Wednesday, November 28, 2007 ;
Just back from Chicago, the vacation trip made possible by US Airways' free travel vouchers. :-)
Not exactly the best time for a vacation there, since the Windy City was truly in her element at this time of the year, with the strong gales from over the huge Lake Michigan bitterly blowing through the city. We also braved the snow on Thanksgiving Day itself while watching the parade along State Street, but it was a great trip!
Why? I always felt that vacations are most enjoyable when you go with the right company, so in this case, being with my family is wonderful. It is even more enhanced when, as a family, you travel and get to meet up with friends. It is even better when those friends are from back home, and you are in a foreign land and haven't seen home for a loooooong time. It is super ultimately terrific when those friends are friends that go a long time back, and you haven't met them or kept in touch for around 14 years
So, I have Facebook to thank, for reuniting my old friend Shawn Vasoo and me. haha. Just a short time before our family left for Chicago, I happened to meet Shawn on FB, and found that he is there, working as a medical resident in Rush Medical Center.
We flew to Chicago on Tues, 20th, got stuck at Phoenix due to bad weather at the Chicago O Hare Airport... (apparently, they need to have a safe interval of planes landing when the visibility is poor, and all the flights into Chicago were lined up and pushed back). So our flight got delayed by 2hrs, then 2.5hrs then 3 hrs and so on!! With the kids tired and restless, it was a tough wait at the airport indeed. Fortunately they didn't cry or whine, and there was wireless connection, so we let them play computer games and watch YouTube clips.
We arrived slightly past midnight, then took a cab to our hotel, and finally got checked into our room at 1.30am.
The next day we made our way to the Field Museum of Natural History, which I had wanted most to go, so we had to do it first. Then Shawn came to pick us up for dinner after that. It was raining heavily then, and he drove us to Chinatown, to this Malaysian restaurant called Penang. It was so good that we returned to Penang 2 more times over the next few days by ourselves. :-)
We had kangkong, walnut butter prawns, roti canai (like prata), and a Teochew style steamed fish. Delicious and authentic. Drank chinese tea with the meal too. ha.
We chatted at length and even had a long theological discussion. It was so long (at least 1 hr), that the waitress came by a couple of times to ask if we were done. I didn't participate too much towards the end, cos ds2 was running ard the restaurant by then, and I had to go after him.
Below: when ds2 was still happily in his high chair "reading" the menu. He likes to pretend he is ordering food and he likes the Chinese characters especially.
ds1 loved the roti canai while ds2 liked the Hainanese chicken rice. Above right: after dessert, we took a pic before leaving. Shawn had pulut hitam while dh had ice kachang. I was too stuffed to have dessert. I gorged down too much during dinner already. :-) Shawn insisted on treating us, so we foot the tip.
The next day, after the Thanksgiving Parade, we tried out the "El" or "L" (which is the elevated trains, somewhat like our MRT but it was built in the 19th century). We took it to Polk station which is at Rush and the University of Illinois-Chicago. Shawn's apartment is there. He picked us up and brought us to something like Vietnamese town.
And again, we had such a great meal. I had beef pho. We insisted on treating this time. How can he treat all the time?!?
Below left: an appetizer we had at the Viet restaurant, can't remember the name, but it had mung beans in it.
Below right: we also bought some steam cakes and mooncakes from the Viet bakery.
That was such a fortunate thing (the cakes), cos when Shawn sent us back to the hotel, and we tried to get dinner later on, every single shop, including the hotel room service, was closed for Thanksgiving! We tried pizza deliveries and Chinese deliveries but most were closed too. Penang was open was our hotel was too far, so they couldn't deliver there. We then ate our steamcakes, mooncakes, milk and cereal for dinner. On Thanksgiving!
Thanksgiving must be a bigger event than CHinese New Year for CHinese then? Cos even CNY eve or Chu Yi, there'd still be some eateries open.
We did enjoy watching TV in the hotel room though. Watched so many cable movies in that short period of time. Was great having zero housework to do also. hehe. Can you blame me for planning many vacations then? :-)
On Sunday night, we were invited to Shawn's place for dinner. He was going to cook for all of us and some of his friends at Rush. I was a little surprised cos he claimed that he didn't know how to cook till he arrived in Chicago and that was only in June this year.
His studio apartment was cosy and ds1 napped on his bed too (above). Shawn had invited 6 others, all Sporeans working at Rush. 2 of them are pharmacists: Priscilla has been in Chicago for 6 yrs already, and completed her PhD in pharmacy, fellowship etc here, now lecturing in the U of I. Christine just arrived and will do 2 yrs of study and work here at the U of I also. She also cooked a number of dishes that were very yummy, like the Dodo fishballs she said she brought from Spore, and chicken. Shawn cooked beef stew, steamed fish and dou miao.
Kamal is a doctor at Rush also, and his wife Ernie, and their 2 sons, Matthew (7yo) and Michael (8mths old). Below: the group photo we took just before Kamal and family left.
The rest of us stayed and had dessert. I bought Eli's cheesecake from Forest Preserve Drive (thanks to my student FQ from the 01S73 batch who highly recommended it) and pumpkin pie that Pris brought.
We chatted about all kinds of things too. Most funny was how we related the different ways we say things in Spore and how people didn't understand them here.
Eg: Shawn said he told another doctor that the patient is well and can go back. But here, they would be puzzled at that, and asked him "Go back where?". For them, either "go home" or "be discharged" would be what they say.
Pris related an eg at a gathering where she said "To go outside to eat" when they were all crowded in the kitchen. Meaning to eat in the living room or whatever. But the friends were confused cos they thought they had to go outside the house to eat.
Lots of other very funny examples.
We concluded that it is not right or wrong English but just how differently people use it in different countries. Below is the group photo taken after we had dessert.
Pris and Christine also knew a lot of my friends. Good old Singapore is so small that everyone will surely know someone from somewhere. I had several friends who studied pharmacy and were Christine's trainees. Then Linda Sim is Pris' classmate in NUS.
They were curious to find out how Shawn and I got to know each other. We said we were classmates in Sec school. But they were even more puzzled cos he was from RI and I was from NYGH. We let them guess, and finally they found out we were classmates at MOE lang center. During my time, we had to travel there 2 days a week after school. From 4.30pm to 6.30pm we would be at Newton, studying Malay language. haha. And for foreign lang, mostly there'd be many many classes in Sec1 but many will keep dropping out till only a few are left to take it at O levels.
Especially for Malay lang, there were only 4 or 6 of us left at Sec 4, so we did get to know each other much better. PLaying congkak, making ketupat, memorising malay proverbs, eating the great food at the prizegiving ceremonies each yr... those were some memories we rehashed... I also attended Malay camp, which was a combined camp between those who took Higher Malay and those who took it as a 3rd lang like me. That camp was tough, cos we were only allowed to speak in Malay, but I learned and gained so much from it. We played Malay games, put up Malay skits and ate with our hands like the Malays did. Also made lots of Malay friends then.
And Shawn remembered how we used to rush to eat the French and Japanese delicacies first, when there were prizegiving ceremonies, cos there were such yummy French pastries. After stuffing ourselves then we went back to our own Malay booth, and ate the curry puffs and kuih muih. hehe.
Then on Monday night, the eve of our departure, Kamal invited Shawn and us over for dinner. Their house was so beautiful, decorated and furnished with lots of stuff from Barang Barang (since their relocation to Chicago was paid for by the hospital). It was very Bali-themed. Ernie also cooked Indonesian style Nasi Lemak (she's indonesian), fried keropok, samosa and fishball-meatball-tofu soup. Yumyum.
Kamal bought power ranger toys for the 2 boys and a Bionicle for Matt, so the 2 of them played together in the basement (below), before and after dinner, so we adults had lots of time to chat.
Matthew is very adorable and smart. He was the one to welcome us when we arrived, opening the door and introducing ard his house like a good host. Then he even brought the kids to sit at the kids' table, poured milk for them, brought out some chips and served them! I also later learnt from Ernie that he put on the suit and tie himself, just to welcome us. So cute!
And oh, he put together the Gardunka (spellling correct?) Bionicle thingy all by himself in a record short period of time. Impressive.
Forgot to take group pic at their house. After dinner, we had biscuits and tea. What biscuits? Khong Guan! Kamal opened his cabinet, and there were piles and piles of KG biscuits of various kind stacked up together! We all laughed when Ernie said he loved them and was the local shop's most loyal customer. Kamal insisted on giving us 2 packets to bring home after he learnt we can't find any here. Ernie also gave us some clementines (very sweet) and keropok (pic above). Great! Next yr CNY I can invite friends over already, can fry all those keropok...
We also had a long chat together, and found out that Kamal was from HC! 85S7... However, he didn't have very good memories of his JC life. I think hc at that time was indeed very "cheena" and he probably would be rather left out. Let's hope our generation and future generations would be more inclusive of minority ethnic groups, and be more considerate towards their feelings!
I would understand this well, I think. I've got an Indian brother-in-law and soon (in a few DAYS!) will have an Indian-Chinese niece. So I definitely hope she'll have lots of friends, be they Chinese, Indian, Malay, Eurasian or whatever!
Friends are very important. Look how they made our vacation so enjoyable.
rainbows every day, do not worry for the morrow