“I have something important I want to talk to you about,” Tawn said with a look of seriousness. “I think we should get a dog.” Trying to be a more effective communicator than usual, I decided to listen instead of immediately listing the dozens of reasons why getting a dog was a bad idea. So I settled back into the couch and tried very hard to have an open mind.
The end result of the discussion was that we ended up getting a dog. Despite my misgivings – we live in a no-pets condo, and a small one at that; our schedules don’t allow much time for a dog; while I love dogs I don’t want to be responsible for one – I told Tawn that if he could address the concerns that I felt, we could get a dog.
A week later, Tawn drove to a breeder across the river to pick up an 8-month old King Charles Cavalier. She had just been flown in from another breeder in Malaysia the night before and Tawn had been talking to the Thai breeder for a few weeks before asking me if we could get a dog.
I arrived home in the middle of the afternoon to find them in the bathroom: a sad, soaked pup shivering on the marble floor as Tawn tried to blow dry her hair. Even though she had never met me, she readily jumped into the relative safety of my arms. Her wet, floppy ears quickly soaked my shirt sleeves.
We sat on the patio for the next hour or so, the ceiling fan stirring a gentle breeze as I held the dog, whom we named Kiki, in a towel and tried to dry her fur. Her shaking stopped and she would doze for short intervals but quickly awoke at any movement or sound.
After a trip to the local pet store to buy some supplies for Kiki, Tawn had to head out for an event. I had some cooking to do in preparation for a dinner the next day. Kiki sat in her basket for a while and then in her kennel, watching me as I cooked. Even though she could see me, she would frequently bark, calling for my attention.
I would let her out and try to keep an eye on her as I cooked. Three times there were accidents on our carpet. Not being experienced caring for dogs, I quickly Googled for advice and tried to respond to the accidents without anger, instead carrying her to some newspapers on the patio whenever I though she might need to go.
Tawn returned home, excited at the prospect of a dog waiting for him. She still seemed a little timid, afraid perhaps that he would whip out the hair dryer once again. We put her in the kennel several times, leaving the room for an increasing length of time. She would yip and yelp quite quickly and we were worried that the neighbors would be disturbed by the noise.
Finally, when it was time for bed, I decided we should take some additional online advice: to help puppies adjust, place their kennel in the bedroom at night so they can sense that you are nearby. This seemed a reasonable step but about once every hour or so, Kiki would wake up and call for us. Finally, after the third time, Tawn took the kennel into the living room and stayed with her while I fell back asleep.
In the morning, I found him lying on the couch with Kiki in a basket nearby. With a voice filled with regret, Tawn told me that he had spent the night up with her. While doing so, he had evaluated his decision and said that he had probably miscalculated how much time and energy it would take to care for a new dog. He proposed that we call the breeder and return Kiki.
Again trying to be a good communicator, I listened, acknowledged his points, and let him know that I would support him either way. If he wanted to keep Kiki, we would find a way to make it work. If he wanted to return her, I would understand that, too.
In the end, we put Kiki in her basket and drove back to the breeder’s that morning. Kiki was subdued, probably from a combination of exhaustion and anxiety. Handing her back to the maid at the breeder’s house, I couldn’t hold back my tears.
The next day, the breeder posted a picture of Kiki (whose real name is something fancy like Lady Penelope) sleeping peacefully with her sister, along with a comment about how happy she seemed to be to be back at home. That helped reassure Tawn that we had made the right decision.
Looking back, I think it would have been possible to make Kiki a part of our lives. It would have taken a lot of work over several weeks, but it could have been done. But I also think that we made the best decision, because a dog (especially a lap dog) really requires time and attention. It isn’t fair to not be prepared to give them what they need to thrive.
Trying to catch everyone up on my recent activities, in November I celebrated my birthday by cooking a dinner for some of my friends. One friend had recently remodeled his condo and was itching to have a dinner party to show off the new open-format kitchen. Never shy about messing up, err… cooking in someone else’s kitchen, I accepted his offer and started planning a meal around the theme of umami.
Umami is the fifth taste (after sweet, sour, salty, and bitter). A Japanese word, it describes the “savory,” “meaty,” or “fulfilling” quality. Umami is tasted through glutamates, a type of amino acid that is found in foods such as mushrooms, anchovies, fish sauce, tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, and MSG.
The appetizer course featured three umami-rich items: a Parmesan and wild mushroom custard, miso and bacon glazed eggplant, and whole grain toasts with avocado and soy-sauce dressed sardines. This was probably a wee bit ambitious as there ended up being so much food that this course was almost a meal in itself.
The “soup” course was a bit clever, if I say so myself. I borrowed a friend’s ice cream maker and turned a roasted tomato soup into a granita and served it with Parmesan sorbet on top. It really had all the flavors of a tomato soup (plus a little spicy as I added dried chilies) with cheese sprinkled on top, but it was frozen.
The main course was balsamic vinegar marinated roast chicken with green olives. This excellent choice of a marinade makes for rich, flavorful, and moist meat. Will definitely repeat this recipe.
Accompanying the main corse were garlic and black truffle infused mashed potatoes with more Parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.
We concluded the meal with a salad course, a Caesar salad with homemade dressing. This is the first time I’ve made Caesar dressing from scratch and it is incredibly easy and really much better than from a bottle. Served with homemade croutons with truffle salt.
For dessert, I served an interesting Sicilian orange olive oil cake with homemade cardamom ice cream. The cake was interesting because it is made by quartering and boiling oranges (unpeeled) in three changes of water and then pureeing the oranges, rind and all, and incorporating it into the batter. The result is a moist, intensely flavored cake. The cardamom ice cream was an excellent compliment to the cake.
While there were some friends who weren’t present, the dinner itself was a success. I was very happy with the dishes and while I would probably not be as ambitious next time, I think many of the recipes are worth visiting again.
It has been over a month since I last posted. No good excuse for my absence. Just a combination of being very busy with many things and also finding that ever since the announcement of the transition to Xanga 2.0, the community that made blogging here such a pleasure has largely eroded. It becomes a vicious cycle, of course, since blogging less and spending less time reading and commenting on others’ blogs only erodes the community further.
A friend who pitched in $50 to help keep Xanga alive, just because he likes reading my blog, asked about my absence. I guess I do owe it to him to keep blogging, don’t it? Plus, I despite my frequent activity on Instagram and Facebook, those platforms don’t lend themselves to longer-form writing. I need to exercise the literary part of my brain more often, so I choose to increase the frequency of my blogging.
There is a lot that has been going on the past few weeks. For starters, after being laid off in February from my job of 13 years, I finally secured a job offer. The new job, which I’ll talk about more in a future post, begins in January so I still have more than a month to fill before then. Still, it is a relief to know that a regular paycheck will soon be coming. Although I’ve enjoyed the flexibility of freelance, it isn’t the best decision for me right now, financially.
There are a lot of other things that have been happened, too. I’ll share more in the next few days as I ease back into blogging. Don’t know if anyone is left out there, but if you are, I’m back!
With friends visiting recently from the US, I asked if they would carry over a cavatelli roller I ordered online. When they arrived, I treated them to a meal of homemade cavatelli with homemade pesto sauce and chorizo.
Cavatelli is a type of pasta. Roughly translated as “little cave” or “little cavity,” the pasta looks like miniature hot dog buns or, less favorably, maggots. But the shape is ideal for capturing sauce and being freshly made, they have a nice chewiness that you can’t find from dried pasta.
One classic version of cavatelli is made with ricotta cheese. That’s the version I tried and the resulting pasta is light and yet rich-tasting. After mixing the flour, ricotta, and one egg, you can still see flecks of the cheese in the dough.
The dough is given a short kneading, but not nearly as much as most rolled out pasta. It is important that the dough be allowed to rest before you roll it out and cut it. It is also important that this dough be very dry. (Since you’ll ask, I was wearing gloves because I nicked my hand with a knife. Decided to wear gloves on both hands just to avoid the Michael Jackson look.)
After the dough has rested, you cut it into strips about one inch wide. You must liberally flour the strips so it does not gum up the cavatelli roller. That’s a mess that is hard to clean up so best not to mess it up to begin with.
The final step is to hand-crank the strips of dough through the machine. It is a clever little contraption that cuts off a length of dough, squishes it through two wooden rollers, presses it around a curve (adding the ridges at the same time) and then knocks the pasta off. This first attempt, the pasta was a little too moist and the pieces kept sticking requiring me to manually knock them off the last bar. The next attempt, I made the dough drier.
The end result was fantastic: hearty and toothy and very satisfying. Sure, there was a cloud of flour in the kitchen that required cleaning up, but that’s part of the fun.
While in Chiang Mai a few weeks ago with visiting guests, I made a stop at the Four Seasons resort for afternoon tea. The resort is located about a thirty-minute drive north of town, which only enhances its feeling of being in the middle of nowhere. The resort is gorgeous and the afternoon tea is a worthwhile splurge for an hour or two of pampering yourself.
The resort is arranged around a pond designed to look like a Northern Thai village complete with rice paddies. The only buildings you see are those belonging to the resort and with the mountains in the distance, you could easily be forgiven for thinking you had been transported to some magical Thai Brigadoon. At 5:00, the “farmers” (resort employees dressed in traditional Northern Thai farmer’s clothes) paraded across the paddies to the rhythm of a gong, “returning” to the village, a touch that was a bit kitschy but also fun.
Trish, Allen, and I pose for a picture at the Sala Mae Rim restaurant. We didn’t make reservations but fortunately were able to get a prime table, perhaps because it was the midst of rainy season and the slowest time for tourists. We ordered one tea set (designed for two) plus an extra pot of tea, which was more than enough food for the three of us. The total price was approximately US$50, more than I would usually spend but certainly a worthwhile treat while on holiday.
The top plate in the tea set featured mango sticky rice with a palm sugar floss; crisp water chestnuts in sweet coconut milk; Parisian macaroons, and chocolate truffle cake.
The middle plate in the set featured finger sandwiches (ham and cheese, cucumber, and smoked salmon); fried shrimps wrapped in egg noodles, miang kham (a Thai snack of betel leaves wrapped around savory fillings); and krathong tong (literally “golden baskets” – crispy shells filled with minced chicken and shrimp).
The final plate in the set featured kaffir-lime and raisin scones, served with clotted cream and strawberry jam. All the food was fantastic and the portions were more than adequate for the three of us.
After almost two hours of indulgence, we finally left paradise to return to the city. Without a doubt, the Four Seasons is on my list for future visits. While it may be too far away from the city to actually stay at (unless you specifically want to escape from the world), it is worth a visit for tea.
While up in Chiang Mai with visitors last week, I took several pictures that I want to share. It is the height of rainy season and the surrounding countryside was particularly verdant.
On the way up Doi Inthanon, Thailand’s highest mountain, we pulled over to snap this picture of rice paddies terraced in a small valley.
Further up the mountain, we visited the Royal Agricultural Project, which over the last few decades has helped local hill tribes transition from growing poppies (which were used to make heroin) to growing a wide variety of fruits, vegetables, and flowers. The higher elevation provides a climate suitable for select vegetables that could otherwise not be grown in Thailand. The pictures of flowers below are from the display gardens at the project.
By visiting during the weekdays of the rainiest month of the year, we enjoyed not only the beautiful flora but also the smallest crowds of tourists I have ever seen. In fact, “crowds” is not the correct term. “Handfuls” would be more apt.
We also visited Doi Suthep, the mountain immediately to the west of Chiang Mai, which houses a spectacular temple with a golden chedi, or stuppa. This is the second time I’ve visited the temple on an overcast and damp day. The effect is interesting because the gilding is not as bright as on a sunny day, but it contrasts beautifully with the grey skies. In the above picture, I focused on a row of bells the line the temple buildings. Bells are purchased with donations and the donors can write wishes or prayers on the metal leaf hanging from the clapper.
On our final afternoon, we drove north of Chiang Mai to the Four Seasons Resort to enjoy afternoon tea overlooking their property, which is designed to look like a rice farming village. I’ll share the pictures of the gorgeous tea service in another post but wanted to share this view of their pretty property.
Along Niemenhamen Road, the artsy district of Chiang Mai located near Chiang Mai University, sits a nondescript restaurant with a utilitarian name: Burmese Restaurant. Recommended by a friend who moved to Chiang Mai recently, a recommendation confirmed by several Burmese staff members of the hotel at which we stayed, I went for dinner.
The restaurant sits directly on the street at the corner of Soi 8, the cooking area and one dining area located outdoors, another dining area indoors. The crowd of diners was very light this Friday evening, maybe due to the impending rain. The friendly staff welcomed us and offered us a table indoors, turning on fans to ensure our comfort.
There are two menus, each a single page with about thirty items. One menu features Burmese dishes. The other menu features Thai/Chinese style dishes. We ordered from the Burmese menu with the exception of one vegetable dish. Unfortunately, several items we ordered were not available either because they were out already or the dish is not offered every day.
Here is a look at the dishes we ate – all of which were tasty. The entire bill for five diners was less than US$20. Needless to say, I’ll be back next time I am in Chiang Mai.
We had ordered a curried fish soup that is the national dish of Burma. Sadly, it was not on the menu so we instead ordered this bean soup, which was tasty although not very distinctive.
The goat curry, which our local friend enthused about, was also not available that day so we chose the chicken and potato curry instead. While it may not look particularly attractive, especially because of the oil slick on top, the curry was very flavorful and we ordered a second serving.
The stand-out dish was this tamarind leaf salad, one of several salads on the menu made with what I would consider “unusual” ingredients. This salad was refreshing and it is difficult to describe the flavor of the leaves. The flavor is entirely pleasant and entirely unlike the taste of the tamarind fruit. One blogger described it as “eating al dente ferns”, which is about right. The salad is sweet and sour and salty with chopped peanuts and tomatoes.
We also ordered a tomato salad, which was a pleasant surprise. With the exception of cherry tomatoes, which are generally very red and sweet, tomatoes in Thailand are usually pale pink and crunchy. These were anything but, and with onions and cilantro, they made for a refreshing dish.
The menu contained many items translated into English as “curries” that are different from what you might expect, especially if you consider a curry as something with coconut milk in it. Instead, these curries feature a variety of spices but lighter sauces. The above picture is of an eggplant curry dish that was very nice.
There was also a boiled duck egg curry dish that was tasty. While you see a lot of chilies in this (and other) dishes, they were not particularly spicy at least by the standards of Thai cuisine. As one Burmese friend described it, the food is more similar to Northern Thai cuisine than the super-spicy Northeastern or Southern Thai cuisines.
The only item we ordered off the secondary menu was this simple stir-fry of greens and pork. While the salads we ordered had lots of greens, it felt like another dish of vegetables would help balance things out.
This is probably only the third or fourth time I have eaten Burmese food, and the first time in more than a dozen years. Without a doubt, I need to seek it out more often!
It has been busy, too busy to spend much time on Xanga. In addition to being up to my eyebrows in several client projects, I also have guests visiting. These family friends take a bit more time to look after than many of my more regular guests, so that means additional time away from the blogging.
Right now, I am up in Chiang Mai with them for a few days. Nice change of scenery, although Tawn was unable to join.
A few random thoughts:
The problem with freelancing is that clients want a firm quote but the scope of their projects always seem to expand and the timelines frequently slide. This leads to less work (and income) in a given month than originally projects.
There is a pending job offer that would lead me from part-time work into full-time work with a company in Bangkok over the next three to four months. Good news but the devil, as they say, is in the details. And I haven’t seen any details yet.
I have been thinking a lot about the subject of identity construction on social media: the ways in which we form an image of ourselves based on what we choose to share, and the ways in which our image of others is based on their specifically constructed identity. While choosing to present your best self is nothing new, social media exacerbates the negative aspects. Feel like I need to think more closely about what I share on social media and why.
Anyhow, time to get started with the day. We are driving to Doi Ithanon, the highest peak in Thailand, today.
Between clients and visiting guests, these have been busy days. Still, I manage to find some time to get into the kitchen and cook. This evening it was an attempt at double-crust stuffed pizza pie.
Unlike “deep dish” pizzas, which are single-crust pizzas with a very thick layer of toppings, a double crust stuffed pizza has the first layer of crust topped with all the normal pizza toppings minus the sauce, wrapped with a second layer of crust. The sauce, a bit drier and chunkier than normal, is put over the top crust and then the pie is baked. I first tried this style of pizza in the San Francisco Bay Area at Zachary’s and Little Star.
In addition to making my own crust, using Tipo 00 flour from Italy and some rosemary from my garden, I made my own sauce, cooked some spinach, and cooked some mushrooms, draining them so there wouldn’t be too much extra liquid.
After placing the bottom layer of dough in a cake tin, I added alternating layers of the ingredients: cheese, spinach, mushrooms, and pepperoni.
This video shows me adding the second crust, tucking it in, and adding the sauce. The only part of the pizza that was a problem was too much crust along the sides. In the future, I think I would cut the top dough to fit and just pinch the seams closed instead of having an overlap and folding the pieces together.
The end result was beautiful. The crusts were crisp, the interior ingredients were a cheesy mass, and the slightly spicy sauce cut through the richness of the fillings.
Seems to be a crazy amount of spam coming into Xanga 2.0. Thankfully, it is being flagged in my comments inbox so I can mark it as spam before it hits my actual entries. But, still, what’s going on with this deluge?
In remembrance of the 9-11-2001 attacks, I humbly suggest that we need to move beyond thinking of ourselves in terms of our nationality, our religion, or our race. We need to start thinking of ourselves as human beings. Only then will peace truly be possible. Easier to say than to do, but let’s use today as an opportunity to move towards that goal.
Just over a year after opening his first boutique at the Central Chidlom department store, Tawn is close to opening his first flagship TAWN C store at Gaysorn Plaza mall in Bangkok. This stand-alone store will offer him greater control over the space compared to the boutique in the department store. He will have a locking front door, the ability to play his own music, and won’t have employees of other brands traipsing through his space on their way to and from the stock room.
The design for the store was done by our designer friend Ble, who designed the boutique and our condo, too. The feel of the space will be very modern but sophisticated, with walls divided into large pixels with molding. It should be very nice.
At this point, the hope is that the store is ready to open next week. The picture above is from a week ago. The big question is whether the carpet is ready for installation on time. I suggested that Tawn should do a photo shoot with his models in hard hats in the construction zone of his store. He didn’t think that was a good idea.
Last Sunday we had four couples over for brunch. It had been about two months since I last had guests over and was missing the sounds of a full house. Normally, because of our small dining table, we limit guests to four. However, you don’t get the opportunities to introduce groups of friends who have never met when you have so few guests, so I invited a larger crowd.
In a moment of OCD, I actually printed the menu and tied it above the kitchen counter so guests could see what they were serving themselves. (Buffet style service today.) To save your eyesight, here’s the menu:
“Make Your Own” Parfait Bar – Fresh tropical fruits, homemade almond maple granola, local whole milk yoghurt, and Northern Thai honey.
Crostini – Made from Maison Jean Philippe baguettes drizzled with annatto seed and garlic infused extra virgin olive oil, served with fromage blanc from Yogi.
Salad – Imported black quinoa and chickpeas mixed with bell peppers, rocket, capers, raisins, and toasted almonds, dressed with black sesame tahini, lemon juice, and honey.
Main – Baked organic eggs Mediterranean style with spinach, Kalmatta olives, onions, feta and mozzarella cheese, and green onions. Drizzled with annatto seed and garlic infused extra virgin olive oil.
Bread – Whole wheat, toasted oat, walnut, and date muffins served with Swedish whipped honey.
Dessert – Choice of American cherry tart or American blackberry tart, served with Disaronno infused whipped cream and nutmeg garnish.
Main counter with the parfait bar, crostini, muffins, and tarts from left to right.
Second counter with the quinoa and chickpea salad and baked egg dishes. I had originally bought aluminum tins (tacky, I know, but easy clean-up) but didn’t look at the package count so had to cave in and use ramekins anyhow.
The quinoa and chickpea salad. The market was out of regular tahini so I had to use an organic black sesame spread (think peanut butter made from sesame seeds) which required a lot of lemon juice to overcome the sweetness of the honey in the spread. The result was tasty, though, and very healthful.
The muffins, although a little stunted, were tasty. With mostly whole wheat flour and lots of toasted oats, they were fairly healthful. Plenty of chopped dates added minerals, nutrients, and fiber. Oh, and a little sprinkle of sugar on top? Well, who can resist?
One of the two tarts. One of my guests had not so subtly suggested I bake a cherry pie for dessert so I took him up on it. Decided to do a tart, though, so I could use puff pastry from the store. Unfortunately, while it looks impressive, the brand of pastry uses shortening instead of butter so I found it a bit tough. Looks nice, though!
The conversation was wonderful and some friends who had never met each other before finally had a chance to connect. Of course, some who did not know each other, knew of each other. It is a small world here, even smaller when you are in my condo!
Well, we’ve made it to Xanga 2.0. At least, the few dozen of us who remain. Truth be told, I fled to WordPress during the dark days, copying over my entire blog and building a new site that, frankly, looks a lot better than this one.
You can find it at christao.net if you are interested, but I’d encourage you to stay here and help us rebuild the vanished tribe of Xangans. Besides, everything will be cross-posted so I promise you won’t miss anything.
Unfortunately, my custom URL I had purchased through Xanga – www.christao408.com – doesn’t seem to be working anymore. A problem to be fixed at some point, I’m sure.
Thursday afternoon, out of nowhere, I noticed that the left side of my neck was a bit tender and by the evening, it seemed to be swollen a bit. Considering that I’ve never experienced these symptoms before, I decided to go to the doctor’s office Friday morning and have it diagnosed.
The diagnosis was that I have a “deep neck abscess” – a bacterial infection inside the tissues of my neck. Dead white blood cells accumulate, forming a mass in the tissue. Normally, this is caused by poor dental health or after an infection of the respiratory system. Neither is the case for me.
The doctor wanted to admit me to the hospital right away and get me started on strong antibiotics. A bit hesitant to jump straight to that course of treatment, I negotiated and was instead given IV antibiotics on an outpatient basis with the promise to return this morning.
While the swelling and tenderness haven’t become noticeably worse, they haven’t improved, either. I suspect I will have to cave in and be admitted for what will be the second hospital visit in my life.
Thankfully, it is happening at the start of a weekend, so the timing is only a minor inconvenience. Will have to cancel a trip to the farmer’s market Saturday and brunch plans for Sunday.
What I find interesting is that I never had to be hospitalized until I moved to Thailand. I wonder if it is coincidence, the fact that I am getting into my middle years, or perhaps I am really exposed to more bacteria here in Thailand.
This is the story of my first flight aboard the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, traveling on All-Nippon Airways (ANA) flight 1075 from San Jose, California to Narita airport in Tokyo, Japan. The 11-minute video version of this trip report is embedded below, if you would prefer to watch it.
The Dreamliner is a revolutionary wide-body aircraft. Made largely with composite materials, it is about 20% more fuel efficient than the older 767 aircraft it is designed to replace. Despite a four-month grounding earlier this year because of electrical problems, the aircraft has performed very well for its initial customers and is opening new “long and thin” routes like San Jose to Tokyo that could not previously have been served profitably.
I arrived at the airport plenty early to watch the inbound aircraft land, which arrived about twenty minutes late. Having grown up in the San Jose area and able to remember the days when the airport was a much smaller operation, it is exciting to see this cutting-edge plane regularly scheduled to fly here.
ANA operates from terminal A. Now nearly a quarter-century old, I still recall terminal A as the “new” terminal compared to the 1960s era terminal C that was only recently demolished. As a child, I relished the opportunity to walk across the tarmac and climb a set of stairs to board the airplane. To me, that made air travel much more exciting. These days, the two terminals at San Jose are modern and entirely enclosed. Certainly the facilities are nicer but the travel experience is also more sterile.
ANA has a small counter space but lots of employees working check-in. As a Star Alliance gold level member, there was no wait and I was efficiently checked in by a friendly agent. While the agent did not appear to be of Japanese heritage – several of the staff members were – she displayed all the appropriate cultural training such as receiving and handing documents with both hands. This was a nice touch and leads me to believe that instead of relying on contract employees, ANA is using its own staff.
Boarding pass in hand – a window seat in the second row of economy class – I headed up the escalator to the security screening area. The terminal has a single consolidated screening point and while there weren’t that many people in line, the process took a bit of time. In particular, the crew of Mexican budget airline Volaris seemed to be holding up the line, unfamiliar with the TSA’s screening procedures. It took several of the flight attendants multiple trips through the metal detector before they finally removed all of their metal items.
Today’s flight operated from gate 15, one of two gates connected to the International Arrivals Area. This section of the terminal is essentially the connector between terminals A and B. There are few amenities but the windows offer a good view of the tarmac. Unfortunately, the sterile corridor leading to the customs and immigration area means you look out through two sets of windows.
I spent plenty of time taking pictures of the Dreamliner. It is a unique-looking airplane, with an asymmetrical nose. The plane’s proportions make it looks smaller than it actually is, perhaps because it looks unusually low to the ground for so large an aircraft.
After taking plenty of pictures – something lots of other waiting passengers were also doing – I headed to The Club at SJC, a private lounge that ANA uses for its premium customers. The Club is the only lounge at SJC, where the only dominant airline is Southwest.
Located upstairs from the departure gate, the lounge offers limited views of the tarmac but has two large seating areas, workspaces, and a decent selection of food and beverage. They also have a single shower room, so I freshened up before the flight.
It was nearing time to board. ANA operates the San Jose service with a 787 in a very low density configuration, only 158 passengers in a plane that can easily seat more than 220. Because of this, the gate area was not crowded.
After the highest level members of ANA’s frequent flyer program were boarded, Star Alliance Gold members were invited. A single jetway is used at this gate but with so few passengers boarding, it isn’t a problem. I was welcomed aboard warmly and directed towards my seat.
Business class, divided into two cabins, seats 46 people in alternating rows of 1-1-1 and 1-2-1 seating. All seats have direct aisle access and a lot of privacy. The problem with this arrangement is that it isn’t very friendly for couples traveling together. I know that privacy is something that a lot of premium customers value highly, but I prefer arrangements that are a little less cubicle-like.
A small economy class cabin of just three rows sits behind business class and the mid-cabin lavatories. In another configuration, this area has premium economy seating with 38” legroom and only seven seats across. I can understand why they made that choice: there is nearly a foot of empty floor behind the last row in this cabin. Even without installing premium economy, they could have added a few more inches to each of these three rows.
The design of the overhead bins offers plenty of room to store roll-aboard bags placed on their side. The bins also pivot into the ceiling, making for a very open cabin when they are closed. This being a low-density seating configuration, lots of storage space remained even after everyone had boarded.
ANA uses fixed-shell seats in economy, where instead of reclining back into the row behind you, your seat slides forward. I like this arrangement because my personal space remains fixed. With 33 to 34 inches of seat pitch, ANA’s Dreamliner offers several more inches of legroom than most competitors including joint-venture partner United Airlines. My one complaint with these seats is that the headrest doesn’t move up and down and, perhaps because it is designed for Japanese customers, it manages to fall at my neck rather than the back of my head.
The inflight entertainment system is an “on-demand” system with touch screen controls. The selection of movies, TV shows, games, and music is extensive – plenty to keep you occupied on your flight. The system was also one of the more responsive that I have used. When you touch the screen, it reacts promptly. The overhead passenger service unit features a new design and it was nice to be on a wide-body airplane with personal air vents.
Boarding was complete in about fifteen minutes and soon enough we had pushed back and the safety demo was finished. As the engines spooled up – a higher pitch whine than I’ve heard before – the ANA ground staff lined up to send us off with a wave. Being a small airport, we reached the departure end of runway 30 R in just a few minutes. Number one for takeoff, we pulled onto the runway and launched into our roll without a stop.
Our departure followed an interesting path, indicated in green on the map. We leveled off at 5,000 feet and maintained that altitude across the south end of the bay, towards Woodside.
Meanwhile, aircraft were circling wide on our left (yellow on the map), cutting behind us to line up for arrival on runways 28 L and R at San Francisco. While I am confident the air traffic controllers were keeping a close watch on us, the other aircraft came a lot closer than you usually see from your window. It was nice to have such a good view! As we approached Half Moon Bay, we resumed our climb, joining the westbound route across the Pacific.
About forty minutes after departure, inflight service began with hot towels – real cloth towels – followed by a beverage service with snacks.
The snacks were simple – rice crackers – and the selection of beverages included complimentary wine, beer, and spirits. The crew was friendly and helpful and there were no difficulties in communicating with them in English.
An in-seat menu card described the general service while the specific meal choices for today’s flight could be read on the inflight entertainment system and also on laminated cards the flight attendants had on their carts.
For dinner, I chose the Japanese option – a chicken teriyaki dish served with cold soba – buckwheat noodles. The portion was generous and the food was tasty. The dinner also included miso soup served from a pitcher.
Afterwards, flight attendants distributed Häagen-Dazs ice cream – a simple and satisfying dessert. Since the meal was served with metal cutlery, I could use an actual spoon to scoop the rock-hard ice cream instead of the flimsy plastic one contained inside the ice cream container’s lid.
After lunch, I walked around the mostly-full cabin. You can see the windows, which are about thirty percent larger than conventional airplane windows. Truthfully, this didn’t make as big an impression on me as I thought they would. Sure, the windows were large, but the biggest effect was that it made the cabin look narrower. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but because I am used to a standard-size window, as I looked across the width of the cabin and mentally estimated the width, the wall looked closer to me than it really was. Instead of shades, the windows use LCD controls for different levels of shading. Above, you can see two of the windows at the maximum-dark setting.
The rear cabin has eleven additional rows of economy class seats. As you can see, the cabin has a spacious feel and the 2-4-2 arrangement is quite pleasant. Unfortunately, ANA is moving towards a 3-3-3 arrangement like most operators so the comfortably wide seats will be a thing of the past. I can understand the economics but will say that as a customer, I will go out of my way to fly an 8-abreast 787 instead of a 9-abreast configuration.
The other thing I noticed is that the screens on the entertainment system are coated in such a way that they are not visible unless viewed almost straight-on. For example, I couldn’t tell if the person seated next to me had his screen on until I leaned over to look. This would seem to be a good thing, minimizing extraneous light and also giving greater (although not complete) privacy in what you are viewing.
The galley and entrance to the crew rest area are at the rear of the cabin. This arrangement is nice because it gives the crew plenty of space to work and minimizes the number of passengers congregating in this area. Instead, the congregate mid-cabin by the lavatories.
Three lavatories are in the middle of the economy class cabin, located by doors 3 left and 3 right. I didn’t get a picture or video of them, but the doors are hinged in an interesting way. Instead of pivoting on a hinge at one side of the door or folding in half, the door slides and pivots into the toilet, lying flat against the side wall. This improves the accessibility of the lavatory although isn’t intuitive. I noticed several people pushing and pulling the door before they figured out how it moved.
The lavatories are high-tech on ANA featuring lots of buttons, including for the automated bidet, in case you need to wash your bum afterwards. When you press the flush button, the toilet seat cover is automatically lowered. Oddly, though, the flush happens while the cover is still lowering. Lavatories were kept clean with flight attendants tidying them throughout the flight.
The LCD shading for the windows is interesting. Instead of having physical shades that you pull shut, there are two buttons that allow you to increase the tinting along five settings from nearly transparent to nearly opaque. It seems that the most transparent setting still seems to have a light tint to it, or at least that was my impression.
At its darkest, you can still see through the window although little light passes through. That may not make sense when I write it, but when you look at the windows from the side, they appear to be completely opaque. When you look at the windows straight-on, you can see through them as if they were very dark sunglasses. Mid-flight, which was still full daylight outside, the cabin was dark although not as dark as with physical window shades. If I’m not mistaken, I think the flight attendants were able to master set the windows to the darkest setting although individual passengers could modify the settings for their own windows, making them more transparent as they wished.
Snacks and beverages were available in the galley throughout the flight. The selection was basic – some crisps and crackers along with bananas.
About two and a half hours before landing – just a little early, in my estimation – a second meal service was offered. Unlike lunch/dinner, which had clear “Japanese” and “Western” options, the choices for the breakfast were less distinct.
I had the chicken cacciatore, which was pretty tasty. The portion size was smaller than the previous meal, but considering that we had eaten just five hours ago, that was okay.
One feature of the Dreamliner is that its cabin is pressurized to the equivalent of a 6000 foot elevation instead of at 8000 feet, as found in most airliners. Also, humidity levels are slightly higher, about 15% versus less than 5% normally. My impression was that the cabin was a bit more comfortable than normal. I travel frequently across the Pacific and find I get very dried out. The effect could just be psychological but on this flight, I felt less dehydrated.
The rest of the flight was smooth as we descended into an overcast northern Japan and landed on-time in Narita. As we approached the airport, there was a lot of other traffic and on our turns there was always a good view of other planes. The rice paddies were also vibrant green and just starting to turn golden yellow.
Again, thanks to the low-density configuration, it took just a few minutes to deplane. My nine hour, forty-five minute flight aboard the ANA Dreamliner left me with a positive impression of both the airplane and the airline. All things considered, I would go out of my way to fly ANA in general and the Dreamliner in particular on future trips. Additionally, flying out of San Jose was a very convenient option so I will keep that in mind for future trips to and from the Bay Area.
So it seems the migration to Xanga 2.0 is for real. I received my email from John. Because I ended up pledging enough for eleven one-year memberships, I have at least a few to share with folks who want to migrate but didn’t feel they could afford to pay for the blogging.
If you would like to have your blog migrated along with a one-year membership, please send me a private message and I will include your blog name in the list I send to John. Your privacy will be respected and I will not share your name on this blog.
Tuesday evening, I returned to Bangkok after a twelve-day trip to the United States to renew my Thai visa. This trip, like ever other trip I make by myself, always finds me a bit awash in melancholy. This time, the waves came while eating noodles in the lounge at Narita Airport in Tokyo.
I have been traveling by air since I was a month old. Over the years, I have come to associate air travel with so many things: adventure, family, friends, romance, and escape. On each trip, the moment comes when I feel like I am in transit, literally suspended between points in my life. The idea that I am part of a larger network, knowing friends and family around the globe, excites me. At the same time, I feel disconnected and not at home anywhere in particular.
It is an interesting sensation and one that, the more I experience it, the more inviting it becomes. Maybe there is a point where I cease to be grounded at all and am forever flitting about the globe.
While visiting family in suburban Johnson County, Kansas, I decided to put my jet lag caused early awakening to good use and go buy some donuts. A few minutes of internet research later, I settled on John’s Space Age Donuts. Located in downtown Overland Park, John’s looks exactly as you would expect for a shop that’s been in business since 1967.
The dining room has a U-shaped counter with seating on the two legs and display cases across the front. With a large door between the kitchen and dining areas, the place reeks (in a good way) of oil and deep-fried dough. Service is brisk but friendly and the selection is broad, although they didn’t have the blueberry donuts that niece number two requested, so we settled for raspberry.
The donuts were still a warm and very surprisingly tasty. They are dense donuts, but neither soggy with oil nor undercooked and doughy. The apple fritter, pictured above, is a masterpiece with a crispy exterior, moist interior, and plenty of apples.
The cake donuts are nice, too, and the dough itself was flavorful. Even unglazed, these donuts would be a pleasure to eat. Unlike some donuts (think Krispy Kreme) that seem to expire within a few hours of baking, these were still fresh when we finished the remaining ones the next day. Must be some of that space age technology!
While I am not the biggest donut fan in the world, it is a sure bet that I will be back to John’s Space Age Donuts next time I am in Kansas City.
A fourteen hour layover in Seattle was my first stop in the United States. Arriving about 9:30 in the morning, I took the convenient light rail into downtown and conducted my most important business: drawing a money order and then mailing it, and my inch-thick Thailand visa application, to the Thai consulate. After a long wait, a surprisingly helpful postal employee walked me through the steps of buying the money order, properly addressing the express mail envelopes, and then packing everything correctly.
After a browse around the Pike Place Public Market and lunch at a cute French restaurant nearby, I visited the Seattle Art Museum to see “Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion“. This exhibit, which runs through Labor Day weekend, has more than 100 dresses from Japanese designers such as Issey Miyake, Kenzo Takada, and Rei Kawakubo. These designers revolutionized the way we think of fashion. I only wish Tawn could have attended the exhibit, which he would have found fascinating.
In the afternoon, I went to my aunt and uncle’s house and spent time with them and my cousins. Their daughter is about a year old and I last saw her in March at my grandparents’ 75th wedding anniversary, so it was nice to see how much she has grown since then. My uncle prepared some excellent wild salmon on the grill, so I was well-fed.
My red eye flight departed Seattle about midnight, heading east to a rainy Cleveland. A two-hour connection allowed me time for breakfast and a shoe shine before I caught my flight into Kansas City.
The next several days in Kansas City were spent visiting family members, attending football (soccer) games and gymnastics lessons, and the like. Four and a half days was enough time to see everyone, catch up, and then move one before wearing out my welcome. Unfortunately, no time for a side trip to Omaha or Quincy, though.