Sunday, October 28, 2018

China: Chinese Hot Pot

The cold weather has me thinking about my trip to China 4 years ago.  It was for work and I am glad it was because it meant it was a short trip with purpose.  I didn't enjoy China like elsewhere I've traveled but that's a story for another day.  What I DID enjoy was the Chinese hot pot meals I had.
Chinese hot pot dates back over 1000 years when the Mongolians invaded.  This just shows  how much food transcends borders since the Chinese built a wall that can be seen from space to keep the Mongolians out, but absolutely love their hot pot. My colleagues could not stop talking about it and ate it multiple meals while I was in Beijing.
It's not hard to see why it's such a star of Chinese cuisine.  I was in China in November and it was colder that usual with a strong, biting wind.  After a 14 hour flight, I met my local colleague for my first taste of it.  He and I had met before, but hadn't worked together extensively.  The hot pot served as the perfect icebreaker (especially given the jetlag).  When there was a lull in the conversation, you could focus on what was going on in the pot.

SO - what is a hot pot?

It's a simmering metal pot placed at the center of the table with raw ingredients (meat, veggies, etc) to be cooked placed around it. Part of the fun is trying to fish out the food you put in and potentially lost after it starts to boil. There are of course regional variations with what the broth is made out of and what you put into it. I tried the Beijing mutton hotpot and the Sichuan hotpot.
First experience was the mutton hot pot in a restaurant near my hotel in Wangfujing. This area has a lot of students in the area so it was a more modern vibe in the restaurant. The hot pot was a very simple metal pot with bone broth and spices such as shallots, ginger, loganberries, and dried shrimp.  We asked for extra spice so they threw some peppers in there, but it didn't add too much heat.  Thank god for Chinese Fire Water. ;-)
The last hotpot I had before leaving Beijing for Shanghai was the Sichuan hotpot which embraces the spicy flavors of that region. I was with my colleague and a partner from another company.  I had been fortunate to visit during a time when foreign dignitaries were in Beijing which significantly reduced the traffic. This was huge. It means I finished two days of supplier visits and meetings in one day.  That meant I got to visit some different areas that tourists visit and in effect, seeing some tourist sights.  With this, I went to three different sections of the Great Wall of China.  Recall that I said earlier in this post that it was November and colder than usual.  While I loved seeing these different areas, I was frozen and wanted nothing more than to take a hot shower and go to bed.
My colleague said we were going to lunch about 2 exits in the opposite direction to go to a town that was known for their hotpot. I was irritated, but didn't say anything.  We pulled up to a place that looked like a banquet hall from the 1980's with cars parked haphazardly in front of it.  We went inside, the host eyed me up suspiciously but I kept my mouth shut (OK, it was frozen because I was so damn cold).
My colleagues graciously asked what I wanted and I said "hot" because my bones were frozen at this point. They were delighted! One of them was a little nervous about the spice so they decided on a split pot to have half with the Sichuan hot pot and half with something milder.
This was definitely authentic. Children (as well as adults) STARED at me as the only Westerner in the restaurant. We got to our table and it was filthy.  Food from the last customers were cleared.  No one seemed bothered by this. We were served new chopsticks and the hotpot was placed there with plates of thin sliced lamb bits and vegetables to cook.  The interior was delightfully humid where I could warm up and shed some layers.  All the windows to the outside were fogged up from the hot pots.
I wish I remembered the name of the town because it was well known for that, but not something tourists would ever find.  I also wished I wrote down all the different things we put into the pots, plus the sauces etc.  But these were the days before Instagram for me so the below is all I have of my hotpot culinary adventure.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Travel Planning - International date line

I'm really shocked that I don't hear about more people getting lost on the international date line.  I haven't been posting much here trying to figure out where we're going to travel next year.  Take this with the knowledge that I am still not done planning all the details for our trip to Bali & Hong Kong in about 6 weeks.  I like a little bit of pressure to really get my focus on planning all the details plus starting to get excited about the upcoming trip.  The other, less emotional part of it is wanting to have the most current info since I plan everything down to the restaurants that we eat at to the shops, the time to visit the museums to exact hour.  I realized that one of the tours that I had planned time around in Hong Kong (Kung Fu in the park) is no longer available and now I am desperately trying to find an equivalent replacement.

The other version of planning is the FAR out planning.  I found this to actually be more difficult because I get so excited about a trip and then realize that I still have to wait a really long time for it to come to fruition.  Then I start to think, what if I want to change my mind?  What if there is a better deal?  Last year I actually had to change 2 sets of our airline tickets to not only different dates but different gateways. 

Yet, future planning is unavoidable.  I have to have some semblance of a plan as Mr. Thief and I do have actual jobs and can't just jet off whenever we want (though we have been accused of this frequently).  It takes a lot of man hours just to figure out how much I can cram into seeing a destination in a short amount of time, how likely I will be to go back, etc.  Then I have to compare the seasonality to when we can get to these places.  THEN I have to figure out how to actually get there.  Take the example of FIJI.  Mr. Thief lets me dictate where we are going, but I badger him until he picks something or keeps saying "I don't care.  I don't care. IdontcareIdontcareIdontcare..." and so on.  Or Germany.  He always picks Germany.  Color me delighted when he sent me an email out of the blue and said "Here is a bird-watching resort in Fiji that popped up in my feed.  I'd like to go here".  I was incredibly happy - A week in Fiji!  Great!  I can so do this!  And then I started to look at how to get there.  There are like a bajillion islands that make up Fiji and there are basically zero ways to easily get there from the US...or I should say few ways that don't include a hundred connections, layovers or a bunch of $$$.

Which brings me full circle to my international date line comment.  I am so confused about what days the flights operates and arrive to the US - I think there's one that departs Fiji on a Friday early AM and then arrives to the US on the previous Thursday night.  Then, trying to move the flight a day later, there's a connection through Seattle back to Honolulu and then the US.  I don't even know what day that got back because it was all "I before E except after C" and I tried to use PEMDAS that I learned in match class to puzzle it out.  If my flight plans work, it is going to be super crazy, but an affordable adventure with a lot of things.  More content coming soon. At the very least, some exciting trips on the horizon!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Feeling Squirrel-y? Airline emotional support animals

Not even going there about the emotional support squirrel bit (OK, in posting this I guess I AM going there ;-)) but how emotionally fragile are you if you are flipping people off after being kicked off the flight?
Personally, I think there are probably a small subset of people that desperately need these animals because of some trauma, but most people are just trying to get their pet on the flight.  Someone even tried to get a PEACOCK on a flight in Newark.  I am an animal lover, and if the squirrel was properly contained, it's less offensive than other animals...
....Such as the small furry dog that was jammed under my seat by the woman behind me on my flight from Athens to Crete this Summer.  The dog was generally fine except its owners: Wealthy grandma who kept blabbing about chartering a private jet and yachts blah blah blah AND bratty teenage granddaughter who whined the entire time and was super rude to Grandma and the flight attendants.  Then SuperBrat proceeded to drag the fluffy dog out of the terminal after we landed as it peed all over the floor and didn't tell anyone.  She did notice it and I went to look for someone...and then a cab driver stepped in it. Ugh.
Woman Kicked off Flight For Emotional Support Squirrel
Let Me See Your Peacock