Thursday, December 08, 2016

Supper At Ba Bar

Some nights we hang out late and need food at 1 am. If I'm eating, that means I'm hungry and it definitely doesn't mean a burger, even if it's from Li'l Woody's. I need something else more comforting. Hehehehe. Went to Ba Bar on the Hill that opens till 4am on Fridays and Saturdays. YAYY. It's mainly a cocktail bar, but many come here for its modern Vietnamese food too.

The man needs his fix of beef noodles somehow. Ba Bar's phở bò tái nạm was pretty all right! Too bad it ran out of oxtail already. Ordered the usual brisket. Good cuts of beef, as expected at USD12 a bowl. Decent soup. The rice noodles itself weren't impressive though. The bowl didn't arrive piping hot, and if they had left cooked noodles to stand at the side then dumped it into the soup to serve, then perhaps that resulted in clumpy strands of noodles. Aiyah, I didn't bring a tiny tub of sambal out. :P It would have been perfect! :P

The 'Broken Rice Rotisserie' was quite hilarious. Maybe it's supposed to be cơm gà, but every cuisine has its own version of chicken rice or with pork. Ba Bar's version offered a more generous portion of chicken thigh and spicy pork belly, with a small portion of steamed white rice. We chose the pork belly because of the chillies found in the fish sauce of sorts. Heh. I could just ignore the meat and eat everything else because at USD13.50, it was a hearty plate full of tasty vinegared vegetables. Was so tempted to order the steamed manila clams with lemongrass, dill and ginger, but that would have been too much food. Manila clams seem to be an easy staple at bars.

What a satisfying supper. This food is so much better than Jade Garden on 7th Avenue, of which the only redeeming point is that it's open till 2.30am. That said, I've never had bad service at this dim sum restaurant. Speak Cantonese and you get even better service. However, Jade Garden would have been just like any one of those shitty late night Chinese joints ubiquitous across US, mainly San Francisco and pretty similar to London's Leicester Square area. UGH. Nope. DUN WAN.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

SMooCH 2016

The line-up for the sixth SMooCH 2016 (Seattle Musicians for Children's Hospital) was stellar. What a night! Father John Misty, The New Pornographers, J Mascis and guests, and Naked Giants. 

Apparently the benefit was sold out. The venue was packed to the brim, but with sufficient breathing space. I like it because it's always so well organized- fast set changes and the bands start punctually. It's pretty much standing space only, with a few high chairs dotting the bar counters. Quite casual too, unless you attend the earlier dinner event which is more of a corporate social schmooze. Good food.

Seattle up-and-coming garage rock three-piece Naked Giants opened the night. They were pretty good! They just released their first EP, and graduated high school in 2014. I'm not sure how many people have compared them to a young Mudhoney or even if it's fair to do that, but the similarities were striking that night.

Okay, the man is more of a rabid fan of J Mascis. He ran all the way upfront to well, fall at the guitarist's feet. Hurhurhur. We were a little surprised that he played this early in the line-up. Maybe he has an early bedtime. Hurhurhur. But it's a charity benefit, so perhaps guests' preferences were taken into consideration. J Mascis did one loud fabulous acoustic set, playing songs from Dinosaur Jr., like 'Little Fury Things', 'Blowing It', 'Get Me', 'Alone', and also stuff from his 2014 solo album 'Tied to a Star'. I made the mistake of asking the man what acoustic guitar J Mascis was using, and got a side eye. He hollered, "A Martin! Always a Martin! He has an album in '96 'Martin + Me'!" Oh yah hor. Erm....that was quite a terrible album anyhowly recorded live. :P

Before The New Pornographers played, the hosts rustled up a on-the-spot phone-in donation drive, including a video of a family who is beneficiary of the hospital's subsidies. There was a shot of the hospital bills. Oh man, medical care in US is friggin expensive. I think the night raised USD3 million for the hospital. More to come from corporate sponsors, hopefully.

It was a bonus to hear The New Pornographers with Neko Case! I love her voice and songwriting! Totally enjoyed her solo gig (with session musicians) when she played in Singapore in 2014. But I really like her chemistry with The New Pornographers. And those songs. 😍 'Twin Cinema' and all! Plus one of my favorites 'The Laws Have Changed' from 2003. It was very fun jiving to the band!

Headlining SMooCH 2016 was Father John Misty, otherwise normally known as Joshua Michael Tillman. It was an odd choice to wind down the night with because of many half-drunk people in the room by this time who couldn't keep their voices down. But whatever, I enjoyed it. It was 11.40pm. I was having my first beer of the night because I didn't want to have to pee during the shows or in between. The last pee was done 3.5 hours earlier, slightly after the earlier dinner event in which I was well fed and watered.

It was just him on the piano first, then on the acoustic guitar. New songs and he announced he's done with his new album. I am such a fangirl. Of all his politically incorrect lyrics. As a musician, he's good. He's also pretty honest and witty on stage. I'm not sure he's that charming on stage. He can be rather annoying. Yes, I'm ignoring his possibly huge ego and narcissism.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Doughnuts & Coffee at General Porpoise

I simply cannot deal with an overdose of sugar in the mornings (or anytime, really). I don't understand how many people can do it. Or have it sweet-savory, i.e. waffles and pancake. I think the sweetest I can go is granola and yoghurt. I understand eggs, tater tots and hash browns though. Oof.

One morning, the man enthusiastically wanted doughnuts at this hip new bakery on the Hill that is open by 7am. Eiooow. Doughnuts first thing in the stomach in the morning?! I didn't mind the 7am. It was the sugar that was inconceivable. I was already up, but luckily for him, coffee was needed and I welcomed the 30-minute stroll to General Porpoise on the Hill for the second day in a row.

I like the cafe's logo. My caffè latte was good, as expected. They serve beans from four roasters at any one time. Currently, it's all US-based. The cafe only serves doughnuts and coffee. Hahahaahah. Perfect for the man and I! It's owned by the same people behind some of our favorite restaurants in Seattle and around. All part of Renee Erickson's branding.

Now, I've no idea how people classify doughnuts or beignets as good or otherwise. Similar to the Italian bombolini, these looked sufficiently tempting, and there have been rave reviews from the usual blogs, and from the friends. Flavors like 'Date Shake', 'Heirloom Tomato Jam', 'Peanut Butter & Jelly', 'Egg Nog', 'Chocolate Marshmallow' etc sounded really good. The man liked his 'Vanilla Custard', but didn't have the guts to eat a second piece although he was so curious about 'Pumpkin Spice'. Heh.

Monday, December 05, 2016

All Pain Leads to These Two Historical Events

Hesitated over Madeleine Thien's 'Do Not Say We Have Nothing'. It cuts a bit close and I'm not sure I want to read about the tumultuous period of the Cultural Revolution in detail too often outside of necessary work research. Even if it's well-written fiction. (Reviews here, here, here and here.)

This isn't my favorite genre, but I enjoyed it. 'Enjoyed' in the sense of appreciating how the story flowed, how the writing put across emotions and fleshed out the characters. It evoked grief in me and brought twinges to the heart. It also tells me that humans have learnt nothing very much from history.

Of music. Of humans. Of their painful stories. Of the story behind He Luting Concert Hall at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music (上海音乐学院,贺绿汀音乐厅). Of the soul-debilitating Cultural Revolution 1966-1976 (文革) initiated by Chairman Mao, and the later events of Tiananmen 1989 (六四事件或八九学运) in China. The story is told through the eyes of adult Marie Jiang, who is a first-generation Chinese-Canadian and a mathematician by profession.

We hear how in 1990, possibly 19-year-old Ai Ming came to Toronto in Canada to seek refuge with 12-year old Marie Jiang Li-Ling who barely speaks Mandarin or writes Chinese and her mother. Later on, we learn that Marie's deceased father (he committed suicide in Hong Kong) Jiang Kai was previously a talented concert pianist, and Ai Ming's father Sparrow who was a gifted composer was Jiang Kai's music mentor at the Shanghai Conservatory in the 1960s. Alongside Kai, Sparrow also mentored his own cousin Zhuli, an equally talented violinist. This is where the author weaved fact into fiction- Sparrow's professor is the said famed He Luting (贺绿汀) whom the Shanghai Conservatory actually named its hall after. Of course tragedy ensued. Persecution of family members, death, suffering, angst, and never playing music again. Artists, academics, teachers and musicians suffered greatly during those periods. They were persecuted for their 'left-wing liberal' ideals and sense of self and identity. Many were sent to labor camps and farmlands to be 'reformed'.

Ai Ming eventually left Marie and her mother in Toronto, making her way the United States, ending up in New York without a residency permit, then heading back to Beijing in 1996 for her mother's funeral, and staying on in China without a hukou. It was said that she went to Gansu Province. After 1998, nobody heard from Ai Ming again. Decades later, Marie decided to track down Ai Ming, to no avail. But there was of course a 'lost' composition, a sonata, by Sparrow that was finally found and retrieved by an adult Marie from her deceased father's possessions and from another part still held by the Hong Kong Police, and the story moved to Shanghai, 2016. In 2016 Marie finally managed to have a small orchestra play the sonata to an audience of thirty who knew Sparrow and Ai Ming and her mother Ling.

The room stilled. Professor Liu lifted his violin. Sparrow's Sonata for Piano and Violin, dedicated to my father, began. 
At first the violin played alone, a seam of notes that slowly widened. When the piano entered, I saw a man turning in measured, elegant circles, I saw him looking for the centre that eluded him, this beautiful centre that promised an end to sorrow, the lightness of freedom. The piano stepped forward and the violin lifted, a man crossing a room and a girl weeping as she climbed a flight of steps; they played as if one sphere could merge into the other, as if they could arrive in time and be redeemed in a single overlapping moment. And even when the notes they played were the very same, the piano and violin were irrevocably apart, drawn by different lives and different times. Yet in their separateness, and in the quiet, they contained one another. 

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Hey WA.

Flying into the US in the month before the inauguration of a new President. I don't know what to think. How much of it is bluster? How much is real? Things seem cautiously less pessimistic, but man.....simply reading the President-Elect's Twitter timeline blew my brains out. That timeline can't be faked. He didn't say it's been faked. Ha! Couldn't stop rolling my eyes at the proposed new Trump Administration......just look at some of the appointees and their publicized causes/charities that wouldn't/couldn't have changed overnight......

If political America wants to look inwards, that's her prerogative. Business America will still wiggle around fine. The rest of the world will deal, global connectivity be damned. But if increased bigotry and racism are the outward displays of the changes to come, then we're all unfortunate parties to the writing of this uhh exciting chapter of history. Of course I'm speaking from my perspective.

2016 is a sad year when all my favorite musicians passed on, and in a nutshell, a year when the world goes a tad dippy. I had this whole rant typed out and saved as a draft, but never mind. Hit the delete button instead. Re-typed this post. Put away the analyst-academic hat. I'll just be relieved that Washington State is still largely a blue state (not so much of the eastern parts) in this moment of history. Here's a photo of the last bits of fall on a street in Kirkland. Fall foliage is spectacular but I missed the best of it in November. It's getting difficult to find yellow maple leaves. Most have turned red, brown or fallen off. Winter is creeping up earlier. So it was such a pleasure to look up and find the perfect golden-yellow leaves waving gently in the early morning sun.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

To Taipei Via The Hello Kitty Jet

Needed an extra suitcase to lug to USA. Knowing my luck with TSA, I asked the BFF for one that she wouldn't mind losing. I'd replace a new one for her anyway; but I can't substitute any sentimental value she might place on said suitcase.

She's traveling too but she doesn't need this particular suitcase. The zip to the outer front pocket is spoilt. No matter. Not like I'm gonna put anything valuable in there. The other zips work fine. I simply secured it up with a luggage strap, added a name tag and the ugliest scarf to it. Ta-daaahhhh! Sorted. Nobody would take this suitcase by mistake. Sent a photo to the BFF and she rolled eyes majorly at it.

At this point, each trip into the USA doesn't require locks on suitcases. Cable ties suffice. Of course TSA went through the suitcases again. YAWN. At least nothing has gone missing so far, and the contents aren't left messy. They didn't exactly open up every pouch. Nothing broken either. My bottles of sambal and sealed packs of kopi-o are fine.

At EVA Air's check-in counter, I stared at the boarding passes, then our luggage tags with a little despair. Somehow we had unknowingly booked to fly to Taipei (transit) on the Hello Kitty jet, again. AIYOH. The food and utensils weren't that cutesy. My cutlery and cups came in non-offensive stainless steel and glass. But I did walk to the galley to ask the stewardess for a set of plastic cutlery for the BFF. Hahahahah. The toilet paper in a blue Hello Kitty print cracks me up, every time.

Friday, December 02, 2016

Firing The Glutes

I don't avoid utilizing the Ladder Barrel. But I'll always pick the Cadillac and the Chair over it. However these few weeks, I'm back to being friendly with the Barrel, and suspension ropes. Using them to 'fire the glutes'. I don't usually sit cross-legged if I can help it. But I still do, so I need to ease out the glutes and hip flexors.

I dread 'legs and butt' day. Quads and glutes. The burn!!! Now, focusing on those glutes deepens the burn. I've been aching in specific areas at the quads and glutes. Targeted exercises can isolate these muscles and make them ache in specific areas. That tells me if I'm working those muscles right. Of course no aches last for days. But I like their presence in the nights or in the mornings when I wake, and feel the aches dissipate through the day.

The Barrel is great for doing supported back extensions and bends, lengthening the obliques and strengthening the upper back. I've also been using it to wake the glutes and have it move more. Although I try not to 'sit' on my butt while standing, I still find myself having to 'spiral' the thighs and stand straight. There're mat exercises to do that, as well as other accessories, like using the resistance band, loop and all. But if I have the benefit of the barrel, it's a much more effective way to work the hamstrings and glutes.

There's no excuse in the world to neglect the body. It's not about getting the best Instagram photo or hitting the ideal weight. It's about owing it to yourself to remain fit, strong and healthy for as long as possible. Glad for a skilled instructor to take me through each Pilates session. Once she ascertains I understand the purpose of each exercise and the intended muscles to be isolated, she focuses on my form. Getting the form right, means the entire body feels at ease, with no strain to any part. When the body is in perfect balance, that is an awesome feeling.

Depending on how much you want to stretch the mid-back, go on and flip the legs over your head.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

One Precious Date

There was one precious coffee date with O. I've missed her very much! Between her looooong months-on-end work trips and family obligations, and my schedule, it's so tough to lock down a physical hug-and-chat date. But we made it happen that afternoon.

Given my OCD-ness, I cut O a lot of slack. Hurhurhurhur. She gets special privileges in being able to text me at the last minute to confirm if coffee/lunch/dinner is happening and whatnot. She also gets to decide on the venue literally an hour before we're supposed to meet. Heh. It's not easy for me to meet acquaintances or friends who're skimpy on erm...admin details. Thankfully, all the lovely friends I meet regularly are pretty decisive and prompt on these nitty-gritty stuff. It simply means that there's a chance that these friends and I could work together on projects in our professional work lives. It has turned out pretty accurate. If acquaintances find me a pain in arranging to meet on a social basis without even getting to the actual meet, then it's safe to assume that we won't particularly get along and there's no need to maintain a semblance of a vague acquaintanceship. We won't reach even a superficial level of friendship anyway.

O has been there for me gosh, slightly over two decades. She's seen me through tough times, never questioning, but simply being there when I needed friends, a listening ear, or practical recommendations. I'll always owe her this favor that she can call in again and again. I only hope I've been there for her, although these few years, I haven't done as I'd have wanted to. It was a wonderful time spent catching up with O. Till the next one.