Asheville – The cat, the food, and the boy

The semester after Denmark was almost a blur. There was a bit of an adjustment in the living arrangement with new housemates; then the semester started with a heavy load of work and assessments. Before I knew it, I was all packed up to leave for Asheville, NC.

It was quite a long journey from Perth to Asheville, and for the most of the trip on the plane, I was thinking with a hint of envy of the passengers seated in the first class and business class. With more than 22 hours combined of 3 flights at one go, you so desperately wanted to stretch your legs out and sleep in a comfortable position.

On the last leg of the itinerary, I arrived at Dallas Fort Worth airport, whereby I had to collect the checked in luggage (2 hard case wheelies) and clear the immigration customs before I could board the flight to Charlotte. The customs clearance took much longer than expected and I had to catch a Skylink train to the domestic terminal. When arrived at the boarding gate, the gate was shut, and the crews were packing up! I was that close to missing the flight! One of the crews was nice and let me pass. The entire plane of passengers stared while I struggled to get to my seat, right at the far end of the back of the aircraft. Yup, I just had to meet everybody on the plane looking somewhat apologetic.

Now, that was not all! It was a brief flight, and on arriving Charlotte airport, one of my bags was missing! I guess one of the bags couldn’t make it to the plane since I was so late in boarding. I reported for the missing bag at the baggage service and was told that the bag was left at Dallas Fort Worth airport. An arrangement was made to transport the bag to Asheville airport on the following day. The boy met me at the baggage office, and it was a 2 hours drive to Asheville.

All the tiredness melted away when the kitty cat, Miss Lemon, greeted us at the door. Miss Lemon, she is a sweet, demanding pretty little kitty. I know, cats bring out the conflicting emotions that you tuck away in a dark corner. They are so adorable and endearing, yet, they make demands like they own this world or the humans.

Don’t believe me? See for yourself. She wanted attention, and she wanted it right away. When not obliged, she used a gentle and peaceful protesting method, she sat on your notes but still managed an irresistible poise. That’s right; she owns me.

When we went to the airport to collect my luggage, one of the wheels was missing. The ground crew member of American Airlines responded to the incident professionally and earnestly. He filed a damaged bag repair request which ended up with a replacement instead as the bag was beyond repair. My Benetton bag was replaced with a silver Ricardo bag of similar capacity as they were unable to find the same model for replacement. I would say that I was pleased with how the AA had handled this unfortunate event.

Days after I arrived in Asheville, my beloved mother phoned me (very) early in the morning, like 4 am or something. I was still adjusting to the time difference, so I woke at around 5 or 6 am and saw the missed call and phoned her back. I was excited that it was snowing, so I converted the call to video call and showed her the snow and around the house. The only thing that is normal about my mother is that she is not typically normal (also see – boring). We know where I get my quirkiness from! She asked, “so, how bad is the boy?”. Right, I always dated bad boys! My mother also warned me to stay home and indoor, mostly just to stay home, because of the snow. I have to say; I think she placed a curse on that statement!

Just hours after I ended the video chat with my mother, we lost power due to the snowstorm! We lost electricity for two and a half days! We had no alternative heating!

So, what did we do to pass the freezing (literally!) time, you ask? The boy flashed out his guitar and sang me songs! Me? I was totally useless in that kind of situation. I grew up in the tropical region, and in Singapore, we hardly experience power outage anymore; I had encountered power outages while living in Perth, but they were brief, and the weather wasn’t extreme.

Every time I saw a vehicle drove past the house, I yelled, “Where are you going? We are still here!”. I know, so dramatic!

On the second day that we lost the power, we decided to break out of the house! We shoveled the driveway with a snow shovel that the kind neighbor lent us on seeing us using improper tools. Oh man, it’s a whole new world out there! Okay, if you have slept in freezing temperature and had no inkling of when you will get power again, it can spice up your dramatic flair! It did for me!

We drove to a pizza place to get warm food and bought some groceries at Walmart, and to ABC store to get some alcohol, for me.

We regained power on the third day, in the evening. The boy had completed a test for his studies at Starbucks cafe, and we did laundry at the laundromat, and came home to civilization again! The boy was happy, I was happy, the kitty cat really didn’t care.

With power restored, I embarked on a new journey of cooking, extensively! I veganized many recipes that I grew up with so that the boy could have a taste of my culture. He liked most of them but remained skeptical about some.

Who knew I would make not just decently tasty steamed buns, but veganized Char Siew Bao! I never liked pork; in fact, my mother used to modify the Asian recipes that used pork and use chicken or duck meat instead because I couldn’t stand the smell of pork. I am also not great with chicken bun, because of the animal fats used in the filling; I literally got sick in my stomach or developed a migraine if I ate the fats. After two attempts, I managed to perfect the recipe of the meat-free version of the Char Siew Bao that tasted very close to the original BBQ pork bun! I would be posting the recipe soon. It’s fascinating because the boy adopts a vegan diet and I wanted him to try the famous Char Siew Bao!

When I gained more confidence in mastering the culinary arts – you should know that I never had to cook when I was in Singapore, ready cooked food is everywhere, it makes no sense to torture yourself in the sweltering heat and humidity – we went on to purchase an ice-cream maker, food processor, and a bread machine!

My favorite ice-cream is rum and raisin, and it’s already hard to find regular diary rum and raisin, it’s non-existent in a dairy-free version. So, I made my own! The boy loved it!

Of course, I also made full use of the bread machine! I found a great recipe for Italian rosemary bread, and after some modifications, we had our favorite bread!

I cooked, a lot. Sometimes, a lot in the sense that I prepared too much food! Other times, it just really means that I was just cooking, all the time! My mother is an excellent cook; I have always been an exceptionally picky eater and are sensitive to scents and flavors, and those “qualities” help me replicate the taste of the food that I aim to cook.

Came Christmas, we drove up to South Carolina to spend the holiday with the boy’s folks. It was such a delightful evening! I am grateful to the boy’s parents because they did such a great job in nurturing such an immaculate character that the boy possesses. They were lovely to me, and I perceive that as a loving gesture toward their boy.

I am addicted to working. When I am not studying, I am crocheting, when I am not crocheting, I am cooking, when I am not doing all those, I find something else. More importantly, I believe in servicing the community that accommodated me and tolerated my existence. I spent most of the evenings crocheting winter hats and scarves to donate to the shelter for the homeless. Having spent just two and a half days in the brutal cold that I found nearly unbearable, I still had a roof over my head to take most of the harshness from the weather; I could only imagine how piercing it must have been for the homeless.

Then, came the day of our tour in the grand Biltmore Estate! The boy’s folks were very generous to gift us with monetary Christmas present and requested that we spent it on something fun. We used the money to buy the passes to the Estate.

Not only that we live in the same city of Biltmore Estate, but we are also less than 10 minutes drive from it! It would make sense for us to get the annual pass so that we could enjoy the facilities as frequently as we want; it’s like a fancy country club!

Everything is beautiful in the Biltmore house, everything!

Three months slipped by very quickly, too quickly. The many beautiful sunsets from our kitchen view formed warm memories of the cherished days spent with the boy and the kitty cat; memories that I would recount until I get back.

The trip back to Perth was more dramatic than the trip to Asheville, but what mattered was that I arrived safely!


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