Sunday, August 29, 2010

PS on Minsu

Getting ready for class Thursday, 27-7-10, my cell phone rings, it's Minsu calling from New York, he's 30 minutes from boarding for his flight back to Seoul. You can sense the sadness in his voice, but stated he loved the Smithsonian in DC, and was overwhelmed by the Grand Canyon. He said he was fortunate to be adopted by a group of brit's and other euro's, so he had plenty of time to practice his english.
I wished him good luck back in Seoul, and reminded him if he should ever have the opportunity to re-visit the United States, he has family here, and a place to stay.

Had our last meeting on Saturday, now the real work starts. We have until the end of January to submit our projects.
I'm having great time experimenting, and learning more about the cuisine of Vietnam and Cambodia. I've visited a number of related supermarkets in Long Beach and Little Saigon, now I actually know what I'm doing. In the past when I covered the chapter on Asia, I relied on what I researched from books, the internet, eating and talking to chefs at the restaurant and cuisine in question, not to mention asking questions from my students from those geographical areas. NOW, after visiting, studying, cooking and learning first person, I'm in hog heaven.
( Thanks Mike, Florence, and Bo).


Monday, August 16, 2010

Our New Son From Seoul

Ok, lets back track, 31 July 10, Narita, Japan. We're six hours into an eight hour layover in Japan. Everyone is trying to find something to do to eat up time. I meet Rebecca in an internet cafe and we sit, chat, and work on our projects , even have a beer at our station. Later we meet up with the crew at our gate when a young Asian man asks Tanja a few questions regarding boarding procedures in the airport, one thing leads to another, and before we know it we have befriended Mr. Minsu Kim, a 24 year old third year university chemical engineering student from Seoul South Korea.

He is on his way for the first time to the United States for a thirty day tour of our country with thirteen other foreign visitors. We chat, and give him advice on things to see and do during his journey, during the conversation he asks me a few questions about my project, and we immediately make a connection. Who doesn't like to talk about food!

My wife and i have a history of befriending visitors from other countries, and welcoming them to our country, it's just who we are. With Minsu it was a no brainer, ( I'm a teacher).

He told me he had a two day free time scheduled in LA before his trip was to begin, so I invited him to a day in Long Beach, which he quickly accepted.

The following day, jet lag and all, I picked him up from his hotel at 10am, and headed straight to Redondo Beach Pier for coffee and a nice walk along the pier and beach, fortunately if was beautiful sunlit day, with no crowds.

We then headed south along the Palos Verdes peninsula where we visited Whites Point, Royal Palms Beach, and then on to the Korean Bell a beautiful gift to the United States from the Korean government in 1974 overlooking the pacific ocean at Fort MacAurther, another beautiful sight to see from every vantage point.

By the time we had reached the Vincent Thomas Bridge, we had become friends. We arrived at my home a short time later where he met my twenty-three year old son, Andy and my wife, Laura. He kept repeating he was experiencing the American dream as we sampled fresh grapes from my garden vine.

During our meeting in Japan, while exchanging information, he used and noticed my pen, one of three I had made especially for my trip to Vietnam. During the tour of our home, I gave him a tour of my shop, and my pen making equipment, so naturally after explaining the process, he sat back and I made him a beautiful pen from northern California redwood burl. The process took about an hour with the inlay work and all, but when all was said and done, he was thrilled, this is my gift to you my new son from Seoul, he was speechless.

By that time we were pretty hungry from the days events, we made a quick shopping trip to the market for sandwich making and dinner ingredients, beverages when we arrived back.

He stood there in amazement as I prepared our lunch, a roast beef sandwich, fresh farmers market fruit, and a beverage.

I couldn't figure out his curiosity and interest he seemed to be mesmerized as I prepared our meal. So I asked him up front, what's so interesting, he replied, everything, this morning, today, now!

He went on to say that in his country, this whole day would not happen. First of all, in Korea, strangers don't just approach another stranger and ask for anything, even directions. Second, and most important, a junior ( as in he ) would never associate openly with someone like me , his senior ( that would be me ), for anything, I mean anything, unless spoken to first, and yet, even at the airport in Japan ( remember here, he is a third year university student) , he was openly befriended by a group of American's, total strangers, (Fulbright Scholars no less), who treated him like an equal! Now, he finds himself in my home, getting what I called the $.50 tour of Long Beach, and I'm making him lunch! Can you feel his confusion and amazement. He asked me if this was a common trait of the american people with foreigners, and I replied that, yes , for the most part we are pretty much a friendly people, with everyone.

The day ended with he taking a nap in my hammock on the deck, and my getting in a good snooze as well, followed by dinner, roast rack of lamb ( which he had never had ), Bucks famous mashed potatoes, a fresh farmers market garden salad, and fresh strawberries for dessert, heaven for both of us after our combined journey.

The Finale,

The trip back to his hotel ,(9ish), was to say the least, interesting, as I sat in the back seat of Bucks truck, SILENCE, Buck volunteered to drive, and for most of the forty-five minute drive nothing was said, I watched his as he gazed at the sky line in a daze, I asked him, what do you feel, he responded, the american dream.

We now, have a new son.


Monday, August 9, 2010


Don't really know where to start. I've been home a week, and I'm still addlebrained from the trip, both physically and emotionally. Brian was over on sunday, and we both confirmed the jet lag bug still had us in it's ugly grips.

I had planned to write about my new found son from Seoul, but that experience need's it's own entry.

The trip. Wow, where to start. first of all, a big thank you to Mike, and his group for even inviting me to participate. When Mike offered me the opportunity to apply, I didn't think I had a chance of qualifying, but bingo! I was going! Now, it's all a blur, almost a dream. At times when I'm talking to my wife Laura, something pops up in my head, either a high spot or a low spot, some important, some mundane and it's hard to pit it into words, especially the emotion. As far as mundane, there was nothing mundane during the entire trip, even the long bus rides were special, seeing brief glimpses of the farmers in the fields to the makeshift eateries found everywhere we went, and the people, the beautiful people of both countries.

What was especially unique about the trip from my perspective and research, was that it was my job to talk and interact with the people in our respective fields. As a result, I had access to kitchens, foods of every description, chefs, waitstaff, managers, dishwashers, all the people that make my field, my passion, so unique, so first person. I've begun to outline a new chapter for my syllabus on "Asia" for the Fall semester, both the culinary, (food ) and the "Food and Beverage" (administrative) aspects, and believe me it's going to be an eye opener for a lot of people. ( The good, bad, and the ugly)

Even the motorbike traffic was a sight to see, and it was evident everywhere we went, from Ho Chi Min City to Phnom Penh, and on into Hanoi. I drove Brian to John Wayne today to see his family, and on the way back I could still see the motorbikes in my head, and still feel the exhilaration of riding on the back of Rosie's back in Hanoi.

One things been especially odd since my return, the phone has been silent, no calls from family or friends welcoming me back home, it's been weird but a pleasant weird, for the last week it's been Buck ( my wife ), Andy ( my son ), and Jack the dog! Aside from the sleep, and fatigue issues, I've found myself with a mild form of PTSD, but in a good way, don't know exactly how to describe it! I've had a hammock hanging on my patio for a couple of years now, and it's getting a whole lot of use these days. Even Bucks been really good about giving me space, not asking a lot of questions unless I volunteer. But for the most part, I've been pretty much to myself, and my thoughts.

The three things that keep coming to me with a ton of emotion, and it's hard to describe, are the NVA officer, Mr. Nam, I met in Hoi An, Rosie, my gracious host at the "Botique Hotel" in Hanoi, and the trip to Chu Lai and the LZ goodbye to my men, I will carry those memories with me forever.

My daughter Renee and her husband Tom are coming over this weekend, and I'm anticipating the "Best part of the trip" question to come up. and to be honest, it's going to be tough to decide on a single moment or place. How do you describe location, emotion, or experience?

I took a ton of pix during the trip, and now that I've gone threw them, I wish I had taken more. But I've got Brian to cover that, as a photo journalist, he took his share of shots and we've agreed to share when all the dust settles.

Then theirs Brian, my friend, my colleague, and now my brother. I won't go into detail, but during the trip we discussed everything from politics, (He's Vietnamese), family, art, you name it, and I'm thankful to have had his friendship through this journey of a lifetime, we've already discussed a return visit to vietnam in he future with our families. I look forward to it.

Don't have much more to add, except that it's so good to be home. I'm not going to close with the cliche about really appreciating what you have, etc. etc. I think you already know that.



Our New son from Seoul

Friday, August 6, 2010

Not Done Yet

The trip home was a bear for all of us! Almost 25 hours from start to finish. The 8 hour layover in Narita, Japan didn't help, and the following 10 hour flight to LA, finally did us in!
We met a great young student from Seoul South Korea in the terminal in Japan, ( Minsu Kim, 24 years old, 3rd year university student ), his first trip outside of his country, and excited about coming to the us of a! More about it later

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Cooking at The Rex

For the last 2 day's I've been trying to get Victoria to set me up with a Ho Chi Min City chef, to complete my research. Well, I shouldn't have been surprised when she called this morning at 7 to tell me that she had arranged for me to participate in a cooking demonstration at, are you ready for this, the REX HOTEL, one of the most famous hotel's in Saigon during the war.

It was built in 1927 during the French occupation, and during the war it housed military officials and war correspondents from 1961 thru 1975.

I's now a posh hotel and restaurant complex in the 1st district about a 5 minute ride from the hotel we're at. The Royal Court Restaurant where the demonstration was to take place is a beautiful traditional Vietnamese adorned facility. The walls are decorated with murals, and sculptures of the history and legends that are Vietnam and it's culture. One relief in particular that was pointed out to me by the general manager, Mr. Giac, showcased a scene of a teacher instructing his student's in a classroom. The picture reminded me of a saying, as thing's change they always seem to stay the same.

After the brief tour we were escorted to a beautifully set table to the side of the main floor. The executive sous Chef Mai began to setup a station adjacent to our table, complete with a 2 burner stove and various prearranged and preprepared foods for the demo.

I watched as Chef Mai prepared two classic dishes from the southern region of vietnam, Banh Khoai, a deep fried pancake prepared and served to the king as an everyday dish in the fourteenth century. The second was, Cha Gio, a deep fried spring roll also found only in the south. The best part of the demonstration, was the practical participation I was offered.

The 3 hour class ended with a full lunch of other dishes, including a wonderful hot pot, I plan to incorporate in my Asian Cuisine chapter.

All in all, I feel I've accomplished what I set out to do in my research. Now the hard part.


Saturday, July 31, 2010

Last Night In Camp

Did some shopping today, needed to purchase some last minute odd's and end's for some family and friend's back at the ranch, T-shirt's, etc. Ben Thanh market down the street is a mecca for tourist stuff and brickabrack of all sorts. I also wanted to take additional shots at the seafood mart for my report. If you know what you're looking for, and a little haggling you can score. ( I'm starting to get pretty good at it here) their are bargains to be had. More about that later.

Right now, well let me back up a little. I missed lunch with the crew this after noon to shop, on the way back to the hotel, after scoring on some great bargains to augment my research, on the way back to the hotel, I developed a major thirst, tons of heat, I stopped for a brew at a little shack with a little older lady vendor who shared her umbrella and a big smile with me, then appeared a young lady smartly dressed and official looking who spoke to the proprietor, I grabbed my camera hoping she could catch a flick of me for prosperity, when I asked her to take the flick she balked at first, then agreed, turns out the lady proprietor is her mother, she agrees to take my picture, and in return I take one of them together, I give her my blog address and tell her to check it out later today, they will be on it! She's thrilled.

I then spot two round eye's walking by,( from Holland) I and asked them if there was any where close by non-Vietnamese to eat, guess what they ask me? Do you eat sushi! Do I EAT SUSHI ! Is a fat dog heavy, does a bear, well don't get me started. I said yes indeed I eat sushi. Well it turns out they are staying in the same hotel we're at and have seen us in the lobby a few time's. Without going into detail I explained, etc. etc. Well the sushi bar turn's out to be is a Vietnamese sushi bar about a block from the hotel, called "Tokyo Deli", I'm here now, and wow! I'm impressed, all Vietnamese employees, including the sushi chef. I introduce myself, and luckily one of the staff spoke English. When I presented my business card to the manager, things turned quickly, I was led up stairs to a private Tatami room that sat four, after I took off my shoes, well I won't get into detail, but if you're familiar at all with Japanese cuisine, I was made quite comfortable, and the food was exquisite! I ordered a "Bento Box" which consisted of mixed sashimi and grilled fish, in this case pompano and salmon. (135,000 VND, about $7.00 US ), is that a deal or what, at home $10.00 to $12.95 easy! Entree, miso soup, salad, 3 types of sashimi, rice, 2 sizable pieces of local grilled fish, AND, darn, I can't remember what it's called in Japanese, custard. I thought I was in heaven in Cambodia.

The manager keeps an eye on me like a hawk during my meal as I write this, and they make sure I'm not bothered by any distractions, the female wait staff are off to the side, looking around the corner like school girls laughing and giggling. (Now I know how Tony Bordain feels, oh! did I say that! Cool! ) AHHH, Chawanmushi, that's the custard, we do it at school when we cover Asian cuisine! Perfection, I was taught this dish by a master sushi chef years ago, Todo San, thank you!

Unfortunately the only English speaking person in the restaurant left for the day, and I wanted to interview the manager who doesn't speak English. Better luck next time, I may sneak in here again tomorrow before we leave.

Later this evening I decide to go solo, and go for a long walk, half way threw my walk the rains came, big time! For the last few day's my right knee is starting to go out (old tennis injury and age are creeping up on me) so I take a short cut back to the hotel, and guess where I find myself, back in front of the sushi bar! Darn sushi again for dinner! :)

Long story short, Brian and I are hard at work writing, and working on our project's, guess who call's, it's Rosie calling from Hanoi, to see how we are doing, to say good bye, and to thank us for our hospitality and kindness.( Later on, my plan to help her son accomplish his wish to become a chef!) It should be we, who should be thanking her for her help and hospitality while visiting her beautiful country, but that's the beauty of our profession, God I love my job!

It's almost 2:00am now and we have a long day ahead of us, tomorrow after a month without our families, long grueling bus rides, endless lectures and temple visits and many, many miles of untold stories and memories, at last, HOME.


Ha Long Bay

Heard about it, read about it, maybe even dreamed about it, but never did I ever imagine actually being there! But 4 + - hours later north of Hanoi, there we were driving up to a view, that literally took you'r breath away. Aside from the sea of tourist's milling around like worker ants, and boats large and small, tenders, taxies, junk's of every size and configuration, it was a mariners nightmare, but believe it or not it was controlled chaos. It was like a water dance of ship's and freight.
Our guide, the professional that she is, herded us through the sea of lines and officials, and before we knew it we were on a water taxi. ( 15 minutes max! )
We boarded the Husong Hai, a 100 foot wooden junk beautifully trimmed in teak throughout, with 9 state rooms, a full galley, beautifully furnished dining area, bar, ample aft covered seating area, with a full sun deck and chairs topside.
The staterooms were smallish but comfortable, with a head and shower wand, best of all, they were air conditioned. Ok, Ok, the boats cool, enough. We were assigned our state rooms, bunk mate's, and after stowing our gear, a quick dip in the bay for a few of us, followed by a quick shower, LUNCH TIME!
I could go on and on about the food, but I'll spare you the torture, but believe me it was terrific. From the fresh seafood to the professional service, believe me it was first class all the way! I do this and teach this for a living, and I've never seen such perfection and professionalism. Now I know how the other half lives, and the best was yet to come, our Gala Dinner served on the sun deck that night! Another winner! Seven courses, and again I'll save you the torture.
After a good night of blissful sleep, we were up early the next morning to a great breakfast, and on with the day's adventure cruising the water way's in wonderland.
Surprisingly with all the vessels on the water the area is so expansive, we noticed only periodic glimpses of other vessels cruising by, I can't put it into word's, the beauty of it all.
Early on we transferred to small tender row boats seating 4 people each, and visited a floating village tucked away in a beautiful expansive cove, where about 500 people live permanently year round, they live and subsist on locally caught seafood, we were told that a ship delivers fresh produce, water and other proteins twice a week. We visited the local floating school house, and natural pearl beds that are harvested and sold to tourist's like us, that generate much of their income, beautiful stuff! At days end we returned to our mothership for another cruise before lunch, and back to our waiting bus. Again, I could write endlessly of the adventure, but you had to have been there to truly appreciate the experience. After the trip ended Brian and I both agreed that if ever possible we will return with our families to share the experience.