Monday, July 17, 2017

Sailor Song

May 28 - June 4, 2017

Fraser's is a very Australian restaurant not far from our place.  There are always many Aussies hanging out here, watching Australian rugby and drinking Fosters.  We like to come for the good western-style food.  This week they were celebrating their third anniversary with a special party, complete with free wine tasting and Aussie meat pies.  It was a good crowd, and quite lively, as Australians tend to be.

The following Friday, Mika and I met for lunch at a new restaurant in South Pattaya called The Greyhound.  Apparently this is a very popular restaurant in Bangkok.  It is just in front of a new, shimmering gold theater called D'Luck.  According to the literature, a multimedia show called Kaan is on offer here - a hybrid of live action and cinema, stage performance and technology.  The story is adapted from classic Thai literature.  At 1200 Baht (about $40) and up for a ticket, I can't imagine they will get much traffic from the locals.  I expect busloads of Chinese tourists might fill the seats.  In any case, the food at the Greyhound was nice, and the decor was eye-catching.  It was a nice place to get caught up with my friend.

pretty jellyfish sculpture

Had a pretty spectacular show outside our window that evening.  We have a great view of the cloud activity over the gulf.

Sunday is our driver's day off, but an afternoon concert in town inspired me to find another mode of transportation.  I walked about forty-five minutes, down the twisty road from the hill where our condo is located.  Hot and sweaty at that point, I was able to jump on a song-teaw, or baht bus.  For just ten baht (about thirty cents) I was delivered right outside the Royal Garden Mall where the concert would take place.

The United States Navy Seventh Fleet's Orient Express was performing, along with the Royal Thai Navy's band, as part of Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), an annual joint exercise between the two countries.   I ran into a couple of US sailors when I entered, and exclaimed, "My people!"  I'm sure they were a bit alarmed by this sweaty, red-faced, crazy lady.

The Thai navy was already performing when I arrived - playing pop songs with a heavy brass section.  The band was all-male, but had a succession of female (and some male) vocalists that stepped to the front of the stage for each new song.  I recognized a few western tunes, like Beyond the Sea, Michael Buble's Feeling Good, and What a Beautiful World, complete with their own unique and charming pronunciations.  They even brought the cuteness factor with a little girl in a sailor dress singing a Thai song.

Next, the US sailors took the stage.  Theirs was a smaller band, with guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and four or five horns.  I was impressed with the quality of their music, and happily recognized nearly every tune.  It's kind of difficult to look the part of a rock star when sporting a crew cut and a naval uniform, but they put on a good show.  I especially enjoyed their rendition of John Legend's All of  Me.  I was thinking that although the Thai navy performed several songs in English, I doubted the Americans would reciprocate.  Imagine my surprise and delight when they belted out a song or two in Thai.  Well done, sirs.

Finally, the two groups joined forces and performed a final set.  It was encouraging to see the spirit of cooperation between the two countries' military units, especially in these days of so much isolationist rhetoric.  That alone was well worth the trek.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

California Final

May 13-15, 2017

Saturday morning I asked Ted to take me to Wal-Mart to exchange something I got earlier in the week.  I didn't realize that Wal-Marts are so few and far between around these parts.  The first store we went to just happened to be on the way back from my niece's house, but nowhere near Ted's.  I never dreamed there was a place in America that didn't have a Wal-Mart nearby!  Ted found another one northeast of his place in Burbank, a good twenty-plus miles away.  He thought we could drive there and back in plenty of time for him to get to his football game in the afternoon.

But the Los Angeles highways had other ideas.  Traffic was terrible nearly all the way there, and it took us an hour to reach our destination. When we finally arrived, I rushed into the store and found the item I wanted to exchange.  I was so tempted to just swap out the item, stick it in my bag and zip out.  But Ted convinced my to do a legitimate exchange at Customer Service, even though we had to wait in line.  I know he was right - the child schools the parent!

Back on the road, the highway was nearly at a standstill.  The other side of the freeway was completely empty - obviously shut down.   Soon an endless line of motorcycles streamed past.  It was the South LA "10-33" benefit ride for fallen police and firefighters  ("10-33" is the police code for "emergency.")  We were lucky to be on the other side, but it seemed to affect traffic on both sides.  Ted kept his cool, even though I suspect he was simmering inside.  We made it back with little time to spare - he quickly changed and shot out the door.

Hiustyn was working and Ted was playing, so I had a quiet afternoon.  When Ted returned, he said some friends were having a party that evening.  The last thing I wanted was for him to miss a fun evening because he had to babysit his mom!  I told him he should go ahead, but he said I was invited, too, and should come along.  Again, I didn't want to put a damper on his evening because he had to bring his mom along.  But he finally convinced me, and I got myself ready.  His buddy who lives nearby kindly picked us up and drove us all to their friends' house about thirty minutes away.

Most of the friends there were part of a co-ed recreational sports group that often plays beach football.  The owners of the house had just moved in, and had a big, sweet dog that was the star of the party.  Our hosts were busy trying to set up tables and lights in the little yard, and people congregated around the big table ( a makeshift old wooden door) filled with snacks.  They started cooking on their little grill, and I did the mom thing by stepping in to do the job.  I felt less intrusive with a job to do.

After a delicious meal, including my first grilled burger in months, everyone went inside to play games.  Now this was my kind of party!  They also had a version of JackboxTV, but with different games.  I sat on the sofa, and as people filed in, they announced that only eight people could play at a time.  I wanted to give others the opportunity, but they'd already counted me in.  Ted and Hiustyn did not make the cut, however.  Now I really felt awkward!

The game was Quiplash, where wittiness and creativity are key.  You have to respond to prompts like,"After a hard day at work, I really just need to _______" or "Pick the name of a city and make it sound dirty."   Every player gets two prompts.  Each prompt is received by two players, who answer it independently.  After all the answers are in, the game announces the prompt, and shows the two answers anonymously.  Everyone who didn't get that prompt votes on their favorite response. The points are split based in the percentage of players who favored each response.  As you can imagine, innuendo and humor often got the most votes.  Guess who won??  After the first game, I thought I should give the others a chance to play 😉.

It was a fun evening with a very nice group of people, most of whom were transplants from various other parts of the country.  Reminded my of our little neighborhood of transplants in Texas.  I enjoyed meeting Ted's friends and getting a little peek into his life in LA.

I packed my bags the next morning and sadly said my goodbyes to my wonderfully generous hosts.  The pain of our parting was softened by the fact that I would see them again the following month at a family wedding in Michigan.

Once through security at LAX, I had my last fix of American food  with a delicious citrus chicken quesadilla at Border Grill.  I was delighted to discover that my ride from Air China was actually parked at the gate this time - no thirty minute bus ride to the far reaches of the airport.  I squeezed into my seat for the interminable flight back.  Politeness eluded me as I decided I would claim my share of the armrests this time.   Thirteen hours is just too long to keep my arms crossed!

It was evident just how bored I was on the flight when I started reading through the duty-free pages on the screen in front of me.  It did have its entertainment value...

Has your skin ever suffered from this malady??

Saturday, June 17, 2017

California III

May 11 - 12, 2017

The four of us jockeyed for position to use the shower this morning, but we had to concede to Ted, who needed to be at USC a half hour before the rest of us.  He donned his flattering USC cap and gown and headed to the train, getting thumbs-up and congratulations from strangers along the way.

Tim, Hiustyn and I brought up the rear, walking to the train in our graduation-attendee finery.  We got on the train with plenty of time to spare...but then the announcement came.  A train was stuck on the tracks ahead, so our train would only get us about half the distance we needed to travel, where it would stop and go back the other way.  The stop where it would leave us was not in the best part of town, so Hiustyn suggested we get off the stop before and call Uber.  I did not allow myself to look at the time and convinced myself we would not be late.  We waited ten or fifteen minutes, or so it seemed, and our car arrived.  Driving in the car is often much slower in LA because of the unending traffic, but the car was able to let us out closer to our destination, so that was a plus.

We walked past fields of chairs set up outside, but realized they were being set up for the general graduation ceremonies the next day.  We followed the crowd to a sea of red and wondered how we would find Ted.  After a few false sightings, we finally met up, just as they were preparing to go inside the auditorium.  We found our own seats and waited for the commencement to commence.  We grabbed a couple of pictures before the multiple announcements asking everyone to take their seats.

Bovard Auditorium

We found him! 

His last moments as a padawan
This was the PhD Hooding and Awards Ceremony for over 150 candidates in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.  The advisers of the PhD students processed in.  Each student had an adviser; some, like Ted, had two.  This is the person(s) who guided their research study over so many years.  Many advisers had multiple PhD candidates under their tutelage.

Ted's adviser, Dr. Henryk Flashner

Ted's other adviser, Jill McNitt-Gray

The dean of the engineering school, Yannis Yortsos, gave an entertaining talk.  He remarked on the lengthy titles of many of the students' theses, and suggested that perhaps they should soon allow emojis to be part of the titles.😊😁😄😋😏😉  He reminded us that PhD stands for the Latin Philosophiae Doctor; Philosophiae can be translated as lover of wisdom.

Dean Yortsos

Awards were presented first, and I am proud to say that my son received the Jenny Wang Award for Excellence in Teaching for the Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering.  That's my boy!

Ted standing for his award recognition
After all the awards were presented, the students migrated up to the stage to be hooded.  They carried their hood draped over their arm onto the stage, where their adviser(s) took the hood and placed it around their candidate's neck.  Some tall students with short advisers had to do contortions to help their adviser's reach, making for some entertainment as the ceremony wore on.  All in all, the ceremony was an enjoyable and joyful celebration of the accomplishments of some very bright students.

Dean Yannis Yortsos, adviser Jill McNitt-Gray, Ted, adviser Henryk Flashner

Ted was one of the first to be hooded.  After that, well...
The school hosted a lovely breakfast reception in the park behind the auditorium.  We were able to meet Ted's advisers and some of his fellow PhDs.  Attendees enjoyed fresh fruit, salads, cookies and such in the cool morning sunshine.  A group of Ted's acquaintances, including one of his advisers, walked over to the front of the Engineering building for some pictures, then on to the Moreton Fig for drinks.  The Moreton Fig is so named for the two giant Moreton Fig trees that shade the outdoor patio of the restaurant.  They are massive, ancient-looking specimens of a giant species brought to the US from Australia in the nineteenth century.

Something seems to be missing from this photo...

A reminder of "home!"

One massive Moreton Fig tree

And the other.

Ted borrowed his friend's "fancy" cap 

Waxing eloquent about dual quaternions or something...
Then it was on to the iconic statue of Tommy Trojan for some final pictures before returning the rented robes.  Tommy is quite the celebrity; we had to wait in line to have our picture taken with him!

Full-on Jedi
In the evening, we enjoyed some fresh handmade pizza and craft beer at the Doughroom.  Kudos to the customer service there - Tim's pizza was just slightly burnt on the edge, so they insisted on making  him a new one, but in the mean time, let him have the first one anyway.
The next morning Ted drove Tim and me to a popular breakfast eatery near Venice Beach, Egg Slut.  He said people frequently stand in line for an hour to eat these delicious egg sandwiches.  They were very tasty, but I'm not sure I'd wait in line an hour for one!  I think waiting in line for good eats is part of the foodie culture in LA.

We walked down to Venice Beach.  It was a cool, overcast morning, so not a lot of activity.  We were entertained by a couple of guys obviously shooting some kind of music video there, dancing in and out of the palm trees.

Music video in progress...

From here it was just a short drive to see the Venice Canals.  It's a lovely little area - very pricey to live here I would imagine.  Some of the homes looked like they were vacation rentals.  I was surprised we were allowed on the walkway between the homes and the canals.

These are real!  I thought they were metal...

Another eye-catching tree

lots of lovely and unique homes

Sadly, it was time to say good-bye to Tim - his visit went by much too quickly, but I am so glad I got to see him.  We drove him to LAX, then headed back to the apartment, stopping for some groceries on the way.  American grocery stores - such selections!

Long time no see!  I was weak.
In the evening, Ted and I enjoyed an outdoor jazz concert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).  It was a fine performance by the Charles Owens Quintet.  Charles Owens is a seventy-eight-year-old world-class sax and flute player and vocalist.  We were especially impressed with the piano player, Tamir Hendelman, who Charles Owens said was "born in a Steinway."  So refreshing to soak in some good quality live jazz - not many opportunities in Pattaya (I know I've whined about this before).

This is "Gort" from the old movie, The Day the Earth Stood Still,
in a shop front we passed on the way to the concert!
"Gort, Klaatu barada nikto!"

The Charles Owens Quintet

The iconic "Urban Light" sculpture outside the LACMA,
as seen in the movies No Strings Attached and Valentines Day.