Los Angeles, USA
December 7, 2011

The man taking my order questioned what I thought had been a straightforward request:

"I'll have three tacos. One with tinga de pollo, one with chicharron, and one with chiles toreados," I'd told him.

He paused before jotting down the last item. "Chiles toreados? You know what those are, right?," he said in a dubious tone.

"No. I just saw them as one of the fillings on your menu. They were listed as vegetarian and spicy. That sounded good," I said.

"They are hot. Very, very hot. You sure you want it?"

"Sure. I like spicy food."

"Okay. But, if you can't eat it all, I'll make you another taco with a different filling," the taco shop owner said.

Lisa and David pre-Hiccups
In the end he was right. I couldn't eat the entire taco. But there was a more immediate side-effect than my mouth burning up. Upon taking my first bite, I broke into an uncontrollable bout of the hiccups.

I was with an old friend, Lisa, at her favorite taqueria, Guisados Tacos in Boyle Heights.

"Is it spicy?", she asked.

"Ye--(hic!)--ah," I tried to reply. "I've ne--(hic!)--ver eaten a--(hic!)--spicier chile. This is--(hic!)--weird. I have--(hic!)--n't gotten the--(hic!)--hiccups in years--(hic!)."

"I have a cure! It really works!", Lisa announced in an excited way that seemed like she might have been glad to have a real-life scenario in which to apply theoretical knowledge.

"Drink from your cup backwards."

Cousins: David, Jenny,
Ben, and Cindy
"Wha--(hic!)--what?", I stammered out. "How?" That sounded even less likely to work than the two ineffectual methods I'd heard of: either holding your breath or having somebody unexpectedly startle you. I raised my large paper cup of horchata and contemplated just how I was supposed to drink backwards from it.

"Put your head over the cup," Lisa instructed. "Drink from the other side."

I did as told. Tipping my skull down toward the floor, cinnamon rice milk gurgled onto the roof of my mouth between breaths and hiccups. After a few seconds my hiccups stopped.

I've been lingering in L.A. for a few days after the wedding. I wanted to spend time calling on relatives and friends who live in the area. Lisa was the last of several friends around town I finally managed to catch up with in-person. The last time I saw her was just over a year ago while we were both passing through Vietnam. She's doing well.

Relatives in L.A.: Jenny,
Cindy, Uncle Joseph,
David, Ben and Anna
Even with all the wedding events I've been attending and all the unrelated friends I've been running around catching up with, most of my time here has been spent with relatives. Cousin Jenny played host for the first three nights in town. (Hosting not just me, but Ben and Anna as well, who also came down from Seattle to attend Zach's wedding.) She and twin sister Cindy were the ones who drove with me and Ben up to Vancouver spring of last year when I had my immigration celebration.

Living on opposite ends of the U.S. west coast, we didn't have frequent contact when growing up. But, over what times we've shared as adults--I've really enjoyed getting to know each of them more fully. In the past I knew the twins more as a unit. Now, I have a much greater sense of not just who they are superficially but the nuances in each their personalities: small things such as who is of the two is chattier and more talkative and who of the two tends toward taciturn. Related-or-not, each of them is a cool person I want to spend more time hanging out with.

Cindy, Jenny, and I hung out the afternoon after the wedding by going to a place in the San Gabriel Valley for foot wash and massage. Kortry Skin Care Center is a massage parlor in the Chinese style. I've been pleased to see such places opening up around U.S. cities over recent years. They're the exact sort of place I would go to relax every week or two while living in China. The place the three of us went on Sunday was of that same formula I found so familiar: Feet are placed in a wooden vat of piping-hot water steeped with medicinal herbs. Head, shoulders, and arms are massaged while feet soak. After removal from water each foot is rubbed and treated in accordance with accupressure points. Ah... just writing the process out makes me feel relaxed. I'm glad to see more influences from everyday life in Asia coming to this country.

Cousins Post-Foot Massage:
Cindy, David and Jenny
I guess it's a sign of the times that the amount we paid for each massage was probably roughly equal to what the same service would cost today in China. With the discount afforded by using a multi-visit card the cost of the hour-long massage totalled $13 USD, before tip.

For the latter half of our visit to L.A., Ben, Anna, and I moved across town. We spent our last three nights staying with the twins' father, Uncle Joseph. Of the three uncles, he's the one I've seen least often over the years so know least well. But, now that he's recently retired from his lifelong career as an engineer, I imagine that I may have more opportunity to connect with him. He seems to have more time on his hands than he knows what to do with so is seeking new directions. He's newly excited about two things: traveling the world and religion. He talks with fervor of a way he's decided to take both on at once, participating in international missions led by his church.

Thanks for hosting us, Uncle Joseph. I hope you and I cross paths again soon--perhaps somewhere outside L.A.. Meeting again elsewhere might be a realistic possiblity as it's time for me to move along once again.

I'm now at LAX. I'll be saying goodbye to America again for a time. I have a red-eye flight on a ridiculously cheap airline that I'd never heard of: Spirit Airlines. I'm flying down to Central America to meet up with Irina--who has been attending a program of study down there since we both left Europe this summer.

She and I plan to spend our next five weeks traveling throughout the region. We don't know how far we'll make it together--likely Mexico City by mid-January--our itinerary is loose.

Next stop: Costa Rica