Quin's Progress


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Can You Dig It?

My Road Trip Route

My Road Trip Route

It has been an action-packed couple of weeks, gentle friends, and may I just say, I’m glad it’s behind me.  I sold my house, and got rid of the vast majority of my stuff in anticipation of the big upcoming adventure.  Moving sucks under the best of circumstances, but trust me, the air traffic control on getting rid of large quantities of crap is way trickier than for just moving it from one house to another.  So exhausting.  Anyhoo, now I’m road trippin’ to Texas, to put my car in my dad’s garage for safekeeping while I’m gallivanting about the globe.  It’s almost 2,000 miles!  I’m giving myself a week to get there, so I can go at an easy pace.

After the Hell Week of moving, every cell in my body was whimpering pathetically in pain, so my first stop was Las Vegas, where I planned to have myself a nice, calm, restorative spa day.  Checked-in to a sexy luxe room at The Cosmopolitan (although the Google Maps mobile app seemed certain that I was, in fact, reserved at the delivery entrance behind the Bellagio–it would not direct me anywhere else).  This room was gorgeous.  However, there had apparently been some fairly significant shenanigans going on in there earlier.  When I got up there, there was a maintenance guy re-hanging the closet door, the bathroom mirror was cracked, the articulating lamp next to the bed was dangling from the wall like a disembodied arm with a compound fracture, and the TV had suffered some kind of blunt force trauma, damaging the LED right in the middle, causing an electric green splotch to appear on the forehead of any face in the center of the screen, as though a radioactive pigeon had been plaguing the set of every show I tried to watch.

Keep Refrigerated!

Keep Refrigerated!

I didn’t complain, though, because I was already kind of on the hotel manager’s watch list after having to tell him that his bell man had, somewhere between my car and my room, lost a small styrofoam cooler containing several capsules of live Typhoid virus, and that he had to find it a.s.a.p., as the virus is vulnerable to the heat (it was 95 degrees out).  I waited until the cooler had been located to tell him that, although the viruses were, indeed, alive, they were deactivated–eunuch viruses, so to speak–not an outbreak waiting to happen.  (These capsules were among a battery of travel vaccines I just got.  The others were all shots, though.  The FDA apparently recalled all the Typhoid vaccine injections; hence, the capsules, which I had to take over the course of a week, and keep refrigerated the whole time, or they would die and be useless.)  He was not amused.

The next day went smoother.  After brunch with bottomless bloody marys, I did this:

SPF 1,000

SPF 1,000 Required!

And then this:

sahra

China Poblano

China Poblano

Followed by dinner at China Poblano, a Chinese-Mexican fusion dream that finally makes it possible for Fernando and me to both have our favorite foods at the same time!  Ooh, it was good, too.  I had a Singapore Sling, chicken flautas with mole sauce, and these really imaginative, scrumptious lamb potstickers under a crispy, demure veil of cumin “lace,” with edible flower blossom garnish.  I’ve never put anything like it in my mouth before, and that’s saying something.  Just look at them!

Lamb Potstickers under crunchy cumin "lace" and chicken flautas

Lamb Potstickers under crunchy cumin “lace” and chicken flautas

After that day of indulgences, I woke up in a much improved, yet saucy mood.  So, I did what anyone would do, and I went……and dug a big hole with an excavator.  Yes, you heard me.  An excavator.

My Steed

My Steed

A Cat 315C excavator, to be exact. There’s this place across the freeway from the Strip, called “Dig This,” that is a sort of heavy equipment playground.  You can actually go and drive a big excavator.  They have bulldozers, too, but I didn’t want to just push things back and forth.  I wanted to dig a trench and pick up tractor tires and stuff.

Safety Sandbox

Roger and the Safety Sandbox

They make you take a breathalizer test first, so they don’t have a bunch of drunks out there ramming into each other.  Then, there’s a little safety class with a cute little demonstration with models in a sandbox.

I'm so pleased to have a new marketable skill!

I’m so pleased to have a new marketable skill!

Then they take you out and put you in the cab of the machine, go over everything again, and hook you up with a headset so Roger, the instructor, can communicate with you the whole time.  (He also has a remote shut-down switch for your machine around his neck, so if you go rogue, he can stop you from crossing the freeway and crashing into the Strip like Godzilla.)

Inside the Cab

Inside the Cab

There's even a hook for your purse in there!

There’s even a hook for your purse!

Never having been inside the cab of an excavator before, it took some getting used to.  It taxes the coordination a bit at first.  This lever moves the boom up and down, that lever extends the arm back and forth, this other one rotates the cab, that one opens and closes the bucket, and those two in the front operate the tracks that move the machine around.  Oh, and there’s a purse hook in there, too, for the ladies.  Very important.

Scoopin'

Scoopin’

Dumpin'

Dumpin’

After a while, I got the hang of it, and I was an excavatin’ fool!  Zooming all over the yard, spinning the cab around, digging trenches…I even won the tire stacking contest.  We even played Excavator Basketball.  It was a hoot and a half, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Carrying a giant tire

Carrying a giant tire

Tire Stacking Champion!

Tire Stacking Champion!

The excavator basketball version of dribbling

The excavator basketball version of dribbling

Swish!

Swish!

I got so carried away, I kept digging at that trench, and digging digging digging, until look what I did!

Excavator gone wild!

Excavator gone wild!

Just teasing, Roger pulled the plug on me long before I excavated across Interstate 15.  But, I did drive on to the Grand Canyon the following day.  I hadn’t been since I was a kid.  I’m sure it hasn’t changed much since then, but I don’t recall the sight of it, coming into view as you crest the trail up at the rim, having such an effect on me back then.  You’re walking up the trail, la-de-da, looking at the wildflowers and the squirrels busking for food, and then…the earth’s mouth opens up in front of you.  It’s a sight that is very hard to turn away from.  It feels disrespectful, almost, to turn and go, not knowing if or when you are going to see it again.  So, I just stood there, taking it in, until the sun was long gone.

South Rim Grand Canyon

South Rim
Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon

Go at sunset, if you get the chance

Go at sunset, if you get the chance


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Korean Soap Operas Will Change Your Life

This is Chilwu

This is Chilwu

I have been addicted to Korean soap operas for years, since long before K-Pop mania started sweeping the world.  Ask anyone.  It all started one day when I was sitting on the floor folding laundry, and my TiVo went to change the channel to record something, but the receiver misread the signal and changed the channel to KBS, the Korean Broadcasting Something-or-other.  There was this weird show on that kind of looked like a Korean version of Xena: Warrior Princess.  I was too lazy to get off the floor to find the remote to change the channel, so I just watched it as I folded the laundry.  It was called “Chilwu the Mighty” or “Strongest Chilwu” depending on who’s translating, and it was…hilarious.  It was set in the 1600s, and Chilwu was this lowly civil servant guy who was a masked mercenary ninja dude by night.

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.05.21 PMScreen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.05.35 PMIn that episode, three little girls paid him in rice cakes to kill a “monster”–that turned out to be an elephant–who had supposedly killed their father.  None of them, including Chilwu, had ever seen an elephant before, so they didn’t know what it was.  Turns out, some emperor in China had given the noble of this region the elephant as a gift, and because the nobleman didn’t know what to do with it, he gave the elephant a government job as a magistrate in this little town where the little girls were from.  (I know, right!?)Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.06.17 PM

Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.04.24 PMThe evil magistrate who got demoted to make room for the elephant was using the elephant to trick the townspeople into paying super high taxes–which they paid in bags of rice–because he said the elephant ate so much rice that everyone had to pay more to support it.  So, the poor townspeople were starving, having to give up all their rice to this elephant.  But, in actuality, the evil magistrate was taking the rice and selling it on at a profit that he pocketed, of course, unbeknownst to the townspeople.Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.07.16 PMScreen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.07.25 PM

The beleaguered townspeople were, one by one, trying to kill the elephant to ease their tax burden, and allegedly getting killed by the elephant in the process.  Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.09.18 PMBut, it was the evil magistrate’s henchmen who were killing them with a big mallet made to look like an elephant foot, and blaming the poor innocent elephant in order to scare people into compliance.  Right.  So, fast forward to Chilwu’s entrance on the scene, and they discover that the elephant eats grass, not rice, and the scam was revealed.  Screen Shot 2013-06-23 at 1.17.01 PMIn the ensuing ninja fight between Chilwu and the evil magistrate’s henchmen, Chilwu vanquished them, and the elephant broke loose and trampled the evil magistrate in a moment of perfect cinematic justice.

The Evil Magistrate, about to get it from the elephant

The Evil Magistrate, about to get it from the elephant

It was cheesy and silly and absolutely awesome.  I had to have more.  But KBS and TiVo had different schedule information, so I ended up having to record three to five hour blocks of KBS in order to capture an episode of Chilwu, and scanning through the recordings to find it.  Of course, this got me hooked on the shows that came on before and after Chilwu….and an addiction was born.

Smoosh!  Die evil magistrate!

Smoosh! Die evil magistrate!

KBS was just a gateway drug to dramafever.com, crunchyroll.com, dramacrazy.net….oh yes, the sources are many.  At any given time, I’m watching between three and five Korean serials.  I usually have at least one modern drama, a romance or romantic comedy, and a historical going, you know, so depending on my mood, there’s always something.  The production values are usually very high, the plot twists oh-so twisted, and the people are very pretty.  Plus, it’s low commitment, as most of them have only 20 or so episodes.  Some have a lot more, but most are around 20 or 30, so it’s not like American soaps, where, once you start watching, you’re on the hook for a lifetime.

One of the most fascinating things to me about watching Korean soaps, especially the ones set in modern times, is the background stuff that is just understood by the Korean audience, but is so odd and new to me.  I am constantly pestering my Korean friends with questions like: “why do Korean women eat rice in ice water for breakfast?” and “what’s with the Princess Leia towel hats Koreans wear at the sauna?”  It’s fascinating.  Some folks have no furniture in their bedrooms, and sleep on the floor; dainty, beautiful women talk unabashedly about how they poop and fart; single straight guys sleep in the same bed together without awkwardness; you always eat seaweed soup on your birthday; there are these red canvas tents on the sidewalk where people go to get drunk on soju; “side dishes” are more important in meals than the entree…oh, and the sauna!  Ahhhh…the sauna.  This is big.

The awesome Korean sauna towel hat

The awesome Korean sauna towel hat

Koreans love the “jimjilbang,” a.k.a. the sauna.  In almost every show I watch, if it’s set in modern times, people are always going to the sauna.  They go there to hang out with friends, to nap, to eat, to get massages, to sweat out a cold, to get their dead skin scrubbed off…it’s an integral part of their culture.  There’s even a talk show set in a sauna, and the hosts and all the guests wear “spa clothes,” i.e., shorts and t-shirts provided by the sauna, and the ubiquitous Korean sauna towel hat.  My friend Yvette is from Seoul, and her daughter showed me how to make the sauna hat.  It goes something like this:

Not one to be left out of the fun, I did my research and found a few Korean saunas here in the Bay Area.  Oh yes, we have them!  There’s one in San Francisco, one in San Leandro, and a couple in Santa Clara.  I personally don’t like the one in San Francisco, so I usually go to the one in San Leandro or, if I’m going with Yvette, we go to one in Santa Clara, which is probably the best one up here.  That one has a bunch of special sauna rooms, like a clay room, an ice room, and a salt room, where you dig yourself in to a thick layer of salt on the floor and bake like a salt-baked sea bass until your pores open up and gush sweat like faucets.  Oh, so good!  It’s pretty no-frills, but oooohhh, do you feel good when you leave.  Although, I have to say, after my first time having a traditional Korean sauna scrub treatment, I practically needed crisis counseling.  It’s not for the faint of heart or the modest.  Leave your body issues at home.  Seriously.

The "treatment area" at the Korean sauna

The “treatment area” at the Korean sauna

After I got naked and got all pruney in the various steam rooms and hot and cold pools, a paunchy, middle-aged Korean woman in leopard print bra and panties came and hooked her claw-like fingers around my wrist, and dragged me to the “treatment area,” and threw me on what looked like a morgue table.  She then proceeded to douse me with a bucket of water, and start vigorously scrubbing me all over with a mitten that I swear to Madonna must have been made of sandpaper.  But that wasn’t the traumatic part, that actually felt pretty good.  What I wasn’t prepared for was how they get all up in your business with this scrub.  I’m not kidding, people, they go EVERYWHERE.  That little scrub lady threw my leg over her shoulder and scrubbed my bikini zone, practically sanded my nipples off, and flipped me over and scrubbed my ass (even between the cheeks)!  I was so shocked that I just started laughing, and she threw a towel over my face to quiet me down and kept scrubbing.  She scrubbed my earlobes, the tips of my toes, my armpits…basically, every centimeter of my body.  She then doused me with another bucket of water, and started over with a mitten of a finer gauge sandpaper.

These are the scrubber mitts they use at the sauna

These are the scrubber mitts they use at the sauna

Dead skin was flying off of me like sawdust off of a piece of timber being sent through a band saw.  It was gross and viscerally satisfying all at the same time.  Once she had given me the full Karen Silkwood treatment, she  grated up a cucumber and patted the pulp all over my face, and then yanked my head up to the top edge of the table and washed my hair like she was pounding laundry on a washboard in a creek.  Then she squirted hot soy milk all over me from a condiment bottle, and sent me to the shower to rinse off, before she slathered me with Kirkland brand baby oil, climbed on top of me and gave me a bone crushing massage with her elbows and knees.  When it was over, I was all red like I had a sunburn, a bit shaky from the violation/embarrassment, noodley from the massage/beating, and missing a weird mole that had been growing for a while on my collarbone.  I was also soft as a Swedish baby bunny’s bottom.  All over.  I couldn’t keep my hands off myself!  And the softness lasted for, like, three weeks!  Needless to say, I was hooked, and I’m a regular customer now.  I go every four weeks, without fail, to keep the barnacles away.  Oh, it feels so good!  I don’t even care about the Korean scrub ladies cackling away in Korean over my big ass; I know they’re talking about me, but I figure it’s their right.  If my job was to scrub dead skin off of people’s behinds, I bet I’d want to crack jokes about it, too, just to make it more bearable.

I didn't take this picture, but you get the idea

I didn’t take this picture, but you get the idea

Ooh, I almost forgot!  Some of the Korean saunas are open 24 hours, and you can even spend the night at those.  I noticed in a few of the Korean soaps I watch that people would sleep at the sauna when they went out of town, instead of getting a hotel.  You put your stuff in a locker, enjoy the sauna, have a meal in the cafe, watch tv in the common area, and then toss a mat on the heated floor in the sleeping area and sack out.  All for the regular price of admission to the sauna, which is nothing compared to even a cheap motel.  I asked Yvette if this really was common in Korea, and she said it is, and that there are a few Korean saunas in Los Angeles’ Koreatown that allow it.  “Shut up!” I said, “we are so going.”  So, last week, Yvette was going to L.A. to pick up her daughter from college anyway, so we drove down together and had ourselves a full blown Korean sauna slumber party.  We spent the first night at the Wi Spa, which is the one everyone knows and writes about–you see it mentioned in the L.A. Times on occasion.  It’s new and fancy and huge.  I didn’t like it.  The hot pools didn’t look that clean, and most of the people there were non-Asian, and didn’t seem to get the whole “peace and quiet and relaxation” concept, and were yapping away and on their cell phones and generally being obnoxious and inconsiderate to everyone around them.  Plus, the heated floor in the sleeping area was so hot that I was sweating buckets, and had to get up and go sleep on the floor in the ladies’ locker room.  It was not restful.  But the next night, we stayed at the smaller, less well known Grand Spa, which I liked a lot.  Super clean, nice facilities, comfy rest area, and they had little separate sleeping rooms that could accommodate only about five sleeping mats at the most, so we commandeered one for ourselves, and had more peace and quiet.  Although, this woman wandered into the room in the middle of the night and dragged off the extra mats in there, and yelled at us for bogarting them.  I guess we deserved that.  They had a little cafe, and a tv room, and I think I was the only non-Asian there, so it was really quiet and orderly.  It was nice.  I had a scrub and a massage, so they waived the entry fee, meaning my overnight stay cost nothing!  But, even if I had paid the entry fee, it would have only been $20 for the night.  You really can’t beat it.  The next morning, I was so excited when I woke up and heard this little old Korean lady talking on her cell phone, and I could understand what she was saying!  I thought “oh, my years of watching Korean soap operas have paid off, the language is finally sinking in!”  But, then I realized, she was speaking Spanish with a very heavy Korean accent.  That’s why I could understand her!  Oh well.

Blow-Your-Mind Dumplings at Myung In in K-Town L.A.

Blow-Your-Mind Dumplings at Myung In in K-Town L.A.

In between sauna sleepovers, we ate and shopped our way through Koreatown.  There are tons of little malls, with all sorts of shops and restaurants.  We had the most badass dumplings I’ve ever put in my mouth at Myung In Man Du, which I knew about from a recent episode of Anthony Bourdain’s show.  The artist David Choe took Bourdain to this “man du” shop for dumplings, and now I know why.  Big and pillowy and fresh and perfectly seasoned, we ate shrimp dumplings and chicken dumplings and pork dumplings and red bean dumplings until we were stuffed like dumplings and about to pop.  (Choe also took Bourdain to Sizzler and made him meatball tacos from the buffet, which I thought was hilarious, but we didn’t do that.)

These should be sold as a set, don't you think?

These should be sold as a set, don’t you think?

IMG_2818

We went to the beauty supply and bought face masks, and the music store for karaoke practice music and K-Pop socks, and had our feet reflexologied, and went to the bakery and had fresh Korean red bean donuts, which are way better than they sound.

Patbingsu

Patbingsu

"Miss Coffee" in K-Town L.A.

“Miss Coffee” in K-Town L.A.

We ended the day at “Miss Coffee,” where we did not have coffee, but “patbingsu,” a Korean shaved ice dessert.  The house classic came with berries, bananas, chocolate sauce and the ever-present red bean paste over green tea flavored shaved ice, all served in an 8-cup Pyrex measuring cup.   No individual bowls, everyone just dug right in.  I must say, it was delicious!  Lighter than ice cream, but not as crystalline as a sno-cone.  I’m a fan.

I’ve had Korean friends for a long time, but until I expressed interest in their culture, they didn’t think to include me in all of the wacky, wonderful Korean rituals that are part of their daily world.  I never would have known to express any specific curiosity or interest had I not gotten addicted to Korean soap operas, as a result of being too lazy to get off my butt to get the remote that day I was folding laundry on the floor, and Chilwu ninja-chopped his way into my life.  So, thank you, Chilwu.  I am forever changed, and eternally grateful for it!  Kamsahamnida!


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Bathtime Drama

I shoulda stayed in bed yesterday

I shoulda stayed in bed yesterday

Yesterday, I had a senior moment and accidentally overflowed my bathtub and flooded the bathroom, and caused a Niagara Falls of delicious lemony bubble bath foam to cascade down into the downstairs neighbor’s unit.  It wasn’t a shining moment.  By the time I got everything cleaned up, and made sure everything was okay downstairs, I seriously needed that bubble bath–for olfactory as well as nerve-related reasons–but alas, I didn’t have a dry towel left in the house.  So, I threw a load of soaked towels in the wash, poured myself a drink, and watched Bridget Jones’ Diary while I waited for the towels to be done.  When I finally was able to get in the tub, I couldn’t bear the sight of any more bubbles, so I opted for this vivid blue-green jasmine scented stuff, and a mystery face mask, both of which I found at the Nijiya Market in Japantown.

From the picture on the package, I figured the item on the left was a face mask, but the one on the right could be a closet dehumidifier, for all I know.

From the picture on the package, I figured the item on the left was a face mask, but the one on the right could be a closet dehumidifier, for all I know.

I love going there and buying something that I have no idea what it is, and bringing it home and figuring it out; is it food or furniture polish?  You never know until you try!  I have had some interesting trials and errors on these expeditions.  But, I figured this one was probably not food, given the color and scent, but you can’t ever be sure in that place, particularly since they tend to stock cleaning products, cat food and marmalade right next to each other on the same shelf.  Anyhoo, I’m pretty confident this one is actually a bath soak, but it could be carpet freshener, I don’t really know for sure.  But doesn’t it make pretty bath water?  So far, it hasn’t given me a rash, so I’m going with bath salt.  We shall see.  Cross your fingers.


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Yes, Dad, I’ve Actually Been to Iceland

DSC03189When I was in Alaska with my dad a couple weeks ago, and we were on that 12-hour train ride from Anchorage to Fairbanks, I was chatting with the people sitting across the aisle from us, and they asked if I had ever seen the Aurora Borealis before.  I said no, but that I had tried to see them when I was in Iceland a few years ago, and they hadn’t cooperated.  My dad perked up when I said that, and interrupted and said “You went to Iceland?”  I said yes.  Pause.  Skeptical look from Dad.  And then he exclaimed: “In your dreams!”

That’s right.  My own dad called shenanigans on me.

Either he forgot about my Iceland trip, or maybe my mom just never told him where I was, I don’t know.  But he didn’t believe me.  So, Daddy, this one is for you.

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik

Hallgrímskirkja in Reykjavik

A few years ago, I had to go to Germany for a memorial service for my German mom (the matriarch of the host family I lived with for a year when I was an exchange student in Germany in the 80s).  At the time, Iceland Air flew between San Francisco and Frankfurt, and would let you do a stopover in Iceland for up to a week without charging you extra airfare.  (They still do allow stopovers on the way to Europe, they just don’t fly out of SFO anymore.)  So, I stopped in Reykjavik for a week.

Reykjavik

Reykjavik

Iceland is groovy and strange.  In the best possible way.  There’s steam coming out of the ground everywhere, and glaciers on the horizon.  Two-thirds of Iceland’s residents live in and around the city of Reykjavik, and they all believe in fairies, but they call them “hidden people.”  They have hydrogen-fueled cars and buses that cut greenhouse emissions by over 50 percent.

The Pearl

The Pearl

There’s a revolving restaurant and a Viking wax museum–“The Pearl”–under a big, blue glass dome on top of some massive tanks that hold natural, geothermically heated water that heats the city’s buildings.  How awesome is that?

DSC02933There’s a really vibrant art scene that is weird and wonderful, if a little dark.  There’s a kind of a seafaring-depression-disembodied-baby-appendage theme happening, that takes a few days and more than a little alcohol to get used to.

Scary baby arms and legs coming out of balls of spider webs--the stuff of nightmares!

Scary baby arms and legs coming out of balls of spider webs–the stuff of nightmares!

Sólfar, or Sun Voyager

Sólfar, or Sun Voyager

Hér stoppa the bus

The bus stoppa here

The people of Iceland are all on a first name basis.  They even refer to the president of the country by his first name.  To be fair, the population of the whole country is about a third of San Francisco’s, so they might actually all know each other.  But really, it’s because Iceland’s culture has a naming convention that indicates the immediate father–and nowadays, sometimes the mother–of the person, rather than the family lineage name.

I don't know what those little donuty knot thingies are called, but they were delicious and I ate more of them than I am proud of

I don’t know what those little donutty knot thingies are called, but they were delicious and I ate more of them than I am proud of

So, a person’s last name is their father’s first name as the prefix, and the word “son” or “daughter” as the suffix.  So, for example, because my aforementioned dad’s name is Henry, my name would be Quin Henrysdaughter, or in Icelandic, Henrysdottir.  If my mom, whose name was Carole, had been a single mother, I’d have been Quin Carolesdottir, if she was a feminist and didn’t want to follow the traditional patronymic convention.  If I had a brother named, oh, say, Theotis, his name would be Theotis Henrysson or Carolesson.  Get it?  Okay, so, since that is not especially helpful in identifying people by family line, and since so many people have the same first names, folks just kind of go by their first names in Iceland and leave it at that.  I kinda love that.

The music scene is epic.  It’s not all Björk and Sigur Rós–not that there’s anything wrong with either of them, I love them both.  But if you want to go sample some really unique, indie musicians, who aren’t imitating whoever the last big thing was, go to Reykjavik, preferably during one of their music festivals.  There are several, including “Dark Days” during January, when the sun never comes up.  Which explains why some of it sounds like this:

I discovered that little gem by giving a music store clerk my American Express card and telling him to pick out six cd’s for me that represented the latest from the local music scene, and he gave me this one by Mugi Mugison (so, if you recall, that means Mugi’s dad was named Mugi, too).  Don’t feel too bad for me, though, because that clerk also introduced me to Emiliana Torrini long before she broke out internationally, and the group Leaves, who are eery and dreamy and lovely and always put me in the mood to make soup (I would post a video for you, but all the videos I can find are geographically blocked.  If you want to have a listen, start with the album “The Angela Test,” if you can find it).

DSC03138The steam coming out of the ground that I mentioned before?  Not kidding even a little bit.  It’s everywhere.  Spurts, geysers and clouds of the oh-so-fresh-smelling stuff (note sarcastic tone).

Steam coming out of the ground

Steam coming out of the ground

DSC03052

The locals pile up the rocks in these formations to mark where "the hidden people" live, so others will know not to bother them

The locals pile up the rocks in these formations to mark where “the hidden people” live, so others will know not to bother them

There’s a big geothermic power plant outside Reykjavic, and the runoff from the plant sifts through the volcanic rock of the Reykjanes Peninsula, and bubbles up to form a hot springs lake called Bláa lónið, or Blue Lagoon.  The water is about 100 degrees Fahrenheit and is very rich in silica, which  clouds the water and forms a thick, silky, white coating on the sharp lava surface.  It feels kind of like bathtub caulk to the touch, but you can scoop it up and smear it all over your face and body.  Which people do.

Bláa lónið, or Blue Lagoon

Bláa lónið, or Blue Lagoon

They go there specifically to cover themselves in that muck, and let it dry to chalk on their skin. There is even a skin clinic at Blue Lagoon, as the silica mud is supposed to be great for psoriasis and such.  I don’t know about that, but I can tell you, that weird, milky blue lake was ethereal and spooky, and I had to soak in it until I turned into a prune.  It was seriously one of my favorite parts of the trip.  They have massage therapists who will come out into the lake with floaty rafts for you to lie on, and massage you in the water.  Oh, and the hot dogs at the snack bar were ridiculously good–they put those crunchy french fried onions on them and stick it down with curry ketchup (trust me, it was better than its sounds).  But, really, the best place to get those special Reykjavik hot dogs with the crunchy onions is a little kiosk down by the docks.  I kid you not, the line at that place at midnight is so long, you’ll kick yourself for not buying two when you finally get to the window, because when you taste how amazing they are, you’ll have to get back in that line.  That made more sense in my head, sorry.  The hot dogs are good, okay?  Really good.  But I digress….

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Thingvellir

DSC03200Outside Reykjavik, icy, crystal clear rivers and streams runoff from glaciers and cut through a vast, open plain where the site of the first Viking congress at Thingvellir is preserved.  The ground opens up to give way to the veils of a giant waterfall that falls down, into the earth, instead of off of a bluff above.  The crater of a live volcano forms a punchbowl for a preternaturally marble green lake.  It’s a land of incomparable and curious beauty.

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Iceland’s heavy volcanic activity is due its location right on the mid-Atlantic Ridge, where the European continental plate meets the North American continental plate.  The plates are spreading apart, and new earth is literally bulging up from the crack.

The crack between the European and the American Continental Plates

The crack between the European and the American Continental Plates

You can walk over a rickety bridge from one continent to the other.  The day I was there, the bridge had a camouflage net over it, because Clint Eastwood was filming “Flags of our Fathers” on the beach, and they couldn’t very well have me in my purple and green coat and giant blonde pony tail skipping across a white bridge in the background of what was supposed to be World War II Iwo Jima.  Although, in my humble opinion, that movie could only have benefitted from a scene like that.  Just sayin’.  Whatever.

The bridge between the continental plates.  Note Clint Eastwood's camouflage net

The bridge between the continental plates. Note Clint Eastwood’s camouflage net

I still crawled over the bridge on all fours, though, just so I could say I crossed a bridge between the continents.  Now that I think of it, I’m going to have to watch that extremely long movie again, and keep an eye out for that bridge.  Just in case.  You never know!  At least, this time, I can watch it on video, so I can pause it and go to the Snyrtingar.

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Well, Slap My Face and Call Me Sally

Flotation Tank

Flotation Tank

You all know how much I love wacky spa/beauty treatments.  Nothing against a nice aromatherapy facial or Swedish massage, those are lovely, but my taste runs a little more toward the outré. The experience is really what draws me, more than the potential effects.  Once, I read in a magazine about a “Past Life Regression Massage” treatment available in NYC, and I actually flew there just to do it. (Well, I also got to visit my bestie, James, while I was at it.)  Basically, a massage therapist massages your feet while a hypnotherapist sits by your head and tries to get you to recall your past life.  It was a hoot and half, and I don’t even believe in past lives.  And then, there was the “Mayan Experience” treatment in Playa del Carmen, where you lay in a hammock and a girl in a traditional dress lays on the ground underneath and kicks you in the back.  All I could think the whole time was how that girl was going to go home laughing that night, saying to her family “Guess what this crazy Gringa paid me two hundred bucks to do to her!”  So far, I’ve only found one weird spa treatment that is just too out there for me, and that is the snake massage in Israel, where you get naked and they drop a big tangled cluster of about a dozen snakes on your back and let them unwind themselves and crawl all over you.  No thanks.  I would never stop screaming.  But, flotation tanks, flesh-eating fish pedicures, bird poop facials, Korean herbal hoo-ha steam treatments…bring it.

Tata the Thai Face Slapper

Tata the Thai Face Slapper

Well, imagine my excitement when I found out that, right here in San Francisco, we have the only genuine, certified Thai “face slapper” in the U.S.!  Oh yes, you read that right.  Face slapper.  Her name is “Rassameesaitarn New Series World,” but she goes by “Tata.”  She and her husband, Mawin, run Face Slapping Natural, where Tata will use her extensive training, and the back of her hand, to slap the years right off  your face.

Five dollars, please!

Five dollars, please!

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  Several of my friends offered to slap me for free when I told them I was doing this.  Fernando even offered to pay me to let him take a shot.  But, none of them are certified by the master in Bangkok, so I had to make an appointment with the real thing.  And I am so glad I did!  From the moment you walk through the door at Face Slapping Natural, you know you’ve entered another world.  It’s a festival of bright colors and mirrors, with giant images of Thai elephants in yoga poses.  Tata herself is a work of art.  Petite and soft-spoken, she wears lamé MC Hammer pants with t-shirts, and each time I saw her, she had on a different headdress, each one rivaling a Rose Bowl Parade float.  The first one had about five full-size stargazer lilies on it, and a gossamer butterfly that was as big as an open volume of the Encyclopedia Britannica.  The one pictured here, with the parrot, was the fourth and final one, and I wasn’t even sure for a minute if it was a real parrot or not.  (It’s not.)  Oh, and she wears a surgical mask all the time, because she has allergies.

You have to pay five dollars for the initial consultation, and they mean it, they collect that fiver up front.  But once you hand it over, the two of them take it to a big box in the center of the room that has holes cut in it like swiss cheese, and say a Thai prayer over it, drop the five dollar bill into the box, and bow.  Then  you can begin.

The Slapping Room

The Slapping Room-Where the Magic Happens

The actual treatment takes place in a special, mirrored salon equipped with TVs, on which Mawin plays whatever music video Tata is feeling that day.  My first time there, it was Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” and something by Justin Bieber.  So, you sit on a tree stump stool, Tata stands behind you with her hands on your shoulders and fixes your gaze in the mirror.  When she’s ready, she gives Mawin the signal, he turns on the music, and she starts to bounce…and then dance around you…and then bitch slap you to the beat of the music.  I swear, I will never hear “Single Ladies” again without flinching.  But once you get used to it, it isn’t bad.  She has a definite technique, and it doesn’t hurt as much as it’s just kind of jarring.  She uses the back of her hand, not the open palm, so it doesn’t sting, and she is very careful to use the fleshy side of her hand over any boney areas, like your brow bones.

For me, Tata said I needed “contouring” more than wrinkle reduction, so she concentrated most on my chipmunk cheeks.  By the fourth session, she was really letting me have it.  And you know what?  After I finished my four session slapping series, a number of people asked me, without prompting, if I had lost weight, saying my face looked thinner.  Tscha.  Just sayin’.  And Tata says, if you rinse your face with cold water every day, the effects should last a year.  Not bad, considering Botox is only good for a few months, and costs way more!  Ahem…or, so I’ve heard.

Anyway, at the end of my last session, Tata asked my permission to draw my eyebrows in better, because she said their sparseness had been bothering her.  So, she drew me some honest to goodness Thai-brows to match hers, but that kind of made me look like a maniacal ventriloquist’s dummy.  But, I thanked her for them anyway.  As I was leaving, Mawin told me to check back with them soon, because Tata is going back to Thailand to get certified in “Butt Punching,” to firm and shape the derriere, and to prevent what Mawin called “Cellu-butt.”  If that’s not a real word, it should be, because it’s about as disturbingly graphic as someone promoting butt punching services could hope for.  So…you know I’ll be back.