Dim Sum For Christmas: Creating A Holiday Tradition At Home

dim sumWith very few exceptions, I’ve spent the last 17-plus Christmases going out for dim sum. No matter where I’m living at the time, once December rolls around, I start researching the best places to indulge my har gow habit. Why? Because I’ve worked in the service industry for over two decades.

I’ve either waited tables or worked retail (usually in the food industry) since I was in my 20s. In layman’s terms, it means that the holidays ceased to exist for me starting in 1995, when I started culinary school.

I’d always loved Christmas as a kid and in college. Yet, I willingly sacrificed the holidays, because it meant I’d finally embarked upon the career path I’d long dreamt of: becoming a cooking teacher and food (and eventually, travel) writer. I naively failed to realize that decades of restaurant work, flogging farmers market produce, and slinging cheese and meat would be required to supplement my occupational pursuits.

I’ve been able to travel overseas a couple of times over the holidays, and the Christmases spent in Thailand and New Zealand were memorable from both a cultural and universal perspective. If I had the financial means, I’d always travel during the holidays. In general, however, being in the food industry means you stay at home this time of year, even if home is somewhere most people would kill to visit (I’ve been fortunate to work the holidays in Vail and Telluride).christmasUnable to take Christmases off to see my family (they always get Thanksgiving, which is extremely important to my parents), I started going out for dim sum as a way to pass the time, stave off loneliness and get a good meal.

Dim sum parlors and Cantonese restaurants are always packed Christmas Day, with Chinese-Americans as well as diners of varying ethnic and religious persuasions. I’ve learned over the years that many people have a Christmas dim sum tradition, usually because they don’t celebrate for whatever reason (not having kids is a big one).

In my case, I’m single and childless, but that’s not why I do dim sum. Ethnically, my relatives on both sides of the family were immigrant Russian Jews, but my agnostic parents celebrated Christmas when my brother and I were growing up. To them, it was a way to unite family and allow us kids … to be kids. As a child, I never imagined Christmas and I would part ways.

As an adult, I shun Christmas not because I have to work, but for the same reasons many people do: it’s a stressful, bank account-depleting, heavily commercialized guilt-fest. I don’t miss it, although I do my best for my teenaged niece (who received a rescue kitten from me this year) and nephew.

The truth is, if I’m unable to travel, I relish having one day a year where I can have 24 hours off and not feel bad about it. I eat delicious dumplings, maybe go for a hike or see a movie. Call family and friends. It’s unabashed me-time, and until or unless I meet someone I want to create a more traditional holiday with … please pass the bao.

[Photo credit: dim sum, Flickr user Jason Hutchens; tree, Flickr user Ian.Kobylanski]

Meet the love of your life – on a New York Gray Line tour!

For tourists visiting New York City, the iconic Gray Line tour buses have always been a quick way to see as much of the Big Apple as you can fit into a day. But the folks behind this bus line now also offer a fun way for New York single guys and girls to meet up (though tourists are obviously still welcome!).

For $59 ($30 off their normal price), Gray Line will fill a bus with singles, and take them on a tour of the city – with some pretty romantic stops.

Included in the price is a stop at the Top of the Rock Observation deck, a guided tour of the High Lines, dinner, and – get this – a 90 minute Champagne skyline cruise.

On the bus, singles will get to know each other through a speed dating version of musical chairs.

The “Singles Night On The Town” bus tour departs daily at 5:30PM from 777 8th Avenue. For the entire itinerary, or to reserve a spot on this tour, check out the full details at the Gray Line site.

Inside Air New Zealand’s Matchmaking Flight

When I first heard about Air New Zealand offering a Matchmaking Flight, I was amused. It sounded like a cute promotion from the quirky national airline of a pretty quirky country. And when the invitation came to check out their matchmaking site and cover the flight from on board the plane, I was more cautiously optimistic than downright excited. I mean, planes are meant for transport not entertainment. I sleep on flights. I hate talking to my neighbors. I had fears of being awake for the full 13 hours while desperate singles chatted idly about their hobbies and desire to have children before turning 40. The thought of observing dozens of blind dates crash and burn while trying not to think of crashing and burning had me fearing the worst.

But, I put those fears aside and soothed myself with thoughts of the lush countryside that I would enjoy once we got to Auckland and ventured further into New Zealand. So, on October 13, I flew to LAX and checked in for ANZ Flight 5: The Matchmaking Flight. Was it a worthy promotion? I was going to find out for myself.

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Before even boarding the flight, passengers were invited to attend a party at the gate. Well, not all passengers. Only the 100 who were part of the promotion. The remaining passengers of ANZ Flight 5 waited at the main gate like regular travels. Representatives from the airline assured me that all of the passengers on the flight were called in advance and notified of the events that would be taking place on the flight to avoid any confusion and anger. Meanwhile, Matchmaking Flight attendees sipped specialty cocktails made from New Zealand vodka, enjoyed some speed dating (as much as speed dating can be enjoyed) and mingled. Many had “met” online using the airline’s Matchmaking Flight website, so putting faces with names filled the room with enthusiasm.

Perhaps the highlight of the pre-flight festivities was the performance by the ANZ flight crew. Ever seen your flight attendants and pilots dance to Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies” 20 minutes before boarding your flight? I have. It’s simultaneously hysterical and terrifying. I’m all for airlines having personality, but I was pleased to see the pilot flubbing his dance steps as if he’d skipped some rehearsals. I’d prefer his time be spent checking weather patterns and keeping himself well-rested.

When it came time to board, there was a palpable sense of nervous energy. People seemed genuinely excited, but also wary of what a 13 hour flight with slightly intoxicated travelers with an invitation to be social would entail.

The flight, however, was much better than I anticipated. Rather than hit passengers over the head with the promotion, the level of participation and engagement was left up to each individual. Gift bags were waiting on every seat and included useful products like lip balm and lotions, as well as cheeky matchmaking treats and conversation starters, such as body oil and woman’s panties. It was a safe environment for the airline to push the envelope a bit, as every participating passenger had agreed to the joke before stepping foot on the plane.

The flight’s concierge, Jaheb Barnett, used a portable PA system to address the Matchmaking Flight attendees rather than the plane’s built-in system. This saved the regular passengers from having their flight interrupted constantly. The airline did a mostly admirable job of separating the Matchmaking Flight population from the other passengers. A few travelers who were not looking for love were seated nearby and they grumbled a bit, but no one appeared too annoyed by the promotion.

Several of the passengers told me that they had booked the flight simply for the discounted airfare to New Zealand. Tiffani Hoffman from Minnesota said, “It was a cheap flight and I have a friend in New Zealand that I wanted to visit.” But it was also the second time Tiffani had ever flown in a plane (the first time was when she flew from Minneapolis to Los Angeles earlier that day), so the deal must have really motivated her.

LeeAnn and Ben Ziegler were heading to New Zealand on their honeymoon. Why take a matchmaking flight after getting married? “We saved tons of money on our honeymoon, so the fare definitely was the decision-maker.” Seeing as they were surrounded by singles, I asked the newlyweds what advice they would give to all those looking for love at 35,000 feet. LeAnn said, “Be authentic and be yourself.” And lest you think they were judgmental of 100 people seeking to meet their soulmates on an airplane, LeeAnn and Ben met online.

Corinne Theile and Steve Borgford were two of the travelers who were hoping to find their matches. Steve admitted, “The odds are against me,” but added, “My friends have been supportive and if all I get is some practice talking to women and a good vacation, then the trip was a success.” Corinne, from Los Angeles, had tried internet and speed dating, and thought that the Matchmaking Flight was “a cool idea.” Her friends thought she was crazy, but she said, “you have to be adventurous and get out there.”

After landing in Auckland early on October 15, passengers had time to get their bearings, explore the city and get over any jetlag before attending the Matchmaking Ball the next day. The event was attended by the 100 Matchmaking Flight passengers, as well as 150 Kiwis eager to mix and mingle with some single Yanks. After spending 13 hours cooped up in a plane, I was eager to shower and not see the same faces for the next 36 hours. Besides, with free wine and champagne at the party, I was sure to get my fill of singles being single when the time came.

The party was held at The Wharf, a posh Auckland event space located on Waitemata Harbour. I appreciated seeing everyone cleaned up and smelling more like deodorant and less like recycled air and quiet desperation. The festivities included an impromptu round of The Dating Game, plenty of dance music and the aforementioned alcohol. Things started off slowly as people chatted and loosened up. Airline promotion or not, going to a singles mixer can be a tad awkward and that was certainly visible as I creepily watched from the sidelines.

Slowly but surely, though, people got comfortable (read: drunk) and the dance floor became a hotbed of flirting, twirling and, eventually, making out. By the end of the night, adults from opposite sides of the world resembled teenagers at a make-out party. Whether it was love or simply lust, matches were being made all around me.

So, was it a successful promotion? Before the flight, Air New Zealand’s Marketing Director for the Americas, Kathryn Gregory, had told me that her airline strives “to make our guests’ holidays start as soon as they step on the plane.” By that standard, the Matchmaking Flight exceeded Air New Zealand’s expectations. And what about those people looking for love? I met two Kiwis who were rumored to be a couple by the end of my week there. And Corinne, our adventurous dater from LA, had gone on more than a few dates with one of the flight’s pilots. As for me, I was able to sleep on the plane and never really felt all that uncomfortable around the singles. But I didn’t enjoy myself as much this gentleman.

Mike Barish attended Air New Zealand’s Matchmaking Flight with a media credential. No editorial content was guaranteed and he was free to write about his observations.

Air New Zealand helps you find love

First, Air New Zealand gave us bodypainted employees. Now, they’re helping us find love. The carrier has announced that it will be offering the world’s first Matchmaking Flight.

Singles will fly from Los Angeles to Auckland in October after a pre-flight party. Participants can create online profiles in advance of the trip in the hopes of meeting someone along the way. The flight will feature “themed food, drink and games” which I assume means lots of booze and many rounds of Seven Minutes in the Aft Bathroom. Upon arriving in Auckland, there will be a singles-only party.

The Matchmaking Flight costs $780, which actually isn’t half bad for a flight to New Zealand. It’s a lot more expensive than a membership to an online dating site, though. And way more expensive than going out in your local area and trying to meet someone. But, it’s clever, bold and adventurous. Maybe it will break you out of your dating rut. At the very least, it will guarantee you a great vacation.

Considering booking a ticket for the world’s first Matchmaking Flight? Don’t go to New Zealand without reading Gadling’s In the Corner of the World series.

Solo travel. How to make it cheaper.

For those who solo travel, bargains are harder to come by, particularly if you’re booking a cruise or taking a tour. Most tour prices are couple friendly. If you have a traveling buddy, lodging is cheaper.

Ed Perkins, a consumer travel writer for Tribune Media Services offers some suggestions for people who are going it alone to reduce the cost of an adventure.

One option is to have a cruise line or cruise operator find a roommate for you. Perhaps someone is in the same position you are. You would only be sharing a room, but the rest of the time you can strike out on your own.

Another is to look for a traveling companion by hitting up your friends, coworkers, family members, basically anyone you know, to find out if they know of someone who would like to go on a trip.

Check out an organization like Connecting Solo Travel Network, Travel Acquaintance and Travel Chums. These businesses specialize in hooking people up to single travel deals and with each other.

Perkins also suggests O Solo Mio Tours and scouting out last minute deals with tour operators. Sometimes you can get a good deal right before a trip starts.

Even for people traveling with a partner, hooking up with a single person can be a money saver and can offer a broader experience. When my husband and I were traveling in Vietnam we became friends with Amit, a woman from Israel. We shared a room and hired a driver together, and even arranged to meet up with her in Hanoi after we veered in different directions for a few days.

We also hung out with Stan, a Vietnam vet who was traveling alone. After sharing a meal, we shared the cost of a driver from Ho Chi Minh City to Nha Trang. Since Stan was stationed in Nha Trang, this gave us an experience from his point of view.

Amit became our companion from Nha Trang to Hue and on to Hoi An.

In Hoi An, Amit and I had a wonderful time shopping while my husband was relieved to not tag along.