Thursday, February 25, 2010

Embarrassing Moments

I embarrass myself often and I've decided to start sharing some of these incidents, once the humiliation has worn off a bit, in an effort to laugh at myself and allow others to laugh at me, too. The one I'm still thinking about, which happened while down in Los Angeles on business earlier this month, still smarts a bit but is also super funny, although in a sad, "why me" kind of way.

I'm down in Los Angeles, supporting a conference for my boss, who's hosting the event. It's a small event, only about 30 people, but some of the most influential people in my field are present. The superstar of the event is undoubtedly the gentleman from New York City. I've met him once before and I'm absolutely enamored by him. I'm trying my best to find some reason to talk to him but I'm terrible with small talk so it has to be a real topic. Luckily for me, the New York Rangers were staying at our same hotel and had been placed in the conference room next to ours the night before. Unfortunately, they had left by the time Mr. NYC had gotten there, so he didn't get to meet them himself. But, luckily for me again, I was the one that got to talk to Mr. NYC about them. Unfortunately, he didn't appear to be much of a hockey fan because, besides general NYC pride, he didn't pursue a conversation regarding their presence any further.

My second chance at conversation with Mr. NYC caught me unawares. I was eating my lunch with two colleagues in a separate room from the rest of the group when we began talking about being in Los Angeles and how all my friends come back from their trips to LA with stories about meeting celebrities but how that had yet to happen to me. I had one friend, who had never been to LA before, come back with a story about being randomly sat next to Alan Alda at a diner. At the mention of Alan Alda's name Mr. NYC, who must've snuck into our room while our backs were turned, shouted from across the room, where he was seated, reviewing his Blackberry, "what did you say about Alan Alda?"

Now, I am often a victim of "ageism," where people don't believe I know things that I do because of my youth. Every time I throw down some knowledge about something I'm supposedly "too young to know" or was "before my time" I have to somehow justify this knowledge. It used to happen a lot in my 20's, not so much anymore in my 30's, but I'm still defensive about having to justify my knowledge. Anyway, in this scenario, with Mr. NYC, I instantly think he thinks me knowing anything "Alan Alda" is something "before my time" but, rather than be offended by it, I believe this to be the opportunity to impress him with some crazy knowledge. So, I repeat my story about my friend being randomly sat next to Alan Alda at the diner and add "she tried really hard not to yell at him for ruining the last few years of "M*A*S*H" when he got super preachy with the writing." Mr. NYC looks at me and says, "Alan Alda is one of my closest friends."

Of course he is.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Palm Springs With Luis & Alysha

Upon hearing that we would be in Los Angeles, Desi's BFF and his wife (our Best Couple Friends) arranged to join us for the weekend (sans kids), flying in from Salt Lake City on Friday afternoon.  We always have so much fun with Luis & Alysha and it's always a treat when they're able to steal away from their kids to frolic with us DINKs, wherever we might be.

This time Alysha & Desi coordinated a weekend in Palm Springs.  None of us had ever been to Palm Springs before, so we were really looking forward to exploring a new place together.  Unfortunately, our sunny and warm weekend was anything but, raining and chilly the whole time.  But, we didn't let that stop our good times.

When we rolled into Palm Springs on Friday night, around 8PM, we immediately headed to our dinner reservations at The Tropicale.  This place was great!  Good food, good times, good service, fake fireplace.  It had it all.  Afterwards we headed to our hotel, the Alexander Inn.  This place was amazing and made for the perfect stay during a rainy weekend.  Because it was a two bedroom condo we were able to have a common area where we could just sit and talk and watch movies and hang out, rather than if we'd had separate hotel rooms where we would've had to choose one room or the other to hang out in, which is never as comfortable as a couch and designated living area.

Our Saturday began with breakfast at Hamburger Mary's, which was fantastic and a whole lot of fun.  Then we headed back to the room to strategize our day.  We decided we would go grab a movie at Red Box and try to wait out the rain.  We got The Hangover, booze (we LOVE California's liquor laws), and movie snacks at the Ralph's grocery store and headed back to the room.  After The Hangover ("tigers like pepper, they hate cinnamon"), and with the rain coming down harder than before, we decided bowling was in order.

After a couple of games (Alysha has some mad skillz), and with the weather still not cooperating, we headed back to Ralph's for another movie.  While we were picking up Zombieland Luis grabbed a winning scratch lottery ticket and walked away with $25.  We were having a great day!

For dinner we hit the Village Pub.  This place was hopping!  There was live music (a pretty good cover band), dancing, a couple of girls Luis was convinced were professional escorts, a bachelor party and a bachelorette party (not sure if they were two halves of the same whole), and the largest oysters on the half shell any of us had ever seen (Luis was so intimidated he couldn't even get one down).  We hung out for a while and, upon leaving, discovered that there was quite a wait to get in.  Apparently, we had just walked into the coolest joint in town.  We felt pretty cool walking out of that place.  After dinner, we headed back to the room to watch Zombieland ("nut up or shut up") and then we called it a night. 

Sunday morning we awoke to a lovely sunny day.  We had enough time to grab some breakfast and walk around for a bit before heading back to Los Angeles for our afternoon flights back home.  Luckily, the drive took us much less time than anticipated and we decided to try to get some beach time in before heading back to our respective cold and miserable climates.  We drove to the nearest beach and played for about an hour.  It was an amazing way to wrap up a great weekend with great friends.

Friday, February 12, 2010

University of Edinburgh

Mike received notice yesterday that he wasn't accepted into the University of Edinburgh's Masters of Fine Arts program.  Apparently, and with only the rejection letter to guide us, the problem with his application was the lack of existing college credit.  We were told that Mike would need a year's worth of credit (45 credits) in order to be accepted.  We were told that if he applied prior to receiving all 45 credits a conditional offer might be made, accepting him on the condition that he receives all required credits by June.  Unfortunately, according to the letter Mike received, because they had received enough applications from those already meeting the requirements, they would not be offering Mike a conditional acceptance.  He was rejected--not even waitlisted.

Although this is definitely not the news we wanted or expected (Mike has been working so hard towards this goal, working full time in the days while going to school at night), we still have options.  Back in September, Mike applied to three other schools in Scotland (Glasgow School of Art, Edinburgh College of Art, and University of Dundee) and we're still waiting on final responses from them.  We know Glasgow is a long shot (their class size is really small, accepting only about 45 students into the program each year, and highly competitive) but ECA might still be a real option.  University of Dundee is a Hail Mary, though.  We don't know much about the school or program, but it might be easier to get into than the other schools and would at least get us to Scotland.

We haven't begun discussing possible alternatives beyond being accepted at one of the other three schools.  Hopefully, one way or the other, we hear final answers shortly so we can begin working towards next steps.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Los Angeles

I was in Los Angeles this past week on a business trip that I extended through the weekend.  I flew to Los Angeles early the morning of Tuesday, February 2, for an evening event that lasted through 5PM on Wednesday afternoon.  For dinner on Wednesday night I dined with colleagues at Asia de Cuba at The Mondrian and then headed back downtown to my hotel, hitting The Standard's rooftop deck (in a vain attempt to see someone famous) for a drink before calling it a night.

I love my trips to Los Angeles.  I haven't been since 2006 but I always have such a good time.  I remember the last time I was in Los Angeles, it was another business trip that Mike joined me on and we extended it through the weekend and visited La Jolla and San Diego.  We spent three days in LA before heading further south, two nights in Century City and one in Venice.  We went to the Chateau Marmont for dinner (another vain attempt to see someone famous) and saw The Black Angels at the Troubador (Elton John's first stateside venue).

This time, due to school and work, Mike wasn't able to join me until late Wednesday night.  We got up the next morning and made our way via bus to The Getty Center where we had lunch reservations.  The Restaurant at The Getty Center is a pricey affair but if you go for lunch you get the same menu as the dinner guests but for half the price.  The food, service, view, and experience is worth every penny, though.  What an amazing treat!
The Getty Center, with six separate buildings and gardens, was very intimidating.  I wish we had more than just a day to explore it.  If we lived in the LA area, The Getty Center would definitely be on my "Things To Do When Bored" list.  Of course, going to the beach would be on that list, too.  I don't think I have anything on that list for Seattle.  When you're bored in Seattle, or when the weather sucks, you're out of luck.  Seattle has a very limited selection of free entertainment which gets even more limited when the weather turns poor.
After The Getty Center we headed to our hotel in Venice (the only place we can afford in LA) and enjoyed a light dinner at a restaurant on the boardwalk.  The next day it was absolutely pouring down rain.  We had all day to kill before we met up with friends for the second half of our trip and we had nothing to do because we had planned to sit on the beach all day.  So, to get at least some beach time in, we walked along the cold and rainy beach from Venice to Santa Monica.  We stopped at an English pub near Santa Monica's 3rd Avenue Promenade to warm up with some coffee and liquor before making the trek back to Venice for our luggage.
Although our day at the beach was not very warm or dry, it's these types of days that we wind up remembering for years to come.  If we'd just sat at the beach, we probably wouldn't have made any real memories.  But, trekking through the watery streets, with our pants rolled up to our thighs and our coats weighed down with the rain, will definitely be an experience we remember.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Hong Kong

We left our Taipei hotel in the early AM to catch our flight to Hong Kong.  We were planes, trains, and automobiles on this leg alone (subway, high speed rail, bus, plane, subway, bus).  But, after only a few hours (and by noon) we were at our hotel in Tsim Sha Tsui on the Kowloon Peninsula in Hong Kong.

Our section of Kowloon Peninsula was hopping.  We were super close to bars (sweet, glorious bars), two subway stations, The Peninsula Hotel, and Victoria Harbour.  We were really excited to begin exploring the "New York City of Asia" and we really wanted to see the famous Hong Kong skyline, so we headed in the direction of Victoria Harbour.  We would wind up spending a lot of our time over the next few days admiring this skyline.  It was absolutely amazing!
After exploring the waterfront area for a bit we headed back towards our hotel to grab something to eat.  We quickly realized that, although the streets looked simple to navigate, we could easily get lost and the odds of encountering something we'd seen earlier were slim to none without serious navigation skills.  To avoid any regrets, we decided that if we saw something that interested us we would not save it for later, because we may never find it again, instead we would seize the moment and just do it.  This may have been our best travel strategy ever because it led us to a fantastic "welcome to Hong Kong" meal.  Our new rule: carcasses in the window equals good eats.
After our lunch we rested in our hotel for a bit and then headed out for some bar hopping.  After a few weeks spent without any bars, the number of bars visible from just our hotel's front steps almost had Desi in uncontrollable giggles.  The drinks weren't cheap (equivalent to prices in Seattle) but Hong Kong (and Taiwan for that matter) are not tipping cultures, so that saves some money.  We proceeded to explore the neighborhood from the party side of a cocktail, having one in each establishment we encountered until it was time to head back to the waterfront for the evening's light show.
Every night at 8PM Hong Kong puts on a harbour light show incorporating lights from some of the buildings and music.  It doesn't last very long, and isn't too impressive, but it's cool that the city does this nightly and it was a fun way to see the skyline.

After the light show we grabbed some of the spiciest soup ever made.  For future reference, a medium in Hong Kong is not equivalent to a medium in Seattle.  There is nothing equivalent in Seattle to that level of spice.  Seattle palettes cannot tolerate that spice.  We're still recovering from the damage.
The next day we began with a morning trip to the harbour.  A Monday morning was less crowded on the harbour than a Sunday afternoon and we enjoyed the virtual solitude.
We played around for a bit on the Avenue of the Stars and then, via ferry, we headed to Hong Kong Island.
We walked to the Peak Tram, an obligatory tourist experience which takes you to the top of a mountain for city views.  The view from the top was amazing.  We could've stayed up there the whole day.  There were birds, trees, water, buildings, houses.  Honestly, this one view captured it all and it truly was amazing.
When we finally headed back down the mountain we made our way to the Central Bus Station to grab a bus to Stanley Market, located on the other side of the island.  This itinerary item wasn't in any of our guidebooks.  We had only heard about it immediately prior to our departure from Seattle, when we were watching anything we could find about our imminent trip.  Stanley Market was mentioned on an Australian travel show, in passing, as the market that locals shopped at.  We can't confirm that statement but we do know that the #6 bus to Stanley Market was the most scenic drive of our entire trip.  And, for only $10 HKD ($7 HKD = $1 USD) and about 20 minutes, it was one of the highlights of our trip.
After a day spent at Stanley Market we made our way, this time via bus #260 (the express), back to Central District for some drinks at Sevva, on the top floor of the Prince's Building.  This was suggested to us by a friend (currently living in Hong Kong) of a friend.  We wound up there just as the harbour light show was beginning, so we got to experience the light show from the middle of it.  We couldn't hear the music but the lights alone were pretty cool.
After our drinks we headed to Red Pepper in Causeway Bay for dinner, also a suggestion from the friend of a friend.  Another excellent meal.  We topped our night off with a walk along Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong Island side, before hopping on the subway back to our hotel.
The next morning we experienced dim sum for the first time.  This was the most frustrating experience of our Hong Kong trip.  First of all, we received a recommendation from someone at our hotel for a dim sum restaurant.  He wrote the restaurant name down (in characters) and gave us a vague description of where to go.  We had to stop at a number of different Circle K stores, plus asking random people along the way, before we were able to locate the shop (on the 2nd floor of an office building).  When we arrived no one spoke English (or was willing to) and the menus were entirely in Chinese.  We matched descriptions of pictures with the ordering sheet, selected five items, and placed it on the edge of our table.  When the waitress came around she looked at us oddly but took the paper and walked away.  We had no idea if we were going to get food or not.

Luckily, all our prior experience had paid off and we not only got food but we got exactly what we had expected.  We were thrilled with ourselves.  Plus, the food was delicious and now we're no longer intimidated to try dim sum in Seattle, or probably anywhere anymore.
After dim sum we headed to Lantau Island to see the giant buddha.  This incorporated a subway ride and a gondola.  Desi was scared the gondola would be closed, just like in Taipei.  But, Hong Kong was liking us more than Taipei had, so we weren't too worried.

Our gondola ride to Lantau Island was gorgeous.  It took 30 minutes and it was fairly stormy, but it was a wonderful part of the experience.  The Lantau Island buddha was amazing!  You're able to see it from quite a distance and it's just awesome.
There's a small tourist village where the gondola loads/unloads and a small monastery near the base of the buddha.  This was a very inspirational and scenic day trip.
When we arrived back in Tsim Sha Tsui we stopped at a night market before heading to The Peninsula for afternoon tea, one of the things Desi really wanted to experience.  The Peninsula is where we saw all the Rolls Royces and Bentleys.  It's a gorgeous hotel, and also a Hong Kong institution.  Afternoon tea at The Peninsula is definitely an experience, though probably not one we'll repeat.

After The Peninsula we headed to the harbour for one last light show.  The night was stormy, adding a bit of fog which gave the show an ethereal quality.  After the show we stopped at a bar for a couple drinks and did some shopping before heading back to the hotel for the night.

The next morning we headed back to the harbour for one last stroll along the waterfront before leaving for the airport.
We took a cab to the airport, grabbed some dim sum at the airport before boarding our flight, and were on our way back to The States that afternoon.  The flight was only about 11 hours, which was about 4 hours shorter than our previous experience.  Plus, we arrived before we left, which is difficult to explain and equally as hard to understand.  We left at 4:30PM in Hong Kong and arrived in Los Angeles on the same day at 1PM.  We arrived back in Seattle at about 6:30PM.

The return flight was difficult to recover from.  The worst of our jet lag lasted over a week but we didn't recover fully for at least another two.  Our internal clocks were off for about five days and the lethargy lasted more than a week.  Overall though, our trip was amazing.  The whole experience had an almost "once in a lifetime" feel to it.  We feel like world travellers now, even though we've only added one (or is it considered two?) countries to our list of places we've been.  We did add a whole new continent, though.  That's pretty cool.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Taipei

We woke up on New Year's Day in Taipei and on our own.  We no longer had the language skills of fluent family members to rely on but, having gone on a few trips without Chad & May, we were confident of our ability to survive.  However, we had no idea that Taipei would hate us and try it's hardest to prevent us from enjoying ourselves.  Taipei is a hateful city.

We started out slowly, heading north on the subway to the Taipei Arts Park.  Unfortunately, when we got off the subway we quickly noticed that the entire area was under construction for the 2010 Taipei International Flora Expo.  We weaved our way through the temporary pedestrian pathways, hoping to eventually be lead into a gorgeous art park but it never happened. We wandered around for almost two hours through horrible construction, never finding anything resembling a peaceful, beautiful art park. 

We hopped back onto the subway and headed to Ximending, a district in Taipei where all the hip kids hangout.  It was like being in a giant, outdoor, street market version of Forever 21.  Being surrounded by a bunch of "hip kids" was not as diverting as we had hoped. 

After another disappointing couple of hours, we headed to the famous Shilin Night Market.  Surely this would prove amazing and exponentially better than anything we experienced at the Kaohsiung night markets.  Unfortunately, again we were disappointed.  The Shilin Night Market was a horribly crowded tourist trap.  We doubt there was one local person in the entire place besides the venders who, by the way, were not very friendly nor patient and nowhere near as accommodating as their counterparts in Kaohsiung.  After stumbling around for another couple of hours, we decided to call it a night and attack Taipei from a different angle the next day.

The next day we headed to Taipei 101 (again).  This time we would be going up to the observation deck.
The view from the top was pretty cool, but we felt as though we had seen it already.  Plus, and we had been warned about this when we purchased the tickets for the observation deck, the visibility was poor, so our view wasn't as good as it could've been.  However, it was cool that we were at the top of the tallest building in the world, when it was still the tallest building in the world (the new tallest building in the world, located in Dubai, wouldn't open until January 4th).  Additionally, we rode in the world's fastest elevator and saw the world's largest tuned mass damper (pictured below).
The visit to Taipei 101 wasn't terrible, so our second day in Taipei was already shaping up to be better than our first.  But, lest we believe Taipei was beginning to like us, we next headed east on the subway towards Maokong, a tea growing village in the southeastern hills of Taipei.  After riding the subway east to it's last station we still needed to take a gondola ride up a mountain to get to the remote village.  Desi was so excited for this experience.  She loves gondolas used as public transportation.  We had hoped to spend the whole day hiking and exploring the area and, of course, enjoying tea but, unfortunately, when we got to the gondola we were met with the unhappy, yet not entirely unexpected, news of it's closure due to system inspection.  We're not sure if this was due to the earthquake we experienced a couple weeks earlier or whether something else had happened but, either way, the gondola was closed and the only other way to Maokong, according to a security guard at the gondola station, was via a complicated bus itinerary we weren't mentally prepared to tackle.
Desi was devastated.  All the frustrations from the past couple days had taken their toll on her.  Desi was ready to throw in the towel and just hide in the hotel room until the morning, when we would be leaving for Hong Kong.  But, since it was still relatively early in the day, we decided that we should head back to our hotel, but only to regroup and redesign our day.  Since it was our last day in Taipei, and in Taiwan, Mike convinced Desi not to give up.  So, Desi got the guidebook out and began to quickly look for recommended activities.  We decided we wanted to experience another night market.  Desi came across the description for Shida Night Market, located in an area of Taipei we hadn't yet been to.  So, at the very least we would get to see a new area of Taipei.  We put our game faces back on and headed out.

Shida Night Market was awesome!  By far the best experience we'd had in Taipei yet.  Since it was located near a university campus, Taiwan Normal University, it was stocked with college kids, which is much more preferable than high schoolers, which is what we encountered in Ximending.  Additionally, we found our first stash of bars, which is exactly what Desi needed after the disappointing experience Maokong had turned out to be.  Desi got her drink, and even some decent pomme frites, did some shopping and truly enjoyed herself. 

We think it was actually a good thing the Maokong experience happened the way it did because we would leave Taipei the next morning wanting to come back, and not only to finally experience the gondola ride to Maokong that we were cheated of this time around but to further explore the Shida District, which seemed to be the only part of Taipei that didn't hate us.


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