Friday, August 29, 2014

Seeing Phoenix For the First Time

On my whistle stop tour of the US, Phoenix is my first stop.  My sister has been living here since the beginning of the year and, from what I can gather, really enjoying it.  It's really interesting because it's such a different environment from where I currently live - in nearly every sense of the word.

The air is very dry here.  Hong Kong is incredibly humid.  Arizona is sprawling, low, far flung and, from what I can see so far, very clean and neat.  Hong Kong is compact, crazy tall, crammed and, from a very easily discernible distance, very dirty and gross.  People drive everywhere in Arizona.  I hadn't been in a private car since… well.  The last time I was in the US.  My sister lives in a 2,700+ square foot one level ranch house with a backyard and two car garage.  Michael and I live in a barely 500 square foot fifth floor walk up apartment.  I mean, whoa, right?

So far I have really been enjoying the chance to catch up with her and also see a new city.  The desert heat really amazes me.  It hit 107 degrees yesterday and, while it was very hot and I did feel a little bit like I was baking, I would have thought it was about 90 degrees tops.

I arrived in Phoenix around 6 pm and we went straight to dinner at Windsor, a fun and hip New American joint that serves burgers, salads, sandwiches and lots of different craft beers.  The portions are big.  I got a brown bag chicken sandwich (chicken, avocado, roasted tomatoes and goat cheese on a brioche bun) with a side of kale salad.
 The restaurant has misters all around the patio outside, to keep people cool.  It is right next to an ice cream parlor, Churn.  We met up with some of my sister's friends after dinner there to indulge in some ice cream.  My sister is so much taller than me!  (Important note: not shown: a slight heel on her flats.)
 Piggies with our ice cream.

 The next morning, we went to T.C. Eggington's, a very nice brunch spot in Mesa.  The restaurant's waitstaff dress like Brownie Scouts (white polo shorts, clean pressed pleated khakis, tall socks) but everyone is so nice and friendly.  Service with a smile, America!  Good job.
 The portions are huge.  This was the English Muffin French Toast, which my sister selected.

This was my monster omelette, with artichoke hearts, feta cheese, tomatoes, fresh basil and kalamata olives.  Maybe I was really really hungry but it might have been the best omelette I've ever had.  I'm not even usually an omelette person.  But this one hit the spot perfectly and I could not stop inhaling it.  The snappy zing of the fresh basil and the very salty kalamata olives cut perfectly through the creaminess of the artichoke and feta.

My only complaint about the food was the coffee - they gave us a gigantic pitcher of it for $2.75 so I guess I shouldn't complain… but it was so weak sauce!  The coffee was so watery I chugged a cup before declaring it was a lost cause and I would need something with a bit more caffeine.  We joked that this may be the drawback of getting brunch in a place that has a high Mormon population.

After brunch, we did the first active wedding planning I have done to date - we went to a lovely boutique in Scottsdale to try on some wedding dresses.  That was pretty fun.  Some of the dresses were so over the top and heavy!  I doubt I will end up with a mermaid tail or a huge train or a heavy bustle, but I went in with an open mind and was surprised at how some things looked much better or were much prettier than I expected.  I admit the regency novel reading part of me got a slight thrill at the bone in corsets and organza and chiffon and pinafores (pinafores!) and satin and all of the beautiful pomp and circumstance of these gowns.

After that, we went to the appropriately named shopping mecca that is "Last Chance" - where items that don't sell from Nordstrom Rack end up!
 Dangerous, ladies.  Very dangerous.  Oh there really may just be a thing called retail therapy.  I emerged three pairs of shoes (all heels! I'm turning over a new leaf) and a Betsey Johnson dress richer and very happy.  It was like a time warp - my sister and I spent way too much time in there!
After shopping, the logical thing to do of course was to go stuff our faces with Mexican food.  We each got a taco platter and went to town at the restaurant's salsa bar.  Oh, yum.  I got the marlin taco and the veggie taco (sigh, should have gone with the steak or pork taco) and made it about halfway through my refried beans and rice before I thought I would explode.
We came home around 6 after that action packed day and I pretty much slinked into the bedroom and dropped into a dead sleep in a matter of seconds.  All illusions of trying to hold out and sleep at a later hour flew out of my head.

My sister had planned for us to go to the desert botanical garden and see the flowers via a flashlight tour at dusk/night, but that just was not happening.  My jet lag on this trip has been pretty vicious - maybe because my work sleep cycle had been so bad before I left!

It was probably a good thing, all in all - I really needed the rest.  And plus, we are going to hike the Grand Canyon today!  My first time seeing this very majestic sight, I cannot wait!

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Back in the U.S.of A.!

It is so nice to be home!  Even though I am sitting in the San Francisco airport for a layover as I type this and it took no more than two minutes for me to be completely and utterly fed up with the airlines and security and immigration and security of the air transport system in the United States.  Gosh.


The diversity of this country never ceases to pleasantly surprise me when I come home.  In my jet lagged half asleep state, I had a bit of a jolt while going through security - I thought, wow, there are so many Asian customs and border guards here!  And then realized, duh, there are a ton of Asian people in America, not to mention in California.  But in Hong Kong the airport personnel would have all been Asian.

I don't know how to explain it without sounding stupid, really, but I kept marveling at how many different kinds of people there were just streaming by me in the U.S. citizen and permanent residents line.  It's lovely.

In other news, I am going to be semi-facetiously obnoxious for a second.  I totally forgot that my flight from San Francisco to Phoenix (visiting the lil sis, woot woot!) is in economy class.  I booked my flight on reward miles from Hong Kong and just enjoyed a heavenly twelve hours in Cathay's premium first class cabin.  I was so bummed when I finally looked at my ticket (I have a very bad habit of not checking my flight cabin, departure time, boarding gate…).

It is such a rude awakening to plummet from the plush surroundings of first class... to a domestic U.S. Airways flight.  Eeesh.  No lounge access, no free checked bag, no easy and swift boarding… this is so rough. ;)

Some blurry pictures from my flight of some of my food (it was a very turbulent flight):

 My own bread basket!

 My blurry tuna nicoise salad!
The really salty caviar with egg and sour cream and blini.  I don't know the first thing about caviar but I liked this alright.  They served it in a very chilled clear tray.  I got a kick out of the mother of pearl spoon.
This was the entree… um, I got through about a quarter of that.  The flight attendant laughed and said that the serving sizes on the US flights are always crazy huge.  I had to agree.  Maybe my stomach has shrunk from living in Asia.

I really enjoyed breakfast.  I was surprised when they offered me my choice of egg to go with my sausage, bacon and toast.  I kind of figured this was not going to be a powdered egg or pre-cooked deal.  No joke, the stewardess had a frying pan and was cracking fresh eggs and scrambling them for me!  Amazing.

Also, I am now the proud owner of a pair of ugly purple maroon Cathay first class pajamas.  They look like clothes that a Communist peasant would have worn… but they are comfortable.  And the tag informs me they are 100% organic cotton.  (I think I would have preferred their previous Shanghai Tang silk pajamas.)  But on the plus side (remember how much I like hotel kits and amenities?) they do offer the most fabulously fun leather kit with lovely, adorable, miniature Aesop hand cream, lip balm and face toner.

Inaugural Board Meeting at The Square

As if I have not been busy enough, this summer I was inspired to run for a board position on the newly revamped board of the University of Chicago Hong Kong Alumni Club.  I ran for program co-chair, figuring that the programs and events are at the heart of any alumni organization, and that planning those events would be the most fun.

Last Friday I went to the first board meeting, held over dinner at the restaurant (creatively named The Square) in Exchange Square.  I met alums both new and old, mostly from the college.  I am the only law school alum on the board.  There is only one business school alum on the board.

I forgot how much I enjoy sitting in positions of leadership and even though I had never met these people previously I was really happy to sit down for a few hours over dinner and brainstorm ideas and talk about strategy, direction and programming.

Now if only I could get so excited about wedding planning… the thought of planning a huge party from overseas is more than enough to incite a massive case of procrastination.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Last Koh Samui Pics

Too quickly the Thailand vacation flew by and I was looking out of my airplane window out onto the tiny airport of Koh Samui:
A farewell panorama, just so I can brand this image on my brain!

Friday, August 22, 2014

The W at Koh Samui

One of the highlights of the trip was going to the W at Koh Samui to enjoy their beach barbeque / lunch.  Eating there allows you to use their beach and drinks area, which was so worth it because it was so beautiful.  One thing the W has right - impeccable design.  Their designer clearly understands how to employ the water and sand to dramatic effect. 

A stunning entrance:
 The drinks area off of their hotel lobby, where we lounged after lunch:
 Pretty stunning right?  This view elicited a few ooh's and ahh's.
This is the restaurant and beach area where we ate and relaxed before going back to the front of the hotel lobby (the "lily pond") for drinks:

Food at the Villa in Koh Samui

Continuing with my food fixation, here are some of the dishes and spreads that we enjoyed while at the villa.  We had our own chef and housekeeper to do our grocery shopping and cook our breakfast.  Lunch and dinner were extra meals that we had to pay for - but it was all about the convenience. I'm not ashamed to admit that some of the days we never or barely ventured out of the villa.

This is one of our lunches:
 These crabs were delicious.  They were steamed without any extra sauce or spices but that's kind of how I like it.  They were fresh and tender and, despite their deceptive size, quite meaty (though their legs were pretty inconsequential).
One of our dinners:
There was pomelo salad, larb salad, pad see euw, morning glory, tom yum soup, grilled vegetables, papaya salad, and a huge plate of shrimp... all at one meal!  Overall it was really nice to have so much variety of food prepared for us, however, I had two complaints. 
One, the staff was crazy with portion size.  The chef constantly cooked like she was cooking for ten or fifteen people.  At one of the dinners we finished eating and we still had enough left over for an entire lunch (with additional leftovers!) the next day.
Two, the staff cooked with a ton of sugar.  I could not stand how sweet they made everything - the morning glory, the noodle dishes, the salads... they were all really sweet.  We suspected it was because they did not know how to cook "mild", so rather than just toning down the chili they just dumped in the sugar.  Or maybe they've been taught to cook that way to appease the "pharang" appetite.  Either way, it took a lot of hand gesturing, slow explanation, and some Thai (thanks to one of the girls who lived in Bangkok growing up and had a handy arsenal of Thai phrases) to finally get across that we liked the food the way the Thais ate it, not the way they think foreigners like it!
This is the kitchen area and breakfast bar where every morning we would drink our fresh coconuts, eat our fresh fruit, and have eggs made to order and banana pancakes:
I mean, check this place out - would you want to leave?  The living room and kitchen looked out onto the pool and water with floor to ceiling glass doors.  The doors could also be opened completely, so that the house was essentially open to the elements.
The view almost looks fake, right?  They were smart to use all glass dividers along the top and bottom balconies at the villa.
These fresh flowers were strewn all over my bed the first night.  They burned citronella oil in all of the rooms to keep out the pesky mosquitoes.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sabeinglae Restaurant on the Beach in Koh Samui

Koh Samui was mostly about rest and relaxation and… food.  Luckily the girls that I went with all shared similar tastes and preferences for food and drink - think fresh coconuts! papaya salad! mango sticky rice! seafood galore!

On one of the nights, we ventured out to Sabinglae, a sprawling local restaurant right on the beach.

We got there around sunset for an early dinner.
The ordering quickly went crazy, with everyone chiming in with preferred dishes.  I gave up taking pictures after a while...
 This is my favorite, the very garlicky, slightly spicy, lime snapper.  I didn't realize I cut off his head though…When we finished the fish I surreptitiously scooped up a few spoonfuls of the tart and spicy broth.  What a delight!
 The mussels here were green and blue and the inside of the shells were shiny and lustrous.  Their dipping sauce was impeccable.
 Another favorite - the tamarind shrimp.  It consists of large shrimp stir fried in tamarind with the slightest hint of heat from whole chili peppers… this dish made me so happy.

 Usually I pay zero attention to fried rice - but Sabeinglae's fried rice was really good.  It was cooked to just the right amount of dryness, so that the rice had a slightly crispy texture, and was very flavorful.  I'm not sure what their secret is but this dish shows that there is definitely an art to something as simple as fried rice.

 This was the Sabeinglae Salad, which consisted of a lot of mint leaves and lettuce and fresh squid topped with a ton of fried garlic and shallots.
 We also ordered a spicy oyster salad but my picture of this one is pretty terrible.
Finally, we also got a fresh lobster to share.  I never turn down lobster…

After dinner we went to the night market where we strolled around with the crowds.  I couldn't resist taking a picture of this huge red snapper.  What a comical expression!

Monday, August 18, 2014

Not Much to Say... Except...


This is the panoramic view from the patio.
This was the view from my room:

And this was the huge bathtub in my bedroom.

Yes, check out that view!  One more for good measure.
The amazing rain shower with similar good view.

The bed, strewn with fresh flowers and towel swans.

The view from the beautiful swimming pool.
I am so glad I was able to come on this girls trip.