Saturday, August 30, 2008

Chinglish a dialect or the new English?

After spending so many nights transported to China watching the Olympics on TV, in the news, and online, many emails have circulated to me of not only all the strange food choices available but some of China's "English" signage. This reminded me of an article in Wired about Chinglish. While we were in Maine on vaca with our friends the Danglers, we discussed the article Dan had found. China often is a topic of discussion among us, as it is Dan and Anne Marie's beautiful daughter Hannah's native country.

Chinglish, I've learned, is English influenced by Chinese. This isn't the first adaptation or variation of our language, there are many - Spanglish, Japlish, Greeklish, Konglish, Franglish, Manglish, and Denglisch to name a few. What's the difference with Chinglish you should know about? There are an estimated 300 million Chinese learning English, roughly the equivalent of the US population. There are signs that because of this, Chinglish could not only be a dialect, but could potentially become the lead in how the English language is spoken. Our English could therefore become just a regional dialect. Interesting.

I, personally, have found the signage I've seen very entertaining. Moreso because it very innocently erases many of the political correctness our language has evolved to. When the Chinese say "Deformed Man's Passage", they mean "Handicapped Men's Room", with no intention to offend. It makes me think we have taken the meaning of language so far that word choices are often a laborous endeavor. We have to make sure we use the "correct" word meaning for handicapped and not one of the dozen synonyms that mean the same but really mean something entirely different to Americans.

The other appealing thing about Chinglish and other dialects like Singlish and Manglish, they feed my laziness. Not using subjects and verbs allow for more efficient speech. Instead of wasting energy on sentences like, "Where would you like me to paint?", I can just ask, "Where paint?" Isn't that green speech? My only concern, the lack of need for elaborate writing might just put me out of a job! I'm thinking I might try and do my next post using one of these dialects. Then, you can let me know if you understand it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Spa Strangeness

I just read an article on Travel and Leisure called The World's Strangest Spa Treatments. It made me think of Hawk's Cay Resort, a place my agency marketed for nine years.  When they added their spa, my biz partner Kimberly and I were very grateful that they did not offer a Mud Body Treatment. Our feelings about it - it's dirt. It's clean dirt we've been told. Is that an oxymoron? Moreover, if you get into the mud in order to have the dirt and toxins mysteriously pulled out of your pores, then does the clean mud become dirty? And how many people detox in the clean mud before they change the dirty dirt to clean dirt? These are things I need to know before I submerge my body into a communal mud bath.

This article makes the dirty mud issue seem like kindergarten as far as strange goes. The winner in my opinion, the "Full-Body Fish Nibbling" in Malasia, where garra rufa (in the carp family) eat away at your dead skin. Gross! Number two on my list has to be the "Harmony Balls Massage" in Los Cabos, Mexico. I'm sorry, but those two balls remind me of something way too personal to be rolled on my back by a stranger. Among my other picks, the Light Capsule - resembling a closed MRI, the Ice Room - a fridge basically, and finally the Sake Bath - do they serve that at the restaurant afterwards?

I searched the internet for other strange spa treatments and found everything from Butt Facials to Bird Dropping Facials to Snake Massages. Why can't we just be happy with a good old fashioned Back Rub? 

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Horn Tootin'

It's time for a little horn tootin' my moi. My last post mentioned the conference I attended in Orlando, but I was too distracted by the approaching Tropical Storm to write about the award my agency won. So this is gonna be my bragging post for the month.

At the 41st Annual Governors Conference on Tourism, the state honors marketers for their success in attracting visitors to Florida, our number one industry. The "Henry" (named after Florida pioneer Henry Flagler), which is the top honor is given out in only 15 categories. We knew we were finalists in two categories for our work for Florida's Gulf Islands (Bradenton Area CVB), but we waited in anticipation to find out if we had won in either.

This year, it felt like the Oscars for us, and we were the newcomers to a field of veteran actors. Ya know, those guys and girls who get up and are awestruck at the other people they were nominated against? Granted, we are not newcomers to tourism brand marketing, but we were the smallest destination with the smallest budget to work with among the finalists.

The finalists in our two categories included very prominent destinations such as the county I live in, Lee County, plus Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, and the Florida Keys. Fort Lauderdale had already won 3 Henry's before our categories were called.

Our clients, Larry White and Susan Estler, were beaming with pride, as this is the first award their county of Manatee had ever received. The first category of Magazine Advertising was announced, and we succumbed to Lee County's awesome message in a bottle campaign. The very last category of the conference was Mixed Media, which includes your entire campaign, from identity to visitors guides to magazine ads to tv spots to radio, and on and on. It is your entire branding strategy from soup to nuts, so this one was big.

The last time my agency Insight won a Henry, it was for our work for Hawk's Cay Resort in the Florida Keys, an account we had for nine years. To date, our agency has collected 3 Finalist awards, 4 Henry's, and one Best of Show (in fact, the first one ever given out) since the inception of these awards in 1999.

The time came, the finalists were called on stage (the County's exec director Larry White joined the other  high profile directors on stage). We sat in the audience in anticipation… and the Henry goes to… Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau!!!!!! Woo hoo, we exploded with excitement at the two tables our group had taken up. There you have it, bigger isn't always better.

One final note, the hotel was very nice. It was the Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando. Huge conference hotel with 1,500 rooms. But the banquet food, less than spectacular would be an understatement.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Hurricane Season A Trip

Normally I write about my travels. This post is just a trip. Living in Florida means being subjected to the annual annoyances, stresses and fears of potential hurricanes. These storms create a huge stir here in sunny FL, and are often a loss of revenue to many business owners. The impact they can have on my specialty industry of tourism can be more devastating than the storm.

Having worked on a Florida Keys resort account for nine years, I have dealt with the preparatory ceremonies, including evacuations, many times. Now that my agency works with entire destinations, we also have our hands in hurricane crisis management with regards to keeping our tourists informed during and after the storm. Usually the biggest challenge is to fight the media sensationalism so travelers know which areas have not been affected. The weather images and live videos of reporters being blown across streets are short-lived in reality and often isolated to a finite area, while much of the state may not be feeling the same affects.

Don’t get me wrong, hurricanes are extremely dangerous. In fact, while I write this, we are currently in Tropical Storm Fay and I can hear the squalls of rain and wind outside. Schools and businesses are closed, and my husband has just driven to Charlotte County to report for mandatory duty. His 35 mile drive through the storm was a little hairy, with a lot of water on the streets and gusty wind. There have been six tornados reported so far this morning, but no major injuries. I can see out my sliding doors that we have lost a much loved bougenvilia tree and a screen panel in the cage.

We have walked the walk of boarding up and hunkering down numerous times. We have also experienced power outages, tree uprootings and other fairly minor damages to our home, neighborhood and businesses. We have even witnessed the devastation of a major hurricane and its affect on many of our friends’ lives. For certain, hurricanes are not to be taken lightly.

Yesterday I returned home a day early from (ironically) the 41st annual Governors Conference on Tourism. The attendance was a little disappointing, and the rooms got thinner over a 24 hour period. Understandably, many tourism leaders had to return to their respective counties to man their duties during the storm. We stayed long enough to hear some speeches on travel trends and to receive a great award – one of only fifteen bestowed annually on tourism entities for excellence and success in tourism marketing. It was the first Flagler award our clients from Manatee County had gotten, so it was a proud moment. I believe its our agency’s fourth one.

My day today will be a mix of communicating with my coworkers and clients, hoping for no power outages at my house, checking in with Gene to make sure he’s okay, watching TV or playing cards with Taryn (for her, they are the snow days of my youth), and eventually returning all the lanai furniture and plants to their normal location. And by tomorrow or Thursday, the vacationers will be back on the beaches looking for new shells washed up by the storm. Life is definitely a trip in Florida.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Serious Pizza

About 6 months ago, our friends Debbie and Mark took us to a little pizza place in Estero called Sa Za. I knew something was different about this place when she told me we needed reservations. Since they were newly opened and hadn't gotten their liquor license yet, we each brought a bottle of red. The place is a tiny, warm, brick-walled bistro on the end cap of Albertson's across from Coconut Point. It was packed, and with good reason. Owned and operated by Chef Joe DiMaggio Jr. (yes, direct relation to the Yankee Clipper), the food was fantastic. The pasta fagioli was different than my grandmother's, but still had that grandma taste. It was like a cross between the pasta fagioli and the escarole and beans of my youth. And the pizzas (one Greek, one smashed meatball) were gourmet all the way. Being a meatball expert myself, I'm a bit fussy about my balls. But these were delightful, made with 3 meats. Very nice.

Now fast forward till last week (where does the time go?), and I make it to Sa Za again. Twice last week in fact. Once to meet with Joe about marketing his Estero and Naples restaurants as well as the upcoming locations planned in California and North Carolina, and once because the food was so good I went again with the family. To date I've added the Indian pizza and Grandma's pizza to my resume, as well as the Rigatoni Bolognese. To die for, by the way. This food is comfort food at its finest for me. It is the perfect blend of gourmet simplicity and the poor peasant Italian of my childhood. The appetizer special we had was a flashback to the left over spagetti dishes my grandmother and father would fry up in a pan the next day until the pasta was crispy. 

What I love most about Joe's concept is that he has foregone the egotistical urge to spend boo-koo liras on fancy chandeliers and prime real estate to focus on his passion - the FOOD. A man after my own heart. Sa Za is a place where you may see a celebrity, but never feel intimidated. A place where a world-renowned chef practically sits to eat with you and makes you feel like family. A place where the only thing over the top is the flavor. A place that reminds me of home. Do yourself a favor, check it out. Oh, and make sure you tell Joe I sent you, cuz I told him "I know people."

Somebody's Got To Do It

My husband Gene has become quite the renaissance man. First and foremost, police officer. Over the years, aspiring chef, landscape artist, stained glass craftsman. The latest, world traveler? While I sit at my kitchen counter, morning coffee by my side and sleeping dogs by my feet, my husband is jet-setting around Montreal, Canada, with the rich and famous.

Here's the story: my mother-in-law Joan works for (actually runs it all, in my humble opinion) a limousine service in New York state. One of her duties is to plan and execute driving arrangements for her corporate clients. This corporate client will have conventions, meetings and events in many areas of the country. So she will hire drivers in those locales, then travel there to assure the transportation schedule is executed properly. My husband, who as you all know, loves to volunteer to help. So this past year he began going on these adventures with his mother, and being one of the "concierges". He is the man in the suit you see at the airport holding the sign up with someone's name. Then, he introduces himself as being with the limo service, shows the executive to his car and introduces him to his driver, then his job is done. He can do this 7 times a day (or night usually) or 27 times. It depends on the event.

The perks on these trips can vary for Gene and his mom. Sometimes they stay in the same hotel as the executives, sometimes they are relegated to a Days Inn by the airport. It's hit or miss. This time - he hit the jackpot. Hotel Quintessence in Tremblant has 30 luxury suites ranging from 700 to 1200 square feet. It was named "Most Excellent Small Hotel in North America" by Conde Nast. The suite Gene and mom got - The Presidential! He tells me it's an incredible place, with a pedestrian village across the street built into the side of a mountain. He said it looks like the Swiss Alps. He told me it's the most incredible place he's ever seen - even more so than his favorite place, Lake Tahoe. 

As more luck would have it, it's a small group, and on his first day he only had to greet seven people. This trip is for the yuckety-yuks to attend the nearby Ferrari Driving Experience (which by the way costs $8,900). Since there aren't many, Gene has had much more free time than usual. Of which he bragged about eating the best smoked salmon bagel in his life to me the other morning, then working out, soaking in their personal jacuzzi, napping and going to the shops on the mountain. Rough life, but "somebody's got to do it" he tells me. What happened to my simple man, who has always claimed he only needs to live in a shack and be with me to be happy? I'm thinking we've created a monster!

I'm sure I will have more posts about Hotel Quintessence upon his return, as I made him promise to buy a disposable camera and take pictures for my blog - the photos here I pulled from their website. One last thing, I checked the rates on the Prez suite, $1,500 a night. This one may be tough to get to on my bucket list!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Whoopie for whoopies

If you read my Maine posts, you will know that my family and I discovered the most sinfully delicious cream-filled pumpkin treats called "whoopie pies". The origin, the Owls Head General Store. And, dear Martha, the proprietor, packed me up one saran-wrapped piece of heaven for each person in the office. Since that day, there have been many talks and day dreams about whoopie pies at Insight. In fact, our Director of Communications, Jessica, has dared to go where not many have… trying to emulate the whoopie pie at home. To no avail thus far. Since Martha can't (won't, we asked!) share the secret recipe that has made the general store famous, Jessica has printed off recipes online and tried various methods, subjecting her boyfriend to numerous taste tests. To date his head only goes from left to right, there have been no nods of approval.

I looked up the history of whoopies pies on the internet, and here is part of an article I found, "Whoopie pies are considered a New England phenomenon and a Pennsylvania Amish tradition. They're one of Maine's best known and most loved comfort foods. Mainers will even claim that they were weaned on whoopie pies. In Maine, these treats are more like a cake than a pie or a cookie, as they are very generously sized (about hamburger size). A whoopie pie is like a sandwich, but made with two soft cookies with a fluffy white filling. Traditional whoopies pies are made with vegetable shortening, not butter. The original and most commonly made whoopie pie is chocolate. but cooks like to experiment, and today pumpkin whoopie pies are a favorite seasonal variation."

And here is wikipedia's definition, "A whoopie pie, sometimes alternatively called a gob, black-and-white, or bob is a baked good traditional to the Pennsylvania Dutch culture as well as New England, made of two small, chocolate, disk-shaped cakes with a sweet, creamy frosting sandwiched between them. In Western Pennsylvania they are known as "gobs."

Today was Jessica's birthday, so at 8:15 am this morning, the man in brown delivered a dozen fresh bundles of spice to the agency. Because she knows what is good for her, she gave her 2 bosses (moi and Kimberly) and her buddy Paul each one over coffee this morning. Ahhh, it was a whoopie of a day. Happy B-day and thanks for the excuse Jess.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Link to Airport Fees

I found this link today on Kayak. After my post about JetBlue's pillow and blanket fee, I thought this link may be helpful. Although it does not have pillows listed, it does have a chart of airline fees with regards to checked bags, meals, snacks, pets and extra legroom.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

No Free Pillow for this Pilla

You all know that airlines are starting to add fees for checked baggage, but the trend to charge is seeping into other areas of air travel. Just the other day, I booked my family's airfare on jetBlue to my alma mater, Syracuse University, for homecoming/reunion weekend with the sistahs of Chi Omega. I noticed a few new items in the booking process on jetBlue's website. First, a little reminder to bring my own earphones, as my friends at JB will no longer be offering el cheapo free ones. No biggie, I thought, I always bring my ipod headset. When I got to the seating chart, I was excited that many of the "extra legroom" seats were available in complete rows for my family of 3, but when I clicked on them they mentioned a $20 each upgrade. Ooops, no way. Luckily, even though I had to go to the back of the bus, I'm far enough away from the nauseating latrine smell.

I was extremely happy to get the flights on JB, as they were cheaper than the other options and a girl's gotta have her HGTV in the air. So when I read my Budget Travel RSS feed this morning that JB will be charging $7 for a pillow and blanket, I thought... I need to read some more about this! Is my beloved airline sliding down the slippery slope of pissing off their fans like those other airlines? They are claiming they need to offset the cost of gas. In their defense, here are the pillow pluses: you get to keep the pillow and blanket (I would hope so!); it's made out of a special fabric technology that blocks dander, mites and dust; and you get a $5 coupon for Bed Bath & Beyond.

So, this "research-obsessed-gotta-getta-good-value" travel princess had to check things out. Should I pre-buy a travel pillow and blanket? I went on a variety of websites -, bed bath and beyond, target, etc but could not find a set for less than $17. And I wondered, do they have special fabric like JetBlue's? Then I checked out this Clean Brands they are touting, and sure enough, their tagline is: The World's Cleanest Bedding. They even have patented their MicronOne technology. My conclusion, at $7 with a $5 coupon, jetBlue is my hero! I may even buy extras as Christmas gifts.

P.S. For those of you who are scratching their heads about the title of this blog, my maiden name is Pilla. Yeah, I know, my married name is Cushing. Go ahead and laugh.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Charleston Journal

This post is the second journal entry from Charleston in April. The first post was my very first blog entry back in May.

April 20th 9 am
We are back on the porch this morning and Gene is commenting on the blue sky. I amsurprised it's so nice out since I thought I heard rain last night. Breakfast looks to be a crab quiche with oranges, grapes and berries on the side. We are parked in our "usual" corner wicker sofa, being served orange juice and coffee as I write. Yesterday morning we reserved the inn's bikes, only to find out one had a broken seat and the two others were already out. So we decided to walk through the residential district, heading down Legare Street. It reminds us again of New Orleans garden district, with walls of ivy and sidewalks broken up over the years by old tree trunks. I snapped my camera like crazy as we admired iron gates, doorways and gardens. It's hard not to imagine living here and on Legare Street I could certainly picture it. 

We landed at the Battery overlooking Charleston Harbour. The park was majestic and the revolutionary war cannons led us to discussions about history and presidents (Gene spoke, I yawned). As we wandered along the water, the cell rang and the inn had bikes for us. We headed back east toward the water on our red old-fashioned big seated bikes to resume our tour of the wharf and waterfront park. I highly recommend avoiding the cobblestone streets on bike, although it was the best laugh I had all day when I watched Gene's face go from serene to pained. We locked up the bikes to enter the market, which is identical to the French Market in NO. The first items I came upon were rattan woven purses from Bali. I'm in Charleston I thought, and I don't want anything from Bali, or China or Thailand. I had my mind set on long-sleeved t-short for Taryn and me, which I found along with bags of benne wafers for the gang at the office, which are local sugar cookies made with benne seeds (similar to sesame seeds).

We cruised by Marion Square, where we had seen kids playing frisbee on our ride into town, and just missed the Saturday farmer's market. We wound around by the College of Charleston, through some streets where college apartments were. Back at the inn, Gene napped while I got closer to finishing Cause of Death by Patricia Cornwell. At promptly 4:30pm, the wine, cheese and a chocolate cake appeared on the dining table, along with other house guests who crawled out of the woodwork. Trudy and Tom are here from Annapolis for their 10 year anniversary and the ladies who joined us in the study were a mother and two daughters from Michigan, here for one of the daughter's 40th birthday. It made me think that a niche market for travel here is special occasion travel. Maybe I would call it "splurge" travel. 

We all exchanged sightseeing and dining adventures with each other and I shared with them our stop at the Rhett Aikens House. It reminded me a bit of the Paul Revere house in the North end of Boston, with its original furniture, yet differed as this house was large and ornate in its day. Rather than being a restored landmark, this home is preserved - which means every inch is covered in peeling wallpaper and paint, old uncleaned upholstery and unpolished floors. The audio walking tour was very interesting and we were led through slave quarters, stable and first two floors of the home. The family resided there for 150 years until 1975 when the latest heir donated it. I figure these home are so expensive to maintain they end up being given away to the city or a historical organization. Definitely a recommended tour.

Our dinner reservations at SNOB (Slightly North of Broad) were at 8:15pm, so we walked up King and over to the pier by the wharf, where we swung on suspended benches while a container ship crawled by. At the restaurant, we were greeted by our server, who looked, spoke and smiled like my college friend Gwen. She brought us each a glass of rose champagne, compliment of the inn (nice touch). I opted to go with house specials across the board, since the ingredients were touted as local and in season. The crab chowder was creamy and fresh. My salad was a poached pear with cranberries, toasted pistachios and blue cheese crumbles over a bed of spring mix. I ordered the soft shell crab over an asparagus, chick pea, green bean and tomato salad topped with cucumber yogurt sauce. Gene insisted I order 2 crabs, which gave him a whole one to take back to the room.

Gene had a pureed red bean soup, caesar salad, and an assorted pate plate. He claimed the caesar rivaled my Uncle Paul's recipe, which I chided him for. We were too stuffed for dessert and too fuzzy after the bottle of shiraz to go to the bar atop the Vendue Inn which we had planned to do. We walked home and were greeted by one of the hostesses, who informed us that two chimney swifts were trapped in the dining room. Someone had been called to help guide them out safely, but they wanted us to walk quietly through the room so as not to cause them to fly around and hurt themselves. An extremely authentic ending to an authentic Charleston day.