Thursday, June 27, 2013

A comedy without errors: a review

I was finally able to see Shakespeare in the Park on Tuesday night, after failing the previous Tuesday due to rain. Before offering my opinions on that experience, however, I can't help but comment on the exciting defeat of DOMA and Proposition 8 yesterday. Not absolutely perfect (still waiting on those pesky other 38 states), but a definite step in the right direction! Now onto the play...

My friends and I made to the line before 6, and it seemed a reasonable length. We ended up not getting tickets in the first wave, meaning we had to wait until the show started at 8:30. During our two and a half hours enjoying the hospitality of Central Park, we were accosted both by a very sheepish young man on the Anthony Weiner for Mayor campaign and a baby bird (poor thing flew directly into Sam's head and attacked a number of other line-waiters before a nice woman captured him and tried to release him into a bush). Our wait was worth it though because were some of the last people to get in!

The Public Theater is militant about people not taking photos of the show, so enjoy this photo of flowers Sam got me for our one-month anniversary (isn't he sweet?).
The play was Comedy of Errors, one of Shakespeare's earliest works and apparently one that is seldom performed, presumably because it's so silly. The plot concerns two sets of twins who are separated as babies due to a shipwreck. One set of twins are a wealthy man's sons and the other set are their slaves. When they both end up in Ephesus (in the production, re-imagined as 1940s Brooklyn) where one of the men has a wife and is a well-respected businessman, hijinks inevitably ensue. The play is indeed very silly and contains more than a few plot holes, but the casting and production was so sharp that it made for a very fun time. 

Apparently, in typical productions the two sets of twins are played by four men total, but in this version with a little clever staging, each set of twins was played by just one man. The two men (Hamish Linklater and Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson playing the rich men and their servants respectively) did an incredible job differentiating their two characters so even without the visual cues and subtle costuming, it was always obvious which twin was onstage. In addition to the wonderful players, the overall feel of the production was very fun. There were an abundance of very talented dancers performing in between scenes and moving around set pieces. Overall, at only 90 minutes long, Comedy of Errors is one of Shakespeare's shortest plays, but given the level of ridiculousness, it's probably the perfect length. My friends and I all loved it. 

To anyone in the New York area, I highly recommend trying for the virtual line (or going to wait standby if you don't mind the birds) on the last couple of day's of the show's run. In the meantime, I'm already looking forward to Love's Labour's Lost in July and August. Apparently they're doing it as a musical. Very intrigued.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Lumberjacking and the first weekend of summer

Summer begun in earnest in New York this weekend with the weather seemingly just waiting for the calendar-official change of season to go from unseasonably cool to consistently over 80. In addition to the official first day of summer, it was also my first official summer Friday, giving me an extra day of first summer weekend to enjoy. I spent as much of it outside as possible, which was made easier by the surplus of free festivals and outdoor events that also come with summer of the city. Some of them were even in western Queens (in Astoria's fine neighbor: Long Island City)!

On Friday, after struggling through the first week of a contest at my gym and running through a volunteer obligation in Brooklyn, I went to a Summer Solstice festival in Socrates Sculpture Park, located just a few blocks from my first apartment in Astoria (well, not counting my two-month sublet when I had just moved). For some reason the main event at this solstice festival was Mexican wrestling. They also had free yoga classes and kayaking, although having just kayaked in Thailand on brilliant blue seas, I wasn't ready for the brackish sewage that passes for water in the East River. That said, I've kayaked here in the past without once the memories of Thailand have faded, I won't be too high and mighty to do it again. 

Brave kayakers taking on Hallets Cove. 
Some kind of mixed media tapestry that anyone could add to. This picture was taken on my shitty phone, but it's almost like an Instagram filter, right? 
On Saturday, Sam also had off, by virtue of it being a traditional weekend, so I talked him into coming to an outdoor activity festival in Central Park. I think it was sponsored by Bare Naked because they certainly were foisting the granola samples on us. Some of the outdoor activities included kayaking and yoga (apparently festival standbys) as well as stand-up paddle boating and catch-and-release fishing. The kayaking and paddleboating were both done in a pool that had been brought in and constructed in the park, but ultimately we passed because kayaking in circles in a swimming pool was less appealing than kayaking in the East River and didn't really justify the line. Also, I was more interested in the free rock climbing. On the way to the rock walls though, we ran across a section of the festival devoted to lumberjacking (lumberjackmanship?). There was a thing where you could practice sawing and a pool where you face off against friends in log rolling. The part that caught our fancy though was the "sprint climb." None of the people we watching climbing were doing remotely what I would call a sprint, but apparently professional lumberjacks can shimmy up and down a tree in just a few seconds.

Sprint climbing!
Basically the climb involved wearing leg braces with spikes at the sides of the feet. You would jam the spikes into the wood enough that you could support your weight and stand up. You also had a length of rope wrapped around the tree that you would lift up the tree and use to keep yourself close to it. We waited in line for about a half hour, so we got to watch a number of people try it. Some made it look very easy, and others made it look very hard. Once we finally got strapped in, I found I was in the "making it look hard" camp. It took me several tries to figure out how to plant my feet to actually keep from falling. In the end, I got a little over halfway up before getting tired and coming down. I must have  done something wrong in my technique because I ended up with a gnarly bruise on the back on my thigh (just in time for sundress season!) from the brace thing digging into it, but overall it was a fun experience. I don't think I'll be giving up my day job and seeking a new life as a lumberjack any time soon though.

Me as a lumberjack. Sort of. 
 On Saturday night, we were back in Brooklyn to meet some friends for dinner. On the way, we stopped by the Renegade Craft Fair (an event full of fun artisans that I try to catch every year if I remember). Didn't buy too much, but we got some nice pictures in the park where it took place.

The view from Brooklyn. Not quite as nice as the view from Queens, I suppose. 

Hanging out on some weird wooden trampoline things. This is what summer is all about.  
 Sunday, I had some work to do, but I didn't want to let that keep me from feeding my newfound need for constant craft fairs and free festivals, so I made one final outing. They recently started a Queens version of the Brooklyn Flea in Long Island City that I wanted to check out. It's pretty small still, but where they lacked in vendors, they made up for in tons of food. Which really is my favorite thing about the Brooklyn Flea anyway. There was even a place serving South African street food! I wasn't nearly hungry enough to take full advantage of it, but I'll definitely be back sometime in the summer when my appetite is more fitting all the deliciousness.
View of the UN building from Long Island City. 

Sam enjoying a jerk chicken sandwich. He had the good sense to not have a huge breakfast. 
 That pretty much sums up the weekend. Now that I'm forced to spend the day inside working, the heat doesn't seem nearly as nice. We might even have to put in the A/C unit tonight because fans aren't cutting it. On the plus side, very soon the Astoria Park pool will be opening! Bring it, summer.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Back in time

Ever since I heard about it three years ago, I've been wanting to go to the Jazz Age Lawn Party on Governor's Island. It happens twice a year in the summer with hundreds of people dressing in their best 1920s glad rags, loading up on picnic gear, and taking the short ferry ride to the island. The Lawn Party involves old timey jazz bands, Charleston contests, drinking cocktails, eating on the lawn, and general merriment. For the last few years though, whether because I tried to get tickets too late or I had conflicts on those weekends, I wasn't able to go. This year I probably would have missed it too (due to just-returning-from-honeymoon-jetlag). Luckily, some friends were on it. They emailed us about it while we were gone and even bought the tickets for us since we didn't have reliable Internet. Thus my dream of finally going to the Lawn Party could become a reality. 

I don't have too much else to say about it, but enjoy these pictures from Saturday:

I think my attempt at "jazz age" outfitting was more of a 60s/70s era muumuu type dress, but that's what you get for going to the thrift store last minute. 

The band! 

We don't have any pictures of us dancing (our friends took some, but I haven't seen them yet). We don't look as good as these people though. As those who attended our wedding know, Sam and I are not born dancers. 

Jazz Age baby!

Some more well-dressed folks.

It's not a lawn party without people sitting on a lawn.

And a final shot of the dance floor. My attempts here coupled with my poor shoe decision account for blistered feet low these many days later. 
Now that I've been to the Jazz Age Lawn Party, it's definitely going back on my must-do list for next summer. Sitting outside on a beautiful day in drop-waist dresses shouldn't be just a one time thing.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Our brief stint as beach bums

I don't have too much to say about Koh Samui because we didn't do a whole hell of a lot. That said, it might just be my favorite leg of the vacation. Well perhaps not (I do really like elephants), but it was very fun to just kick back and relax with no agenda for a few days. We had a villa with a private pool that was just steps from the beach, so there didn't seem much point in leaving.

Koh Samui is the third largest Thai island (the well-known Phuket being the largest), but we didn't explore it much until we'd been there for two days. At which point we found out that, despite not doing too much research, we'd lucked out. Our resort was on the quiet, stilly fairly undeveloped Mae Nam beach on the north of the island. The more popular Chaweng Beach, which we later visited to go to a fun restaurant, was a totally different experience. In the end, I much preferred our quiet slice of Koh Samui than the souvenir-shop-lined one with all the night life. We might not have the option of parasailing, but our resort had nice beach chairs, an infinity pool, and a kayak we could take out whenever we wanted. Everything else just seemed like noise.

Who needs white sanded party beaches when you can have completely deserted yellow sanded beauty? 
Our first time leaving the resort after arriving (other than a 15-minute walk down the dirt road to the ATM and 7-Eleven on a cash and cheap-snacks-to-avoid-the-minibar run) was to visit Chaweng beach for a restaurant we read about in our guidebook. When we made the reservations, they offered to send somebody to pick us up, so we assumed it was fairly close. It turned out to be a half hour drive away, and when we tried to tip the guy who nicely delivered us, we found out he was actually the manager of the place. I'm not sure if the free ride there was just a perk of the off-season tourist slump (which didn't seem to affect Koh Samui nearly as much) or another testament to Thai friendliness, but even after we'd eaten and asked if they could call us a cab, he still insisted on driving us back. For this reason, and for the delicious food, I recommend any readers who find themselves on Koh Sumai to get dinner at Eat Sense. Also note, if you do go: the duck curry with lychees is good, but very spicy.

Enjoying at kiwi daiquiri at Eat Sense.
Looking at it now, there's a weird shadow on this, and it's not really that great a photo, but just trust me: in person this was the most beautiful seafood appetizer platter you ever saw. 
 Our second field trip from the resort was to go on a tour of the island. Sadly, this one was not a private tour, so the first 45 minutes or so were spent driving around and filling a van with people from other hotels. It also meant we didn't have someone to answer our every passing question, so I honestly don't know that much about the things we saw or their significance. I can still post about them though with my random, if not terribly informative, commentary.

A large Buddha. For some reason this is a Chinese style Buddha and not a Thai one. There were also symbols of the Chinese zodiac everywhere. 
The Big Buddha (interestingly much smaller than the previous Buddha which did not earn that moniker). You can see me at the top of the stairs. They made you take your shoes off at the bottom because technically the whole structure is a temple, which wouldn't be a problem except that the stairs were black and in direct sunlight.  
View from the top of the Big Buddha. Worth the blistering feet!
This is one I'd definitely like to know more about. The guy supposedly predicted his own death and died in a meditating position. The placard where I read this though failed to explain why his fellow monks would put his mummified buddy on display in a glass case with sunglasses on though. 
A fitting finale photo.

So that about wraps up the trip recap! Overall, we had a wonderful time, but it is still nice to be back to normal life too. Now we can start doing proper married people stuff like opening a joint checking account and finally getting a family phone plan (we've been patiently waiting for the new Verizon store a block away to open, as if it's the only Verizon store in the city). Thanks for reading! Check back soon for normal, everyday New York/Astoria adventures. 

Friday, June 14, 2013

Chiang Mai. Elephants!

After a couple of days in Bangkok, we were ready to get out of the big city. It's always fun to explore new cities, but coming from a big one, I don't like to spend my whole vacation there. Our next stop was a short flight away to the north of Thailand and the city of Chiang Mai. Chiang Mai is the capital city of the northern province of the same name. It's also the second largest city in Thailand, but has a much smaller population: closer to 200,000. It felt very much like a resort town, at least in the part of town we were staying in, near the old city and the night market. There were hotels, shops, and restaurants everywhere, as well as constant offers for activities to appeal to tourists: ziplining, elephant treks, monkey shows, things of that ilk. Most notably, in the off-season we were traveling in, it seemed like something of a ghost town. There were few people staying at our hotel, and the tours we booked ended up being private ones.

The gates to the Old City. I'm the one in the pink shirt to the left. I'm easy to spot because I'm one of the few people in the photo not on a segway. 
That's not to say that it was completely empty; there were definitely more than enough tourists around, and since we engaged in very touristy activities, we ran into a lot of them. However, it's the people of Chiang Mai, not the tourists, that make the place interesting. Maybe I've just been living in New York too long, but I can't remember the last time I was somewhere where the people were so friendly. If we so much as glanced at our map, people would stop on the street to ask where we were going and offer directions. Admittedly some of the people were vendors and tuk tuk drivers wanting to sell us on something, but for the most part they just wanted to chat. One guy we ran into twice told us all about his job in construction and moonlighting as a promoter for Muay Thai boxing. And yet he didn't even try to get us to go to a match (which was particularly refreshing because, national sport or not, Muay Thai was one part of Thai culture I had no interest in).

The moat around the Old City in Chiang Mai. 
On our first night in town, we signed up for a cooking class. I was surprised to be the only girl in our particular class. It was instead populated with two Canadian friends and five UT frat guys celebrating their recent graduations. Funny to run into so many Texans abroad (one of them even had gotten a job offer from the same company my dad works for), funnier still that a bunch of frat guys would want to take a cooking class. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun. The teacher was hilarious, and more than willing to poke fun at our (well my at least) pathetic spice tolerance and crappy spring roll technique. In addition to teaching us how to make an appetizer, stir fry, and curry of our choice, he also took us to the garden and market to explain about Thai ingredients. Thai cooking is actually fairly simple, but some of the ingredients can be difficult to find in the US. This could be one of those times when living in a huge, culturally diverse city might come in handy. My big take away from the class was that I shouldn't be so wary of oyster sauce and fish sauce. I think because the smell is so strong, I'm always scared of using very much, but the flavors do totally mellow out in the finished dish. As part of the class, we got a cookbook, so I'm definitely going to experiment with my new wok (thanks Alice and Henry!) soon.

At the market, learning about rice and stuff.
This is what severely under spiced food looks like. My curry was worse. I liked it, but apparently you get more of a "white curry" if you don't add enough green curry paste because you're a wimp.
Our first full day in Chiang Mai, we explored some of the temples around the city. Our tour guide Nicky was really great. Her English was excellent, and we bonded over talking about our cats. She apparently likes to try to guess her client's professions. She decided, after spending two days with us, that I was a banker and Sam was a college professor.

At Wat Chiang Man. There were definite differences between the temple architecture here as compared to Bangkok. Notably more stone. 
Sam releasing birds at Wat Chedi Luang. Supposedly to bring good fortune. I'm really not sure how the lady catches the birds each day. 
At Wat Suan Dok. This is the only temple we visited outside the Old City. 

Still at Wat Sun Dok. This time with stray dogs. There were tons of healthy, happy looking strays in Thailand, and especially around temples. Apparently people abandon the animals they can't care for anymore there, and the monks feed, vaccinate, and otherwise look out for them. 
While temples are, of course, very interesting, we were slightly more excited for our tour the following day that involved, among other things, a trip to an elephant camp. I had mixed feelings about elephant trekking initially per the usual liberal guilt needs to justify all animal related tourism before participating. Frankly, I think I'm mostly still scarred from seeing The Cove and learning the dark secrets behind those "ride the dolphin" attractions. Elephants and their mahouts originally worked in the teak lumber industry until it was outlawed by the Thai government in 1988, putting them all out of a job. Apparently, not knowing what else to do, some of the mahouts brought their elephants to Bangkok to beg, which obviously wasn't good for all involved. Essentially, finding a second career in tourism was a welcome opening, although some elephant camps are still exploitive. From what I understand about elephant camps, the one we went to is one of the better ones. They only have shows and rides in the mornings, and allow the animals to rest and bathe in the heat of the day. But that's enough of my justifying, let's move on to cute pictures of elephants!

This little guy failed to get the hat on my head the first time, but I don't blame him. I have kind of a small head. 
The grand entrance of the elephants prior to the elephant show.
Demonstrating their original job by moving the shit out of some teak logs. 
This master artist is named Suda. We ended up buying this piece. She even signed it later. One day when she's more famous, this will really be worth something. 
Atop our elephant mount. A bunch of people along the trail were selling bananas and sugar cane to feed the elephants. They must have made a killing. What stone cold tourist isn't going to buy a bunch of bananas for the elephant they're riding? 
Eventually we had to leave the elephants behind and continue on our tour. There were apparently a part of the tour where we were supposed to ride traditional Thai ox carts too, but Nicky wasn't there during the transition, so when we got off our elephants at the halfway point, we were confused and got right back on them. Only as we were riding away did we see all the ox carts awaiting their passengers. So basically we're kind of bumbling idiots where elephants are involved. And also, I guess I'll never know what it's like to ride an ox cart.

We rode down this river on bamboo rafts just like this one. Our boat steerer kept making jokes about there being snakes, and one of the times, I fell for it. Mostly because I really wanted to see a snake. 
We also stopped at an orchid farm.  This is at that orchid farm.
There are orchids everywhere in Thailand. In the airports, thrown on hotel beds, etc. This is just one of them. 
The rest of our time in Chiang Mai, we spent much as we spent our time in Bangkok: eating and lounging. The food in Chiang Mai is somewhat different from the food in the south. More sticky rice and some Burmese influences. Noting the differences and subtleties was just one more excuse to stuff our faces during this leg of the trip. For more pictures of Chiang Mai and Bangkok (for those who missed the link in the post yesterday), click here. You can also get a sneak peak at the last leg of our trip: Koh Samui. Otherwise known as paradise.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Bangkok: land of Buddhas and delicious food on sticks

So it's clearly been a while again, but I promise I'm now about to end the doldrums of not posting with a flurry of updates. The reason for this (both in terms of why I haven't posted and what will be the subject of the aforementioned flurry) is that we got back from our 11-day honeymoon trip to Thailand yesterday. I highly recommend traveling to Thailand in the off-season. Yes it was hot and incredibly humid (and I say this as someone who grew up in Houston, a city whose climate best resembles the jungles of Vietnam for about 9 months of the year). However, despite the somewhat exhausting temperatures, it was so wonderful that nothing was crowded. Almost all of the group tours we booked ended up being private tours, there were never lines for anything, and we had many a hotel pool and beach nearly to ourselves.

The city of Bangkok as seen from a swanky hotel bar. 
I decided, so as not to overwhelm with photos, to split the trip up into three posts, to accompany the three legs of our trip: Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Koh Samui. For the sake of chronology, this post will be about Bangkok. Thailand's capital has more food than any city I've ever seen. There were restaurants every few feet and tucked away in ever possible alleyway. In between the resturants and in crevices they might not otherwise fit, there were street vendors selling even more food. I don't know if it was the heat or what, but I never really felt that hungry while we were there. Luckily, I pushed past that lack of hunger and ate everything I could find anyway. Bangkok is known for having some of best street food in the world, and while sometimes the food we ate without knowing what it really was turned out to be a bit spicy (for me anyway), it was always delicious.
Food just tastes better on sticks. 
A fairly un-traffic filled section of Bangkok road. This was rare.
Bankok is a city that's incredibly easy to get around in...provided you don't drive. There was traffic constantly through a mix of motorbikes and cars. They were constantly flowing around us in seeming chaos, but the most amazing thing about them (especially coming from New York) is that they never seemed to honk. Even in the most incredible gridlock, they were willing to patiently wait until the traffic cleared. I think New Yorkers would be much improved with some Buddhist philosophy, perhaps even as a requirement for drivers licenses. Luckily for those of who didn't want to deal with the traffic at all, Bangkok has a very efficient public transportation system. While it doesn't go everywhere, both the SkyTrain and the subway both had a stop right by our hotel, so it was easy for us to get where we wanted to go.

The Sky Train by our hotel. Also an excellent place to view the rooftop workouts of Crossfit Bangkok. You know, if you're into that.
When we weren't wandering the city ourselves, we took a couple of tours of some of Bangkok's larger temples. The first was the temple of Wat Tramit, also known as the Temple of the Golden Buddha because it contains the world's largest solid gold statue. Apparently for a long time the Buddha was covered in plaster and the fact that it was made of pure gold was only discovered when it was being moved and the plaster chipped.

This is what 5.5 tons of solid gold Buddha looks like.

We also went to another temple Wat Pho. While it doesn't have a solid gold Buddha, it does have a very large gilded reclining Buddha. So that's something.

Picture taken near the feet for a sense of scale. I'm wearing that cardigan out of modesty and respect for the temple, not because it wasn't a billion degrees.
The outside of Wat Pho.
The next day we took a tour of the Grand Palace, a former home of the kings of Thailand, now kept as a museum. The grounds are huge, and the buildings are pretty spectacular. Unlike all the temples we'd visited that always told the story of the Buddha on the walls of the buildings, the buildings and statues of the Grand Palace reflect the Indian epic Ramayana. This translated to a lot of monkeys everywhere. Below are some photos of the Grand Palace which really was pretty incredible.

Some monkey guards. 
Most of the buildings at the Grand Palace are done in the traditional Thai style.

I like this photo for scale, but it would clearly be better without those two other tourists in it.  

The perks of having a private tour guide include having someone  just standing around waiting to take your picture. Also to tell you things like why there are depictions of monkeys everywhere.

We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, but this is the jade Buddha inside the temple at the Grand Palace.  The Buddha, made of jade naturally, has several different gold outfits depending on the season. We caught him in his "rainy season" garb. Not that you can really tell from this photo.
When we weren't in tours our time spent could easily be divided into a pie chart of 30% wandering around enjoying being somewhat lost, 20% beating the heat in the hotel pool, and 50% eating. One of the places we aimlessly wandered  for a while was around the largest park in Bangkok. It was virtually empty of people (instead populated mostly by enormous monitor lizards), except for people who worked for the park. Apparently Thai people don't really like walking, which explains why they wouldn't really enjoy walking through a park. So few people walk that most of the crosswalks don't have traffic signals. It took us a while to figure out that traffic never really stops, and you just have to walk out in front of it at some point and trust that people will stop for you (which they always seem to).

Alone in the park with the elephant topiaries. 
Naturally, this is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to photos. I'm in the process of loading and captioning the rest from our trip and will post the link when I'm done. Edit: it's up. So check back on this post for that, or just stay tuned for the post tomorrow where we will travel to the northern province of Chiang Mai. Spoiler alert: There are elephants. Not in topiary form.