hills of Anaheim:

The mountains in the distance never come out as well as I want them to.

The beaches of San Diego:

... which I never actually set foot on, sadly. Hey, I was wearing nice shoes.

The amphibious assault ships of Bremerton, Wash.:

A terrible picture of a nifty vessel.

And of course the sandwiches of Chicago. (The backstory here is that we went to Vietnam and couldn't find a banh mi in Hanoi as good as the ones from the shop around the corner from our old place in Lincoln Square.)

How do you say "drool" in Vietnamese? (photo courtesy Mrs. Blog)

In Anaheim Hills I also got this video of our dog--now retired and living in Orange County--doing what she does best, i.e. getting excited at the prospect of chasing a tennis ball. (also shown: the Sister-In-Law of the Blog and Her Black Dog.)

So if you're keeping score here, you'll see that we hit six cities during our stay. I was in the U.S. for 17 days, not including travel time. And so even my atrophied math skills can do the grim calculation here: I was flying roughly once every three days. We got to see a lot of dear friends and family. But what we never really got to do was unpack and catch our breath. That's why when we wound up in the final leg of the trip--Sequim, where the Parents In Law of the Blog have a home in the hills--the natural surroundings were even more relaxing than they might otherwise have been.

Seriously. We drove into Olympic National Park, where the view from Hurricane Ridge is like a scene out of the Sound of Music, complete with a deer in repose:

The hills are alive with the sound of me breathing deeply.

Amazing, right? Mrs. Blog stayed there a bit longer to help her parents, but it was time for me to head back to the 'Kong.

And as it turned out, there was one more story to tell. On the flight back to the Special Administrative Region there was a long leg, Seattle to Tokyo, and a short leg from there.

On the long leg, I had quite an interesting seatmate: an apparent international taekwondo champion, author and current star of a multilevel marketing empire called Kyani. It was probably the longest and most interesting conversation I've had on a plane with a person not named Mrs. Blog. She told me about how she competed well into her 50s, how she spoke fluent Spanish (with no hint of her Georgian accent, apparently), how she was a competitive horse jumper once upon a time, and of course about the benefits of Arctic blueberry-derived health supplements. So that was cool.

And then on the short leg, serendipity:

That's right. Legroom AND champagne.

Business class. Thanks to a family friend with a long career at the airline we were using, there was a chance of an upgrade on each leg. It finally happened between Tokyo and Hong Kong. Sure, it was only a four-hour flight. But being able to put my size 15s up on a padded footrest and watch a bad movie is like gold.

Now I'm back in Hong Kong. The city remains much as it did before I left, except rainier: it's monsoon/typhoon season. My desk has an extra monitor now, giving it the "command center" look:

Yes, the larger monitor is sitting on a book. It's a metaphor.

So after nine flights*, I'm right back where I started. Now all that's left is to meet up with friends here and tell them all about how great the fish tacos are in America... and how many of them there were.

*Yes, nine flights but 10 airports. Airports utilized on this trip: Hong Kong, Narita, Detroit, O'Hare, Midway, Kansas City, Denver, Orange County, Long Beach and Seattle.


LC said...

A delightful description of reverse culture shock. I remember my first Chicago visit after a year in HK: Where are all the people? Was there an apocalypse?! Let's connect next weekend with Mrs Blog before I go on my Mexican food reunion tour.

LC said...

A delightful description of reverse culture shock. I remember my first time back to Chicago: Where are all the people? Was there an apocalypse? Let's connect next weekend with Mrs Blog before my Mexican food tour begins.