Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Bean Pole

Seen at South Korea's Incheon International Airport:

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Fake Plastic Food

(continued from Starvation)

I had been on the plane for four hours and sixteen minutes before the food cart finally came.

My tray table has been folded down even before I saw the food cart come out of the galley. You can hear the clacking of the trays coming down, fast and hard. It was like dominoes or the wave in a football field; you hear one person fold down their tray and everybody else starts folding down theirs. Sound travels faster than the aroma of beef, which came several minutes later.

I almost didn't care what the food was going to be. It was going to be fake and processed even in its afterlife, hermetically sealed in tiny white plastic coffins with a see-through lid, like Snow White. Normally, it would be chicken or beef unless you're vegetarian, then they give you a cardboard tray. I hear it's very rich in fiber.

Once, a few years ago, after I bought my tickets online, the screen asked me if I had special dietary restrictions. Most of the time, I can only eat maybe a small portion of what's on my tray. I can't eat the dessert or the side dish because usually it would have some kind of dairy. Sometimes, there is also cheese in the salad or cream in the dressing. I figured, this is great! I would get a tray where I can eat everything! I typed "No Dairy" in the blank space.

On that trip, the flight attendant came by and confirmed that I was the one who ordered the special tray. I was excited; I was the first one to be served. She came back with a tray with a shiny metal cover.

The flight attendant pulled up cover to reveal a succulent, head of lettuce. Ok, I am exaggerating. It wasn't a head of lettuce, but there was definitely a lot of lettuce there, sprinkled with lots of carrots. I hate carrots.

Back to my current flight, the Korean Airlines flight attendant was slowly pushing the cart forward. As she served you your tray, she bowed down low, eyes smiling, politely honoring you with her wares. My mouth watered with anticipation.

When she came to me, there was a look of dismay in her eyes.

"Please, sir," she whispered agitatedly, "so, so sorry, but we are out of beef. Will our honored guest accept Bibimbop instead?"

Clearly, this was just politeness. If I had declined, she has no recourse but to perform seppuku, the ancient ritual of self-immolation. Since there are no metal cutlery onboard, she would have to do it with the plastic butter knife. That would be messy. Plus, I didn't want her to bleed all over my suede shoes so I accepted.

Bibimbop. I am not sure whether I should expect some kind of meat, fish or the severed heads of Hanson.

I was relieved to see it was a small bowl of rice topped with minced chicken, vegetables and sliced eggs. For authenticity, it came some seaweed broth and a small sachet of sesame seed oil to drizzle on top. There was also a tube of what looked like a small, travel-sized toothpaste on the tray. How convenient, I thought. It could be handy if the dish is bad breath-inducing or something.

It was surprisingly good. I hummed mmmBibimbop under my breath as I ate it.

Later, in the lavatory (lavatory, it was one of those words that begged to be pronounced in a fake British accent, you know like, bloke or Bono), I found out that the tube was a paste of hot chili pepper. When I squeezed the paste out of the tube, I thought it was weird that it was the color of ketchup. The flakes were a little strange too. Luckily, I smelled and licked it with the tip of my tongue before using it. Apparently, the Koreans liked their food spicy.

I don't know what the dessert was. It was wrapped in a forbidding package that I was afraid to open. The picture on it showed something that could've been a moist, dark green brownie. Right next to the picture of the soylent brownie was a cute little manga-style cartoon boy with dashes for eyes, happily exclaiming something in Korean. There were only a few English words on it--"100% Natural," "Healthy" and three words that should never be on any dessert package ever: "Good For You!!!"

You could put twenty exclamation points after these words but it won't sway my opinion. If you really want to sell a dessert, you should put the words "Stroke-inducing!" in a bubbly yellow font on it. I'd buy it in a flash.

One exclamation point will do.



Fake Plastic Food at South Korea's Incheon International Airport:



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This is part of a series of posts about my vacation in February of '06 in the Philippines. Read the rest here:

Part 1: The Long Way Home
Part 2: Starvation
Part 3: Fake Plastic Food
Part 4: My Old Room
Part 5: Autopilot
Part 6: Jetlag

Part 7: A Conversation with My Father
Part 8: Archeology
Part 9: A Conversation with My Mother
Part 10: Redeye
Part 11: I Carry Your Heart
Epilogue: Fun with Fake Poop

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Starvation

The hunger is starting to gnaw inside of me.

I am writing this on the plane. It has been three hours into the first leg of my trip to the Philippines. There is still another thirteen hours before the plane lands in Seoul, Korea for the second leg of the trip, and then another four hours.

So far, they have given me a small packet of Planters Honey Roasted Peanuts along with a paper napkin and a small glass of Diet Coke. The Diet Coke is gone; I have yet to touch the peanuts. I am hoarding them, like a squirrel, for the coming famine. I am not sure when the food cart will be rolled out and even then, I would be one of the last ones to be served as I am in the front half of the plane.

We boarded the plane at 11 a.m. There are maybe a hundred people on this flight. They all looked hungry, rabid, ready to pounce on any morsel of food.

If they were smart like me, they ate a huge lunch an hour before. Mine was a quarter pounder, a six-piece, fries and a Diet Coke.

I debated whether I should get a regular Coke because the calories could be stored as body fat and can nourish my body and keep me warm during the long flight. But I decided against it; I have recently converted to diet drinks in an effort to stave off the inevitable paunchiness that signals the approach of the gay middle age of 35. I did not want a relapse. It was hard to get over the slightly metallic aftertaste of diet soda, but I think I am over the worse. The cravings only come when I am depressed or after watching The View, then I crave the full, heavy, thick taste of high fructose corn syrup.

I had noticed that I've had to work out harder to keep my abs tight and hard. I was never one to diet, my fast-burning Asian metabolism had served me well through the years, a faithful companion, like a dog or genital herpes. It was only last year that I found out my metabolism was in fact powered by a tapeworm which I had acquired one summer in camp in my twelfth year. I begged the doctor not to kill it, but to no avail. He was merciless. I think he hates Asians, but I can't prove it.

Another hour has passed, I have now opened the packet of peanuts. I poured out the contents on top of the napkin they gave me. There were thirty-six whole peanuts, I counted them. I wanted to figure out how long I could make them last, what interval I should eat them before the food cart arrives. There were also another three halves and probably enough crumbs to form another half. I factored that in too. Every two minutes, perhaps, surely the cart would come by then?

The plan failed. As soon as I started eating the first peanut, the hunger overcame me, beating me senseless like Kevin Federline's rap song. In a moment, the peanuts were gone, crumbs and all. I was still hungry.

I looked at the paper napkin. Would I be able to eat it without any Diet Coke to wash it down? I cursed my weakness, my poor planning. Oh when will the food come?



Continued: Fake Plastic Food


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This is part of a series of posts about my vacation in February of '06 in the Philippines. Read the rest here:

Part 1: The Long Way Home
Part 2: Starvation
Part 3: Fake Plastic Food
Part 4: My Old Room
Part 5: Autopilot
Part 6: Jetlag

Part 7: A Conversation with My Father
Part 8: Archeology
Part 9: A Conversation with My Mother
Part 10: Redeye
Part 11: I Carry Your Heart
Epilogue: Fun with Fake Poop

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Long Way Home

I worried about my trip.

In the weeks leading up to it, my co-workers would come by my office and inquire about my ten-day vacation to the Philippines to visit my family. They all seemed giddy and excited for me. I can't help but be suspicious about all this goodwill. Why are they so happy? It's not like there is a temp to cover for me. A couple of them will have to take on my duties while I am away. If I were them, I think I would give me the finger.

I felt weird about charging this time to "Vacation," although technically, that's what it is; it is time off from work. I wish Human Resources had a category called "Self-Inflicted Torture."

The ideal vacation for me is staying at home, with a stack of books, DVDs and porn. And take-out Chinese. Ok ok ok, if pushed, I would probably say that I'd like to go to France--with my stack of books, DVD and porn. I'll learn to say "Moo Goo Gai Pan" in French.

I am worried about what to expect. It's been a very long time since my last visit. The occasional photo I receive from home show only glimpses. Everybody seems to be a little greyer, a little heavier. Nothing too radical. Yet, I am afraid that I may find my aging parents, who are picking me up at the airport, shrunken to little garden gnomes. I am afraid that my Louis Vuitton luggage won't fit in the wheelbarrow they now travel in.

I have prepared no agenda. I am arriving in the Philippines with absolutely no plans.

When I de-plane, I will let my body go limp and be swept away by the tide that is my family: my father, my mother, my brother, my sister and her brood. At the end of ten days, all that's left will be bits of me clinging to a coral reef: a shoelace, a button, a false eyelash. A thin, oily sheen of bronzer will be floating on the sea water where my body would've been.

I have lived in Chicago for fifteen years. I have built a life here. This is where my heart lives.

This other home is 10,000 miles, eighteen hours and thirty-four minutes away. It is in a concrete house my father built up from raw determination, from long hours driving cabs; where my mother founded four children and lost a marriage. This other home--this is where my soul lives. This is my pilgrimage; my trip to Mecca. I am doing this as a dutiful son.

It is a very long way home.



-----

This is part of a series of posts about my vacation in February of '06 in the Philippines. Read the rest here:

Part 1: The Long Way Home
Part 2: Starvation
Part 3: Fake Plastic Food
Part 4: My Old Room
Part 5: Autopilot
Part 6: Jetlag

Part 7: A Conversation with My Father
Part 8: Archeology
Part 9: A Conversation with My Mother
Part 10: Redeye
Part 11: I Carry Your Heart
Epilogue: Fun with Fake Poop