Saturday, November 22, 2008

November 21, 2008 - Sweet Home Chicago

Our trip back to the States got off to a fairly rocky start when Sten, wearing an old pair of shoes with no tread on them and carrying a 50lb piece of luggage, stepped off the boat in the pre-dawn dark, onto a wet dock, and slipped and fell, whacking his head on Mata'irea's stainless steal rub rail. We checked for blood, and since the wound was only slightly sticky and Sten could still tell me who the President was, we headed for the airport, rather than the hospital. And we decided that our first order of business in Chicago was to get the boy a new pair of shoes.

Singapore's airport consistently wins awards for being the best airport in the world. It is spacious and clean. The lines move quickly. The trams come immediately (we happen to know this because Sten and I are completely incapable of starting a long trip in the correct terminal). They provide free internet terminals throughout the airport, some of which are stationed right at the gates. If you have a long layover there, you can go watch a free movie or check into a transit hotel to catch some shuteye. It is easily the nicest airport we've ever been in.

Our layover in Tokyo was a let down after Singapore, but we were entertained by the Japanese cultural experiences offered to travelers. You could sit down with a little old lady and learn how to do origami, or join a slightly younger woman for a traditional tea ceremony. We were also entertained by the bizarre foods available at the duty free shops.

Who's up for a green tea Kit Kat?

But the most entertaining thing was looking out the windows of the terminal and seeing the sun setting at 4:15. The last time we saw the sun set before 6pm was when we were home for the holidays (back in the high latitudes) last year. In the tropics, there is no long sunset or sunrise. The sun drops out of the sky like a coconut falling from a tree at the same time every day. In the morning, it rockets back out of the sea. Only poets living in the high latitudes would write verses about Dawn's rosy fingers traipsing across the sky.

We flew through the night, and arrived at Chicago O'Hare in the middle of the afternoon, 20 some hours after leaving the boat. We were picked up at the airport by our good friends, Kate and PJ, and taken back to their house to hang out for a few hours while snow fell outside, before meeting up with some more friends for 'ritas and burgers. When we got to Deb and Mike's house, they showed us to our room for the weekend and handed us a cell phone to use while we are town. I can confidently say, we have the best group of friends in the whole world. It is good to be home.

When we planned our trip home this year, we decided to stop in Chicago for a few days on the way to my parent's house for Thanksgiving, rather than visiting our friends here over New Years, as we've done the past few years. The reasoning was two fold:
  1. If we want to spend some time cruising Malaysia and Thailand in January before pushing on to the Andamans in February, we need to get back to Singapore earlier rather than later, so we're flying back on New Years.
  2. We were really jonesing for some of Rick Bayless's Mexican cooking. Every time we've come to Chicago for New Years, Rick's restaurants are closed for their seasonal holiday. So by showing up in November, we actually get a chance to eat in our favorite restaurant.
If there is one thing that you can't get outside of Mexico or a few cities in the US with big populations of Mexican immigrants, it is excellent Mexican cuisine. We've found that we can find pretty good sushi, Italian and Chinese anywhere in the world, but good Mexican is something that can only be found in the Western Hemisphere. I'm not talking about TexMex here, which is what most people around the world equate with Mexican cuisine, as that is what is served at the few Mexican restaurants we've encountered around the world. Anyway, when we are overseas, or even in Boston, we get serious cravings for Mexican food, which can only be satisfied by a steak taco night at our place (wherever that happens to be at the time) or a trip back to Chicago.

In the summer of 1997 we decided to move to Chicago over margaritas at the bar at Frontera Grill. Our love affair with this fantastic city and Mexican food began that night. It has been years since we've been to chef Rick Bayless's fancier joint, Topolobampo, which happens to be one of the Obama's favorite restaurants (click here for a mouthwatering audio slideshow of Rick Bayless preparing one of our favorite dishes; there are rumors circulating that Rick is going to be tapped as the new White House chef, but he is denying them), so we decided to make some reservations for our first afternoon back in town.

After hitting Nordstrom's to buy Sten some shoes that will not cause him bodily harm, we battled our way through the freezing blast of Chicago's winter wind to get to Topolobampo. The temperature display on one building we passed read 25 degrees. Our faces and lungs hurt from the cold air and we realized how soft we'd gotten in two years in the tropics. But our first bite of guacamole made it all worth it.

Halfway through lunch my jetlag caught up with me (I'd been up since 3am) and by the time we got back to Deb and Mike's it was all I could do to shrug off my coat before falling into bed. Sten sacked out on the couch until Deb and Mike made it home from work. Later on, Kate and PJ, Rob and Jodi, and the infamous Sid all came over for some beer and pizza, Euchre (it is statistically impossible to have 3 or more Ohioans in a room and not play Euchre) and Xbox Rock Band.

Xbox Rock Band - the most fun I've ever had sober. Oh wait, I wasn't sober.

At 2:30am we decided that we were so good that it would be a shame to keep our talent to ourselves. We headed to the local karaoke bar, only to find it shut. Then we grabbed some cabs to the next joint, only to find it closed as well. As Kate said, "I haven't been this young in years." At that point we decided to take the hint and call it a night as we had plans to reconvene at a bar in a few hours for the Ohio State - Michigan Game.

No comments: