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Hot Spring Bath at Berkeley Springs, West Virginia February 20, 2009

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Hot Spring Bath at Berkeley Springs, West Virginia

I saw an article on Washington Post about Berkeley Springs and thought it would be nice to take Maria there for a one-day Valentine retreat to get out of our daily grind in Northern Virginia.
Since Maria had to work on the Valentine’s Day, we went there on Thursday, February 12, 2009.

Because Maria was also off on Wednesday, I also booked a night at Charles Town Inn for $109 (including a reduced version of a breakfast buffet) which is on site of the Charles Town Race and Slots. We could take our time to shop at Leesburg Corners Outlet Mall, visit Charles Town, play some slots, and enjoy a free breakfast the next day morning. We then can enjoy hot spring bath at Berkeley Springs on Thursday and be home before the end of the work day.

On the way to the outlet mall, Maria called the State Park at Berkeley and made a reservation for us to have a 15-minute bath and a 45-minute massage. Since I qualify as a senior, the cost for me was $36. For Maria, it was $40. The Leesburg Corner Outlet Mall was not busy at all. In some stores, there were more store workers than shoppers. We arrived there a little past 5 PM and in less than 2 hours Maria was able to buy a few skirts and tops for $5 a piece. With my help, I might add. For that she was happy even though she has more clothes than she needs. We also bought a white-colored TV stand at Crate and Barrel for $220 and told them that we would pick it up the next day.

We left Leesburg around a quarter after seven. Since Charles Town was only 30 miles away, we should be able to get there in time for dinner. This would be the second time we visited the slot city. The first time was almost 2 years ago when we had nothing to do in the afternoon and decided on a whim to check it out. The place has only slots and no table games. We stayed for about two hours, tried out their buffet, and left with less than $50 gambling loss.

We arrived at the hotel around 8 PM. We checked in and found our 3-rd floor room clean and kind of new. When we opened the curtain to the window, we saw the horse race track just outside of our room about 50′ away. It was too bad that there was no race that night. Otherwise, we could watch the horse race and may be able to bet on couple of games.

The buffet was not too bad considering that we only paid $15.95 for the two of us after receiving a 2 for 1 coupon when we checked in at the hotel. Although it was late and there wasn’t anything good to eat, we managed to get some salad, a few pieces of tender and moist BBQ ribs, some vegetables and a lot of desserts: crème brulée, small piece of cheese cake, key limes shots, some cakes. We finished our dinner before 9 PM and went for the slots directly. We were quite disappointed because there were only a few penny slots which Maria and I like to play. After a while, we found out that the odds here weren’t as good as the ones in Tropicana. We played for about 2 hours and lost about $40 each. We decided to stop and went back to our room for the night because we had to get up before 8:30 in the morning in order to arrive at Berkeley Springs in time for our 11:30 AM appointment..

Berkeley Springs was about 40 miles from Charles Town. Most of the driving was on 2-way state highways and through small towns with traffic lights and slow traffic. It took us more than an hour to get there but we managed to be there right before 11:30 AM for our appointment. We drove directly to the State Park, paid $76 for the two of us and were told to wait for our turns. The building was old and looked cold with out-of-dated wooden walls and brick interior.
Maria was led by a woman to the women’s room to the left of the reception area. I waited for a minute or so and a guy showed up from behind the door and greeted me. He looked like someone in his 50’s but has all this tough life experience on his face. The first impression I had was that he doesn’t look like a professional massage therapists. But it was too late to duck out this now. I followed him inside the room. I told him that this was the first time for me and asked him to tell me what to do. He showed me the red-colored metal lockers next to the wall, asked me to undress, put my stuff in a locker and cover myself with a towel. He would wait for me at next room just inside. There was some conversation in the next room which meant that there was another customer there.

I did what he told me quickly. Fortunately there wasn’t anyone else in this open room. I went to the next room which has 6 stalls separated by tiled walls. Again, the whole place looked old and seriously in need of renovation and upgrade. He led me to a small room to the side which has a built-in tub in the ground and said I could relax in the tub for 15 minutes. He would come for me later for the massage. The room was about 6′ wide by 18′ long and about 12′ high with insulated pipes running along the ceiling and one side of the tiled wall. A couple of stairs took me down to the far end of the room which was below ground level. The water in the tub was kept at 102 oF which was quite comfortable but not hot. I was told that the temperature of the natural spring water was a constant of 74 oF. It was first heated in a boiler room near by then piped to the tub and mixed with spring water to reach at 102 oF.

I quickly washed myself but couldn’t relax at all because the door was open all the time. The water was comfortable and not smelly at all because the natural spring water does not contain any sulfur which is a great plus to this small town in the middle of no where. I also could feel a layer of film kind of cover my skin which probably because of the minerals in the water. 15 minutes past by quickly and the guy popped his head and asked me if I wanted to stay a bit longer. I said let do the massage now.

He had me lied face down on a massage table covered only by a towel. He then asked me if I had any recent injuries to my body. I said that I had no recent injury but was dragged by my wife to do this. He then proceeded to spread some oil on my back and massage my upper body with such a light hand as if he was afraid to hurt me. The lower body was next and then he asked me turn around facing up and massaged my upper body. I then took a shower to wash away the massage oil on my body. The whole thing took probably less than 45 minutes but I had enough already and just wanted to get out. I quickly dressed and gave the guy $10 tips for his service. By the time I was out, Maria was already outside and waiting for me.

I also found out that my massage therapist has been working here for only one year. He moved from New Jersey and found a job here and stayed. The entire facility will undergo a complete face lift within the next six months at a cost of $2.4 million. The bath tubs will remain open with rented trailers. There is also another facility called Roman House just a couple of hundred feet away where we can have a private bath room for the entire family.

On the way out, we paid $2 for two milk jars. We used them to fill the natural spring water just outside the Roman House. As of this date, I haven’t tried the water yet. They are still in my fridge.
After the bath, we drove south on US 522 to Cacapon Resort State Park. It has many cabinets and lodging facilities there. Unfortunately there wasn’t too much to see in the middle of the winter. I doubt that we will come back here though.

We then drove back in town and decided to have lunch there. We chose Country Inn at Berkeley Springs because it was next to the State Park and the restaurants I wanted to try only serve dinner. We had a simple lunch with soup, salad, and French dip sandwich. I also ordered a half carafe of house white wine to wash down the food. The restaurant was smaller than I thought. It had typical country kitchen decorations. The food was not too bad for the small town. The French onion soup was prepared the way it should be: tasty beef broth covered with cheese with a lot of onions. The cheese crouton, however, was a bit too tough though. The wine was average but for $11 it was just the right amount for both of us.

On the way back, we picked up the TV stand at Crate and Barrel and then drove home and finished our short trip to Berkeley Springs, West Virginia..

Gom Tang E – Centerville, Virginia February 19, 2009

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Gom Tang E – Centerville, Virginia

A friend of mine took me to a new Korean restaurant early February, 2009. The name of the restaurant is Gom Tang E which is famous for its Gom Tang or beef bone soup. It is located in the same strip shopping mall on Route 29 near Route 28 in Centerville, Virginia where the new $10 million Korean Spa World is located. It opens 24 hours a day and caters mostly to Korean customers. Centerville, according to my friend, has replaced Annandale on Little River Turnpike as the new Korean center in the metro DC area where many of the 150,000 Koreans live.

In the back of the small restaurant, about 80 seats, is the waitress’ station. To the left is a huge steel pot behind a 3-foot tall Plexiglas wall. The pot was filled with cream-colored Gom Tang. The pot is about 5′ in diameter and about 1.5′ foot deep and the wall was about 2″ thick. It is by far the largest soup pot of its kind that I have ever seen. In the middle of the pot was a bag which was filled with seasoning including a lot of garlic and other stuff.

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The 2-page, 23 items, menu was very simple: mostly noodles on one side and various ox soups on the other. At the recommendation of my friend, I ordered Modeum-Seolloengtang which is Ox bone stew with assorted ox meat and internal organ for $6.99. My friend ordered Ppyeodagwi-Haejangkuk, spicy hot beef and vegetables soup with ox bone broth for $6.99. We also ordered a Nokdujeon or green bean pancake with meat and vegetable for $9.99. I also ordered a bottle of Korean Cass Lager, a pale-golden lager with 4.5% alcohol by volume for $4.50. The most expensive dish on the menu is Dolpan-Golbijjim or steamed ox rib with seasoning with noodle for $32.99.

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The xiao cai was very simple: kimchi, daikon, 3 pieces of fresh pepper and a dish of spicy paste. The creamy-colored ox bone soup was excellent and delightful in a cold winter day. There was some thin noodles and beef tripe in the soup. The smell of the broth was filled with freshness with green onion garnish floating on top. The beef tripe was a little chewy but not over-cooked. Although it is on par with the Ramen soup I had in Tokyo, I wished that there was a little more noodle and meat. My friend’s dish contains a big chunk of ox tail in the soup with some vegetables which I could not recognize. The ox-bone soup was seasoned with soy sauce, the meat on the bone was very tender and tasty but the vegetable was way over cooked to the point that it completely lost its original texture. The pancake was over priced and not as good as the ones we had in many restaurants in Annandale. It had more flour than called for and there wasn’t enough seafood in there either.

When we finished our meal, I saw a kitchen assistant empting out the soup pot and the bottom of the pot was filled with ox bones. No wonder the soup was so good.

I will take Maria there to try their soup some time soon. Unfortunately, the restaurant doesn’t have any tofu dish which was quite a disappointment.

Signet Tour refund February 11, 2009

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My travel agent told me today that my refund should be here by the end of this month. I ‘ll believe it when I see the money.

Park8 February 11, 2009

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I just found out today that the phasre one building pf the park8 Center will begin on the 18th of February.

This is a good news because we have been waiting for this date for more than 1 year now.

The project was delayed for such a long time that we have almost given up our hope.

The woman told me that it will take about 15 months to finish.

We will wait and see.

A Trip to Fredericksburg, Virginia – February 3, 2009 February 7, 2009

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A Trip to Fredericksburg, Virginia – February 3, 2009

Forecast for last Tuesday was cloudy sky with intermittent rain and snow. Temperature would be in the mid 20’s for the high. A very gloomy day to say the least! Maria was scheduled to work on that day. I planned to stay home, sleep in and do some cooking in the afternoon. A Maria’s co-worker called Monday afternoon and asked her to switch Tuesday with Saturday. She asked me if this was okay and I said yes because Tuesday is my off day.

I got up around 8:30 AM and saw a clear sky with sunshine. So much for forecast! I called out to Maria and said “would you like to go out for a drive? We’ll have a picnic.” She thought I was crazy to have a picnic in the middle of winter. Well, we could have a picnic in the car.

I drag her out of the bed and cooked some breakfast for her. I then packed some goat cheese, roasted garlic hummus, Chianti red wine salami, tandoori garlic naan, cashew nuts, chips, carrots, a half bottle of Pinot Grigio and a couple of plastic glasses. We put on enough warm cloth and headed out to Route 7. She asked me where do we go? I said “Fredericksburg.” She didn’t know where it is. I told her it is between Richmond and Washington, about 60 miles from home. Although I had never been to Fredericksburg before, I had checked the Internet and knew that old downtown Fredericksburg is a nice neighborhood to take a leisure walk in the sunny afternoon and Central Park Shopping Center by I-95 is a huge shopping center where Maria may want to spend some time there..

We took Fairfax County Parkway and Route 123 to I-95. From there, it only took about 30 minutes to Fredericksburg. I relied on my memory to drive us to the old downtown area first. I was small and quite with only a few people on the street. I guess this was the wrong time to visit here. We checked our GPS and found a drug store called Goolricks which has been serving the area since 1869. I dropped Maria off and asked her to buy some soda from their soda fountain or something. She ended up buying a cup of chocolate milk shake for $4.50. It was a bit expensive but tasted smooth and creamy. We then drove around and saw a sign to Washington’s home when he was a teenager. We followed the sign but got lost near the edge of the town. We turned around and saw another sign to Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center. It was very close to old Town Fredericksburg and there is no admission fee to get in.

We entered the small museum and were greeted by an older gentleman who enthusiastically greeted us and gave us a map which showed four important battles between the Union and the Federation from 1862 to 1864. He also gave a map of the Sunken Road Walking Trail which started from the parking lot off the visitor center. We toured the wooden visitor center and saw some Civil War relics. We then took the walking tour along the Sunken Road, checked out the waist high rock wall constructed by the Federation army and viewed exhibits along the 1000 feet long trail. The sky was clear but covered by some clouds. The wind was brisk and we were cold even with the heavy coat. The small dirt road (12′ wide) was just like any other dirt road you would see in the country but I couldn’t help but thought about all the people (9000 soldiers according to the older gentleman) died along this small dirt road. The time was December 11 – 13, 1862. At one point, the Union Army soldiers attacked this wall for eight hours but wasn’t able to crack the line. It must be horrifying for those in the front line who had no protection against the well-protected Federation soldiers. It was so sad to visit places like this. But I guess war is part of human history stretching back thousands of years. And it is still going on in our days. On the other hand, war may be unavoidable and sometimes necessary judging by human instinct. Peace talk an only achieve that much.

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After the Sunken Road trail, we drove around the battle field along this 5-mile paved road in the woods. We drove to the end of this road and parked there to start our picnic. The road was not heavily traveled at all. We saw only five other cars: one stopped by to see the display, two others took their dogs for a walk, and two other cars didn’t even stop.
By this time, it was almost 3:30 in the afternoon. We were very hungry and quickly finished our cheese, salami, hummus, naan, carrots and wine.

From there, we went straight to the mall. The mall was huge; probably bigger than any mall in northern Virginia. It has 2.5 million square feet of retail space. The anchor stores include Shoppers, Target, Wal-Mart, Lowes, Khols, and Circuit City (in liquidation now). It also has probably 20 restaurants. We drove around and stopped at Circuit City but didn’t but anything. The restaurants were tempting but we just had our picnic. We decided to stopped by Ikea on the way home at Potomac Mills Mall. There we picked up some candies and cookies plus a few small items. We then drove all the way home to finish the day.

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Chinese New Year Banquet for Our Employees February 7, 2009

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Chinese New Year Dinner Party Jan 24, 2009

We had a Chinese New Year dinner party on January 24, 2009, a day before Chinese New Years eve. About 80 people attended including employees and their friends and families. Every year around the Chinese New Year, China King invites its employees to have a feast or so-called chi nian ye fan 吃年夜飯,  give them bonus money stuffed in Hong Bao 紅包 and participate in gift drawing抽獎.

As usual, each of our five head chefs will prepare two to three dishes including cold or hot appetizers, hot entrees, seafood soup, nian gao 年糕  and Tang Shui 糖水 or Tian Tang 甜湯 dessert soup. This year we had ten entrees, three appetizers (头抬  tou tai) and two or Tang Shui 糖水.

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The appetizers were crispy cucumbers, Chinese roast beef, and lu cai. The entrees included
2 fish dishes with different sauces, nian gao 年糕 , deep fried chickens, salt and pepper shrimp, seafood delights, roasted ducks, and baked mussel with cheese.

Fish 魚 is a dish that Chinese must serve on Chinese New Year’s eve. This is a festival New Years dish because魚is pronounced “yu” in Chinese which sounds like 餘. 魚 and 餘 are homophone words and 餘 in Chinese means surplus. On Chinese New Year’s eve, we will eat some fish but will purposely leave some “Yu” or surplus 餘 for next year. In other words, we wish by this simple act that we not only have enough for this year but also have some more saved up for next year too; hence the lucky phrase “nian nian you yu” or 年年有餘  in Chinese which literally translated into “year year have surplus” or having surplus year after year.

Nian gao 年糕, or a new year cake, is also a dish that Chinese must have around Chinese New Year. 年糕 is made of purified sweet rice and water. After steaming for an hour or so, the purified sweet rice gels into a translucent, hard jelly-like material. We usually buy the kind which has brown sugar already added and deep-fried it with egg batter. It is sticky, gooey, sweet and a nice little dessert after eating heavy and greasy food. There is another meaning to have年糕 around Chinese New Year. 糕 and 高 are also homophone words. 糕 means cake and 高 means a higher position. By having some nian gao 年糕 every year or年年高, one wishes to achieve a higher position in your personal endeavor year after year. Yes, I am the first to admit that this is yet another Chinese superstition.

The two tang Shui 糖水 were 西米露 or sago and 蓮子銀耳紅棗湯 white wood ears, lotus seeds, and Chinese dates. 西米露 is a dessert soup of pearl tapioca, coconut and evaporated milk. The 蓮子銀耳紅棗湯 is a healthy dessert drink which nourishes our body, especially our lungs and stomach.

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After the banquet, it was time to give our employees their annual bonuses in hong bao 紅包 followed by gift drawing抽獎. Gift drawing 抽獎 took almost 45  mimg_1194_editedinutes to finish and the first price was drawn by one of the head chefs.

Before the end of the celebration, I had all my staff together for a group picture. I wanted to create a sense of belonging and wanted to make my restaurant a happy place to work. I then took some of them back to my restaurant where they have left their cars there.

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