February 26, 2009

And the Nominees Are...

[Editor's note: after two months of very inconsistent posting, we will now make our best effort to post every weekend, whether or not we have something to say.]

Sorry, I'm back. And to further disappoint those fans who called demanding that Zhou take over the blog: by "I'm back," I'm referring to Kevin.

Today our goal is to disprove a common misconception about world travel. No, not the misconception that I'm bringing a full year's worth of chili dogs and applesauce to avoid having to try foreign food. (In fact, I have taken my first baby step toward preparing myself for vegetable curry and grasshopper legs: I tried a chewy chocolate chunk granola bar. And to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed it.) Instead we want to assure everyone that even though we will be traveling the world, you'll be having fun too.

When you think of hiking on glaciers in the southernmost city in the world, what comes to mind? Scenic views? Ice? Whatever it may be, I'm guessing it's not March Madness. However, if Zhou allows it, that will be in the back of my mind as we tour Patagonia. And more generally, if Zhou allows it, I/we will miss things back here in the States.

So with no further ado, I bring you my post about less-than-obvious things I will miss while traveling the world. Well, I guess there's a little further ado, because in honor of Oscar week (between me and Slumdog Millionaire, we now have eight combined Oscars) our presentation will be a la nominations at the Academy Awards.

And the nominees, in no particular order, are:

(1) That Lebron State Farm commercial. I'll be honest, I didn't know that it was a State Farm commercial until I looked it up just now, but that's not the point. There are so many things right with that commercial that I don't know where to begin. Lebron. The Browns. The fact that it's his first name on his jersey. The fact that it only comes on when I'm doing my favorite activity: watching TV. Not having this commercial in my life is a microcosm of other things I'll be missing.

(2) The glare-resistant setting on the rearview mirror. Do you ever feel like things are going well in life - great girlfriend, caring family and friends, living in the South, horrible job near a new Five Guys - but there's just something that's not quite right? I figured out what the something was one day two summers ago. The glare-resistant setting on the rearview mirror. And it's not because car headlights mysteriously and magically become dimmer when you flip it up. It's because that's how I knew that Zhou and I would be together forever. Her glare-resistant setting is the exact same as my normal setting and vice versa, so we never have to adjust the rearview. And every time I flip the mirror setting, it reminds me of that moment in my life that everything began to make sense.

(3) Settlers of Catan. It combines the awesomeness of Tom on Survivor with the strategery of Electronic Battleship and the ferocity of a lion on the prowl. Enough said. If only they figure out a way to have the settlers play Scrabble within the game...

(4) My Donato's coupon. I don't know how long I've had it and I don't remember where I got it, but it's worth $3 off my next pizza purchase at the best pizza chain I know. It reminds me of all things American - pizza, money and cheapness. Every time I think about getting a pizza, I think about using this coupon. And then I think about the budget Zhou and I are on, and I realize that chicken dumplings from Trader Joe's would be even cheaper. So while I eat my people's food, the coupon continues to sit on my desk reminding me of my home country.

(5) Tying my shoes on the escalator. My fingers shake, my palms sweat, my knees begin to wobble. What had seemed like a good idea (the escalator was so long!) just 30 seconds ago has now become a race against time. I swear I can tie a shoelace in less than 7 seconds, yet somehow I am now at the bottom of the escalator and my shoelace is even more untied than when I started. It all comes down to two choices: ditching the shoe as the lace inevitably gets caught under the escalator landing or manning up and getting my tie on. I think it's the thrill of the competition that I'll miss most...

There you have it. And again in the spirit of the Oscars, I'll give you, the Kevin and Zhou Academy, the chance to vote on the winner. If you have an opinion, please feel free to express it in the poll to your right.

One other thing Zhou and I have been considering adding to the blog is a new section called "Puzzles for Postcards." The idea is simple: we create a puzzle, and if you are the first to comment with the correct answer, you get a personalized, autographed (don't downplay the autographs - you'll want to hang onto those) postcard from wherever we are at that time. Don't expect the puzzles to be easy though, as most will be crazy anagrams that will take time to solve. If no one solves the puzzle, we will burn the postcard. You have been warned.

As a teaser of what is to come as we travel the world, here's the first puzzle. First one to respond with the anagrammed famous quote gets a postcard from... Charlotte!

1988 Olympics in Hollywood Anagram:

"Empty light
Trees hide limbs
The thief over my hut

Games: 11 (full log)
Zhou wins; points per game; points last game; bingos last game (WPLB): 6; 365; 410; iNSTEAD, PRUNIER*
Kevin WPLB: 5; 365; 398; STAINER, StRAINER

February 15, 2009

Thai House Special: Zhou Zhang Curry

The reason that I have yet to write a post for this blog has already been detailed in post #1 by Kevin. I know what's funny, even though I'm not funny myself, and Kevin knows what's pretty, even though he's not pretty himself.

However, we are both pretty competitive, which sometimes leads to a lot of sighs (me) and some tears (also me) when engaged in a particularly intense game of Scrabble. But that's another post altogether. So anyhow, that's why he has main blogging duties while I get to sit in front of the TV and watch "Jon and Kate Plus Eight" marathons (Colin had a puffy eye, but don't worry, it wasn't anything serious. Leah does not need glasses).

Anyway, this won't be quite as coherent as the last posts; instead, it's just going to be a list of some things that have been going on in our lives lately, some of it travel-related, some of it not.

(Note: when I told Kevin I was going to write an only-sort-of-travel-related post for the blog, he said, and I quoth, "this is scary, so vague.")

1. For those of you wondering how we decided to take a year off and travel, the answer is: I'm not sure. We had talked about it for awhile, but I can't remember how that started, and the next thing you know, I was calling my credit card company to ask for an increase in my credit line so I could afford to buy the plane tickets.

2. When I got out of the shower this morning, I was greeted by Charlie calmly chewing on a clean pair of underwear (mine, not hers, though she does have a couple of sweaters and a Santa hat) that she had tugged out of the bin from my closet.

3. After I told my dad that Kevin and I would get married before we went traveling around the world, he replied, "Good. In some countries, you should probably be married." Cryptic, no?

4. Last week, Kevin and I made some delicious green bean casserole a la Alton Brown. You should make some too. I would recommend substituting a stick of butter and half a cup of milk for the half and half. It's much fattier that way.

5. I've been thinking a lot lately about whether or not to change my name after Kevin and I get married. As my maid of honor so considerately said to me, "It sounds like a Thai special! Zhou Zhang Curry!" This was followed by unbridled laughter (her) and cringing (me). My roommate (who is also a bridesmaid, mind you) has a new favorite joke, which is, "Is that my curry? No, that Zhou curry!" This statement is also followed by uncontrolled laughter (her) and ridiculous grinning (Charlie). You can see I have some very supportive friends. Anyway, all joking aside, I am still on the fence on the whole name-changing issue, and I'd appreciate any thoughts on the subject. I thought I had pretty much decided to just stick with my own name, but I know I'd be sad to sign my name on my kids' permission slips when it wouldn't be the same as theirs.

6. Speaking of kids, Naz (roommate of "No, that's Zhou curry" fame) refers to me as "Mamma Zhou" when talking to Charlie. Kev, don't you think that sounds nice?

7. I'm a bit nervous about the prospect of the two of us indoorsy folks doing the Annapurna Circuit Trek in Nepal, which is a gazillion-mile trek (slight exaggeration). But I figure if things get really tough, we can just turn around and play Scrabble instead! (So I got my little butt kicked pretty badly in the last game we played, but don't worry, I'll be back...)

Games: 8 (full log)
Zhou wins; points per game; points last game (WPL): 5; 359; 345
Kevin WPL: 3; 354; 479
Zhou Bingos last game: MENdERS (74)
Kevin Bingos last game: PrEHEAT (78)

February 8, 2009

There is Nothing to Fear But Gear Itself

Michael Jordan. George Foreman. Doug E. Doug. All three have revolutionized their respective professions. Are they more talented than you or I? Not a chance. They have done what they've done because of one thing: gear.

Think about it. Where would MJ be without his trusty Air Jordan sneakers? What about GF without his infamous "lean, mean grilling machine?" And DED would never have been "Sanka Coffee, pushcart champion" without those three kids and the Rasta Rockett.

Obviously then, traveling around the world with poor gear could be the difference between, well, a fun trip around the world with good gear and a fun trip around the world with not-so-good gear. So gear up and enjoy our post.

Zhou and I are what some would probably call indoorsy. I couldn't tell you the last time I went camping. Oh wait, yes I could. It was before freshman year of college at Squirrel Camp. (Vanderbilt had a lot of squirrels running around campus, so they named a freshman orientation after them. But they didn't name anything after the plethora of girls wearing way too much make up.) The camping was miserable. I think I might have vowed never to do it again.

Zhou, on the other hand, didn't go to Squirrel Camp. I did catch her looking out a window once though. So she knows the outdoors exist.

So here we are, two non-traveling, non-camping troglodytes (yes, I knew that was a word myself, and then I looked it up and realized it sort of fits this sentence). Choosing what to pack seemed like quite a task. Let's start with the basics.

Microsoft Excel.

We made an Excel spreadsheet of our entire trip - the budget, the daily agendas, what visas we'd need, what immunizations we'd need, the Eurail schedule, what to pack, etc. Zhou spent countless hours researching different online sites (a favorite) on trips such as our own, and I spent countful hours cheering Zhou on. Once we'd come up with a complete list of what to pack, we started buying.

Clothes. We budgeted enough money to buy all new wardrobes for the year - we each get approximately four shirts, two pairs of pants, a jacket and some socks and underwear. From here, we began to live at REI, and constantly check steepandcheap for new deals. We each bought a jacket on the site (a Marmot and an Arcteryx), and we've now gone to REI on four consecutive weekends. I think the REI cashiers know us almost as well as Julian at Jason's Deli.

Packs. We'd each need one backpack for the trip. Thankfully, my parents got us started by researching (and buying) a great Osprey Porter 46 (46 liters of space) pack for me. (Tip: if you're sticking to a budget, don't hesitate to make an extra long Christmas list.) From there we figured the easiest way to size Zhou's pack would be a ratio: my weight to my pack size vs. her weight to her pack size. Since I hear it's not polite to go telling everyone a woman's weight, I'll just say this: we found that she would need a 4 liter pack. Since they don't make them that small, we got this.

Sleeping bags. This seemed so simple, yet when we actually dug in and did some research, we learned that there are actually more types of sleeping bags than there are people in the world. And if you're used to sleeping on top of a pile of money with many beautiful ladies, then the difference between 40 degree down and 20 degree synthetic seems insignificant. To narrow things down, we ended up prioritizing our needs in the following way:

1) Stuff size - how small the bag is when rolled up. Since we'll be living for a whole year out of about 5,000 cubic centimeters of pack space, we'll need small sleeping bags
2) Price - our budget did not originally account for sleeping bags, so we'd need to keep these somewhat cheap
3) Recommended temperature - honestly, we're not really sure what weather we'll encounter, but we decided if it's cold, we'll put more clothes on when we sleep

After a couple weeks of searching in between episodes of The Office, we settled on the Lafuma Warm'n Light 600. And take it from me (who's yet to actually sleep in the bag outdoors, or indoors for that matter), this is one quality bag. It just looks so nice.

Ok, now it's time for me to step off my gear soapbox and onto my, er, game shampoobox.

S=1, H=4, A=1, M=3, P=3, O=1, O=1, B=3, O=1, X=8. And when played on the triple word, you get... drumroll... 0 points. Shampoobox is not a word, but nice try.

Scrabble - everyone's favorite game. On Survivor, contestants usually get one personal item. If Zhou or I were on the show, it would be our travel Scrabble board. And that's why despite our space limitations and rather large size of the travel Scrabble case, we are not only bringing it with us, but also creating a section at the end of each blog post for a summary of our recent games. Our goal is to play Scrabble in all 32 countries we visit, including in front of sites such as Mount Everest, Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramids.

Before I continue, there's a few things you need to know about Zhou and me (I was tempted to say Zhou and I, but realized that if I dropped the "Zhou and" that "I" made no sense). Our idea of fun is watching Jeopardy while solving calculus problems and eating buttered scones. So rather than think, "wow, I don't want to hear about their Scrabble games," just remember how much more boring we get.

And with that, I bring you Scrabble signoff number 1 (no, WPL is not an insider Scrabble acronym, but yes it does also stand for Westerville Public Library):

Games: 1 (full log)
Zhou wins; points per game; points last game (WPL): 1; 369; 369
Kevin WPL: 0; 278; 278
Zhou Bingos last game: SWATHEd (85), READINGS (64)
Kevin Bingos last game: none