Monday, July 29, 2013

California Research Adventure: Day 27

Day 27: Adventures in Pasadena

Day 27 was not so much a research adventure as an adventure of the human body. I woke up feeling extremely tired—due to my Channel Islands adventure the day before—and while I tried to motivate myself to either take a bus to Griffith Park in L.A., or take a bus up to the base of the San Gabriel Mountains and go for a hike, I just couldn't motivate myself to do either. I didn't want to get on any damned bus...or train...or boat. I just wanted one day to relax in sunny Pasadena.

So after a late breakfast (8 A.M.) and a few hours of dissertation editing in my sunny hotel room, I decided that I would walk towards downtown Pasadena to visit the Pacific Asia Museum and find myself some lunch.

Exterior of the Pacific Asia Museum in Pasadena. The building is from the 1920s and features an Orientalist style.

I was very happy with my visit to the museum. It is small, and in the midst of major renovations, but there was still a lot of good material to see there.

The museum seeks to showcase the art and culture of not just Asia but "Pacific Asia." As the name suggests, the museums' collections encompass objects from throughout all of Asia but also from the Pacific Islands (but seemingly not Australia, so not "Oceania." And there was nothing from western Asia we need to keep in mind that there is a particular iteration of "Pacific Asia" that is being presented here). 

A map of "Pacific Asia," at the Pacific Asia Museum

I can't recall ever visiting a gallery that sought to include Pacific Islands arts and culture in with that of East Asia. It is not unusual to throw Island Southeast Asia in with the greater Pacific, or to throw Melanesia in with Southeast Asia, but the geography presented at the Pacific Asia Museum is, I think, unique. I enjoyed it and I think that on a general level the "Pacific Asia" conception works.

The introductory gallery of the museum ended up being the best one. It is newer, and follows the museum's recent initiative to break down the "civilization"-based galleries (China vs. Japan vs. Korea vs. Pacific Islands, etc.) and instead focus on themes and media that cut across geographical areas. So in the introductory gallery, for example, there was a case of materials made of jade, another case with metals, and then another case of art objects made of ivory. The objects themselves were from all over the "Pacific Asia" region.

A selection of ivory objects at the Pacific Asia Museum. Note at far right the lei niho palaoa (necklace made of human hair and sperm whale tooth) from Hawaiʻi. It was the only Hawaiian object on exhibit at the museum.

The introductory gallery gave me hope that there would be more "Pacific" in the museum than I expected. But the remaining galleries letdown in that regard. Where there were Pacific Islands objects, they were almost all from Papua New Guinea, as is the standard treatment in most American museums.

The "Pacific Islands" room.... although, in actuality, it's just a Papua New Guinea room. (See the map on the wall.) This is obviously a room just waiting for renovation. I would be excited to return a decade from now and see how they have changed their Pacific Islands interpretation.

So that was my visit to the Pacific Asia Museum. It was about 1 P.M. and I was very hungry. My goal was to walk to a place called Burger Continental. It came highly recommended from my California guidebook, and I had heard that this establishment has great falafel and hummus—perhaps my two favorite foods! Unfortunately, as I should have known—indeed, I had been warning myself about this ever since arriving in California—there is no place in the world like the street corners of New York City for getting really good falafel. I have been to three continents (four if you include Oceania), and I have tried lots of falafel. But nothing beats the halal street vendors and hole-in-the-wall shops in our part of Manhattan. (Although I have never been to the Mediterranean region, so...) As for hummus, I'm not sure where I've had the best hummus ever... probably also New York.

And so it was off to Burger Continental. When I walked in, all hot and sweaty as I was, I could immediately tell that this was going to be a great experience. There were buffet bars as far as the eye could see, including a salad bar with unlimited hummus. (Oh boy...)

I had the option of the all-you-can-eat brunch, or ordering off the menu, and I think I made a very wise decision to order off the menu, because I knew that I would not be able to control myself if I was allowed to eat as much as possible. (Part of the problem here is that I am very miserly and the all-you-can-eat special was $19, so I would be very anxious to make sure that I was eating at least $19 worth of food.) So I ordered a $6 falafel sandwich off the menu. That sandwich came with access to the unlimited salad bar, however, so... (Oh boy...)

I went to the salad bar and filled up my plate as high as I could. (I could not stop myself!) Lettuce, tahini sauce, tabouli, roasted eggplant, a few big globs of hummus, olives, et cetera. Then I sat back down, and I ordered a lemonade to wash it all down. Here is a photograph of what my table looked like at that point, with my copy of L.A. Weekly in there, too:
Just part of my lunch at Burger Continental

Okay. So I started nibbling away at this, reading my newspaper. Then a guy started playing music on an electric keyboard and I swayed in my seat to the music. Mmmm... this hummus is so good. Slirrppp... so is the lemonade. Love this music. There were a few women sitting nearby, laughing and swaying in their seats, too. Those who partook in the all-you-can-eat brunch special had the option of drinking unlimited champagne. Perhaps these women were enjoying that. I couldn't tell, all I know is I remember them lifting their glasses and nodding their heads at me, as if to say: "This is the life."

Then they brought out my falafel sandwich, which itself came with a heaping side of rice pilaf and carrot salad:

My ever-expanding lunch (offstage: my soon-to-be expanding stomach)

At this point I was thinking: well, I avoided the all-you-can-eat brunch but I still ended up with so much food! What am I to do?

Eat, of course! So I ate and ate and ate. I finished my lemonade. The waitress came by and asked if I wanted another. I said "no, just some more water," and then she brought over another huge lemonade. (Oh boy...)

I don't have photographs of what happened next. But there was this moment when the music stopped, a belly-dancer appeared, and my stomach suddenly started to feel like a ticking time bomb. My forehead broke into a sweat. I unbuttoned the top button of my shorts. No relief. Now I was really sweating. What was happening?

I stood up and walked nonchalantly over to the restroom. I won't give all the gory details here, but as I was crouched on the floor, gasping for oxygen amid the hot, smelly bathroom air, my mind drifted back to this one night in Puno, Peru—or was it in Arequipa?—when my stomach was going through an ordeal and after a great meal I found myself in a small, cramped bathroom, just waiting and waiting to see what my body would do. It is an intensely human feeling, this, to be beholden to one's stomach. Crouched over the toilet then and there, I also flashed back to this one night that was definitely in Arequipa when my stomach bug was just getting a hold of me, and remembering the long walk back to our hostel, feeling with each step on the sidewalk that the contents of my stomach were about to be propelled out of my mouth if only I took one wrong step and everything came tumbling out.

It's funny, though. After some bodily catharsis, I emerged out of the bathroom feeling 50 percent better. I washed the sweat off my brow, and I walked back out to witness the end of the belly-dancing show. But my stomach still did not feel right. As I rushed my way out the door, leaving some cash next to my hummus-stained dishes, I soon found myself out on the sunny Pasadena streets, feeling extremely unable to move my body in any direction. With every tree and patch of grass that I passed, I felt tempted to just lay down in the shade for a small moment, but then my mind flashed back to that day in rural Yunnan Province, China, in the year 2004 when a horrible stomach bug attacked me during a hike through the countryside. I found a tree underneath which to rest, but then I discovered that my body urgently wanted to do more than just rest, so, attempting to conceal myself from the rural farmers around me, I then and there let out all my humanness in a very naked way, connecting my body with the Chinese soil.

I refused to stop walking. I had to march on. I couldn't button up my shorts, though, and the sagging of my pants made it incredibly hard to walk. I had to sort of waddle down the sidewalk, keeping my legs just enough apart to keep the shorts above my waist. Of course my mind also flashed back to that night in Washington, D.C., when, for the first time I had the experience of "not being able to move my stomach": that is, I felt so nauseous that I had to walk in such a manner that my stomach would not move. This feeling engenders a very strange kind of dance: one's legs do all the work, carefully making each stride and each step in such a way so that the upper-half of the body remains completely stationary in place. Now you can imagine me walking down the sidewalk in Pasadena yesterday with my torso facing straight ahead at all times, with my legs waddling back and forth with my shorts slipping down around my waist—and imagine me doing that for thirty straight minutes, covering almost two miles of the city—that was Day 27. :)

Back at the hotel, I crawled into bed and watched trashy movies on the television. As night fell, I was able to look back upon this day and consider it a real success. I visited a great museum and I had a really great lunch. Yes, after lunch I had a horrible adventure, but it was all worth it. And, because I ordered off of the menu rather than the all-you-can-eat buffet, the whole meal—and the whole adventure that followed—cost just nine dollars!

Next up: Days 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32 will find me back at the Huntington Library for a third week of research. Stay tuned!

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