Archive for November, 2009

‘Going home’ to Thailand

November 19, 2009

(“Where they Went,” published July 19, 2009, Boston Globe.)

Amanda Johnson with parents Jo Lynne and David at Ta Prohm in Cambodia

WHO: David and Jo Lynne Johnson, 59, of Stratham, N.H., and their daughter, Amanda, 26, of New York.  To see traveler Amanda’s photos from the trip, go here.)

WHERE: Cambodia and Thailand.

WHEN: December to March.

WHY: “We fell in love with Asia, and Thailand specifically, and we wanted to go back to teach,” said Jo Lynne. This was the couple’s third trip in four years, which included two archeological tours with Earthwatch Institute and two teaching programs through Volunthai.

FAMILY OUTING: The first three weeks in Asia were spent with their daughter, who had just received her master’s degree in teaching English as a second language. “We offered to show her some of our favorite places,” David said.

HAPPY NEW YEAR: They started in Siem Reap, Cambodia, to visit the famed 12th-century temple complex of Angkor Wat. “We planned to be there for sunrise on New Year’s Day,” Jo Lynne said, “but there was no sun. Still, it was beautiful.” During a previous trip, the couple had befriended a tour guide, who took them around again. The Johnsons are helping his children attend English classes.

The family hitches a ride at Mae Taeng Elephant Camp in Thailand

PACHYDREAMS: “The one thing Mandy wanted to see were the elephants,” David said. Her wish was fulfilled at Mae Taeng Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, where visitors can view elephants bathing, feed them, and ride them through the jungle.

Amanda shows students their photo on her digital camera at Beungkumku School in NonJaDee, Thailand.

A HOST OF IDEAS: “Before Mandy left, we took her to meet the family,” David said, referring to the Volunthai host family they stayed with a year earlier in the small northeastern village of NonJaDee. “When we came before, we were the first white people the villagers had seen. Our purpose is to expose them to pronunciation. They never hear English spoken by native speakers. We taught school with Mandy for a few days. She went home with her head reeling with ideas.”

NEXT ASSIGNMENT: After their daughter left, the Johnsons went on to a larger school in Pakdee Chumphon, where they taught for a month through Volunthai. Not only is learning pronunciation challenging for the students, Jo Lynne said, the culture does not encourage independent thinking, so students are often reluctant to speak. “They’re so afraid of making a mistake. They’re not used to being individually responsible.”

The Johnsons with teacher Khru Tiu

TRULY CONNECTED: Their last three weeks were spent teaching back in NonJaDee. “It was like going home,” Jo Lynne said. The couple they’ve become close to, their host family through Volunthai last year, also are teachers. Communication is halting but doable, she said. “We keep the dictionary at the dinner table.” When the Johnsons are back in New Hampshire, they keep in touch through e-mail. “The people are just the nicest, warmest, most wonderful people. They’re really what drew us back to Thailand,” David said. Though another trip isn’t scheduled, “they know we want to come back, and we will.”

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Happy Dutch-American Heritage Day!

November 16, 2009
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A salute to Dutch-American relations

Today’s blog post is written by the most famous Dutch writer Diane knows: her husband, Wessel.

Not that you would know (even I didn’t until recently), but this day was instituted in 1991 to celebrate the bilateral relations between the Netherlands and the United States. Nov. 16 was selected because on that day in 1776, Dutch forces on the Caribbean island of St. Eustatius returned the salute of a small American warship “Andrew Doria,” thereby making the Netherlands the first country to officially salute the flag of the newly independent United States.

In 2005, Diane and Wessel sealed US-Dutch relationship with a kiss

On Oct. 30, 2004, Diane and Wessel sealed their US-Dutch partnership with a kiss (mimicking kissing-Dutch ceramics)

The day is celebrated in parts of the US with a large Dutch community, such as Michigan and the Hudson Valley, New York.  Alas, no such tradition exists in North Carolina. But Diane and I recently had our own personal Dutch-American anniversary, which dates back only five years.  On Oct. 30, 2004, we were married in the presence of Dutch and American family, friends, and flags. Liefde is love.  

Walk this way to way fresh seafood

November 10, 2009
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Diane is ready for Walking Fish pickup

Can you believe that even in coastal towns, most of the “fresh seafood” on restaurant menus isn’t even from this country, much less the county? Some 80 percent of seafood served in America is imported and much of it is harvested under conditions that would not meet U.S. environmental standards. Diners are unaware either because they assume it’s local or they’re told it is when it’s not. Or they just don’t care.

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Carteret clams are being steamed

The shrimp we sauteed the other night were recently caught in Carteret County, NC, about 200 miles east of our home in Durham. So were the clams we steamed two weeks earlier. And the flounder and jumping mullet we grilled? Yep, all from Carteret. Towns there include Atlantic Beach, Beaufort, and Morehead City.

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Locavore fishavores congregate on Thursdays at Duke Gardens pickup point

We got all that seafood through Walking Fish, a subscription seafood service organized by Josh Stoll and other students at the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. They’ve joined with Carteret fishermen/women to launch our region’s first community-supported fishery to sell locally caught seafood to the public. The name is a takeoff of the more common CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture. The CSF is coordinated through Bill Rice, owner of Fishtowne Seafood, a small Beaufort-based processing facility.

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Chuck of Fishtowne fills up a bag with fish and ice. Earlier he gave a filleting demo.

The composition of each week’s portion varies according to season and weather. We were told ahead of time that we’d likely get clams, shrimp, triggerfish, spot, mullet, flounder, and black drum. I really appreciated that we had choices — weekly vs. biweekly, half-share vs. full share, filleted vs. do-it-yourself. We chose biweekly, half-share and filleted, for $79. Each share is enough for two people with a little leftover, and we’re getting six weeks of fish, so about $13 a meal-for-two for really fresh seafood. And we’re helping our fishing friends in Carteret.

Duke students said they weren’t sure how the program would go over, but I could have told them it would sell out, which it did (at 400 members!). We’re situated in locavore/foodie/eco central. You should see the Prius drivers pull up at the pickup point at Duke Gardens with their farmers’ market and Obama bumper stickers.

While we’re on the topic, there’s also a wonderful program called Carteret Catch. When you see that label in a Carteret restaurant or seafood store window it signifies that the seafood labeled as local comes directly from the county. Those fish don’t have to walk far.

Getting fried with Soupy Sales

November 2, 2009
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Soupy Sales, his face about to be splattered with yet another pie

Way back in the olden days, from the 1950s to the ‘80s, Soupy Sales was a famous man: for his comedy, his rubbery face and his penchant for taking pies in said face. He had his own TV shows, a couple of them, played comedy clubs, and was a regular on game shows. He died Oct. 22, at age 83.

My friend Chuck Adams, executive editor of Algonquin Books, shares with us his wonderful Soupy Sales story, from when Chuck was a contestant on “The $10,000 Pyramid” in the late ‘70s, hosted by Dick Clark. Here’s his story:

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Chuck Adams, looking as glamorous as he did on television

“I was out of work and an actor friend had done the show ‘$10,000 Pyramid’ and recommended me, although he hadn’t won any money — just a consolation prize (yea! a year’s supply of Stouffer’s frozen meatloaf dinners!). They taped a week’s worth of shows in one (very long) day, and finally on ‘Friday’ they sent me up. The two celebrity guests were Lanie Kazan (a sweet, ditzy woman) and Soupy Sales (a smart, funny man), and I, luckily, got Soupy.

“We zoomed through the initial round and I got to the big board. Soupy was giving the clues; I was receiving. We had one minute to solve six word- association puzzles. Soupy’s hands were in straps so he would have to give his clues with words only (no charades). We whizzed through the first five in 30 seconds, but then we got to the last one.

“Soupy said, “Eggs, bacon, chicken…” and then he looked at me. I said, “Things you eat for breakfast?” Soupy shook his head and repeated, “Eggs, bacon, chicken…” And then he probably added something like “sausage…” I don’t remember what I said after that, or what he said after that, but I do know that with about three seconds left, my brain finally clicked in and I managed to make an association with all the things he’d be shouting at me: “Things that are fried?” I finally said, and then people were screaming and Soupy and I were jumping up and down and hugging each other, and Dick Clark was shaking my hand.

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Soupy Sales in 2008 (photo Wikipedia)

“It was a truly memorable moment. And so naturally that 15-minute segment of my long-ago life came to mind this past week when the funny, smart Soupy Sales died. I needed those $10,000 very badly in 1978, and he helped me survive the year. I will never forget him. He was a saint… or at worst a very clever performer.”

Thanks for that great TV tale, Chuck!

And a North Carolina note:  Soupy was born “Milton Supman,” to the only Jewish family in Franklinton, NC (about 30 miles east of us), which certainly could have triggered a need for comic relief.