Friday, December 12, 2014

Back to Cali

Thankful for early check-in and a hot, high powered shower after 30 hours of traveling from Singapore and driving overnight from NYC to Pittsburg. Now fight the urge to sleep, beat the jet lag and continue our cross country road trip tomorrow!
What did we do today? Oh, just 9 hours of driving...
Plaid party in St. Louis with my psis!!!
BBQ ribs with former America SCORES St Louis coworker before we embark on our 3.5 hour drive to Kansas City! Better hide our SF Giants blanket!
While that BBQ is convincing, we'll never be royals! so happy to visit this guy!!!
Texas BBQ with the Talkads!!! Now THAT'S a brisket!!!
From the Great Wall of China to the Great Wall of America,
here's how we're enjoying our pit stop in El Paso!
Sonoran hot dogs and the second amendment store.
Too bad we didn't come in the weekend for some good ol' desert shooting!
WESTWARD HO!!!!! We're gonna be in California today!!!!
Oooooh, we're halfway there!!!
It's been three years since we celebrated Christmas with our families!
Cheers to many more!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Hong Kong, Beijing, and Singapore

Disclaimer: I have been so absorbed in my work, and life of course, that I have not done a great job of keeping up with this blog. I will be updating along the way. While this blog was created to document some of my proudest professional moments, my hyper analysis of my personal life and observations around the globe are worth sharing and will offer some light into how my brain works. I think so anyway. At the very least, you'll get travel tips. Enjoy! - Michelle


In the six years Eddie and I have been together, we've planned some pretty amazing trips but have only actually gone on a few not-so-amazing-ones. It took years of saving United Miles and a February 2014 deadline (when United increased it's mileage cost for overseas travel) to finally push us into committing to our dream overseas adventure: Europe or Asia? With two weeks of vacation time and Star Alliance's complimentary multi-city allowance, we both got to pick a place for one week. I picked Singapore so my San Franciscan grandmother could meet us there and we could visit my many many second cousins that I hadn't seen since 2009. I frequently visited as a child before I costed an adult fare. Eddie picked China - to this day, I don't know why!
#tbt Singapore 2009
So, mind you, we planned our November trip in February. Little did we know, we would quit our jobs in October, I would work up until the day we left, and we would drive across the country upon our return. Fortunately, we planned a weekend trip to San Francisco in October where we got a little taste of SF Giants making World Series history and flew our little Dax back into the loving Hynson home before the craziness of November began. We shipped my Corolla full of stuff, packed his Subaru full of stuff, entertained 300 donors upon a two-night cruise, moved everything that couldn't fit in the cars down to the sidewalk the morning of our departure, and took work calls as I was walking on the airplane's gangway.
Dax is moved, car is shipped, cruise was a success, apartment is empty...
After the month from hell... VACATION IS FINALLY HERE!!!
With that said, it is no surprise that I slept the whole way to Hong Kong and missed Santa Claus working ferociously in the North Pole just a month before Christmas. If you really know us, you could guess the first thing we did when we arrived: duh, Chinese food. We stayed at the BP International hotel in Kowloon at the recommendation of my Uncle Alvin and woke up at 5am to get McDonalds - which had twisty noodle soup for breakfast. We dodged the many Tai Chi-ers in Kowloon Park, karate kicked along the Avenue of the Stars, inappropriately explored the Intercontinental, and zoomed up to Victoria Peak.
First day in Hong Kong: And this was all before lunch!
The English speaking Filipino sales persons convinced us to visit Stanley which we absolutely loved! We do advise, if you take the Big Bus tour, sit on the right side or you will get whacked by the trees. I was most excited about Hong Kong because I had only been there as a child and have heard so many great things about the night life from my now-young-adult friends. My only memory of Hong Kong was standing on the street and watching airplanes fly dangerously close above our heads - which doesn't happen anymore. Seeing Stanley, I just kept thinking about how much I hadn't seen before - and how I would love to go back to the beautiful Repulse Bay! I also am always a fan of being on a boat - although I had to ask our little old lady captain, "Does this boat go any faster?"

First day in Hong Kong: from beach to boats along the beautiful southern coast!
Still jet-lagged, we woke up early the next day and took the subway to bus to Lantau to see the the big Buddha. (Who henceforth will be known as "that Buddha Buddha" to the tune of Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass.) I did not know that there was a monastery there where they will try to sell you a $3 meal ticket which is good for one ice cream (nah!) or dim sum lunch (what? really?!). (We later found out it was vegetarian dim sum.) Also, monks are allowed to have cell phones (we saw one texting!) and we almost got jumped by a gang of feral cows during our eery hike. Luckily, a baby in a stroller came by distracted them and we got away. We walked through an absurdly touristy tourist trap and rode the ridiculously high cable car back down to the bus terminal.
Day two in Hong Kong: hanging with the Gods high above Lantau island

Day two in Hong Kong: crazy cable cars!
That night, we got to experience Lan Kwai Fong (LKF) and experience the glamorous lifestyle of one of my first UCLA friends, Janice Jann! And early the next morning, we had the awful experience of not being able to order food or tea in a local dim sum restaurant while waiting for our mutual high school friend, Suzanne Souza, to arrive. We were literally sitting there silently with hot water before she arrived! I always think we were so brave for venturing to New York City - but moving to Hong Kong when you don't speak Cantonese is a whole 'nother level! We couldn't leave Hong Kong without Eddie's favorite thing: cocktail bun!
Last night in Hong Kong: a taste of home in LKF!

Farewell Hong Kong dim sum and cocktail bun. Next stop: Beijing!

Beijing, Beijing... I'm glad we live to tell the story because there were moments when I definitely had my doubts. There is a new 72 hour visa-free transit program that many knew little about and we weren't entirely confident would be honored. At the Hong Kong airport, they were confused. Getting through China's immigration, they were confused (but not in English). A 40 minute flight delay made our visa invalid (11:30pm on the 23rd 12:10am on the 24th) at the Beijing airport, they were confused. For whatever reason, I have an unreasonable fear of a white van would drive up, men would jump out, put a black bag over my head, and I would disappear or be sold somewhere. Ultimately, we entered and left the country OK, but I did have a severe panic attack in the cab ride that smelled like cigarette smoke, blasted a Chinese (Mandarin) talk show with the most annoying commercials, and told us to get out and walk down the dark alley to our hotel. Fortunately, we escaped death during the maybe 100 foot walk down the alley and entered the serene and tranquil The HuLu Hotel. Strongly recommend it. Oh, and I later learned that the Hu Tongs (the alley) are not so scary after all.
First night in Beijing: $3 USD For crawdaddys? Don't mind if I do!!!
We awoke not-so-bright-and-early (because the hotel had heated floors and cooked-to-order breakfast) and headed to the Forbidden City! The anxiety returned when the high pitched Chinese speaking subway machine kept talking to me, I was pressed against Smokey McSmokerson on the train, and about a billion other Chinese people trying to get into Tiananmen Square for that ONE quick selfie with Mao (obvi). I was convinced I should write a long letter to the Tourism department of Beijing with one recommendation would being: have people in matching t-shirts there to control the line. (Other recommendations include: no smoking in cabs and do something with those abandoned Olympics storefronts.) Eddie took the audio tour of the Forbidden City so he can tell me all about who slept where and... that is pretty much all we learned. After taking pictures with many a circle door, we hiked up the hill (a local treasure) and enjoyed sweeping views of the city with another Buddha Buddha.
One short day in the forbidden cityyyyy!
After a fairly disastrous first day, we were lucky that my aunt and uncle had helped us reserve a car service for day two to The Great Wall, The Summer Palace, and The Peking Duck (which doesn't need caps, but deserves it!) We went to MuTianYu, the medium touristy of the three restored parts of the wall. Since we left our hotel at 7am, we arrived before all the tourist groups did and got to do some fun filming and shouting without an audience. The wall does not disappoint so long as you know the wall is only about 20 feet tall and draws its strength from the mountain's height. (I feel this can be misinterpreted in the movies and pictures.) My primary thought, there, was that, in the case of a real emergencies - say, the huns are arriving - it is tremendously difficult to walk, let alone run, along the wall with its steep stairways and curvatures. I bet it looks glorious at night with the towers on ablaze! We don't have much to say about The Summer Palace (unless you count, "my feet hurt") but I could rave for days about the duck at Da Dong. You get the whole duck for $60 USD. When Eddie tells the story, he likes to include that our driver took our left overs.
Day two in Beijing: time is racing toward us til the huns arrive!!!

Last night in Beijing: Peking duck!
At the end of our Mulan experience, we realized that were
unsuited for the rage of war so we packed up, went home, we're thru!
Boy, we could not get out of Beijing fast enough! We arrived bright and early to Singapore where our cab smelled clean, the driver spoke English, and spitting is, legit, against the rules. My Aunt and Uncle met us right away and we welcomed Eddie with the big durian! (Naturally.) If you refer back to my 2009 #tbt photo above, you'll see that the last time I was there, the Marina Bay Sands did not have its hat yet - which is apparently really expensive to go up to. We threw peanuts on the floor at the Raffles, home of the Singapore Sling!
"Welcome to singapo'" - chow yun fat plays on repeat in our heads

First day in Singapore: gettin our sling on at the raffles
(laksa lunch at kovan and durian dessert not pictured here)
The next day, we videochatted with Tiny Tara, learned at the National Museum of Singapore, devoured Ice Kachung in Chinatown, and ate Stingray in a building that was struck by lightning (with us in it). The museum reminded me how much I admire Singapore's social services and how the country is built upon valuing human life. It just contrasts so much with America, but I suppose it comes at the cost of enduring an essential dictatorship (I'm told.) Thinking about their public housing program and their investment in education always makes me want to move there - or improve here. The museum also does hauntingly well at recreating the stress and pain of the Japanese invasion during World War II which is particularly hard for me because my grandmother lived it and her experience is seriously traumatizing. I'm reminded of her strength and sacrifice, and that Japan has never apologized for these crimes against China (although it did so for Singapore.)

On the flight home, I watched the most painful film about a drought in China during the war and how things went from bad (people dying of starvation and robbing each other's food) to worse (the army refused to protect them because they couldn't pay in food) to impossible (other regions confiscating the one gun that the family had for protection as people robbed them and they were trying to migrate to another region in search of food) to "I have to turn this off because I'm sobbing on an airplane" (Japanese bombing those people as they were walking.) The movie was Back to 1942 and I recommend it if you can stomach it; like watching Hotel Rwanda on a rainy day.
Day two in Singapore: Tara, museum, chinatown, ice kacung, and sting ray!
On that note, I ate about three bowls of my favorite dish, Laksa, at one of the best places: Sungai Road Laksa @Jin Shui Kopitiam, Townshend Road. Superb! Before heading off the the Garden by the Bay and taking my lovely grandmother to gamble in the Marina Bay Sands. Another thing I so admire about Singapore's government: there is a $100 fee for Singaporeans to enter the casino to discourage gambling addiction so common in Chinese culture. When you think about that, and how they post disgusting pictures of what happens when you smoke on cigarette boxes, it really shines a light on capitalism and the power of lobby groups in America that make sure that people get rich by encouraging others, likely less rich, to become enslaved by disgusting addictive activities.
Day three in Singapore: laksa lunch!
Day three in Singapore: garden and casino by the bay!
Oh, I did not mention that we planned our trip on Thanksgiving weekend so we could have two extra days for vacation. Well, we spent the American holiday in Malaysia and celebrated with duck for lunch and Chicken Rice for dinner with Third Grand Aunt's family. We, uninsured Americans, also got new prescription glasses which were ready within the hour! While our home nation shopped on black Friday (it seems Singaporeans shop everyday) we went to the beach and, for one day, did what I would like to do everyday: relax! We ended the day by showing Eddie the night life of the quays which would put Hong Kong to shame. Funny story, when Eddie ordered whiskey, we quickly learned a Singaporean shot is 30ml (as opposed to an American 45ml). We are talking two tablespoons here. The glass was so not full that it triggered me to say, "Excuse me, I think someone drank this already!" One of the Singaporean rules I could live without (although getting caught drunk driving will get your license removed for life which I think is stern but effective!)
Day four in Singapore: day trip to Malaysia, new glasses, and thanksgiving chicken rice!
Day five in Singapore: finally my kind of vacation! Drinks at the beach!

Night five in Singapore: Rollin with the auntie and uncles in the quays!
We spent the last day of our trip forcing Eddie to suffer through floors and floors of clothing shops run by aggressive negotiating vendors, eat spicy Indian food at my Third Grand Uncle's Sister's restaurant, eat fragrant durian, and eat again with my Fourth Grand Uncle's entire family. We ended the night having drinks with my Second Grand Aunt's grand kids. Sadly, we missed oldest grand uncle and youngest grand uncle's families.
Day six in Singapore: little India lunch, bugis bargain shopping,
big family feast with fourth grand uncles clan,
and alcoholic ice cream at udders!
Last night in Singapore with my cousins! Wa, so big la!!!
Farewell send off from third grand aunt's fabulous family.
Upon returning home, I've set up the VCR and watched VHS tapes of Singapore as far back as 1988 - the last time my dad went and with my grandfather. The most important thing was to see my grandmother, for us to see our family, for Eddie to learn about a big part of my childhood, and to eat... of course! Til next time, Singapore!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Walk for Wishes 2014

Thursday, June 12, 2014

An Evening of Wishes

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wine & Wishes 2014

Article in Local Bozo by Jane Van Arsdale

Events — 27 March 2014
Blog: Wine and Wishes 2014

In the midst of one of the most bitterly cold evenings in the month of March, hundreds of guests would need good reason to trek out to the waterfront at Chelsea Piers and on Wednesday night the ballroom space at Pier Sixty delivered just that. The 11th Annual event titled “Wine & Wishes” turned a fundraising benefit for the Make-A-Wish Foundation for Metro and Western New York into an all out gala filled with hungry foodies and wine enthusiasts, all dressed to the nines with wallets in hand in support of the organization’s cause. The four hour evening would feature select fare courtesy of some of Manhattan’s most esteemed chefs, hundreds of exceptional wines for tasting, a massive silent auction with memorabilia, select wines and a live auction that boasted some experiences unavailable elsewhere.

There is perhaps no charitable organization more widely recognized nationally for performing a greater good than Make-A-Wish, serving to quite literally grant wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions. The lasting effect stimulated by making these wishes come true can provide unparalleled inspiration and one that can help strengthen the human spirit for both the children themselves and their families. There was nary a dry eye in the house as a short video was shown prior to the live auction where professional athletes from the NFL, NASCAR and Major League Baseball allowed these kids to have an unforgettable and special experience in their young lives – making their dreams come true.  Since inception and including Wednesday night’s “Wine & Wishes” event have raised upwards of $6 million for the Metro New York chapter of Make-A-Wish, allowing them to grant some 525 wishes to different children.  The funds raised during the course of this evening would serve the same purpose: making dreams come true.

The evening’s first two hours showcased some of New York City’s most renowned chefs doling out some truly exceptional dishes- ones that would rival the finest served at any similar food tasting. You can find pictures of some of our favorite tastes from “Wine & Wishes” below, but there are some that words and photographs can simply do no justice. In the VIP area, the “Roasted Diver Scallop” from Morimoto was in a class all its own. Served on an oversized shell plate, the tender scallop was immersed in smoked brown butter and black truffles yielding a decadently tender dish. Catch’s crab, salmon and miso honey “Catch Roll,” The General’s avocado and sweet chili filled “Chinese Chicken Tacos” and Strip House’s sensational “Waygu Strip with Marrow Mustard Flan” were each excellent in their own right, washed down with some choice wines like Silver Oak’s ripe 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon” and Wagner’s Caymus 2011 “Cabernet Sauvignon,” a big powerful red.

Though not all guests had VIP access, there was still more than enough food and great wine to go around the remainder of the space. We thoroughly enjoyed watching the room full of knowledgeable wine drinkers seeking out and sipping upon these anticipated wines. Our palates danced for likes of the 2011 Laguna “Chardonnay,” the 2012 William Hill “North Coast Cabernet Sauvignon” and our favorite of the evening, the 2012 Laetitia “Pinot Noir Reserve du Domaine, Arroyo Grande,” a veritable steal at just $35 as a relatively full-bodied and complex vintage. With refilled wine glasses in hand, we resumed sampling more of the fantastic dishes being doled out by each restaurant. Highlights included La Cenita’s “Seared Tuna Taco” that brought out a bevy of unique flavors topped with pickled cucumber and mustard seeds, with a cotija crema that brought everything together nicely. BLT Steak’s piping hot “New York Strip” was perfectly salted and charred atop a creamy green leek-yukon mashed potato bed, while Quality Italian brought a “Dry-Aged Porterhouse Agnolotti,” filling each pasta pouch with savory bits of steak. Finally, we grabbed a “House Veal Meatball” mixed with pork sausage and beef from Asellina and a far different “Chicken Francese Meatball” courtesy of perennial party place Public House to cap off an evening of exquisite eats.

As the live program began, a sea of guests flocked toward the stage to grab seats for the aforementioned video package and to welcome emcee and CBS2 News Anchor Chris Wragge to the podium. Wragge perfectly paced the live auction with the help of guest auctioneer and co-radio voice of the New York Jets Greg Buttle who had great command of the room and kept the auction rolling and the fundraising growing. Foodie Magician Josh Beckerman was an added plus, performing a brief set of food related tricks on Charles Merinoff, Chairman and CEO of The Charmer Sunbelt Group, responsible for presenting this year’s “Wine and Wishes.” Though Make-A-Wish is a group that already resonates with much of the public, it’s seeing these kids in action and seeing the actual results of the organization that make attending a charitable event like “Wine and Wishes” far more fulfilling than the exceptional array of wines and food being served. It’s satisfying in a completely different way.

- Jane Van Arsdale

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Long Beach Polar Bear's Super Bowl Splash

So apparently, it's a thing - and for the past 15 years crazy people have been jumping in the Atlantic Ocean in the dead of winter to raise half a million for Make-A-Wish. According to CBS “It is bone-chilling cold. It’s painful, it’s very painful.” Fan-freakin-tastic, right?

At first, I absolutely refused to participate but then I thought: since this is the only time of year where we reach out to our personal network to support us, how about - I'll do it if I raise $500. That's where you come in.

If you want to see me getting tortured, feel free to make a gift. $1, $5, $10, whatever - donors at any level will receive a video to re-live my horror over and over again. (Note: Eddie is doing it for free! LOL)

Historically, I've tried to steer clear of asking for donations for the many nonprofits I've worked for - but donating to Make-A-Wish is truly worth it. The organization is run so well, your dollar goes so far, and both are really dedicated to the kids. While everyone was watching Bat Kid, other children were being inspired by Hillary Clinton or meeting the REAL Santa Claus - and each experience was just as special.

In the past three months, I've participated in three wishes and met so many now-grown wish children that I've witnessed the power of a wish to change lives. Regardless, I'm dedicating my days and volunteering overtime to grant the wishes of children - but I'll only offer up my frozen limbs with your help! Click and donate - it's happen'n Superbowl weekend - blizzard or shine!

I reached $200 today! If I reach $250 by midnight (EST) tonight,
I'll go out in the snow in my swim suit tomorrow morning to practice for the big day! LOL

Thanks to the following donors Cheryl Ann Asico, Jenn Wong, Jenny Ng, Colleen del Rosario, Christina Mojica, Kristina Huey, Gustavo Torres, Jacqueline Cavanaugh, Connie Sam, and Vivian Do for helping me reach my goal. Too bad I was only at $450 the day of the event and didn't have to go all the way in!! Muahahah!!!