-Familiar but unfamiliar: being too-rusty in language skills, feeling a stranger in a friendly city
What did I find?
Aah, that southern Chinese accent! Familiar, just …familiar.I walked off the plane to find the Taiwan scents and accents floating around only familiar. It’s this kind of lush, humid smell with a subtle industrious undercurrent. Not as plastic as Hong Kong, with a strong hint of tropics. Delightfully homey.
Sometimes when I hear another language, it sounds like something on the edge of my hearing, where I can’t quite understand but if I listen a little more in a different way, it’ll make sense. It’s like a whisper of misty rain, sifting by and gone before you know it. It also didn’t feel like I was drowning in a foreign language.
In Taiwan, like a tranquil pool, I was happy to sit in it and let the words float by in a sea of general comprehension. Some waters were in other unknown dialects, like Hakka and Taiwanese, but those friendly waters floated by harmlessly. Continue Reading
I learned to bike when I was eighteen. I had gone on the University of Minnesota’s excellent study abroad program to Tianjin, China. It’s two hours south of Beijing by train.
The first week Charles Sanft, our Program Director took us to buy bikes for $20 apiece and told us that’d be our main transportation for three months.
My roommate Diana and I got up early every day to try and ride our bikes in circles in the pavement in front of the luxe dorm*, and circle after circle, we got it. For three months, this $20 piece of clever machinery carried me through the foreign streets of sweltering Tianjin, to shop in the markets for red, white, and pink shirts (I never seemed able to find other colors in women’s sizes), to the clubs with hydraulic dance floors and Qingdao beer cheaper than water. I’d pay a coin to the kid watching the bike parking lot, hop off and stroll into the internet cafes to write home and also to squint at the AOL news ticker bar at the top of the instant messenger to read the non-censored world news. I’d learn that it would be wiser to walk my bike home from the bar rather than bother riding recklessly late at night. ,It would take me back to the dorms and class* to gain（briefly）full literacy. Thus began my love of biking, and now I use it for commuting, watch for bike options when traveling, and gleefully burn the calories of delicious food I so savor via two wheels.
This story commemorates the close of May
Bike Month in the U.S.
What’s your bike story?
Share in the comments below or via social media.
*In one Chinese language class, my professor had us read a story of a man riding a horse, who gets off his horse to ask for directions. This was meant to illustrate how to be polite if you stop your bike and need to talk to some one, and I still think of it to this day.
Singapore is famous for its food culture, and although there are certainly high-end top-dollar restaurants with 10-course menus that would charm the foodiest ex-pat executive, the heart of that food culture lives in the local hawker centres.
Street food is a common cultural institution throughout the world, but has a special place in Southeast Asia in particular as the dominant working-class cuisine and in Singapore’s case primary meal option. The hawker centres themselves are the result of a typically Singaporean government effort in the 1970’s to improve food safety and keep an ever-increasing army of food hawkers from blocking traffic. The government built and maintains the cavernous markets themselves, and administers licensing and health codes. Despite this standardization, the hawker centre is still a vibrant part of the local culture and a wonderfully chaotic den of unexpected delights to western palates and challenges to preconceptions about “eating out”.
The centres are organized as long lines of narrow, no-frills stalls, each operated by a different vendor, each with their own specialties and styles. Although the cuisines tend to be dominated by the ethnicity of the surrounding neighborhood, it’s still a grab-bag of curries, dumplings, soups, hot pots, noodles, satay, fruit juices, and everything else that’s taken root in this culinary crossroads. Continue Reading
Here’s one from my significant other’s mountaineering class. I froze my ass off camping in in Bryce Canyon so you don’t have to.
While camping, you can fill a large nalgene (or other water) bottle with hot water before bed, and put it in your sleeping bag for extra warmth all night! If you find the surface a little burn-y to your skin, you can wrap a bandana around the bottle.
Bonus warmth points if you drink all the water once you wake up. Staying hydrated, friends!
Discovery in the desert, Moab, Utah near Arches National Park:
While on the road, you can use a large Nalgene bottle (or other water bottle) as a stand-in for a foam roller to roll out your thighs and other muscles, a great plus if you, say, went for a hike while car camping and have sore muscles! For my petite frame, my size water bottle worked (see slightly awkward feature photo for this post). If you have larger thighs, try a longer water bottle. Gonna be thirsty anyway.
Me (via email): We appear to have entered some anomaly in the space time continuum. Kris’ watch says 10pm, mine says 8, and the car says 9. Who knows what time or what age we will return to after our road trip…
All the chili paste I could find had fish sauce/shrimp contaminant in it, so I couldn’t have it in my house due to allergy. However, my roommate/partner/spouse brilliantly bought Korean chili paste instead, a.k.a. gochujang. Even better. Specifically, Mother-in-Law’s Gochujang, with a reassuringly hipster-y label.
I used half a yellow onion and one quarter of a red onion on hand. Red onions made for beautiful contrast. We had lots of onion left. I am excited to make noodles or something else with the leftover sauces.
Just bring your stickered bike helmet in when you arrive on two wheels, and not only will you save marginal cost on gas and car maintenance, but literally get a discount when, say, buying a cup of coffee. If your coffee is ridiculously expensive at $5, getting 5 cups of coffee already breaks even for buying the sticker.
Note: they did not pay me to say this, just thought of it as I was finally buying a sticker after seeing it the 100th time at a local Seattle coffee shop.
One of many excellent recommendations per our VRBO hosts was to book with Just Short of Magic** for a sled dog ride (a.k.a. mushing), a little drive north of North Pole. After a late-night pickup of our friends J & G who courageously agreed to share in our Alaskan adventures, Jenni found us some excellent (late) breakfast at the Creperie in downtown Fairbanks. Then, off to dog sled ride via a thirty minute drive. As mentioned in the previous post, sled dogs have been a fundamental companion to Alaskan life for centuries, so I was really excited to partake in even a small, touristy way.
Jenna called us as we were a little late showing up at a designated cushion time, to make sure we were safe, and tell us not to worry. So nice of her! Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the staff did some standard checks that we were layered up properly (maybe in case it suddenly turned into below zero weather rather than 30?) Of course, that turned it into a competition for me. Continue reading →
As I mentioned in part 0 of Alaska adventures, I flew in to Fairbanks around midnight. I got to sleep in the delightfully welcoming cabin (this one booked via VRBO) by about 3am, and yeah, it was in a city called North Pole. (!)* I loved staying at this cabin, and found the hosts helpful and responsive. This post may have a lot of photos, but consider it obsessively curated for you to get the full experience.
On the Road:
After a healthy breakfast of DIY oatmeal and Starbucks fancy-coffee, K and I headed out for the 2.5+ hour drive south to Denali National Park. Maybe I’m just slow on the uptake, but I hadn’t put the two names together, Mt. McKinley and Denali, until I was packing for this trip and reading my copy of Fodor’s.
Fun fact: President Obama changed what was previously known as Mount McKinley back to Denali, an Athbascan name meaning “the High One”. At 20,310 feet, it is the highest point on the continent, and tallest mountain in the world.
On the way, we drove through lots of snow clouds kicked up by passing trucks that would obscure the entire roadway briefly, and whole clusters of buildings boarded up for the winter. This was definitely not high tourist season, and while it was an intermittent exercise in faith (faith that the road was relatively straight in a snow cloud), it was also a very scenic drive. The Athabascans named this northern forest “land of little sticks,” and I couldn’t help but agree as I gazed at the sweeping landscape, laced on road side with countless trees poking up toward the sky together.
To try: we stopped in at the Alaskan Coffee Bean in Healy for some caffeine.
Apparently, a sludge cup is brewed coffee + 2 shots espresso, popular with truckers. I was curious, but abstained since the midnight flight was already messing with my sleep. Let me know if you try it. The folks there were friendly, and plus, the place was open, hooray!
Alaska is often called the Last Frontier, but it’s also home to some of the oldest pieces of our collective human heritage. We crossed this very river mentioned on our drive out of the North Pole! Amazing.
The oldest human remains found in Alaska are 11,500 years old, the second-oldest Ice Age remains to be found in the world. Found in Central Alaska near the Tanana River, the remains of a three-year-old girl are thought to be those of an Athbascan ancestral relative.
Fodor’s Alaska p.20
At Denali National Park:
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