Monday, November 9, 2009

Fun Things At Narita Airport

I have spent countless hours in transit at Narita over the past few years. Only this time did I find the Origami Museum. Above is a Japanese feudal scene, all made from origami. Below is a lovely Japanese garden in springtime, also all made from origami.

I found some Kit Kat - regular boring chocolate Kit Kat plus Strawberry Kit Kat, Cheesecake Kit Kat and the ever-popular Green Tea Kit Kat.
I also found the cutest face masks - Disney princesses, Winnie-the-Pooh and Hello Kitty - all sized for children. I have to admit, I was tempted...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

An orgy of truffles

So after my extremely long drive to dinner, I found out that it's the first day of a three week truffle festival at Biscotti. My dining companion practically lives at this hotel and knows both the Maitre D' and the Chef (a lovely young Italian from the Piedmont region).

We got the full treatment when a domed dish bearing multiple knobbly lumps of black and the coveted white truffle is grandly presented to us. When the glass dome was removed, we could smell the rich, earthy aroma. The truffles had just arrived 3 hours ago, fresh off the Thai Airways flight from Rome - they originated in Piedmont, very close to the farm where the Chef grew up. I have never seen this amount of fresh truffles close up.

We kind of went overboard when we ordered - probably due to massive hunger after the long traffic jams.
Crusted Mullet Eggs with White Truffle, Mashed Celeriac, Robiolino Cheese Fondue
Truffles and a slightly running poached egg in a savory crust. It was divine. As with all the later dishes, the Chef came out and shaved a very generous portion of truffles over my dish. He just kept on shaving. I think I benefited from my girlfriend's most favored client status.

Roasted Turbot with Black Truffle, Braised Endives, Jerusalem Artichokes and Tomino Cheese Fondue
I have to admit that I liked this dish the least. Which was a bummer since it was my main dish. I just didn't think the truffles went as well with the fish. And again, he shaved an incredible amount of black truffle all over the dish.
White Truffle Risotto with Boston Lobster and Sora Cheese Fondue
My companion's starter. Truffles and risotto - a match made in heaven.

Beef Tenderloin with Black TRuffle, Sauteed Porcini Mushrooms, Cornetti Beans and Pecorino Crutin Cheese Fondue
The main course I should have ordered! I had a bite and this was divine. Truffles and steak - who knew?

I concluded that I like white truffles better - of course, they command a higher price, I learned. I also learned that the Chef takes the truffles home with him every night. They were too valuable to leave in the hotel kitchen!

Friday, November 6, 2009

A Primer on Driving in Bangkok

For most of you reading this blog, my advice is to never, ever, ever even think about trying to drive in Bangkok.

One night, I jumped into the car and headed into town to meet a girlfriend for dinner at Biscotti, the Italian restaurant at the Four Seasons Hotel, my favorite hotel in Bangkok. It took me an hour and 45 mins to cover a distance of just over 6 miles. No weather, no accidents - just random Bangkok traffic.

During that excruciating drive time, I listened to the all-traffic radio station (the intersection by the hotel is at a complete standstill?! Oh great.) and mentally composed this blog.

Now, I actually learned how to drive in Bangkok, many years ago. However, I am now used to driving in a more rules-based orderly system - as opposed to the free-for-all, completely opportunistic way people drive in Thailand. The usual Thai traits of kindness, politeness and consideration all fly right out the window once they get behind the wheel of a car.

So here are a few rules of the road:
  1. Any open space on a road must be filled up - if the space is too small for a car, it will be filled by a whole mess of motorcycles or some enterprising tuk-tuk with a fantastic turning radius.
  2. Lane markers have no reason for existence.
  3. When turning left or right from a three lane road, feel free to overtake all the losers waiting for their turn, and turn from the center lane.
  4. Never start up immediately when your light turns green. There will be at least 5 red light runners speeding through the intersection. Do not get in their way.
  5. When trying to make a lane change, no one will let you in unless you force your way in. Assume they will not hit you since your car is nicer than theirs.
  6. Do not apply Rule #5 in front of a bus. They will hit you and those bus drivers are all crazy anyway.
  7. A typical bus driver will pick up and drop off passengers at a stop, then veer out to the fast lane in heavy traffic. And veer back into the curbside lane to stop at their next stop. This whole exercise will have allowed them to pass 2-3 cars, but have them cutting off countless others with their veering back and forth.
  8. There are a million taxis in Bangkok, all cruising slowly in the curbside lane looking for fares. If they find one, they will stop. No matter where they are or how inconvenient for other drivers. The most popular taxi color is a bright, neon pink.
  9. Many of the main overpasses in town have lanes that can go either direction, depending on whether it's the inbound or outbound commute time. There are big lights above these lanes - red X or green arrow. Do not assume that those lights are correct. Do not head into an open lane on an overpass ever. Always follow someone else. That way, they will be the ones in the head-on collision, not you.
  10. Getting out of the way for an ambulance is optional.
And there you have it. Go to Bangkok and check it out if you don't believe me.

I was 45 mins late for dinner. Thankfully, my girlfriend was 35 mins late - so I was only net 10 mins late. By Thai standards, that's perfectly acceptable. It took me 20 mins to get home later that night.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

On my way to Bangkok

I'm blogging from the UA Lounge in Narita Airport after a pleasant 10.5 hour flight from San Francisco. Of course, I first went to the ANA Lounge because their food is better and had my big bowl of nice udon. But I came back to the UA Lounge for their free wi-fi and the proximity to my departure gate.

I had the oddest encounter on my first flight though.

So, I'm sitting comfortably reclined, 6-7 hours into the flight, reading the Kindle and listening to music with headphones on. The UA male flight attendant who covers our area came over and squatted down next to me in the aisle. I took my headphones off, thinking he was coming to take my lunch order.

"So do you think they'll let me take a banana in?" he says.

I hesitate, somewhat confused. Is this a joke? Should I wait for a punchline? Did I mishear him? But no, he seems to be waiting for an answer. I presume he means taking the banana into Japan.

"No, I don't think that would be a good idea," I finally reply.

"What about a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?" he continues.

"No, I don't think that will work either," I say.

He looks a little crestfallen.

"You'd better eat them now." I finally said.

And he nods, straightens up and walks back towards the galley.

Now you've gotta agree, that was weird!