Austin Powers Up Our NAEMSP Social Program
On the last day of Christmas, I leave Changi Airport for my Singapore-Manchester-Houston-Austin route to attend the National Emergency Medical Services Physicians’ conference. Consequently, at the stroke of midnight, Singapore time, I am celebrating my 40th birthday watching Singaporean friends in Crazy Rich Asians, while munching on birthday noodles midflight. And That Is The End Of My Thirties.
Although I speed through customs at Houston within minutes thanks to the efficient automated system, my luggage takes 50 minutes to appear. I have to check it in again, and subsequently miss my connection to Austin. However they easily book me into the next flight 2 hours later. As that final leg only lasts 30 minutes, it really isn’t too disruptive at all.
When I arrive in Austin, there is clear signage to the taxi stand in the next building. Within 45 minutes, I’ve arrived in my hotel, unpacked and am at a sports bar watching the Dallas cowboys trounce the Seattle Seahawks with Dr YY, Vice-President of the Asian Emergency Medical Services Council. As we have a separate but full schedules for the NAEMSP conference, we decide to plan our social program around whatever remaining time we have left.
Parks & Recreation
The next morning we visit the Zilker Botanical Garden which is small enough to explore in an hour. The Japanese garden has interesting bonsais including deciduous ones that have shed their leaves, proudly displaying their fine, strong skeleton. The cactus & succulent display places me right here in Texas while the prehistoric section featuring an Ornithomimid Dinosaur transports me back 100 million years ago. We make predictable jokes about me being old & prehistoric as well.
I’m impressed by the monarch waystation, a site that provides resources to sustain monarch butterflies as they migrate through North America, but there are no butterflies out this morning. I spot a Northern Cardinal, a striking red bird. When we canoe down Barton Creek, geese, ducks & swans swim around & towards us while turtles sunbathe on rocks.
All this running & rowing in the brisk morning air help build up an appetite for lunch, perfect for a barbecue.
Singaporeans Take On Austin BBQ
I am told the most famous barbecue joint here is Franklin’s Barbecue but the queue is at least 3 hours. As I didn’t even bother to queue for my children’s school registration- all schools are good schools right?- I certainly wasn’t prepared to queue for this. So we head to Stiles Switch BBQ for the beef rib, brisket and sausage. The beef rib is a monster but a delicious one and provides a nice counterpoint to the spicy slaw. I’m surprised by the brisket which I’m used to eating with noodles in Cantonese restaurants. Here it is rubbed with salt & pepper & smoked for up to 20 hours. My favorites on the plate are the jalapeno cheddar sausage & corn casserole. There is a variety of hot sauces and I slop them up with bread. The spiciest is no sambal but it provides a kick.
On another evening, along with other Singaporean doctors from the military, we checked out Terry Black’s BBQ which prides itself on barbecuing with all wood and no gassers. Once again, the barbecue is done at low temperatures and slowly over long hours. While the meats are flavorful, I feel like I have barbecue coming out of my ears at this point.
Thankfully there are other things to eat in this amazing city, like Gus’s fried chicken & Mexican food at Taco Shack. When in doubt, go to the food trucks for a bit of everything.
Austin Bar & Music Scene
Photos probably don’t do these bars justice. But whether it’s margaritas on Congress Avenue or coffee cocktails at Halcyon, the atmosphere is incredible. A particularly good night was had at Lustre Pearl where we danced as a guitarist played songs by Nirvana & Oasis.
My favorite bar is the Elephant Room https://www.elephantroom.com/ where the talented jazz band plays original compositions. I couldn’t help but wonder where an equivalent in Singapore is.
JW Marriott, Austin
All of the places I’ve mentioned are within walking distance from the JW Marriott where the NAEMSP conference is held. The rooms are well-appointed & the staff are thoughtful, so I have worry-free rest, my most prized commodity.
But the best thing about my room is the view. I look forward to waking up in the morning to capture sunrise which might either feature padparascha rays streaking across a sleepy sky or a very foggy day or marshmallow pink clouds. Every sunrise is different but lovely; the perfect start to my days in this quirky city.