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   Vol. 18 No. 9
Monday February 4, 2019

Pig Into 2019
Chinese New Year 2019

Here comes Chinese Lunar New Year for 2019, which arrives on February 5. It’s the Year of the Pig. Kung Hei Fat Choi!
     Sure, we love February ‘cause we have two kids born this month. But we also like, that both Chinese New Year and Valentine's Day happen during the second month of the year. And that daylight hours are inching forward to the moment when baseball catchers and pitchers will start reporting to camp.
     We love celebrating Chinese New Year.
     What a great opportunity for family, special lovers and great meals surrounded by lots of friends & flowers.
     And what a great day to be Chinese!
     But if you are in New York, a great Chinese meal, a moveable feast awaits around the clock 24/7/365.
     It is apparent to almost anyone traveling on business that there isn’t enough time to enjoy authentic local scenery.
     Dinner that hasn’t been worked into the business schedule becomes an after-thought, a quick twelve-dollar burger served on a tray with a moist towelette in some forgotten hotel room.
     We are so quick to let business travel spoil the excitement that comes with going to a new place.      The town you’ve been zipping through for the past couple of days could be the grist for your memory’s mill, and sometimes culture shock can be cathartic.
     At the very least, a side step journey into town can afford a little life experience and a few polite conversations with the locals.
     Here in Flushing, Queens, New York near both JFK and LGA Airports, you have to try really hard to find a bad Chinese restaurant.
     About a quarter century ago, Chinese and Korean people came along and salvaged a truly run down area of New York City called Flushing, turning it into a booming, glitzy, beautiful metropolis, punctuated with great restaurants, theaters, office towers and residential areas.
     We have however decided after many years that the best places to eat, in many instances, may not be very much to look at from the street.
     The message here is that “curb appeal” can often be an illusion.
     For the food, money and atmosphere, which includes pre-colonial dark wood and mirrors and an irresistible sound track of truly wonderful jazz that always seems to be playing faintly as background, try Shanghai Yu Garden on Kissena Boulevard about a mile from LaGuardia Airport.
     We thought that the late Anthony Bourdain who we used to see eating here all the time would wreck this joint when he endorsed Yu Garden on his CNN show called “Parts Unknown,” but thankfully that did not happen.
     Yu Garden, located back from the sidewalk is in a store front that might scare you off, although it gets a great audience that knows the place, as all wait patiently for the chef at the back of this smallish restaurant working non-stop, hand making the homemade soup dumplings, that can only be described as food for the Gods . . .

Tales Of Nanking Road

     I recall a Sunday alone at the downtown Mandarin Hotel in Taipei, right near Nanking Road. The Mandarin is a crew hotel. Pilots and cabin crew have a reputation of being tight with a buck.
     Most pilots like to maintain a fairly high profile life style, while cabin crew never has any money.      Sometimes I think cabin crew invented stew. They always seem to be planning potluck dinners.
     The old joke: “Hey, this food tastes different. Did somebody wash my bowl or something?” barely affords a chuckle from these chowhounds.

Mandarin Hotel & Terry & The Pirates

     The Taipei Mandarin is always a good buy. The place is clean, if a bit faded. The restaurant, which serves Chinese and American breakfast around the clock, is always a good bet.
     The Mandarin is also equipped with a staff of husbands and wives who seem to live and tend to individual floors.
     You can be sure a staff member will see you to your door following check-in, and don’t be surprised when your arrival is heralded with hot tea and cookies.
     Once I stumbled into my room after a 19-hour flight and dived straight into the shower, only to discover my disheveled heap of clothes had been neatly pressed and hung.
     Lots of ex-patriate fliers and business types stay at the Mandarin.
     Anytime, day or night, Sky King is meeting under the gaze of Terry and the Pirates and Smilin’ Jack, all comic book heroes of 1930-40’s aviation.
     After arriving late one Saturday and working all of the next day on a story, I decided it was time to get out. The T.V. was rattling on in Chinese and English alternatively, about some sporting event that no longer held my interest. I decided to take a walk to find something to eat and maybe pick up some bottled water.

A Foodie Adventure & Good Laugh

     It was drizzling lightly, a warm, early spring evening. Sundays anywhere are the same.
     It doesn’t really matter where you are in the world. There will be more places open on the day after the apocalypse than on any given Sunday.
     I stopped at a small restaurant that looked busy. Business in a restaurant is a good sign in any country. The first thing I noticed was how the place smelled.
     This joint smelled great.
     A couple of beers and a plate of fried rice later, I left my small side table completely satisfied.
     Around the corner from the restaurant I found a group of people laughing and joking in the staccato tics of quick and easy Chinese conversation. For a moment I thought that I had missed the place the cool crowd supped. I felt a need to get the name and address of said cool place so that I could return at a later time. I began to make my way to the group.
     It was then that a familiar sign struck me, a sign emblematic of gaudy, tacky Americana: the flashing red and white striped logo of T.G.I. Fridays. I laughed, and wondered if my joke was funnier than the joke shared by the cool crowd. I had not come halfway around the world to eat burgers and fairy food.
     Now, whenever it’s time to hit the road again, I think of that damp Sunday in Taipei. It reminds me to get out and experience more of the local scene.

Gotta Get Up-Get Out

     I always wonder about people who come to New York from other parts of the world insisting that the best restaurants are in Manhattan, simply because they’ve read that somewhere.
     Let’s set the record straight.
     Any stiff can read a review and fork over a lot of cash.
     The idea is to get out, get fed, have some fun and not get stuck paying through the teeth.
     Try something new, even if it’s in small amounts.
     Live a little.
     You may not pass this way again.
Harry Nilsson Get Up Get Out

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Letters To The Editor

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