Interesting Articles: March 12th-April 28th 2007

* Diet Study (Science Friday) (the second program in the hour). A new, well designed study by Stanford researchers shows Atkins is more effective than some other diets, and works with no immediately discernible health risks. I chose to link (above) to the Science Friday interview with one of the authors of the paper, not one of the many sensationalistic articles published about the study. For original sources, read Stanford diet study tips scale in favor of Atkins plan (Stanford press release) (and watch its videos, such as "Why low-carb diets work so well in the short-term") and read the abstract of the primary article, Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women (Journal of the American Medical Association). Also, the article Real Food for Real People (Slate) is an interesting read for its commentary on how others have reacted to the study.
* Cocoa compound increases brain blood flow (Science News). The title says most of the story. Cocoa sold in the United States is usually too processed and has most of its flavonoids removed. The abstract of the source article, Aging and brain blood flow response to flavanol-rich cocoa (American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting), is available online.

* Miracle Mystery Fruit Turns Sourness Sweet (NPR's All Things Considered). A funky fruit I'd never heard about.
* Odes to Greasy Spoons Net Pulitzer Prize (NPR's All Things Considered). This guy is a true chowhound. Chewing the Fat With the Restaurant Critic Who Ate His Way to a Pulitzer Prize (Washington Post) is another portrait of the man and his opinions. And this piece, Eating to Live (WNYC's On The Media via NPR), is nice because one can hear him speak.

Philosophy and Culture:
* Pearls Before Breakfast: Can one of the nation's great musicians cut through the fog of a D.C. rush hour? Let's find out. (Washington Post). A staff member at the Post convinces a world renowned violinist to play in a Metro station to see how people react. This article, longer than it should be by a factor of ten, is simply interviews with people who saw and mostly ignored him, philosophical ramblings about unappreciated beauty, and a smattering of short anecdotes about people who recognized something about the musician or his music. Sadly, it's not like the typical newspaper article in which the important or interesting points are at the top. Some sections are worth reading/scanning. But shame on the editors for letting this long-winded piece go out as it is. Also, listen to this follow-up: Bell The Ringer (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). In addition, the story told at the beginning of this interview with the author (Washington Post) is entertaining.

* Bad Influence: TV, movies linked to adolescent smoking (Science News). If the title were the whole story, it wouldn't be worth posting. Rather, the scientists found a relationship for white teenagers but found no correlation for black teenagers. How interesting. The abstract of the source article, R-rated movies, bedroom televisions, and initiation of smoking by white and black adolescents (Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine), is available online. The full article may be as well.

* Body clock affects racing prowess (Science News). A creatively designed experiment shows athletic performance varies by time of day. The best time is around 11pm. The abstract of the source article, Circadian variation in swim performance (Journal of Applied Physiology), has more details.

* Tell your boss you'll be in later (American Public Media's Marketplace via NPR). Danish companies are being rated by how friendly they are to people arriving and leaving work later than normal. I wonder if such a rating system will ever come to the states?
* The local money is much prettier (American Public Media's Marketplace via NPR). Although a number of the reasons for having alternative currencies to the Euro are silly, getting people to buy locally seems like a reasonably justifiable one.

* Stopping Light (Science Friday) (the second program in the hour). Physicists are getting closer to making teleportation a reality. This time, they've figured out how to transfer light into matter, move the matter, and reconstruct the light. Okay, while teleportation would be matter-light-matter, this is still an important step.

Research Methods:
* Games Theory: Online play can help researchers tackle tough computational problems (Science News). Although I'd previously seen the ESP Game and been impressed that it was both fun and useful for research, many of the other games described in this article I hadn't seen.

Reheating Tah Dig

Tah Dig is a Persian rice dish, carefully cooked to have a crunchy golden layer. At a recent dinner at a Persian restaurant, a Persian friend of mine refused to take the leftovers, claiming there was no way to reheat the rice while keeping the proper consistency and taste throughout. I took it as a challenge.

The leftover tah dig we had was mostly topped by a stew (ghormeh sabzi).

Here's some experiments I tried and how each turned out.

  • Reheating in microwave. Makes tah dig chewy.
  • Reheating rice, uncovered by stew, eight inches under the broiler for five minutes. Burns rice.
  • Reheating rice, uncovered by stew, eight inches under the broiler for two minutes. Makes rice properly crispy. However, it's not that hot throughout. Be careful! Keep an eye on it -- thirty seconds more and it can easily get burnt.
  • Reheating rice, covered by stew, eight inches under the broiler. Rice becomes no longer crispy. (I think some of the stew juices soaked into the rice.)
  • Reheating stew in microwave. Decent. Baking in an oven or under a broiler far from the coils both work slightly better. (I think the microwave makes one flavor slightly odd.)
Conclusion: bake tah dig, uncovered by stew, and the stew itself in an oven until each is hot, then watch carefully while rebrowning the rice eight inches or so under a broiler for two minutes.

Incidentally, tah dig isn't the easiest thing to make in the first place. I've tried twice and twice achieved results I wouldn't call passable.

SF Japantown Cherry Blossom Festival

On a blustery Saturday, April 14, 2007, I returned to the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival, held in Japantown in San Francisco. I attended inadvertently last year and had a good time, despite not getting any festival food to eat, and wanted to return. I still remembered the amazing evocativeness of the bonsai exhibit.

This year, I arrived at lunch time and went straight for the food, first getting a plate of yakisoba. Yakisoba is the Japanese equivalent of chow mein. Mine included the requisite fried noodles along with napa cabbage and a little (Chinese/Japanese) bacon. It was filling.

The guy made the yakisoba on a huge griddle using two large knife-like metal spatulas. It was cool to watch. I took my camera out to take a picture and discovered my batteries were dead. :( It turned out my backup batteries were dead as well -- guess I used them too much on my recent trip to Atlanta (which will be eventually documented in blog posts). *sigh* So, like last year, my Japantown visit is simply raw text, unaccompanied by any illustrations. It's too bad, as the San Francisco Chronicle calls Japantown "a rite of spring for shutterbugs". Watch the video.

While eating, I wandered around the festival a little, observed some women in costume (mostly samurai garb), and briefly watched a bad heavy metal band playing on the stage near the food booths. (No, I don't know why they have heavy metal at a Cherry Blossom festival.) I soon headed to the hotel which housed the best exhibits last year.

The bonsai exhibit wasn't there this year! Instead, there was a flower show that, to my surprise, pleased me as much. The show was about ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. I watched a flower arranging demonstration by the Ikebana Teachers Federation. The demonstration involved lots of trimming, borrowing, and placing of leaves, all narrated by a humorous speaker. It's an amazing thing to watch because they make evocative pieces of art in under an hour -- quite a contrast to the time required for bonsai. Still, one can see the two arts' common roots (pun unintended) -- both involve artful arrangements of plants and contrasts of color.

Some pieces struck me:

  • One arrangement looked like a nest of birds, mouths open, tongues waggling, begging for food and chirping.
  • Another appeared to be a brain surrounded by axons. It was made with roses.
  • There was a sailing ship. Fern leaves made the sail. An oblong piece of pottery served as the hull.
  • Also using pottery, there was a centaur with a torso and head made of flowers and legs and body made of clay.
  • A multicolored Japanese fan was made from a collection of thin, flat plants that branched, ephemerally, much like snowflakes. I'd never seen this type of plant before.
  • One person arranged flowers to look like a flying saucer, complete with two boarding planks.
  • Another made a staircase from circular white flowers. A stairway to heaven?
  • An arrangement designed to look like the big bang, beside representing an artist's conception of the event, also seems to assert the big bang is the source of all color.
  • A simple piece of a flower growing out of a water lily was quite pretty.
After spending a chunk of time in the ikebana exhibit, I explored the others:
  • There was one whole room devoted to sister city relationships and promoting tourism. Many Northern California cities (SF, Oakland, Fulton, Sacramento, ...) have such relationships.
  • The paper doll display, comparable to last year's, included an impressively detailed model of a whole taiko troupe, seemingly frozen in action.
  • The origami room played a video of a Mitsubishi commercial using origami figures (presented at the festival because it was made by a local origami shop). The exhibit also had a piece made from five interlocking tetrahedrons. That can't be easy to make! I found some pictures of these on the web.
Back outside, I grabbed some takoyaki, a spherical pancake-like Japanese dumpling made with octopus. It was chewy: mostly dough, a few chiles, some sweet sauce, and some octopus flavor. Okay; the ones I had at the Richmond Night Market near Vancouver were definitely better. I watched a martial arts demonstration while I ate.

I browsed the booths. They were located across the street from the Japantown tower, the same place as last year. Yet, this year I noticed the street had cute, though water-less, fountains that I didn't notice last time. (I guess it was too crowded.) As shopping isn't very important to this festival, there were only a few dozen booths. These did, however, cover the usual assortment, including jewelry, pottery, photography, and clothing. I spotted some items that amused me:
  • Small wooden frogs that sound like they croak when a stick is slide over their backs. It really sounds exactly like a croak -- it stopped some passers-by right in their tracks.
  • Funky t-shirts, including one with labeled pictures of dim sum and another with a picture of a sumo wrestler labeled "no gut no glory."
  • Photographs of ordinary scenes with ghosts superimposed. It felt as if the artist was saying ancestors help the living on their tasks. It was really well done.
  • Dragon pencils. Cool. Each pencil has a carving of a dragon in place of the eraser. Probably four inches tall, it loomed over the rest of the pencil.
In the entertaining t-shirt category, I spotted someone wearing a shirt that said, "keep staring. it might do a trick."

Before I left, I heard D. Groove, a R&B/soul/rock band that was good enough to get me to stop and listen for a while. Its web page implies it's even more versatile than I saw.

I hadn't been to a street fair in a while. It's nice being back.

Vancouver Day 5: Chinatown and Gastown

I'd reserved my last (part of a) day in Vancouver for Chinatown and Gastown, two districts that would keep me in close proximity to the bus that would take me back to the airport. As Gastown, the preserved historic district, is probably the most touristy destination in Vancouver, I think it's funny that it's the last thing I explored during my trip.

These photos accompany my narrative for the day. Many events described in picture captions I won't bother mentioning this post. Also, I apologize but I don't have a route map for the day.

After a quick breakfast of toast (once again), I headed out to explore Chinatown. En route, I passed what appeared to be a small theater district. It was surprisingly non-ornate compared to other towns'. I also passed some homeless people, which made me a little uncomfortable because it was still early enough in the day that there were few other people on the street. As I entered and moved east through Chinatown, homeless people disappeared -- this could be because it got later in the day but also buildings got nicer.

I explored Chinatown by following the walking tour printed in a Chinatown brochure I'd acquired. It was fun, leading me to many interesting plaques. Although Vancouver's Chinatown is supposedly one of the largest in North America, it didn't seem that big to me. It is sizable, just not huge. But then, maybe I didn't walk far enough east into it. Or maybe Vancouver, like San Francisco, has its Chinatown spread into different parts of the city. For instance, Richmond, the borough with the night market, had a large Chinese community as well.

I spent a good fraction of my time in Chinatown in gardens, of which it has two adjacent ones. One was free and casual. The other had an entry fee and tour. It was the latter, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, because of the detail the builders and designers put into everything, where I spent the majority of my time. The garden was built with traditional materials: no power tools, screws, or nails. The tour guide was great because she knew lots. The virtual tour and other online exhibits includes some of this information.

The third park I visited, Andy Livingstone Park, is a block south of the other two. It's a reasonably nice urban park, certainly not as ugly as those plain square block parks in San Jose.

Sometime while in Chinatown, I happened upon the 7th Annual Vancouver Chinatown Festival. I'm glad I didn't know it was happening, else I would've planned part of my trip around it. But this festival was small, perhaps one of the smallest to which I've gone, and pretty boring and thus certainly not worth planning around.

There was a place at which I wanted to eat before I left Vancouver but I wasn't sure if it was open on Sunday. It didn't answer its phone when I called (and had no recording!), leading me to believe it was closed. Instead, I grabbed lunch in a packed steam table joint in Chinatown. On the quality versus quantity scale, it was clearly on the far right. I threw most of it away.

Gastown is Vancouver's historic district. It started in the 1860s when "Gassy Jack" arrived with a barrel of whiskey and told people if they built him a saloon, he'd served them alcohol. It was built within twenty-four hours. Gastown grew until the depression, at which point it became Vancouver's skid row. By the 1960s it was blighted and parts were scheduled for demolition. But some people rallied to save it and had it renovated to make it the tourist destination it is today. As I walked around, I could feel its skid row nature hadn't entirely disappeared. Indeed, most of the housing in Gastown is subsidized.

Although I didn't have time for a full walking tour of Gastown, soon after I arrived I spotted a tour already in progress and tagged along. I didn't feel bad about joining without paying, knowing I was entering late and would be leaving before it was finished. I learned later the Gastown tours are free.

The tour guide was great! (That's two good tour guides in one day!) She shared many fun facts, some of which are available online at and The former has the text of all plaques in Gastown, the first time I've seen a city/neighborhood do that. I liked reading the downtown plaques but they're much less exciting online because the online versions don't have pictures of the nearby buildings. They only have the plaque text. The latter web site links to a walking tour with many details online, likely the one I took. (It also has walking tours for other neighborhoods -- too bad I didn't find the site until after I returned from Vancouver.)

I learned cool facts, such as:

  • Water Street was so named because the north side used to be next to water. People would row up in canoes to load and unload groceries. Land filled in over time, just as it did in Manhattan and many other cities, and the shoreline is now several hundred feet away, enough room for buildings and train tracks.
  • In the 1800s, in the middle of a land speculation boom, a fire spread, burning all Vancouver within 45 minutes. (I wonder what it did to real estate prices?) Then, of course, they rebuilt with brick.
  • Vancouver's skid row was so named originally because it was on a slope that mills used to roll logs down to the water.
  • I saw the first Old Spaghetti Factory (Canadian company). The building looked apropos for the name.
The tour guide called Gastown an example of successful redevelopment. I'm not so sure. It kept some of its historic charm, its brick streets, and its old buildings. But a good fraction of the stores and restaurants that moved in are tacky, targeting tourists. And it's clear that success hasn't reached all Gastown's denizens.

Heading Home
After Gastown, I stuck my head in the Pacific Center Mall. It was much like the International Building Mall, described in the photos, but much more happening. Then I picked up my luggage from my hotel and caught my bus back to the airport. The bus was slightly delayed due to having to go slowly around the gay pride parade. While watching Vancouver pass by the window on the way to the airport, I noshed on a taro bun cake I picked up in Chinatown. mmmmmm...

Vancouver Day 4: North Vancouver, Lonsdale Quay, Lynn Canyon, Grouse Mountain, and Fireworks Competition

Alternative title: Exploring nature near Vancouver on the cheap

I could've taken driving tours of North Vancouver. I could've gone to the expensive touristy sites instead of the likely equally good though less well known hikes, canyons, bridges, and parks. These touristy options would've cost something like C$100. Rather, I felt cheap, perhaps as a result of paying so much for dinner at West Restaurant a few nights ago, and so I planned my own routes and hikes and saw great sights yet only ended up paying around C$15 for all my adventures for the day.

This map shows my route for the day. Nearly all those lines are from buses and ferries, not walking. (i.e., I didn't walk 36 miles.)

These pictures also accompany the day's narrative.

I started by walking through downtown to the ferry terminal (near Canada Place, an area I mostly already explored) and took the ferry (seabus) across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver. Sadly, the ferry was entirely enclosed. Although I did take one photo through the window (which turned out well), I couldn't go on deck to get a truly unobstructed panoramic view.

Lonsdale Quay
The ferry ends in North Vancouver at a market called the Lonsdale Quay. Londsdale Quay is like a shopping mall with a quite large food court, selling both prepared foods and raw ingredients. (Regarding prepared foods, I saw many Asian places and a few Mexican ones. The latter is surprising because I didn't see many Mexican places in Vancouver. I wonder if Northern Vancouver has a larger Mexican population.) Being Saturday morning, the quay happened to have a tiny -less than a dozen booths- farmers market. Although the quay wasn't anywhere near as impressive as the Granville Island Market, it was still substantial, probably matching San Francisco's ferry building (ignoring its farmers market) in size.

Some booths in the food court, likely not directly affiliated with the farmers market, sold vegetables, meat, and gourmet foods. (One shop had an impressive amount of chocolates.) A few did something I consider brilliant: they chopped and sliced fruits and created make-your-own-fruit-salad buffets. As the fruit tasted so fresh, they must have gotten much of it from the farmers market people. I don't understand why no one does this at farmers markets anywhere else? Individual farmers can't do it because they don't have the variety of fruits needed. But all you need is a knife, a scale, and a goodly amount of foot traffic and you can make people happy with a fresh fruit salad made from fruit picked at its peak of sweetness.

As seen in the pictures, my brunch was a fruit salad and a meat pie. I sat at a pleasant spot on the dock and enjoyed the day.

Lynn Canyon
After brunch, I tried to decide where to go next. In Northern Vancouver, there are two parks known for having high suspension bridges over ravines: Capilano Suspension Bridge and Lynn Canyon. The former, privately owned, costs around $30 to cross. The latter, a public park, is free. However, it's not quite as high (170 feet versus 230 feet). While walking through Vancouver, I saw many advertisements for the costly one plastered on the sides of buses. (Obviously, the ads don't mention the cost or the alternative.) The touristy one also had the advantage of having a new attraction, Treetops Adventure, which includes cable bridges suspended among trees. Of course, they charge even more to visit that. Perhaps it was such a tourist destination for good reason -- some subtle feature that made it cooler. My instincts, aside from treetops adventures, said to go to the more secret option. But the situation was further complicated by the fact that they were on different bus routes and the expensive one was more on the way to another destination I had planned for the day.

After all this internal debate, I eventually decided to go to whichever one happened to have the bus arrive first. To commemorate this decision, I wrote in my notes "bus (mis-? pro-?) adventure," denoting my uncertainty in whether the outcome would be positive or negative.

And so I found myself heading toward the cheaper (actually free) option. The bus took me past a nice downtown park.

As for Lynn Canyon itself, it was nice. (See the pictures.) I tried to take some pictures from the bridge but mostly failed; the swinging of the bridge blurred many of them too much to bother saving. Beside crossing the bridge, I hiked a short loop in the park.

Some parts of the Lynn Canyon Park are steep. I witnessed a kid, not paying enough attention, fall down a short segment of a hill before, luckily, someone caught him. He really did almost kill himself.

On the way out of the park, I stopped by the Ecology Center and saw some exhibits about the park and temperate rain forests.

Grouse Mountain
Since there was no direct bus from Lynn Canyon to Grouse Mountain, I decided to connect through Lonsdale Quay. (I could connect elsewhere but was worried it'd be easy to screw something up and end up lost and stranded. Maybe I was a little worried due to my trouble with getting to the Richmond Night Market the previous evening.)

Grouse Mountain is much like the resorts in Tahoe: snow sports in the winter and hiking, biking, and the like in the summer.

To continue my pattern of frugalness, I spurned buying a (~C$30) ticket to ride the gondola to the top of the mountain, instead deciding I was in good enough shape and had time to climb it. Besides, I imagined correctly that I'd enjoy the climb through the woods much more than the likely barren mountain top.

Although the mountain looked tall, I didn't realize quite how tall. It turned out the trail was two miles long and gained nearly three thousand feet in elevation. Yes, that meant I climbed up and up, along with countless Japanese tourists who also didn't realize quite what an undertaking it was.

When I was about halfway up (though I didn't realize it at the time) and sitting on a rock to rest, I saw one such tourist, a male around twenty, finish drinking his bottle of water, put it down, and continue upward. I stopped him, saying, "Hey, you forgot your water." He replied to the effect that he doesn't have the energy to carry it anymore. That pissed me off. First, he was littering, and littering with something that wouldn't decompose or disappear in a couple of months. And second, how much does an empty water bottle weigh? Probably four ounces. Good grief. I picked up the bottle, shoved it in my backpack, and dumped it in a recycling bin at the top.

During the climb, I occasionally noticed people hiking in sandals. I must respect their ability to do it without reasonable footwear. But I also must respect the wearers' stupidity. Even if the strenuousness of the hike isn't well advertised, it's obvious to anyone with eyes that the mountain is tall and climbing it in sandals isn't going to be pleasant.

Incidentally, there's a club for people who run the trail. Impressive.

At the top of the mountain, I wandered around a little before getting in the long line to take the gondola down. (There's not much exciting stuff at the top of the mountain. I wonder how people that pay good money to ride to the top feel.) The ride down is a relatively cheap C$5. I'm glad I did, not only because, despite the over half an hour long line, it saved me time it turned out I needed but also because I saw some nice views after the gondola passed some supporting towers and the ground dropped away. I didn't take many pictures on the way down because I found it hard to focus my camera through the glass.

Back in Vancouver
Once on the ground, I took a bus back to the quay, a ferry across the inlet, an express bus (leaving every two minutes!) to South Granville, and a short walk to get my name on the ninety minute waiting list for Vij's, the Indian fusion restaurant where I wanted to eat. (The long wait was because it was a Saturday night and I lacked reservations.) I went to a Chapters, a decent Canadian bookstore chain, and browsed for an hour before returning to wait by the restaurant itself. Happily, even with that length of a wait, I knew I'd be able to eat in time for the fireworks show. Here's my review of Vij's.

Although I could have easily walked to the same place from which I watched the fireworks on Wednesday, I decided to take a short bus ride so, for variety's sake, I could watch the show from a different angle and so I could see a different part of Vancouver.

This fireworks show, provided by Mexico, was awesome, definitely better than the Czech Republic's one. I learned later Mexico won the contest. The photographs don't do the fireworks justice. I saw explosions that looked like angels and flowers. All the fireworks exploded with a sense of power/assertiveness.

I previously mentioned how impressed I've been with Vancouver's public transportation system. Walking home after these fireworks, I was similarly impressed with how Vancouver controlled the crowd. Every intersection with cars had at least two people directing vehicular and pedestrian traffic. I also saw a parade of motorcycle cops clearing a path for an array of trucks, possibly street sweepers or garbage trucks. (I couldn't tell from the distance.) In addition, one person launched a firework from the roof a building. Within minutes, there was a chopper with a searchlight scanning area.

The crowd control, however, couldn't be perfect, of course. The area of downtown through which I walked was packed with twenty-somethings. I passed one person who had been stabbed. He was bloody but it clearly wasn't life-threatening. Police questioned nearby witnesses. All signs said it was personal, not random or a mugging. Later, I checked the news and crime statistics. Vancouver's generally a pretty safe city, both that night and most. As hundreds of thousands of people attend these shows, it usually has a few incidents of the type I saw.

Vancouver Day 3: Granville Island, UBC, Museum of Anthropology, Japanese Garden, and Richmond Night Market

My route for this day took me far south and west of downtown Vancouver. Don't worry -- I didn't walk those 39 miles it lists; I took a lot of public transportation.

As the photos I took demonstrate, I started the day with a walk through Yaletown to catch a ferry to my first major destination.

Granville Island Market
It would be hard to use too many superlatives to describe the scale and diversity of the Granville Island Market. Instead, let me give a recipe: take a farmers market; mix in a few heaping spoonful of the small artisans and craftspeople that usually show their wares at street fairs; add a block of fish market, meat market, specialty food shops like cheese, chocolate, and bread; sprinkle on a few clothing boutiques and a hefty portion of art galleries from areas as diverse as painting, ceramics, and furniture; drop in a selection of restaurants and casual counter joints; adorn with a handful of specialty machine shops / industrial art studios that can perform tasks like rebinding old books or creating a scale model of anything; finally, grab many cultural institutions from the metropolitan area and transplant them here, being sure to include at least half a dozen theater companies, a musical group or two, and a couple small museums. Then place the conglomerate somewhere with a 270-degree view of the water (and the associated docks for yachts, places selling yachts, and marine recreation shops in general), add a park with a water playground for kids, and connect the whole area to miles of walking trails leading in every direction.

If that description didn't give you an idea of how big the market is, maybe this list of items I liked seeing will:

  • Hamantashen
  • Salmon jerky
  • Turkey figs
  • Pirogis
  • Stained glass place mats (functional and art!)
  • A bookstore that only sells cooking/food books
  • A coffee shop on a wooden pier that sticks out in the water
If you still don't believe me, browse the web site above or look at the list of businesses on page two of the Granville Island map. You'll see that not only am I telling the truth but that I omitted some types of businesses, like hotel, spa, cobbler, jeweler, ...

Incidentally, the museum I spotted, the Model Trains Museum, looked cool. Sadly, I didn't have time to enter. It's on my list of things to do in Vancouver if/when I return.

Wandering around Granville Island and seeing all the food on sale at the market made me hungry. (Could you tell from my list of interesting things? :> ) But I resisted enough to make it to my planned lunch destination, Go Fish, a seafood shack on the nearby coast. Here's my review.

Heading to UBC
Stuffed, I left the waterfront and walked through Kitsilano / South Granville, one of the neighborhoods I'd previously visited and been impressed by, to catch a bus westward. En route, I spotted the only Mexican restaurant I'd see on the trip that actually looked authentic.

The bus ride to the University of British Columbia was nice. The bus soon left the density of Vancouver proper to pass green spaces and parks, heading through a more suburban landscape. Sorry, I couldn't take any pictures as the bus was moving.

Museum of Anthropology
My reason for going to UBC was to see its Museum of Anthropology, devoted to what Canadians call the "first nations" / "first peoples," our equivalent of Native Americans. While at the museum, I got to hear a kentongan, a nice sounding Indonesian instrument. I also spotted a fairly hidden ceramics gallery that contained a wide variety of European ceramics from the past five centuries. Although a bit out of place compared to the rest of the museum, it was notable because it felt so comprehensive, showing the breadth of European ceramics and how they've changed over time. The gallery was too dark to photograph. Other than those few pictureless comments, my experience at the museum is well documented by the pictures I took and their captions.

Nitobe Garden
With extra time after the museum before my evening plans, I wandered around UBC. I ducked into the library to use a computer to check a bus route map. (Glad I could enter without a student id!) I also spent time at a traditional Japanese garden, Nitobe Garden. It wasn't quite as tranquil as it was probably meant to be, as one could still hear street noises in places. To explore the garden, the front desk lent me a surprisingly detailed guide map. It's impressive how much thought and symbolism went into every little decision when planning and building the garden. You can get a sense of it from browsing the "For the Scholar" section of the web site, especially the sections on symbols, religious imagery (especially the last paragraph of each section), and lanterns.

Bus (Mis)Adventures
I found my way back to the main UBC bus station at the perfect time to get on the bus back east. Once in downtown Vancouver, I transferred to a southbound line and disembarked when it turned onto the road on which I knew the Richmond Night Market was located. Since that bus only runs along the road for a quarter of a mile, I figured I'd get off and walk until I found the address.

Boy was that a mistake. Richmond is suburban. The blocks, if you can call them such, are far apart and the house numbers increase very slowly. I was a bit worried about hopping on another bus because I wouldn't easily be able to tell when to get off.

After probably forty minutes (three miles?) of hiking in the sun, I gave up and waited for a bus. It was easy to know when to get off because mostly everyone on the bus was going to the market and got off at the same stop. I followed them. And it's a good thing I grabbed the bus, as I think I was only halfway from where I got off my first bus to where the market was. Still, the experience gave me the opportunity to burn some of the excess calories I consumed at lunch.

Richmond Night Market
The Richmond Night Market is located in the back parking lot of a big box retailer. The retailer isn't even directly on the main street on which I walked in Richmond. Thus, getting there gave me the feeling of being in on a secret.

Most booths sold amazingly cheap, mass-produced, possibly knock-off goods like sunglasses, dvds, cds, clothes, and even printer ink cartridges. There were a few unusual ones such as one selling an "ultra light magic bra" and another offering hand sewn portraits.

The market was fairly crowded, especially the space between rows of food booths. Standing room only, I think it took me half an hour to push my way, eyeing the selection, from one end to other.

I noshed the whole time (several hours) I was there. I ate a variety of unusual items (see pictures): a BBQ duck wrap, a pork bun, some takoyaki (Japanese octopus dumplings), a Korean pancake, some barbecued squid, a shrimp dumpling, some spicy fish balls, some shu mai, a baked curry puff, some hot and sour soup, and a fried pork bun. I also had but didn't photograph a pineapple smoothie. There were more items that tempted me but, as one can guess, I think I had enough to eat. These items included a Japanese seafood pizza, fondue (yes, at an Asian market!), and shaved ice.

Regarding entertainment at the market -as if seeing all the stuff for sale wasn't enough-, after much bad adolescent karaoke, some guy with a great voice came on stage to sing some Elton John. That was nice to listen to.

In the amusing t-shirt category, someone wore one that said "I'm out of my mind (be back in five minutes)".

I returned to my hotel without difficulty, stuffed and a bit tired by my hiking in the sun. (I followed people back to the bus stop, and caught a bus that ran straight to downtown Vancouver.)

Vancouver Day 2: Stanley Park, the West End, and Downtown

Thursday started off on the right foot with some complimentary orange juice and tasty (whole grain?) toast served in my hotel.

Or, I suppose I could focus on the negative: that the hotel's computer with internet was occupied throughout the time I was awake and so I couldn't look up the addresses I desired. This didn't turn out to be a serious problem then or throughout the rest of the trip. Indeed, I found the lack of internet on the whole trip quite refreshing; the inconvenience caused by not knowing some addresses, hours of operations, or phone numbers caused only minor alterations in my plans and no problems so memorable that I can recall them now.

After breakfast I explored a small unremarkable underground mall near my hotel, then headed off to Stanley Park. I thought I'd wander through downtown as I walked to the park but quickly realized if I was going to spend hours walking around the park itself, it'd be easier to hop a bus. And so I did.

This route map shows my combined walking and bus route for the day.

These pictures also accompany the day's tales. In fact, they're the primary source of my observations -- the rest of this blog entry is simply a motley assortment of high level observations along with niggling remarks on unphotographable items.

Stanley Park is Vancouver's answer to big city parks like Golden Gate Park or Central Park. As the photographs demonstrate, it's a huge peninsular park with verdant greenery inland and many miles of beautiful shoreline and beaches. It has a nice free park bus that drives the perimeter (where nearly everything interesting is). After briefly wandering around the inside of the park (see route map), I hiked the six mile perimeter counter-clockwise, occasionally grabbing the bus when the distance between sights I wanted to see was large.

It was a nice peaceful hike, especially when I left the main trail and all the people behind and hiked through a deep forest along the coast on the way to Siwash Rock on the west side of the park. It was just me, crashing waves, and my ipod, carrying intellectual public radio discussion programs.

After hiking past many nice beaches, I managed to leave the park in time for a late lunch. I wandered briefly up and down Denman Street and was greatly impressed by its diversity of restaurants, further supporting my similar reaction from a different part of Vancouver on the previous day. Within six blocks I counted: two Ukrainian places, two Irish ones, four Greek ones, a Russian one, a Mongolian BBQ joint, four gelato places, and an African fusion place, not to mention many standard cuisines like Japanese and Italian. (The only notable lack was Mexican. This street only had one place: Canada's Original Steamed Burrito. I'd see this chain later elsewhere in Vancouver but still generally observed a dearth of Mexican food.) And again, a few steps from these dense commercial areas were leafy residential streets.

In fact, as it was nearly two pm, I didn't ponder the restaurant selection problem for long and instead chose one with a name I recognized from my research: a sushi place called Yoshi's. Here's my review.

After lunch I took a winding route through the West End, the part of Vancouver I was in. I spotted many rainbow flags along Davie, giving me an additional idea of what kind of district it is. Heading north on Jervis, I found many single family homes, a surprise appearance in the heart of a city.

Nearby, I explored Barclay Heritage Square and picked up a wonderfully detailed pamphlet describing the history of each of the more than a dozen century-old houses there. After much work (no thanks to Google), I found Barclay Heritage Square's official web page, which has a broken link that ought to lead to the brochure I acquired. Other than that, the best I can offer is this web page which merely has pictures of some of houses but no history.

In downtown proper, I have a few comments that don't appear in picture captions.
* Robson Street has lots of Asian stuff (clothing stores, boutiques, etc.). It also has everything you'd want, from timeless fashion to trendy: Banana Republic, Armani Exchange, Tommy Hilfiger, Guess, ... . They were all having big sales; I wonder if it's because of all the tourists in town for the fireworks.
* The Vancouver Art Museum has a gourmet restaurant with a lovely outdoor balcony. It would have been very pleasant to dine there.
* I was amused to see many full-sized statues of bears in costumes throughout downtown (e.g., "darth bear"). After seeing a few, none of which I photographed, I regretted my choice, thinking it be really nice to have a gallery of all the bears I spotted. Happily, the bears in the city exhibit, apparently a combo tourist attraction, art showcase, and auction for charity, has an online gallery displaying every bear. There's a lot! I must've only seen a fraction.
* Somewhere in downtown I was handed a free sample bag of Chris & Larry's Cookies and Clods. It was good enough that I'm mentioning it here.

Cananda Place, a combined cruise ship terminal and convention center, had many interesting plaques about Vancouver's history. Two I found worth writing down:
* One plaque discussed the history of the cannon in Stanley Park (that I took photo of) that is now fired to indicate 9:00pm. It noted that one should use the flash, not the sound, of the cannon to set one's clock. This actually made a difference (30 seconds) to ships far away.
* Two mountains were renamed after a judge said they looked like lions. How odd. Here's a brief explanation of the story (search for "Coast Mountains").

Eventually I wandered to Chambar, a Belgian beer and food joint. Here's my review.

After dinner, I returned to my hotel. It had been a nice day with lots of walking. I must've walked for about eight hours, judging by how many radio programs that I'd downloaded to my ipod I devoured during the day. The walking must've made me tired, as I slept ten hours that night.

Vancouver Day 1: Yaletown, False Creek, South Granville, and Fireworks Competition

I took a five day vacation to Vancouver from Wednesday, August 2nd 2006 to Sunday, August 6th 2006. Why? Partially I went to generally get away and explore somewhere new. Why those dates in particular? Vancouver runs an international fireworks competition called the HSBC Celebration of Light in late July and early August. The fireworks are synchronized with music broadcast simultaneously on the radio during the show. Each year four countries compete, one each Wednesday and Saturday evening. I figured if I was going to make a trip, I might as well squeeze in two shows. Hence, I arrived on a Wednesday.

Let me take a moment now to record my general impressions of Vancouver. It's a clean city, very diverse (including both ethnicities and cuisines), very safe, very walkable, and with a tremendous park. It's a very new city with countless skyscrapers, for both apartments and offices. It felt like everywhere I went I found myself by a body of water with a fantastic panoramic view of the city and water. And the transportation grid is awesome. I never thought I could like a public transportation network without subways. I was wrong. Unlike many systems, the network is designed with a few primary lines that run extremely often (every three minutes at times); once these deliver you to the vicinity of where you want to be, you transfer to a more local secondary line. The bus system and the quantity of vertical housing lead to a nice city design with dense retail along main arteries and very quiet leafy side-streets everywhere else. A few steps away from the arteries and suddenly you forget you're in the middle of a busy city.

The remainder of this and the next few blog posts will describe in detail in a daily fashion what I saw, what I ate, what I did, what I thought, and what gave me the impressions I have about the city.

Flying to Vancouver (direct) was pretty uneventful. (This was before the British terrorist scare.) Lunch was a bagel bought from Noah's that was handed to me in a Izzy's bag. The bagel was very good, so I think it's likely that it was Izzy's. How odd.

I spent most of the train ride to the airport and the flight reading my guidebook (previously bought after a long time at the bookstore examining books and deciding which was the best) to decide what to do when I arrived. I'd arrive in mid-afternoon and wanted something I could comfortably fit in within the few hours before the fireworks competition.

When I arrived, I had my camera charged and ready and began taking pictures. These photographs accompany my narrative for the day. In fact, I'm trying to use the pictures and the captions to elaborate on my experiences in Vancouver and thereby make this blog entry less verbose. I've also uploaded my rough walking route. It starts from my hotel.

With that in mind, all I have to say is Vancouver airport is cool. See my pictures for more. Some signs were in French, a fact that somewhat surprised me given the largest non-English language spoken in Vancouver is certainly some form of Chinese. (At the time I hadn't yet thought about Quebec.) Customs was amazingly smooth and efficient.

I took a private airport bus from the airport to my hotel. Riding it went through suburbia and then a nice downtown that wasn't even in Vancouver proper. I didn't realize at the time that I'd actually be walking that part of Vancouver (South Granville) later in the day. While going over the bridge into Vancouver proper I saw nice mountains in the distance but wasn't quick enough with my camera to capture them.

Once at my hotel, I checked in. I stayed at the Kingston Hotel for the whole trip. It was a great choice: conveniently located downtown, clean, and surprisingly cheap for the peak of the holiday season (~US$50/night). The hotel probably had less demand for rooms because the bathroom/shower was down the hall, not within most rooms. The bathrooms were private and were available every time I needed them, so this wasn't a problem. My room itself was small, reminding me of my college dorm rooms. The only serious point of disappointment was the only form of internet connectivity was one computer, which was seemingly always in use. Over the course of the trip I figured out how to do things and plan without the internet. I think it was good for me and after two days I barely missed it.

After settling into the hotel, I headed out to explore Yaletown. Yaletown isn't near the top of any list of things to do in Vancouver (nor should it be), but I knew I wanted to walk through it at some point and it was a convenient start for a route given the amount of time I had and where I wanted to be around dinnertime.

Although Yaletown was supposed to be a hip, fashionable neighborhood, I found it thoroughly disappointing. Aside from a few blocks of a main commercial street which frankly didn't look cool (see pic), everything was residential. Happily, every other downtown-ish place I found throughout the trip was cool and certainly better than Yaletown.

From Yaletown and as I circled False Creek (see route), I saw many fairly tall high rise residential buildings, more than I've seen elsewhere. (New York has many also, but there are many office buildings to go with them. Vancouver has its office buildings mostly in a part of town I couldn't see from my walk today.)

I very much enjoyed the route circling False Creek, and not simply because it was a stunningly perfect day as my pictures clearly show. It's also that the path is well designed for cycling and pedestrians. In addition, the path passes many parks and residential buildings of widely varying architectural styles, ranging from apartment towers to cottages to mediterranean villas.

After False Creek, I headed south down Granville Street. It's a nice street, filled with many hip clothing stores, boutiques, chocolate stores (yes, stores that only sell chocolate), art galleries, and, of course, it being Vancouver, countless coffee shops.

At 6:30pm -an early time for dinner- I found myself as planned (but reservation-less) at a fancy Vancouver restaurant called West. I got seating and spent the next couple hours eating; here's my review.

It was still light outside when I left West Restaurant around 9:15pm. I love being in northern latitudes during the summer! As I headed to the beach for the fireworks show, I walked down 4th Avenue, a street densely packed with a diverse selection of restaurants and shops. Since it was still twilight and such a pleasant day, some restaurant patios were overflowing. And as I turned onto a side street, I was pleasantly surprised how quickly the atmosphere became a clean, green, and comfortable residential neighborhood.

The beaches were packed with people ready to watch the Czech Republic's entry to the fireworks competition. I found a grassy spot and settled down, ready to watch, to photograph, and to record videos (available from the photos link). The show itself was decent though certainly not particularly special. Personally, I enjoyed the music selection, including pieces like the Pink Panther theme, Rhapsody in Blue, and other jazz selections, much more than the fireworks. But if this show were the only reason I'd visited Vancouver, I'd certainly be disappointed.

After the show, watching the lights of hundreds (maybe thousands) of boats head back to their moorings in False Creek was pretty amazing.

The walk home, past dark beaches, over the bridge to Vancouver proper, and down Granville Street (not the section I'd previously walked which was outside Vancouver proper), was quite pleasant. This part of Granville has many clubs and theaters and was clearly the place to go for that kind of nightlife. Although the walk home took me a bit over an hour, the city still felt small and walkable as I was constantly passing through clean, safe, active, and interesting retail districts and parks.