Greetings from Chiang Mai!

Flying over Chiang Mai Province

Since I'm playing a bit of catch up...this first post is from a series of e-mails I sent home from Thailand.

Hi there everyone. Just wanted to drop you a quick note and let you know I arrived safely.

I'm getting reacquainted with Thailand and loving it! I'm staying at a place called the "Smile Guest House"--teak floors and a room overlooking the pool for the grand sum of $5 a night! It's the rainy season, which means they get a short soak in the evenings so I'm hanging out at the internet cafe until the rain subsides. I didn't get into Chiang Mai until this evening, so I'm looking forward to checking out the city a bit more. As we flew in, I could see the city has lovely mountains to one side (see photo above).

Tomorrow I'm off for a day of cooking classes at the Chiang Mai School of Thai Cookery (thanks to Connie & Becky's seal of approval). Then on Monday nights, there's a Buddhist monastery that features a local monk giving a talk on some aspect of Thai Buddhism (I think I read somewhere that over 95% of Thailand is Buddhist). I'm going to try to find that place tomorrow night.

I had a nice chat with this British guy staying at my guest house. Last week he got attacked by a monkey!!! (Alison...remember that EVIL monkey we saw???) Anyway, he was lucky the beast was chained to a tree. As it is, he got bit in the face, broke his glasses and popped out both his lenses. He's like, "Do you think I should go get a tetanus shot?" Umm....yeah.

Stay tuned for more tales from the road!

I need a bigger map!

With my schedule suddenly cleared, I had enough time for a quick trip out of the country. Lucky for me, I have an endless list of places researched and on my radar.

Surfing the internet...toggling between Orbitz and the Lonely Planet World Guide, I entered multiple combinations trying to figure out where to go.

India? I found a great airfare, but it took a minimum of 5 business days for a visa. If I was going to be back by the end of the month and still leave the country, I needed to go sooner than that.

Morocco? Airfare was rediculously expensive.

Indonesia? Not enough time to do it justice.

Panama? The past two years, I've spent vacations in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. Enough of Central America, for now.

Europe? Not exotic enough for this trip. Besides, the exchange rate is terrible right now. I've also been before (9 countries). Europe is out.

China? This is the place I'd really like to linger. A friend of mine just returned from Chengdu and highly recommended it. Airfare, however, was astronomical.

Thailand? I've been there before, but I was really green then.


I found a respectable airfare, and no visa is required.

It also offers high cultural elements as well as great beaches. (Places with scuba diving get even higher points!)

Plus I was exhausted and I knew Thailand is fairly easy travel.

Thailand it is!

That September Itch

When I was a kid, people would ask the inevitable, "what do you want to be when you grow up?" The only occupation that ever came to mind was an international correspondent. I've always wanted to circle the globe, experiencing cultures as people really lived...and follow in the footprints of Earnest Hemmingway.

At heart, I'm a traveler.

My mom learned long ago to keep my address in pencil. In fact, until recent years, people told me I had more addresses than a circus performer! Thanks to a houseguest I had this summer who was on tour with Cirque du Soleil, I can attest...I wasn't that bad. But I'm sure it was close!

Truth be told, what I'd really prefer is to have no address at all. One day I want to close the door on my home, kiss the cat goodbye, and get lost on the backpacker trail for a year...or more.

I yearn for adventures in far flung destinations.

For some reason, this urge becomes especially overwhelming in September. Maybe it's the imprinting from my student days...and the looming school season ahead. For me, September represented one last chance to craft a noteworthy response when asked, "What did you do this summer?"

Looking my passport, it's obvious that September cat scratch itch has never left me.

Fast forward to last month. I was restless. I toyed with taking weekend trips to New York, San Francisco, Vancouver...or anywhere, really. Points laid out on a map before me....yet something kept holding me back. I didn't have enough time...or it wasn't exotic enough.

Then one night...I was hanging out with some friends and the bossman handed me my paycheck. As he passed it to me, I was told, "Be back by the end of the month." I thought that was strange, but didn't dwell on it. Absentmindedly, I stuck the check in my bag and never gave it another thought. The next morning I finally looked...and the figure was double what I was expecting!

Tears welled up as those words came back to me, "Be back by the end of the month...."

Three days later, I was on a journey half way around the world.

Reader Friendly Mail

I love surprises!

An artist friend sent me this post card. Stark and's the message:

Value Added

I have a confession. Although I work with an upscale chef, my favorite places are the hole-in-the-wall, cheap eat kind of joints. My breakfast spot is small enough--and popular enough--that on the weekends if you don't time it right, you'll find yourself waiting outside for 45 minutes. And I wait, happily. Same thing with one of my favorite dinner spots. If you are lucky enough to snag a seat at one of their 5're in for a real treat.

But it goes beyond that. It's not about just the food.

There's a certain ineffable quality about the places that make my short list. They're the kind of places that feel more like home than my own. I walk in the door and am often greeted with a big smile...and a hug. I have become part of their culinary "family." And if I haven't stopped by in a while...they notice.

Under their care, I am nurtured in a way that goes far beyond my belly.

Last weekend I went to check out a new Szechuan restaurant in my neighborhood. It's in an obscure area, located in a strip mall where the anchor store left years ago. Yet, as I pulled up and spied the restaurant, there was no parking anywhere close. This was a good sign...and I started to get excited.

The restaurant was completely packed and I was one of the only Caucasians in the place. Without even sampling the food, I knew I liked it already.

As I stood at the entrance, striding towards me was a waitress with a smile that outshined the glimmer from her silk blouse.

I was greeted with a loud and long "Hiiiiii! How are yew?"

Zeroing in on her face...I quickly recognized her as a favorite waitress from another restaurant!

She opened her arms wide and gave me the biggest hug.

"I've been waiting for yew!"


My mind was fuzzy. Am I missing something in the translation?

As it turned out, no, I didn't miss anything.

She had switched restaurant allegiances months ago. Somehow she knew our paths would cross again, eventually. I hadn't seen her in 6 months and surely she had seen hundreds of people come and go. I was pleased to be remembered.

I had stopped to get a simple take out order and scanned the menu for a brief moment before she said, "You want crispy garlic chicken? Here we call it ...."

I was stunned she actually recalled my favorite dish!

"No, I'm thinking I'll try something different."

Pointing to a line on my menu, she said, "We have your dan dan noodles here."

I was amazed. And touched.

My eye landed on moo shu pork and I placed my order. Laughing, she recalled how I tried to get the other restaurant to add it to their menu! (It's true.)

While I waited for my order, she introduced me to the entire staff--including the kitchen crew! I was honored to be receiving such gold star treatment.

As I turned to leave, I fell into her arms for another hug...and it was more welcome than anything in my carry out bag.

In business lingo, they call that a value added experience. Call it what you will....for me, there's nothing better than being cared for...and cared about.

While it may be a simple dinner, in the end, it's much more than that.

Value added, indeed!

Labor Day Pig Roast

Golden Gardens Beach, Seattle, WA

Another chapter for my Year of the Pig....
On September 4th, a group of us gathered at Seattle's Golden Garden's Park for a fabulous day at the beach. The chef I work with and my friend Rocky roasted two 75 pound pigs that we affectionately dubbed "the twins." Thanks to Ethan and Rocky, the pigs were on the fire at 7:00am and we ate sometime around 4:00pm. It was a ton of work and they were both a bit bleary-eyed when I arrived, but the results were amazing! Below is a photo montage from the BBQ. (Double click on any of the images if you want a closer look.)

Although we had a "name the pig contest", they remained with the nickname "the twins"

Rotating the pigs...Ethan (left) and Rocky (right).

Porky goodness and crispy skin...finger lickin' good!

A perfect way to end a most memorable summer.