Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving

First meal in the new apartment. As stressful as moving was (and still is), I managed to put together a Thanksgiving meal. Traditional American meals are probably not my forte but I was just relieved to be able to get settled in the new place. The whole meal came together much easier than I had thought. A 10-pound turkey, roasted butternut squash soup, bacon green beans, mashed potatoes and Parmesan garlic puff pastry. I had planned to also make an apple butter pumpkin pie but later decided to save it for the next day.

I'm so happy that the kitties are here and are settling into their new home in Minnesota. They look very cozy together snuggled up in their new bed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just Drive

The weather drastically worsened over the last couple of days. First round of snow blew through town on Tuesday and now the winter weather advisory and blizzard warning is in full affect in the Red River Valley.

A few of my coworkers are aware of my plan to pick up Rob and the cats from the airport in Grand Forks, ND tonight. One in particular grew more and more concerned as the day got closer(a little too concerned if you ask me). In the last two days I've been asked if I had changed my plan to delay the trip. Although I was starting to get a bit worried about the drive I had no plans to delay the trip. After all, if Rob and the cats can make it all the way to Grand Forks, I'm not going to leave them out in the cold 60 miles away.

When the same lady poked her head into my office first thing in the morning asking if I'm still driving today I finally lost it. "YES!" I snapped back at her with my heart pounding up to my throat. Damn it, I thought to myself, what the F*** do you think I'm going to do? Just give up because it's winter??? I know I've got a small car but this is not the first time I've seen or driven on snow! Just leave me the F*** alone! And that she couldn't do! For the rest of the day she attempted to talk me out of driving every time she passed by my office! By noon I was completely determined to drive to the airport regardless of what the weather condition is going to be like. If I don't drive I would let the weather (and her) win!

There's an urban myth on how nice small town people are: friendly and down to earth. Well, that might be true in some places but the people here drive like maniacs in the winter. I'm more worried about being run over by some F1 pickup than to have my wheels locked up and skid on ice. This morning when I was making a left turn at an intersection, there was a Suburban in front of me and a FX35 behind me and both were fishtailing like their two back wheels are on skates. Winter driving is not just what you drive but how you drive as well. I've got 60lbs of cat litter (and a turkey)in the trunk and drive slower than every other person in town.

I watched the weather online nonstop all day and paid close attention to any flight delay/cancellations. By 6pm everyone boarded on the plane and I logged out of work. The flight won't get in until 10:45 but I left early to stop by some stores to get things for the apartment and a last minute grocery trip. The local stores can be pretty limited. I couldn't find any pumpkin or fresh green beans! Really? It's Thanksgiving and there are no fresh green beens in town?!

The drive to Grand Forks turned out to be not bad at all. The snow left up early in the evening and the road going out of town was clean. I had more than enough time to stock up on groceries and get supplies from Menards. I fill up the tank and got to the airport a bit early. There was no cellphone lot or covered garage and I didn't feel like stepping out in the cold so I drove around a few times and parked to the side of the rental lot. There were a couple of other cars waiting for the same flight but they for some reason decided to continue to drive around. The flight was delayed. I sat in my car and watched the same three cars drove around the lot over and over again like the winter version of the Indy 500. Finally, a phone call came through at midnight and by 2am we were finally home. A long day but I'm glad everyone made it here alright.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Plugged In

To most people block heater is a foreign concept but here in northwestern MN it's a winter necessity. The temperature is finally dipping below zero. This morning I noticed the neighbor is plugged in.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The Meltdown

At 20 degrees Fahrenheit the only thing that is melting down is my sanity. I've been looking forward to getting my stuff delivered from Bloomington, MN. for two months now. What was suppose to be a happy moving day turned out to be completely frustrating and overwhelming.

Moving is always dreadful but having done it so many times I've got it down to a science: that is moving on my own.

Hiring a professional moving company was overwhelming from the beginning to the end and the end is yet to come with so many claims that need to be filed. Half of the furnitures are damaged or scratched. My leaning bookshelves are no longer leaning in one piece and one of them came in such small pieces as if it was dropped off a twenty-story building. The L shape office desk was pretty much destroyed and there's a big hole on the leather part of the sectional. The small apartment was so jammed up when the movers left I couldn't even walk around. The original estimate included unpacking but with rooms stacked complete full from ceiling to floor it was impossible for anyone to unpack and put things on the nearest flat surface. There is no empty flat surface!

I had planned to go back to the office after the moving thinking the whole thing would only take a couple of hours since there are no stairs and with a big open parking lot there was a straight shoot between the truck and the apartment. Instead, when we were finally down recording on the "visible" damages at 3pm I was in no mood to work. When the moves left I sat down and cried for 20 minutes. I've never been so overwhelmed with a move before.

Then I drove straight to the only Mexican restaurant in town other than Taco John's and had a shockingly good meal. The waitress was very friendly and addressed me as senorita. The temperature is now dropping into the single digit at night. I was cold even in the restaurant with my winter coat on and a tummy full of food. In order to warm up my hands and feet I decided to go take a walk at my gym just next to the restaurant. A couple of guys were working out in there with sleeveless basketball shirts and shorts while I walked on the treadmill in full winter gear and my rabbit fur Eskimo hat. It was quite the scene but who the f*** cares when it's cold as hell in this place! Fashion hasn't been a factor since I moved here and from now on it will seize to be part of my vocabulary. Staying warm and alive will have to be my only goals for this winter.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Hell is Freezing Over

Yes, hell is freezing over. Some how the car made through two winters in Rochester without a peep and for the first time the low temperature light went on this afternoon and made a series of terrible high pitch beeps. Another battle at the dental office today. I have yet to find a dentist that is remotely agreeable. A routine cleaning turned out to be anything but routine.
I believe in dental hygiene and practice good daily routine at home with brushing, flossing and waterpik. Medical services are fundamentally business services hiding behind a supposedly good cause that no one can easily say no to. When we go buy something we shop and compare. For most of the things we buy we have a clear expectation of the cost and the end product. Some how when it comes to health issues people become completely illogical on cost and service. Surely doctors are suppose to do what's best for patients but at end of the day what really matters are their bank accounts. Countless studies have proven over and over again that our society as a whole have a serious problem on over prescribing (and we wonder why our healthcare costs are so high). This happens in all area of medicine from childbirth methods to joint and hip replacements. The second myth is that people have misconception that higher cost doctor/facilities offer better service/care. Studies have disproved that and showed that in controlled studies patients actually gave better feedback for lower paid residents or government subsidized outreach programs because those medical professionals on average spent more time with the patients to listen and evaluate their illnesses. We have a long way to go in consumer education when it comes to medical care. Health can be such an emotional issue but it shouldn't be misguided. This is not to say that all healthcare professionals are corrupted by greed but nevertheless in a fee for service pay structure there is always an incentive to up sell. This is not to say that a fix salary base for doctors like the one in UK is the right way to go. It almost feel like there need to be a third party non biased evaluator to validate diagnostics and doctors can not financial benefit from prescriptions. Well, we all know how corrupted that system is.

Today I refused a deep cleaning from my new dentist. I feel fine with my teeth and I only wanted a regular cleaning that is covered by my health insurance. It was completely frustrating that I was told I had no control over neither my teeth nor my money. I hadn't eaten anything all day and by 2pm I was probably overly grumpy to begin with. I said, "Listen, if my teeth are clean in the first place I wouldn't F*** be here! I know if you put me down for a deep cleaning on this visit I will be automatically "enrolled" in this fee structure for the rest of my life! What kind of treatment is that? If they patient is never getting better what the f*** is the point on getting the same useless treatment each time?!? I can't imagine I'm clean my teeth less than any other average person on the street. Are you telling me now everyone is subjected to this expensive "deep cleaning" program?" Just as I was ready to walk out of the office the dentist changed his mind and said he'll make an exception and give me a regular cleaning this time but it won't be as clean! We spent a whole hour talking about it and exactly 5 minutes for a "regular cleaning." I've had a lot of terrible experiences with dentists charged for services they didn't perform and insurance unwilling to reimburse for treatments they see as unnecessary. No matter what the patients always loose. It doesn't help that I went to school for economics and the class on Health Economics by Charles Phelps was the most interesting and shocking!

Anyways, I'm still sore from the night of painting on Monday. I had to finish painting my living room tonight and wrap up the cleaning for the move on Friday. I'm happy to report that majority of the work is done (other than the terrible baseboard problem in the kitchen). I even got new electrical outlet covers. Maybe with some better lighting the place will actually be in tolerable condition.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Ahead of Schedule

The weekend came and went. Just about everyone's heard about the big snow storm in Minnesota (even my relatives in China!). I'm glad to report that as far as snow goes we're well behind schedule. So far no accumulation but the temperature is quite frigid. The high for the rest of the week will be in the 20s while the evenings are getting close to single digit. At least we're still on the positive side of the temperature scale.

What's ahead of schedule is my apartment-improvement project, also known as Operation Tolerable. I've been quite concerned about the location, condition and size of the apartment. Really the only good thing about the apartment is that I can have my furbabies here, legally. I would hate to have to hide them and worry about being evicted in the middle of the winter. I went paint shopping in Grand Forks on Saturday. There was some wet snow but fearing things would get worse on Sunday after everything freezes over I sucked it up and went. There was no weather heading west so I was lucky.

I had a pretty good idea on the colors I wanted. Something light and refreshing. Regardless how many rooms the apartment has (in this case way too many), I'll really be spending most of my time in two rooms: the living room and my bedroom. Light tan/green is in. Just about every home improvement show on HDTV has a green wall somewhere. I picked a very light sharp green called "bamboo" but it really looks more like the inside of a cucumber. For the bedroom I decided on "Bermuda Sand." It sure sounds nice but the color is more creamy than sand or beige. It looks like a cup of coffee with 5 too many creamers. Aren't food analogies great?

The plan was to pick up my keys today and start cleaning and painting the apartment to bring it to a more habitable condition. I've been looking forward to this all day (not sure if I was eager to get my own place or just want to dive into a home improvement project). When I showed up at the apartment at 5:30 I was completely irritated by what I saw: an apartment full of dormitory furniture, dirty office carpet, kitchen baseboards all torn apart. On top of all that there was a questionable looking young man wondering around the apartment claiming his moving stuff out but I didn't see him move a finger. Man, I was not in the mood to deal with all this. I had looked at this apartment a month ago and informed them that I didn't want any furniture inside. When the property manager finally showed up I think she probably have sensed my frustration from outside of the entrance way. The sentence that followed her apology was "you can have the keys today and you won't have to start paying rent until Dec. 1st. Does that make you happy?" "Yes, I really appreciate it," I said. As annoyed as I was, I wasn't going to take anything for granted and act ungrateful. It's a nice deal after all.

Of course, as soon as the property manager left the questionable furniture mover decided to call it a day as well! Even though both people promised to have everything moved out by tomorrow, I still felt the need to consolidate all the furniture into the living room. The pieces were stubbornly heavy! I couldn't even push a desk! Well, furniture sliders to the rescue! I got these discs when I moved here but never thought I'd actually use them. It was a struggle to get the pieces underneath the desks and obviously they don't work nearly as well as advertised. Still they got the job done. I cleaned the bathroom a little and then decided to crack open a can of paint and let the real fun begin! If there's anything I'm good at it's house painting! Something extremely appealing and rewarding about real measurable progress and a project with definitive beginning and end.

I decided to paint the bedroom first since it's quite small and I didn't want to stay for too long. With no ladder around I had perform some balance tricks on a shaky stool to reach the top trim. For the first time I did things the right way and actually took off all the outlet covers before I painted the walls. I'm a big girl now! But I still don't use blue tape. I like painting trims and edges. I see it as a challenge.

According to the plan, painting wasn't suppose to start until tomorrow which means I had no painting clothes on. Well, that's a minor problem. The only way to avoid clothing being painted on is to avoid clothing all together. So here I am with the heat turned all the way up and painting in my undies...of course, with the blinds closed...that is until I had to remove the blinds to paint around the windows! Pants had to be put back on temporarily until I painted the windows. With the room so tiny I only used up half gallon of paint by the time I was done. There was no way I would waste the leftover paint so I started painting the kitchen, which opens directly into the living room. The two colors will go well together. Next thing I know I was painting two additional walls in the hallway. By the time it was all said and done it was 11:40! Oh my god, I was expecting it to be like 8:30! I wish time went by this fast when I was at work! Now after a very long day I'm finally home. I'm tired; my back is sore and I've got paint all over my butt. Time to go to bed. More painting tomorrow (or maybe I should take a break, we'll see).

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Perfect Sunday

Even though this is the third time I've visited Minneapolis, I could barely tell you what it looks like. The first time was purely business. I had a nice view on the top floor of the hotel during breakfast and saw much of the city covered by greenery not unlike Rochester. The two most recent trips mainly took place in the evenings so it was hard to tell what my surroundings looked like. Since I had paid for a night of hotel stay there was no way I would leave the city in the morning without taking full advantage of the beautiful weather: sunny, clear and 60 degrees.
First I wanted to take a couple of pictures of the Basilica of Saint Mary on Hennepin Avenue, just around the corner from the dance studio. It is the first basilica established in the United States of America honored by Pope Pius XI in 1926 (according to Wiki). It looks almost exactly like a smaller version of the Saint Paul's Cathedral in London even down to the location and the cross streets in front of the structure. I guess that's what they call Beaux-Arts architecture.

Then I had to take a picture of the Four Seasons dance studio in daylight. A rare sight I must say.

Since I'm a total glut for "ethnic" food and require constant supply of tofu I decided to take a chance and drive by the Asian grocery store near Minnehaha ave., not knowing whether the store is open on Sunday morning. United Noodle is supposedly the "The largest oriental grocery in the Midwest." The parking lot was almost full when I turned into the small office park. A good sign. However, the real surprise was when I walked into the store: a line of people waiting for freshly made food at the serving counter! "SCORE!" I thought, whatever they are serving I'll be having two. One here, one to go. Upon a closer look there are eight different homemade dishes served cafeteria style: 1 meat + 2 vegetable sides + white/fried rice for $5.75! Wow, I've finally found something that topped the $6 meals at Wegmans!

The food looked good but they tasted even better! There were a handful of single Chinese guys, probably grad students, each sitting by themselves chaoing down the food. This must be the only opportunity for them to have a homemade meal. Kind sad if you ask me. In fact most younger generation Chinese students can't convince themselves to here after graduation. The culture is so different. Everyone is used to the crowdedness in China, the constant clamoring, rubbing shoulders with strangers on the streets, buses, subway, close friends and lots of relatives. This is like a social wasteland in comparison, dominated by social networks that exist only in cyberspace. When I first moved here 14 years ago I thought this place was a living cemetery with deserted streets. Even now I have very few people to talk to on a regular basis but now that I am used to solitude it's difficult to go back. Anyways, food is the topic for now so back to deliciousness. What's so special about lunch here is the fact that this is not something you can order in any restaurant. This is too Chinese to be served in a American Chinese restaurant and not fancy enough for any restaurants in China. Other than the extremely unhealthy piece of fatty pork everything else tastes exactly like how mom would make it. For a minute I seriously thought about buying 5 takeout orders for lunches everyday next week. At the end I decided to only get one takeout, a order of enormous fresh spring rolls and 6 packages of a variety of dried and fried tofu.

I've had my eyes on the outlet mall just outside of the city off 94 since my first drive down here. Today I finally get to go all the way! YAY! But before I could get anywhere I desperately needed to fill up my tank. How nice to have a GPS that could find gas stations...well, only if they were actually gas stations that are in operation!!! Does the city of Minneapolis have any against gas stations? I drove all over the place in and around the U of M looking for a gas station. The GPS took me to not one, not two, but THREE gas stations that were CLOSED! Finally one that's open. I was so relieved I couldn't care less what the price was.

It was so nice to be walking around Albertville Premium Outlet Mall! I had my most comfortable shoes on and no bras...yeah, I thought it would be more relaxing to drive without them but then I didn't realize how awkward things still looked under two layers! Obviously this is not the weekend for dieting so why not have a milkshake from TCBY?! Very berry milkshake! YAY! Trying on dresses from BCBG Max Azria after a big meal doesn't feel all that great but nevertheless I found a nice little casual vacation dress for a bargain. By 3pm I was once again driving at 72mph away from civilization...The drive wasn't bad at all and even though I'm pretty much alone all the time now I still enjoy driving alone with music on.

As much as I enjoyed the weekend in the big city I know I can't make this a habit with imminent winter weather advisor not far in the distance and too many expenses.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Tango Tango One More Time

2 months down, re-shi-re to go. Locals here take pride in their pragmatic lifestyle of we eat what we kill and call themselves "lifers." I on the other hand feel like a fish out of water. Just because I now live in the middle of nowhere doesn't mean I should put my life on hold. The work week flew by and Saturday rolled in full of sunshine. I was indecisive about driving to the Twin Cities up until I got onto the road. The drive went by like a breeze and by 7pm I had already checked into a budget hotel room. I didn't plan to get a room but when I saw just how cheap a room is outside of the city I figured why not. Better safe than sorry. I just need somewhere to catch a few hours of sleep before driving back.

First stop in the big cities is the newly opened Hmong Village at 1001 Johnson Parkway in St. Paul. I am a serious foodie. However, after two trips to the cities and no meals to write home about I needed to do something immediately reaffirm my love and commitment to tasty food. It also helped that I hadn't eaten anything all day and I was completely hungerfied. Hmong Village is an Asian marketplace inside of what seemed like a large flat office building. The hallways by the entrance looked more a community center. Once stepped into the main atrium I was greeted by large murals depicting sceneries from southeast Asia and rolls of stands with fresh greens and fragrant fresh herbs. Hello Thailand, I thought to myself.

The section beyond the market is a maze of small retail stalls with everything from books and DVDs to Thai ethnic clothing and beauty products. This is like a smaller Thai/Vietnamese/Laotian version of the Pacific Mall in Markham outside of Toronto. I'm definitely impressed to see this in the middle of the N. America continent. However, shopping was not the priority. I walked around frantically looking for the food stations and when I finally saw a guy walking by with a green apron I knew I was close. My nose guided me around the final turn and viola! A wall full of food stalls ready to serve up a variety of tasty local treats straight from the night markets of Thailand. By now I was exhausted, starving and thirsty. I walked up and down the hall three times, completely overwhelmed and can't decide on what to have for dinner. For the first time I felt sympathetic towards foreigners trying to order street food in Asia. Finally, I settled on one food stall and uttered one syllable: pho. Of course, the quail was calling for me so I had to get one of those as well.

The Phở really hit the spot. Hot flavorful broth, thin slices of beef, fatty chunks of roasted pork, beef balls and shrimp all came together with a splash of lime and mint leaves. One big bowl of goodness. Even though I'm not one for starchy food, thin rice noodle, being the main staple of southern China and hence Southeast Asia, is what I grew up with as a child. With so many Asian people being lactose-intolerant, rice noodles is often served for breakfast in Hunan like milk and cereal for Americans. It's sold in food stalls around every corner and ready to be served with a handful of add-ons in just a minute or two. I've out countless bowls but never recall seeing anyone actually make it at home. The fish sauce, lime and mints leaves add a different flavor to Phở but the essence transcended to a scene from my childhood.

The quail came with a long neck and for a second I thought I had ordered a rat. Thankfully rats don't come with wings. The Vietnamese ladies behind the food counters are a bit intimidating. The acoustic wasn't the best at the dinning hall and I had a real hard time understanding what people were saying. I couldn't even tell if they were speaking Chinese, Vietnamese or English. Jeeze, no matter what I wasn't going to leave without the crispy fatty pork!

Now with a full stomach and a box of high cholesterol inducing pork fat I was not ready to hit the dance floor. With a hour to spare before the milonga I decided to stop by Walmart to get some cash. However, the GPS couldn't find anything near me. For a second I thought maybe there is no Walmart allowed in the land of Super Targets. Luckily when the GPS guided me to the nearest Supert T there was a Walmart just across the street. With cash in hand the next was to get a quick pick-upper from Starbucks. The GPS showed one just down the street but I couldn't find it for the life of me. Finally, I ran into it inside of Target. Now I've got cash and caffeine the only thing left to do is to dance.
Back to Four Seasons Dance Studio in the heart of downtown Minneapolis near the basilica that reminds me of St. Paul cathedral in London. Dancing was good but nothing really topped last week's performance. Still I danced none stop until well past 1am and when it was time to walk to my car I could barely feel my feet.
Another enjoyable night in Minneapolis...Well, that is until I got back to my hotel room and stayed awake for an hour listening to someone jumping on the trampoline in the adjacent room! GRRR!