I suppose that every tale of arrival begins with a story of departure. So it is perhaps fitting that I begin this account of my return to the United States on a large, crowded dance floor in Singapore.

Well, not exactly a dance floor per se.

Sing, Hsien, Eric and Sim
[Disco Party]

Actually, the dual going away party for me and Li Hsien was hosted in Li Hsien's living room which had been converted into instant disco club complete with multiple mixed CD players and a quaint manual flashlight-based lighting system. I had a couple of 24 CD packs of 1970's music from KC and the Sunshine Band to Donna Summer and Fen (who had hurt her knee) had agreed to DJ (no swing music allowed).

Several dozen friends (mainly Swingaporean Jitterbugs and Straits Times (Hsien's workplace) employees showed up and dancing continued late into the night. We'd warned people that it was a 1970's disco costume party so at least half of the attendees dressed up. Top honors went to Andrew for his rendition of Travolta from Saturday Night Fever and Sim for his Construction Worker ala Village People Garb. Props also went to Garvin and Francis who led the "Strutting competition".

Francis, Hsien, Andrew, and Garvin
[Disco Party]

Happily, Keat, my ex-flatmate and Stephen, rock climber extraordinaire and fellow ex-Electric Eye employee, also showed up so I felt as if my whole time in Singapore was represented. Keat came with some Sunset Bay pals and Stephen came with Irene, the soon-to-be Mrs. Stephen and Joe from Electric Eye.

Of course, the next day, the night before the flight to the states, we also had our final Swing night at Gatsby's Bar. Gatsby's was packed because it was both Hsien and my last night in Singapore as well as Sim's birthday.

Sing and Andrew
[Disco Party]

So, for the second night in a row, we danced until I was completely drenched in sweat. However, as we were preparing to leave, the entire group made a swing bridge for us to walk under and out the door. We went through and they all followed us out the door waving and yelling "bye".

I have to say, it was quite touching, even though we'd see all of them at the various swing dance camps coming up in the next few months.

The next day, Ray (Hsien's sister's husband and my current flatmate) drove me to Changi airport where we met Hsien and the rest of the Lim clan for check in. Hsien was going off to New York to get her masters at Columbia University and had agreed to be the co-pilot on the long drive from Los Angeles to Maryland. So we'd gotten tickets to LA on the same flight.

The Grand Canyon
[Grand Canyon]

As it turned out, EVA, a Taiwanese airline, had better deals than Northwest by a long shot and nothing would get me to fly Northwest again after the last horrid experience. Besides the cheaper tickets, the attendants were much nicer, the movies and food were better, and there was much more leg room.

However, I still did not sleep.

We arrived in LA around noon and my mom picked us up and drove us to my grandma's house where my car was being stored. I also found out that all of my boxes had arrived in Maryland. I'd sent them from Singapore via FEDEX cause Hsien had a friend who worked at FEDEX and got a 70% discount!

LA was the usual blast as it had been of late. Wednesday nights we caught Jumpin Jimes at the Derby and I got a chance to teach Jayleen and Howard how to Swing dance. Everyone had a fun time and it was nice to get a chance to see the Jimes again. On Thursday I had lunch with my Bachan and Uncle Willie and dinner with the folks and my grandma at Canters.

The Guadaloupe Range
[Guadaloupe Range]

We had intended to leave the next morning for Death Valley, but too many people recommended against it as the southwest was going through quite a heat wave. Further, Li Hsien contact a few of her friends down in Orange County so we opted to skip Death Valley and leave the LA area a couple of days later. So we hoped in the car and headed south to the rolling hills of track house suburbia where Hsien's friends Sonia and her husband Peter lived with their newborn in a gigantic and comfy house.

Hsien had a blast recounting old tales of days in Singapore when she had spent many times with Peter and his crowd of motorcycle riding expats. They had been expats of the generation before me who had come with amazing packages which provided them with so much money that they could truly live like kings and do whatever they wanted. By the time I was an expat of course, the packages had dried up with the Asian economy and things were a little different.

In Review

They are a fun couple. Peter is the PR director for Taco Bell, so he was able to show us all sorts of advertising footage for the Taco Bell Chihuahua that hit the states big while I was in Singapore. It is the first time I got to see the Yo Quiero Taco Bell commercials and I thought they were okay. What was most interesting was the fact that Peter had the whole development of the ad campaign, sort've a videography with commercials from the start. He also had a running commentary on how the commercials evolved.

At any rate, I was quite impressed with the house. Although it was the cookie cutter suburb mold thing. I have been wanting to settle down with my own home for quite some time and seeing such a comfortable place made me wish that I could see myself finding a stable location for more than 6 months. Of course, it does not look too good for that now so I won't be buying any permanent things like the excellent stereo system I have my eye on or the CD Jukebox.

Hsien at the Grand Canyon
[Grand Canyon]

So after a day and night with Sonia and Peter we hit the road on the way to Las Vegas. We had lots of time, so we cruised along and rolled in late in the afternoon. We'd come on the last weekend before school started so the city was absolutely packed. After calling several hotels only to find them booked up, we finally found a place that was off the strip and which did not have a casino. That however, turned out to be a blessing. We were only 5 minutes drive to the strip and the hotel room was very nice including pool and spa. After we checked in we took a cab up to the strip and walked around all the casinos. Las Vegas has that Stephen Speilberg/Disneyland sort've feel now but that made it kind've fun. We won a nickel in the slot machines but lost 95 cents. We had dinner at the Mirage and then headed back to relax by the pool and then watch a movie.

The next day we headed off towards the Grand Canyon by way of the Hoover Dam and a scenic drive through the deserts of Nevada and Arizona. However, by the time we arrived at the Grand Canyon the sun was far enough over the horizon that all of the rim tours were closing. So we watched the sunset over the canyon and went back into the city to find a place to stay for the night.

We woke up early the next morning to head out to the canyon and made it there for the first tour bus out along the rim. It was nice to have arrived so early because there was only 6 or 7 other people on the route. The bus driver told us that within the next two hours the area would be jammed with people. We road the bus along the west rim to the very end of the walking trail and then began the long hike back on the dirt trail which teetered along the edge.

The Mid West
[The Mid West]

There had been fires in the park and the view of the canyon was somewhat deadened by a thin haze of smoke, however, the scenery was as awesome as I had imagined.

Some time later we arrived back in the village/park visitor center area and grabbed lunch before heading off again. Our travel plans did not leave enough time to actually descend into the valley, so we had to be satisfied with the hike along the rim and the also scenic drive out.

From the Grand Canyon we took the long drive to Lordsburg (nowhere) where we stayed over night. Lordsburg was about 3/4 of the way to Carlsbad Caverns which was our next stop but so as not to over-drive ourselves we decided to stop there instead of go all the way. Stopping in Lordsburg also gave us the opportunity to stop at White Sands early the next morning.

White Sands National Monument is one of a few sand dune deserts in the Southwest. The dunes are trapped in the depression between mountain ranges and extends for miles like endless waves of pure white. We played around in the dunes until we were extremely hot and as far from the car as we could without getting lost. In fact, it was easy to get lost out there because all the dunes began to look the same and we were concerned about going too far.

Niagra Falls
[Niagra Falls]

From there, we finished the drive to Carlsbad Caverns in Southern New Mexico. We arrived near sunset, just in time to catch the bat flights out of the caves. We drove up just as the park ranger finished her speech about bat zoology and the audience turned to the cave mouth to wait for the swarms of bats to exit the caverns on their way to food and drink for the evening.

Sure enough, after some waiting the bats began to swirl out of the cave like the chaotic storm of a dot matrix printer on the fritz, whipping about by the updrafts coming breathing out of the openings. And then after 15 minutes or so, the exodus was complete and we headed back to Whites City where we found a cheap place to stay for the night. We would return to tour the caverns in the morning. However, we did get one bit of great advice. The locals told us to wait until 10Am to go in because all the tourists would be up bright and early to visit the caverns. By waiting till 10AM, one would get a much more vacant tour since the others would be eating at the shops far below when we were starting.

The caverns themselves are giant catacombs (3 football stadiums in length for the largest cave in the caverns). Which extend downward endlessly. The caverns are quite impressive actually and the stalagmites and stalagtites are as tall as trees in many places. Having mainly explored the limestone caves in Asia, I was unused to such vast and cleaned caves.

Hsien noted that the caves, as well as all the natural tour sites in the US, were deeply sanitized. Noting like they would be in Asia. I agreed, remembering having to crawl through the bad guano in the Burmese limestone caverns, or being able to climb right up the face of a waterfall in Thailand with no signs of warning signs or restraining gates. Of course the up side of sanitation was that everyone could see the attraction, elderly, young, disabled alike….

On the Road in the Southwest
[On the Road]

From Carlsbad we made our way towards Abeline, Texas which was half way to Dallas, our next real destination. Besides getting a warning ticket in Andrews, Texas, where I thought I was going to be in trouble, we had nothing of interest happen besides driving through the endless, and I mean endless, flatlands of west Texas.

By the way, I have to say that the cop in Andrews was actually very nice and understanding of my speeding. I must admit that I had a poor stereotype of Texas cops! This one turned out to be quite friendly.

Dallas was great however. It was our first real stop so it had an oasis quality to it after driving and touring for so long. Also I had a chance to stop and see Tonya and meet her boyfriend, Chris. They both seemed very happy and I was doubly happy to see Tonya with such a cool guy.

On the first night they took us to The Red Jacket club for swing dancing and we forced them to take a swing dance class which they did and seemed to enjoy themselves, I hope they go back.

Otherwise I thought the club was far too crowded to really enjoy ourselves, and the dancers were only beginners so they had little awareness of floor space. They were just slamming into each other right and left. However, when The Cherry Poppin' Daddys came on the speakers, Hsien and I cleared some floor space on an overlooking balcony and got to dance a really fast one with lots of room since most other dancers crowded downstairs to the dance floor.

At Medieval Times
[Tonya and Hsien]

The next day we woke up late and went to get massages at this really cool massage parlor recommended by Tonya. A powderful back attach was really needed after the week driving and the massueses were quite strong.

After pampering our achy muscles, we went shopping at the mall where Chris worked and I got some trendy clothes. While we were in the store I actually tried on some of those giganto pants the kids are wearing these days. They did not look very good on me so I didn't buy a pair. : )

That evening we went to eat at Medieval Times where Tonya works as a serving wench and bar tender. It was quite a show. The crowd seemed to be a bit on the nerdy family-oriented suburbans, dare I say white trashish…but they were all having a great time and that made the whole experience fun. Several couples were even there to celebrate wedding aniversarys and such. Well, each to their own. The staged battles were okay and the horsemanship was at times pretty impressive. However, the food was not as good as I had imagined and the smell of horses was something to get used to.

The next day was another leisurely day with Hsien's brother Eric and his girlfriend Hsuen. They had driven up from Houston to see Hsien since it was so close. We had Pho (Vietnamese beef/noodle soup) for brunch and then chilled the day away. That night we went to an Imrpov studio recommended by Tonya. Unfortunately Tonya and Chris couldn't make it since they both had other obligations but the improv was awesome.

The next day we had breakfast with the whole group and then went our separate ways. Eric and Hsuen went back to Houston, Tonya and Chris went to work and me and Hsien went on to Oklahoma. We were going to a town called Bartlesville, just outside of Tulsa where Sylvia, a friend of Hsien's, was working.

That night we had dinner with Sylvia and Hsien and she chatted the night away while I started typing in my journal.

After the quick rest in Bartlesville, we picked up and continued on to St Louis where we were to see my cousins who had just returned from a float trip near the city.

Hiking at White Sands
[White Sands]

That evening we had BBQ ribs mid-west style and then chatted the evening away before going to bed. And of course, the next morning we were off again on our way to Chicago where I was to meet Sharon Baum, an email buddy.

Sharon had scoped us out a good swing club that evening so after we checked in to our hotel room, at the Ohio House, we met Sharon for diner and then headed over to Liquid for their Tuesday Swing night. Chicago was great fun and we were able to hook up with another Singaporean swinger named Jeannie, who happened to be in Chicago that week.

And then, early the next morning, we left Chicago on the way to Cleveland where Hsien's sister Tai lives. We arrived around 9PM and Tai and her roommate Susan took us to eat a late diner at Leaping Lizards restaurant.

Hsien and Dawn
in NY
[Hsien and Dawn ]

By the time we were done, Hsien and I were passing out so we went back to Tai's house and crashed.

The next day was mainly a relaxing day for me and a chore day for Hsien. But in the evening we found a cool swing club called The Spy Bar in downtown Cleveland. This was probably my favorite club along the way. It was not crowded like Dallas but it still had an emerging scene feel to it. Chicago was more like LA or San Francisco. Cleveland was more excitement then trend.

Fortunately, the DJ was playing really fast music so I was loving it.

The next day we hit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Jordan eat your heart out) and spent the entire morning and early afternoon making our way through the incredibly cool exhibits. I must say, the museum impressed me significantly. I really had expected some cheesy Elvis-Graceland kind've ordeal, but the museum was actually very tasteful and informative.

Then, in the mid afternoon we left Cleveland for New York and promptly got a flat tire.

Fortunately, I had AAA and I found a phone in a house off the freeway. We got towed to a tire place and we were back on the road in an hour.

That night, we made it all the way to Niagra so we didn’t really get behind schedule. We stayed on the American side and got checked in just in time to have diner and go watch the firework show over the falls.

The next morning was another early one as we woke up as early as we could to do all the falls tourist things before it got swamped. I thought the falls were okay but not as impressive as I thought they would be. I got wet on the "Maid of the Mist" and we walked over to the Canadian side for the rest of the morning and then headed towards the suburbs of New York where Hsien's cousins lived.

Hsien's parents were also there since they had just arrived for a trip of their own. Tai was also there having driven in from Cleveland, so it was quite a circus. But Hsien's family is extremely cool and it is always fun listening to her dad argue these phsysical anthropology points about the biological determinism of our ancestry.

The next day we drove to New York, I dropped off Hsien at her place, helped her unload, and headed south towards Maryland where I met Gunther, and moved into his house.