Chicago December 2008

I spent a number of days around Christmas visiting relatives in Chicago, partially for reasons which bear not repeating. (I was there from Monday, December 15, 2008, to Friday, December 26, 2008.) I'm not going to discuss relatives in this post.

This post begins boring and gradually gets more interesting.

Chicago was cold, but pretty. The highs most days were in the 20s. A few days had highs in the single digits, which, with wind chill, made it feel like -30. We heard predictions of heavy snowfall (6+ inches) at times, though most turned out to be somewhat less. We drove through slush, snow-gravel, flurrying (pretty, especially as it blew over the windshield), snow-mist (as my dad says, like you're in one of those snow globes that have been shaken), fine speckling, and puffy flurrying. We drove by one shopping mall's parking lot where the snow had been cleaned and moved into enormous mounds. I'd estimate the mounds were three or four car lengths long, two wide, and probably fifteen feet high! These mounds were much higher than any other piles left by snowplows, and dwarfed the cars around them. Also, I liked cleaning off the car, though it would've been more fun if I had waterproof shoes. Finally, one cousin showed me how to use an emergency brake to make cool turns on ice, and how to rock a car stuck in slush free without actually getting out of the car.

Also while in Chicago, I rediscovered the appeal of simple American food, ranging from Kentucky Fried Chicken to beef stroganoff to meatloaf to tuna salad sandwiches to American-Chinese. While I was familiar with Americanized Chinese (i.e., Chinese dishes altered to American tastes), I had forgotten there was another category with dishes such as egg foo young and chop suey that weren't directly derived from a particular Chinese dish.

For Christmas-day dinner, we cooked a large thanksgiving-like spread: turkey, home-made sage stuffing (actually cooked in the bird!), mashed (well, technically, whipped) potatoes, home-made gravy, cranberry sauce (canned), green beans with garlic, sweet potato-and-apple casserole (sweet, cinnamony, almost a dessert), dinner rolls, and an okay, weird ice-cream-like pie.

We had quite an adventure creating this dinner. At one point, we sent some peels (potato?) down the garbage disposal. They made it through the disposal fine. Yet, a short time later the sink backed up. The clog wasn't into the disposal. My handy aunt took the pipes under the sink apart, and, with the help of my ever-prepared grandmother's plumbers snake, we snaked the pipes. The clog wasn't in the U below the disposal. After much work, getting the snake around turns, we ended up feeding the whole snake--which was probably more than twenty feet long--into the pipes in the wall. I wonder where in the apartment building the other end was! We never really hit anything, but we wiggled it a lot, reassembled the pipes under the sink, played with water pressure in the sink itself, and eventually unclogged the pipes. What a relief to everyone, especially my mom (who was a nervous wreck). Lesson learned: even if you think the garbage disposal cuts things up well and you've never had a problem with it, those chopped bits can cause clogs elsewhere in the system.

Going home was horrible, and expensive. My Friday flight, and indeed all late afternoon and evening flights at Midway were canceled due to fog, and Southwest couldn't get me home Saturday, Sunday, or Monday! It took four hours to find/retrieve my bag from piles at Midway. Furthermore, I booked a replacement ticket and, misreading something during the process, paid much more than I thought I would.

Lessons for people on canceled flights:

  • Call the airline's phone number as soon as possible. You can get in the physical rebooking line if you want. I was on hold on the phone for 50 minutes before my call was answered, but during that time I only advanced through perhaps a third of the line. The line wound through all of Southwest's rope barriers, then down to literally the other end of the terminal.
  • Get on the internet as soon as possible. You can book things faster yourself than via the phone. Flights will fill up fast. If you see an acceptable flight, take it without hesitation. (This was the cause of my expensive mistake.)
  • Retrieve your bags as soon as possible. When many flights are canceled, baggage claim is a mess. The handlers apparently began unloading all the planes as fast as possible, throwing the bags in the baggage claim area in whatever order the luggage got to the ramp. When the conveyor belts filled up, they unloaded the bags onto the terminal's floor, leaving a ten-foot gap for walking between all the bags and the conveyor belts. It was a sea of luggage. They still didn't have enough space to unload the remaining bags, so they stopped unloading. When I finally made it to the baggage claim, they couldn't tell me where my bag was ("if it was unloaded, it's somewhere in the vicinity of baggage carousel eight", the area used for bags on flights to the west-coast) or whether it was unloaded or even whether any bags from my flight were unloaded before the ran out of space in baggage claim! Soon after I arrived in baggage claim, the handlers started carting the bags away to store in a secure area. Bags would be retrieved when a passenger put in a search request. I couldn't find my bag--perhaps it was unloaded and removed, or maybe it wasn't unloaded at all--and so I put in a search request. Eventually (and I mean eventually) the handlers brought it out.
I wish I took the following pictures to illustrate this horrible flight story:
  • screens of flights with every one marked canceled
  • the rebooking line stretching from one end of the terminal to the other
  • the sea of luggage in the baggage claim
I found a few pictures on flickr, but nothing that's very close to my image of the day / the pictures I would’ve taken. Here’s the best of the bad lot: canceled flights screens picture, terminal line picture one, terminal line picture two, luggage picture one, luggage picture two, luggage picture three, and the picture of luggage at top (also, there used to be a relevant video at the bottom, but it appears to be gone now).

New York City: Dec 5: Many Errands Before Returning To Boston

This day, my final one in the New York area, began with a leisurely breakfast with B at a Portuguese bakery, Riviera, in Newark.

Then came my crazily busy day of errands. There were a number of places I wanted to eat, and some that I wanted to buy food to bring to friends and family. Though I didn't manage to make it everywhere I wanted, I made it to many places.

First I went to Queens to pick up dumplings (sheng jian bao). Di Yin often brings me these dumplings when she travels to New York. I like them a lot. This day, I got to see where they are made and pick up some for myself. I also bought a little snack for lunch.

Then I went to the upper-west side of Manhattan for Magnolia Bakery, which received a ton of buzz a few years ago for its delectable cupcakes, to pick up a cupcake to try later. I was surprised the taste (when I tried it later) lived up to my high expectations. Magnolia, by the way, has more than just cupcakes; for instance, they have lots of mini cheesecakes.

Then, after a slight detour to Penn Station to pick up (what turned out to be way too many) rugelach for my parents, I made it to my (pre-booked) return bus on time.

More details about the day's adventures can be found in the this smattering of pictures.

New York City: Dec 4: Flushing and the Morgan Library

When I lived in New York and on past trips to the city, I never really left Manhattan. One of the goals for the day was to remedy that by eating my way through Flushing, a Chinese neighborhood in Queens. The other goal for the day was to visit the Morgan Library & Museum. Though in Manhattan, it'd been under renovation for something like the last six years. Supposedly one of the top museums in the city, it's perpetually been on my list of places to visit.

I took many pictures as I worked toward these goals.

After taking New Jersey rail once again to the city, the Long Island railroad brought me directly to Flushing. From the train, I spotted many satellite dishes. I imagine people want to receive channels from their homeland not offered by cable companies.

My main goal in the Flushing was to eat. With that in mind, I generally followed the guidance of a New York Times's article (Let the Meals Begin: Finding Beijing in Flushing) about casual, usually not-sit-down eateries in Flushing. I figured if I tried to see all the joints the article highlights, eating at a couple of them, then I'd end up exploring most of the major parts of Flushing. The article made this plan easy because it provides an interactive map of Flushing, as well as a corresponding printable version. Finally, the best feature of the article: the quality of the reporting. I did countless hours of research on chowhound about Flushing. Virtually all of the recommendations I read were mentioned in the article or the accompanying map. From my research, I added only a small number of places to my good-restaurants-in-Flushing list. (Many of the additions were fancier, sit-down, banquet-type affairs, outside the scope of the article. For the few within the scope of the article, all but one or two opened after the article was written.) In short, the article is a great summary of inexpensive eateries in Flushing that reflects the opinions of a group I trust.

Though I managed through the serendipitous spotting of a sign showing walking tours to see all of Flushing's historic buildings and to see many restaurants and supermarkets, there are many Flushing shops I didn't have time to see. (For details on what I saw and ate, refer to the pictures.) I did see most of the joints mentioned in the Times's article, except for a few in a tiny mall I couldn't find! (I later learned the tiny mall had closed and that I had looked at the correct entrance but there was no longer any sign that a mall had been there.) The fact that I found most of the places I planned to visit is no small feat: while many booths had menus with English translations and sometimes even pictures of the dishes, few booths had English names or even names transliterated into English. Thus, it was difficult to determine if one was in the right place and which booth was which. (This was harder than in India or Singapore.) I can imagine it would frustrate many visitors to Flushing.

The main feeling I got from this exploration of the Flushing food scene is a bit of jealousy that Flushing has incredible numbers of interesting regional food shops, especially from China, that are difficult or well nigh impossible to find elsewhere in the country.

After Flushing, I returned to Manhattan to visit the Morgan Library & Museum. More library than museum, most exhibits focused on books. Soon after entering, I watched the video introduction to the museum. It was bad: a history of the founder Morgan, with little on the museum's highlights.

I enjoyed the building's architecture. Morgan appears to be a true bibliophile. There are multiple rooms of libraries with wall-to-wall bookshelves in multiple levels (and corresponding narrow balconies tracing the bookshelves in the upper levels). The bookshelves, elegantly done in hard wood, house old hardcovers, one, two, or even five centuries old. There's also an ornate, formal study. Connecting these rooms is a rotunda that made me gasp when I entered. It has such vibrant colors and gilding in its ceiling that it looks like new.

As for the exhibits, there was one showing the (only surviving) first edition of Milton's Paradise Lost. I didn't expect to like the exhibit, but there was enough information about the history of the printing and of the book to make it interesting to me.

Another exhibit showed a first edition Gutenberg bible.

Also worth noting was the exhibit on Babar. It was fun to read some of the stories, and cute to see the father's and son's drawings together. (The son continued the series after the father died.) I like the colors in the son's later books. For me the highlight of the exhibit was not anything on the walls but rather a great, entertaining, lovely Babar rug!

I returned to Newark to meet B. When C returned to Newark, we headed to the Ironbound, Newark's Portuguese neighborhood, a short walk from their apartment, for dinner. We ended up at a seafood restaurant which turned out to be decent though unremarkable. Good enough, so to speak.

New York City: Dec 3: The New York Times Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, and Selected Shorts

The day's main goals were to see an exhibit at the New York Times building (which wasn't yet installed when I lived in the city), walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (which I never managed to do previously), and watch a staged reading of short stories by Selected Shorts (which rarely tours in California). These pictures document the day's adventures.

First, I took a slightly delayed train from Newark's Penn Station into Manhattan's Penn Station. (B and C say the rush hour trains run on time and the off-peak ones get less attention.) After grabbing breakfast at a mini-chain bakery in New York City, Hot & Crusty, I walked uptown to the New York Times building.

I went to the Moveable Type exhibit in lobby of New New York Times building. I heard about the exhibit in a radio segment (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). The lobby is filled with many dot-matrix/teletype-like screens that light up in a variety of ways. The exhibit was less cool in person than I imagined it would be--too many of the things the screens display were non-sequitur (e.g., noun phrases that lacked context). I started to like the exhibit more the longer I stood there, which I guess is because I got to see more patterns I liked displayed by the screens. For instance, I liked seeing the crossword puzzles filled in, reading interesting place names, learning about people's lives (as seen in obituaries), and seeing phrases with numbers in them (which usually conveyed a neat fact, or made one wonder why the New York Times printed that number).

After grabbing a train to south-east Manhattan, I ate lunch at Nyonya, a Singaporean/Malaysian restaurant of a type I ate at in Singapore. Indeed, it was recommended by a friend of mine (Mr. Lau) who lives in Singapore. The menu was full of familiar choices: all the standards from Singapore. I even saw them making Hainanese chicken the traditional way. I wish this place was near my apartment.

I walked by the edge of Chinatown, then spent a while hunting for the pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge. It was a good day to walk across the bridge. Although cool, the sky was clear, yielding high visibility. Incidentally, the bridge has some bas relief panoramas (of the same view that the person standing in front of them sees) with notable buildings labeled: a nice way to inform the viewer what's what.

A short subway ride later, I made it to Pommes Frites, a Belgian fries shop in the East Village (a recommendation of another friend). My fries we made fresh when I ordered them: thrown into their own vat of hot oil, removed, salted, and tossed. Good quality.

With time to kill, after wandering a little, I ended up at the New York Public Library. I looked through the exhibits. I was struck again how fancy and lavish it is--everything is simply bigger and grander than, say, Boston's flagship public library (which I previously visited).

Given my large mid-afternoon snack, I wanted a light dinner. I headed to the upper-east side to try Papaya King, an acclaimed hot dog vendor. Though it has a few locations now, this is the original. I didn't think this hot-dog-and-papaya stand was significantly different than others I've tried in the city.

After a slow cross-town bus, I arrived at the theater to meet C and see Selected Shorts on stage. This was one of the reasons I made this trip to New York. Selected Short is a radio program where talented actors and actresses read literary short stories. I've listened to this show for years and wanted to attend a reading in person. The stories are often hit or miss for me, with the majority actually a miss, being too literary for my tastes. Nevertheless, I enjoy listening, and even the ones I don't like make me feel more sophisticated for having heard them.

The show is usually recorded in New York City, though sometimes they go on tour and record in other New England destinations and, occasionally, in Los Angeles. At one point, I almost planned a trip to Los Angeles simply to attend the performance. Well, given that I was in Boston, New York wasn't that far away, and I had other reasons to visit the city, I figured now was my chance to attend a reading in person.

I attended the performance Neil LaBute Presents The Grand Illusion: Tales of American Couples. The first two stories were too morbid for me. Intermission had a fun sing-and-answer game (which I never heard on the radio!), though some songs were too old for me to recognize. As for the final story, Neil LaBute's A Second of Pleasure, I really liked it. An amazing story composed entirely of (natural) dialog, further improved by great acting by the readers. C and I left in the middle of the worthless Q&A that followed the final reading.

New York City: Dec 2: Traveling

I rode the BoltBus from Boston to New York City. It was a cheap (< $20!), comfortable, and pleasant trip. The bus had fairly dependable internet access which made the time pass quickly.

Upon arrival, I met up with B and C. It was good to see them after so long. We went to dinner at Ali Baba, a Turkish restaurant I liked when I lived here, and had a good meal. Although I didn't take pictures of the food, being too busy catching up and not yet ready to do the embarrassing tourist stuff, you can read about what we ate.

After dinner, we went to their place in Newark, where I was introduced to San Juan, a nice card-based development game in a similar style as Settlers of Catan. I liked it so much that I plan to buy it to play with friends in California.

New York City and Newark Overview

I was in Cambridge/Boston at the beginning of December with relatively little to do. Then I (i) realized that New York City and Newark and my friends therein were a short and cheap bus ride away, (ii) discovered that a radio program in NYC that I'm a fan of was recording another episode on stage that week, (iii) recalled that Di Yin is busy during the week, and (iv) felt a bit antsy from hanging around in Boston doing nothing the previous few days. Consequently, I booked a bus ticket to New York City and ended up spending Tuesday, December 2nd, through Friday, December 5th, 2009, there. My friends B and C generously let me stay at their place in Newark, a short walk plus train ride from Manhattan.

Because I've written many previous posts about my times in New York City, I'm not going to rehash my impressions here. I will, however, mention new observations and features that, even if I noticed them before, suddenly struck me.

Riding the bus into the city reminded me that New York City is a real city. Everything is large in scale. Skyscrapers are too numerous to count. It's definitely a step up in scale from Boston and Barcelona.

While spending these days in the city, I noticed one contrast with Barcelona: in New York City, while one can walk in it as easily as in Barcelona, the existence of cars everywhere, densely packed on every street, makes it simply not as pleasant as Barcelona to walk around in. Nevertheless, NYC's an extraordinary city.

On my first full day in the city, I got asked for directions, and I knew the answer! Incidentally, I also got asked a few times in Barcelona. I guess I must often look comfortable in my surroundings.

I liked the fact that many bakeries sell hamantashen. I don't generally see them anywhere else. (It's not that I have an exceptional fondness for them; I guess I just like what having them for sale indicates.)

Assorted Cambridge Occurrences

I visited Cambridge (MA) from Saturday, October 24, through Monday, November 3. The leaves were changing, yet the weather was still warm enough that some days I could wear short sleeve shirts (at least the first two days after I arrived). A beautiful time of year.

Twice I went running along the Charles; once was inadvertently at sunset. Leaves, water, and light, oh my. Too bad I don't run with a camera.

On Tuesday morning, I thought about revising this statement ("a beautiful time of year") after getting turned around walking home after breakfast and ending up spending 40 minutes walking in a rainshower. Though not entirely unpleasant, it meant Cambridge probably didn't merit the praise I bestowed on it in the first paragraph.

That afternoon, however, I decided not to return to this post-in-progress to correct my initial impression. Perhaps because I'd just emerged from a shower, but while walking to campus, the sun was out, a cool wind blew, and the world felt clean, as if it had just emerged from the wash cycle and was now in the dry cycle.

I'd learn only later that I got a cold from wandering around in the rain. And then the weather in Cambridge turned cold as well. :(

Funnily, as I recovered from my 48-hour cold, the weather started getting warmer, cleaner, and nicer again.

One later evening, Di Yin and I ventured to Porter Square for some Cambodian food. We took the subway on the way back and noticed sculpted metal gloves, posed in various shapes and sizes, next to the escalator. They were fascinating to examine. I wish I had my camera--I don't think the pictures the sculptor provides (link above) do them justice (and I think I could've taken better pictures).

Later that evening, we had dessert accompanied by some leftover wine from a Harvard alumni event. I mention this because it was a very good quality red--I usually don't like reds--called Chateau Saint Maurice - Les Parcellaires from the Rhone region.

Over the course of the week, I stopped by two farmers markets. (I wanted to see markets in this area, and I knew when I returned to Cambridge around December that they'd all be closed.) The Harvard one was small and is not worth describing in any detail. I was in the mood to try cooking something new, so I bought a turnip (actually a variety grown only in this region).

The Harvard Square (well, Charles Square) one was larger. I liked it. It had a decent selection, including a wide variety of apples (not surprising given the location and time of year) and more unusual items such as beets, parsnips, and kohlrabi. There were also lots of gourds, squashes, and decorated vegetables, as appropriate for Halloween and Thanksgiving. Some produce vendors were no-spray. I also appreciated that some local shops such as Hi-Rise Bakery and Christina's ice cream were present at the market; from Hi-Rise, I bought a decent banana bread muffin. To accompany the muffin, I got some allen-something apple cider from a produce vendor. It was okay, not as thick as I prefer.

And those were the highlights from my week in Cambridge. Not much, I know. I was building up energy for my trip to Barcelona.

Interesting Articles: April-June 2008

* Real Noticias (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). Spanish-language news in the United States has more substance than English news. The Washington Post article, Switch to EspaƱol, that inspired this radio segment has a more detailed comparison of the differences between English and Spanish news broadcasts.
* Space Odyssey (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). A thoughtful, analytical piece about how our consumption of media has changed and how it connects to interpersonal relationships and society. It begins by focusing on the Japanese phenomenon of "immersion pods" and expands from there.

* Travels and Tribulations (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). An interview with the author of what sounds like an interesting new book, Do Travel Writers Go to Hell? The latter web site provides links to many reviews.

* Navigating Food Labels (NPR). Although I've read countless articles describing, commenting on, and criticizing the FDA's stance on various organic/natural/whatever food labels, I found this summary very concrete. It's likely to be handy as a reference.

Polish Festival

On Sunday, October 12, 2008, a beautiful, clear, warm, sunny day, I drove to Golden Gate Park for the Polish Heritage Festival. Because it was so nice, I spent most of my hour and a half at the festival sitting outside reading and eating.

I took a few pictures and one video of what I ate and saw at the festival.

I spent such little time at the festival because it was small, smaller even than the two small festivals I've been to in the same building: Chilean and Arab. There were only seven stands:

  • the Polish Arts & Cultural Foundation
  • a Polish market (snacks, magazines)
  • a meat and sausage shop
  • a table for a Polish dance group
  • a stand selling Polish books
  • another selling Polish movies
  • a Polish-language school for kids
The most interesting aspect of the festival to me was that mostly everyone spoke Polish and, when talking to people at stands or ordering food, most people assumed I did too. For instance, an old woman in the line for food dropped a dollar bill, which I picked up for her. I got back a long series of uninterpretable sentences. I assume she was thanking me.

Excelsior Street Festival (San Francisco)

On Sunday, October 5, 2008, I drove to the city for a street festival in a neighborhood I'd never previously visited. As it turned out, the neighborhood was a pretty normal low-income SF neighborhood, filled mostly with Mexican and Chinese immigrants, though judging by the street names (e.g., France, Moscow, Geneva), the neighborhood must've been previously occupied by European immigrants. Sadly, the stores don't reflect this heritage.

The fair itself was tiny and dominated by political and community organizations. I saw many stands for candidates for local city government positions, a few for state positions, and some for various ballot measures. (I got practice saying I don't live or vote in the city.) There were also stands for city departments (building inspection, public works, police), for business groups (e.g., the local development association), and for local community groups (e.g., parks, schools, community center, YMCA).

As for things to see, there were ten stands selling kitsch like beads, cheap jewelry, and sunglasses. No art.

A decent jazz band played to an empty parking lot. Sad. That was the only musical stage I saw.

Next to the kids' zone (bouncy castle and all), was a mat where adults wearing big puffy suits wrestled. It looked like fun.

The one food booth sold hot dogs.

After the twenty minutes it took me to see everything, I left, grabbed food in the neighborhood, and headed home. Given the festival's size, it's no wonder the street fair people didn't bother to put together a web page for the festival this year.

International Food Festival

On Saturday, September 27, 2008, I drove to San Francisco for St. Thomas More Church's International Food Festival. It was frustratingly difficult to find. Google Maps put the address in the wrong location. Next, when I tried navigating directly by the official street address, I learned it's not actually on street specified. Rather, the church overlooks the street from a nearby hilltop. Furthermore, bad traffic exacerbated the aggravation in locating the church.

Thus, I was even more disappointed when I arrived and saw the festival was small, with only a handful of food booths (Italian, Filipino, and Greek), and four non-food booths. I guess it should get credit for having a kid's area with bouncy castles, slides, and the like. I took a few pictures and one video this day; the video really shows the size of the festival. The pictures provide details about what I ate. As there really wasn't much going on, I didn't stay long.

The de Young Museum and its Chihuly Exhibit

On Thursday, September 25, 2008, I took the day off from work to go to the city to view the de Young Museum's special Chihuly exhibit. Chihuly is a fantastic glass artist. I heard great things about the exhibit and wanted see it before it closed on Sunday. (Besides, I'd never visited the de Young museum before.) As I knew the exhibit would be packed on the weekend, I decided to go during the week. It's a good thing I did: when I checked the web page on Friday morning, I found out tickets for the exhibit were entirely sold out Friday through Sunday.

I drove up to the city in time for lunch, having selected Pizzetta 211, a little pizza joint that I'd been meaning to try for ages. The pizza I had was cooked excellently, and I got to enjoy it eating alfresco on a perfect day.

Speaking of the pizza, here are the pictures and videos I took on this day's excursion, beginning with the pretty pizza and continuing with many neat pieces in the museum. The museum itself has quite a respectable collection.

I took, however, no pictures of the Chihuly exhibit. I was told incorrectly by the front desk clerk that taking pictures was prohibited in the exhibit. I only learned the truth after I'd entered the exhibit and I saw countless other cameras come out. I couldn't leave to get my camera, as the exhibit's admission ticket allows only one entry and specifies a particular time. Nevertheless, my lack of a camera isn't so bad because the special exhibit's web site (which sadly appears to be down at the moment) has countless pictures, as does flickr. (Well, flickr I can count, and it's roughly twelve thousand. :> )

Each room literally made me gasp as I entered. Not only were the pieces excellently presented, they were impressive. I could stare at them for hours (though I actually went through the ten rooms in slightly less than an hour). The exhibit proceeded from a room with glass implementations of ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), to a forest of glass lilies, to baskets (yes, not made of glass; this was another of Chihuly's hobbies), to glass bowls. The bowls, presented in a room known as the Macchia Forest (search the web for pictures), were vibrant with a variety of colors and transitions between colors. They seemed like lava in motion, even glowing like lava, but, obviously, weren't moving. The exhibition guide aptly describes them as "simultaneously hot and flowing, cool and congealing."

Next came glass reeds, like candles as tall as a man, coming out of logs. Following that was a boat of marbles. Imagine a bowl of colorful marbles that someone may have on a coffee table. This was like that but the boat was the size of a real boat and the marbles were a meter across, colorful, and with metallic highlights. Next to one boat, baubles sprouted in a nest of flowers, vines, sunflowers, irises, and more, all glass. The room felt like candyland.

Then came chandeliers. Each a single color, these tangled constructions were an impressive tour de force of Chihuly's skills (as if the previous rooms weren't enough)

Another room had a clear glass ceiling with translucent, colored glass sculptures on it. Lit from above, they made the room glow luminously in a medley of colors. It felt like being at the bottom of a swimming pool. Some sculptures looked like seashells. The whole design reminded of a glass tunnel I saw in the Georgia Aquarium (see the movies).

The final room was a surreal 40 foot x 12 foot (my estimates) glass garden. Some pieces reminded me of the flowers and ferns I saw at Vancouver's botanical garden. (I'm using the term surreal as if everything else in the exhibit wasn't surreal enough.)

In all, a very memorable trip.

The exhibit's store sells some small, unique pieces by Chihuly for between four and eight thousand dollars. It boggles my mind how much the exhibit would cost at that rate.

For future reference, in the de Young itself, the photography and textile exhibits were closed, nor did I have time to visit the New Guinea, Africa, or Oceania exhibits.

Camping in Acadia

I went camping with Di Yin in Acadia National Park in Maine for three days (two nights) over labor day weekend (Friday, August 29, 2008 through Sunday, August 31). It'd been a year and a half since the last time I went camping and I was anxious to go again.

Most things I want to say about this trip are in this blog entry. The pictures and videos I took add color to the commentary but should not be treated as a primary reference. Ditto with Di Yin's pictures. Note: she took many more pictures than I did, and many are substantially better. View them first. :)

Camping & Campsite
We were a tad worried as we drove to Acadia on Friday afternoon. It was labor day weekend, and all the campsites that allowed prior reservations were reserved. If Acadia was anything like Yosemite, then arriving on a Friday afternoon would be too late to get any first-come-first-served campsite.

We needn't have worried. Fewer than half the campsites at the campground we selected, Seawall Campground, were taken. We had our pick. Incidentally, despite the name, the water was a good half a mile away. We were camping in the woods.

I was disappointed to learn that the bathrooms, while being surprisingly clean for a campground bathroom, lacked showers. I'm sure I would hike/camp more if good showers were easily available.

As with all camping remote from cities, the stars were visible at night. However, we didn't see them from our tent: the first night, it was positioned wrong and only trees were visible; the second night, we moved the tent only to realize the fine mesh in the tent roof filtered out the stars.

As we soon learned, mosquitoes were out in force at the campground. Even with repellent and high-collared long-sleeve shirts, we both received many bites. Happily, the insects seemed to be localized near the campground and the trails by the seawall; the problem was much less severe the other places in the park where we went hiking.

We also learned neither of us was good at starting a fire. Our first night, we needed lots of advice and over an hour of patience to get one burning. The next night was a bit better. Di Yin is now good at making fires.

Our biggest mistake was forgetting to bring a camping lantern. We had a flashlight and made do, but a lantern would've been very handy.

Deciding what to bring and how to cook it is one of the most fun aspects of camping. On this trip, we made ham and cheese sandwiches on French bread for lunch, accompanied by plums or peaches. One breakfast, we grilled toast with cheese (and sometimes ham). For dinner, we went overboard. (We also ate dinner's leftovers at other meals.) The most complex item we made involved wrapping chopped sausage, potato, mushrooms, and tomato in aluminum foil and cooking them in the fire. But we also cooked many other things (all wrapped in aluminum foil) in the fire itself: onions (one sliced in half), corn on the cob (four ears), and portabella mushrooms (two). Finally, it can't be camping without smores, and I make some good ones. In fact, everything turned out well.

Getting There
On the way to Acadia, we drove past many forests. We stopped by a funky old car shop (with many cars decades older than me) and a roadside market, where I bought my parents blueberry jam made from Maine's tiny blueberries (in this case, grown on "Henson's farm"). As the first of a few funny coincidences on this trip, it turned out the owner's wife's brother lives in San Mateo.

We wondered if it would be obvious when we reached Acadia. It was: as we turned by Seawall, the road opened onto a majestic rock beach and water vista.

I imagine this section is rather boring if you don't look at the pictures at the same time.

The afternoon we arrived we hiked a short trail by Seawall. (I can't believe I didn't take any pictures there.) There, we met an older couple with a surprising number of commonalities with us. The husband was a Harvard-educated student of Chinese history. The wife was German or Polish (judging by the accent). They have a summer home nearby in Seal Harbor. Their son went to Stanford; he now lives in Chicago. The husband years ago thought about starting a factory in China, but his plans were foiled by the Sino-Japanese war. Later, he met the Chinese ambassador the U.S.--he's very proud of this--and tried out his Chinese, which he was told needs more study.

The next morning we stopped at a different place along Seawall before our main hike of the day. In the morning, Seawall lacked the afternoon's (low-tide) mosquitoes. Instead it had warm stones (!) and spiders.

We spent most of the day (five hours) hiking up and down and up and down around Acadia Mountain, St. Sauveur Mountain, and Valley Cove. A pretty, forested hike, it would contrast nicely with our seaside walking the following day. We almost missed one of the best views we had on the hike this day. It was behind us as we climbed; we only saw it because a young couple was there and asked us for a picture, thus making us turn around to see the background they wanted. Oddly, Mt. Acadia and Mt. St. Sauveur didn't have good views, but the hike between them (along the sound) did.

After hiking, Di Yin went wading in Echo Lake.

On our second day in Acadia, we drove Park Loop Road. Many of Acadia's best spots are along the road. We stopped near Sand Beach and hiked past Thunder Hole to Otter Cliffs and back, then waded by Sand Beach for a bit. Freakin' cold water! Later, we detoured to view Seal Harbor, which wasn't worth the trip. Finally, we drove to the top of Cadillac Mountain for a windy, panoramic stroll around the summit.

We didn't get a chance to explore the carriage roads on the island (which where, incidentally, financed by John D. Rockefeller Jr.). They sound pretty. Next time.

Bar Harbor
First let me get out this out of the way: I like Bar Harbor (the largest town adjacent to Acadia). It's cute and interesting.

Now, some context regarding our visit to Acadia. Di Yin and I wanted to bring back some local beers. When at a market buying a second round of food for camping, we spotted some and almost bought them. A staff-person, however, kindly suggested that they're cheaper at the local liquor store. The second (and last) morning in Acadia, en route to hiking, we detoured to stop by the liquor store. It was closed. Since we didn't have time to return to the market then, we simply hoped (and expected) that when we spent the evening in Bar Harbor we'd be able to find someplace that sold alcohol.

That evening, we drove into Bar Harbor and found parking. Our spot happened to be two storefronts away from the Bar Harbor Brewing Company brewery. This was the beer we'd been eying. And not only that, they were having a free beer tasting at that moment!

We tried a bunch of beers, most quite good, as the brewer spoke, telling stories about how little room he has to brew and how quickly his beers sell out. I tasted four and liked the Thunderhole and Lighthouse the best. We bought an assortment as gifts.

After the tasting, we explored Bar Harbor. We spent a bunch of time in In The Woods, a wood shop whose products ranged from walking sticks and mini helicopters (those things you twirl and they fly up) to kitchen utensils and lots more. All good quality stuff. Also, we glanced at some real estate listings, noting that most houses included substantial lots. In addition, we spent a while gazing at the large ice cream selection at one local specialist. Finally, we ate a fairly good dinner (at Cafe This Way), had some ice cream, and began our trip to my parents and then Boston.

New England Vacation

I went to Massachusetts and Maine for an extended vacation (Thursday, August 28, to Sunday, September 7, 2008) over labor day weekend. I visited Di Yin and my parents. The focus of the trip was a three-day camping trip in Maine's Acadia national park, about which I'll write a separate post.

This post is more for my own benefit, to record for future reference what I did besides camping.

I arrived on Thursday night. Friday morning Di Yin and I drove up to Kittery (say hi to parents) and on to Acadia. We stayed there until Sunday. Sunday evening we returned to Kittery. On Monday we drove down to Boston. I stayed in Boston/Cambridge until Wednesday, then returned to Kittery. On Thursday, I drove down to Cambridge to pick up Di Yin and returned again to Kittery. We celebrated a birthday dinner (okay, it's not precisely the correct day) at a surprisingly, delightfully good prime rib joint. On Friday, Di Yin and I returned to Cambridge. On Sunday morning, bright and early, I flew back to California.

During my time in and around Kittery (Wednesday the 3rd to Friday the 5th), including my birthday dinner, I took these pictures and notes. Some pictures included my parents; I moved these into a separate collection (password protected).

I stayed in Boston/Cambridge on Monday the 1st, Tuesday the 2nd, and Saturday the 6th. Whereas on Monday and Tuesday I didn't do anything worth reporting here, on Saturday I explored a bit of Boston and Cambridge.

In Boston, Di Yin and I explored the Boston Public Library. We systematically walked through the century-old building, seeing ornate rooms, marble staircases and tables, murals and paintings (some on the ceiling), and a fancy courtyard (where a couple was taking wedding photos). I spent time examining a special exhibit of WWI posters. The library also had an amazing exhibit of dioramas of scenes of famous painters as they painted famous scenes. The detail was striking. (I would go to the library just to see this, if it's still there in the Wiggin Gallery.) Also, we viewed an art exhibit by an artist who drew lots of birds and lots of waves. His pieces really showed the similarities in form (and, indirectly, meaning) between the two.

In Cambridge, we stopped by the neat Harvest Co-Op Market in Central Square. Although a small market, it was replete with unusual ingredients, many sold in bulk food bins, and rare foods--in short, the market where Cambridge gourmets shop.

I have some pictures and notes that record these events, especially the meals I ate, during those days in Boston and Cambridge.

Armenian Food Festival

On Sunday, September 21, 2008, I returned to San Francisco's Armenian Festival. I'd attended the previous year, partially inspired by my visit to an Armenian festival in Oakland in 2006.

The festival was like last year's festival--even its shabbiness remained constant.

I was sad to learn that, despite arriving by 1pm on a day that the festival was supposed to close around dinnertime, they were already out of kufta. Nevertheless, I managed to scrounge up some decent grub, as shown in these pictures.

While there, I also bought some dirt cheap Armenian pumpkin jam. (Ah, the joy of the last day of a festival!)

Glendi Ethnic Food Fair

On Saturday, September 20, 2008, after an uneventful morning at the San Mateo Farmers Markets (which I'm not going to bother blogging about), I headed north to Saint Seraphim Church in Santa Rosa for its Glendi Ethnic Food Fair. (Incidentally, why do Eastern European Orthodox churches always have food festivals and most other religious institutions do not?)

I felt a little guilty driving so far for a festival: by my calculation, I spent $20 on gas (plus a $5 bridge toll) and its correspondingly large carbon footprint. It, however, was a pleasant drive--because the day was clear and sunny, the views were nice, especially from the golden gate bridge.

The church is on the rural outskirts of Santa Rosa. The festival's parking lot, made of dried dirt scattered with hay, was across from a pasture with a sign: cattle for sale.

When I arrived, I joined a church tour already in progress. The church is under renovation: it is getting frescoes painted on the bare walls. The monk explained what would go where and showed us drafts of the frescoes. He also pointed out architectural facets. He went into such detail, I got bored and left to see what else there was.

Everything at the fair was either food or affiliated with the church. I spent much of the rest of the time eating, listening to music, reading a book I brought, and watching the dancers. Regarding eating, there were a variety of food booths: Russian, Macedonian, Eritrean, Greek (including gyros and kabobs), Middle Eastern, Balkan, and a huge (though ordinary) bakery indoors. The Balkan booth was staffed by cute old women who were probably people's grandmothers. The Eritrean booth was run by a family who thought about running a restaurant--they'd been repeatedly asked to by others--, but haven't and really prefer doing this festival every year. It's lower stress and lower expenses.

These photographs and videos display the entertainment and reveal what I ate at the festival.

Right before I left, I listened to some choral music in the church, though got bored after about twenty minutes and left for the long drive home.

Burlingame Farmers Market

On Sunday, August 24, 2008, I rode my bike to the Burlingame Farmers Market. The weather was typically perfect California. The two-mile ride was a nice length for a pre-breakfast excursion, though it was through city streets and thus not very pretty.

Although a small market, I'd be happy if it were my local market. First, there was a better band than the usual musician at the San Mateo farmers market. Second, despite the size, there were at least two vendors for most everything, and usually every item that I'd expect to be available in organic form was available. For some food products, the market was even larger than the markets I regularly attend. For instance, there were two bakeries (Bay Bread and Brioche Bakery, which is also at the San Mateo farmers market) and two stuffed Indian bread stands (Sukhi's and East West Gourmet Afghan Food, which is also at the San Mateo farmers market). Also, though most markets have a stand selling the usual Asian vegetables like gai lon and bok choy, the stand at this one had additional, more exotic items such as Chinese long beans, bitter melon, and "bitter okra leaves." However, I didn't see a sign at this stand certifying the vegetables were grown in California, so I'm skeptical that they didn't simply come from the same source as an Asian supermarket. Other distinguishing characteristics (that I don't actually care about) of this market: there were more flower vendors than I usually see at markets, and there were some craftpeople (e.g., selling jewelry).

For breakfast, I had a cinnamon-orange morning bun from Bay Bread. It was okay, covered with too much powdered sugar. I decided to have more breakfast and retreated back to Brioche Bakery (the bakery that I know and like at the San Mateo market) and had a tasty, moist poppyseed muffin.

While deciding what to buy for other meals, I explored downtown Burlingame. It's pleasant, just as cute and large as downtown San Mateo. I wasn't aware it was so sizable. I'm jealous it has a good quality bookstore. (San Mateo does not.) I browsed.

I returned to the market, bought a stuffed Indian bread (stuffed with a mash of carrots, potatoes, and peas; apparently I got the last one of this type) from the vendor I don't normally see, a chicken empanada from El Porteno (getting lucky once again and getting the last empanada that had chicken), some organic blueberries, three organic pluots, an organic white peach, and an ear of corn. I was smart; unlike the time I biked to the San Mateo market in July and had a heck of a time coming home because I bought more than could fit in my backpack, I planned, conscious of my space limitations.

Free Jamba Juice

A recent evening, I went to Jamba Juice. The guy who made my drink decided not to charge me, waving me away. I wondered why. Did he feel bad for me and my hair, dyed with red highlights? Or was it because the store was closing for the night and he didn't want to deal with money? Or did he think my hair was awesome? Or perhaps there was Stanford loyalty at play? (This was a Jamba Juice near Stanford, whose color is cardinal, and my hair was red.)

Golden Gate Renaissance Festival

On August 17, 2008, I drove to a bus stop, and rode to Golden Gate Park for its Golden Gate Renaissance Festival. Though it was mid-summer, I'd forgot that Golden Gate Park is frequently overcast. The day was brisk and I was under-dressed in pants and a t-shirt. While I wrote that statement simply meaning I should've worn warmer clothes, it's also true that this fair had a higher percent of people dressed up than others I've attended. Indeed, perhaps half the crowd was in costume. I felt a little out of place.

Over the course of the festival, I caught a variety of shows: a knife juggler, a show with many macaw bird tricks and lots of bird puns, a magic show with both adult and kid humor, and a surprisingly good-quality belly dancing troupe of older women. They knew how to move--it was certainly one of the best belly dancing performances I've ever seen. I also loved, as always, the costumes and dancing of Danse Macabre as they wound their way down the streets. Finally, near the entrance gates, some people played human-sized chess, and looked like they were having a lot of fun doing it.

I ate a polish sausage and a chocolate-and-banana crepe, both tasty. Though I wasn't intending to get one, I was surprised to notice turkey legs weren't available.

As for the shops, there was the usual renfair stuff. Something about the atmosphere may have enticed me to buy clothing if I could've had a second opinion and encouragement from a friend. Also, I thought about wooden and pewter mugs. I admired pewter figurines, especially those made by Wicked Things (and, of those, especially the tree candlestick-holders and the dragon statues). I glanced at countless weapons. And, last but not least, I bought an uncracked geode. Let's see how lucky I am.

There were many guilds (basically social groups) at the fair. Each had its own area in which to hang out. Some were recruiting new members. A few groups played a four-foot-high version of jenga. One played jenga with swords, allowing players to only use their sword tips to push each block out. Neat. I watched all this with some envy; it seemed like a nice place to be, a nice activity to do, with like-minded friends.

One guild gave free fencing lessons, which I briefly contemplated taking. I contemplated paying to use the archery range for longer, but decided to skip it. I had enough of the fair and simply wanted to be home and comfortable.

Belmont Farmers Market and Much More

Because I had the urge to go a farmers market and didn't get a chance to go to one yesterday, I researched what Sunday farmers markets existed and chose to head a little south to the Belmont one. I didn't have anything in mind that I wanted to buy. I just wanted to browse a market.

The Belmont farmers market would probably be considered a reasonable size by many. I, however, didn't like it because there were only two organic stands, one for some vegetables and one for some fruits.

One nice thing about going to a farmers market close to closing is that the vendors drop their prices. The many purveyors of peaches and grapes dropped their prices from $2/lb to $1/lb. The one organic peach vendor did not reduce her prices, leaving them around $3/lb.

I left the market with two ears of corn, two organic tomatoes, a bunch of organic green beans, and two organic yellow-fleshed pluots ("flavor queen"). I would've bought more of the last but none of the rest looked good. No, I don't know what I'm going to cook with this stuff.

Next I went to Ranch 99, a local Asian supermarket. They didn't have what I wanted, but instead I got some lychee and loganberries. I tried loganberries for the first time in years two weeks ago in Singapore and liked them well enough (though not as much as lychee).

Hungry by this point--I'd hoped to buy a pastry or something for lunch at the farmers market, but no such luck--, I drove to a local Malaysian restaurant that I generally like, Langkawi, and had a dish that reminded me of, but was a sad reflection of, one I had in Singapore.

I walked across the complex to Marina Market, another Asian supermarket. This one had what I was looking for: kaya spread. Kaya is a coconut-egg jam spread on toast in Singapore. (I tried it there and liked it.) Incidentally, although Ranch 99 had it as well, I didn't buy it there because both of Ranch 99's brands had added food coloring. One of Marina's brands did not.

I stuck my head in a Chinese bakery in the same complex and picked up a red bean bun for later.

My final stop was Safeway, mainly for general household needs. Then I happened to spot organic grapes. I've been looking for organic grapes for the past two months, ever since I recalled how great grapes are frozen. Although I'd seen grapes constantly at farmers markets, they were never organic. Here, Safeway had organic grapes, and they were on sale for half-price. Perhaps I went a little overboard, but I bought six pounds. I picked up some bananas too.

Pistahan (Filipino) Festival

On Saturday, August 9, 2008, I took the train into San Francisco to go to Yerba Buena Gardens for the Pistahan (Filipino) Festival. I went last year; this year's festival was similar. It had the same food stands. The secondary stage was devoted entirely to hip-hop and rap. The booths covered the same range as last time, from books (on Filipino language, cooking, and history, as examples), to t-shirts (many gangsta style), to hats and handbags, and to booths staffed by the festival backers such as local banks, periodicals targeting Filipinos, the Filipino-American sheriff association (for public relations and recruiting), and the Filipino tourism bureau. And, also like last year, there was one "heritage" booth devoted to Filipino history and culture, much like a museum exhibit, and one devoted to art. I think more cultural festivals should have booths like these.

One booth that interested me was the one staffed by the transportation authority that promoted plans to run a new, underground T-line into Chinatown.

Aside from looking around, I sat in the grass, ate, and listened to the Filipino jazz group which happened to be playing at that time. I also explored, during which time I caught performances of operatic singing, a DJ spinning dance music, and Filipino folk dancing. Easily the most irritating feature of the festival was that the church across the street periodically rang bells, sometimes for upwards of a minute at a time, making it difficult for the audience to hear the music or announcements. It was clear the performers were also frustrated.

As I left the festival, I grabbed dessert, which I ate on the way to the train station and on the train. Although I didn't think I was going to cut it closely, I arrived in the station as they called "All Aboard."

Over the course of the day, I took some pictures of what I ate and a few videos of the performances I saw.

Vancouver, et al.: Day 8: Lake Padden and Pike Place Market (again)

This day, the last of our trip, I took a smattering of pictures. The day roughly mirrored day one in reverse: Lake Padden, Pike Place, and flying.

Di Yin also took pictures. The link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #187), the last day of our trip. If you're in slideshow mode and see a picture of the large Pike Place Market sign, you've cycled back to the beginning of the album--day one of our trip--and are seeing pictures I already linked to.

First, we drove south from Vancouver/Richmond and went through customs (easy this time). Once in Washington state, although we'd planned to picnic by Lake Padden, we didn't see the highway exit for it. (We guessed the exit must've been only on the other side of the highway.) Instead we pulled over by Lake Samish and ate. After eating, we still had the time for and desire to walk around Lake Padden so we attempted to find it by getting back on the highway and driving north. (We didn't consider walking near Lake Samish--it's huge and mostly developed and therefore less pleasant.)

Lake Padden turned out to be the next northbound exit! (It's actually the same exit as for north Lake Samish.)

Because it was a cool day, we changed into warm clothes and hiked the 2.5 miles around the lake.

From Lake Padden, we went to Pike Place Market in Seattle, where we had lunch, bought snacks, and bought supplies for dinner. I purchased some overpriced dried cantaloupe, in the process taste testing dried apples, figs, and more. I also again tasted and contemplated buying the good balsamic vinegar I spotted on our last visit. As part of lunch, I was in the mood for raspberries, but I couldn't find any organically grown raspberries at the market. (This was especially important to me because I didn't have a place to wash them.) I guess the organic movement hasn't hit Seattle as much as the bay area.

Getting to the airport and home from Pike Place was dicey. We couldn't figure out how to get to the highway we wanted. (We forgot the rental car company gave us a map of the area.) Eventually, we made it to the airport, was about to return the car, then realized we forgot to refill the gas tank. We left the airport, filled the tank, and returned. Returning was made more complicated due to some minor damage to the vehicle. As I dealt with it, Di Yin went ahead as a precaution (just like our trip to Seattle) and checked our bag. Once we landed in the bay area, we learned our bag had been misdirected to southern California. It would be delivered the following day. I was quite concerned because my apartment keys were in my luggage. Happily, Di Yin had my backups in her carry-on, so everything worked out. Plus, she got $25 to spend on emergency clothes and toiletries to compensate for the day without the luggage. So, yes, getting home from Seattle involved a number of unusual occurrences.

Vancouver, et al.: Day 7: Lots of Nature

This day Di Yin and I had different priorities, so we split up. On my own, I took a ton of pictures.

First, I went to VanDusen Botanical Garden and wandered around for two and a half hours. It's lovely, as you can see from the pictures. I also liked the garden's many educational plaques and its hedge maze.

For lunch, I headed to the Richmond Public Market. Unlike the malls throughout Richmond, this really was a market: the lower level contained produce stands, butchers, fishmongers, a Chinese bakery, a frozen dim sum place, as well as places like art shops and clothing retailers. The art store had many very good paintings, none of which I photographed because I feel weird taking pictures of paintings for sale. Upstairs was a large food court. Many places sold steam-table stuff--I avoided those and ended up having an okay (though freshly made) lunch at Tian Jing Northern Cuisine.

I grabbed a drink and drove to Granville Island to attempt again to pick up a bottle of sake for a friend, and to pick up some bagels for Di Yin and I for the following morning. (I now knew what type of sake he wanted.) I, however, was foiled--the store was closed. I did get the bagels and got some buffalo pepperoni while I was at the market. I also took a moment to stick my head in a glass art store and spotted a fish swimming in a bag of water. The fish was glass; the water was glass; the bag was glass. It's quite a feat getting all those types of glass fused together without cracking and while making it look realistic.

I headed back south through way too much traffic and construction to the Bloedel Floral Conservatory. Due to the dense, indoor, cozy nature of the domed conservatory and the sounds (and sight) of its birds, it was much more atmospheric than the botanical garden. (See the pictures.) Because it's smaller, I saw and read everything in an hour.

As the conservatory is in Queen Elizabeth Park, I decided to explore it as well. The park's vistas were pretty, though not like the vistas of water and skyscrapers one gets from False Creek or Stanley Park. The park is similar to the morning's botanical garden, just with additional open fields, as well as picnic areas and a small golf course. It would be a nice place to run. (Yes, Stanley park would be a nice, albeit different, place to run, too.)

I met Di Yin for dinner at Chen's Shanghai Kitchen. It was terrific! The dumplings and buns I had were uniformly better than anything I've had elsewhere, bay area or otherwise. In addition to my pictures, Di Yin took one at dinner (pictures #186).

Vancouver, et al.: Day 6: Sidney by the Sea and Heading Back to Richmond

These pictures provide a more vivid representation of the day than the brief text below. Di Yin also took pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (pictures #154). When you see a picture of fried tofu (picture #175), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

In the morning, I hung out on the University of Victoria's campus and in its library, relaxing, while Di Yin participated in her conference.

Once she was done, we headed north to Sidney by the Sea, a town near the ferry back to Vancouver. The town reminded me of Monterey, complete with fun little stores, artwork such as statues and murals, and, not surprisingly, the smell of the sea. By little stores, in this case I mean bookstores, including one specializing in historical maps and old stuff in general.

After wandering through town and eating a good lunch, we headed to the ferry. We were delayed leaving town because we were distracted by some seals. Luckily, we narrowly made the ferry we wanted--we were one of the last cars to get on the ferry. That's saying a lot, as these ferries are huge! There are three levels of cars, trucks, tour buses, RVS, ... Thus, given their tremendous weight, it's even more surprising that they travel at a nice clip. Incidentally, the ferries are smartly designed: sliding doors between the parking levels and the stairways seal the vehicle exhaust from the interior cabins.

Once in Richmond, we wandered around trying to choose where to eat, grabbing snacks on the way. Eventually (after too long) we settled on Delicious Cuisine (urbanspoon) and had a delightful meal of, as Di Yin says, hakka-style Taiwanese food. Di Yin talked with the waiter, a delightful old man and apparently the father of the chef. The waiter admits his son is demanding, even mean: a perfectionist. As an example, he'd taste dishes before they were to be delivered to customers and, if they weren't up to par, throw them away and do them again. Perfectionism isn't necessarily a bad trait for a chef.

Vancouver, et al.: Day 5: Vancouver Island

On this day, a Saturday, we did a wide assortment of activities in the rural areas of Vancouver Island. It was a beautiful sunny day, a great day to head into nature. The activities are well documented by these pictures. Di Yin also took photos. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (pictures #106). When you see a picture of a truck full of flowers (picture #150), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

After a brief excursion to UVic (where I easily found the bunnies), we experienced a beautiful drive north as the highway cut between rocks. On the way, we stopped twice for views. Incidentally, even though we only passed through the outskirt of Victoria, I was surprised to see many pedestrian bridges.

The first item on our itinerary was the Blue Grouse vineyard, the winery that produces the wine I drank last night and enjoyed. While I tasted wines and bought the bottle I wanted, Di Yin made friends with the winery's cat.

As we left the winery, we stopped by a field of wildflowers we saw on the way in and by a tunnel of trees we passed through. We decided, however, that some things look better from the car.

The next item on our plan-as-we-go itinerary was downtown Duncan, where we saw a sign for a market. Duncan's a small town. Probably due to the climate, the market didn't have many fresh vegetables and lacked fruit entirely; instead, we saw vendors selling jams, jellies, honey, fudge, and, interestingly, rhubarb pie. The only vegetables we spotted were peppers, tomatoes, and salad greens.

We moved on to Merridale Cidery. It was lunchtime, and we decided to eat al fresco at the restaurant, La Pommeraie Bistro, attached to the cidery. We had a terrific meal in a lovely setting.

After lunch, we picked up a map and walked the grounds, stopping to read the signs, finally finishing our tour in the distillery. We learned about the cidery's many types of apples, how they grow them organically, and how they process them into cider.

Finally, we returned to the main building to taste ciders, which was our main purpose in coming here. We got to sample seven of their eight ciders, all of which are 7-15% alcohol. I'm not going to post my tasting notes here because we received a pamphlet describing each cider in detail and I only wrote down my observations that weren't already printed on that sheet. As that sheet doesn't appear to be online, I'm not going to bother typing everything up. Nevertheless, I can reveal my final conclusion: as Merridale is a respected producer of English ciders, I guess I just don't like English apple ciders. The more ciders departed from the traditional normandie, the more they appealed to me. The only one I would go out of my way to drink again was the cyser, and it appealed to me because it reminded me of good quality honey wine. Not only did it taste like it, it felt silky and yeasty and rested on the back of my tongue like honey wine. I tried to buy a bottle, at which time we were surprised to observe that the ciders are sold in plastic bottles. Di Yin, however, recalled that the ciders required refrigeration and reasoned that it'd be impossible for me to keep something refrigerated for a day during this vacation, let alone all the way home. I made a note to check when I returned home how I could acquire some cyser. It turns out it's impossible to buy or ship outside of British Columbia. Ah, well. (I had high hopes, as I don't know where to get good quality honey wine--or anything that tastes like it--, and there's so much bad stuff out there.)

Next, after a bit of searching, came Cowichan Bay, a tiny town with a few artisanal vendors that my research suggested we visit.

Our final major stop was the town of Chemainus. Chemainus is a small town with a cute downtown, much nicer than Duncan's. My guidebook commends it for its Victorian homes and many murals. The Victorian houses, small and boring, weren't even worth driving past. The murals, however, were cool, and there were an astounding number of them. I ran around town trying to take pictures of every one. I must admit my attempt to be comprehensive was a bit crazy, but look at the pictures and you'll appreciate my efforts.

Over the course of the day, we picked up some food for a picnic. As we drove south back to the apartment where we were staying, we stopped by a grocery store to round out our selection, then stopped in a park at twilight and ate in the car.

Vancouver, et al.: Day 4: Travel to Vancouver Island and Sooke Harbour House

One nice thing about staying in someone's house instead of a hotel is that, at least in this case, it's in a residential part of town and therefore a nicer area in which to run. Thus, this morning we got up and went running.

Then we checked out, briefly stopped by a mall so I could buy a memory card for my brand new camera, tried to go to a particular dim sum joint which turned out to be closed, and ended up having brunch at #9 Restaurant. We'd eaten there before and I stand by my conclusion from last time: it really is a diner.

Speaking of pictures, the smattering of pictures I took this day are from my new camera. Di Yin took a few pictures too. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (pictures #85). When you see a picture of a painted rock doorstop (picture #105), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

After lunch, we drove aboard the ferry to Vancouver Island. On the way, we stopped by the quay adjacent to the ferry landing. There's a gelato stand inside with some artistically sculpted tins of gelato. (See Di Yin's pictures when I link to them.)

The day was sunny and pretty and thus the ferry ride, first passing through open water then dodging islands as we neared Vancouver Island, was pleasant. We had a picnic lunch on-board.

When we drove off the ferry, after passing many ugly, tacky billboards, we got to see Vancouver Island proper. It's very green, with lots of tall trees and tons of wildflowers. We checked in the home where we were staying for the next few nights. Then we went to the University of Victoria so Di Yin could check into her conference, and I wrote in my notes beneath "very green" that "UVic even more so." When she returned, she told me stories about the bunnies on campus and showed me some great pictures. I hadn't seen any bunnies on campus, but I went looking for them the next day and didn't have to look far to get some pictures of my own.

Finally, we drove to our dinner destination. We missed the final turn into the restaurant/hotel and ended up at a very nice park on the water. As with all the rest of the day's commentary, refer to the pictures.

For dinner, I took Di Yin to Sooke Harbour House, a famous restaurant that emphasizes fresh, local, sustainable ingredients. They grow many of their own herbs in their garden. The setting was stunning, and, although the first few dishes didn't stand out, the meal got better as it went along and ended fairly well overall.

My dessert, a huge chocolate and cream sculpture, combined with the chocolate after-dinner treats was enough chocolate to keep me awake the whole ride home. Indeed, it was too much chocolate; even the next morning, I simply didn't want to think about eating chocolate for at least a week.

On the ride home, we passed many hitchhikers. I guess that's one way teenagers get into town (Victoria, the only reasonably large town anywhere nearby) for a night out.

Vancouver, et al.: Day 3: Stanley Park, Museums, and Food

I took a smattering of pictures this day. They accompany the narrative, but there's a lot that happened that I didn't photograph. Di Yin took more pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (pictures #54). When you see a picture of Di Yin at the Museum of Anthropology (picture #73), you're done with the pictures she took while I was with her. (She and I split up for part of the day.)

In the morning, we brought to Stanley Park some food we'd bought at Granville Island, had breakfast, and explored the park. Because we'd both been there before, we decided to go off the beaten perimeter path and ended up walking by Beaver Lake, in the process spotting many types of flora and fauna:

  • birds: crows, ducks (both adults and babies), mandarin ducks, a black bird with a large stripe on its wings that was only visible when it was flying, herons, robins, and seagulls.
  • rodents: black squirrels, and regular baby squirrels.
  • plants: daisies (including one with a violet fringe), roses, and berries (orange/tan--we couldn't figure out what these were).
After a brief lunchtime dessert snack, we left the park and I grabbed a quick, poor lunch at Connie's Cook House on 4th Avenue in Vancouver's neighborhood called Kitsilano. Then, I dropped Di Yin off at UBC's Museum of Anthropology (which I'd already seen) while I headed downtown to the Police Museum.

The Police Museum is by the main police station in an appropriately seedy part of town near Gastown and Chinatown. On the way there, I passed a few shelters, a detox facility, the salvation army, and a courthouse.

The museum is small, taking me only fourty minutes (yes, I intentionally spell it that way) to explore at a slow pace. Although the science/forensics exhibits didn't have anything I didn't already know, there were a few exhibits I kind of liked (see the pictures). I also liked one t-shirt they sold in the gift shop: "Cops: The World's Largest Street Gang."

Next, I drove over to the Vancouver Art Gallery. It's like a museum with no permanent exhibit. I skipped it on my last trip because I didn't like the descriptions of any of its then-current exhibits. This year one exhibit sounded interesting enough, KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art, that it enticed me to pay the high entrance fee to explore the gallery. The gallery, housed in a former courthouse, has a nice interior and central dome.

I liked the exhibit I came for. It was a comprehensive look at comics, anime, manga, cartoons, and video games, and how these media evolved over time. As I explored, I built a list of comics, cartoons, and anime that I should read/watch.

In the comics section, I found interesting the display about how comics can be used as a revealing personal essay. Examples included Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary by Justin Green and One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry. This section also had some great New Yorker covers.

The anime section had some great discussions on themes in groundbreaking anime (e.g., Patlabor 2, Paprika -- these immediately went on my list of movies to watch).

In the cartoon section, I liked the layout showing the process of making a computer-animated film: focus control, camera placement, color selection, etc. They used Over The Hedge as the example. They also had some Wallace & Gromit sketches, using that film and television episodes as examples as well.

The video game section was especially extravagant, with many screens, projectors, televisions, and video game systems that were actually available to play. I thought it was particularly interesting to read about what games the curators thought were groundbreaking and why. They chose Pac-Man, Civilization, Super Mario World, The Sims, The Legend of Zelda (Wind Walker), Grand Theft Auto, Quake, and Spore (not yet released). Most of these I've played, and agree with their arguments regarding their importance.

The special exhibit also had minor displays that entertained me: cosplayers (people who dress up as anime/manga/etc. characters), and onomatopoeia (e.g., how comics use words like BLAM, SHTOOM, VISHH that sounds like what they're supposed to mean).

Finally, somewhere in this exhibit, I saw a quote which amused me greatly. It reflects, at an intellectual level, the frustration I feel with museums (including this gallery) which prohibit photography:
The museum can only confirm the primacy of its images when it denies the legitimacy of all other images.

I also visited the gallery's other exhibits.
  • Zhang Huan has coordinated some strange events. For instance, he brought some (naked) people to the top of a mountain, had them lay in a mound, and claimed he raised the height of the mountain, at least temporarily. He also paid many immigrants to stand in a pool, enough to significantly raise of level of water. (I forget what he claimed it signified.) Furthermore, he's photographed himself wearing a bloody pig's ribcage, and he's built things out of ash.
  • Rebecca Belmore makes experimental work that's just not for me (even more not for me in general than Huan's).
  • Canadian Women Modernists: The Dialogue with Emily Carr reminded me that "modernists" does not mean modern art. This exhibit basically showed Emily Carr and other female Canadian artists who painted in a wide variety of modern styles including pointillism and impressionism. (In this context, modernism seems to be anything that's not strictly representational.)
After independently browsing museums, Di Yin and I met up and headed to Guu in Gastown. Though it took us awhile to find it (during which time Di Yin took two pictures: 1, 2), once we did, we had a good meal.

Vancouver, et al.: Day 2: Granville Island and More

Given that both Di Yin and I are huge fans of Granville Island, it's no surprise we spent much of the day there and it dominates the day's photos. Di Yin also took pictures. The latter link goes to her first picture from this day (picture #26). When you see a picture of the insde of Agros Cafe (picture #53), you're done with her pictures for the day.

To start the day, we grabbed for breakfast a light snack at a local Asian mall and food court (Parker Place in Richmond). Then we caught a bus to Granville Island to browse the countless shops and markets. We mostly spent our time in the food market, assembling a complex and tasty lunch. Granville Island is as cool as I remembered. Incidentally, on the north end of the island, I spotted countless residential towers--recall that Vancouver has many modern skyscraper apartment buildings--overlooking the market and was jealous of all the people living a short walk/boat ride away.

On a friend's request, I visited a sake producer to pick up a bottle for him. However, they were out of what I thought he wanted--the premium blue label (Junmai Nama Nigori)--so I didn't buy him anything. While there, I tried the red label sake (Junmai Nama); its taste changed over time and ended with an unpleasant vodka-like finish. While I tasted, the woman at the counter complained about the number of licenses they needed to open the distillery on the island and provide tastings to customers. They have a stack of licenses framed on the wall.

I spent some of the afternoon browsing the Model Train and Ships Museum, a museum that I was sad I didn't have time to visit during my previous trip to Vancouver. It was decent, with one remarkably large model train layout, but nowhere near as impressive as my memory of the massive model train setup I saw years ago in Victoria.

After I went to the museum, Di Yin and I met up again, sat and snacked in a cafe for a while, then decided to go downtown to kill some time before dinner. We walked across the bridge to Vancouver proper and found a cool Korean mall with a large Korean grocery store (H-Mart). From there, we headed west down Robson through downtown's main shopping street. Finally, we returned along Granville Street, walking past clubs, bars, xxx places, and joints selling food for drunk people. Granville Street had more beggars than Robson Street.

As we headed back to a bus stop, we peeked inside a restaurant advertising "Hedonistic Nocturnal Feasting" and "Foodgasms til 1:30am."

Once back where we parked our rental car in Richmond, we went to Seto, a reasonably good Japanese restaurant. The decor was unusual for a Japanese restaurant (at least judging by the states), having many secluded booths with high walls.

We intentionally ate a small dinner so we could head to No 9 Restaurant, a brightly-lit, 24-hour Chinese diner that Di Yin likes. There, I had a reasonably good bowl of won ton soup.

Vancouver, et al.: Day 1: Traveling and Pike Place Market

Getting to my flight to Seattle was confusing. Though Di Yin and I took the bus I always take straight to the airport, we had trouble finding my flight. Apparently my domestic Virgin America flight was to depart from the international terminal! By the time we figured this out, it was too late for me to check our baggage; instead, Di Yin checked our bags for us. (She flew on a different flight which left slightly later.)

This was the first time I flew Virgin America. I enjoyed watching their safety announcement, done in the form of a wry cartoon. The flight itself was comfortable: the seats were leather; we each had a row to ourselves; every seat had a personal video screen.

Once Di Yin and I landed in Seattle and picked up our luggage and rental car, we drove to Pike Place Market. Seattle was overcast. On the way to the market, we got views of downtown. Also, we passed a harbor with many cranes that reminded me of hobby-horses and a literally countless number of shipping containers.

Once in Pike Place, I started taking pictures. Di Yin did too. The latter link goes to her first picture from this trip. When you see a picture of Di Yin with Hainanese chicken (picture #26), you're done with her pictures for the day. I'll link to the next day's pictures in the following post.

Pike Place itself was pretty impressive and similar to, though much larger than, I remembered. I like the plaques with old pictures of the market. I'd forgotten there were many additional stores underground. Admittedly, most of them sold clothing, or non-artisan and non-food products, so they interested me less than the part above ground. Incidentally, the area where we parked off a highway near the waterfront wasn't pleasant, but Pike Place is fairly insulated from the highway.

The fish-throwing stand was still there, exactly as I remembered. I spotted a variety of other neat items for sale at the market such as unusual vegetables like morel mushrooms and rhubarb. I also tried a variety of very good balsamic vinegars and vinegar-and-oil mixes from a place in Napa. Although I didn't buy any, partially because Di Yin thought the vinegars were too sweet and partially because I didn't want to buy a bottle of already mixed olive oil and vinegar, it got me in the mood to try more vinegars.

Done with Pike Place, we drove north on highway 5, heading to Canada. Highway 5 was often beautiful, driving between massive walls of pine trees. Because the area was so beautiful, we said, "we should find somewhere to stop and enjoy the sights." After the next bend in the road, we saw a sign for the Lake Padden recreation area and exited. It was nice. We walked around a bit. (See the pictures.)

Given the vast acres of forest we passed, I'm not sure what I think about the timber logging camps we saw at times on the drive.

The sun came out like blazes when we were a mile from the Canadian border. :) How's that for symbolism?

Once in Canada, we checked into our hotel, which was a traditional bed and breakfast (without breakfast). Located in a residential neighborhood, we stayed in a family's house (in their guest room) and paid in cash. Throughout the trip we always stayed in places like this. Not only was it cheaper than a regular hotel, we also had the added privilege of being able to use the fridge and utensils, handy for preparing for picnics.

We then had a pretty good dinner in Richmond at Top Shanghai Cuisine Restaurant, a restaurant I never heard mentioned during my previous reading about Vancouver. We were hungry.

Vancouver, Richmond, Seattle, and Vancouver Island

A friend of mine, Di Yin, was to present at a conference in Victoria. Always looking for an excuse for a trip, I joined her for the excursion, which lasted from June 10, 2008, to June 17, 2008. We mainly spent time in four places:

  • Vancouver. I still really like Vancouver and think it's a well designed city. I entirely agree with my previous impressions (second paragraph). While in Vancouver, I took the opportunity to see a few of the places I didn't see during my last trip, and returned to some places I really liked, such as the Granville Island market.
  • Richmond (the suburb just south of Vancouver). I ate a ton of great Chinese food! I'm told and believe that Richmond has the highest density of good Chinese restaurants of anywhere in the world. (Yes, a greater density than even cities in China! Richmond's populated by people who had the money and resources to leave China, meaning the standard of living is much higher than China's. Thus, Richmond doesn't have all the eateries China has that are just there to provide calories to the poor.) We stayed in Richmond for much of the trip.
  • Vancouver Island (which includes Victoria). We spent two days there, allowing me to briefly explore beautiful nature, eat very fresh fish, and observe the lack of non-white people. Di Yin remarked that she likes Vancouver Island more than Vancouver. Regardless, as I didn't see downtown Victoria, Vancouver Island deserves another trip.
  • Seattle. We visited Seattle briefly at each end of the trip, reminding me how cool Pike Place Market is.
Incidentally, while in Canada we noticed a large number of Boston Pizza restaurants, a chain which apparently has no connection to Boston. They chose the name because Boston is "big league." (And yes, the chain does serve pizza.)

Di Yin also took pictures during this trip.

Interesting Articles: January-March 2008

First, let me say that I'm no longer subscribed to Science News, nor do I have the time to read articles online. Thus, I'm not going to post any more Science News articles here. Yes, I know this was my bread-and-butter (along with On The Media) for many of these "interesting articles" posts. You're on your own to hear about scientific advances.

Media & Journalism:
* Bugging Out (WNYC's On The Media via NPR) or Hmm. Tiny, Evil -- And Everywhere? (Washington Post). A new version of "if it bleeds, it leads"? Or, how alarmist journalism is as hard to kill as urban myths.
* Prank Calling (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). Alan Abel serves as a good reminder of how not everything you hear on the news is true. I'm going to try to track down the associated movie.

Design, Politics & Culture:
* Character Matters (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). An interesting article about the typefaces various campaigns use for their political logos. It resonated with me because I saw a movie recently that talked about the importance of typefaces, especially Helvetica.

Technology & Culture:
* Search Terms (WNYC's On The Media via NPR). How do you think about the contents of your hard drive?

Sociology & Culture:
* We don't hang out with our coworkers (American Public Media's Marketplace). The workplace sees the bowling alone effect. (My first thought was, "vacation with coworkers? Crazy." Then I realized I'd done it.)

Crime & Statistics:
* Immigration Has Little To Do With California Crime (Public Policy Institute of California). I'd like to do statistical analysis like that in this policy-influencing study.

And, although it's not an article, here's a cool flash mob event: Time stops at Grand Central.


On July 3, 2008, Di Yin and I drove again to Carmel. I took a few pictures but did not upload them. Di Yin took more; here are her pictures. (You'll know you hit a different section of the album when you see both of us dressed up for a different activity. You're done with the Carmel pictures then.)

India: Oct 24: Flying Home

Security in Delhi on flights to America is amazingly tight. First I had to get my bag x-rayed and sealed, and get my carry-on tagged. Then I checked in (where I'm sure my bag was x-rayed again), went through immigration, and went through a line to x-ray carry-ons. Then I had to return, stressed, to immigration because the guy who stamped my tickets and forms had forgotten to stamp one particular place. Then, when boarding the plane, all bags were opened and thoroughly searched by another, independent security team. We were required to boot up electronic devices to show they all did what they were supposed to do.

At each of these steps, they checked passports. I must've had mine checked half a dozen times.

Dinner on the flight (American Airlines international) wasn't particularly good, though it's still better than the food one gets on domestic United flights.

Breakfast was good, and sizable. I enjoyed the omelette. The yogurt, though not identical to the one on my flight to India, was similarly bad, tasting sweetened and artificial.

These long flights were marginally easier to cope with than the ones to India. Carrying a six hundred page pulp novel which I bought in Jodhpur, I was a bit more prepared this time. Still, I finished it before the first leg ended. The last few hours, sick of reading, of listening to music or discussion on an iPod, and of watching television, were particularly boring.

In Chicago, I landed, passed quietly through customs, browsed a bookstore briefly, drank water out of a water fountain (quite a change!), and boarded my connection.

Relatively soon I was back in the bay area and safely at home. I was happy to take a long, hot shower.