Friday, August 31, 2007

Relax. Take a Deep Breath.

Argh. I hate flying. I’m aboard a plane right now that’s engaged in that most annoying of maneuvers called a holding pattern. I think we’re only minutes away from Houston, but we can’t land because the airport’s closed due to a thunderstorm. The pilot thinks that we’ll have to divert to New Orleans to refuel.

Woohoo! He just came back on the PA. The airport’s open again, and we’ll be able to land without making a detour. I wonder if he was playing the same trick on us that doctors play? You know, that game where doctors ooze doom and gloom and tell their patients that the prognosis is not good. And then, by some miracle (say, perhaps, the doctor’s amazing skills), the patient makes a full recovery.

I’m just glad this three-hour flight won’t turn into a six-hour flight. Mom’s beef noodles are waiting. Mmm … beef noodles. And mmm … chicken fried steak. (I once said “I’ve missed you" to a chicken fried steak -- acknowledging its long absence from my belly -- before devouring it.) And mmm … barbecue. Can’t wait to go to The Salt Lick.

I think this thin air is messing with my brain cells. Better stop writing before silly gives way to incomprehensible.

Splish Splash Along the Skykomish River

Last month, I finally made my way out to Seattle and Vancouver. I’d been meaning to go for a long while. In fact, a couple of years ago, the trip came so close to materializing that I had actually booked a flight. But because of the bunglings of a friend who should be glad that I don’t name names in this forum, the trip was cancelled.

It’s definitely a beautiful part of the continent – Vancouver especially. Water everywhere. (I have a certain affinity for water. I don’t understand how people survive in landlocked cities. Like Dallas.) Mountains everywhere. And Asians everywhere. I’ve never had dim sum that was better than what I ate in Vancouver. Wish I had more time to spend there, but we had much to do elsewhere.
From Seattle & Vancouver

Our very hospitable tour guide was an old friend from high school. He recently moved to Seattle from Phoenix just so he could go “yaking” all the time. (That’s “kayaking” for the uninitiated, by which I mean normal people. He’s a fanatic!)

Yaker friend put together an amazingly fun whitewater excursion for us along the Skykomish River. The river wound through some picturesque snowcapped mountains, the runoff from which fed the river, so it was freakin’ cold! The water temperature couldn’t have been much higher than 50 degrees. We had to wear wetsuits, as if we were going surfing in Alaska.

My only other experience whitewater rafting was along the Rio Grande in Big Bend National Park. Well, it wasn’t so much whitewater rafting as it was brownwater drifting. The water level was so low that we had to walk our raft at times.

But the Skykomish River is the real deal. It was a class III+ run with one IV+ rapid. The fear of being tossed overboard has a strange way of making you feel alive.

Thanks, yaker friend, for showing us a good time.

Off He Goes

A friend of mine who’s a fellow lawyer quit his job last week. He had been working for one of the largest firms in the world and was on the verge of beginning his fourth year. He didn’t quit to work in-house at a hedge fund. Nor did he quit to work anywhere else. He quit to travel the world for eight months. You can follow his adventures here.

Upon hearing the official word, I felt equal parts envy and admiration. Envy because he’ll be relaxing at an outdoor café in the far reaches of Eastern Europe next week while I’m slaving away inside my mind-numbing office in the bowels of Midtown Manhattan. Admiration because so many of us have dreamed of doing the same thing, but he found the courage to stop dreaming and start living.

He mentioned the idea to me a while back. I think that was the same occasion during which we mused about the idea of starting a record label. I thought that it was all just talk – fun talk, but talk. But now ... off he goes.

Along with envy and admiration comes a sense of sadness. His itinerary concludes in San Diego, where he’ll replant his roots. That’s one friend fewer for me in New York.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Let Them Stay Thirsty

Oh, wow! "Song for the Fields" is the Single of the Week on iTunes. Not the best of Fields songs, but good nonetheless. Maybe this free download will win them some well-deserved fans. But judging from the 2.5 star rating and the vast number of knuckleheaded reviews, maybe not. Oh well. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't force it to drink.

Spelling Bee

So that last post finally gets me off the schneid. I started writing that one a couple of months ago but never got around to finishing until now. Let's see how long the will to write stays with me this time.

Given my Swedish state of mind after that last entry, I'll continue with an entry inspired by my friend's cousin when she visited from Stockholm a couple of weeks ago. She told me about an amusing site called Overheard in New York, which reminded me of a funny exchange I overheard while waiting in the very long line for a First Friday at the Guggenheim.

Guy: So what's the contingency plan if we can't get in?
Girl: What's a contingency?
Guy: A contingency? It's like, when you plan to do something, and you can't do it, so you need to have a backup plan.

Quite the cogent explanation, I thought. But then it all unraveled.

Girl: Spell it.
Guy: C-O-N, um ...

If you ever watched In Living Color, you may recall the hilarious "oppressed inmate" sketch. You know, the one where Damon Wayans plays an inmate who uses big words to complain about the injustices of the criminal justice system, at one time calling it a "conspiracy -- a C-O-N [pause] 'spiracy.'" If only guy in line had seen that episode, he could've impressed his companion with his ability to ad-lib: C-O-N [pause] "tingency." Then again, he really could've just thrown together any string of letters. I doubt his companion made it very deep in the spelling bee.

It's 2:50 in the morning. Rise and shine!

Wow. If an electronic journal could gather dust, I'd be sneezing right now. Almost a half year without an entry. Quite pathetic. And it's not as if there haven't been things worth writing about.

I'm such a prisoner of inertia sometimes. Sure, I've suffered from a case or two of what a Francophile whom I once knew well would refer to as ennui. But I've also had an interesting experience or two. Let's see ... I've been to about a dozen shows, attended my first two operas, walked across the Brooklyn Bridge for the first (and second and third) time(s), gotten into and out of a relationship, and taken a couple of vacations -- including a trip to Stockholm.

Ah, Stockholm. My new favorite city in Europe.

From Stockholm - Day 3

I had such high expectations before going. After all, the trip had been in the works for a good seven months -- beginning shortly after my Swedish-born friend at work became pregnant. Her parents were planning to visit after she gave birth, and they've got this thing against staying at hotels, so they were looking for someone to trade apartments with. I gladly volunteered, because I'd wanted to go to Sweden since visiting Scandinavia World at Epcot Center about six years ago. (Yes, I visited Disney World as a childless adult. Don't judge.) And that interest kept growing as more and more Swedish bands became my favorites. Shout Out Louds, Club 8, The Radio Dept., Acid House Kings, The Legends, and most everyone else on Labrador Records.

(Ah, hell. Just did some fact checking and found out that there's no Scandinavia World at Epcot Center. The closest thing is Norway Pavilion. Swedish friend won't be happy if she sees this. Good thing she's preoccupied with the baby.)

Anyhow ... Stockholm exceeded all my expectations. It's an intriguing combination of new and old -- both sleek and quaint at the same time, all seemingly without trying. The waters are beautiful, the streets are beautiful, the buildings are beautiful and the people are beautiful. None of that was much of a surprise, really. What did surprise me a bit was the incredible friendliness of the Swedes and their amazing command of English. It was easier for me to figure things out there than in Taiwan.

And staying at my friend's parents' wonderful apartment made things even more enjoyable. They live in a very artsy but ultra family-friendly neighborhood called Södermalm. It has a SoHo/LES feel about it, except for the family-friendly part. Hmm ... so maybe it's more like Park Slope? But Park Slope's not all-too-artsy. See why
Södermalm is special?

The highlights of the trip were an excursion to Gotland and a traditional Swedish dinner at the apartment of my friend's aunt. Gotland is a large island to the southeast of Stockholm. (If Stockholm were Boston, Gotland would be Nantucket.) You get onto it by taking a three-hour ferry ride to Visby, its largest city. The place feels as if it had stopped aging after medieval times. The remnants of a medieval wall surround its center, and medieval ruins dot the narrow cobblestone roads that crisscross every which way.

From Gotland
And the dinner with my friend's relatives ... it was already a treat to live as a local at an apartment in the city, but a traditional dinner made us feel even more at home. Learned so much about Swedish customs, politics, history and hospitality. It was a bit embarrassing how much more my friend's relatives -- including her very bright 19-year-old cousin -- knew about the U.S. and the world than the average American.

Definitely can't wait to go back. My friend tells me that her parents are planning to visit again around Christmas time. Another swap, perhaps?

Oh! Almost forgot to circle things back to the title. Take a look at a picture I snapped after a night out.

From Stockholm - Day 2
See the orange band in the horizon? That's no Photoshop trick. That's the sun rising at 2:50 in the morning. And it had only set about five hours earlier at 10:00. Just crazy.