Friday, July 27, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Missouri St Louis

      I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. The 5 of us from Gulf Coast, Alabama, visiting Midwest, drove from Wyoming state to St Louis, Missouri  state, passing Kansas City on the way. We stopped at the famous St. Louis arch and visited a museum in the arch where I took photos with a taxidermy American Bison to make up for the loss opportunity to snap a live one in Badlands. We spent a final night in a Motel 6 in St Louis where all of us bunked into a room.
The famous St Louis arc as backdrop
 As we left St Louis driving towards Memphis, I noticed something on my windscreen that was travelling fast. My first thought it was lighting streak across the sky. I brushed the thought aside until the 'lightning' had traveled nearly half of the windscreen. At a McDonald joint, I stopped the car and went out to look. Lo and behold, I had a small crack on my windscreen, possibly struck by a tiny stone, I guessed. We had the car heater switched on full blast as the winter temperature was in the single digit. The temperature contrast makes the crack longer and longer. Hence what I saw was actually the glass cracking that ran across my windscreen. However, since it was a rental car and covered by insurance, we decided not to anything about it except to reduce the heat in the car. I just prayed that the windscreen will not cracked all the way until it falloff. The crack ran nearly half of the windscreen and stopped. Whew, what a relief!
Line crack on windscreen - I thought it was 
a lightning streak across the sky
Home of Cat King, King of 
Rock N' Roll
At Memphis Pyramid
 At Memphis, again most radio channels blared country music, more often that not, Memphis very own son, Elvis Presley's song. We spent a couple of hours in Graceland and had lunch there. Last brief stop was at the Memphis Pyramid before we headed straight for home. The home stretch journey was uneventful, just some boring drive in Mississippi state's back roads through Jackson and Hattiesburg. We arrived back in Mobile in one piece. After dropping off Wai, Low and Tan, we went back to our apartment to freshen up. Later that night Tony and I dropped off the Subaru rental car to Hertz after I topped up the gas at Shell ( kiosk. At the car rental return, the Hertz attendant jotted down the car speedometer and remarked that we had traveled over 4,000 miles. He did not mentioned nor had I gotten any call from the Hertz regarding the crack windscreen! I guessed it was covered by the insurance. Phew!
The next day, as planned, I flew back to my home country using Northwest Airlines (now bought over by Delta Airlines) and China Airlines ( to Kuala Lumpur via Taipei. Farewell America. It had been sweet memory studying here. 
Farewell America - with Low, Jimmy and Tony
END of my USA adventure 1991 - 1992

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - South Dakota Bison and Mt. Rushmore

 I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. The 5 of us from Gulf Coast, Alabama, continued onto our our journey across Midwest America. Next target was Badlands National Park and Mt. Rushmore Memorial Park, the home of the 4 ex-President's statues. The trip was a 600 miles stretch, so we planned for stops by along the way. We drove through the night and along the way detoured to North Dakota state and then visited a South Dakota Native American settlement, the Sioux tribe. Sioux tribe roamed these land before the Pilgrim step foot on America. They used to hunt for a buffalo called American Bison and we were told they run wild in Badlands National park. We were on a look out for the woolly animal but no avail.
At Sioux land in South Dakota
 Right before Mt. Rushmore in Badlands National Park, I saw a sign that read "Wind Cave National Park" and asked Tony, who was driving, to pull in. There was no entrance fee to this national park, and we were taken to a cave tour by a lady park ranger, along with another 2 elderly American couple. Inside the cave the ranger explained about the million year old stalactites, stalagmites and honeycomb formations. Some of the formations had graffiti on them. Some older graffiti were preserved by the park but the newer one were erased. The ranger warned us not to leave behind our autograph. She pointed out a graffiti purported to be from Billy the Kid's when he sought refuge at the cave as an outlaw on the run from authority. 
At the entrance of Wind Cave National 
Park in Badlands
Bison which was hunted to
nearly to the brink of extinction
 We came up to the ground wiser, and as we exited the national park, just beside our car, was a group of Bison, about 9 of them! We had been looking for them high and low, and now they were just right in front of us. The woolly bison eyes were wide open looking at us, grunting with steam blowing out of their nostril in the shrill morning as they paved the fresh snow for edible roots. They were so near that I was about to reach out to touch them but were reigned in by the park ranger. "They are wild" she cautioned and told us to wait out for the group to move on.The feeling of being so near a mighty beast had my heart pumping fast. It was so unreal, like I was in a movie, and I forgot to snap some photo. Finally the herd moved out and we continued with our journey.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial ( parking area was deserted due to winter, a low season. We had to walk quite a distance to the national park entrance but the flags of all states and the world that lined along the road keep us amused. There was no entrance fee and visitors were a dime a dozen.  The 4 sculptures were carved onto the granite face of Mount Rushmore - George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln were majestic and breath taking. We spent a couple of hours exploring the National Park, clicking away, visiting a small museum outlining how the status comes about, and soaking in the atmosphere. We were not allowed to hike up to the statue to peer inside the nostril. We left when a cold front hit the park.
Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt 
and Lincoln for company
 Driving on, we changed course and drove south through Wyoming state to Colorado state and finally stopped at Denver city. We spend the night in a Motel 6 that we chanced upon. 5 of us bunked into the 1 room motel as usual. Students!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Minnesota Ski

 I went to school in USA back in the early nineties.  The 5 of us from Gulf Coast continued onto our our journey across Midwest America to meet Tan's friend, James in Minneapolis city. We had trouble in locating James' house as five feet of snow fell the night before and it covered the pathway, blocking house address. Tan gave a call to James and he had to clear his pathway before he can came out to greet us. Nevertheless the heavy snow fell was good news to us as our agenda for that day included a trip to the ski field. It was my first time skiing. Only Wai had some experience on skiing. James engaged a ski coach for an hour session to prep us the basic skiing techniques. We were taught the classic 'A' ski position,  falling the right way, getting up when fell down, how to stop and position our feet. It was all new to me, coming from a tropical country. I practised for some time before able to grasp the basic technique and after a couple of falls, able to ski down the novice slope without falling. After the hour mark, the coach bid adieu and we were on our own. I was able to ski the intermediate slope not long thereafter. We spent half a day in the ski field and and had a great time. 
1st time skiing - novice in practice with Wai
X marked the spot, but no treasure here, just 
a fallen skier and a little of bruised ego
 James treated us to lunch at his house that his wife prepared for us. After lunch, we took a short trip to a local Apple farm cum fruit shop called Minnesota Harvest Orchard. The farm road leading to fruit shop was lined with apple trees, however since it was winter, the trees were all void of leaves, leaving the apples on the trees, unsightly frost bitten. At the apple farm shop we were introduced with so many varieties of apples, and had a chance to do sample test. There were Washington, Granny Smith, Empire, McIntosh, Golden and Red Delicious, etc. Some apples are being cultivated for dessert, some for cooking and some for cider. I enjoyed the tour of the shop, taking in the sight and information even I do not fancy eating apples at all. 
At the entrance to the apple farm in 
dead winter
Bald tree laden with ugly frost 
bitten apples 

We ended the day with a trip to a local casino - River Road Casino, that was built on an Indian Reservation land. The government only bestowed such special casino license to minority Native American to built one in their ancestral land to help them beefed up their economy to keep the Indian's tradition get going. I was told that the formation of a casino operation was lend a hand by a Malaysian. 'Yeah, right' was what I can thought off then, until when the news of Mr. Lim Goh Tong, the Genting group's chairman who died in 2007, and among those who paid the last respect at his wake was a group of Native Americans from America in full tribal regalia. "Hmm, so that is a true story" I said to myself then when I read in Star newspaper that splashed the death and the unique visitors. As I looked through the details, the story might be true but it was not the same casino that I went to. Mr. Lim Goh Tong did helped funded a Native American casino, but it was in an Eastern American state, not in a Midwest state. Read the news in Back to the casino, I just watched my friends tried their luck at the roulette table. Low had a winning streak and scored real big, winning close to a thousand dollars while the rest lost some small amount. He treated us to a sumptuous meal in a Chinese restaurant in Minneapolis. We put up the night at James' house. Yeah, no need to wash dishes!
 The next morning after breakfast, we bade goodbye to James and his wife. We stopped by Minneapolis Zoo for half a day before we headed off to Mall of America, reputed then to be the biggest mall in America at that time. We took our lunch at the mall before continued on to our next leg of journey to Badlands in the heart land of America, planning to drive through the night.
Minneapolis' Mall of America, the 
biggest then
At Minnesota Zoo with its famous 
Moose signboard

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Minnesota 911 and Angel

 I went to school in USA back in the early nineties.  The 5 of us from Gulf Coast continued onto our journey across Midwest America. We bade goodbye to Chicago after our dinner in Chinatown. Tony was driving while I navigated through the night. Our next stop was Minneapolis where Tan had a friend there, waiting for us to take us sightseeing. Just as we passed through Milwaukee, Tony exclaimed "Guys, the fuel meter only left 1/8, we have to find a gas station quick". He drove on and later he saw a Shell gas station signboard and did a quick exit from the highway. Alas, it was closed. We did this a couple of time, and every time all the gas stations were closed. Then it only hit on us that it was past midnight, on Boxing Day, where typically no one was working. "We should had top up in Chicago. The fuel indicator light is on minutes ago. Now what to do?", Tony asked me again. "I guess we have to call for help" I said. "Look, there is a rest area ahead. Pull ahead and let's call 911", I added. Tony stopped the car in the rest area while I ran into a phone booth and dialed 911. It was my first time to dial 911 so I did not knew what to expect. A lady operator answered my call and I related to her our predicament and location, somewhere between Milwaukee and Madison, in the state of Wisconsin. She mentioned a patrol trooper will be dispatched to check us out.  
We had to call 911 when we nearly 
ran out of gas in dead winter
 A patrol trooper arrived some 10 minutes later, with its blue signal spinning slowly, like a lighthouse light. However it stopped some 30 feet away from our car and an officer's voice blared out from the loudspeaker on its roof. "Get out of the car now and show me your hands". My friends and I exchanged looks but we did as we were told, hands above our heads, palms opened. We looks like criminals being caught by cops. Later we were asked to put our hands on our car's roof. There were 2 officers, one holding a revolver a distance away, while the other frisked our body for conceal weapons. The officer who did the frisking gave a thumb up to his colleague, and he put away his revolver. The 1st officer asked who called 911 and I identified myself. He proceeded to explain that he was wary the facts that 5 Asian guys, in dead winter, from way south, in the middle of nowhere, on Boxing day, calling 911. We showed them our car rental paper and our student ID. I told him that we were about to run out of gas and all the gas stations we pulled in were closed. "Hmm" he exclaimed, and then asked "You have money?". I was taken aback at the question, not knowing what that question lead me to. "Is he going to rob us?" that notion came to my mind. Nevertheless I blurted out a 'yes' and showed him my wallet which contained a couple of hundreds. The officers asked us to follow his car with our car.
Filling up in a deserted gas station 
with no soul in sight 
         The patrol trooper entered the highway and did  an U-turn up at an exit up ahead before pulled into a Texaco gas station that we have visited before. "That's weird" I told myself, not sure why the trooper turned into a closed gas station. The officer pulled out a bunch of key and activated a petrol pump. It turned out that he had the key to the gas pump and we were able to fill up our tank. The tally came up to $26.90 which I gave $30.00 in ten dollar bills, and said "Keep the change, officer. You have been a great help". He replied back "Sonny, I appreciate the intention but as a government officer I cannot take tips. Do you have exact change?". Oops! I goofed up again. I asked my friends and we came out negative. The officer walked to his counterpart and between them they were able to give back a change of $3.10 to me. As a parting note, the officer bade us good luck and not to be in same predicament again. We pulled out from the station and waved goodbye to them. Whew! That was quite an extraordinary situation, both for us and the state trooper too, I guess.
 As I drove on that night, a couple of hours later, I noticed some white flakes hitting the windscreen. My friends were all sleeping and I woke them up with a shout. "Guys, wake up, it is snowing". I pulled up at the next rest area and I exited into a full gale of snow falling. It was the first time for me in my life to see real snow fall. It was light and felt next to nothing but before long I were coated in a blanket of whiteness. As per my secret plot in Chicago yesterday, next, before anyone knew it, I took off my shirt and with just my pants on and 'ploof', I went headlong into a fresh snow in an open space next to the rest area.  Tan joined in. It was fun frolicking in the snow, and both of us did "angel" as well.  Here we go - 2 Asian guys from a tropical country, playing angel in the snow. Ha! Ha! Ha!, the rest of my friends had a good laugh at this hilarious scene but they did not join us. Luckily no state trooper was out and about at this ungodly hour of 4 am in the morning. Feeling satisfied, we cleaned up before we caught a cold and get ready to leave the rest area with the snow still falling. Wai took over the wheel as he had some experience to drive in snow during his part time working time in New York. We had a slow drive towards Minneapolis while I went into dreamland. 

A woman making snow angel 
on fresh snow

Angel has left, leaving her print

Friday, July 13, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Nashville and Chicago

The rented Subaru from Hertz
 I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was countdown to the final week before I leave America. The five of us -Tan, Wai, Low, Tony and I, had planned out this week long journey across America Midwest south-north-south. I remembered the Hertz ( car rental at Mobile airport allocated a white brand new spacious Subaru ( rental car for us. It was registered under my name and when I drove it out from the parking space it was full of power. Little that we knew that we will put in 4,000 miles in that baby in 1 week! At home we loaded all our provision - foods, tidbits, blanket, clothing and not forgotten our trusted Rand McNally's ( The Road Atlas book, our road guide as GPS was not known yet at that time. We fetched the rest and began our journey in the morning wee hour where Tony drove and I navigated. Wai had brought along a 'Radar Detector' to detects patrol trooper who used using radar gun during speed trap exercise. It was not legal in some states but what the heck. Great, at least we can take care when to and when not to speed.  
My recent copy of Road Atlas for 
just $5.25 from Walmart
 We were driving from north bound on I65 from Mobile. I have gotten used to read the road atlas and able to call out the highway exit couple of miles ahead. First stop was Montgomery, the state capitol of Alabama. We relieved ourselves and had breakfast at a local restaurant joint. We proceeded on, bypassed Birmingham and took a detour to visit Huntsville for sight seeing and lunch. Huntsville is also know as "The Rocket City", famed for its space missions. We took a few hours to tour the US Space and Rocket Centre before we continued on. Tan took over the wheel while I was still the navigator. At the border entering into the next state, Tennessee, we pulled over to take a photo with the state's welcome billboard. As in some American movies, state trooper hide behind billboard to nab speedster. We saw a couple of state troopers did that, thanks to Wai's radar detector. We knew we were nearing Nashville, where Zak had previously stayed in, when almost all the radio channels blared out country music. It was the pop country music that I had grown up with - Dolly Parton & Kenny Rogers' "Islands in the Stream", Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again", John Denver's "Sunshine on My Shoulders", "Take Me Home, Country Roads", "Leaving on a Jet Plane", among others. There were more songs, but I did not catch their names, but the music were soothing. We stayed overnight in Nashville in a local Motel 6 where all 5 of us cramped into 1 room apartment, on a Xmas' Eve. No count down as we were dead tired and retired early.
 The next morning, it was Xmas Day. Most shops were closed so we headed north towards Louisville, Kentucky. I drove while Tony navigated. We stopped by a McDonald's joint for breakfast and then continued on to Cincinnati where we had planned to do some visiting. The place that stroke me most in Cincinnati was its Botanical Garden which was actually a huge greenhouse. It was winter, so I least expected a full bloom of flowering plants and the oranges tree were full of big oranges the size of 2 fists. Many people throng the garden and they were friendly lots, with  hello and waving exchanged in seeing us 5 Asians in the heart of America. Guess it was Xmas spirit. A huge Christmas tree was fully decorated with colorful Yuletide paraphernalia. We had our lunch in the garden and the atmosphere was simply superb. It was late afternoon when we moved on.
Yuletide decoration marked 
Xmas Day
We entered into state of Indiana, posed for picture at the welcome billboard, passed Indianapolis and arrived Chicago around evening. The thing that hits us when we started to see Chicago's skyline was the ice along the road. "It must had snowed yesterday. Look at the ice at by the roadside" I told my friends excitedly. "I wish to see some snow falling down tonight" replied Wai. "Oh, Oh" I exclaimed out loud. "What is the matter" asked Tony. "Know what, I forgot about tire chain for snow driving. Also I had no experience in snow driving" I admitted as a matter of fact. "Should be no problem" Tony added. "If we need one, we can go to any local Hertz car rental kiosk and asked for tire chain". As it turned out, we did not need tire chain the entire journey. Just our anxiety for nothing. In Chicago we went straight to Chicago's Chinatown for dinner. I had 'Char Siew' rice and some dim sum dishes. With a full stomach we took a stroll along Chinatown before looking for a Motel 6 nearby. The Motel 6 was by the beach of Lake Michigan and that night was really windy. The weather was cold, nearly 0 degree but I can hardly withstand the wind chill factor which felt like -15 degree. Now I understood why Chicago was called "The Windy City".
 We were early to rise the next morning as we had planned to spend the entire day in Chicago before moving further inland to Minnesota. As we got ready, I had a walk along the beach of Lake Michigan.  The ice from 2 days ago snowfall was still on the ground and we had a few snow fights. We had to stop when the snow fight turned to ice fights as chunk of ice was thrown about. We had Dim Sum for breakfast at Chinatown before we headed to the famed Adler Planetarium. Too bad  the planetarium was closed due Boxing Day holiday. We make do with snapping of some photos outside the landmark before we headed to Sears Tower, reputed to be the tallest in America at that time. It was opened and we went up to the observation deck for a clear view of Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan.
Outside Adler Planetarium in Chicago
 The day we visited Chicago fell on Dec 26, also known as Boxing Day. It was not the boxing as in Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman fight, but rather the day after Xmas where people boxed up their present. This was the day where shops decided to have clearing sales to get rid of all stock instead of boxing them up. Therefore Boxing Day is synonymous to shopping galore, called shopping-day-after-Xmas, much like the shopping-day-after-Thanks-Giving. We had some great bargain on branded goods. I bought 2 pairs of snicker - a Nike and a Reebok, 2 pair of Levi jeans and a Ray-ban sunglasses, all items sold at just a quarter of its retail price. 
  I ended the day with the smile on my face, having seen the snow for the first time in my life. I dream of frolicking in the snow, and secretly devise a game plan the next time I see snow again.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Alabama Look Alike

          I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. I was notified by my university that I had passed my examination and graduated as planned. I was overjoyed and looked forward to getting my certificate. Since the graduation ceremony was not until August the following year for which I had planned not to attend, I turned to have my pictures taken to commensurate my graduation. Tony was due to graduate in 3 months time, so both of us decided to take graduation photos together. I borrowed the graduation gown and mortar hat from our university and we took turns to wear them for photo shots. Armed with our camera we happily snapping away at will, in and outside our university.  I took a lot of pictures - in the gym playing badminton, with lecturer, in lecture hall and just anywhere.
With Dr. Dartt Wagner, my MIS lecturer
 At noon, Tony and I brought the graduate gown over to a picture studio in K-mart ( for a professional photography session. There was a package deal for a 24 shots of which 12 best shots to be chosen from. Tony and I chose that discounted package and the black lady clerk behind the counter took down our particulars and ushered us to a back stage to get ready. I dressed up first, and spent some times posing in front of the camera before Tony's turn.  Since the photo would not be ready by the time I leave America, I asked Tony to select the best 12 pictures and  collect them on my behalf. We both paid up and continued shopping for some foods to take along for a final trip across Mid-West America before I headed home for good. There were 5 of us who went on that journey that took 2 weeks, which I will write about in other blogs entry.
K-Mart had fallen into trouble waters in 
recent times, still in business
 Fast forward a couple of months later in Malaysia, I eagerly waited for Tony's homecoming to get my hand on my graduation photographs. He touched down in April 93 and I paid him a visit 2 weeks later. Boy, I was in for a surprise! It turned out that the K-mart studio which developed my graduation photo did not know there were 2 different persons taking photograph in the same black graduation gown that day. She thought it was only one person, since Tony and I are both Asian, about same height and both wear spectacles. The other thing was we only had one gown that Tony and I took turn to wear for the photo shoot. She could not tell the difference among Asians, resulting in only selecting one person's photographs to be developed. Alas, all the 24 photographs for selection was Tony's. As a result I do not have any professionally taken graduate photograph for the record, only those amateurishly taken by Tony at USA's compound. To rub salt to wound, I did not even get the refund for the blunder. I guessed some Americans find it hard to differentiate Asians, same as some Asians found it hard to differentiate bla Americans too. Tough luck!
Go Jag
Location: University of South Alabama, 307 University Boulevard  Mobile,

AL 36688, United States

Tel: +1 251-460-6101

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Alabama Playing drums

             I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was mid-December and the weather was cool. Tony, Zak and I had arranged to go fishing for the last time. I woke up at early and put a pot of water to boil before I woke up Tony. After shower I prepared breakfast which was white rice with some leftover curry chicken.  Zak was up and about waiting for us. We took the same route and pointed out the smoke from the chimney, which was streaking slightly to the left. “Good day to catch red drum”, I said. “Wind is blowing from sea to land. It will be high tide in an hour and predatory fish will rush in”. We stopped at bait shop and bought a dozen minnows and a pound of dead shrimp. 
My rod waiting for action
There were half a dozen people at the pier when we arrived. Sam was there, puffing away a cigarette, as I approached. “Good mornin'” he said and gave me high five. “No fish ain't bitin'.” He spoke in his Southern drawl, showed me his empty cooler box. We put down our gears next to his. I fixed a rod with a minnow, dropped it below the pier, loosen the drag and leaned it against the railing. I took another rod to a pier T junction and fish the bottom with dead shrimp. No action for nearly half an hour. Sam and I chatted in between me reeling in my rod for the umpteenth time, with the shrimp still intact every time. I decided to rest the rod against the railing and checked on Tony and Zak. They were in the same boat as me and so were the others on the pier. Sam caught a catfish and threw it back into the sea, cursing away. I then checked on my rod with minnow. Some fish had ran away with my minnow. I baited another minnow and dropped it to the same area. Just then I noticed my other rod that was baited with shrimp did a light jiggle and then stop. I rest my minnow rod against the railing and rushed over to check on the rod. I reeled it in to find an empty hook staring at me. Instead of cursing the runaway fish, I said to myself “Good sign”. It meant the fish was biting.
           I dropped my dead shrimp bait at the same spot, this time holding on to the rod. Not long, my rod did the same slight jiggle and stop. I nonchalantly lifted up my rod. It felt heavy midway and I started to pull hard before noticing the line was moving. “Hey, I got a fish” I shouted. All eyes were on me now. I pulled and pulled the rod over my head that it rose like a question mark. The fish gave some fight, but moment later it surfaced. I could not make out the type, but it was grey dark with light black band across the body, not dissimilar to a sheepshead. “It’s a black drum” Sam said. I had never caught a black drum before. “They are nice eating”, Sam added. As I pulled it up, the black drum gave out some noise, like low drumming sound, hence the namesake 'drum' fish. I managed to land it onto the pier with Sam’s help. A crowd had formed as I had the only action at that moment. Great, now everyone will move closer to the spot I caught the drum. “Don’t take my spot” I blurted out to no one in particular. I took a closer look at the black drum. It shaped like a fat red drum, about 3 pounds, but no spot. It had 2 barbel whiskers by the side of the mouth and the body had some faint band like the Sheepshead, but no ugly teeth. Satisfied, I put the fish into my cooler, re-baited and dropped it to the same spot again. Once again, my rod jiggled lightly, and I whipped my rod up sharply. Whoa, a heavy line again. I got the second action where no one had any, including the super fishing guru, Sam. I pulled up another black drum by myself. It looked like a twin to the first fish.
Black drum converged in a school, gave out low drumming 
noise when caught
          After this I got action upon action from the same fishing hole. My rod did a jiggle, I strike hard, I land drum upon drum. I was so good that after couple of fishes later I can land a fish by one sweeping motion with my rod and line, the fish kind of flew over my head from the water onto the pier. The funny thing was I was the only one catching fish, everyone else was watching with envy, even they had by now converged near to “my” fishing hole. After my 8th fish, I told the anglers “maybe it’s my bait they are after”. They had been fishing with minnows. I helped Sam baited his rod with my dead shrimp, while others came over and helped themselves to our dead shrimp baits. They continued to fish from the same hole. I had stopped fishing and turned my attention to my other rod. My minnow had since long gone as I reeled it in. Then, there was a shriek from Sam when he struggled with his rod with a huge black drum at the end of the line. He skillfully avoided the pier legs and asked Tony to drop a string basket down to haul up the fish. It was a fine specimen and it could easily tip the scale at 20 pounds. Sam was beaming with pride. Good Ol Sam!
As mysterious as it may sound, after the “mama” black drum Sam caught, there was no further action. Minnows still wriggling when reeled in; dead shrimp left untouched. After an hour or so later, we decided to call it a day. Sam had the biggest fish while I bagged the most with 9 fishes. Before we headed off,  I gave away the last of my shrimps bait and the remaining minnows. Sam and I shook hands, knowing this will be my last fishing trip with him. He grasped my hand firmly and patted it with his other hand. We planned to meet up again at my apartment for dinner later that night. I waved goodbye to the other anglers who waved back and went to my car. Zak bought all my fish except 2 which I planned to cook for dinner that night. On the way home we stopped by the shrimper boat to buy some squids and shrimps, opting for the larger ones. 
Pecan pie - America's favorite pie from the south
Pecan - grows well in South USA and Mexico
         At home Tony and I put away the fish, squids and shrimps for tonight. I had some leftover curry chicken with rice from yesterday and took a nap. In the afternoon, Tony and I went to our local grocery to get some greens, okra, chickens, turnips and fruits. I threw a 'farewell' pot luck party ahead of my leaving USA on the New Year's day. Sam and Betty showed up with their Cajun style shrimp gumbo, Aunt May and Uncle Rob with American pecan pie, Zak and Rose with beef rendang, some college classmates came with sodas and tidbits. I cooked fish curry with the black drum with okra and serve with white rice, the squids I fried with onion, garlic, dried chillies and its ink, and deep fried the shrimps (no head, no shell except the tail intact) coated in KFC's flour. Tony prepared chicken satay with peanut jam sauce. Beyond this, there were pumpkin pie from the American couple who used to be my neighbor, 'chap suey', 'chow mein' and some fortune cookies from the Hong Kong's restaurant owner, soft drinks, pizzas, chicken wings from my MBA classmates and some exotic food called 'couscous' with vegetable and lamb stew from some fellow international students in my neighborhood. The list was long. Luckily some smart alec also brought disposable paper plates and cups.   
Couscous - a staple food in North Africa, quite similar to rice
         We had a jolly good time and by the time we sang Auld Lang Syne it was well into the night! 

Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Passing baton

          I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was another 2 weeks later in mid-December that we saw Zak and Rose pulled up in a U-Haul rental truck. We helped them unload their stuffs into the apartment opposite ours. I had covered all angles of my business and Zak has taken the plunge. He handed me a check for the balance. I kissed the check and sealed the deal with a firm hand shake. My business had officially changed hand and baton had been passed on.
U Haul truck was the best way 
to move house
        Two days after they settled down, Zak and Rose requested for some fishing actions. They have found a babysitter to babysit their baby for couple of hours. The next morning I gathered my fishing gears and lead them to my car. Tony had an job appointment so he could not make it, so we also took his rods along. Along the way I pointed out the attractions and some obvious landmarks so that he would recognize the way to Dauphin Island. I showed him the smoke from the chimney and stopped at our favourite bait shop. I explained the baits and which fish ate which bait. Live shrimps and live minnows a hit for speckled trout, flounder and red drum. Sheepshead went crazy on fiddler crab and sand flea. Dead shrimp, squid and cut fish meat are taken by almost all fishes be it trout, Sheepshead, Whiting, flounder, croaker, Ladyfish, Spanish Mackerel, King Mackerel and stingrays. Zak took down all the notes furiously. “Can we eat dead shrimp baits?” he asked cheekily. I did not bother to answer him. I blurted out a final reminder to him that thrash fish like sea catfish also likes dead shrimp. It is a nuisance fish where one had to be careful not be stung by one. I told him I will show him how to handle them at the pier. I paid for a pound of dead shrimp and a dozen of fiddler crabs and we continued with our journey.
The drive to Dauphin Island
        We stopped by the shrimper boat’s house first. I introduced Zak and Rose to Bobby, the owner. Bobby showed Zak around his store. At the freezer, he pointed out the shrimps, explaining in his southern drawl the grades, the types, the sizes and how to look for the freshness. There were no squids in stock. As we were leaving, I told Bobby that Zak will take over my buying from him. Bobby turned to Zak, handing over his business card and said “as long as you pay cash, I have no problem. Since you are Max’s friend, I will give you the same 20% discount.” With that we shook hands and bade each other goodbye. I drove round the island pointing out to Zak a pier that I seldom went to. Zak drew a sketch map and scribbled some details on his notebook. We finally headed off to the Dauphin Island Pier, passing the clock tower and water tower in the heart of Dauphin Island little town.
          I paid for the entrance fee for the three of us. Sam had been on the pier since early morning. He gave me a high five and I introduced him to Zak and Rose. They shook hand and had some cordial chat. I baited a rod, and showed Rose how to drop the line, how to lift the rod and how to crank the reel before handed it over to her. She started awkwardly but bit by bit she got the hang of it. I baited another rod and did the same before passing to Zak, who broke up his chat with Sam upon seeing me approaching. Lastly I baited my rod and dropped the bait by a pier leg. Rose gave a shout and lifted her rod high over her head, something that I taught her minutes ago. She got a whiting, and her face lighted up.  She grabbed the fish and removed the hook by herself. Not bad, a good start. Then I remembered she must have landed a hand in helping her husband when receiving my fish shipment. She re-baited by herself, but had trouble in flinging out the bait to the sea as her sequence was out of sync. Sam helped her. Zak managed to land a white trout. I caught nothing. Sam, who had already bagged 2 red drums, fought with another one. “This one is for you” he shouted to the direction to Zak. Zak looked at me, puzzled. I explained about the maximum limit per person. 
          After Sam landed the fish, he took a breather. I took the opportunity to tell him that Zak will start to buy fish from him. He replied no problem. Then I told him that I will leave for home country soon, right after graduation, on New Year Day. He looked stunned and it took him a couple of minutes to digest the information. He knew I will finish schooling soon but he thought I will stay on.” Betty will be sad”, he finally said. Our chat was disrupted by Rose's shriek about a fish dangling from her line. “Watch it Rose. That is a stingray. Its tail had spines”, I yelled to her. Rose was about to hold the stingray because she had never knew it was dangerous. All the stingrays I shipped to Zak had their tails cut off! Rose let the sting ray flopped on the pier floor. Sam took out his pocket knife and cut off the tail. He held the severed tail to Rose and Zak. Using a penknife he exposed the twin spines. “This can be nasty if it puncture your skin” he said, before he threw the tail into the sea. Rose exclaimed that she did not know that something she loved to eat can be so dangerous. Good for her. Sam also explained to Rose how to differentiate the male from the female stingray. "Flip it over and look at the pelvic fin. On the pelvic fin, the male has a jutted organ called 'clasper' while the female do not", Sam explained. Even I do not know it then!
Female stingray (left) and male stingray 
with 'clasper' (right)
          Sam caught more fishes, this time white trout and whiting. Zak caught a couple of catfish. He knew not to touch the dorsal fins. He had eaten lot of fresh water catfish in Tennessee, so he knew about the dangerous fins. Finally I got some action too, however it was a juvenile red drum which I released it back to the sea. Good one because it gave me a chance to demonstrate to Zak the do and don’t. At lunch time, we ate sandwiches and drank soda bought from the pier store. There were not many activities in the afternoon, so we decided to pack up and head home when the wind started to blow. Our final score was 1 red drum from Sam for Zak, 1 stingray by Rose, 2 whiting by Zak and Rose, one each, and I, zero. Sam gave me all his trouts and whitings. Before we departed, Sam assured me that he and his buddies will be good suppliers to Zak, and asked me not to worry. He also asked me to drop by his house before I leave the country. He continued fishing while we make our exit.
      “Good fella” said Zak as we walked down the pier. “I like him. I can see a special bonding between you and him” he continued. I told him everything about Sam in the car on the way home. Arriving home we cleaned up. Rose volunteered to cook and she selected the stingray, some trout and couple of whiting. I divided the rest of the fishes to be given away in my neighborhood as well as introduced Zak to them. We met Aunt May and Uncle Rob at their office. They were our apartment manager, a husband and wife team, managing some 120 apartment units. I introduced Zak and gave them some whiting. 
Outside my apartment unit managed 
by Aunt May and Rob
       We visited some other friends and acquaintances' home a few blocks away. Some were home, some were not. I introduced Zak as the new fish giver and he was welcomed with open hands. We gave out our last fish away and came back in time for dinner. Tony was home earlier and I had shower before we proceeded to Zak's house for dinner. Rose had cooked her specialty sting ray in tom yam paste. She coated the whiting fillet in flour and deep fried them. The trout she steamed with bean paste sauce. Last she baked some shrimp pie. The spread of foods were sumptuous and we finished off the meals with extra helping of rice. Now I know why stingray was much sought after. Tony volunteered to wash dishes. I got away again!   

Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607