Friday, July 25, 2014

Plane Etiquette 101

Mm hmm. Oh yeah. I'm going there. You can't say you're surprised, are you? After all, I fly internationally at least three to four times per year. You knew this was coming.

On Sunday, I found myself in an empty row of an Air Canada plane, ready for takeoff. This had never happened to me before. At least, not on an international flight. I anxiously craned my neck into the aisle, hoping against hope that someone wouldn't come bumbling on at the very last minute and say those tragic words, "Um, I'm in there" while jabbing his/her finger towards the window (or middle) seat. In these situations, I usually stare straight ahead at the seat in front of me, silently willing the person approaching my row to not stop at my seat, until the inevitable occurs and I have no choice but to unbuckle my seatbelt and let them in with a tight smile but passive-aggressive sigh.

On this occasion however, the captain announced, "Flight attendants prepare for takeoff" and I was safely ensconced in my own little row. Score. I looked around guiltily at the other full rows (though mine was not the only semi-empty one) but simply thought it was karma to make up for the sadness I had experienced earlier in the morning after bidding my family farewell and the fact that I'd have to endure a whole week of living in an empty flat while John was away for business.

I started gleefully plotting my sleeping style in my head. Yes, since it was an overnight flight, I had hit the total jackpot: sleeping while lying down (obviously this is only an issue that people who travel in economy grapple with). Should I raise the armrests once the seatbelt sign had been turned off and immediately go for the fetal position? Or should I prop myself up at the window seat and stretch my legs out on the empty seats while enjoying a film with my meal? The options were truly endless.

20 minutes into the flight, I was happily reading my Kindle when a blond head of curls poked around from the seat in front of me. "Excuse me," she started, and a kind of dread rose in my chest. 'Don't do it,' a voice warned in my head. 'Whatever she asks, don't do it. It is bound to backfire on you just like it's backfired every single time you've done something nice for someone on a flight. Remember the time you offered to switch seats with someone so he could flirt with a girl because you observed a budding romance occuring? And you were left with a man who snored so loudly, that the people five rows in front of you turned around to stare as you helplessly shrugged your shoulders and mouthed apologetically but insistently, 'It's not me'? Or the time you switched seats with someone and ended up sitting across the aisle from a man who basically turned to cough directly in your face every few seconds and you ended up contracting tonsilitis two days later and had to pay $140 for a doctor's visit because you no longer had health insurance coverage in the US but your throat was so swollen you could barely swallow? REMEMBER THOSE TIMES?'

"Yes?" I replied brightly.

"Um, my TV screen isn't working so I was wondering if we could all trade seats? Like, all three of us [at this point, she pointed to her two girlfriends on either side of her who all looked like they were going on a gap year abroad to Thailand in their harem pants and barefoot Birkenstocks look] would move back and you'd just move forward to this row?"

I pondered this for a second. I would still have an entire row to myself. That was all that mattered. What harm could it do?

"Sure," I replied after a few seconds, as I stood up to let them through.

"Thank you so much!" she chirped gratefully, as she and her friends slid into the row.

I settled into my new place and opened my Kindle again when I saw a flash of bare flesh appear at my left elbow. Seconds later, two other pairs of wiggling toes appeared in between the middle and window seats to my left.

You have got. TO. BE. KIDDING. ME. Was this really happening? Did I just ... am I being punished for my good deed? Oh yes, yes I was.

"This is great!" I heard a girl squeal behind me. Yes, it's so much fun when you can stick your grimy (yes, there was visible grime) feet into the seats in front of you for the girl who just did you a favor to enjoy.

So, any sane person would have just turned around and said politely, "Um, excuse me, would you mind removing your feet from the armrests? Thanks." But I thought this might be a little bitchy, especially since (and I left this out the first time around) I had previously denied her request to move because I thought she had meant I was simply trading a single seat in front of me before I realized what she had actually meant and tapped her on the shoulder again to agree (but this had seemed too long to explain above, so I'm SORRY IF THIS IS CONFUSING).

Instead, I sat and stewed angrily for the next hour or so until ... the food cart came along. Ah yes, the food cart: here to save the day. There was no way they could physically eat AND keep their feet up, could they? I tested this for myself by putting down a tray and attempting to yoga-extend my left leg over the tray and mimic eating (no I didn't really, but for the purposes of this post, it's much more entertaining to imagine me doing so - I actually just envisioned the whole thing in my head). No, while physically possible, it certainly wasn't comfortable.

So as soon as the food was served, BAM! Those armrests went up, baby. But you know, I felt BAD for putting them up. WHY DID I FEEL BAD? WHY DID I FEEL BAD FOR NOT LETTING THEM PUT THEIR BARE FEET NEXT TO MY ARMS AND POSSIBLY MY FACE?

After the meal service, the lights dimmed and I got to work arranging myself across the three seats for a long nap. It was worth it in the end because I was able to sleep for four hours during the 8.5 hour flight, but I still felt guilty and annoyance for feeling guilty.

Planes, eh? Always a struggle. Seriously, though. Never do anything nice for anyone on the plane becuase it'll backfire in your face. Sometimes, literally.

p.s. having said that, I once traded seats with a woman's husband on a flight from Madrid so that they could sit next to each other and ended up being upgraded from business to first. That was a real win. But 1 out of 10 is still a risky business, IMO.

Vancouver International Airport: Botanic Garden or Airport? You Decide.

The prettification of international airports over recent years has astounded me. For example, the new(ish) revamp of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (AKA SeaTac) sees vintage planes suspended from the baggage claim hall, oversized stained glass artwork, and floor to ceiling windows which let in much-needed light to the previously dark and cavernous terminal buildings.

And while it isn't the first time I've flown to Seattle via Vancouver (Air Canada flights are almost always cheaper than British Airways direct, non-stop fares, though it means a short layover and 30 minute connecting flight in Vancouver), I've never been happier to see the sight that greeted me there (above) when I stopped over in the airport last weekend.

Still tear-stained and a little sniffly from saying goodbye to my family at SeaTac security, the tranquil (and all very real! No artificial leaves used here) garden scene that greeted me after passing through security YVR cheered me up a little (that and I spied Hermes and a Longchamp concession not too far away, which helped distract me as well).

I managed to take a snap of this incredible aquarium, which I hadn't seen before:

I seriously could have spent hours gazing at the mesmerizing display of fish and sea anemone. I'm a nervous/anxious solo traveller anyway, so I deeply appreciated these extra features near the gates which helped take my mind off of things for a bit.

It's nothing compared to Koh Samui airport, however, which is akin to a luxury beach resort (minus the beach). The "gates" are housed in little huts positioned around the runway and you can literally put your feet up in a comfy straw chair whilst sipping complimentary fresh juices and helping yourself to cake, fruit, and an assortment of Thai snacks. Ding, ding, ding - winner! Hanging baskets of flowers dip from the ceilings of these huts and you're just encouraged to chill out, relax, and zone out. The nice lady at security even offered me aloe vera for my extremely burnt nose from one of the bottles a passenger had left behind. I was actually a little sad to board my plane after that magical experience!

What's your favorite airport?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

I Dream of American Sandwiches

I'm experiencing the worst jet lag ever after this flight back to London. I think it's a combination of the hot and humid weather, the fact that John's been travelling for work all week (I don't sleep well when he's away and start at every sound I hear), and the general lack of adjustment to GMT but my eyes pop wide open at around 12:30 a.m. and stay that way until, oh, 3:00 a.m. or so.

Lately when insomnia strikes, I've just been lying awake and thinking about all the foods and beverages I wanted to eat or drink in the States but forgot (or ran out of time) to have, namely: chicken tenders dipped in honey mustard sauce, mac 'n yease (vegan mac 'n cheese) from one of my favorite Tacoma eateries, Quickie II, tacos from the local taco truck, sandwiches from another Tacoma favorite, MSM Deli ('MSM' stands for Magical Sandwich Makers - I kid you not), a Jamba Juice smoothie, a so-thick-your-cheeks-hurt-from-slurping-it blueberry milkshake from our downtown burger joint, an onion ring tower from Red Robin ... the list goes on and on.

These foods aren't particularly healthy or even that tasty, but they're certainly far more indulgent (in terms of calories, at least) than what I normally consume in London. I did, however, have a delicious chicken and avocado sandwich on marble rye bread served with a cold, crunchy pickle on the side and a super refreshing raspberry iced tea from A Spoonful of Sugar (yes, there's a prevailing Mary Poppins theme throughout) in Milton.

I miss American sandwiches so very much. I miss having the choice of bread (aside from "white or wholegrain"), more than one slice of meat, and that ubiquitous crunchy pickle on the side. And Lays. Barbecued Lays. I don't think I've had Lays potato chips since field day at my elementary school. My brother ordered them to go with his chicken salad sandwich (which I also greedily eyed) and I commandeered the packet immediately (he let me - he's so nice).

I hear there's an American sandwich shop in East Sheen called Pickle and Rye (see? Two of my favorite American sandwich ingredients) and I am determined to make the trek over there to try them out. If I eat another limp sandwich with funny tasting bread and mayonaise from Pret-a-Manger, I might just ... I don't know. I'm being over dramatic. Forgive me. 

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

I Left My Heart In the Pacific Northwest

Ugh, you guys. To say that I have the post-holiday (or post-vacation, for all you Americans out there) blues is an understatement. I flew back to London from Seattle via Vancouver yesterday feeling sadder than sad. I was (and still am) down in the freaking dumps. I feel like the little boy who's crying outside my flat window right now because he was dragged from the park by his mom and dad when he was just having some fun.

Last night, I went to bed at 9:30 and woke up thinking that I had slept for hours on end and that it was at least 5:30 a.m. I was so sure of this, that when I gleefully picked up my phone to check, I actually sat right up in bed in shock/horror that the glowing screen read a smug 12:30 a.m. right back at me. Curses, jet lag! Curses!

To begin with, I sat on this deck with my family every night, chatting about nonsense and watching dragonflies dive bomb my brother's head until the sky turned purple and slowly slid into darkness:

I basked in the hot, dry heat of a Puget Sound summer and watched my dad barbecue chicken wings on that very same deck as the sky broke open and relieved us of the heat by pouring down a fragrant, summer rain. I sprawled out in the director's chair above, listening to the wind chimes at our front door and wondering why that familiar sound never followed me to England.

Everything seemed old and new all at once. When it grew dark outside, my brother and I retreated indoors to watch back-to-back episodes of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, a low-budget children's program which aired on Nickelodeon in the 90s that my brother routinely watched every Saturday while my parents made Chinese hot pot. We'd watch until the commercials, run out to stuff a piece of Chinese broccoli or a fishball in our mouths and jump back onto their bed, huddling in a blanket together like a big and small rock. This time, I still hid my face behind the blanket like I did when we were 5 and 10.

I touched everything: my old coloring pencils, secret diaries, and photo albums. I re-read my high school yearbook.

I watched the beautiful, majestic Mount Rainier appear and disappear as we ascended and descended the hills of Small Town, USA. My small town.

I left strands of hair scattered in the downstairs bathroom sink and my bobby pins everywhere. I didn't bother to clean up.

We played a game after dinner: my brother would ask my dad, "What were you doing in ..." and he'd insert a year. I found out fascinating things about my dad's childhood and recorded snippets of them on my iPhone so I could listen to them later.

I sat on that deck and closed my eyes, imagining the airplane seat I'd occupy six days later - smelling it, sensing it, grieving the loss of that moment in my mind already. I just looked at FlightAware online - that flight-tracking website - and burst into tears at the words, "Origin: London Heathrow, Destination: Seattle-Tacoma Intl, Duration: On The Way!"

What I wouldn't give to be on my way, right now.

I miss you too much.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Happy 4th of July Weekend!

Happy 4th of July, folks! How did you spend your Independence Day yesterday? I was jealous of all the out-of-offices I received from my fellow American co-workers and the American publishers I work with. Plus, it was a beautiful, sunny day ... and now it's raining. All weekend. Sigh. The night before, I had good intentions of baking an American-themed cake and bringing it into work the next day, but I decided to have dinner and a glass of wine with a friend instead. Oh well.

Anyway, this is how I celebrated after work:

1. Dinner for one at Byron Burger

I went to Byron after work on my own and was kindly offered a seat in my own little corner. A waitress came over, like, 20 minutes later to take my order, citing almost accusingly that she "didn't even see me". Nothing like a bit of British customer service to perk up my American holiday. I was in such a celebratory mood however, I just chirped right back at her that I'd like "extra pickles, please".

Soon, though, I had my own little audience of middle-aged Northerners at a table facing mine, who all watched as I single-handedly devoured a Classic burger, a side of fries, and gulped down an A&W root beer. I also finished every single one of my pickles and licked my fingers clean.

2. G&T for one at The Islington

Then, I headed over to The Islington in ... Islington, to wait for the Julian Velard show to start, which I had tickets to. I've been a fan of his since my early days at Mount Holyoke, where I went to every one of his shows at Blanchard Student Center and the surrounding five colleges.

While I was waiting for John to arrive, I sipped a G&T on the edge of the pub at my own little table, which looked out over the busy Tolpuddle Road (and directly into a Sainsbury's parking lot - jeez, my fingers automatically typed "car park" there ... I've lived in this country far too long). I pretended I was on vacation (again, typed "holiday") instead, overlooking the sunset on a gorgeous, pebbly beach on the Italian coast and that the heavy breeze whipping up my dress and raising goosebumps on my mis-judged bare legs was actually a warm breeze coming off whatever exotic ocean imports warm breezes from the East.

3. Julian Velard concert for two (plus a roomful of lunatic fans)

Soon after John arrived and polished off his pizza, the doors to the show opened and we were treated to a couple hours of terrific music - first from Alex Dezen of The Damnwells, then Julian himself. I haven't been to a Julian Velard show since ... 2006 or so, but I must say, he has a very, erm, diverse mix of fans. They seemed to range from middle-aged men to teenage guys who looked no older than 15 or 16. The latter group seemed to know every single word to every single song and sang along enthusiastically, while heckling the performer at the same time (apparently, one of them has his own YouTube channel dedicated to his covers of Julian Velard songs). It was bizarre, confusing, and annoying all at the same time.

He was amazing, as always. If you want to hear some of his music, I'd recommend starting out with the album, Nitetime, which is what I loved listening to in college (and now). His new albums are just as good though - witty, often satirical lyrics combined with excellent music writing. It's just wonderful to listen to something that isn't mainstream, Ellie Goulding/Bon Iver/Rough Trade-recommended bullshit, but something that's honestly, refreshingly different.

Even John, who wasn't a huge fan before, was thoroughly impressed after the show. "His lyrics are so good! He's an amazing musician!" he enthused, which is a really big deal for him because he, like every other British person, shows tremendous restraint when sharing any form of enthusiasm whatsoever (i.e. shows minimal enthusiasm about anything, ever).

We caught a bus home and walked back in the rain, but it turned out to be a pretty good 4th, all around. I managed to see Julian after the show and told him that I'd been a fan since his early days. He asked me how long I'd lived in London and when I told him, said, "Well, you seem to have retained your American accent pretty well." I replied, "I know. I try so hard." Clearly, I need to work on retaining the vocabulary, however.

Happy 4th, everyone.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

These Dark Chocolate Covered Banana Bites: So Very Yum

I know, this blog is so random, right? One minute, I'm baring my soul to you and making you cry and the next, I'm chattering away about Vietnamese street food and magic teapots. Sometimes I write about deep stuff, and sometimes I write about fluff. That's just what goes on in my head.

So, here's your fluff for the day: these Pacari Ecuadorian Organic Dark Chocolate (yes, boost your jerk status by naming all those elements) Covered Banana bites. Somehow, the pronouncement of "RAW" on the package and the mention of antioxidants on the front makes me feel less guilty for nibbling on these post-Pilates class today.

But seriously. I don't even really like dark chocolate and this tastes so good. It's quite banana-y though (duh), so avoid if you don't like bananas (triple duh).

How did I come across this? Good question. We babysat for my sweet 5-month-old niece on Monday (who spent the first 20 minutes giggling and the next 40 crying her poor eyes out) to give Tom and Cristy a well-deserved break (and some alone time) and when they came back from dinner, I noticed this, plus a bar of Montezuma dark chocolate in my bag that hadn't been there before. So cute.

Since I'm staying away from milk chocolate and basically anything sweet at the moment (except for either Saturday or Sunday, which is my "cheat" day - I know, don't even ask), this little dark chocolate treat was a welcome "allowance" for me.

I posted this on Instagram earlier today and someone commented that she loved Pacari's salted chocolate range. Ugh. Why did she have to tell me that? Now I'll have to go out and hunt for it.

Are you a dark chocolate lover?

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

ChaCult Magic Teapot

On Saturday, we met up with Colin, Sofie and their adorable baby girl, Marley, at one of our favorite Dalston hangouts, The Proud Archivist. I've blogged about the gallery/cafe/event space before, but I just love spending time there - whether it's a rainy or sunshine-filled day. The way the light pours into the two-tiered, open space makes it feel light and airy and the long, communal tables make it a great place to catch up with friends. Oh, and the wall-to-wall bookshelves also give me interior-design envy.

Anyway, the point of this post is that John ordered a fresh mint tea with his brunch (so hardcore, I know) and was presented with this amazing, "magic" teapot by ChaCult when it arrived.

Isn't it cool? Too bad the server didn't give him any instructions (it doesn't look drastically dissimilar to other teapots, don't you think?), as John proceeded to pour the tea the "normal" way (i.e. from the top of the pot) and made a mess over the table. Oops. With this "magic" teapot, you simply press the base of the teapot onto your glass/mug, and the tea is released from the bottom of the pot. I'm not sure it would look as cool without the corresponding glass from Chash Tea, but you get the picture.

I think this would make a great gift for a kitchen-gadget-obsessed friend or relative (except my dad, who would wave his hand dismissively and call this sort of thing "a gimmick" - he's a traditionalist and takes his tea brewing very, very seriously!). What do you think? Are you a tea drinker?