Friday, June 29, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Community Service

Parking ticket means summon in America; 
for us it means parking fee.
         I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. While I was there I had my fair share brushes with the law, all petty offences. I remembered it happened once again when I had to pick up a new student who just arrived at my city, waiting at the airport. It was a last minute rush to pick him up as he had earlier missed his connecting flight in San Francisco, so Delta Airlines routed him through Memphis instead of the normal route through Dallas before landed in Mobile. Since there were no parking space, I parked my old Chevrolet Cervette by the roadside next to the entrance and dashed in to the arrival hall. After picking him we made our way to my car. From far I noticed a piece of paper on my car windscreen, held up by the wiper. "Oh, oh" I said. It was a citation ticket from the local traffic police for unlawful parking and it carried a $60 fine for first time offender.
           I reported to 'work' the following Monday at Mobile City Hospital. Dr. Youniss was at her office, in full white doctor
Donated blood goes through 
stringent test
attire, with her stereoscope dangling from her neck. She smiled when I knocked on her door and she gestured for me to join her in an adjourning room. Her department was in charge of blood bank and blood transfusion, and they did stringent test to ensure the bloods were good, meaning not contaminated with pathogen or disease. She introduced me to a clerk, a middle age woman, Stella, who in turn assigned me to my 'job' - data entry. With that Dr Youniss bade me good luck while Stella briefed me of my 'work'. All I have to do was to key in the blood donors information - date of birth, their age, sex, blood type, education level and home address onto a computer database base from log cards that came together with the donated bloods. It was an IBM PC with DOS entry system. By the time I arrived at 8 am, being briefed and readied to start the 'work', it was break time. Coffee break at 10 am was half an hour affair, and we congregated in a opening at the hospital compound beside the canteen.  I was introduced to some acquaintances who were also on break and had small talks before I resumed my 'work'. Initially I struggled a bit as the doctor's writing on the cards were hardly readable (after all it was doctor's scribble). Often I need to refer to the Stella what to enter when there were blanks, or blatant errors or unreadable words? She glanced through and casually mentioned "Honey, just write as you see it. If you can't read the words, just copy the previous one, if no age, just put 35, got it?". Huh! I reckoned, someday, when a person turned 35 years, it was an inner calling to donate bloods! Beats me. That day I managed to enter about 30 odds record. At 12 noon on the dot, Stella stood up and asked for my community service form and proceeded to put a stamp on the paper and then she initialled it. "Here you go, see you tomorrow same time". I was  not sure what was her urgency in showing me the door, either I was a nuisance to her or she was bored in guiding me or maybe she was hungry. Ah, well! 
        I turned up for 'work' for the next 4 days, entered some 100 records on second and third day before racking up something like 120 on day four. I learnt quite a lot on the demography of the donors - where they come from - Daphne, Saraland, Chickasaw,Theodore, Tillmans Corner, Fairhope etc.; mixed of Whites, Blacks, Asians and Hispanics; their southern double rhymed names like Abby Gail, Mary Jane, Billie Jean,  Rita Mae, Billy Joe, John Boy, etc. and also their education levels - most did not even finished high school. Again, like clock work, works stopped at 10 am. I guessed it was the same anywhere in the world in governmental office when it comes to coffee break.
          On the final day, as I was happily keying away, a disturbed Stella stormed into the office and slammed a heavy stack of files on the desk and gave a huge sigh. "Max, I am sorry. I was given the wrong file to enter. Those data you had keyed in had been those diagnosed with disease and they should not be entered into the database. We have to erase all of them", she told me in halting tone to her voice. Well, all my 20 hours 'work' just vanished in a second when the reality sunk in. My mind was racing how could such thing happened. Luckily I was not handed HIV positive contaminated blood cards to key in, else it will be disaster. Stella continued "I was hoping that you will continue to key in this stack". No way as I had done enough hours for my community service duty. I started to erase those data one by one as told. I completed them and clocked out on time. Stella stamped and initialled the form and bade goodbye. I tried to seek out Dr Youniss but she was not in her office. I managed to thank her during class. Later I mailed the completed form back to my local community police department. 
 To me this community service, irrespective whether it was a good job done, was a good experience and it gave me an insight to some activity outside real life classroom. Along the way I also saved $60 of my hard earned money.
$60 cannot buy my community service 
experience gained 
Location: Mobile City Hospital, 900-950 St. Anthony Street, Mobile, Alabama 36603, USA.
Coordinates: 30°41′28.37″N 88°3′20.03″W

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Atmore Pow Wow fiesta

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. It was close to December and it was Thanksgiving day. Thanksgiving day celebration in America originated from early European pilgrims day where they did not have enough food to feed themselves and Native Americans helped the Pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. Hence the word "Thanks" for the "Giving" from the pilgrims to the natives.   Jason, Tony and I had planned to attend a Pow Wow fiesta, a yearly Native American celebration of Thanksgiving day at Atmore Indian Reservation near Mobile, Alabama. A Pow Wow is a gathering of Native people, a group of people coming together to dance, sing song, play drum and to celebrate the Thanksgiving day. We arrived at Jason's house early in the morning and was invited to breakfast before we continued to Atmore.
           As we pulled into the Reservation parking lot, we can hardly find a parking lot as it was crowded with cars, trucks, buses and even horses! There was indeed an element of festivity in the air.The celebration was held on a playground next to the parking lot. The dance area was at the centre of the playground marked by haystacks which doubled as bench for spectator to sit.  We saw a drumming area, a congregation of officials on a stage, many caravans housing guests, score of stands selling hot dog, burger, balloon, cotton candy, gumbo, corn on a cob, strand of garlic, garlic sausages and Native American crafts. There was a mobile truck selling CD of Native American music cum a makeshift library, dishing out information about Croak Indian Reservation and the Pow Wow. 
Pow Wow Drumming and Humming Area
            I careened out to look out for familiar Native American tribes that I knew from my early days cowboy film where the Red Indian, as they were known back then, was always portrayed as the bad guys. I look out for the Apache, Cherokee, Mohican or Sioux tribe, nor would I know how they look like in flesh or costume, but I could not find them. Instead, from the mobile library, I was informed that it were the lesser known tribes that were there - the Creek, Alabama, Choctaw, Ciushatta, Chickasaw, Muskogee, Seminole - My jaw dropped at hearing those names! I never heard of them or knew there were so many tribes. As I walked about the playground, the Native Americans all looked very proud in their outfits and with their culture. Everyone walked with their heads held high. Some had colourful outfits that can be disguised as a bird, be it an eagle or a turkey. I bet there was a Chief Sitting Bull or Chief Thunder Cloud among them.  
          
Dancers strutted their stuff to the drum beats
          The Pow Wow event started with the "Star Spangled Banner", America national anthem, everyone stand up, some held their hand to their chest and sang along. Once the national anthem ended and a short speech by the organizer, the drumming started as a slow rhythmic beating, which increased in pace over time. The humming naturally accompanied the drumming, and then the dancing started. I can only make out the work "hei","umm" and "ya"in those humming, and before long I also can hummed along too. A middle aged Native American in yellow feathers outfit led a group of equally dressed dancers, strutted their stuff, mimicking an eagle souring through the sky, savouring the freedom and reeling in the rays of the sun. It was the eagle dance I was witnessing. It lasted like 5 minutes and I was told that the drumming and the humming transformed the dancers into a trance like state when they danced. It was a beautiful dance and it was the first time that I had seen a whole dance. I was transfixed through out the whole dance. The beating of the drum soothed me and I hummed along as well, imagined I too soared over the sky like an eagle. When the dance finally ended, there was a thunderous claps from the audience followed by the typical Native American war cry yelping as typically shown in film. I took the opportunity to approach the lead dancer, asked for his permission and Tony clicked the photo memento.
I am not sure what is his name, but I am 
sure he was a chief.
          Next was the ladies group doing the harvesting dance. To me it was not as intriguing as the man's, but nevertheless still a great watch. On careful observation, the dancers, both male and female, had some mixed Caucasian features. So were the drummers, the hummers and the host themselves, all carried similar traits. Later I was told it was hard to find a pure bred 100% Native American nowadays. The tribes had inter racial marriage and had been fully assimilated into American society. Moment later, a familiar yelping sound filled the air. This was the war cry that I was more accustomed to when I was a kid. The lead male dancer was shouting out loud while his right hand closed and shut his mouth in rapid succession, making yelping sound so synonymously to a war cry. A mock fight broke out, more yelping sound, and then in unison the sound stopped. Almost everyone gave a monstrous clap. A dance well executed.
To American, Tony and I looked alike
Me and Jason, who still lives in Gulf Shores today
         The event continued with humming and drum beating contest. This one boggled me as they all sound alike, some slower, some faster than others, with the familiar "ya" and "hei" and occasional "loi" and yelping in between. After a couple of humming, I signalled Tony and Jason for lunch. We had garlic sausages and then lingered around the craft stands. The curios sold were mainly handicrafts, old silver wares, beads and Native Indian statues. I bought a statue, but now, no matter how hard I tried, I just could not recalled which tribe it was. After lunch we stayed on for a couple more dances and drumming. We left the Reservation as a cold front started to blows in. I went home feeling very satisfied to be able to see with my own eyes a Native American Pow Wow gathering. The first 3 dances, the drum beat and the humming left the longest lasting impression in me. Jason and I mimicked the drum beat and hummed all the way home until Tony asked us to shut up. 

Anyone can let me know what is my tribe?
         This Pow Wow trip ticked a big check in my personal to do list.The drum beats and hums of the Native American dance is still fresh in my memory until today. "Hei" "Yo" "Hei" "Yo", "Hoi", "Yo", "Hoi", "Yo"!! 


Location: Poarch Creek Pow Wow Grounds, 5811 Jack Springs Rd. Atmore, AL 36502, USA. 
Tel: (251) 368-9136 

Friday, June 22, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Unexpected Guests

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. One morning in November, a hard knock on my door woke me up. I looked through the peep hole. It was girl, carrying a baby, and a small built guy with John Lennon’s spectacle, carrying a box. Without opening the door I asked “Who is it?”. “Is Max home?” he replied. “I am, but sorry, I do not expect any guest or package today, you got the wrong person” I replied through the door. “Hey Max, I’m Zak. You can’t recognize my voice?” I did not expect the strong voice over the phone belongs to a small guy like him. I opened the door to welcome them in. It turned out that he came for an admission interview with my university, and dropping by to meet me. It was a nice surprise from Zak.
USA stands for University of South Alabama
We chatted like long lost friend. His close friend in my vicinity whom he visited in the spring had gone back home. Zak was an engineering student in Memphis, Tennessee, and had completed his degree last month. He was down here to look at my university to continue his MBA studies. Many time when I wrote about USA, I literally meant USA - University of South Alabama. Zak had driven 6 hours through the night, completed the admission interview and drove over to see me. They looked tired and asked to take a nap. They slept for some 3 hours and sprang up fresh. The box that Zak brought along contained strawberries and grapes. We had some of those while talking about fishing and fishes. He had 1 kid and his wife, Rose, also an international student. They were under government scholarship, and managed to get extra pocket money through the fishes I send them. It brought in some small income when he in turn sold them to others in his state.
The next day I took Zak the Dauphin Island pier to show him where the fishes he got came from. We did not meet Sam as we did not enter the pier proper.  On the way back home I noticed that he seem to be lost in some thought. Then he popped a question that taken me aback. “Max, I want to remain in the states but with a kid now, I need more income to tide me through. Actually apart from MBA studies, another reason I come down is talk to you is about business. How about selling your business to me?” Whoa! That was what troubling him all along! This may be coincidental. I had had a couple of stressful nights thinking about the future of my little hobby turned business. I have no time running around with main examination round the corner. Beside that I also attended couple of job interviews, now waiting for result. “OK, what is your offer?” I asked. “Can I looked at your account first before I make an offer” replied Zak. “Sure. I can show you anything you like” I added. I took a longer journey home, buying some time to think through how much I should sell. In 6 months, my income had grown from $500 to $3,000. My margin was roughly half. I was able to self fund my study and living expenses and not rely on ask money from home. Most importantly I had a good life experience.  Not bad for a hobby that turned into an incidental business!
Zak and family came visiting
At home I showed Zak my customers list, stack of UPS consignment notes and receipts, and my suppliers – Sam and his buddies, the shrimper, and my bank account, the in and out. I also told him about angling license, fishes that had limits, and the competitions and who they were. Zak also asked about my apartment rental, utility and phone bill, and how far to get to the pier, shrimper boat and the UPS store, etc. After going through the documents and statements, he bade some time to discuss with his wife. I left them alone and cooked lunch. Tony joined me in the kitchen later and both of us whipped out curry fish head with okra, a plate of fried mustard leaves with garlic and egg omelet with shrimps. We ate lunch and Rose did the washing. I was grateful of not doing the dirty dishes.
After lunch Zak signaled to me that he was ready to make an offer. “I will double your monthly gross revenue” he did the opening, “but I will need you to introduce me to your suppliers and customers and inform them that I am taking over “he continued. I thought for a moment. The figure in my head was triple, but we had a good start in this negotiation. “Zak, I am doing this part time. If I am to do this full time, I will get much more. $6K sound a tad too low” I reasoned. “I am looking more at $10K, a mere 3 months revenue” I continued. “Max, look at it this way. You and I know it. The market is limited now, the fishes are not the commercial types, some have catch limits, and barrier to entry is low, you agree?” he countered. I was cornered. My asking price dropped a little while he inched up higher. After much haggle, counter offer and re-counter, we finally reached an agreement price of $8K dollars, with my rickety old car thrown in. We sealed the deal with a handshake. Zak handed me a check for $2,000 and promised to settle the balance when they returned to Gulf Coast in a couple of weeks time. That night I gave a treat Zak, Rose and Tony to a dinner at the Hong Kong restaurant and introduced to them the owner and crews as well. Hurray, no need to do dirty dishes, again!

Location: Four Season Apartment, 133 East Dr  Mobile, AL 36608, USA.
Tel: +1 251-342-7931

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Alligator and Uncle Ben

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. I befriended the Hong Kong Island Restaurant's owner that I frequented and had just started to supplying fish to. He bought mostly flounders and whitings. Their sweet sour fish was the best. I had my dinner there on days when Tony and I did not cook. I had weaned off the occasional visit to McDonald or Hardee’s since I befriended him. I even took him and his entire kitchen crews, 6 of them, to fishing at Dauphin Fishing pier once. They had never fished before but they sure had luck. Every pull and miss hook was met with squeak, shrill cry, ooh and ahh, filled the jetty. We have great fun since they have no qualms in handling the fish as they were the expert in kitchen. The smiles on their face when they hold up a fish freshly caught were priceless. We caught 3 sheepsheads, many whitings and white trouts and my friends bought a further 2 more sheepsheads from Sam.
Whiting is similar to Redfish, 
but smaller and no spot.
(Picture credit: www.tx-sharkfishing.com)
We traveled back to their restaurant in a convoy of 2 cars. As we rounded a bend, we immediately crept behind a snake of jammed cars. There were no cars that came through on the opposite direction as well. 'Accident' was my first thought. As I cranked down my car window and craned my neck to see what was ahead, about 10 cars down I can make out a big grayish dark silhouette on the middle of the road. I noticed that nobody exited their cars but they were honking continuously, and a guy on the back of a Ford pick-up truck, the first car next to the "thing", jumping up and down and shouted furiously. "Strange, if it is accident, everyone will be out and about, trying to help", I thought to myself again. The dark image on the road turned out to be an American alligator (a.k.a Gator), endemic to that region, about 13 feet long. It was laying across the entire road horizontally, soaking up the heat from the tar road, blocking all traffics. It was an offence to kill or injure an alligator without license. Someone had threw a chicken carcass near its mouth but it did not take it. Someone remarked that alligator loved to eat fish. Judging from the snake of the cars, it would have laid there for half an hour. I asked from my restaurant friend if it was OK to feed some fish to the alligator. With an affirmative answer, I tied a sheepshead to my fishing line (no hook) and rod. Then I seek permission from the guy on the back of pick-up truck to climbed up. He saw my fishing rod and fish that tied to the line and signaled me in. I cast the fish in front of the beast. Initially it did not seem to notice, then it's left eye opened slightly, and after my fourth or fifth casting, it suddenly lunged forward to grab the sheephead. I was in dilemma. If I reeled in the fish, it will followed the fish to the truck, causing more panic. In the end I decided to let the alligator keep the fish by cutting loose the line with a nail cutter. The alligator had just moved about a quarter away from its original position, still not enough for cars to pass through without hurting it. I grabbed a second sheepshead and this time I cast it about 10 feet in front of the alligator. This time the alligator moved in fast strides and with a side movement of it's head it snapped up the fish. The alligator now was all cleared off the road completely and I snipped my fishing line. Everyone at the scene applauded and I felt like a hero. One by one the cars can now passed safely and by the time my car passed by, the alligator was nowhere in sight. I reckon it had its belly full and now scooted off. We lost 2 fishes but suffice to say I got another check mark on my personal diary to have 'fished' an alligator. 
Alligator had stout snout and visible teeth compare to crocodile
Back at the restaurant, the crew cooked great dishes with the fishes, far better than mine, definitely. They steamed a sheepshead Cantonese style (of course, its a Hong Kong restaurant), deep fried one with sweet sour sauce and saved the last one for later. As for the whiting, some they cooked soup, the balance were fillet, battered in flour, deep fried and served piping hot on a bed of lettuce. This whiting were so good that they were polished off in record time. That reminded me of a tip I always use when having meal in a Chinese restaurant in the Western countries - "Is the chef Chinese? I will ask the waitress/waiter. If the answer is yes, then I continue "please tell the chef to cook my meal the way he will eat it at home", meaning requesting the chef will cook to suit his own Chinese taste, not to the western palate. Most of the time I get an authentic Chinese meal and normally the chef came out to meet me. I make friend with a homesick Chinese cook. Back to the restaurant, as I looked back, end of the day I had a great time with the new found friends from the Hong Kong restaurant, seeing them outside their realm on the pier, and enjoyed some good company. Better still I do not need to wash the dishes.
I treated my friends well and occasionally have dinner with Sam and Betty. I remembered I once cooked curry sheepshead (no head) with okra and white rice, and brought it over to their house.  At Betty’s kitchen I fried the white rice with onions, eggs and some hot dog from her refrigerator. Betty had prepared a pot of shrimp with okra gumbo with Uncle Ben's rice (an American rice brand name), Cajun style. Sam cannot take shrimp due to his medical condition. Dinner was fried rice, gumbo and curry fish.  As we were having dinner, sweats rolled down on Sam’s and Betty’s forehead even it was autumn and rather cool that night. Silly me! I forgot they were no Asian, so I may have put a dash too much curry powder. Nevertheless, they loved it and polished off the rice that I brought along. 
Shrimp Gumbo with Okra, a 
Southern state specialty
After dinner Betty asked me a question that puzzled me. The question was "how do you cook the rice that was so nice?". She mentioned her rice was not sticky like mine. I got Betty to show me how she cooked her rice. She took out a packet of Uncle Ben’s rice, washed it in a pot and put it to boil. 5 minutes later she poured out the boiling water and served the rice. The rice was fluffy but tasted flat. I guessed this was how American cooked rice but it was not the same as how I cooked mine. Later I showed them how to cook rice my way i.e. rice in the pot, measured the water level that covered up to the wrist when I pressed with my palm down to the rice, and let it boiled till water dried up.  They tasted it and gave a thumb up. They planned to keep it for lunch and dinner tomorrow. Satisfied, I left their dwelling, making a mental note to buy them a packet of Thai rice from my neighborhood Vietnamese store. Uncle Ben’s rice is not for Asian!


American rice - Uncle Ben's rice

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Biloxi Casino Cat and Mouse

              I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. Time flew by very fast. Most of my housemates - Jacky had graduated and left USA in mid-October, Arthur has moved out to stay with his girlfriend and Yon has transferred to another state. Only left Tony, who still had another 6 months to go, and I, was due to graduate a week before Christmas. We moved to a smaller 1 room apartment to cut down on rental cost. By late October I was into my oral exam which was compulsory to pass in order to graduate. I was busy doing my revision and have no time fishing. My rods had not seen action for the last couple of weeks. On a daily basis I drove to Dauphin Island, picked up fishes and shrimps, back home to pack and then off to UPS to send them out. Some requests cannot be fulfilled because they were either not in season or I simply cannot get them. Business was fluctuating, on average I was getting $3K orders per month, after expenses I still half left. Repeat customers were many, some even defaulted on their payment. It was part of business risks. One thing for sure I still gave out some free fishes now and then, and also make small donations to Red Cross. By then I was able to pay my tuition fee and my living expenses on time and do not have to cringe for every pennies. 

State Trooper - one like this stopped me
Albeit all this I by no mean an angel. I ate out most of the time now but that was not my biggest issue - a new casino had just sprang up in Biloxi, Mississippi. First time there with Vince, a friend visiting from UK, initially planned as a curios visit, to see what a casino in USA was like. Riverboat was synonymous with Mississippi river. The casino was on a barge, which gave it the appearance of a land-based building, rather than a riverboat. It was permanently moored at the dock and they were not permitted to cruise in adherence to the gambling law. We were on our way back from a trip to New Orleans, after thronging the famous Bourbon Street and had a chance to catch live women wrestling. The wresting match was a fake of course, nevertheless we cheered the champion. 

On the way back from New Orleans the next day, I were stopped by a state patrol trooper for driving too slow on a freeway! I drove an old Chevrolet Chevvette, which I bought for $900, insurance was not compulsory at that time, but it just couldn't go fast. The patrol trooper signaled for me to stop via its flashing red light. I drove to the side, stopped my car and through my side mirror I saw the trooper approached my car from the left. In true Asian style, I tried to alight from the car but the trooper immediately stopped and pulled out his revolver! I was white with fear. He yelled "stay in the car, stay in the car". Oh Oh, I did not know what shit I was in then. I did what he told me, and then when he comes along side my window, revolver still in his hand, he sternly yelled again "put your hands on the dashboard, now". In America when a state trooper or policeman stopped a car, one is supposed to stay in the car unless being instructed otherwise. 'Shows me your hand' meant to show that one does not have any weapon on hand. I did as I was told. After seeing my empty hands he put back his revolver to it holster and asked for my driving license and ID. I also showed him my passport and student ID. Flipping through the papers the policemen told me the do and don't when stopped by police. He then asked me to do a breath analyzer test and walking the straight line test, to see if I were intoxicated. With negative result the trooper told me normally a car driven too slow on freeway, most likely the person behind the wheel was DUI  or drunk. He advised me not to drive too slow on freeway and bade me safe journey. I thanked him, took back my papers and continued the journey to Biloxi. Phew! First time being stopped for driving too slow, and a lot of lessons learnt too.
Isle of Capri casino, still in operation today


One arm bandit - beware, it steals money
The Biloxi casino that I went to was the first casino to open there, The Isle of Capri. Buffet lunch at restaurants surrounding the casino was very cheap, something like $2.99 all you can eat Chinese buffet. We had our fill before we stepped into the casino. There was no checking for any identification if you are over 21. It was red carpet treatment as the casino had just being opened the day before. It was quite crowded but I noticed quite a number of Asians on the gambling table. "Hmm, Asian likes gambling", I said to myself.The din and the clang of slot machines had me converted from a passive loafer to try my hand on one arm bandit. I remembered the casino also served free drinks and beers, and skimpily dressed waitresses worked for tips. I won $200 playing roulette.That night we have a great dinner at a Hong Kong restaurant back at Gulf Shores. By then I was hooked and keen to see more action. Second visit to the same casino, I lost some initially, followed by more and more. The losses did not hit my senses. I access ATM again and again to withdraw money. At last the ATM flashed out that I had hit withdrawal limit for the day on the screen. That message jolted me up.It was a costly lesson, but a good one. It took me a while to come around - I was in USA to study and casino should not be part of my agenda. I have not revisited the casino since.
Me and Zhang from China, my 
competitor  

             Sam had since gone back to fishing and he rounded even more buddies, some regulars in other paid jetties, to supply to me. He reserved the premium fishes for me. Unknown to me, my hobby turned small time business had attracted competition. Someone in my neighborhood has done a copy cat act.  He was Asian, a student also, used to work part time as a pizza delivery boy and now out to make extra money. The problem with this guy, he was the impatient type to do his own fishing. He resorted to buying fish and sell, and even offered a higher price to Sam. Sam resisted the offer, stating that he only sells his fish to me. I was flattered but I did just the opposite. I asked Sam to sell fish to the guy, especially when more fishes were caught. I had wanted him to earn more. After I reasoned to him, he seems more receptive and not long he had some dealing with the new guy too. My competitor and I crossed path many times, initially it was only nod of heads with each did their own thing. I believe I have own clienteles and he had his as well. Sam declined my offer to raise my price to him. “Special price for you” he grinned, showing his stained teeth as he puffed his cigarette. Good ol’ Sam!

Location: 151 Beach Blvd, Biloxi, MS 39530, USA
Tel: +1 228-435-5400

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Good Ol' Sam

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. One morning in mid-October, out of the blue, Sam, my main fish supplier, called me to inform that he cannot go fishing anymore. He mumbled something incoherently in his Southern black drawl about his bad leg. He sounded very down but after much coaxing he mentioned that he was in great pain, could not walk and his wife did not know how to drive. I got his house address and did the 20-minute drive to his home in 10 minutes flat. Luckily no trooper was around that day. His house was a rundown shack at the end of a cul-de-sac. Betty, his wife opened the door. A black lady, with unkempt grey hair that she looked beyond her age. She greeted me and showed me the way. Sam was on the bed, a hand pressing on his left leg, grimacing with pain. He nodded and blurted out he did not expected me to show up so fast. I did not say anything, just nodded my head. Betty and I half carried half dragged him to the rear seat of my car. I sped off with Betty in the front passenger seat.
Mobile City Hospital
At City Hospital an orderly rushed a wheelchair to move Sam to doctor’s waiting area while Betty did the registration. Moment later she came back with a nurse and Sam was pushed to a doctor’s room. I did some pacing up and down outside the room. It was half an hour later before they emerged. Betty eyes were wet while Sam just sat at the wheelchair emotionless. The nurse pushed Sam down the corridor while Betty and I followed them. At the ward Sam was put on drip and some painkiller. It took a while before I were able to get doctor’s assessment on Sam. As I tried to inquire about Sam's condition, I saw this funny look on the doctor's face. An Asian and a black family! To cut the chase, I told the doctor that I was an international student and Sam was my foster dad during my stay in USA. The doctor's suspicion faded and he said he suspected gout but would need to do some test, X-ray and observation. Betty was not sure what gout was and that was why she was so sad. I was clueless as well then as I mistook it with goiter (swelling of the neck symptom). Boy, I was really off tangent.
That night before my class started, I had a chance to look up gout in the library. I found out that gout is a kind of arthritis that occurs when uric acid builds up in blood and causes joint inflammation. It is a hereditary disease and some 1/3 of all adults had it, some chronic some mild. It is cause by certain lack of an enzyme in our body that converts protein to uric acid to amino acid, the building block for muscles. The lack of this enzyme means protein is convert to uric acid only, hence a buildup of uric acid level in our body. When the uric acid level in is very high, it started to crystallize. Its crystal will starts to deposit on area with prior injury, especially on the joints, resulting to the crystal pushing against the nerve and caused inflammatory pain and redness. When it happens the joints are on 'fever'. Gout impact males more than females and it is elevated by the compound 'purine', commonly found in high protein food intake like shellfish, animal internal organs and nuts. Gout is also known as 'rich man disease', a notion that rich man can affords high protein meal. Other known contributors to gout are beer, cabbage and tomato. If cannot find any reason for the acute gout attack, just blame it on stress. However the good news is gout itself is not live threatening but will hampers one movement. Hmmm, in my mind that explained why Sam walked with a strange gait. Additionally, little that I would have known, I myself was also diagnosed to be one a couple of years later. 
Gout cause great pain on Sam's leg 
The next morning I bought some grapes and oranges for Sam. When I arrived, neither Betty nor Sam was at the ward. I put down the fruits and asked a passing nurse. I was told they may be at the hospital compound. I make my way there and beside a large tree, Betty and Sam were chatting happily. As I approached, they broke away from their little chat and greeted me. I have not seen Sam smile since yesterday, a sure sign he was getting better. We exchanged pleasantry and talked about fishing. Betty did her knitting and occasionally joined us in our conversation. A nurse approached us to push Sam back to his ward.” It is time for another test, the 3rd one since yesterday” said Betty. At the ward I washed some grapes and gave some to Betty who ate them silently. Sam plopped a few into his mouth and reached out for more. The nurse came and drew some blood from Sam and left. I patted on Sam’s leg and asked if he felt any pain. After an hour I bid goodbye and make my exit.
Sam stayed at the ward for 3 days. I did not send Zak any shipment that week. On the third day when I showed up, Betty was by the hospital door waiting for me with good news. “Doctor said Sam can be discharged today. The inflammation on Sam’s leg had subsided and he can now walk with aide of crutches” she said in one breath. “But he will need to be on medication for long period and have to stay away from beer and seafood”, she continued. I just nodded my head. Luckily Sam was a Vietnam War veteran, so he got free medical benefits. After checkout, I drove them home. I pressed a $50 note into Betty’s hand before bidding them goodbye. This simple gesture actually pay back itself many folds in subsequent months. 
In my stay in USA, I do not know why my imagination runs wild and I dream a lot. I dreamed of Sam and Betty dancing waltz foxtrot that night! 

Location: Mobile City Hospital, 900-950 St. Anthony Street, Mobile, Alabama 36603, USA.
Coordinates: 30°41′28.37″N 88°3′20.03″W

Friday, June 8, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Crayfish & Oyster

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. So far I have been writing about sea fishing, but there were other activities that I participated. Other produces that are abundant in Gulf Shores are crayfish and oyster. I was fortunate to be able to participate in both crayfish hunt and oyster harvest. Crayfish is seasonal but oyster is year round (but now its harvest is controlled by authority).
Crayfish lives in freshwater water system and swampy areas. It looks like a small lobster, a scavenger and found at the bottom of stream, creek or pond. Actually I stumbled into crayfish hunting by accident in June. Yon and I were bored of the usual sea fishing by the pier and wanted some freshwater fishing action instead. We chose the lightest rod and line and get some bait - small crickets, from a local bait shop before heading to a creek that ran parallel to our local airport. We were targeting a fish called 'crappie', a local freshwater fish the size of our palm. It is a nice eating fish where I had eaten them once. I fried them till the bones were brittle and we munched it like a cracker - swallowing in all, the flesh, bones, heads and tails. We arrived at the creek around late morning but an overcast make it looked like early morning. There were a couple of cars parked on the entrance but we pay no heed to them. We reached the creek and look for submerged logs or vegetation, a sign of crappie below them. I hooked a cricket while wading in the knee deep water, and left it flowed with the slow current. A crappie swam out from its hideout and swallowed the bait. We bagged a couple of crappy the size of our palm in an hour time, and we continued waded upstream. Around a bend we chanced upon a ox bow lake, a remnant of the creek which current had cut off the bank. We took a breather on the bank between the creek and the bow lake, eating lunch.  
Crayfish looks like a small 
lobster,but careful, it 
pinches finger
I had my left hand submerged in the water as I ate my sandwich. "Ouch" I shouted when I felt a sharp pain on my little finger. As I pulled up my my hand, something dropped back to the water and scurried away. "Crayfish" Yon exclaimed, peering at the water where the crayfish disappeared. "It must has mistaken your hand as food ", he continued. As we strained our eyes on the ox bow lake, lo and behold, we can make out the lobster like crayfish, crawling underwater, all over the lake. It must be hundreds of them. "Are they edible, Yon?", I inquired. When the answer was affirmative, all thought about crappie quickly disappeared. I quickly finished my lunch and took out my scoop net. I managed to net about 5-6 before Yon joined me. We got about 10 dozens before the water became too murky to see them. We moved on to another section where it was still clear and net another 5 dozens or so, before "Booooom", a thunder roared. We had been too engrossed in catching crayfish that we did not realized that the water on the creek was fast rising as it was raining was upstream. The excitement and the fact the ox bow lake was cut off from the creek blinded us. The water in the ox bow lake does not rose in tandem as in the creek. Now situation had changed to a matter of life and death, not simply a fishing stroll by a creek, in a split second. "We have to get out from here, quick" Yon shouted as he jumped into the creek. The water had came up to his waist, and I followed suit, one arm holding my rod, the other on the bag of crayfish. I have forgotten about the caught crappies. We waded downstream with quick steps and half an hour later, we barely make out in the nick of time as the water had reached our chest as we exited the creek near our car park. Any longer, we may be drown, and would be in local headline daily news the next day. 
Back home we steamed the crayfish with potatoes and carrot in salted water. It was red when cooked. The crayfish's heads were big but little meat to it. The meat was OK, and better when dipped in chilly sauce. We finished off the crayfish while reminiscing on the close call today. Phew, no more crayfish trip!  
Crayfish is nice in gumbo, a dish in rice
The trip to the oyster harvest was arranged through a fellow classmate of mine, whose parents ran one of the biggest oyster bar chain in town. We were up and about on a fine morning in September, and set off in a dinghy about 12 feet length, fitted with an Mercury outboard motor. The state conservation authority had put up artificial reefs in strategic area to breed oysters. My classmate named Michael and I put on orange life jackets, like the one they showed in plane, and the boat sped off with the wind against our face for about an hour. Bill, the oyster man, was in an orange overall outfit does not wear one though. "Cumbersome" he said to the wind when we asked him. We navigated through canals, marshes, under bridges and open water before reaching the breeding area. The reef was marked with white buoys with number on it, marking the start and end of the territory of the winning commercial oyster man, who bid and won the commercial oyster catcher's permit to harvest oyster in the said location. 
Oyster - aphrodisiac from the sea
Once arrived at the location, Bill cut the engine. After explaining the area, the do and don't about oyster harvest, Bill grabbed an oyster that was attached to a reef below the watermark. He placed the oyster his left gloved hand and expertly used his pocket knife on his right hand to pry open the oyster, an action called "shackle". Once the oyster was opened, he rinsed it with seawater and handed it to me. I wolfed down the oyster after biting into its body. Even though we do not have lemon, the oyster was simply superb. The juice burst out, it was crunchy, sweet, slightly salty and had a tinge of the ocean after taste. I gave a thumb up to Bill. Looking for more, I plunged my hand (gloved, off course) into an oyster clump, and got an immediate present from the oysters. I had cut my elbow against the sharp oyster shell! Even though I managed to pry an oyster from the reef, I had had tough time in opening the shell to get to the meat. Again the master, Bill, showed his mastery skill, opening 3 in a split seconds and we had a oyster toast before gulping it down. 
Oyster tong is actually 2 rakes 
clasped together 
Bill used a oyster tong to rake in oysters from the seabed. The oyster came aboard together with mud and their were mighty dirty. We had to clean it by hosing them down sea water before we bagged them into a sack. I picked oysters that were attached to the reef, carefully  nudge them loose with our gloved handIt was tough job - we cut our hands even with the gloves on, and boy, the sacks were heavy. Each full sack weighed around 100 pounds. When the sack was full, Bill tied it the sack's opening and attached a tag to it. "It is a regulation, its state where and when they were harvested" he explained. We filled up 3 sacks for Bill, and had some leftover, about 20 pounds, which I brought them home. 


Chilled oyster + Lemon = Heaven, yummy!!
At home I had some oysters with lemon, and they tasted marvelously delicious. Tony does not take raw oysters and so were my other friends. Sensing their reluctance, I shackled some, dipped them in batter and deep fried them. Tony took one bite but his face told me he was merely accommodating even though he said nice. I had most of the oysters to myself. The balance oyster I had them shackled and fried them with egg and starch "or chien" (meaning fried oyster in Chinese) style. The oysters were big, unlike the usual hawker fare which oysters are puny. I walloped the whole plate as no one else was gung-ho to try any, whether raw, deep fried or fried. I have my full fill of oysters. I never bothered to ship any oyster to Zak as it will not last despite dry ice. 
Big big pearls, come to papa!
That night I dreamed of shackling oysters, and every oysters I opened, they contained big pearl, as big as groundnut, and some even had multiple pearls in it. I felt like a millionaire until I woke up!  

Location: The Original Oyster House3733A Battleship Pkwy, Spanish Fort, Alabama 36527, USA.
Tel: +1 251-626-2188

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Chillies fish

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. By September, my relationship with Zak and Sam were getting better. Zak continued to send me repeat orders, and I even had other customers from Kentucky and Arkansas too, courtesy of words of mouth from Zak. I also had customers from the international community and scores of American in my neighbourhood. The international community take in almost anything on offer for the day, but Aunt May and her friends, occasionally bought only flounders and shrimps. Their orders were far and between. Maybe the whites did not like a pair of eyes peering back at them. They did mentioned that sheepshead was never in their menu which I did know what that meant. Zak still ordered the most, now nearly touched fifteen hundred bucks a month. I asked and he confirmed that somehow he had become my ‘fish distributor’ in his town. He ordered mostly stingrays, trouts, flounder and shrimps. The orders to other states were mostly for shrimp, which I did not make much, but I still shipped them.
Hardtail a.k.a. Torpedo 
Scad a.k.a "chillies 
fish"
Sam has been a good supplier. He fished almost daily, and with a couple of his friends, they were my main source of fish supplies. We dealt in cash and he was happy to get $30-$50 on a good day. Sam always kept his premium fishes for me. At times we chatted when no fish was biting. Initially I had had trouble understanding his Southern black drawl, which sounded a little odd to me. At one time I asked about a fish, and he uttered “oorrd’tail”.  I could not grasped what he try to say, and I get my closer to him with my hand cup to my ear. He repeated and repeated, yet I still cannot make the sense out of it. When I tried to seek clarification, the funny thing was this time it was Sam's turn to cup his ear to me, trying to grasp what I just said. Ha Ha Ha! I guessed he also had trouble to understand my English that was infused by Asian intonation. Finally one of Sam’s friend blurted “Hard tail” to me in plain English. Ah ha! the fish with stuffed chilies paste. Sam did not eat hardtail at all, he used it to catch larger predator fish like Baracuda and Giant Trevally.
Jobe with a Giant Trevally - Bandit 
of the sea
However not all things were plain sailing. I once send a Giant Trevally (a.k.a. GT) to Zak and as it was too big for the box, I cut it up. Bad mistake. Zak compliant that it smelled. When I cooked GT at home it tasted fine, so I do not know if the fish really smelled, or Zak did not like the smell or the dry ice cannot protects it. Anyway I ceased sending cut fish out anymore. The other one that bombed were squids that I got from the shrimper boat. The first consignment to Zak was so bad that he had to throw away the whole box of squids plus the fishes that went together. I had to make up to him in another consignment, minus the squids, of course. Due to this trial and error I learnt what can and what cannot be shipped. At times what appeared to be a sure winner, like the squids, it stunk. Stingray, which was thrash fish, was a gem. 
Thinking back I cannot imagine how the UPS delivery guy reacted when he smelled something 'fishy' in the box he carried - rotten fish! The memory of the salted fish incident at my apartment makes me laugh!

Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607

Friday, June 1, 2012

Asian Eyes' USA - Andrew’s visit

I went to school in USA back in the early nineties. I just completed my term examination final paper. We were itching for another action in fishing when we gathered 4 friends (Tony, Arthur, Jacky and I) to another trip to Dauphin Island Pier. It was a Thursday, so the crowd would be thinner. The bait shop did not have our supply of dead shrimp, so we only bought cigar minnows as bait. They cost $0.50 each so we only bought 20 and used a jerry can to ensure they survived the trip to the pier. The smoke at the chimney was blowing diagonal, close to 80 degree, meaning heavy wind near the coast. Nevertheless we pressed on since we had ‘invested’ on the baits.
 We reached the pier with no car parked on the parking lot at all. "That is weird", I think to myself, but did not paying much attention to it. As we approached the pier entrance, we saw a red sign stated “Sorry, we are close due to strong wind”. Silly me for not checking Weather Channel. “So guys, what do we do now?” I asked the rest. “Well, we can release the baits or we can go back and fry the baits for dinner” Arthur said. “I suggest we try fishing here, on the pier before the entrance door. The water here is some 2 to 3 feet deep. We may get some fish if we are lucky” replied Tony. “Alright then, since we are already here, we might as well try our luck” I said. We quickly assembled our rod and hooked on our minnows on its lower lip and dropped into the water over the railing of the pier. The float bobbed on the water surface and flowed out with the fast current. There was no action at all and occasionally I reeled in my bait and checked it to ensure it is still alive. Every time I pulled up my line, the little fish wriggled to get back in the water. I did that a couple of time, get bored at the lack of action and decided to take a walk at the beach. I loosen the drag and walked off the pier to the beach.
Strolling on the beach below 
the pier while waiting for fish
As I was on the beach, I looked up to the pier and happened to see Jacky’s rod arched and nearly tripped over the pier railing. I shouted to “Jacky, your rod, your rod”. Arthur ran to it and grabbed with both fists while shouted to Jacky too. Jacky flying out from nowhere and took the rod from Arthur’s hands, He fought the fish for some 3 minutes. It was a big fish, and just like in the case of Tony’s big sheepshead in the spring, Jacky was also unable to pull the fish up to the pier without it broke loose due to its sheer weight. There is no one else beside us at the pier to help lower a net to scooped it up, and we do not have net. “To the beach, Jacky, to the beach to me” I yelled from the beach below. Jacky looked at me, puzzled for a moment, before he understood what I meant. The beach was less than 50 feet away and he dragged the fish by pulling the fishing line towards me where I gleefully picked it up. The fish was about 24 inches long, and had a big spot near its tail. “It’s a Red Drum (a.k.a. Redfish)” I yelled at Jacky, holding the fish aloof my head.
Red Drum with a prominent 
spot on its tail
While the commotions hadn’t stopped, my rod started screeching and its tip bend over the pier railing. It was Tony’s turn to grab the rod while I was still at the beach. He tighten the drag and started reeling in the fish. Lo and behold, another big redfish. Smarting from Jacky’s experience couple of minutes ago, Tony too pulled the fish to the beach, effectively beaching it for me. With fishes in both hands, I grinned from ear to ear. We compared the fishes; Jacky’s was bigger by 2 inches. Satisfied, we put them away in our Coleman icebox. Both Jacky and I re-baited our hooks and cast away from the pier. Before we can welcome another pull, the sky started to change and rain started. The wind howled and blow from the sea. Just then we heard a police siren, saw light flashing red, meaning stop. As we looked towards the beach, 2 troopers raced towards us. “Guys, no fishing today, I saw your car and am surprised you guys are fishing. You guys do not see the TV or what? You better to leave now” said the first trooper when he reached us. We did not bat an eyelid and packed up in no time. Arthur managed to pour the remaining baits into the sea and we scooted off like the wind. Little did we know we had chosen a day when Hurricane Andrew blew into this part of the world when the fishes were started to bite!
The patrol car escorted us out of Dauphin Island and we arrived home in the nick of time before hurricane Andrew made land fall. We heard our apartment’s roof clattering, wind howling, rain dropping by the bucket and trees swaying and buckling. The electricity went out as Tony was cooking dinner per the fishing rule, and then we were in total darkness. I lit the candles and Tony continued cooking the Red Drum. Tony deep fried the fish and prepared a sweet sour sauce to go with it. The pot of leftover rice from yesterday was still fresh, along with some leftover crabs curry. In America, cooked rice may keep in the open for 2-3 days without it being spoil. It must be due to the humidity and temperature. Sometime I would sprinkle some water onto the rice and reheat it, but this time Tony fried it with onions, diced hams and eggs. He reheated the leftover crab curry and added some more crabs from the refrigerator. The 4 of us, guys, having romantic candle light dinner, feasting on the fish we caught, together with some leftovers curry with hurricane Andrew for company. That night I spend some time watching Weather Channel and learnt that it was a F5 category that hits us. I reminded myself to watch the weather channel the night before we set out for fishing.
Hurricane Andrew blew across Gulf of Mexico
in summer of 1992
By the way the limit to Red Drum’s catch during that time was 2 per person. Any Red Drum below 18 inches or over 27 inches cannot be taken. Those above 27 inches were called ‘breeder’ and American Conservation Law protects the goose very well indeed. One may be jailed if caught with possession with more than 2 Red Drums or a ‘breeder’. If you catch a breeder or young Red Drum, release it back. However if the fish turned upside down when you released it, meaning it is dying, then you can keep it, and have to do a lot of explanation should the law enforcer officer choose that moment to show up. Anyway it will be better to just release the breeder as soon as you caught it, after you snap a picture or two, of course. This way we ensure ample fishing activities in time to come. I remembered once I was caught red handed by a law enforcer of having 1 too many Red Drum. I plead ignorance and got away with it after showing my student ID that I was an international student. I was let go with a warning. Phew, was I sweating!

Location: Dauphin Island Public Fishing Pier, 109 Bienville Blvd, Dauphin Island, Alabama 36528, USA.
Tel: +1-251-861-3607