Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The one that got away

We flew to Billings, Montana bright and early yesterday morning.  The trip began at about 5:00am with morning shuttle surface provided by Juston Williams.  Not many people are thrilled to whisk you away on a vacation at 5am,, especially when they have to work later in the morning.  Juston handled the task with technical aplomb, steering his through the hot morning air like a seasoned airport taxi driver.  I owe you one bud.

Our flights were made better by a baggie of goodness that we swiped from the fridge on our way out of the door.  Kristin had celery, carrots, dip, and string cheese.  I, being a self proclaimed cheesaholic, sneaked a bag full of artisanal cheeses and breads by security.  I know.  These are not considered TSA prohibited items and I had no need to stuff my cargo pockets full of spanish and french cheeses, but if the TSA ever realizes how explosive the flavor can be inside a pockmarked rind of mimolette, they may re-evaluate their position on this ball of wonder from Lille, France.  I could go on about mimolette for paragraphs.  It is great with pretzel rolls, and that is how I spent my morning above the rockies.    

We landed in Billings and were greeted by my grandparents.  After spending some time in Billings at the holy trinity of Wheat Montana, Costco, and Walmart, we began the journey back to Big Timber.  Big Timber is between Bozeman and Billings with a backdrop of the crazy mountains exploding out of the surrounding prairies.  Supposedly, these mountains are called the crazies because a crazy woman took up residence in them after losing her entire family in the attempt to move westward.  Sort of like a real life Oregon trail, except instead of dysentery, she went mad and exited stage left to her own natural insane asylum.   On really quiet nights, you can hear her howling and moaning for her lost children across the plains.  It is really annoying though not even remotely true.

Montana is a very relaxing place.  I have come here all of my life, and make a point to visit in August when the Texas heat gets too unbearable.  I loved it until about 12, hated it during awkward years between 13 and 18, and forged a sort of Montana renaissance in my mid 20's.  The air, the altitude, the mountains, and the people sort of combine to make a very real and different place, that seems just out of touch with the present enough to be a good thing.  It is a great place to do nothing, and a better place to fish, hunt, or trek.

This morning, we had a messenger drop by the house to relay us important news regarding the cows.  They were coming, and we best get moving if we want to beat them to the ranch.  We wanted to beat them to the ranch.  We were to fly fish at the Rostad ranch just outside of Big Timber, and if this enormous herd of cows arrived before us, then we would have an extremely difficult time getting down to the Boulder River.  We made haste.  My grandfather hurriedly drove us to the ranch, fishtailing only once.  I heard Kristin quietly buckle her belt in the backseat.  The fishing car of choice for my grandfather?  A bumper to bumper steel beast known colloquially around our family as "The Queen." This all white 1985 Caprice Classic has the looks of a cop car, the heart of a champion, and a V8 that will never, ever, give up.  It gets decent mileage, likes to get sideways, and knows its way out of a pinch. Most recently, it managed to barely fall on the economical side of the cash for clunkers legislation, extending its life indefinitely.  

We reached the ranch just as the angus were ambling up to the gates like a bunch of drunk spring breakers, swaying, mooing, breathing heavily.  We barely squeaked by them and proceeded down to the water's edge.  The Boulder is a great fishing river, and the three of us had this little corner of her to ourselves.  Kristin and I could best be described as extreme novices or perhaps ardent amateurs when it comes to fly fishing.  My grandfather has decades of fly fishing experience under his belt, and he was tasked with the burden of teaching us the ways, perhaps his largest challenge yet.  We climbed the steep learning curve from idiot to beginner, and after a little bit of patience, we were knee deep in water tactfully casting our lures.  Compared to normal "drop some bait" fishing, fly fishing involves much more strategy and finesse.  It feels like a sort of higher sport, and it is easy to grasp the draw of standing in a quiet stream, delicately flicking your fly to and fro while the fish dodge your ankles.

During my tutorial, I actually got a nibble.  We were not prepared for this at all, as I was hardly doing anything right, so my grandpa had to brief me very quickly as to the proper way to bring one in.  He shouted and I grasped for the string.  I stumbled and fumbled; my waders filled to the brim with the glacial fed stream.  I braced my right foot against a craggy rock and tried to pull him back upstream.  The battle was hard fought. The fish and I matched wits.  It was definitely learning to swim in the deep end.  In the end, he proved to be a worthy adversary, outsmarting me enough to escape downstream and tell his buddies about the igmo that tried to reel him in.  Jerk.  I was told by my fishing buddies that he looked to be a rainbow trout.  This is nonsense. I know deep down that it was a Montanian River Shark.

On our way out, we dropped by to visit with the retired rancher that owns the Rostad Ranch, Clarence.  Clarence is well over 90 years old.  He is extremely cordial, and usually carries a harmonica around in his front pocket.  He knows over 80 songs, mainly hymns.  He told us that he used to own a list of all of the songs that he knew, but lost it years ago.  At first, he said that losing this list bothered him, but since he lost his sight, it does not matter any more at all.  Clarence is a very happy guy, and likes to say that if he was not completely happy he would have to get his head examined.  It is always a delight to sit and talk with Clarence, especially so when he breaks out his harmonica.  Lawyers have been trying to buy his ranch for years, but it is not for sale at any price.  Thank the heavens for that.  It is always refreshing to see something not completely governed by money.

We went home to pick up my grandmother and head to Livingston, the largest nearby city.  I always miss her a bunch when she goes to stay at their place in Montana from June to November, so it is great to see her for a week or two each summer.  Livingston has an especially good wine and cheese store.  We dropped by so we could pick up some items for our Yellowstone picnic tomorrow.  I ordered half a pound of mimolette cheese and Kristin picked up some Cakebread Wine.  We also walked around the downtown area, stopping only for ice cream and books.  It was a relaxing afternoon.  We capped off our day with a delicious pork dish with potatoes and asparagus back at home.  Tomorrow, we are heading to Yellowstone Park.  I will be updating the site when we return on Thursday evening since the park has no internet (or t.v.s for that matter).

The red house on Mcleod

Big Timber - main street

The Church


Back Alley

The main strip

Timber Bar - where the miners drink

Crazy Mountains over downtown

An old truck

A Cat that followed me around for about 5 minutes

The Boulder river

Grandpa and Kristin, suiting up

Dry land tutorial

Kristin going through the motions

Grandpa showing us the way

Knee deep in water


Changing flies


Just a day at the river

K trying to get it right


Trying to lure in a monster while listening for direction

Grandpa casting upstream

One more cast

The 6 sided harmonica of Clarence

Clarence taking a song request from Kristin

Jamming away

The Ranch

Grandma and Kristin after a spot of ice cream

Downtown Livingston

Sunday, August 9, 2009


Kristin and I are going to Montana.  We land in Billings at 10:00am tomorrow morning.  Waffles will hopefully follow.  We will be staying at my Grandparent's Summer home in Big Timber, Montana, which is nestled between Billings and Bozeman on the map below.  Big Timber is a small town of about 2000 with a main strip, a fantastic "gastro-saloon," and a very relaxing vibe.  We always enjoy our time spent in Big Timber, and will be making an additional trip to either Yellowstone or Glacier Park.  Although this journey will not be as perilous or strange as our Asian excursion, it will be beautiful and relaxing.  Heres to hoping we see some a grizzly bears and perhaps even a large moose. 

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Final Tally

1 is very bad
5 is average
10 is impossible

Hong Kong - 9.25
Macau - 5.5
Bangkok - 6.5
Cambodia - 9
Phuket - 7.5
Phi Phi Islands - 8.25
Bali - 8.75
Kuala Lumpur - 7
Kota Kinabalu - 7.75
Singapore - 6.75

We genuinely enjoyed are time everywhere, and even Macau's tepid 5.5 was a cherished experience.  I originally intended to do a short impressions write up on each place now that I finally have the time to actually communicate properly, but I am going to allow the trip to sink in a little more.  The whole trip, these blogs were generally written very late, with the thoughts of the day messily spilling off of my fingertips and on to the computer screen.  I felt like I was crudely smearing our experiences out across the blog in words, and I would lament my omissions and errors like an obsessive hypochondriac without a doctor, since I had no time to nitpick.  If you know me well, then you know how difficult this was for me to share a very crude, rushed, generally unfinished product with the world.  I am profoundly grateful for everyone that read the blog, and I know Kristin is too.  It was a great experience and we were both blown away by how many of you tuned in.  See you on the next trip you loons!  


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

We are home!

After an exhausting day through the airports of Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Los Angeles; we finally arrived home in Dallas.  We were greeted at the airport by our driver and confidant, Monsieur Lou (pictured below).  He was dapper as always.

We spent our last day in Hong Kong shopping in the Kowloon area.  We hit up the ladies market, temple street night market, jade market, and a bunch of malls.  It was a great way to cap off the trip.  We both realized how much we love Hong Kong. and can definitely see an extended stay there in the near future.  Kristin and I are both open to suggestions for our next big trip, which will take place at some point in the first half of 2010.  We are leaning towards a road trip and camping adventure through Australia, but anything is possible.  Keep checking the blog, we are planning a couple of week long trips in the coming months (Montana and New England), and are going to update at least weekly with randomness.  Tomorrow, I will post our final ratings for each locale.

It took me until the last day, but I finally found peanut butter toast

Busy Kowloon

Crossing the street

Around the Temple Street Night Market. lots of shirtless guys

This guy was trimming his beard with small scissors

A neon corner

Kristin's chicken fried rice

A Hong Kong park at night

The very cramped Ladies Market, which actually
sells more than just ladies stuff

Monday, July 27, 2009

Singapore Sling

Today we left behind the swath of wild that is Borneo to head to the ultra modern Singapore.  Our flight to Singapore brought us through Kuching, Malaysia, where we were treated to an unexpected cultural treat.  Apparently, the ruler of Sabah (Northern Borneo) was on our flight, and when we disembarked our flight, we were afforded a glimpse of the Malaysian royal treatment.  There was a long red carpet spread out and beyond eyesight.  Droves of men and women in traditional Kuching dress were there to greet the ruler with drums, flowers, and song.  The ruler of Sabah was visiting Kuching for a summit between Malay leaders and royalty.  It was the most cultural layover ever.

Our arrival in Singapore came without incident.  The airport is very sterile and very large with the character of a sultan's shopping mall.  We are so used to hitting the ground running that we dropped our bags off in our airport hotel, headed straight for the subway station, and then just sort of shrugged our shoulders and stared at the subway map without any idea of where to go.  With no guide, we decided to go with our intuition.  We chose to buy a ticket to a stop that was an intersection of lines, and one that sounded official.  The "Raffles Place" stop became our destination, which just happened to be right in the middle of everything, with the sky grabbing buildings and a bunch of historical sites just steps away.  Singapore on a Sunday is very quiet and, of course, very clean.  Singapore has a reputation of being one of the cleanest cities in the world, with huge fines for littering, a ban on public gum chewing (and the selling of most types of gum), and other similar rules.  We were determined to find a dirty street, and after some sleuthing, we did.  I included a picture below of the horrific mess.  Funny thing, about 30 seconds after we saw the litter and garbage, we saw a woman with a broom cleaning up the mess.

We ate lunch at an English pub on the waterfront called The Penny Black.  They had a 2 for 1 lunch offer and, after realizing how expensive Singapore is, it was a welcome deal.  We both purchased lunch, and then blindsided by disappointment when the bill came.  We had to use a citibank card to receive the discount.  A citibank card that we did not possess.  We quietly bitched amongst ourselves and moved on.  That is sort of how we feel about Singapore, the whole process of buying lunch and being screwed by the fine print is a perfect metaphor for Singapore.  It is a very western, beautiful, and modern city, but you pay for it.  I dislike Singapore for the same reason that I cannot stand London, and that is because its prices defy rational economics.  Whenever I feel that a market price is far beyond what is necessary and reasonable for what a general basket of goods should cost, I feel that it incites unhealthy general economic reactions.  I will actually just stop right now, because I am sure none of you want to hear about my opinions on what I call binge and purge economics.  We were at a restaurant where a small bottle of Fiji water cost 14 Singapore dollars (about 10 US).  That is so stupid that we could never logically like a city that produces such an environment.  

After our lunch, we walked around Singapore.  We took in a cricket game and watched rich old men playing what appeared to be a bocce ball type of arrangement.  It was a relaxing Singaporean afternoon, and after felling a little parched, we stopped by Raffles Hotel.  Raffles Hotel is an institution in Singapore.  The Singapore Sling was invented there, and it a very famous and esteemed hotel that has had a lot of personalities come through its doors.  We hit up the bar where the sling was invented, and ordered two.  The long bar in the Raffles Hotel has a strange mix of old world pomp and what seemed like southern hospitality.  It felt like Georgia or something.  They supplied complimentary peanuts on each table and the floor was covered with discarded husks.  It was definitely a welcome environment from a place that we were initially worried would be too upscale for our tattered clothing.   We played "The Price is Right," trying to figure out how much the drinks would cost.  I guessed 14 Singapore dollars.  Kristin guessed 17. The Singapore Slings were 25 Singapore dollars apiece. I think that is like 18 USD.  They were very tasty beverages, but not that good.  Imagine buying a round for 8 people, yeah, not fun.

We were approached by a Buddhist asking for demanding donations.  He slapped bracelets on our wrists, and a good luck prayer paper in my pocket.  We figured we could get him off of our back for 1 dollar.  I mean, we both want all gods to find us as generous as possible, but Singapore had already broken us financially.  I gave him a dollar coin, and he asked for 50!  He showed us his sheet of donations, filled with 50 and 100 dollar donations and signatures. Hilariously, they all appeared to be in the same writing, presumably filled in by him to dupe dumb rubes.  We laughed and told him that we were poor.  He let us keep our bracelets.  But, something was still amiss.  On his sheet, I was filling in what I wished for (in writing) on his sheet, my choices being happiness or peace.  When he found out that we were a couple of brokes, he interrupted my writing, and sent us away.  As we walked off, I realized that I had not wished for happiness or peace, but instead just "Hap."  I have no idea what that means.

The Kuching Mall welcoming procession for rulers

An ornate headdress with a hornbill beak

The red carpet

What do you thing they are talking about?

Secrets among princesses

An annoying photographer

Our room in Singapore

I want to tell you about our tech, check out the pod charger, essential
for any traveler.  You only have to plug it in in one place and it charges
a bunch of devices.  It is called a callpod.  Here, it is charging 2 iphones,
a shuffle, a nintendo ds, and a psp.  Yeah, I brought two game systems.

The best underwater camera I have ever used, and I have used 3

Taking most of the pictures with this, the best "going away to Asia"
present a grandson could ever get

Happy Birthday Singapore!

Very clean

Some guy asked us if we wanted a pic, we
said yes.  This is the picture.

A good luck bird

Check out the clashing architectural styles, reminiscent of London

I saw this guy walking around, looking suspicious, so I put on the
zoom lens.

Whoa, man, nice neck.  What you see in there?

In a flash, lunch, who says you cant eat for cheap in Singapore?

Our quest for trash was getting warmer

Trash, on the street, in Singapore

Some large buildings

Some older looking colonial stuff on the water

Lots of crabs everywhere for eats

The waterfront

Probably our last self timer of the trip

Lots of plants and flowers are throughout the city, very pretty

Look who thinks she is too cool doing the "asian peace pose"

A statue

Singapore city hall

The front of the hall

A cricket pitch

We could not figure it out, seems like a fun game though

Raffles shopping arcade

Raffles Hotel


The Singapore sling

The Long Bar where the sling was invented

A nice fountain

A strange tree

There is an extreme prevalence of health
warnings in Asia, especially regarding H1N1.
We have had to fill out forms on every plane
in case of necessary quarantine.  This is a health
A Dali sculpture