Monday, July 21, 2014

I'm Looking Forward To Experiencing The New LAX International Terminal

The newly built Tom Bradley International terminal at LAX opened in September 2013 but I have yet to experience the new terminal that cost $2 billion and 3 years  to build.  I'm planning a trip to go to Hong Kong to visit my family and I can't wait to experience the new terminal. The funding of the construction is not from taxpayer money, but from the airport's reserve fund and a tax-exempt bond that is backed by the airport's operating revenue. 

For many years, I had always felt every depressed when I flew back to LAX from Hong Kong or Singapore or Shanghai. Compared to the optimistic and upbeat energy in other international airports, the atmosphere at LAX's international terminal was downright depressing.  Just the chipped and worn out ugly big sign  of  "Welcome To the United States of America" made me want to turn back and fly back to wherever I flew in from.  Beyond that ugly and chipped "Welcome" board,  things just got worse from there. The custom clearance lobby was always an over crowded nightmare with hostile looking officers who were rude and who were extremely slow in processing clearance.  Many of the custom officers are minorities who probably came to America to escape their hostile looking government officials in their home countries decades ago.  But I don't understand why they carried the same kind of  hostile demeanor now.  They always spoke with heavily accented English that sometimes I had to ask, "Pardon Me?" a few times in order to answer their questions and it was because of that they usually became even ruder with me.  My husband told me that if only I became a US citizen and travelled with a US passport, they would ask fewer questions every time when I flew back to America.  Anyway,  the custom clearance to me was always  like being in a very crowded Post Office in New York or Los Angeles around Christmas time, but only many times much worse.

After the horrible wait for the stamp on my passport,  then there was always  the horrible wait for the baggage and  one time my digital camera was stolen from my luggage!!! I filed a report but I never got my camera back.  Since then I never put anything valuable in my luggage except clothing.  My husband later told me that LAX was always known to have the most luggage thefts in the entire USA because some of the staff were thieves and that I was foolish to check in valuable items.  But how was I supposed  to  know?   If some of the staff at the airport were thieves, then some were not doing their jobs because the bathrooms in that terminal were the dirtiest among all the airports that I had used. Some cleaning staff were obviously not cleaning frequent enough.

Out of the airport, more hassle lied ahead, because there was no well coordinated transportation for me to get out of the airport.  I was always pushing my carts outside the side walk, wandering around, looking for either my husband or my friends to pick me up. And when they did find me, we all got to push my carts and walk a long way to the parking structure where they parked.  Then from there, it took forever to get out of LAX and it took even longer to be stuck on the 405 freeway, passing more ugly and depressing looking neighborhoods,  to finally get home with a very hungry stomach.

Whenever I flew in and out of Hong Kong,  I did it all alone by myself with minimal pushing and dragging of my luggage, because the airport system there has such great integration service that baggage check-in and transportation and hotel check in and out  is made a seamless and hassle-free  process.   For me personally, it was often a matter of going in and out of a few automatic doors and boom.. I was in a hotel, or inside my parents' condo building in no time.  I never had to trouble my family or relative to pick me up at the airport or drive me there, there was no need to. The airport was also very well connected with other major cities in China by ferries, express trains, buses, etc..I could land in Hong Kong and  be very conveniently arriving  at the Venetian Casino and Resort or any hotels in Macao. There are also so many great restaurants near the airport terminals that are very easy to get into  that I always got a nice meal before I showed up at the hotel or at my parents' place with my luggage.  Getting out of LAX got me to nowhere if I didn't want to spend much time being stuck at 405.  I couldn't even go home fast enough, let alone going to the Venetian Casino in Las Vegas after landing at LAX.

Hopefully, this new improvement to the LAX is going to propel the airport to the world's 100 best airports list which it consistently missed for many years.  The new terminal looks so much nicer than the old one.  But look alone isn't what an airport is about, I am never at an airport to be entertained or to shop, I am at an airport because I need  the transit to get somewhere safely and conveniently.  It's always going to be the nice and efficient transportation service that matter to me.  So I can't wait to see what the new Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX can offer in my upcoming trip.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong airport  is  doing an expansion  project that cost approximately  US$10 billion after the public and the government opted for the more expensive 3 runways capacity expansion proposal. I guess it's not too expensive compared to the $2 billion LAX spent on building just one terminal.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Street Dance in Mainland China vs Street Dance in Hong Kong

My husband's young nieces asked me a year ago if I heard about the Gangnam style dance.  They were so surprised when I told them I didn't know what "Gangnam Style" meant. They then showed me a Youtube video and said, "You don't know Psy? But you are Korean..."  I of course told them I was Chinese, not Korean. They then said, "Whatever... now watch this, do you see how cool this dance is?"  And yes I did, I found the Korean rendition of the American hip hop dance and music hugely entertaining.  I'm amazed that this style of dancing was taking on so many streets in the world, including the streets in Kunming China. Kunming, the supposedly most beautiful city in China, the city where Kings and Queens from every dynasty went for their retreats from the harsh winters and the hot summers in the capital city.  Kunming was the inspiration of so many painters and poets throughout the history of China that I first saw the city in many of the paintings in my father's gallery when I was a kid.  I remember how my father and his customers were talking about how the four seasons in Kunming were always like Spring.   Now I get to have a glimpse of Kunming on a Youtube video, looking like just any other city in China. Where is that picturesque Kunming on my father's paintings?  Now I can see the effect of globalization. It turns everywhere in the world into looking the same...

But then I can see that the street in Kunming where the "Gangnam" dance was performed  is actually nicer looking than some of the older streets in Hong Kong where there wasn't much coordinated urban planning, but are jam packed with free wheeling tiny little diners, restaurants, street vendors and shops selling all kinds of cheap consumer goods.  

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Christmas Tree Crostini

Christmas Tree Crostini

My husband thought I was crazy when I served this for dinner tonight.  After all, this should be an appetizer for Christmas....  Well, I became bored at home after I made my usual spam and egg sandwich for lunch.  When I looked at the loafs of white bread that my husband bought from the Japanese bakery yesterday, I felt that I wanted to do something different with it other than spam and egg sandwiches. 

This Japanese bakery sells the best white bread I have had since I have been in this country.  Its white bread had converted my husband from being a fan of the Trader Joe's whole wheat multi-grain bread to becoming someone who hates the Trader Joe's whole wheat  multi-grain bread. Naturally, the delicious white bread makes the best tasting Crostini.

I bought a Christmas tree cookie cutter years ago wanting to make Christmas tree cookies to bring to the Christmas party at work.  I ended up not making any cookies but bought a party tray from the grocery store instead.  I had forgotten about the cookie cutter until today when I continued to unpack another moving box.  When I saw the brand new cookie cutter that had never been used all these years, I thought of using it to may be make some croutons for salads.  Then I felt they were too big for salads and decided to turn them into Crostini. After making the Crostini out of curiosity, I couldn't think of what to do with them other than eating them in lieu of dinner.  They tasted really good with Champagne.   

Makes 24 Crostinis  

  1. 24 pieces of really really good quality white bread 
  2. 4 tablespoons olive oil
  3. 2 teaspoons dry parsley flakes
  4. 1 can (5oz) tuna in oil, drained and flaked (reserve 1 to 2 tablespoons of oil)
  5. 1 red bell pepper, finely diced
  6. 1 cup can (7oz) sweet corn
  7. 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  8. Salt & ground pepper 
  9. Powdered Parmesan cheese for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Cut 24 Christmas trees out of the white bread using a cookie cutter. Place the Christmas tree pieces on the baking sheet.  On both sides, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with parsley flakes.  Bake for 10  to 12 minutes or until golden.  Turn over once during baking.  

  2. In a large mixing bowl, mix together ingredients 4) to 7).  Use some of the reserved oil from the can tuna to bind the ingredients if necessary. Or you can use some mayo to bind instead.  Season with salt and ground pepper.

  3. Spoon the tuna mixture from step 2 above onto the baked Christmas tree pieces, garnish with powdered Parmesan cheese and serve.  

Monday, July 14, 2014

Lavish Chinese Traditional Dance

China is such an old country that was ruled by so many dynasties that there is no one single national traditional dance that represents the Chinese culture.  Dance, and fashion varied throughout the thousands of years in history.  This style of dancing and fashion was very popular in the Tang Dynasty, which was over 1300 years ago.  I first learnt of the Tang Dynasty and its culture when I was a kid at my dad's art gallery. I watched him sell a painting with ladies dressing like those in the video, to a customer and I heard them talk about how intriguing  that women back then were wearing much more  revealing dresses than women  in the later dynasties.  I was only 5 years old but I remember the conversation and the transaction. It's because those paintings were as  fascinating to me as  my  Fashion Dolls coloring book.   This dance is performed by the Chinese Disabled People's Performing Art Troupe. It is based on  the story about an ancient goddess (Guan Yin) in China who has the kindest heart in the entire heaven and who always extends her helping hand to help the sick and poor. My granny used to tell me Guan Yin  was much kinder and much more effective in saving people than Jesus Christ when I tried to teach her to pray to Jesus when I was a kid.... 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Minute Steak With Tomato Sauce

minute steak with tomato sauce

I don't cook everyday like my mom does, but I've been cooking a lot more than a year ago when I got all my meals from the restaurants.  I cook at least once a week, but I seldom cook more than twice a week....My mom thinks I'm  not doing enough home cooking given the fact that I'm staying at home and doing mostly nothing important.  I admire people who cook everyday.  I really do.  I still haven't  developed a passion in cooking like I expected I would.  I still feel it's a hassle because I don't like the  prep work, and the greasy and dirty kitchen afterwards.  I'm just trying my best to cook as often as I can,  so my husband won't hold it against me too much every time when he isn't balancing his bank account.

Lately, I'm experiencing less and less enthusiasm in cooking.  I therefore often grab a pack of  minute steaks on sale at the grocery store, sprinkle them with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and fry them for 2 minutes per side on the skillet with olive oil.  After the beef  is cooked and set aside to keep warm ,  I then add chopped onions and 1/2 pint of sweet ripe cherry tomatoes into  the greasy skillet and deglaze the pan with beef broth (1/4 yellow onions and 1/4 beef broth per 2 steaks) and a 1/4 cup of Merlot.  I sometimes season the reduced sauce with 1 teaspoon of sugar for more taste if necessary, particularly when the tomatoes are more on the sour side.  After I pour the reduced  tomato sauce on the steaks, I always sprinkle chopped parsley leaves all over to serve because I just love the taste of parsley.  The mashed potato on the side is always easy because I always use the same simple recipe from a 1953 cookbook.

Okay, now what am I going to eat tomorrow?  The thought of having to cook again is daunting.  Thank god there is always Domino's.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

America The Beautiful or Disney World The Beautiful?

I have been feeling that  it's not right that I had not watched the July 4th firework display this year because this is something I always did since my first year in this country.  But thanks to Youtube, not only can I make up for my missing out of the July 4th firework, I get to watch the better version done by my beloved Disney.  As I mentioned in one of my previous posts,  nobody in America did fireworks as magical as Disney, at least from the ones that I had seen.

Before I knew America, I knew Disney.  It was because of Disney that I always wanted to come see America.  After so many years, Disney World and Disney Land are still my most favorite places.  It's amazing how the fireworks displayed by the local governments were never as good as the ones at Disney.  I grew up always hearing everybody  around me saying how the private enterprises were more efficient and effective than the  government,  I guess in the case of firework display, it's true... 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

I Celebrated July 4th 2014 With Japanese BBQ But Without The Firework

lycheetini Cocktail
Lycheetini: Vodka, Lychee Puree, Infused Sake, Plum Wine. It was a very refreshing and delicious cocktail.
Without any plan on this July 4th, my husband and I swung by his sister's house to check out her BBQ.  After being there for  3 hours, chitchatting and politely taking a little bite of the Texas style saucy BBQ, my husband pulled me aside and whispered to my ears that we should sneak out because he was hungry for the real good BBQ.  So we lied that we had to make an appearance in our friend's party and left for my husband's favorite Japanese BBQ restaurant.... First thing we ordered was of course a big pitcher of Kirin Beer and our usual Lycheetini.  I'm usually not into alcoholic drinks but Lycheetini  is one of the few exceptions that I enjoy.

garden salad with Japanese Dressing

Their house salad  is our must-have every time when we are there.  I don't know how they season the salad with what dressing.  It tasted really good.  I don't know why the salad that I made at home never tasted as good.   I am now looking for a salad dressing that can replicate the taste.  As of now, I know French Dressing can't do it and it will be a while before I finish the bottle in the fridge and buy a different bottle to try out.

garlic Udon
Our carbs for the meal: Sizzling Garlicky Udons in an extremely hot stone bowl.  The aroma from the sizzle was wonderful, and the noodles were so flavorful. This is why I've got to have carbs and gluten!!  
Since we don't own a grill, this Japanese restaurant is the place for us to go whenever we are craving for the smell and flavor of BBQ.  I will not want to own a grill because I'm now very afraid of owning any more appliance, furniture or any "stuff".  My stuff at home has been stressing me out and making me feel mentally paralyzed .  I will not want a grill and the stress of cleaning one.  May be I will change my mind after I completely organize my current apartment, but until then, I prefer to do BBQ in this restaurant.

grilled zucchini
Seasoned zucchini sprinkled with sesame seeds. I love vegetables and could not have enough of them and had to have more after my salad.
Japanese style BBQ is grilling on the table top.  This "grill-to-eat" format of dining is very popular in Japan and Asia.  Businesses are often conducted and contracts negotiated over the grill because the grilling time of the food gives people plenty of time to engage in conversation.  While I often went to restaurants like this when I was living in Hong Kong, this particular restaurant chain was introduced to me by the American men I dated... I can't say all the American men I dated took me to this restaurant. But quite a few of them did, my husband was one of them. I didn't tell him I had been here with others though..

marinated chicken
Perfectly marinated  and thinly sliced chicken. They cooked very quickly and were so fresh and delicious.  The marinate is another secret recipe of theirs.  My sister in-law's BBQ can't beat this because she didn't marinate her meat but relied on drowning it with bottles of  BBQ sauce.
All ingredients in a Japanese style BBQ are sliced and nicely cut so they absorb flavor much better during marination and grilling.  I like this style of BBQ because it makes the eating process so much easier and less messy.

angus beef steak
Perfectly Seasoned New York Steak and Angus Beef Ribs
Another reason that my sister-in-law's BBQ didn't taste that good can be because the quality of the meat we get from regular grocery store is never as good as the quality of meat that good restaurants get from their special butchers.  This restaurant has really fresh and great quality meats.

This was our second time having the lamb chops marinated in mint sauce.  The ones we had last time were so heavenly that we had to order them again.  But somehow these chops turned out to be not nearly as good as the ones in our previous visit. They tasted somewhat gamy to me.  I suspect these chops are the cheaper kind.  
Another advantage of doing BBQ in a Japanese restaurant is that I can always order my favorite sushi as appetizer.  The final bill of this BBQ for two including tax but before tips was $72.00.  There is however the all-you-can-eat meat lover menu that costs $25 per person that includes salad, miso soup, an appetizer,  garlic udons or hot stone fried rice, and all the meat you can eat,  plus free dessert at the end.  The all-you can-eat menu doesn't  include lamb chop and months ago when we had the all-you-can eat option, we felt there was too much food for us to handle.  So we ordered a-la carte this time.  But if the lamb chop continues to be tasting like this, we will not want to do any more a-la-carte again.  It will be cheaper  for us to have the all-you-can-eat option.  This  Japanese BBQ restaurant is in a lot of American cities. You can find a location near you at their website in case you are curious of trying.
spicy tuna volcano
Spicy tuna volcano: crispy sushi rice topped with minced spicy tuna.  I  love this sushi so much that I ordered this dish  whenever  this was on the menu of any Japanese restaurant I went. 
This July 4th is the only one where I totally missed the firework.  Throughout the year, I've watched firework in literally every beach and in a lot of places in Southern California.  I however had never been to  Cabrillo Beach in San Pedro.  After the BBQ,  I figured out I wanted to go there to see the July 4th firework display.  The drive was not pleasant.  Before we got to the beach, we had to drive by a lot of shady looking streets that reminded me of the TV footage of the third world countries.  Fireworks were shot up from someone's back and front yards everywhere.  I was kind of scared because I wasn't sure if any of the firework rockets would be shot to our car accidentally.  There was one time when some scary looking young men literally came out in the middle of the narrow road we were on and shot the fireworks.  As an immigrant in a foreign land, I was spooked.  But then even my American born and raised husband was spooked.  When we finally made it to the beach, the main entry roads to the beach were blocked off and we didn't know where we were supposed to park so we could walk down to the beach to see the firework. When we were driving around looking for parking, my husband took the wrong turn into some really scary streets with really scary looking people and run down houses.  At one point there were a couple cars parked horizontally ahead of us and blocking our passage.  I was so afraid that those two cars would stay there and we would be trapped in that street with cars behind us.  I prayed the cars ahead of us moved soon so we could get the hell out of that scary neighborhood.  I was just too scared that we would be stuck there for an hour. And god knows if any of these scary looking people surrounding us would drag us outside our car. May be they were harmless people and look was deceiving, but it didn't calm my nerve.  With all the fireworks exploding in the sky, nobody would hear us scream or when we got shot.  Then I remembered how some  naive tourists and foreign students were always murdered in Los Angeles in shady neighborhood like that because these foreigners didn't have a danger radar in them. My husband and I felt really freaked out but then as if God answered my prayer, some people finally came out and drove the cars in front of us away. At that point,  I really didn't feel comfortable to park our car somewhere and walked around at night. So I told my husband to just drive home before the firework in Cabrillo Beach even started...

Last time I made the wrong turn to a shady neighborhood was during broad daylight with my visiting mother, who had become so spooked that she had not come back to Los Angeles to  visit me again even though she just  spent 6 months visiting my cousin in Sydney this year.  This time my husband made a wrong turn in his homeland and he spooked himself.  I guess my mother wasn't overreacting because she was a foreigner.  I always had a very pleasant experience watching fireworks on Independence's Day. But this July 4th, we got lost  and we missed the beautiful firework. We got cold sweat instead.  We however appreciate our July 4th because we feel very grateful that we had a good BBQ and we had a safe holiday.