Saturday, April 28, 2012

Good Friends and Crabcakes in Maryland

This weekend Xiaoli, Ting, and I hopped in the car to head south to visit good friends Andy, Vicki, Angela, and Grace. It was the perfect idea for a weekend getaway since Maryland is very close, and we enjoy their company very much.

We were rewarded for our three hour drive by getting hugs from Angela and Grace at the door, and a nice dinner at Joe's Crab Shack. I am not normally a fan of the Shack, as seafood is not my bag, however they now have ribs. And for a place that is not a rib joint, they were great ribs! 

It brought to mind another Maryland friend who I have not seen in a great many years, Mark Easterday. Mark and I were shipmates in the Navy, and Mark used to tell me stories about a restaurant called the Corner Stable, and how great the ribs were. One time I got to go home with Mark, and me his family, and they took me there as a treat. The restaurant was very casual, red checkered table cloths and paper plates, but i can say I was not lied to about the ribs. To me they were truly Baltimore's best ribs as I remember. And after that, every time Mark went home for a weekend, I would come down to my bunk to find a little foil care package of ribs. If you read this Mark, I still remember.

Today, we woke up to a nice breakfast of egg sandwiches, and then headed into Baltimore for a little sight seeing.We spent a little time walking around Inner Harbor, looking in shops and enjoying sidewalk performers. But the dormant history buff in me awoke and prevailed upon the family to make the trip to Fort McHenry, which for so many years guarded the entrance to Baltimore. The historian in me is very interested in the fort's role in the War of 1812 and the Civil War, and the Waffler in me enjoys the fact that my nation's national anthem is sung to the tune of an old drinking song.

We hopped a water taxi to Fell's Point, and took in a little history there while waiting for the boat to Fort McHenry. On our next trip here, I think I would like to visit the London Coffee House, where I understand the Maryland Navy was chartered during the early days of the American Revolution.

View from the fort
Fort McHenry was very interesting, and also provides some of the most scenic overlooks of the harbor. The fort has a very interesting history, stretching even to World War One, but they also delve in to the history of the Star Spangled Banner, and how it moved from patriotic song to National Anthem. I was also interested to learn that most countries did not have a national anthem until the Olympics became popular!

After we got back to Inner Harbor, it was near time to head back to our friend's home, so I did not have time to go aboard the USS Constellation, but I could not be late for my first time trying the famous Maryland Crab Cakes!

Vicki has been telling me about the crab cakes here every since they moved down here, and was very excited to take us out to try them on this trip. She knows that I am not a huge seafood buff, but truly felt the crab cakes from Box Hill Pizzeria in Abingdon would make a convert out of me. Well, I'll try any thing once, so I gave them a shot. The build up was intense, as the restaurant is quite popular and we needed to wait for a seat, all the while being tempted by amazing smells. They did not convert me, but they were a huge hit with Xiaoli and Ting, and I find that soon I may need to avail myself of the FedEx service offered by Boxhill.

Tomorrow, our trip must come to an end, as do all good things. But we thank our friends for hosting us, and hope that we can visit them again soon.

Friday, July 3, 2009

It is Tour de France, Not Tour de Lance

It is that time again. Tomorrow, July 4th, 199 cyclist will attempt to ride into sports history by arriving in Paris in three weeks with the best time. I am looking forward to a great race, and I think the organizers have put some things in place to make it an exciting race. How ever, I am really tired of people asking if Lance Armstrong can win this one. And it is not that I have anything against Lance. He is a cycling legend, and he is doing great work with his Livestrong Foundation, and I an respect that he is using his celebrity to bring attention to a cause he believes in. But I can't see him winning this Tour, for a couple of reasons:
  • He has not raced in a grand tour in about four years. As seen in the Giro D'Italia, he needs some time to comeback.
  • He is riding on a team that is fielding three other GC contenders. There are too many cooks in that kitchen, and not enough people to do the grunt work in my opinion. That will damge the hopes of all four of those riders. There are other great riders who will seize on that advantage. As much as it does not seem so to many people, this really is a team sport.
But to hear the media talk, you would wonder why the other riders are even bothering to show up. And that does grate on me. While watching the Giro coverage, I was contemplating a new drinking game where you had to do a shot everytime they said "Lance", but that is too much booze for me. It is out of control. I worry that the Tour coverage will be the same. But I do like that he brings attention to cycling in the US. See my dillema? If only there was some sort of happy medium.
I personally would love to see Lance expand his legend in other ways. Winning another tour just kind of makes him a one trick pony. I would love to see him train to win the other two grand tours, and maybe even get a US grand tour going. And I would really like to see him go for olympic gold. That might just be pipe dreaming though.
So you have a huge field of riders to pick from, so pick a rider, and cheer him on. You can even pick Lance if you want.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Adventures in Mandarin Pt 2 - The Search for a School

So having made this monumental decision to throw myself into the study of Mandarin, I needed to find a school. A pool, if you will, to throw myself into. It was not as easy as I first thought it would be.

In the area of Northern NJ, there are numerous Chinese associations that have Chinese as a Second Language (CSL) classes, but they were CSL for kids, a class where Chinese born parents would take their kids to learn to speak Mandarin. This generally happens on the weekend, and I can't help but imagine that the kids go to this class with all the enthusiasm of being marched off to prison. But whether or not that is the case, this did not seem like the appropriate class for me. I couldn't bear the thought of getting blown away academically by some kids.

My Alma Mater, County College of Morris, sent me a catalog in the mail, and lo and behold, there was Chinese as a Second Language. I was excited. Here was an accredited course by a respected two year college. My excitement was about as short lived as the course. It was cancelled due to a lack of enrollments. This was not to be an isolated incident. At least two other classes I found were cancelled for the same reason.

Late last spring, my colleague, Wayne, approached me about the Northern NJ Chinese Association which he is involved in. He knew that I had a keen interest to study the language, and the NNJCA was putting together a CSL for Adults class for the fall. I signed up before they could change their mind.

My first day at class was a bit intimidating. All the room assignments were written in Chinese. But I found a familiar face, and found out where my class was being held. That was two months ago, and I am still loving it, and I look forward to going every week. I enjoy learning new words and phrases, and the little bits of culture that come with it. For those of you who know me an my wise cracking ways, you know that my teacher, Debbie Yao, is next in line for sainthood for putting up with me and my unique sense of humor. But I do fancy that I am missed when I am absent.

Any telling of my quest to learn Mandarin would be incomplete without giving credit to two other sources beside the formal class I am taking. The first, and most important to me for a great many reasons, are my friends. I have a few Mandarin speaking friends who have patiently listened to me mangle their language, and patiently corrected me. Without them, learning would not be quite so much fun.

The second is a site that I heard of while at school called ChinesePod. It is a great website with a number of great tools, and audio lessons that you can podcast to your iPod. The site is not just about the language but also the culture of China. The "Dear Amber" weekly podcast always gives good perspective. But my favorites are the audio lessons with Ken Carroll and Jenny Zhu. They are the Burns and Allen of ChinesePod (if only Ken would close the lesson with, "Say goodnight, Jenny"). They are so entertaining that you want to listen to the lesson any number of times, and forget that you are learning. There are multiple levels of lessons (Newbie, Elementary, Intermediate, Upper Intermediate, and Advanced), and the lessons themselves are structured so that you think about what is being said and can sort of understand what is happening even before Ken and Jenny lay it out for your in their own unique way. And Jenny also maintains her own blog that gives you more cultural insights and reflections on China. If you are interested in expanding your perspective, I encourage you to check it out.

Well, for now it is "Wan An". Until next time...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Adventures in Mandarin

For quite a long time, I have had in interest in the Chinese language. I think that it was the artistry of the written characters that first attracted me. Each word is a picture that tells its own story. Well, last year, in preparation for a vacation to China (see the Wafflers blog for details on that), I took it upon myself to learn a little Mandarin.

Just to take a step back, there is no language called Chinese per se. Each region has its own language, and all these different languages (generally referred to as dialects) are mutually unintelligable. The kicker is this, even though these regional languages are all different, they are all written the same. So if you see a cute girl on the bus, maybe you can't talk to her, but you can always write her a note.

But regional languages aside, at some point Mandarin was made the official language of China, and the people were so educated. So most Chinese speak their regional language, as well Mandarin. And Mandarin, from what I have been told, is spoken inTawain, Singapore, and Maylasia. So it is a pretty popular language.

Anyhow, as I was saying, in preparation for my trip, I learned a little Mandarin. Nothing fancy, mind you, just a few key things like "Hello", "Do you speak English?", and "You're cute. Do you come here often?". But the people over there were so patient and encourage anytime I tried to use what little I knew, it made want to learn more. They were all very kind, and wrote down diferent useful words and phrases for me in my travel notebook, so I came back with more than I brought. And by the time I got back, I knew that I wanted to continue my studies...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Pandora's Box

In my last entry I related one of many versions of the legend of Chang'e. My friend Hueina commented about how interesting it was than women (unjustly) bear the brunt of the ills of man in so many cultures. And she has a point. Being a man, this point sometimes slips by me. When posting the story of Chang'e, I was reminded of the story of Pandora's Box. Just to recap the story:

In Greek Mythology, Pandora was the first woman. After Prometheus steals the secret of fire from the gods, Zeus got pretty bent out of shape and ordered Hephaestus to create Pandora as part of the punishment for mankind (easy ladies, I am just relating the story. I did not invent it.) She was endowed with many gifts from the gods, such as beauty, seduction, and music. Her name, Pandora, means "the all gifted". Out of fear of reprisal, Prometheus warns his brother, Epimetheus, not to accept any gifts from Zeus, His brother married Pandora anyway. Along with Pandora came a box, the Box as it were, which Zeus instructed her never to open. Well, one day when Epimetheus was out, she opened it just a crack to see what was in there, and all the evils of the world rushed out in a flash. By the time she was able slam down the lid of the box, only Hope remained trapped in the bottom.

Now, Pandora got a bad rap out of all of this. Try this experiment with anyone one you know. Give them a box, tell them not to look, and take off somewhere for a while. What do YOU think will happen?

Let's fast forward to the modern times. See if you can relate to this. I cannot be alone in the same house alone with my Christmas present. If I even sense that a present is there, or see a scrap of loose wrapping paper in a remote corner on the floor, I am on the hunt. When my mother or sister has given me explicit instructions, "Don't go searching for your present!", all I hear is "Go searching!". If Pandora lasted 10 minutes with that box, she would have beaten me by five. And even hope wouldn't have been left on the bottom of that box.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Stories of the Autmun Moon

As you may or may not know, this is the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival in China, also known as the Moon Festival. It falls on the fifteenth day of the eighth month of the lunar calendar, usually between the second week of September and the second week of September. This year it falls on the 14th of September. I have read that it is the "last festival for the living", but I have not been able to find more on that. If anyone knows something, please post a comment. I have also heard that it is a harvest festival, falling at a time when the harvest is in, all accounts have been settled, and everyone can relax. There are many interesting stories around the Moon Festival. One concerns the "woman in the moon" if you will, named Chang'e. There are several versions of the stories, but this is the one I like best.

Chang'e and her husband, Hou Yi the Archer were immortals living in heaven. One day, the ten sons of the Jade Emperor transformed themselves into suns, and began scorching the Earth. The Jade Emperor was unable to get his sons to stop burning the Earth, so he turned for Hou Yi for help. Hou Yi took up his bow, and shot nine of the sons through the heart, sparing the last son to be the free Sun. The Jade Emporer was angry with Hou Yi's solution, and banished Hou Yi and Chang'e to live on Earth as mortals. Seeing that Chang'e felt extremely miserable over her loss of immortality, Hou Yi decided to journey on a quest to find a solution so that the couple could be immortals again. While on this quest he met the Queen Mother of the West (西王母), who gave him a special pill, but warned him that he and his wife would only need half the pill each to regain immortality. Hou Yi brought the pill home and stored it in a case. He warned Chang'e not to open the case and then left home for a while (go figure). Chang'e became curious about the contents of the case. She opened up the case and found the pill just as Hou Yi was returning home. Nervous that he would catch her discovering the contents of the case, she swallowed the entire pill. She started to float into the sky because of the overdose. Although Houyi wanted to shoot her in order to prevent her from floating further, he could not bear to aim the arrow at her. Chang'e kept on floating until she landed on the moon.

Chang'e is not the only person up there. She has company in the form of the Jade Rabbit and Wu Kang.

In the story of the Jade Rabbit, three fairy sages transformed themselves into pitiful old men and begged for something to eat from a fox, a monkey and a rabbit. The fox and the monkey both had food to give to the old men, but the rabbit, empty-handed, offered his own flesh instead, jumping into a blazing fire to cook himself. The sages were so touched by the rabbit's sacrifice that they let him live in the Moon Palace where he became the Jade Rabbit.

Wu Kang was a bit less noble. He was a bit of a shiftless fellow who changed apprenticeships all the time. One day he decided that he wanted to be an immortal. Wu Kang then went to live in the mountains where he importuned an immortal to teach him. First the immortal taught him about the herbs used to cure sickness, but after three days his characteristic restlessness returned and he asked the immortal to teach him something else. So the immortal to teach him chess, but after a short while Wu Kang's enthusiasm again waned. Next Wu Kang was given the books of immortality to study. Of course, Wu Kang became bored within a few days (sound familiar to all you parents?), and asked if they could take a hourney to some new and exciting place. Fed up with Wu Kang's impatience, the master banished Wu Kang to the Moon Palace telling him that he must cut down a huge cassia tree before he could return to earth. Wu Kang chopped day and night, but the tree (being enchanted),restored itself with each strike of the axe, and so he is up there chopping away still.

Another tradition of the Moon Festival is the eating of moon cakes. I stumbled across an interesting story about the origin of moon cakes that I found appealing. I am not sure how true it is, but it is neat and I will share here:

During the Yuan Dynasty (1280-1368), the Mongols ruled China, which did not seem to sit well with the locals. The question became how to coordinate the rebellion without getting caught. With the Moon Festival coming up, the idea was hatched to bake messages containing outlines of the plan into special cakes for the festival. On the night of the festival, the rebels attacked, and it must of been a good plan, because the next thing you know we had the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644).

I hope you have enjoyed these few stories, and on night of the festival hoist a glass or a moon cake to the full moon with some friend, and think about absent friends who are looking at that same moon somewhere, and in that way, we all will be closer together.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Say It Ain't So!

These are the days that you dread as a fan of a sport. Scandal! And in the case of cycling, another doper is busted. You're killing me, Ricardo!

Every year, I hope we are past it. I keep thinking that it is going to be a good, clean race. And then a day like today comes along. Not that today was the first time the busted a cheater in this years tour, but they weren't big names. But today, a star fell to the ground.

I did not particularly like Ricardo Ricco. Some one labeled him "the most dangerous mouth in cycling". He really did need to take a talk drink of shut the hell up. But boy could he ride. He talked big, and he was backing it up. He rode an amazing Giro, and was close enough to winning to keep you on the edge of your seat. And his Tour de France stage 10 finish was a wild ride, even though he gave the win to his team mates. What a guy! Granted, a lot of other riders did not like him, to the point of helping any other rider regardless of team to beat him (just ask Contador), but he seemed to be a good team mate. No, I didn't really like Ricco, but I respected is riding. And I don't just say that because I was racking up a lot of points off him on my fantasy cycling team (yes, I am that much of a geek). Watching him attack up Hautacam almost makes you forget all his bad points. All but one, that is.

So now we see him led away by the authorities for testing positive for EPO use. I feel let down to the point that I am not even watching today's stage of the Tour. There is a part of me that thinks that I should wait to hear his side of it. After all, everyone has a side, right? I mean, you are talking to a guy that still believes in the innocence of Floyd Landis (ask me some day and I'll lay out my case for you). Could this be a case of problems with chain of custody or the lab? I think the telling thing for me is that his team management pulled the entire Saunier Duval team. Their reason was that Ricco was their main rider, and they did see a point in continuing. But I am not sure how I feel about that statement. Barloworld has lost several riders to injury and one, sadly, to doping. But they are still in the race, with something like four riders left. I have a sinking feeling that we are waiting for the other shoe to drop when it comes to Saunier Duval. But I hope I am wrong.

I know tomorrow I will be caught back up in the Tour. My guy, Christian Vandevelde is doing great, better than anybody thought (nothing superhuman, mind you, just in case you thought he might test positive for something). And I think he could win it! But I know that the stage finishes will continue to be exciting. But today I am just bummed.