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Last Days of Vacation May 27, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — oshikagang @ 5:03 pm

We can’t believe how quickly this holiday went by. Here are a few images from the last days of our Deep South vacation.

A paddlewheel boat going up the Mississippi river. What more could you ask for?


A spiral staircase in the French Quarter.


A cool shot of jars from America’s oldest pharmacy.


All of a sudden the criteria for what we’re looking for in hotels changes. Our criteria used to be: cheap, safe, and clean. When we’d go backpacking, we never spent much time in the hotel room so features weren’t all that important to us, and we’d usually find a hotel once we got into town.
Now, a hotel room needs to be quiet, neat, and clean. A pool would be preferable, as having breakfast and wireless internet included. It must include a crib and ideally have an elevator for transporting all of our 41 loads of baby-related ‘stuff’. Even better if it’s a suite with a bedroom that you can close the door to. We prefer to have booked it in advance, so we know what we’re getting and where to go. Sigh. Travelling with a baby is WAAAY more complicated than backpacking.

Swimmer!


We dunked Aili under the water for the first time. She didn’t even flinch!


My heart melts.


When I imagined going to the Deep South I had a vision of sitting on a big old veranda drinking lemonade under 300-year-old oak trees. And eating fried chicken. I imagined a hot day and hoop skirts and long stretches of farmland. Apart from finding fried chicken everywhere we went, my vision of the South had mostly evaded me.

But on the last day of our trip, in 30-degree heat with nearly 100% humidity, my vision finally came to fruition. We visited the very spectacular Oak Alley Plantation:


… and I enjoyed my mint julep (lemonade with mint syrup) on the veranda, under those big old oak trees, surrounded by sugar cane fields. And the tour guide wore a hoop skirt.


Looking out from the mansion towards the river.




These oaks are so old, and so big, that the branches rest on the ground. They were planted in the early 1700’s by the original owner of the plantation.


Hillbilly doing wheelies on his 4×4 alongside the highway:


Does this need any explanation? I am stunned they actually need signs for this. Johnny and I laughed and laughed for a long time about this one:


In the airport, Aili discovered the sparkly on Mommy’s finger. When she is very focussed on something she points out her upper lip. Cool Aunt J and I call it her ‘beak’. In this picture, she is very very focussed, and very very beaky.


Poor kid was having trouble falling asleep lying across our laps on the flight. So we put down a receiving blanket and put her on the floor. She loved it down there, and played with the bottom of my pants leg for a long time. Then she fell asleep, using my shoe as a pillow:


As you could probably guess, this is how the poor kid lives, with a camera pointed at her all the time. Or, in this case, with TWO cameras pointed at her.


Aili’s first favourite lovey: YellowDog. For some reason he is her absolute favourite. She especially likes to chew on his ears and on the tag on his bum.


Lips ‘n’ lashes. Such a pretty girl.


We’re home now, and Johnny is back at work. It was our first family holiday, and I think it brought us all closer together. I was so happy to see Johnny and Aili spend so much time together, as they don’t usually get to do that during the week.
Aili’s been tired since we’ve been home, but has had no difficulty getting back to everyday life.
Back to the routine!

 

The Horrors of Katrina May 24, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — oshikagang @ 2:53 am

Today we went on a tour of to see the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans. Once again we were reminded of how our news coverage is insufficient. I had no idea how enormous the damage of this catastrophe has been. It was a three-fold tragedy.

First, the hurricane was terrible and caused terrible damage to the city, blasting all the windows out of high-rise buildings downtown. The hurricane actually hit land about 100 miles east of New Orleans, completely flattening and destroying entire towns along the Gulf Coast.
More terrible for New Orleans, however, was the storm surge that followed the hurricane. It brought a 40 – 50 foot wave that rushed backwards UP the canals that were designed to drain heavy rainfall from the city. The enormous pressure is what caused the most known tragedy: the flooding. There were 53 levee breaches in the city, causing homes to flood to the roof in a matter of minutes. People rushed into their attics and then became trapped. Some were able to break through their roofs; others drowned in their homes. Eighty percent of the entire city was completely underwater for weeks; a million and a half people were evacuated and many have never returned.
The third piece of the problem was the terrible mismanagement of dealing with the tragedy. A mandatory evacuation was declared too late for people to leave; supplies and rescue equipment were flooded and destroyed; organization was terrible. People were left behind to die in hospitals and seniors homes. Many people were left on their roofs for a week or longer, so many died of dehydration or starvation. Also, the floodwaters were filled with backed up sewage, debris, and dead bodies, so illness became a problem too.

Our guide today pointed out that most of the people who work in New Orleans don’t live here, as there are no homes for them to go to. Nearly all of the people who work in the restaurants and hotels that we’re frequenting lost their homes. More than 3/4 of the population of the city did. What we saw on the news was the Ninth Ward, the hardest hit, and it was implied that all the victims of Katrina were poor and black. This was not, in fact, the case. Another area hard hit was one of the most beautiful and expensive in the city.

A map of the devastation in New Orleans. I know it’s hard to read, but the areas in black were covered by 8-10 feet of water for almost a month; areas in red had 6-8 feet, orange 4-6 feet, and so on.


One of the breaks in the levee. You can see the patch is a lighter colour than the original wall.


An office building downtown with windows still blown out. Many of the high rise buildings have had their windows replaced, but still sit empty.


Houses still sit empty and destroyed. I know it’s difficult to see, but if you click on the picture you can see the details more clearly. The red X above the doors has a code from the army troops that went through each building. The middle top is the date that it was looked at – in the case of the red X, September 8. The middle left is the division, in this case, Arizona. To the middle right is the number of dead, and at the bottom is the number of live people saved. The red X says ‘NE’ in the middle right: that’s because the water was above the level at the doors and they couldn’t get in. ‘NE’ in this case means ‘No Entry’.
Below you might be able to see white X’s with similar information, referring to each side of the duplex. On September 29, a whole month after Katrina, the troops were finally able to get in there, and found two dead people in the right side. That’s what the H2D means.
Most of the houses we passed by had similar markings.



Some people are choosing to keep these marks as a badge of honour even after repairing their homes:


On this pink house you can see the water line where the water settled for about three weeks before being pumped back out of the residential areas. The original storm surge was about 8-10 feet higher than that (ie. this house was completely underwater).


This picture was taken from the tour van. It’s tough to see in this picture, but this house has its address spray-painted onto the side. That’s because it doesn’t belong here, it actually comes from the lot on the other side of the street! This neighbourhood was completely underwater, and the house floated to its current place.



Our tour guide assured us that Lisa and Donnie are indeed ok. But they got divorced last year.
You can also see that they’ve written ‘You Loot U Die’ on the door. Looting is an enormous problem here. In some neighbourhoods only one home on an entire street may be repaired, which leaves them in a lonely and vulnerable position. While repairs are underway, looters come to steal electrical and plumbing materials, appliances, flooring, or any other building materials they can find.
People have been defending their properties with their shotguns, and looters have been killed.



Many people are living in trailers provided by FEMA.


Former strip mall and bank. Many businesses haven’t returned.


Former car dealership:


Deserted and boarded up church:


Former golf course. Now a lagoon.


Fortunately these beautiful 300-year-old oak trees survived, but thousands were destroyed.


Signs for repairs and construction work are everywhere:


I find this amusing. Your satisfaction is guaranteed. Ummmm… surely if you’ve hired someone to level your house, then you’ll be satisfied if it’s not there anymore, and dissatisfied if it’s still standing. Pretty easy to tell if the job is done right, no?


Kudos to the people of New Orleans who won’t let this tragedy beat them down.


I heart my muffin.

 

French Quarter

Filed under: Uncategorized — oshikagang @ 2:39 am

Here are some images from the lovely French Quarter. You can see the appeal, even without being drunk. It’s like not being in the US anymore.

The French Quarter is the oldest, most famous, and most touristy part of New Orleans. When the city was first founded, the Native Americans living in the area recommended settling on the highest ground possible. Thus the French Quarter was built on the highest ground in the city – – and was saved from the worst of the flooding during Hurricane Katrina. Many buildings had their roofs peeled off from the 150 mph winds, but at least the water stayed away.




St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square.


People who live in the area take a lot of pride in their homes. How pretty!


“Swamp Shots: Coonass Waterin’ Hole”
Huh?


A pretty hotel with lovely windowboxes.


We went to Cafe Du Monde, a famous coffee and beignet shop that has been around for 150 years. It’s open 24 hours a day, every day of the year except for Christmas.


There are the coffee and beignets. The coffee was fantastic, although it was a bit too hot and humid outside to want to drink coffee! The beignets are French doughnuts, kindof like wads of deep-fried dough with mountains of powdered sugar on them. You’d think that would be RIGHT up my alley, but actually Johnny and I were both unimpressed.

 

Have Baby, Might Travel May 23, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — oshikagang @ 3:44 pm





 

Have Baby, Might Travel

Filed under: Uncategorized — oshikagang @ 3:44 pm

Yesterday we drove through Mississippi and Baton Rouge and are now in The Big Easy, The Crescent City: New Orleans. When we arrived it was an absolute downpour (Johnny was convinced it was a typhoon), but this morning its bright and sunny out there. Why aren’t we out on Bourbon Street collecting beads and getting drunk, you ask? Well, because the baby is sleeping.

Travelling with a baby has been a very eye-opening experience. Aili is as good as we could ever hope for, going down each night in a different sleep environment without a peep. She’s fallen alseep without difficulty in playpens, in her car seat, in metal cribs, in squeaky cribs, in the pitch black (I left our night light somewhere along the way), and even with us in the same room watching TV. Unbelievable. That being said, she does get tired quickly and needs to nap. We find ourselves spending a LOT more time in hotel rooms than we would have if she wasn’t with us.
Ultimately, we think we cover about 1/3 the ground we would if we were on our own – or we would need three times the time to get everything done. For future travels we think we’ll stick with places where we’re not trying to learn and take so much in. I’m having a great time on our first family vacation, but to date I haven’t eaten grits, seen a hoop skirt, seen any civil war monuments, or stepped foot on a cotton plantation. We agree that our family vacations for the next few years will have to be low-key. Perhaps an all-inclusive in Mexico, a rented condo in Hawaii… or Disneyland.

Yesterday we drove the scenic Natchez Trace Parkway from Jackson Mississippi to Natchez, Mississippi. The countryside of Mississippi is exactly how I pictured it: huge ancient trees with heavy boughs to the ground, moss hanging in long ribbons from the branches.


Here is the great Mississippi river. I can totally imagine Tom Sawyer rafting down it.


Natchez Mississippi is a very depressing little town. I don’t recommend visiting there.


The South sure has a LOT of churches, of every imaginable denomination. Many are Baptist or Pentecostal.


Pretty house with big porch, just as I imagined it.


Exxon petroleum refinery.


Natchez has a ‘Wedding Mart’. How depressing.


It also has a Sonic Drive-In! Not our favourite, but it’s a good place to get out of the car so the baby can get some semi-fresh air. We seem to be the only ones who actually get out of their cars. And of course we get stared at a lot.


Smiley baby. And, soon to be with a big toothy grin! Aili cut her first tooth yesterday. (And when I mean ‘cut’ I mean you have to be an obsessive Mommy that does a daily tooth check to be able to feel it with your finger. To date it is only ever so slightly visible to the naked eye.)
I was so surprised to feel it I almost cried. She’s growing up so fast!


Our hotel in New Orleans is seven historial buildings stitched together. It has some really unique architectural features.



I have no idea what we would do without a laptop and free wireless internet connections in every hotel we’ve been in. We would have killed each other by now.


My two favourite people.

 

Long Live the King May 22, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — oshikagang @ 3:24 am


Ok, you can rest assured that we did not leave Memphis without visiting Elvis.
I knew a couple of his songs, but mostly knew about the jumpsuits and sideburns. My mom was a fan so she often played his music (repetitively), so that’s where most of my Elvis knowledge came from. Until the Country Music Hall of Fame, however, I had no idea how profoundly he shaped the path of popular music and culture, or how enormous his fan base was. Today when we were in Graceland, I actually saw a lady crying.

First, let me tell you of a small disaster that happened to Johnny this morning: we ran out of dental floss. If you scoff, then you don’t know Johnny and his fixation with his teeth. That man flosses and brushes more than anyone else I’ve ever known – all put together. So you can imagine his distress when he went to floss and there were only two inches left:


He managed to floss his top teeth with that little shred. I should send the picture to our dentist.

Anyway, back to Elvis. This is the front of the Graceland mansion:


We have pictures of all sorts of things (let me know if there’s something in specific you want to see), but suffice to say that it is both substantially smaller and substantially tackier than anything that would impress us today. For example, here is the famous ‘Jungle Room’:


Ya like that green shag carpet? How about the same carpet ALL OVER THE CEILING? Yes, it’s true. They say everything comes back again, but I’m hoping never to carpet my ceilings.

Movie poster: “It’s Elvis with his foot on the gas and no brakes on the Fun!!!”


This used to be a raquetball court, but for the tourists they made it into a collection of gold and platinum records and studded jumpsuits.


“Before anyone did anything, Elvis did everything.”
I don’t even know what that MEANS.


His grave:


All in all I have to say that our visit to Graceland made me feel very sad.
Elvis had a huge effect on music, popular culture, and just happened to show up at an important time for equal rights. He was profoundly affected by black musicians in his youth and incorporated a lot of their sound in his own work, which angered a lot of white folks. Parents hated him (no doubt fueling the fire of his popularity), and apparently psychiatrists thought his onstage antics would cause ‘sexual depravity’. He was enormously wealthy, enormously generous, crazy in love with his kid, and was a huge philanthropist. He was addicted to sleeping medication from a young age and it sounds like he was pretty depressed for the latter part of his career. Some people think he died from a drug overdose, others think it was an allergic reaction to codeine prescribed to him by his dentist. (Still others think that he is an alien who has gone back to his own planet.) Regardless, it seems so sad to think of such a person dying such an undignified death at such a young age – and then both revered and caricatured for generations thereafter.
I guess that after living such a short and intense life, I would wish the man some peace, and Graceland didn’t seem peaceful at all to me.

________________________________________

Johnny and I are really torn about this picture. She looks so great – – except for the vomit. This is as pretty as vomit can get, my friend:


Aili does not like cucumbers. I think she may have tried one once (ie. put it in her mouth, didn’t actually consume any, and it came RIGHT back out again), but ever since then as soon as she smells or even sees one we get this face:


How do they KNOW they have preferences? If everything is new, then why are Cheerios ok and cucumber is bad? Both are equally foreign flavours.

Poor kid is genetically doomed to be an internet addict like her mommy and daddy. No TV for you, muffin! Here’s a laptop instead.




We approve of this ordering policy at Subway: “We will NOT take your ORDER if you are on your CELL PHONE.”


We’re now in Jackson, Mississippi. Woweee what a place. Johnny was actually getting stared at in Walmart when we went to get him some new dental floss. We have already encountered several communication breakdowns because we can’t understand these people and they can’t understand us. At lunchtime all of the restaurant patrons were white, and all of the employees were black. What does that mean?
Johnny managed to find an all-black radio station on our drive today, and they were discussing, of all things, inter-racial dating. People called in and said that there was nothing wrong with it and the hosts agreed, but then proceeded to sum it all up by saying that they were open to love from any race, but they would prefer that they be black.
Upon reflection, I usually forget that Johnny is Asian and I’m all pasty-like. His is the face that I see everyday and it’s what I like to look at. Johnny says that he forgets he’s Asian too, and that he doesn’t think of me as white, but rather as his wife. Just as it ought to be. I can’t think of a description I like more.

 

Apparently Memphis Is The ‘Mid-South’ May 21, 2008

Filed under: Uncategorized — oshikagang @ 3:44 am

Yes, I’ve had it wrong the whole time. The ‘Deep South’ refers to true southerners, apparently – those who live, I guess, further south than here. What do I know, I’m just a Canadian. But I digress.

Yesterday we were in Nashville. They call themselves ‘Music City’, and it really does seem that much of the industry is built around country music. For example, there is the ‘Grand Ole Opry’, which is really important (for some reason that I couldn’t explain if you asked):


We also went to the Country Music Museum and Hall of Fame. It was actually really well done for two people who know very little about country music. I do like to listen to it in my car (ok, ok, the truth is out) but for the most part I don’t know which performer sings what, and I certainly wouldn’t recognize any of them walking down the street. But the museum explained the history of it and how it came to be, which made it accessible to anyone.


Yes, it really does have to specify “No Weapons”. C’mon, we’re in the (Mid/Deep) South.


Elvis’ gold piano. A gift from his wife on their first wedding anniversary. Hm, I’m behind by about 4 gold-plated mountain bikes.


Johnny Cash’s black suit:


Dolly Parton’s costume. You can see that she really was quite a tiny little thing back then. Well, in some departments.


Gold and platinum records from famous artists that I’d never heard of.


After Nashville we hopped in the car and drove 2 1/2 hours to Memphis. What does Aili do while we’re driving, you ask? The answer is:


Yes, I know. She deserves some sort of Best Baby On Earth award.

So today we hung out and had a fairly quiet day in Memphis. Here are some images around town that amused me:

“Big Ass Beer To Go”:


“Toughman World Championships” (alas, we will be leaving before Johnny has an opportunity to compete):


“Parking Can Be Fun”:


“Last Cocktail for 30 Feet”:


Cheesy Elvis windowpainting:


Music notes in the sidewalk:


Apparently the Grizzlies are doing no better here than they did in Vancouver. But at least the name made more sense up there.


Yeehaw, it’s the mighty Mississippi river. The peninsula with the flags is called ‘Mud Island’. And in the distance, well, that-there is Arkansas. Again, I am embarassed to admit that before just a few weeks ago I had no idea that Memphis was on the Mississippi river or that it was so close to Arkansas. I couldn’t have placed Arkanasas on a map.


“Love, Peace, and Chicken Grease”. Now you’ve got my attention.


So we went into Miss Polly’s to order up something Southern. Fried chicken, of course. And… waffles? Seems that Southerners have a weird thing about waffles, and my lunch order was … chicken and waffles (they came together as a meal, I didn’t make this up on my own).
Yes, that IS butter all over the waffle. That is AFTER I did my best to scrape off at least 1/4 cup of excess butter onto the side of the plate. The gloop in the bowl is beans and rice, which was Louis Armstrong’s absolute favourite. Johnny copped out and got a salad.


Not really any surprise that the ‘Healthy Lifestyle Bistro’ is closed. How could it compete with ‘Love, Peace and Chicken Grease’?


Here’s a cute muffin!


Muffin and mommy:




Yeah, Johnny really does stick out around this place. In fact, we went to the laundromat this afternoon (*someone* had puked on all her clothes, but we won’t specify who) and a small boy was looking at him funny. I was the only white person there, but Johnny was probably the only Asian in the entire STATE.
Here’s what he’s been doing to try to fit in better:


He even ate an all-fried meal last night: deep fried catfish, deep fried okra, and yam french fries. I was so proud.


You may know that Johnny verges on being narcoleptic. Sometimes this results in somewhat amusing displays of sleeping in weird stances, such as the following:


Our feast tonight: BBQ ribs with coleslaw, fries, baked beans, and tamales. Johnny also ordered a salad, but for some reason it didn’t make it back to the hotel room. Some poor guy out there got a salad he didn’t order and is wondering what he’s supposed to do with the box of leaves.
Either that or the restaurant staff are having a good chuckle: “Can you BELIEVE that guy? Wanted a salad? Who wants a salad when you can have FRIED PIE?”


I know you’ve been wondering: “You’re in Memphis and you didn’t go to Graceland???”. Don’t worry, my friend. Tomorrow is another day.