Japantown's Cherry Blossom Festival, plus Bonsai

On a brisk Sunday, April 20, 2008, I drove to the city for its annual Cherry Blossom festival. I've been to it twice in past (2006,2007), once forgetting my camera, and once remembering it but having dead batteries. As the festival has many sights worthy of photographing, this year I came prepared. I didn't want to spend another year talking about bonsai, ikebana, or paper doll exhibits without being able to provide pictures.

Indeed, I, excited by having a working camera, I took an overabundance of pictures at the festival.

I drove around for half an hour looking for parking before finally saying, "if I don't find parking within the next ten minutes, I'm going home." (I normally don't need to look for parking for so long. In fact, the only reason I looked so long is because I was on the phone and hence less annoyed at the lack of parking.) I found parking two minutes after giving myself a deadline! :)

I walked from my spot, about a mile from the festival, and headed straight for the food booths. It was lunchtime and I, getting to festival much later than planned, was hungry. I glanced through the food booths. It turns out I'd already tried in past years all the unusual Japanese dishes suitable for lunch, and I wasn't in the mood to eat any of them again right then. I did observe that the imagawa yaki (red bean pancake) and takoyaki (octopus pancake balls) (neither suitable for lunch) both had really long lines, and made a mental note to investigate them later. Instead, I grabbed some sushi rolls and watched some of the parade.

I then made my way to the hotel in hopes that the bonsai exhibit was there again this year. It was! And I had my camera! I took a ton of pictures (see link above) as I browsed, at the same time listening to and watching (in glances) as a bonsai master demonstrated how to care for and modify a miniature redwood.

At the end of the presentation, the bonsai club was going to run a raffle to give away some bonsai trees and some knickknacks that were on the display table. I figured I appreciated the bonsai exhibit so much each year that I should help support it and its cause, and so bought a raffle ticket right before the drawing. I bought just one. The guy collecting money asked, "only one?" and I said, "one is all you need." (I also thought, "I feel lucky." I thought it would be neat to win, though I wasn't really buying a ticket to win but rather to support the organization.)

I won! One ticket indeed was all I needed. The small elm tree I won, which some of the bonsai people there estimated at ten to fifteen years old, was one of the nicer prizes available.

I chatted with some of the exhibitors to get advice on what I should do with my bonsai (e.g., where to trim it and how to care for it), then walked back to my car. I didn't want to wander around the festival carrying a bonsai.

As I trotted back to my car, tree in hand, I pondered the implications. When I saw the bonsai exhibit two years ago, I was so inspired I was tempted to start growing my own bonsai. I knew my meticulousness and my patience would be great boons. However, I was scared of the commitment required by a hobby where plants are typically grown for several decades. I didn't want the responsibility. Now, of course, I have the responsibility, without an option of passing.

In addition, as I walked, I thought about who I knew that was trustworthy and dependable enough to watch the plant when I'm out of town.

After depositing the tree in my car I considered my next action. Given that the bonsai exhibit was my favorite exhibit at the festival in past years--and I just saw it this year--, was it worth another twenty-five minute walk back to the festival to see whatever else there was? I wasn't sure, but nevertheless decided to return. On the way back, I noticed the imagawa yaki and takoyaki lines hadn't shortened at all.

I'm glad I returned. Back in the hotel, I got to see the cool exhibits on paper dolls, origami, and Japanese swords. I took even more pictures. :)

At 5pm the exhibits closed, and I decided to get a snack, vowing to wait regardless of the length of the line. The takoyaki line was a lot shorter, but I'd tried them at this festival before and they didn't excite me, so I got in the imagawa yaki line. I wait and watched breakdancers. Forty minutes later, I had my food.

Eating and walking yet again back to my car, I tried a different route and discovered a park with a good view of the city: an opportunity to take more pictures.

And that was my day.

Notes to self, as transcribed from conversations with others about how to care for the bonsai: Cut off branches that grow toward the center. You want the plant to spread out, not make a dense inner mass. Openness makes everything more visible. You can make the tree branch differently by cutting old branches. You can control which direction the new branches grow by choosing which side of a leaf you cut on. Leaves alternate (right-left-right-left) on each branch; if you want a branch to grow left, cut just beyond a right left. In fact, trim often: things that grow entirely straight are boring.

Being an elm, my bonsai should get broad daylight and water everyday. It should also get a half-strength solution of Miracle Grow every week. (The soil it's in has no nutrients.)

Obviously, there's many more tips on the web about caring for bonsai.

Sadly, other than watering regularly, I haven't done much to my bonsai in the three weeks between the festival and posting this entry. Perhaps this weekend I'll get around to trimming it.


On Saturday, April 19, 2008, I went to my cousin's to have a seder with him and his family and a large number of his wife's relatives. It was fun. I hadn't been to one in a few years and I enjoyed it. That's all I'm writing about this event.

Desire A Spice Grinder? Here's How To Buy One

[I did most of this research in 2006. Nevertheless, I imagine my conclusions remain valid.]

Looking for a spice grinder is tough! Spice grinders are hard to find--they fit a narrow (yet general purpose) niche between coffee grinders and pepper mills. The best advice I found about choosing a spice grinder is a Cook's Illustrated article about Grinding Spices at Home. The short summary is that electric is the way to go and that the amount of heat it releases doesn't matter.

The most popular grinder seems to be one from Krups. Cook's Illustrated named it its gift ideas for 2005. Also, cooking for engineers endorsed it. Presumably he endorsed it because he got it due to the Cook's Illustrated review.

Since I only had one independent review endorsing Krups, I decided to do further research via Amazon. I looked up many brands and read many reviews. Here are my notes:

  • Krups - some models (203-42 & 203-70) are hard to clean. Other models (gx41000) may have an issue with static electricity, but that might not really be a problem.
  • Kitchenaid - model bcg1000 may be messy, though might not be bad.
  • Cuisinart - model DCG-12bc isn't a good grinder; it grinds neither to a consistent granularity nor grinds finely.
  • Delonghi - model (dcg39) died quickly.
  • Braun - models ksm2 and kmm30 seem fine.
  • Hamilton Beacn (sold at walmart) - some products have good reviews at amazon; some don't.
  • Mr Coffee (sold at target) - model ids77 seems good; some other models are hard to clean.
The conclusion I drew from all this research is to choose an electric spice grinder. Most electric grinders are probably fine, though Krups, Braun, and Kitchenaid seem a bit better than the others. These seem to have fewer and less consistent complaints than the other brands, and many of these complaints are older. i.e., the company likely improved whatever problems occurred.

I plan to go to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and pick whichever model they have of these three brands of grinders look good.

Result: I ended up buying a Krups Fast Touch Coffee and Spice Grinder. It seems to work reasonably enough, grinding fairly small quantities like a dozen peppercorns mixed with two slices of ginger. (I made chai tea.) It's hard to "pour" out such small quantities of spices, and even if it can grind smaller quantities than that, it probably wouldn't be possible to extract the powder. Also, I seem to have the same complaint as many reviewers of many grinders: my grinder is a bit hard to clean, though I'm not worried much about bacteria because I'm just using it for spices. (The base is connected to electronics and therefore can't be rinsed; cleaning thus requires scrubbing with a damp paper towel.)

Incidentally, while researching spice grinders, I found two good reviews on a very related product: pepper mills.Additional keywords: choose, choosing, select, selecting, review, reviews, buying tips, advice

Chilean Cultural Festival

On April 6, 2008, I drove to Golden Gate Park for the Chilean Cultural Festival. It was held in the same building by the edge of the park as last year's Arab Cultural Festival.

It was a small festival. I browsed, ate, listened to some music and watched some dancing (neither of which much appealed to me), wandered away to lay in the sun in the park, returned and ate a little more, all throughout snapping a few pictures.

There were few booths. Some sold groceries imported from Chile. I was most amused by one that sold liquid soap. What's wrong with the liquid soap one can buy in the states?

The only other comments I have about the festival are on the food; those comments are in the picture captions.

Interesting Articles: October 2007

* Shifty Talk: Probing the process of word evolution (Science News). The researchers smartly use statistical data to analyze and predict language evolution.
* Song Sung Blue: In brain, music and language overlap (Science News). Heard of linguistic priming? Well, there's also auditory priming of words using classical music. It's interesting to think about / test which pieces prime which words. (Note: this article was published in 2004. I only now found the note that I wanted to post it.)

Biology & Health:
* Good Buzz: Tiny vibrations may limit fat-cell formation (Science News). I always wondered when scientists would find something that has the effect of exercising yet doesn't actually require exercising. The source article, Adipogenesis is inhibited by brief, daily exposure to high-frequency, extremely low-magnitude mechanical signals (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences), is freely available online.
* They fertilized with what? (Science News). The abstract (or, indeed, the title) of the source article says it all: Use of human urine fertilizer in cultivation of cabbage (Brassica oleracea)—Impacts on chemical, microbial, and flavor quality (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry). Would such a cabbage be certified organic? ;) (Incidentally, some researchers did a similar study with cucumbers, with similar results.)

* The Price of a Four-Star Rating (The Wall Street Journal). An interesting though not surprising assessment of review web sites such as yelp and chowhound. If you're too lazy to read the article, or want more depth, there's an interview with the journalist in the sidebar. Also, there's another interview with the journalist in Site Proves Everyone's a Critic (NPR's The Bryant Park Project); this interview is a bit more casual and is more colorful/fun.

Mission Peak Hike

On Friday, March 28, 2008, everyone who works under the same manager at work took some of the day off to hike Mission Peak, get some exercise (5.6 miles, 2200 feet elevation gain), see the sun, take in some vistas, talk socially, discuss ideas, and bond. I took some pictures along the trail.

After the hike, we had a good lunch at Banana Leaf, a Malaysian restaurant in Milpitas. Sadly, I forgot to take pictures during this part of the outing.