i was surprised to find my roommate had already left for work this morning, since she was up late last night (like 2:30 late) hunched over her laptop in the living room working on some mysterious project. i'd already gone to bed, hoping she would be too, since i hate to lose the crown of the person who stays up the latest.
i made a quick trip to the bank this morning in harvard square to get some cash, before quickly gathering up my stuff and leaving for belmont via bicycle. i hope my roommate remembers what i told her about locking the windows, but just to be safe, i took my laptop, my camera equipment, and even my backup hard drive, so there'd be nothing of value left in the house should it be burgled while i'm away.
i was leaving with my father to new york city (long island actually), and probably won't be back until late tuesday at the earliest. we were there to pick up a relative from china (my father's maternal cousin), escorting her daughter to the US so she can attend business school. here's where the story gets complicated though. originally she was supposed to go to school in boston, where she'd have at least some familial support (my parents) should she need it. however, the only school that contacted her was adelphi in garden city (long island), so she reluctantly agreed to go there instead, with the condition that she attends an ESL course to brush up her english prior to the start of the semester. but after all the paper work was done (and the tuition paid), northeastern accepted her as well (actually her first choice). by then the student visa had already been issued, and with only a few days left before leaving china, there wasn't anything she could do. so the new plan is for her to start her ESL class at adelphi, wait for the transfer to go through, then relocate to boston.
guided by our garmin gps, we made our way to queens village, where we had reservations for a pair of howard johnson hotel rooms, within striking distance of both the JFK international airport and adelphi university. we left belmont around 11:00 and got to queens village close to 3:00.
queens village wasn't much to write home about, with the hojo located on a decrepit stretch of commercial thoroughfare in a sea of thickly settled residential. there were a lot of banks and a lot of churches. plenty of laundromats as well, and no loss for convenience stores. actually, as far as commercial districts go, it was pretty well represented, but the area had definitely seen better days. of the restaurants, there were several west indies places, some chinese, one mexican, and one diner. what my father thought was a korean restaurant turned out to be a tae kwon do school.
i'd done some research beforehand and had realized there were some fried chicken restaurants within the vicinity, as well as a white castle. the first thing we did after checking into our hotel room was drive to said burger joint about a mile away. ever since harold and kumar, i've been dying to try a white castle burger. we ate in the restaurant, to absorb the full ambience. i ordered 4 tiny burgers, and my father got 4 tiny pull-pork sandwiches. verdict? they're okay, but nothing worth driving 200+ miles for. the buns were soft like cotton, but the meat was a processed sliver of rectangular greyness passing for beef. the toppings were reminiscent of a normal mcdonald burger, except at least mcdonald tries to make their patty resemble something that came from a living thing. i almost wanted to apologize for my father for having to experience this failure with me. 4 white castle burgers equal approximately a single regular mcdonald burger, except more expensive. there also seems to be unnessary waste, as each tiny burger is individually wrapped in a cardboard carton. surprisingly, i felt full after just 3 burgers. i forced myself to finish the last one, figuring it would taste worse cold.
we parked the car back at the hotel and wandered around the neighborhood for a while. we visited the elevated queens village LIRR station. the place was a bit run down, and had the smell of spilled soda (a nicer way of saying what i really thought it smelled like). other than the few drivers waiting in their buses downstairs, there was no other MTA employees to be found. a few folks were waiting on the platform, motionless for the most part, just trying to stay cool in the oppressive dry heat. two trains came down on either side of the tracks without stopping, traveling so fast (100+ mph?) that i could easily see it sucking someone down onto the tracks.
back at the hotel we rested until dinner. it didn't take us long to realize the LIRR went by the back of the hotel, so every so often we'd hear and feel the rumble of a passing train. we turned the air conditioner to full crank, feeling obligated to the cool breeze for our paid room. i'd brought along my laptop when i saw that there was free wireless internet access. the password was just their fax number (i wonder if this is the same for all howard johnsons?). there was also a small LG flat screen television mounted to the wall, but the reception on the 30 odd channels seemed rather analog despite the digital technology. i woke my father from his nap at 6:00.
from our exploration earlier we spotted a west indies restaurant we wanted to try out. my father was drawn to the oxtails advertised on a chalk placard standing on the sidewalk. there was a counter of heated curries behind a glass window shelf in front of the store, with banks of empty tables in the back. we stood there for about a minute while the employees did their best to ignore us. "are you open for dinner?" i asked slightly annoyed, almost about to leave at that point. one of the employees directed us back to the front of the restaurant, where seemingly unappetizing curry awaited. too late to consider any other options, we decided to gamble and try it out (for takeout anyway, no point sticking around for a table). my father had his oxtails mixed with some bean and rice, mashed sweet potatoes, and mashed pumpkin. i had the same, except goat curry instead, and some mashed spinach as well. at $7, it wasn't a bad deal (provided the food was fresh and hadn't been sitting there for days). we also got 2 bottles of guyanese ginger beer.
my father was pleasantly surprised by the oxtails, and finished most of his dinner. my goat curry was okay, but the smell of goat was very strong and made my stomach queasy. those white castle burgers must've also been more filling than i realized because i wasn't hungry. i ended up just finishing the goat parts, dipped in some west indies hot sauce for that extra kick. speaking of which, i was in the bathroom soon afterwards, my digestive system kicking back (i wonder if there was also dairy in the curry?).
we left for the airport before 8:00. our precious cargoes weren't arriving until 8:30 (via korean air), but my father wanted to get there early in case we got lost or hit some traffic. goggle map said about 16 minutes driving, which was about right, plus a few additional minutes for missing our terminal and having to circle back around to find the green parking lot.
the arrival board said the flight was already on the ground by 7:53, whatever that meant. at 8:40 the board updated the status to arrived 8:20. most of the people waiting were koreans. some had welcome balloons, a few carried cameras to document the arrival. of the non-koreans, a handful held up signs with names on them, drivers looking for their drivees. a distinguished looking older man in a suit was greeted by a team of similarly looking young men in suits. working as a team, they helped the boss carry his things. the man must've been VIP first class, but many more minutes went by before anybody else came out from the doors. it was kind of interesting watching the flashes of happy emotions as arriving passengers were greeted by their waiting party. especially these international flights from asia, because these trips aren't often made, so the reunions are that much sweeter.
besides my father's cousin and his daughter, the daughter's boyfriend was also traveling with them. like her, he's also going to graduate school here in the US, but in connecticut. his aunt was supposed to come pick him up, so she was somewhere in the crowd of asians. my father and i tried to guess who it was (the short frumpy lady? the lady in the 4" heels?). he even called her cell phone twice, but neither time she answered.
the cousin, the daughter, and the boyfriend were amongst the last passengers to clear through customs and come out of the gate. the reason why we didn't see the aunt was because the uncle came instead (it was the asian man with the coiled national geographic magazine all along!). there was a moment of awkwardness as the couple split up, the boy leaving with his uncle, the girl coming with us.
we drove back to the hotel guided entirely by gps. the way back was so circuitous (yet still the shortest way home) that we would've never made it without satellite guidance.
after unloading 3 large suitcases and 2 small suitcases (it was a packing miracle that we managed fit them all in the car), my father went to go park the car while we waited. the cousin asked if he could smoke outside (as a daily single pack smoker, he was jonesing for a nicotine fix after a cigarette-free trans-pacific flight). i jokingly said no, but said yes when he thought i was serious. we showed the father and daughter to their room, just across the hallway (112) from ours (113). while my father went with his cousin to pick up some popeye fried chicken from down the street (and also probably to smoke as well), i instructed the daughter how to access the wireless network.
i've never had popeye fried chicken before, but i heard better things about it than KFC. after having two pieces, i think they're pretty much the same, which means they still can't compare to genuine freshly-made fried chicken. i didn't think the daughter was very hungry, but she downed a few chicken as well as indulging in some cole slaw. the cousin refrained from the fried stuff, confessing his disdain for both chicken and fish. he did however have a bowl of ramen my father brought along from home.
the rest of the evening was spent in our room chatting. the cousin is a very amiable fellow, full of funny stories about applying for his second US visa or incurring the wrath of a local on a recent taiwanese business trip.
father and daughter left for their room around midnight. they didn't seem tired, but i told them if they can get some sleep tonight, it'll speed up their jetlag recovery. when the cousin went out for a smoke my father went along as well. when he returned he smelled of chinese cigarettes.