Sunday, October 31, 2010

Milonga Accomplished

650 miles round trip for a milonga and a splash of social life. There are three things I wanted to do before the winter is here. As of yesterday I had two under my belt: kayaking on lake Itasca and visiting Winnipeg. We missed our first blizzard by a slim margin last week. With winter quickly approaching I felt like I had to either tough up and drive to the milonga now or wait until the ice melts in the spring. I spent all of last weekend sitting on the couch and I'm not about to repeat that again. Saturday rolled around and I got as much asleep as I could and left with a full tank of gas at noon. The cities are about 5 and half hours away. I stopped in my favorite little Mexican restaurant in Pelican Rapids for lunch. In the middle of nowhere viking land, Pelican Rapids is like a little culture oasis with a Mexican restaurant and market. I got to Minneapolis just before the sunset. With a few hours to spare before the milonga I decided to take a stroll in the Mall of America.

I do kind of miss dancing every now and then but knowing just how terrible milongas are in the States I never felt much urge to go. This time I was more motivated by the total boredom of northwestern MN than the desire to dance. Besides, if the tango scene in Minneapolis is as bad as everywhere else I've been to I won't have to feel like I'm missing out on something when I'm wasting my weekend away on the couch.

However, despite my cynicism the milonga turned out to be shockingly good. The hall was setup perfectly, simple and elegant; cozy but not crowded. The milonga was well attended with good music and dancers with solid fundamentals. Being Halloween weekend a good number of the dancers were dressed up in customs. It took a little while for people to warm up to me but within an hour I was dancing nonstop.

I chatted up with a Chinese lady in between sets and danced twice with a well humored guy who dressed up as Jack Nicholson with sunglasses (or at least that's what I thought he dressed up as). Almost all the dances were enjoyable, which is extremely rare. No matter where I go there's usually a couple of bad apples, leaders who try to do more than they are capable of or manhandle women as if they are puppet dolls. Tango is not about fancy steps and for me no bad dances makes it a good night.

When a set of milonga came through the speakers I remembered the old dancers in Maipu. Milonga is what separate the men from the boys. No matter how great and proficient a dancer is nothing compares to the older generation who grew up to the rhythm of the milonga. The music was so ingrained in them that dancing became second nature. I've had the honor of dancing a milonga or two with them. It wasn't anything fancy but it felt like walking through Central Park with an old guide who grew up in the neighborhood and knew every crack on the ground and every plant in the garden. It's sad to think that they'll all be gone in just a few years.

I was surprised by well I danced especially for not have danced for so long. I held my balance as well as I've ever had and although I was completely exhausted by the end of the night my feet weren't hurting like I expected them to.

But to live up to my crazy/outrageous reputation I had to take the 6-hour drive home after the milonga ended at 1:30am. The drive back wasn't too bad in the beginning but a hour into it things got iffy. I had pulled over twice but couldn't fall asleep. I then sent a text to Rose wondering what she's up to. Rose called me back at 4am and talked me through most of the drive home. The road was completely foggy for three quarter of the way. It was so bad I could barely see a car length in front of me. I was terrified that something was going to jump in front of my car out of nowhere. The sky finally started to lighten up by 7am and I noticed everything around me was covered by a white sheet of ice in complete stillness and dense fog. It was surreal and beautiful. Unfortunately it wasn't something I could capture on camera. However, when I did pull over later on I noticed my two side mirrors where covered by a thick layer of hard ice. I've never seen anything like it! The temperature over night was around 25*F and my mirrors were probably capturing moisture through the thick fog.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

New in Town

Saturday: nothing to do nowhere to go and no one to talk to. After a whole day of NCIS marathon it was time to turn to Netflix. Renée Zellweger's New in Town is a movie I probably wouldn't consider watching hadn't I not moved here. But since the plot sounds rather familiar I decided to give it a go.

As a newcomer in Minnesota myself I find the movie to be pretty spot on. The landscape is exactly the same and we even have our own Land O Lake factory in town! The casts, with exception of the lead characters, all look pretty Minnesotan but the accent is a bit exaggerated. In another two months the locals will be out ice fishing just like the movie and the roads will be in constant whiteout condition due to windy snowdrift. If you ever watch the movie just remember New Ulm, MN is more than 300 miles SOUTH of here! The temperature is dipping into the 20s in the evenings already and the forecast is calling for snow later next week. God, I'm trying to be mentally prepared for the worst. As if it's typically not cold enough, the newspaper is predicting a colder-than-usual winter because of La Niña!!!

There's a thing the locals call "Minnesota Nice." Surely, people are nice and polite here but since I don't look Nordic I'm probably excluded from the nice treatment. Whenever people meet me they always like to ask when I immigrated here. A few weeks back when I was down in the 'Cities' for business meetings, a receptionist asked for my country of citizenship while holding my US passport. There are Jesus, praise the lord, abortion is a sin signs everywhere you drive to especially going west towards Fargo. Pretty much every radio station in Fargo is a Christian station. One nice person in town did offer to help me find a church to go to. Surely, other than minor details I love it here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Small Town Hopping - "World's Largest" Tour

Having done absolutely nothing on Saturday I felt the need to take advantage of the good weather and put more miles on the bug. I did some research online and gathered 6 of the world's largest roadside statues all within 100 miles from each other. First stop Erskine, MN: the world's largest pike.

Second stop: Frazee, MN: the world's largest turkey.

Third stop: Vergas, MN: the world's largest loon.

Forth Stop: Pelican Rapids, MN: the world's largest pelican.

Fifth stop: Fergus Falls, MN: the world's largest otter. I had to stop twice to ask for directions. At least I wasn't asking for the big beaver.

Last stop: Rothsay, MN: the world's largest prairie chicken. It looks cute and tasty.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Few days after I started my job I came across a work related article that mentioned "Rochesterians" so curiously I asked my coworker, what are people from Thief River Fall called? "Rednecks!" she responded. Well, it was better coming from her than me. Ever since that day she mentions it to pretty much everyone she introduces me to.

The rednecks here are a special breed. Even though this is the heartland of America, middle of the N. American continent, there is no dealt some distinct culture differences. Majority of the population in this region can trace their heritage back to Sweden, Norway and Germany. Everyone has a handful of Ole&Lena jokes ready to be delivered with authentic Scandinavian accent. Potato dumplings are common staple in most local eateries with homemade dishes. High carbs and butter diet with whatever people can hunt on the land. I have yet to try the dumplings but I have been collecting and trying all sorts of local goodies: Uff da jokes, Ole Lean joke books, a variety of expensive wild rice and all types of brats (including a very tasty blueberry fresh brat).

A coworker invited me to a bonfire last night. It's the first and only social event I've gotten invited to and people there told me I'm experiencing Northwestern MN at its best. The residence is a few miles outside of town down a long gravel road surrounded by woods. We arrived around 8pm just in to watch 5 freshly shot geese to be de-breasted on the truck bed. Since only the breasts were taken out the process looked pretty simple and clean. I just felt a bit wasteful to watch the rest of the geese to be thrown away. The meat was dark red like a slab of bloody red steak, probably as a result of well-used oxygen rich muscles.

For a good hour or so was completely puzzled as why everyone was hanging out in the kitchen and garage with a bonfire outside. I think the host family is very into snowmobiling. There were at least 3 big ones in the garage and a wall full of race plates and trophies. I know nothing about snowmobiling other than the fact they can be quite dangerous. Finally, we were told it's time to move to the fire. So off everyone goes with their beer. The fire was so huge one can barely get within 5 feet of it without being completed toasted. Then someone mentioned they throw in used motor oil in their bonfire as a way to get rid of it. Of course, that caught on with the fire-master who promptly brought out a plate of dark looking motor oil and pour right onto the huge red hot logs! The dense smoke that followed with burning motor oil smell was unbearable yet no one really thought that was out of the ordinary! Are you serious! For the rest of the night I was the only one with my back turned to the fire so my eyes won't get teared up constantly. Between that and my lack of drinking or talking probably really made me an odd ball in the group.

It quickly became apparent that a good time here constitute friends, alcohol, card games and dead animals. I overheard one of the people that an adjacent town will be hosting a fun evening next week: for $35 attendees can enjoy all you can drink alcohol and drawings for firearms! I don't think I'll be participating in that anytime soon. Instead, I'm pretty content staying in watching TV and making extraordinarily spicy meals, some of which takes me 4 glasses of milk to get through.

I didn't stay for very long. Although I didn't talk very much everyone was very nice and some of them were also a bit curious just as to why the hell I moved here. I can't say I'm a big fan of this kind of conversation or explaining how my family immigrated here. When I was leaving people told me if I get lost going back just drive towards the light. I thought, god, what do they think this is, the Luxor? But they were right, the town is tiny but it's still a ray of light in the middle of nowhere. I crawled into bed smelling like a fire log and slept until 10am.

Quick fact: There are more Norwegian descendants living in the United States than there are Norwegian people in Norway (6 mill. vs. 4,8 mill.)

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Itasca and Lost 40

With everything so close in town I barely drove 40 miles from Monday to Friday. Weekend is a good time to catch up on my miles and the perfect weather propelled me off the couch. I wanted to visit the Lost 40 but I had to fit as much into a trip as possible so I decided to start the day with kayaking on Lake Itasca, the headwater of Mississippi River.

Itasca State Park left a wonderful impression in my mind back when I visited in July. Although the land is as flat as an airport runway around here, the terrain changes just 30 miles south of here. Gentle rolling hills and occasional lakes and streams reminds me of upstate NY. Sometimes I imagine I'm still there.

I brought just the right change for a park pass at the unmanned entrance. It was already noon by the time I got in so I decided to stop by the visitor center first to relieve my morning coffee and grab a quick bite to eat. I ordered a cheese burger figuring it is be a cheap and safe meal but unexpectedly it was the worst burger I've ever had with span-like texture and a very strange taste like a terrible veggie burger. Yuck, I was hungry but I couldn't make myself to finish it. Next I went straight for the kayak rental. I wanted to do this on my first trip but I was on my way to Bemidji and Duluth so I didn't have time to linger. For $5.50/hour one can't afford not to take a little trip out on the water. I helped myself to a kayak, climbed in next to a small dock and dragged myself into the water. The kayak was very clumsy and despite my constant effort to challenge the 10mph limit on the lake I wasn't moving very fast. I made a big loop in an hour and figured it was time to go back in and head towards the Lost 40 before it's too late. It was a nice little workout and I could feel my abs tensing up.

On the way up Highway 71 I passed through the town of Blackduck, where there's also world's largest statue of yes, you've guessed it: Blackduck.

The Lost 40 is actually about 144 acres of forest reserve near the Big Fork State Park well known for old growth white and red pine up to 400 years old. Although more than half of the land was covered by trees like these when the white settlers first came to the state, nowadays less than 2% of the trees in Minnesota are considered old growth. This area only exist today because of a land survey error made back in 1882. It took some research online to find the directions and it took even longer to find the actual entrance to the park. For all I can tell the Lost 40 just might be as lost today as it was a hundred years ago. Other than two road side signs the Lost 40 isn't really much of a state park. A long gravel road leads curious visitors to the beginning of a circular trial through the woods. Although the individual trees were impressive I was underwhelmed and saddened by just how small the area really is. The air was fresh with a lovely tint of pine scent. If the forest was any bigger I would be a little worried about either getting attacked by a bear or a Sasquatch. If I stop for a few seconds I could hear rumbling in the dry foliage and calls from various birds. I'm no outdoors-woman so no hope of me identifying anything in the woods. However, one sound I was able to distinguish while trekking was the the sound of a shot gun firing not far away! Bird hunting season is in and deer season is just a month away. Although no hunting is technically allowed in this park there's no way to tell which direction people are shooting at. I've got nothing against hunting as long as whatever is hunted is being put to good use. The sun was fleeing to the west and with no orange anywhere on me I decided it was best to call it a day and run for cover in my bug car.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


It's been one month since I started my new job. I can find a few things to complain about but the paychecks sure make everything better. Not being able to wear heels and skirts is bothering me a bit considering they take up a good portion of my closet. Most companies have internet policies to limit or restrict employees from viewing certain websites at work. Recently I found out that my company goes a step further by providing managers with a weekly report of list of websites visited by each employees regardless what the are. This is a bit shocking to me in a couple different levels. Who's got so much time on their hands to run weekly reports for over 2,000 employees and which managers are sitting around reading them?! Sometimes when work is slow I like to check on flights and imagine going to exotic places. I guess those times are over!

The coworkers are courteous and somewhat chatty which fulfills all my social void. Evenings at home are quiet. I look forward to spend more time at the gym to develop buns of steel!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


After a whole month of house shopping I finally gave up. I've seen just about every single house on the market in town. They are either terribly out of shape or way out of my budget. Besides, I can't even commit to buying a car did I really think I can put my name on a house??? The thought of home repair and maintenance just doesn't make me feel warm and fuzzy inside.

Finally I decided to put an end to this unsettledness today by putting a security deposit on the pet-friendly apartment behind the community college. People at work were appalled by my decision because of the undesirable location. I'm a pretty private person so as long as nobody bothers me there I really don't care what they do on their own. I upgraded to the four-bedroom for $100 more per month so I have enough room for all my stuff. I know it sounds like a lot of rooms but trust me they are all equally tiny! The whole apartment complex is designed like college dorms. My new home comes with a rectangular living room and open kitchen in the middle with two identical halves on each side made up of two bedrooms and a full bath (total four bedrooms and two full baths). Yes, I've got rooms out of the wazoo so come visit and stay for a while! On the plus side I'll have my own washer and dryer and my car will be parked literately 3 feet away from the door making it slightly more tolerable when it's 40 below! I should get the keys by mid next month and move in before Thanksgiving. As soon as I signed the lease I drove to the nearest gym and signed up for a membership. Progress is in the air. Things are moving towards the right direction. Now I just need to get the kitties here!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Winnipeg, CA

Third time is the charm. Despite the two failed attempts to drive to Winnipeg things are finally lined up for this weekend. There's good weather and a free place to stay for Saturday night with a distant cousin who just came back from China. There are a couple of small towns along Rt. 59 between here and Winnipeg but I wouldn't be surprised if there are more cows than people in these little settlements.
As I drove through the town of Karlstad two things caught my attention:
1) the Nordic gift shop - very cute inside
2) the ultimate snow Hummer?
Winnipeg is the capital of Manitoba and is considered to be diverse and metropolitan for this part of the continent. My cousin Kyle has lived in this frozen tundra for 6 years now and has finally decided to move back to Shanghai at end of the year. I on the other hand have a pretty tough winter ahead of me. Kyle's friend suggested a boat ride around the Fork, where the Red and Assiniboine River converge near downtown Winnipeg. The afternoon was sunny but the wind made it a chilly boat ride.
The highlight of the trip was of course, Chinese food! YAY! The spicy tasty dishes definitely served as a temporary fix to my cravings. Before leaving the city today we made a quick stop at the mall where I picked up a pair of pants in a hurry and paid more than I ever would for pants. With only three pairs of pants for work I was getting a bit desperate to find something that fits me. I had brought skirts with me but I can't wear them at work because the rubber straps for ESD (electrostatic discharge) is incompatible with high heels. I have attempted to wear high heels with the straps and everyone got a good laugh out of it because it looks absolutely ridiculous. I'll have to post a couple of pictures for illustration.
Anyways, we had Korean BBQ for lunch and then I clinched onto the wheel for a windy ride home. With windy gust up to 35 mph I've never been so nervous driving on a day without snow.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Urban Life

For the first time since I left Rochester I had a glimpse of urban life during a brief business trip to Minneapolis where I actually had dinner last night in a real restaurant!