Archive for September, 2008

san francisco: part 2

September 16, 2008

Well, “San Francisco” is a slightly inaccurate title, being that I’ve been in the south bay / san jose area the last few days (Saratoga to be exact), staying at my cousin’s place. He has a wonderful family, with two incredibly cute daughters, aged 3 and 4. They are quite a handful, but that comes with the territory. I visited the Stanford University campus, which was mostly unimpressive, except for the wonderful Memorial Church, which was a very peaceful place to meditate. I was able to sample some wonderful Korean and Japanese cuisine (on separate occasions), including dishes like Raw Beef, Sashimi Salad, and Fried Shrimp Stuffed Shitake Mushrooms. All delicious. Also went with his family on the Roaring Camp Railroads from Felton to Santa Cruz, and back. This train ride was on one of those old fashioned locomotives, winding through grandiose redwood forests. We had an hour to explore the wonderful Santa Cruz Boardwalk, where I tried French Fried Artichoke Hearts for the first time. Overall, the trip certainly reaffirmed my admiration for the city. Papa Beards Cream Puffs was also great.

Roaring Camp Railroads

Xuening also came down this side of town to hang out for a few days. We explored the night life of Santana Row, which is like The Domain (yes, another clone), except this one was higher class, had free valet every day, Wi-Fi, bars, clubs, and cafés. At Cocola Café, I tried a delicious Chocolate Brioche. It was also right next to the Valley Fair Mall, which was mostly boring. We also explored Old Town Los Gatos, which was similar to a more chill Rodeo Drive, and Cupertino Vilage, an asian market center where we had soup dumplings. I was also invited to Xuening’s parents’ place, and treated to a wonderful Northeastern Chinese feast. My favorite dish was some ground meet sandwiched by fried eggplants. Yum.

Well, that is pretty much the end of my road trip. I will be flying out to China tomorrow for a one month trip, with a one night stopover in Seoul, Korea. China stops include Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Suzhou, and Shanghai. I’ll finally be able to see my parents (after not having seem them in 4 years), as they are vacationing there too. My internet access will probably be spotty, but hopefully I can continue to update this blog and my flickr account as well…

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san francisco: part 1

September 11, 2008

Saturday: Berkeley
After many years, I was finally able to meet up with Xuening. We both agreed that neither of us have changed a bit. I was given the grand tour of the Berkeley campus, which was hilly, filled with trees, and overall not bad. I learned that this was the original University of California, hence the lack of the Berkeley name in many things from signs to jerseys. Dinner was at Cancún, and included both Fish and Prawn Quesadillas. I highly suggest the Prawn ones. Muy bueno. Later that night, we went to the Emeryville shopping center, which was very similar to The Domain over at Austin. I also learned the sad fact that there is no such thing as free parking in the bay area.

@ Golden Gate Bridge

Sunday: San Francisco
Because of the previously mentioned lesson, we decided that BART was the best way to go into the city. Overall, at least in my opinion, a very clean and pleasant public system to use. Brunch was at Blue Bottle Café, which was hidden away in the middle of nowhere, with no sign stating its existence, except for a small logo of a blue bottle. This place was packed, and I guess became popular through word of mouth. They made their coffee using beakers, siphons, and all sorts of alchemy related equipment. Pretty unique, but the highlight for me was the food. Poached eggs on incredibly thick toast was a match made in heaven. Fruit and syrup filling up cavernous waffle patterns fulfilled the sweet tooth. At the café, I saw the most amazing Obama t-shirt ever, and I must get it one day. We rented bikes from Blazing Saddles, which was $32 for the whole day. We were given amazing bikes made by Marin, which had ball crushing braking power, and instantaneous gear shifting bliss. These were ~$600 bikes, and the quality was obvious. Xuening and I attacked the hills of San Francisco and the fierce winds of the Golden Gate Bridge with aplomb, witnessed (with suspicion) Hawaiian ladies pry perfectly round pearls straight from the oyster at Pier 39, hated the fact that the Palace of Fine Arts was under construction, snacked at Taco Bell (where I tried the new Volcano Taco), realized that Lombard Street was impossible to photograph, watched break dancers perform at Fisherman’s Wharf, and ate Taiwanese style Popcorn Chicken while strolling the streets of Chinatown. After covering about 25 miles, I knew I was going to feel it in the morning.

@ V. Sattui Winery

Monday: Napa Valley
Brunch was at Crepes-a-Go-Go, which is at Berkeley. Savory: Salmon (I think), Sweet: Nutella & Fruits. I guess the word “savory” is used in the restaurant industry to describe salty, or the antithesis of sweet, since I saw this a few times already. It was time to head out to Napa Valley wine tasting tour so we could recreate the scenes of “Sideways,” just kidding. Clos Du Val was a small winery, with amazing and personal service. I learned all sorts of things about wine that I never knew, and got to try everything from cheap wine to $100 wines. I’m still a sucker for the fruitier wines, and I’ve also discovered that wine that has been left open for a day tastes much better. The next winery stop was the complete opposite, a much bigger and much more tourist oriented place called V. Sattui. We were able to take a tour at this one, to see the whole wine making process, and also to taste some more wine at the end. What were my favorites? Riesling (crisp), Madeira (brandy fortified!), and Muscat (rosé). We had some smoked salmon and Babybel cheese to complement. Later that night we went to Tilden Park to hit some golf balls at the range. My driver shots are still fading, and my 6-iron shots are still inconsistent. Late night dinner was at Top Dog, which has amazing hot dogs made with unique sausage ingredients, such as apple bits, veal, and eggs.

Point Reyes Lighthouse

Tuesday: Point Reyes
Brunch was at Bette’s Oceanview Diner, which was beyond amazing, and located at Berkeley as well. X and I shared the Apple Brandy Soufflé Pancake and the Lox Scramble (which included smoked salmon mixed with scrambled eggs). This being the day that Apple announced the new 4G iPod Nano and the new 2G iPod Touch, we decided to drop by the Apple Store to see if they had them on display. Not yet, and I’m seriously considering getting either the 16GB Nano or the 8GB Touch. Point Reyes was quite a drive away, and the scenery was mostly foggy, but the curvy roads and the long talks in the car made it all worthwhile. I’d say that being up there overlooking the ocean and the beaches was a feeling of unlimited power that you can’t get anywhere else. Dinner was at Brazil Café, which to me was average.

cambria to san francisco

September 7, 2008

Highway 1 @ Big Sur

Big Sur. Carmel. Santa Cruz.

That was breathtaking.

Distance: 237.6 miles
Average Speed: 47.6 mph
Moving Time: 4 hours 59 minutes
Total Time: 7 hours 23 minutes
Average Mileage: 25.0 mpg

road trip mix

September 7, 2008

Best road trip mix, ever. (For me, at least)

01. Final Fantasy X – Tidus & Yuna (Sky Theme)
02. Dishwalla – Angels or Devils
03. Goo Goo Dolls – Name
04. Oasis – Don’t Look Back in Anger
05. Mariah Carey – I Don’t Wanna Cry
06. Jackson Browne – Sky Blue & Black
07. Final Fantasy X – To Zanarkand
08. Tony Rich Project – Nobody Knows
09. Eric Clapton – Wonderful Tonight
10. Eva Cassidy – Time After Time
11. Collective Soul – Run
12. Rachmaninoff – Rhapsody on a Theme by Paganini
13. Goo Goo Dolls – Iris
14. Puff Daddy – I’ll Be Missing You
15. Mariah Carey – Without You
16. Oasis – Wonderwall
17. Tonic – You Wanted More
18. Jessica Simpson – Take My Breath Away

the day begins

September 6, 2008

Moonstone Beach @ Cambria

it’s dark,
it’s six.
i groggily get myself out of bed,
quickly snack on a cookie,
and wash it down.

i can hear waves crashing,
i can’t see anything,
i know it’s near,
through the fog.
the sound of my feet pounding on wood,
in sync with my heart.

the seagulls are awake, why aren’t you?
wake up!
take off the sweater, kick it into gear.

slowly, waves peek through the fog,
clashing with the smells of earthy tones.
light, ever so subtly, ebbs and flows,
… revealing.

the path winds, and climbs,
but it’s easy now to weave.
no music is needed,
the ocean provides its own soundtrack.

the day begins.

los angeles to cambria

September 6, 2008

The Galley & Morro Rock @ Morro Bay

Heading out of Los Angeles was a pain. I hit some heavy traffic on the 101, and immediately kept myself company by remembering that phrase “Driving down the 101, California here we come” from Phantom Planet’s song. It was much better when I finally got to the Pacific Coast Highway. I could smell the beach, and see acres of farmlands along the way. I got a text message from my dad while I was driving, saying he wished he could take this portion of the trip with me. It saddened me a bit, and I hope some day in the future, it can be a possibility. I stopped for a bit at Pismo Beach to take in the view of pelicans, right next to these clay tennis courts. I got into a conversation with an elderly man about the area, and about tennis. Next up was San Luis Obispo, which was home of the Bubble Gum Alley, which is, you guessed it, an alley covered with bubble gum contributions from people all over the world. Overall, I really like this little town, and could easily spend a day shopping in all the quirky little shops on Higuera Street and around there. I stopped at Morro Bay next, official home of Morro Rock. This was a picturesque bay town exactly as you would see in the movies, or in a high end luxury car commercial. Very classy, very quaint, and with the prevalent fog, very perfect. I just love all these little coastal towns.

Neptune Pool @ Hearst Castle

The main attraction for me was, of course, Hearst Castle. Built by newspaper tycoon William Hearst, this is only one of his many estates, and was a palace where he wined and dined the rich and famous (i.e. Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, etc.) of the 1920’s . There are three guest houses, which are mansions by themselves, and a main “castle.” It’s situated on top of a mountain, right above and away from the fog. My favorite part was most definitely the Neptune Pool, which looks like something straight out of the Roman Empire. What bothered me were all the flies indoors, and I wondered to myself if Hearst had this problem too. The architecture is truly eclectic, taking cues from the great civilizations of the past from the Mediterranean, Egypt, Spain, Italy, and more. The ticket included an IMAX movie about William Hearst and his dream to build this castle. There was a phrase near the end of the film that really stuck with me, “Dreams are meant to be shared.” Essentially, by sharing dreams, they become eternal. Follow your heart, pursue your dreams, and in the process, do not just keep them to yourself.

Bridge Street Inn Hostel @ Cambria

Afterwards, I stayed in a hostel in Cambria called the Bridge Street Inn. It was just $27 for the stay, which got me a bunk bed. The atmosphere is very much like a “Bed & Breakfast”, with very nice people running the place, and a great group of people staying there as well. When I got there, they were playing Yahtzee, which I had never bothered to learn until now. Overall, a wonderful place, near the beach, in a charming little town, and I would not hesitate coming here again. Well, I’m writing from the hostel right now, actually, and I’m currently debating if I want to wake up extremely early for a jog on Moonstone Beach. We’ll see… This part of the trip up north did not have the legendary scenic routes of Highway 1, that comes later, so tomorrow is going to be an amazing day. Here’s hoping for no fog…

Distance: 249.3 miles
Average Speed: 54.0 mph
Moving Time: 4 hours 36 minutes
Total Time: 9 hours 9 minutes
Average Mileage: 26.6 mpg

los angeles: part 3

September 4, 2008

Frozen Banana @ Venice Beach

Venice Beach is photo heaven. There is every walk of life there, so much going on, and so much to do. Wanna play paddle tennis? Buy Jamaican Obama shirts? Eat chocolate dipped frozen bananas topped with almonds? How about go to a freak show? Or do you want to listen to one of the many demo CD’s being handed out by aspiring rappers? Oh, I see, you just want to go to the beach, well you can do that too. Well, I only did one of those (the banana, from Charley Temmel Ice Cream), and I also had Argentinean Empanadas. I regret not getting the corn filled one, so I guess I’ll just have to move here so I can try it. I kid. Of all the beaches, this is easily the best landscaping, with palm trees perfectly placed on small hills, and the exercise lanes curved just so.

@ Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory is situated near Mount Hollywood, and provides what is arguably the best view of the city, both day and night. Of course, being the city of smog, it’s probably best to wait until after some rain (good luck with that). When I got there, I saw a somewhat prominent man, who I could easily have mistaken for just a regular guy, except he had someone following his every step with an umbrella to shield him from the sun. It was none other than Ken Watanabe, of “The Last Samurai” fame. He was strolling the grounds, taking photos with a brand new as yet unreleased Canon 50D. I thought to myself, ah yes, being the man of influence that he is in Japan, he has the luxury to get items ahead of time like this (like John Mayer and his Blackberry Bold), and must be an avid photographer, since he has all these assistant photographers with him as well. It was only later that I realized he was there for a Canon print ad photo shoot, and that he was a celebrity spokesperson for Canon (particularly their 30/40/50D line). The other photographers were pros taking photos that probably looked like this:

Afterwards, I watched a show at the planetarium, which was a million times better than the one I watched in Houston. It was called “Centered in the Universe,” and the narrator had a perfect voice for the part, and the swelling music got me very emotional. Music always gets me, especially in movies. The scene doesn’t even have to be sad, and I’ll start tearing up inside. As was the case with this show talking about the stars, galaxies, and the universe. Not a sad topic at all, but I guess I just started thinking about how insignificant we really are, in terms of space, as well as time. We are just a species, living in a world, that’s part of a solar system, that’s part of a galaxy, that’s part of a galaxy cluster, that’s part of a universe, during a point in time, where the universe is still expanding from the big bang. What is the meaning, and purpose of it all? I wish we lived in a time where we could even begin to answer that, maybe with other beings with the same questions… I was also able to see Jupiter through one of the huge telescopes they had set up.

Cambodia Town @ Long Beach

I also took a trip down to Long Beach. This is essentially a whole other city in itself. They were filming an episode of CSI Miami on the beach (ironic), not far from the area that’s sectioned off for parasurfers (which looks insanely fun). The atmosphere was very chill, and this was to be expected, as I went on a weekday. I would love to compare all the beaches on equal ground, both weekends and on weekdays, but that will be a project for another time. Not far inland is a mile long strip dubbed Cambodia Town, filled with local businesses run by, and for Cambodian Americans. I asked the cashier at a grocery store for a suggested place to eat, and was directed to Sophy’s Thai & Cambodian Cuisine. I ordered, the Khmer Ginger Deluxe, which was pretty good. As I walked out, I noticed the obligatory celebrity in restaurant photo, and this time it was Matt Damon.

Cromwell Field @ USC

My latest destination was the University of Southern California (yes, the very same enemies of the 2006 National Championship Rose Bowl). I was actually accepted to this school for my undergraduate studies, but ultimately decided against going because of the cost. I slightly regret this, as I have fallen in love with the campus (as well as UCLA’s). It’s just that the campus of my alma matter (Texas Fight!) leaves much to be desired, meaning, it’s not in any way pretty. Never have I seen so many students riding around in beach cruiser bicycles, and skateboards. Even girls in their sandals and dresses were skateboarding. Oh, and they were filming an episode of Eli Stone on campus. I witnessed three major productions in a matter of 24 hours, whereas, I saw two in Austin, after 7 years of living there. L.A. is the entertainment industry, and I love it.

Interesting food I tried: Pizza with Anchovies. I hear about it all the time, as the grossest possible topping, and I never see it as an option. Well, I finally tried it. It was salty.

Places I still want to try: Pink’s, Pinkberry, & Pink Taco

hidden in-n-out burger menu

September 4, 2008

Animal Style Fries @ In-N-Out Burger

Remember how I mentioned in a previous post that the In-N-Out Burger menu had only four items, and it was very streamlined? So apparently, there is a hidden menu at In-N-Out Burger. Nick tipped me off on it, and you can look it up from people who have written about it online. It’s a menu for “those in the know,” and includes all sorts of variations, such as Animal Style Fries, which include cheese, onions, and “secret sauce,” or the Flying Dutchman, which is a burger without the bun, and wrapped in lettuce, or even the Neapolitan Shake, which is chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry swirled together. All these items are on the computer, and the cashier’s all know them, but it’s just not on the menu. That’s pretty cool if you ask me. I had me some Animal Style Fries… mmm, mmm… Oh, and the “secret sauce” is just Thousand Island dressing, but we don’t talk about that. :-X

los angeles: part 2

September 1, 2008

I was originally going to put all of the second half of my Los Angeles stay into one post. But I decided that I was going to forget a lot of things (and I think I already have) if I didn’t start posting now.

Central Garden @ The Getty Museum

Getty Museum
This relatively modern museum was filled with great scenery and architecture, but had mediocre exhibits. There were multiple viewpoints that gave a majestic view of the Los Angeles skyline, elaborately designed gardens and streams, and the epitome of modern architecture design. There was one exhibit that fascinated my however, which was “Bernini and the birth of Baroque portrait sculpture.” I never really gave much thought to chiseled statues and busts, until I really examined them up close. It’s really quite amazing how much detail and polish there is in each one of these creations, all from a slab of marble and stone. I can’t even begin to imagine the kind of work and pre-visualization needed for this.

Terrible Wax Figures

Hollywood
I parked my car in the Universal City Metro station, and took the Red Line subway to Hollywood & Highland. I love taking subways and public transportation (in the daytime at least, when you aren’t always looking over your shoulder hoping you don’t get mugged), and I especially love the rush of wind you feel in the tunnel about a minute before the subway train arrives. Right at the stop was a big shopping area, which connects into the Kodak Theater. I was in the plaza and somehow ended up being part of a small crowd being filmed for the show “Ten Years Younger” which airs on TLC. Maybe if you watch an episode, you’ll see me in the crowd that’s cheering on some lady who’s supposed to look ten years younger than before her makeover. Right next to Grauman’s Chinese Theater is a lot of construction, and apparently they are building a Madame Tussaud’s wax museum. I decided I would have to settle for the Hollywood Wax Museum, which was a sorry excuse for a wax museum. You know there’s a problem when you see a figure, and can’t recognize the actor/character. I mean, just look at the above photo of Jackie Chan. I also went across the street to the Hollywood Guiness Museum, which had a bunch of random facts and memorabilia related to the Guiness Book of World Records. I tried to get into the audience for the Jimmy Kimmel show being filmed at the El Capitan theater, but since I only had a standby ticket, I missed the cut by three people. I ended up finishing the day watching some great improv groups at the iO West Theater (Improv Olympics). The best group was easily King Ten. I laughed so hard I had tears and my stomach hurt. I haven’t laughed that much in a long time.

@ Solstice Canyon

Malibu and Santa Monica
I am not sure when the last time I went hiking was, but it was long enough that I don’t remember. Nick and I decided to go to Solstice Canyon over in Malibu to hike on something called the Rising Sun Trail. It was about 1.5 miles each way, on a dirt path, and a lot of fun. It certainly was rising most of the way, and the sun was certainly beating down on us the whole way. At the end of the trail was a little area with the ruins of a burned down house, and a small waterfall. Nick stayed at the bottom of the waterfall and started whittling away on a piece of wood we cut from a tree, while I decided to explore the terrain leading up the waterfall. This was very exhilarating and liberating, to have to stand in a certain area for a few minutes, analyze the terrain, and see how I should climb up. Then I had to muster up the courage to overcome whatever obstacle there was, and then tackle the very next section. Each section of the waterfall had little pools, so it was nice to rest before I moved on. The higher I got, the harder the terrain was to traverse. I loved this experience, it was a test of both logic and physical fitness. After our hiking trip, we tried to high tail it over to Santa Monica to rent bikes, but we were too late. We explored the 3rd Street Promenade there instead, which was basically a large shopping strip filled with tourists and street performers. It was a pretty nice atmosphere, and I’m pretty sure I want to live in the Santa Monica area or the South Bay area if I move to Los Angeles. Which leads me to…

@ Hermosa Beach

South Bay Beaches and Little Tokyo
This was an awesome day. Nick and I went to Manhattan Beach to rent bikes, and rode to Hermosa Beach, then Redondo Beach, and all the way back. It was about 3 miles each way. We took The Strand all the way while marveling at the amazing beachfront properties. There were only two bikes left at the rental place, so I was stuck with a hot pink mountain bike, which actually wasn’t so bad, being in California and all the loud colors everywhere. At Hermosa Beach, there was a music festival, and the streets were filled with arts, crafts, music, and photography booths. There was also a David Bowie cover band playing called “Space Oddity.” All the photography booths really made me feel inadequate in my skill, but also gave me more motivation to improve. I came across this really cool photographer named Robert Kawika Sheer who specializes in long exposure photographs with creative “spirit” shadows. The next stop was Redondo, which had marinas, beaches, and fishing piers. This place had the most tourists out of the three, and was filled with seafood restaurants and fishing enthusiasts. We wanted to try some strawberry topped funnel cakes and ice cream, but didn’t have the time to, because we needed to return the bikes at 6:45. We ended up eating ice cream at Manhattan Beach anyway, at a creamery right next to the bike rental shop. I had a scoop of Dulce de Leche, which was delicious. The day ended in Little Tokyo, which was… very little. I don’t know how else to describe it, other than a little part of Tokyo was put in Downtown L.A. :-P There were hipster style clothing stores, japanese import stores, and of course, sushi. We ate at Tenno Sushi, which I would rate as normal. Their tempura rolls were good.

Other Places I Ate: Mel’s Drive-In, Roscoe’s Chicken & Waffles, Carl’s Jr., Jamba Juice, Del Taco

I know, my travel blog has started to become just a recount of my activities, and has largely been devoid of personal insight and inspiration. I’ll have to work a little harder in the future in that department.