October 31, 2014

OKC, Part 1: Exploration & Steak

People can't believe that I went to Oklahoma City for fun. Even the hotel van driver on the way to the airport - who you'd think would encourage tourism - was incredulous when I said I was there for "sightseeing and to check out a couple of restaurants."

"Really?" he asked, and I explained that I write a travel blog. We talked about travel, or more precisely, about my travel, as he'd never left Oklahoma. He asked what I had planned next, and I told him I want to do a big trip around Italy. "What's on your list?" I asked.

"Child support," he said, with a light chuckle. "Only eight more years."

"Oh," I said. We pulled into the airport and he wished me a good day. "Good luck with child support," I quipped as I got out.

He laughed. "Only eight more years!"

I can't imagine never leaving the state I grew up in. There's just so much in the world waiting to be experienced! For me, that includes exciting destinations like Amsterdam...and less exciting ones, like Oklahoma City. Here, I stayed at the historic Biltmore Hotel, the largest in OKC. It was all right - I had to wait 30 minutes for maintenance to let me into my room after I checked in, the deadbolt on my door didn't work, and the pool and jacuzzi were closed the night of my stay, but it was cheap at $60 a night. The hotel's one saving grace was Vicky, a very sweet and helpful front desk employee who shared my name.

Biltmore Hotel lobby
Guest room

I spent my first day in the Asian District, eating pho and looking for all things Vietnamese, so the next day was about exploring downtown. I rode the bus, which was one of the most confusing systems I'd ever seen. Each stop was just a bench with a sign that said "bus stop."  Which buses stopped at which stop? Your guess was as good as mine.

Thank goodness for smartphones, because I would never have been able to find my way around otherwise. I don't know how people can use that bus system! But once I made it downtown, I wandered around. There are some very nice buildings there, like the Civic Center Music Hall, and the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. I very much wanted to visit the latter, as it currently houses a Chihuly glass exhibit, but ran out of time. Of course, nothing stands out more than the Devon Energy Center, the tallest building in OKC, built recently in 2012.

Civic Center Music Hall
Devon Energy Center
At Devon Auditorium: "Leave things better than you found them"

I particularly wanted to visit Myriad Botanical Gardens, a large public park in the center of the city. It's the size of four square blocks, with a stage area, children's garden, restaurants, and many sculptures.

A highlight of the Gardens is the Crystal Bridge Tropical Conservatory, a gorgeously constructed cylindrical building. By a stroke of pure luck, I managed to snag free admission!

Double Yellow-headed Amazon Parrots. Someone taught these dudes how to wolf-whistle.

Finally, I couldn't visit OKC without having a legit steak. I had my last meal at the popular, renowned Cattlemen's Steakhouse, where I enjoyed a charcoal broiled luncheon steak for just under $10. It came with a salad and my choice of side (baked potato), and was the perfect size for lunch!

Cattlemen's has that Western atmosphere down. They've been feeding ranchers for decades.
Very tender and juicy. Thank you OKC!

As a food blogger, I absolutely had to try the famous lamb fries, which are fried slices of lamb testicles. You could say it was my sworn duty. And yes, this man-hating queen would be the type of person to eat testicles. (Okay, maybe annoyed-by-men rather than man-hating.) They're really nothing to be scared of, though. They have a very mild flavor, like bland chicken, and a soft, tofu-like texture. Each slice is so thin, you're probably eating more fried batter than ball. (Go Giants!) Cattlemen's is so customer friendly, they'll let you try a few without charge. It was perfect, because I was dying to try them, but couldn't eat much more!

Lamb fries: conquered.

I'll get a little more serious in the next and last part of my OKC adventure, visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial. But for now: would you try lamb fries?

October 26, 2014

State #24: Oklahoma City, OK

Believe it or not, there's a legit Vietnamese population in Oklahoma City. A significant part of the Asian District, its Little Saigon was born in 1975, when the first wave of Vietnamese immigrants came after the Fall of Saigon. Most came from the refugee camp right across the state border at Fort Chaffee, Arkansas. A handful of activists in nearby communities volunteered to sponsor refugees, enabling hundreds to leave the camp and make Oklahoma City their home.

Fun fact: some notable people came out of that camp, including NFL linebacker Dat Nguyen and more importantly, my dad!

The first group of refugees, having left professional and military careers in Vietnam, started over as laborers in OKC. In time, they became doctors, lawyers, and engineers, sent their children to American colleges, and opened businesses in Little Saigon. Their success encouraged family and friends to join them, and OKC's Vietnamese population has since grown drastically.

The Gold Dome is sort of an OKC landmark, but has been unoccupied for years now.
Jade Asian Plaza - check that Vietnamese flag!
Lido Restaurant (in the background) is a well-known traditional Vietnamese restaurant.

I specifically wanted to visit Pho Lien Hoa, recommended to me by a friend who lives in OKC.

Pho Lien Hoa was surprisingly large, decorated the same way you'd find a California pho joint. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Phở Ý #1 in San Jose. The ambience wasn't the best - it definitely wasn't a date location - but quite nice considering it was OKC. Sitting in a comfortable chair at a clean table, I admired the many extra-large wall hangings and the huge fish tank.

I love that the menu shows you the cuts of beef. Noob-friendly.

It was 6pm and I hadn't eaten a meal all day, so needless to say, this queen was starving. I ordered spring rolls ($2.50) and a large Pho Tai Nam ($7.50). Pho comes in three sizes, the other two being small ($6.99) and extra large ($8.50). Lucky for me, the food came out fast. Actually, maybe a little too fast. The spring rolls (goi cuon) and the pho both came out in three minutes. They both looked excellent. I had to make the hardest decision of my life: which do I eat first?

Goi cuon
Pho tai nam

I'm kidding, it wasn't that hard. I ate one spring roll and moved onto the pho. The goi cuon was very good, as I could taste the freshness of its ingredients, and they didn't skimp on the shrimp and pork. The dipping sauce was particularly tasty and thick, just how I like it.

The pho was great. There was a generous amount of garnishes, including saw leaf! The broth was on the subtle side - not something I would want to drink up, but certainly not bland. The noodles were good, and the two meats were plentiful, though the tai was cooked through.

After finishing my pho and the other spring roll, I was stuffed! I was happy with my meal, and it was a bargain at $10. Best of all, the servers were actually friendly, helpful, and gracious enough to check on me during my meal. OKC, you blew me away.

I don't know who would be interested in taking a leisure trip to OKC, but I would definitely recommend Pho Lien Hoa to anyone looking for a good meal in the area. After all, how can I not like a restaurant that has something like this for me to pose with?

Yeah, I'll never become vegetarian.

I had to walk off my meal and explore the Asian District. A tourist guide I picked up at the hotel said to check out the Cao Nguyen Supermarket. Meandering around, I spotted it-

Closed and abandoned - noooo!

That is, the old Cao Nguyen Supermarket. The Asian community is thriving so much that they've built a huge, fancy new supermarket. In the words of Stefon, this place has everything. All your Vietnamese grocery needs, furniture, fake potted plants, you name it!

OKC really surprised me with all its Asian - specifically, Vietnamese - offerings. It's considered an "Asian oasis" in the otherwise not-very-diverse south-central US. Could I live there? No way. But it was cool to know that my Asian cravings would be satisfied.

Rating Breakdown:

Taste (13/14)
  • Broth flavor- 4/5
  • Noodle & meat quality- 5/5
  • Garnish selection- 2/2
  • Portion size- 2/2
Restaurant (14/16)
  • Service- 5/5
  • Cleanliness- 4/5
  • Atmosphere- 3/4
  • Speed of arrival- 2/2
Total: 27/30

Pho Lien Hoa, 901 NW 23rd St, Oklahoma City, OK 73106

October 23, 2014

It's a Great Time to Fly

2011. With six months until graduation, one steady thought ran through my mind: What am I going to do? I was majoring in Global Studies, minoring in Japanese. My thesis advisor was telling me that I would be excellent at writing formal reports, for the government perhaps. I didn't have any big dreams, except to graduate. But I knew one thing: for my first job out of college, I wanted to do something I'd enjoy.

Sadly, our pilots do not look like Leo DiCaprio.

That's how I decided to seek a job as a flight attendant, and honestly? I've never looked back. I may not make as much money as my cousins, as my mother loves to remind me, but I've had so many opportunities and experiences with my job thus far, and still more to come. I mean, look at where I've been! Madrid! Sydney! Tokyo! Singapore!

So if you're looking for a job, a change in career, or a new and dynamic lifestyle, becoming a flight attendant may be the path for you. If you do a little research on the job and it still sounds good, take the next step by applying to all the airlines you're interested in.

The resource I used most over 6 months of applications and interviews was FlightAttendantCareer.com's job listings page. It's updated frequently and is the easiest way to see who's hiring. Right now is a great time to fly: Delta, American, and US Airways are all hiring, and United Airlines will begin accepting applications tomorrow, October 24.

Submit your applications now, because seniority is everything.

Have any questions about being a flight attendant? Leave a comment below, and I just might do a Flight Attendant FAQ soon.

October 21, 2014

San Francisco's Little Saigon

While San Francisco has the largest Chinatown outside of Asia, its Little Saigon is pretty small. But at least it exists, and it's official!

San Francisco's Little Saigon is a two-block stretch on Larkin Street, where about 80% of the businesses are Vietnamese owned. They're mostly restaurants, including the well-known Pho 2000 and Turtle Tower.

Mom and I killed some time in San Francisco become she came with me to Cancun, so we had lunch at the original Turtle Tower. I enjoyed the pho ga at the SoMa location so much that I wanted to share it with my mom, too! I was still feeling a little under the weather from the Arashi storm/monsoon/downpour, so chicken soup seemed like a good choice.

We were seated after a ~20 minute wait.
Pho ga (chicken pho)
Pho ga long (chicken pho with chicken giblets)

Somehow, it wasn't quite as good as the first time, but I still liked it. My mom wasn't blown away like I'd hoped. In fact, she announced that she would try making her own! The chicken giblets looked good, though - I think I'll try that next time. Hearts and livers? Yum.

After lunch, we wandered the Civic Center area, just a few blocks down. It was a great day to walk around.

San Francisco City Hall
Pioneer Monument

Finally, we hit up the Asian Art Museum, right across from City Hall. It's one of the best museums of its kind, and I was glad I finally visited! I can get in free with my badge from work, but I can also get a couple free passes from the public library, which enabled me to get my mom in free too. Asians, you know. We love "free."

The museum is really cool, though. Regular adult admission is $15, with exhibits spread over three floors. There are artifacts from over 40 Asian countries, religious pieces, as well as contemporary art. I especially liked looking at jewelry and jade. We didn't spend much time there because we'd parked at a meter, but it was fun. I'll have to keep up with the changing exhibits and experience all they have to offer.

Indonesian puppets!

Expect to see another post or two on San Francisco next month - both my parents came up last week and we had some touristy days and lots of good food. I love living here!