That not so obligatory end of year post 2017

That not so obligatory end of year post 2017

As usual, at around this time of year, I’ll be agonizing over whether to write that obligatory end of year post. Which really isn’t that big of a deal, if you think about it. Because, you know what, no one really cares what kind of year you had. They’re all out taking one last swing at the holidays before going back to the exciting world of work and real life in the new year. Bah humbug!!

Oops, was I being negative? Because it’s something of an online crime these days to be sayin’ negative stuff. Now I’ve done it. Now no one’s going to be reading this post for sure. So scratch that and let me bring on the positive vibes. In the spirit of positivity, let me start with what we had for dinner on that oh-sooo-long-ago Christmas Day. Yup, you guessed it, Korean fried turkey. The real deal – teeny tiny little turkey chunks – crunchy, meaty, sweet and spicy! So good, I tell ya!

That obligatory end of year post 2017

My all-time favorite Korean fried “turkey”!

Okay so I did a lot of traveling this year, zipped across the planet a few times. I’ve stopped looking aghast when people gasp at how I do those 20-hour flights so often. No matter what my answer or expression may be, the unspoken answer in my head is always the same – when you love where you’re going, you’ll do it over and over again and never consider it a chore. Simple, eh?

With all that traveling back and forth, it’s also been the Year of Road Trips for me. I’m now officially wearing my Road Trip Warrior badge. Those were some amazing road trips. I enjoyed each and every one of them and would gladly do them all over again, especially the Grand Canyon, in spite of having done some of them a few times before.

Wait, what else did I do this year? Lots, that’s for sure but it’s hard enough remembering what I had for lunch 3 days ago so try recalling an entire year’s worth of events without looking through a folder of 10,000 photos. Forget it.

All I want to say is: Be attentive to the people you love and who love you most. Before dismissing anyone or their problems, take a moment to put yourself in their shoes (this point inspired by 2 people who would still be alive today if someone close to them had taken their depression seriously).

Spare a thought, some loose change or whatever you can (no good deed is ever too small) for those less fortunate. Make some time every day to pray for lunatics to somehow find sanity, for Mother Nature to figure a way to heal the planet and most importantly, for world peace.

And of course, thank you for reading my humble blog. Have a safe and wonderful New Year! Here’s to good food, good friends (whoever you may be lol), good conversations and a fantastic year ahead!

Newly-minted Road Trip Warrior

Introducing the newly-minted Road Trip Warrior…

(mini drumrolls please!)

Yup, that would be moi!

I even have the swing top to prove it.

Yeah, so this has officially been the Year of Road Trips for me, the person who hasn’t been back to her original hometown in close to 2 decades. Well, okay, I now have a beloved adopted hometown so that explains it. When I’m there, I’m just raring to go every chance I got – road trips to Yosemite National Park, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park, Red Rock Canyon (all of which are in California) as well as our usual shopping pilgrimages to Los Angeles and San Francisco/Bay Area.

This year, we ventured out into Arizona to the city of Flagstaff, the Meteor Crater, Grand Canyon (read about Day 1 and the surprise Day 2 here) and Walnut Canyon. Yeah, I know, I haven’t blogged about some of these trips. I might, one of these days, when I feel like I can go through my photo folders without bursting into tears, duh.

So then, from the number of times you’re seeing the words “national park” and “canyon”, you can pretty much guess that all of these road trips had to do with hiking, winding roads and getting back to nature which, on an ordinary day, isn’t something I’m particularly crazy about. Admittedly, there are only so many places on Planet Earth where you’d find me doing nature or road trips without a long face and fake smile which I don’t even bother to fake so it’s a real fake smile, get it? Hmm.

Yeah, I mean concrete jungles are great and the only kind of vacations I’ve done have always involved shopping and food, in that order. So for me, these back-to-nature kind of road trips are truly eye-openers. No retail therapy involved, only lots of hiking against breathtaking backdrops and that’s my newfound therapy for the soul.

The tale of two Christmas Eve dinners

The tale of two Christmas Eve dinners

Christmas Eve in the city. Bah humbug! Darn the Grinch who stole Christmas from us this year! Still it’s the holidays so we’ll just make-believe this one and get to the mall early to catch a movie. Which one? Naturally the one that turned out to be such a great choice.

Ferdinand.

What a sweet hunk of a bull and a tale that has all the heart-warming trappings of a movie for this time of year – kindness, compassion, friendship, respect, teamwork and a happy ending. And lots of funky dancing. Loved it. I really did. Go watch it, bring your kids!

After the movie at around 2pm, we thought we’d catch a late lunch. No such luck! Apparently the mall had filled up with all of humanity while we were in there, making it impossible to walk without hitting anyone. We couldn’t have picked a worse time to be at the mall.

We were starving and the restaurant lines were insane. We were hoping to have better luck at the food court. Omg, one look and we instantly turned around. The place was one freakin’ mess and we kinda lost our appetites. We simply had to get the heck out of there.

It was 3pm by the time we got home and proceeded to turn the fridge upside down hoping a fulfilling lunch would somehow drop out. But all we had were cold ham sandwiches. Still better than the food court, I guess. Bah humbug!

Still determined to have a good Christmas dinner in spite of our homemade roast turkey having been written off the menu *sobs*, we set out for the swanky part of town with Google Maps for our guide, headed for a Korean fried chicken shop which friends have sworn “serves the best fried chicken ever, you gotta try it”.

We ordered 2 kinds of fried chicken – sweet spicy and spicy hot, or something like that. Sometimes we really wanna trust people’s food recommendations so much but sadly, one woman’s meat is another woman’s poison. We really wanted these to be the best fried chicken we’ve ever tasted but they turned out to be…

The tale of the Christmas Eve dinners

… far from crispy, drowned in overly-sweet totally-unspicy sauces that sadly underwhelmed; not to mention that there were no signs of the ubiquitous side dishes either. Ugh! Reluctantly we polished off both servings to keep to our family’s “no food wastage” policy.

Then we got up and walked a few steps down the street to a Korean barbecue restaurant that we know and love, and ordered pork neck and pork belly. Ahahaha! Now we’re talking!

The tale of the Christmas Eve dinners

This meal came with lots of lettuce, side dishes and possibly the best kimchi in town. We even managed to flag down a smiley waiter to barbecue the meat for us while we ate. Aah, this is the life!

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

After spending the day seeing the canyon from different angles and going on a self-tour at the Tusayan Museum hiking through the adjacent Tusayan Ruin to learn about how ancient American Indians lived in the Grand Canyon, it was time to bid the Grand Canyon goodbye.

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

On the drive back to Flagstaff, I was brimming with excitement about everything I’d seen and experienced that day but sad that we were leaving. Glad though that I’d had a chance to visit, there really is no easy way to say goodbye to a place like this. One day is honestly not enough. A part of me was crying inside. I wish we could’ve stay a little longer.

Over a delicious dinner at a Thai fusion restaurant in Flagstaff, we couldn’t stop talking about our day. Back at the hotel room while getting ready to pack and check out the next day, I finally couldn’t stand it any longer. I said, we have to go back there tomorrow, we didn’t drive aa-all this way to spend just one day there, we must stay one more night!!

But how? Our hotel was fully booked and couldn’t extend our room. So began the frantic phone calls to look for another hotel. Last-minute rooms are notoriously hard to find especially at the peak of summer and the rates are much higher. At some point, I said, to heck with the rates, let’s take what we can get. And that’s how we ended up moving to a very modest suite at the Marriott next door ahahahaha!

Completely energized and with a spring in my step, it was – Grand Canyon, here we come again!! – after a fashionably healthy hotel breakfast the next morning. This time, we rode the free guided bus tours taking us to various stops with even more exciting views of the canyon which we hadn’t seen the day before. We hopped on and off the bus, hiked on foot, had our lunch…

Okay, let me stop here and talk about a lunch that truly takes the cake! Sometimes we kid ourselves into thinking that the most expensive meals at the most exclusive restaurants are always the best meals. I say, far from it. I say nothing can beat this lunch – munching on simple sandwiches perched on rocks with the Grand Canyon spread out before you in full view. This is the ambiance you can’t get anywhere else. This is what I’m talking about!!

The other thing that’s truly mesmerizing about this place is its stillness and tranquility. You stand there and it strikes you that the air’s so still and quiet your ears are completely at peace. There’s complete silence. The air is completely still. Nothing is moving. Everything is still. It’s so peaceful, so tranquil, so calming. And that’s a strange feeling for me.

I can’t think of any single instance when my ears aren’t being besieged by the jarring sound of a vehicle going by, the voices of people calling out to their kids/pets, the persistent whirring of the fan or AC… Take all that away and there’s this silence, this stillness. If only I could sit there all day listening to the sounds of nothing! Wouldn’t that be grand!?!

Well, we’d spent the better part of the day hopping on and off those tour buses, hiking long distances on relatively safe trails and enjoying every bit of it. Peering down the side of the canyon all day, we’d been fascinated by the lines of teeny tiny people weaving along the narrow ledges like ants and we wanted to see what all that was about.

So we made our way to the Bright Angel Trailhead and mind you, we weren’t even going to be overly ambitious. All we wanted to do was walk a little ways down the first part of the sandy trail (which is pretty wide and safe) to where there’s a poster map, take a peek at where the trail leads and come straight back up.

But guess what happened?

The Grand Canyon, hi again!

We ended up hiking quite a lo-oong way down the narrow ledge sometimes coming a little too dangerously close for comfort. Yeah, it was scary because there were no rails, no bars, nothing, yeeow! I know, jelly legs, right!! We tried to keep close to the canyon wall and stopped for selfies and wefies only where the path was a little wider and safer.

Now that was kinda fun and exciting. Now I can say I’ve not only been to the Grand Canyon but hiked a little ways down into the canyon itself too and that, I consider, to be quite an accomplishment! So yes, Grand Canyon, it was great, you were great and so was I lol! Merry Christmas!

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

So after spending an entire afternoon at a 50,000-year-old meteor crater, we’re up and out the hotel first thing the next morning making the 1.5-hour-long drive from Flagstaff to an, oh 70 to 80-million-year-old canyon whose name can only be the Grand Canyon.

Meandering through the Kaibab National Forest and Tusayan, we let out gasps of wonder as each canyon came into view. Each canyon is breathtaking in its own way but what we didn’t know then was that these early canyons were merely a taste of what was to come.

When your heart’s pounding with excitement and you’re craning your neck out for the next amazing canyon to grace your windscreen, you don’t notice the many twists and turns, and then you’re right up there on the South Rim and the first of the Desert Views opens up before you like a page straight out of a geology textbook.

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

Now, if I were a character in a movie, this is the part where my jaw would drop and I’d be standing there in the wind holding on to my hat, eyes scanning and transmitting these images to my brain for processing (surely you can tell a geek wrote this pffft!) and all the time, my heart is racing and I’m speechless!

This is a view that’s impossible to see only with your eyes. It’s a view you inhale with your entire being. With each breath you take, with each quickened heartbeat, the enormity and complexity of this work of art sinks a little deeper into your soul and leaves you in awe and disbelief. Or at least that’s how it felt to me.

Some of you may say what’s the big deal? it’s only rocks, and some of you may think I’m over-dramatizing, and that’s okay. You can’t know how it feels unless you’re right there yourself. But trust me, it’s nothing short of awe-inspiring when you’re standing on the edge of this boundless beauty gazing at it, into it, and wondering how this place came to be.

When my university professor told the class about his hike to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, I certainly didn’t imagine it to look like this. Sure I’d seen pictures of the Grand Canyon even then but nothing can compare to soaking it all in with your own eyes. You look this way and that and still you can’t find where it starts and where it ends. Heck, this is only the South Rim. Maybe this canyon actually stretches into eternity.

We spend the day driving along the South Rim stopping at every viewing point to take in pieces of the canyon from fresh new angles. It’s truly amazing all these formations, shapes, layers, textures and colors Mother Nature has chiseled out and molded together over millions of years! How the heck did she pull this off?

The Grand Canyon, just wow!

Getting up close to a 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater

Getting up close to a 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater

Right after we drop our bags off at the hotel, we’re heading down the famed Route 66 towards Winslow to see a giant crater created by a meteor crashing down to Earth at over 25,000 miles an hour some 50,000 years ago. Hmm, let me see, where was I when this happened? Never mind, to even see the outcome of this in this lifetime is a bonus in and of itself and enough to set my imagination ablaze (literally!).

Getting up close to a 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater

Just off Interstate 40, we turn off the main highway onto a desert road that seems to stretch on for miles. The wind is SO strong up there that the minute we open the car door, the wind grabs it and tears it open, seeming to almost bend the door hinges backwards. How rude!!

So then, it comes as no surprise that a wind this strong would lend wings, and the permission, to my hat to go skimming down the parking lot and me sprinting after it. Think what would happen to some unfortunate person wearing a toupee, seriously!

Okay, so the crater is like this giant stadium – one mile (1.6km) across, 2.4 miles (3.82km) all the way around and 550 feet (167m) deep. Conversions drive me nuts! No idea how to gauge anything using metrics, pffft! Anyways, as you can see, this picture shows only a small part of it. This is the stuff of sci-fi movies!!

Getting up close to a 50,000-year-old Meteor Crater

When we get out to the viewing platform fringing a section of the crater close to the admin building, we’re literally blown away again, turning our knuckles blue clutching our cellphones, hats and cameras in one hand, and clinging on for dear life to the railings with the other.

Basically it doesn’t matter what you’re holding or wearing, it’s in dire danger of flying off. We couldn’t even steady ourselves to get as many good pictures as we would’ve liked. And frankly, I have no idea why people would wear billowing maxi skirts and flip-flops when traveling and/or visiting unfamiliar places but yeah!

The wind gets even crazier as we ascend the steps to another viewing platform on a higher tier. Wow, that wind! and to think that’s only like 50 miles an hour. Now when I read about the recent hurricanes whipping up wind speeds of 150+ miles an hour, I can only shake my head and be totally mind-blown!!!

Happy Thanksgiving from my head to yours

Once upon a Thanksgiving Day, I was clucking around in the kitchen like a crazy chicken prepping the turkey for roasting, setting a pot of water for making the best-darned mashed potatoes, putting my kungfu knife skills to the cabbage for my killer coleslaw…

Somehow it feels strange to be sitting here doing all of this clucking inside my head instead of in the kitchen. Thanksgiving has always meant a lot to me. Doesn’t matter if I don’t celebrate Chinese New Year (which I’ve missed for 3 years straight several times in my lifetime) but Thanksgiving, I’ve made it a tradition and never missed a beat.

This year, I’m in the desert and there’s no turkey in sight for miles so I decided to do the next best thing – pardon the turkey. Sure, I miss my home-roasted turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes, and even more so, since I started making even my own cranberry sauce and coleslaw from scratch in recent years.

What keeps me celebrating Thanksgiving is that it’s so much more meaningful than many other events I can think of. I don’t make it a habit to shout out the things I’m grateful for but rest assured, I do have a mental list swirling around in the cosmic universe inside my head.

Do I wish that more people were grateful for the things they have and for the people in their lives? Sure I do but hey! I’ve just had the most awesome homemade roast turkey feast – inside my head – to think of anything else! Hope you did too. Happy Thanksgiving from my head to yours!

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