Archive for the 'photography' Category

china: week 4-5: everything afterwards

November 12, 2008

The last couple weeks in China I spent partly by myself and partly with my Aunt. Everything can basically be divided into two cities. Don’t feel like writing too much, sorry:

Shanghai
tian zi fang (artist market and cafés). xujiahui. people’s square. people’s park. shanghai urban planning exhibition center. windows scoreboard bar. eating singapore style frog (tasty!). exploring taiwanese street food festival (yummy!). the bund & bund sightseeing tunnel (trippy!). sex museum. deep sea museum. bubba’s bbq (to watch red river rivalry. texas fight!). smt maglev (thrilling!) world financial center & park hyatt (sweet view!).

Bund Sightseeing Tunnel

View from World Financial Center

Chengdu
multiple hotels in the same building (split by a group of floors). congee hotpot. jin li street. tianfu ground. people’s park. restaurant hopping. rabbit head (amazingly tasty!). sichuan opera. pig tail (not as good as i thought). huan hua xi park. sichuan university.

@ People's Park

@ Huan Hua Xi Park

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china: week 2-3: the tour

November 11, 2008

After the first week in Beijing, my parents came into town bringing with them 75 people from Saudi, all part of the Dhahran Outing Group (D.O.G.). We embarked on an incredibly packed journey, city hopping to Beijing, Xi’an, Guilin, Suzhou, and Shanghai in 11 days. Being that there were two busloads of people, my dad was in charge of keeping Bus 1 organized and happy, and I was in charge of Bus 2. 

Day 1 – Beijing
I started the day people watching from a restaurant window all afternoon with Anna. Later on, I met my parents and the rest of the tour group at their hotel. We had a welcome dinner at night @ the Sixth Club.

@ Forbidden City

Day 2 – Beijing
First real day of the tour greeted everyone with rain, rain, and more rain. It sure made Tinamen Square, the Forbidden City, and the Temple of Heaven not as enjoyable as it could have been. Also made for some gloomy photographs filled with gray skies and umbrellas. The afternoon was spent at a chinese pearl factory, and the night was capped off with a traditional Beijing Opera show, complete with english subtitles.

@ Great Wall of China

Day 3 – Beijing
The lack of rain lifted everyone’s spirits, especially since we were going to the Great Wall of China. Certainly breathtaking, but the time there was much too short. I’d love to go for a ‘run’ on the wall. Went to a jade factory, as well as the Sacred Way located at the Ming Tombs. Dinner was at Beijing’s largest (4 floors!) peking duck restaurant, and although I never really liked the dish, this was the one time that I really loved it. Absolutely delicious!

Day 4 – Beijing to Xi’an
The morning was spent in Beijing, at the Summer Palace, and also taking a dragon boat ride there. Everyone then hopped on a plane to fly to Xi’an, the old capital of China, and world famous for their variety of dumplings. Eating at a famous dumpling restaurant, we tried dumpling after dumpling. My favorites were the walnut, chicken, and miniature dumpling the size of your fingernail. Hung out at the hotel bar for darts and a live band afterwards.

Terra Cotta Warriors

Day 5 – Xi’an
The buffet breakfast at the Hyatt was wonderful. Had poached eggs on top of toast, and a great selection of cheeses. We then visited a temple with an old pagoda, claimed to be the birthplace/origin of Buddhism. The next stop was the main attraction of the city: the Terra Cotta Warriors. It was certainly very fascinating, and still in excavation mode. We were told an interesting story about a german guy who was so obsessed with these terra cotta warriors that he spent years studying how they looked, and decided to one day dress himself and paint himself up as one, and sneaked into the pits, posing as a terra cotta warrior himself. He was eventually found, and kicked out of the country forever. The night ended with a Tang Dynasty cultural show, which was beautiful, and had amazing food.

Day 6 – Xi’an to Guilin
Morning at the Province History Museum = boring. Time to leave Xi’an and fly to Guilin, dubbed as the most beautiful city/scenery in China. First stop was a grueling climb up what seemed like an endless amount of steps to the top of Fubo Hill, giving a decent view of the city and river below. Pedestrian Street was the highlight of the night, which was basically a street market selling random souvenirs or fake items.
 
Day 7 – Guilin
The whole day was basically spent on a peaceful river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo. The scenery was indeed beautiful, just like the chinese paintings you see of oddly shaped mountains that look like they belong underwater (because they once were). On the cruise, I also tried something called snake wine, which wasn’t very good. The Yangshuo street markets provided me with the one and only real purchase I made the whole trip: a pair of fake Ray Ban aviators for about $3.
 
@ Shanghai Airport

Day 8 – Guilin to Suzhou
The Reed Flute Caves are pretty much the same kind of natural caverns you find near Austin, but, with a lot of techno-wizardy involved. There were neon lights, bubbles, fog machines, and swelling music put in various locations, to make the whole experience more exciting. That’s great and all, but the best part of the day was when we arrived at our hotel in Suzhou: the Garden Hotel. This was easily the best hotel I’ve ever stayed at. Inside was the most elegant and minimalistic (is that a word?) modern architecture, present in the lobbies, restaurants and rooms. It all fused seamlessly to the traditional oriental garden designs of the outside and surrounding areas. The hotel also housed the secret underground offices of an almost successful assassin of Chairman Mao. That was certainly creepy, walking through claustrophobic hallways and rooms, and coming out on the other side of the compound.

@ Nanjing Road

Day 9 – Suzhou to Shanghai
In Suzhou, we went to yet another garden (Humble Administrator’s Garden), yet another factory (silk), and yet another hill/pagoda/temple (Tiger Hill & its leaning pagoda). Parts of Suzhou are just like Venice, with a complicated web/network of rivers going through. We went on a cruise through what could only be described as poor man’s Venice. The first night in Shanghai proved to be quite interesting as the taxi drivers would not pick me and my parents up because we did not look foreign enough and thus could not be cheated as easily. This was on National Day, and we were at Nanjing Road (which was freakin’ packed!), so they figured they could get better business elsewhere.

@ Old Town Shanghai

Day 10 – Shanghai
This full day in Shanghai consisted of first visiting old Shanghai at the Yuyuan gardens and the adjacent bazaar. The peaceful nature of the gardens was a complete juxtaposition to the insane ‘packed liked sardines’ feel of the bazaar outside. The afternoon was spent on a Huangpu river cruise, allowing us to see the modern day skyline of Pudong on the east, and Puxi on the west. At night, we attended a subpar acrobatics show at the Ritz Carlton that consisted of gymnasts, aerialists, hoop jumpers, chinese yoyo-ers, and various other random acts.
 
Day 11 – Shanghai
Spending the morning at the National Museum = boring again. But at night, we went to the Oriental Pearl Tower, which was at the time is the 3rd tallest building in Shanghai (soon to be 4th). This was the last day, and saddest day of all. I had enjoyed seeing my parents for the first time in four years, and I had also grown to really like meeting a lot of the people in the tour group. Thanks for a great time and for the great memories!

@ Forbidden City

china: week 1

November 10, 2008

Well, as you probably know, I was in China for about 5 weeks or so. My wordpress blog was blocked in China, however, and I was too lazy to implement a workaround. I did try to keep an offline blog for the purposes of posting it up after the trip, but after the first week, the schedule became a lot more hectic, and I just didn’t have the time to write anything. I’ll just post up the first few written blogs, and then see if I can write some stuff for the following days in a separate blog. Otherwise, I will just write a list of places I went to. I need to get this out of the way so I can get through this writer’s block and start blogging about other things. 

Day 1 – Seoul, South Korea
My mom, bless her heart, found a wonderful deal of about $775 for a round trip ticket to Beijing from San Francisco on Asiana Airlines, with a one night layover in Seoul, including a very nice stay in a hotel with dinner and breakfast. On my flight over there, I noticed that the bathrooms were always packed, with long lines, which is not what I’m used to seeing. Do asian people have smaller bladders? Who knows. I stayed at the Seoul Royal Hotel which was in the Meyong-dong area, where the hip and young people hang out (supposedly), with late night street markets lined with various fried korean snacks, fake purses, watches, sunglasses, and clothes. The whole night was pretty much ruined for me though, since I had an allergy breakdown and felt terrible. 

Day 2 – Beijing, China
On my flight to China, I had the surreal feeling of looking at the cabin in front of me and only seeing black hair. It was a sign of things to come. I arrived in Beijing and had my cousin Lamont’s girlfriend, Anna, pick me up from the airport, holding a sign that said “William Tung.” That’s probably a first for me. I had a few days in Beijing with my cousin before my parents were to arrive, so we tried to cover all the less touristy places that wouldn’t be covered with my parents. We had the obligatory peking duck for dinner, along with a delicious cold duck liver dish. 

@ Yashow Clothing Market

Day 3
The next morning, I got a haircut, which cost me 30 RMB, which is about $4.40. This gave me a 45 minute haircut from the head stylist, and 2 shampoo washes, and a hugely entertaining experience watching him cut my hair like it was his life’s masterpiece. He kept telling me my hair was dull, and I had too many white hair, and needed to get it colored. I passed on that, and overall, that’s quite an amazing deal. To get it all from a regular stylist would be 15 RMB, half the price. I also finally learned how to give my hair that matte look too. Later that day, me and Anna went to the Yashow Clothing Market, which was a tourist trap filled with fake items; anything you can think of. Most of which were of poor quality. I didn’t end up buying anything, maybe I’ve gotten too picky about the quality of fake items, or maybe they just weren’t as good as the ones from other places, like Thailand. At night, we met up with Lamont and his friend and ate at The Place, which had the second largest LED screen in the world, and had drinks right under it at CJW Bar. I had the Lychee Martini, which was gross. 

@ Sanlitun

Day 4
Sanlitun is a relatively newly cleaned up (for the Beijing Olympics crowd) area filled with bars, restaurants, and shopping. We pretty much spent the whole day here, first eating at Herbal Cafe for lunch (including yummy curry fish balls). Sanlitun is also home to the world’s largest Adidas store, spanning 5 floors that showcase their premier lines, like Y3, Stella McCartney, and even their joint Adidas/Diesel jeans. They also had fitness and reaction test stations which were quite fun as well. Dinner was at Sino Hot Taste, which I guess was spicy enough to trigger diarrhea for the next three days. I’m sure you wanted to know that. We went to have drinks at Bar Blu afterwards, on a patio terrace. Lesson learned: alcohol and an upset stomach don’t mesh well together. 

Day 5
Four words: Oriental Taipan Massage & Spa. For 118 RMB (~$17), you get 90 minutes of heaven. You are first presented with a menu, where you can order as much food or drinks as you’d like, as many times as you’d like. I had everything from pork buns, to curry beef, to carrot juice, to dumplings. You get to eat all this while getting your massage. First, you get a rub down on your back, neck, and shoulders, with your feet soaking in a tub of some kind of floral water, as a pre-warm up. You see, we ordered just the foot massage, so this felt like kind of a bonus for me. Afterwards, the masseuse proceeded to massage the hell out of every possible nook and cranny on your foot,. Places that you never even felt pain before were suddenly brought to your attention. Afterwards, a rubdown on your calves and thighs, and then a wipe down with scalding hot towel. 90 minutes of massage and all you can eat food: heaven. Dinner was Japanese buffet, where I had skewered chicken skins, chicken hearts, salmon skins, and of course, Sashimi. 

@ Hou Hai

Day 6
First stop was South Luogu Lane, which was lined with small shops in little Hutongs, which is the old chinese architectural style.  These 700 year old alleys and courtyards are fading fast, due to the modernization and constant construction of Beijing. A short walk west brought us to Hou Hai. This place is like a Chinese version of the San Antonio Riverwalk, lined with bars, restaurants, and shops, many of them proudly displaying large VISA signs to tell foreigners that their place is the place to conveniently spend your money. While walking along, I had skewered lamb and skewered caramelized fruits as snacks, the first of which was delicious, and the second, which was gross. Dinner, at S’Silk Road, was mostly good, and had Yunnan style food. My favorite dishes were probably the Goose Intestine stuffed with Egg Yolk, and the Banana/Egg/Milk Pancake Cookies.

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…

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

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

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.

san diego to los angeles

August 25, 2008

@ Manhattan Beach

Well, the trip back to L.A. was certainly shorter and quicker than last time. Right before I headed out of San Diego, I stopped by Mission Beach to check it out. It was quite similar to Hermosa, but for some reason I wasn’t feeling it as much. It was basically Hermosa, with more surfers, uglier houses, harder sand, and darker water. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a very nice beach, but I’ve seen better now. When I dropped into L.A., I took a quick tour of Farmer’s Market, which was filled with locally grown vegetables, fruits, and various other things. It was next to Nick’s improv class, which was right on Hollywood, and which was hugely entertaining. If I do decide to choose L.A. as my place to live, I will definitely have to try out some acting classes for fun. We both went to Manhattan Beach afterwards, which is a couple miles north of Hermosa. The sand was extremely soft, and the sun was warm, but not hot. It was perfect weather for just lying there and listening to the waves, as we contemplated and discussed life, and the origins of each grain of sand. The ocean was quite cold, and very refreshing, although a little saltier than most places. Nothing beats the feeling of lying on the beach on a cool sunny evening. The aquarium that was on the pier was already closed, and we didn’t find any bike rental places on this beach, so next time we’ll rent from Hermosa or Redondo, and bike through all three. Dinner was at an Italian place called Mama D’s, which was very cramped, and the food was very regular. It didn’t help that my board shorts and underwear were still damp, which made the whole experience a little uncomfortable. Anyhoo… here are the stats:

Distance: 138 miles
Average Speed: 56.9 mph
Moving Time: 2 hours 25 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 20 minutes
Average Mileage: 27.3 mpg

san diego

August 23, 2008

@ Festival of Sail

San Diego is certainly a pleasant place to be. Although being the place that’s infamous for year round 72º F weather, it was a little hotter than I expected. I stayed with Jim and Reta, who are family friends from back when I lived in Saudi. I call them “Uncle” Jim and “Auntie” Reta though, even though they are of no relation to me. They are completely vegetarian, so I was able to eat everything from mock duck to veggie wraps to hummus sandwiches. It’s not as bad as it seems, although I don’t think I could live my whole life as a vegetarian. Thursday, I met up with Keiwing, a friend from Texas who’s currently in the Navy and stationed in San Diego. We met up at the Festival of Sail by the San Diego Bay, which is a procession of 20 or so tall ships from all around the world, you know, the old kinds with the sails and the masts. We only went on one ship, and the inside seemed to be renovated with modern tiles, so I didn’t really get to see what an old ship would look like inside. Later, Keiwing gave me a tour of his Navy ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard, which is a LHD 6. Although not an aircraft carrier, the ship was still huge, and I could easily get lost in it. Dinner was at L&L Hawaiian BBQ, which was quite good in my opinion. We capped off the day going to the beach at Coronado. It was very calm, very relaxing, and there was a bunch of kids and adults decked out in their karate uniforms practicing their moves in the sand and the water. It was a pretty cool scene, especially with the sun setting in the background.

Hot Air Balloon @ Wild Animal Park

The next day, I met up with Keiwing again, and we went to the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park, which is a separate branch fro the famous zoo, and focuses more on a Safari-like experience. They had everything there from photo caravans, to hot air balloon rides. We just took the regular tram around. I think my favorite part was seeing the gorillas. I know I’ve seen them before, but it’s been a long time, and they’re not like what I remember. It’s probably because of all the movies and television I see that brainwash me to believe they’re very primitive, but gorillas are incredibly human-like. They’re movements are so smooth and… how do I say… normal? It’s almost as if they were just humans inside gorilla suits. There were two gorillas playing around, and slapping each other with towels, it was just like a scene from the locker room. Dinner was at Bucca di Beppo, which is labeled as an “Immigrant Italian Restaurant,” whatever that means. That’s just the beginning of the weirdness. When walking in, we were given a tour of the kitchen, and meeting the chef. There was even a table in the kitchen that people could eat at, as long as you call to reserve it. We were shown to our tables, and on the way, I saw a big family table that was already occupied, and had a 3d paper maché model of the Pope’s head in the middle. Now, I always wondered why pizza was only made with tomato sauces, and I vowed to one day invent/create a pizza that was based on alfredo sauce. Well they beat me to it, because we ordered the Pizza Angelo, which has alfredo sauce, chicken breast, roasted corn, mushrooms, and homemade potato chips. The weirdest combination, but very very good. I highly recommend a trip to this place, just for the quirkiness of it all.

Waves Crashing @ La Jolla Cove

My last day in San Diego, I went to the beach/cove at La Jolla with Jim and Reta. It was definitely a different type of scene, almost like a bay. Parts of it were rocky bluffs, with spots of beach along the way. We set up a tarp in a grassy area and had a picnic while we watched and listened to the waves crash against the rocks. A leisurely walk along the coast brought us to two interesting places. One was a little cove filled with people snorkeling. I unfortunately did not get to do that, but I will in the future in some place nicer, maybe Hawaii. The other place, was another little cove/beach, that apparently used to be called the “Children’s Pool.” Well, one winter, a bunch of seals decided to breed in this very spot, and made it their home. It became a seal colony, but many citizens of San Diego felt like this place belonged to the people. There was an ensuing war amongst animal protection rights people who felt the seals should be left alone, and people who felt that the seals should be moved. Well, it’s currently a public swimming area, and there are signs around the area stating that anyone can swim there. Right next to these signs are signs from animal protection organizations stating that people should not swim there, as it scares the seals away, and they have no place to rest. So it was interesting seeing this little place where seals and people were “swimming together.”

los angeles to san diego

August 21, 2008

@ Hermosa Beach

I took my time getting to San Diego, I stopped by or drove by as many beaches as I could along the southern part of Los Angeles. I hit Manhattan, Hermosa, Redondo, and Long Beach. Most of it was just a quick gloss-over, as I will be exploring them in depth when I return to L.A., however, from what I did see, I completely fell in love. Just imagine the feelings I had from Santa Monica Pier the previous day, and multiply it by 10. As nice as Santa Monica was, it didn’t have the small beach town feel that this area had. It reminds me of Ras Tanura back in Saudi, except a little nicer, a little busier, and much nicer houses. Oh, the houses. I usually do not have much of a desire to be rich or famous, but after strolling the streets and seeing a mix of beautiful classic and ultra modern architecture, my heart absolutely ached for this lifestyle. I wanted so much to be able to run, bike, and rollerblade through the concrete paved boardwalk in Hermosa Beach, and then go back to my super nice home and relax, open up the balcony, let the ocean breeze come in. I can’t imagine what I’d feel like if I visited the beaches of Orange County, like Huntington, Newport, and Laguna Beach. I’d probably be depressed that I would never be able to get to that level. I hear the San Diego beaches are even nicer, so I can’t wait to see for myself. Here are the stats, my trip back to L.A. should be much quicker:

Distance: 158.4 miles
Average Speed: 45.1 mph
Moving Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 28 minutes
Average Mileage: 29.3 mpg

los angeles: part 1

August 21, 2008

Mulholland Drive

Sunday:
The first thing I did when I got to Los Angeles was to go to a BBQ at Sid’s (Nick’s bf). He’s subletting a cozy little apartment situated upon a hill in the Echo Park region. It was a good time, and good company, although we arrived late, so everyone had already eaten. Later that night, I took the obligatory tour of Hollywood, including the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Chinese Theater, Kodak Theater, etc. I realized that my feet and hands fit John Woo’s the most. Afterwards, we decided to to take some photos up on Mulholland Drive. We (Nick and I) stopped at a scenic overlook, and it was starting to get cold. I got jackets from the trunk of the car, and then later on realized that I had locked my keys in the trunk! What’s worse is that both my spare key and valet key were in the trunk as well. My convertible top was up too, so I couldn’t get into the car to open the trunk. That was most likely the dumbest thing I’ve ever done in my life, and I had to get a tow truck to tow it into a secure lot, and then to take it to the dealership in the morning. Luckily for us, we were in a wealthy side of town, or else it would have been a little scary.

In-N-Out Burger

Monday:
The next day I tried out the infamous In-N-Out Burger. The menu is quite simple, offering you I believe 3 choices of burger, (regular, cheese, and double). The burgers were just normal to me, but the fries I love. Maybe the freshly delivered, sliced and peeled potatoes really did make a difference, or maybe the marketing jargon got to me psychologically. The best way to describe it is that they have this spongy crisp. They of course have no competition against homestyle fries at a local burger joint, but they are probably the best fast food chain fries I’ve tried. I visited the UCLA campus as well, and let me tell you, I am in love. Whereas my alma matter (The University of Texas) was nice, the campus took a while to grow on me. The architecture just doesn’t inspire me and the landscaping is a little bland as well. However, UCLA is exactly the way I imagined college when I was in high school. Beautiful buildings, beautiful quads, and great weather. Reminds me of the University of Michigan, and although Ann Arbor is nice, I think L.A. just takes the cake in things to do. I went to Rodeo Drive for a short bit, and as nice it is, I just can’t afford any of the things there. There was, however, a Porsche Design store, which was kinda cool.

Sunset @ Santa Monica Pier

Tuesday:
I spent most of the next day in Santa Monica Pier. I took the long way through Sunset Blvd. and the Sunset Strip to get there. I didn’t get a star map, but I believe I drove by many famous celebrities homes and ex-homes. I’ll have to do that tour some other time. I just wanted to get to the beach, it was the only thing on my mind. When I finally got there, I felt like I was home. I love the beach so much, and it is one of the few places in the world where I feel like everything is alright. The pier had a small amusement section complete with roller coaster and ferris wheel, and they were showing a ‘drive-in’ movie (Akeelah and the Bee) preceded by a local spelling bee, where a kid could not spell “discuss.” There were the typical artists that you see everywhere engraving names onto grains of rice, drawing caricatures, pretending to be statues, etc. I watched the sunset and waited for Nick to get out of work and meet me. We ate dinner at Cha Cha Chicken, which was a Jamaican/Caribbean restaurant. I ordered the coconut chicken, and although their chicken was good, it was their sides that were to die for: the fried plantains were delicious and sweet, while the spicy cuban fries were sliced sweet potatoes with a slight kick. Mmmm… I’m craving some now just writing about it…. And that’s all I have to say about that.

las vegas

August 19, 2008

Eiffel Tower...

Getting into Vegas was quite bland, and incredibly hot. I think I saw it at about 110º F. The strip, however, is a different story. All I have to say is Las Vegas is a monster. There is definitely no other city like it. Everything is pure tourism, and pure gambling. There is nothing more, nothing less. I checked into the Excalibur and found out I was on Floor 8 and in Room 8. Yes, the lucky numbers were already taunting me from the moment I stepped into the hotel. After checking out part of the strip by myself, I picked up Nick (friend from college) from the airport later that evening. We had dinner at the Excalibur, and we stayed by the 2 cent slots to get free drinks and practically gave away our pennies in the process. Over the weekend, Nick played $5 minimum Blackjack, while I played Roulette. Rapid Roulette was the coolest. There was a roulette table in the middle, with a dealer spinning the ball, etc. However, instead of placing your bets on the roulette table, everyone has their own computer touch screen (I think each Rapid Roulette table holds about 15 or so players), and they make their bets on the screen. The minimum bet is $2.50. What was cool about this version that they let you know all the percentages. You could see how many times the ball landed on Red, Black, Odd and Even, so all the counting was done for you. They also showed which numbers were cold (how many turns went by without it being landed on), and which numbers were hot. I basically played the trends and doubled my money. I guess the lucky numbers were right, as I gambled about $10, and got $20 back. I lost $5 in slots though, which means I left Vegas $5 up! I know, I’m not much of a gambler. On Saturday, we had brunch at Monte Carlo, which took forever, because they were making my spinach and artichoke dip from scratch. Later that day we got Gelatos at the Bellagio. I got Pistachio on top of Chocolate in a waffle cone. This was an interesting experience: the lady accidentally left the paper liner from the previous cone inside my cone, and put the ice cream on top without noticing. When I finished my top scoop and got to the cone, I noticed that I was not able to eat my ice cream because of the paper lining in between my ice cream and the cone itself. I pointed this out to the lady, and asked if this was normal, and she looked at me like I was retarded, and asked me if I wanted a spoon. Later that day, we ate dinner at Wolfgang Puck Bar & Grill with Janina (friend from Cranbrook), which was located at MGM Grand. The food was quite good, but a little pricey for my taste. I wanted to take pictures and to witness the fountain show at the Bellagio at night, but the last showing was at midnight, and I arrived 5 minutes after. It’s a shame, because that was what I was looking forward to the most. It’s also a shame that there was no “$5 Footlong” at Subway, since all the 6″ subs were $6 or more. I ate fish tacos at Rubio’s instead.

williams to las vegas

August 19, 2008

Route 66

In terms of scenery, this trip wasn’t up to par as the last two. Most of the route is pretty barren. I took a little detour again and took the Historic Route 66. I don’t know much about the history of this road, except that it was one of the major highways going from the East to the West, and also that Sonic’s largest drink size is named after it. While driving through Route 66, there were parts of it so empty that I could really rip it and test out the speed of my car. I broke my previous personal record of fastest speed and reached 135 mph. However, as soon as I saw that mpg meter drop like flies, I started to cry internally and didn’t have the balls to stay up there that long, I think maximum 5 seconds or so. In the little town of Seligman was a bunch of Route 66 tourist spots and shops. I am quite sure this was the city that inspired the location in Pixar’s “Cars.” Would you believe that there was even tumbleweed passing by in front of my on the road? Right before I was heading into Nevada I saw a sign pointing to Lake Mojave so I took a slight detour through a winding road, all downhill, for about 2 or 3 miles. The Lake was nice, but incredibly hot at the same time. Next stop was the Hoover Dam, which was somewhat of a disappointment. It wasn’t as big or as beautiful as I had imagined, and they seriously charge you left and right for everything, from parking, to exhibits, to tours. One interesting tidbit: if you are leaning over the edge of the dam, there is a huge updraft, and if you pour a little bit of water out of your bottle over the edge, the water will literally float up in forms of little bubbles. If you toss a penny in front of you over the edge, it will float up and fly back behind you. Pretty cool effect, which I wished I caught on camera. Oh well, here are the trip stats:

Distance: 246.9 miles
Average Speed: 53.5 mph
Moving Time: 4 hours 36 minutes
Total Time: 6 hours 24 minutes
Average Mileage: 29.0 mpg

phoenix to grand canyon to williams

August 15, 2008

Mather Point @ Grand Canyon

Today was easily one of the best days of my life. I have a feeling I’m going to be saying that again when I drive the Pacific Coast Highway (CA-1), but for now, this is on the top of the list. Heading out of Phoenix, the scenery was beautiful (again). Each day the scenery gets more and more dramatic, making the first trip from Austin to El Paso seem absolutely lame. I realize that I enjoy being out on the road more, than exploring a city (at least for now). The adrenaline I get from driving up and down long swooping mountain roads and seeing large peaks and valleys all around me while my ears pop from all the altitude changes is hard to describe, but it’s up there as one of the best feelings you can get in life. You see a huge mountain ahead of you, and then you start focusing on the turns, and the next thing you know, you see this huge mountain in your rear view mirror, and you think to yourself, “Holy ****, did I seriously just cross that?!” Yea, that’s the feeling. Seeing a lot of blown tires on the road wasn’t comforting though. While I head west (well north today) and see the massive lands before me, I gain a lot of respect on the pioneers who braved these lands on wagons. Wagons! I have no idea how long it would take them (as I never finished the game Oregon Trail), but major props. It gets me into thinking about how we are on the brink of a new pioneering era, to the moon and to Mars. I’ve always hoped that I would be alive to see that come into fruition, and I still do. I left Phoenix in the morning, heading out to the Grand Canyon. But on the way, I made a detour through Sedona, as recommended by Bilal. Am I glad I made that decision. The city of Sedona is interesting, being that it’s built randomly through a small canyon. It’s like a hidden resort town in the middle of nowhere. The best part of it was the AZ-89 highway, which winds up and down on narrow roads through forests and cliffs. Driving this road top down while “obeying” the 35 mph speed limit feels exactly like a video game. Here’s a portion of the highway so you get the idea of what it was like:

It started to rain while I left Sedona, which sucked, cause I just washed the car. I finally did end up getting to the Grand Canyon, and paid the $25 fee to get in. One word: Massive. I mean, it’s well known the G.C. is humongous, and one look at the map will tell you this. You see photos and videos all the time. But none of these do it justice. You cannot begin to imagine how big this place is until you get there. That’s when you realize how insignificant you are compared to the sheer massiveness that is the Grand Canyon. G.C., I bow down to you. As the sun set on the horizon, strong winds suddenly blew through the canyon. It was almost as if the sun was holding the winds back, it was almost instantaneous. And the wind smelled like lotion you would find at Bath and Body Works. This was just a day trip for me, but mark my words, I am definitely coming back to make this a full blown vacation, exploring it by hiking, by boat, by helicopter, and camping. I am now in a Super 8 motel in Williams, an hour from the Canyon. An annoying thing happened on my way to Williams: I was filling up my gas at a station, and the pump must’ve been broken because it didn’t stop when my tank was full, and gas started pouring out of the tank and onto my car. I caught it 2 seconds after. Trip stats:

Distance: 299.4 miles
Average Speed: 50.3 mph
Moving Time: 5 hours 56 minutes
Total Time: 11 hours 57 minutes (so long b/c I was at the Canyon)
Average Mileage: 28.3 mpg

phoenix

August 14, 2008

@ Mill Avenue Bridge

I’m staying in North Phoenix with Bilal, my friend from high/boarding school (Cranbrook), near Glendale. One thing I can say about Phoenix: it’s huge. This particular neighborhood I’m staying at reminds me of the Aramco complexes in Saudi Arabia. In fact, they are practically identical. Driving down these streets makes me feel very nostalgic, and the only real difference between the two is that there are Cacti here. But the palm trees and architecture style and terrain is all the same. The first night I ate homemade Pakistani food courtesy of Bilal’s mom. Had it for brunch as well. Then I headed out to first check out Scottsdale Fashion Square, which is essentially a ritzy mall in the wealthy part of town. At this point I realized, after driving a long distance, that shopping in malls is boring. It’s the same everywhere you go, and sure, sometimes that hat store or that haircut place has a different name, but it gets old. I tried to find a polarizing filter though at the Ritz camera for the wide angle lens, but they didn’t have it in my size, oh well. I ended up sitting in the mall for maybe a half hour to an hour, just reflecting on life as all these rich wives with nothing better to do with their time walked past me with their newborns. It was slightly depressing because I think I just confused myself more. After this completely useless waypoint, I headed on over to the Arizona State University campus at Tempe. I believe they are the third largest in population, behind Ohio State and University of Texas. Don’t quote me on that though. Architecture-wise, the highlight for me was some auditorium designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, which was originally planned for Baghdad, but something didn’t go through. It certainly has some middle east influences on the design. Overall the campus was pretty nice, kind of reminded me a little bit of parts of the University of Michigan. I was a little hard for me to enjoy it though, in the ~105º F heat. I also got my car washed to prevent all the bugs I collected thus far from making my front bumper a permanent residence. I checked out the GPS and found two attractions that ended up being closed: Tovrea Castle and Hall of Flame. I did end up going to Hole in the Rock, which was at Papago Park. It was pretty cool, and an interesting tidbit: there was this couple there as well as some families with kids. Well the boyfriend from the couple kept putting his hands down her pants (from the front and the back), as well as groping her under her shirt, all in front of the little kids and parents. For shame! :P Met up with Bilal afterwards and went to Mill Avenue Bridge, to watch the sunset and take some photos. Lastly, I ate mediterranean food at Haji Baba. I ordered the Shawerma, but I coulda sworn I got a Gyro instead. C’est la vie.

el paso to phoenix

August 13, 2008

@ "The Thing?"

With each day of driving, the scenery just gets better and better. There are no words to describe the incredible feeling of freedom and appreciation of nature when you are driving up and down through majestic mountains, watching the trees, grass, sand, and architecture change while driving through three different states. New Mexico certainly feels like a completely different country altogether. It could be psychological, or maybe it’s all the buildings with red roofs (kinda reminds me of UT). There were speed corridors scattered throughout I-10, which are basically sections of road that are supposedly monitored by high flying aircraft. At 75 mph, I’m not complaining, but I certainly didn’t see any aircraft. There were a lot of farm lands as well throughout New Mexico. There was also lots of border patrol everywhere. Once I got into Arizona, I felt like I was driving through a postcard. Great terrain, iconic cacti, and billboards starting at 138 miles out reminding me to visit something called “The Thing?“: the great mystery of Arizona. Well, after missing the exit for “The Thing?” because I was too busy staring at rock formations, I had to drive a few miles out before I could take a U-turn. When I finally got there, I paid the $1 admission fee to go through a museum of completely random antiques from countries all over the world. There were antique cars, decorations, books, and guns. And the finale revealed what The Thing was… and it was… I don’t know, you’ll have to visit for yourself (unless you’re a Googler). I was also introduced to this thing, that fascinates me even til now, and it’s called the Mexican Jumping Bean. So they were selling 4 or 5 of them inside a transparent plastic box for about $2, and these beans were just jumping inside the box, at random intervals. Really creepy, and it really peaked my interest. I found out that there are actually caterpillars living inside these beans and they ‘jump,’ causing the bean to jump. They feed off of the beans, and after 2 months, they stop jumping. Finally, the Texas Canyons (why is it called that?) rest stop was awesome. Overall, I spent an extra hour on this leg of the journey just visiting things and taking photos. It was that beautiful. I realized that I forgot to get a postcard while I was in El Paso, but I’ll remember to get one for Phoenix. Anyway, here are the stats:

Distance: 477 miles
Average Speed: 68.8 mph
Moving Time: 6 hours 56 minutes
Total Time: 8 hours 1 minute
Average Mileage: 30.2 mpg (booyah)

el paso

August 13, 2008

@ Scenic Drive, El Paso

El Paso was definitely a lot nicer than I expected. I had the stereotypical image of a desert town in the middle of nowhere with nothing to do. I was wrong, of course. The scenery was great, with the large mountain backdrop near the New Mexico state border. From Scenic Drive (an outlook viewpoint), you can see the sister cities of Juarez and El Paso spreading out across the US-Mexico border, separated by the Rio Grande. I watched the sunset behind me, while talking with my old college roomie, Alonzo. He, Lizette, and Eric showed me some great Mexican food, easily the best I’ve ever tried. That’s of course not saying much since most of my Mexican food exposure comes from Austin and Houston. The Piratas and Shrimp speciality tacos at Taco Torte were to die for. UTEP was certainly interesting as well since the buildings are all built in a Tibetan style; a little odd in a city filled with mission style architecture. Probably the most interesting of all was Gravity Hill. Basically, it’s a mini-valley, and when you drive to the bottom of the street, put your car in neutral, your car will literally roll uphill. Freaky at first, until you realize that it’s an optical illusion, and that both parts of the V are actually downhill, just at different slopes. Cool nonetheless.

austin

August 11, 2008

UT Tower

You know, after living in Austin for 6 years, there are still a ton of things I haven’t done. Although the city isn’t huge, there is still definitely a ton of stuff to do. I finally went up to the top of the UT Tower, for the 7pm tour. I wish I had tried for the 8pm tour so I could see the sunset and also see the city lights. But nonetheless, being up there with the breeze and recognizing all the shortcuts I took through campus was very nostalgic and relaxing. I have also ever been to South Congress (SOCO) at night. It was always the daytime that I went, and it was cool to me then, but man the place transforms at night. I had no idea it was going to be so packed. It was like a completely different city. Other things I did included visiting the Barsana Dham hindu temple, Dave & Busters, The Domain, Mt. Bonnell, canoeing on Town Lake, Schlitterbahn, Blazer Tag, and Spider House. Most of these were revisits of old favorites, but the temple was new. It was on the way to Salt Lick BBQ. I got to meet up with some friends for the last time. Overall, it just wasn’t enough time, naturally. Austin will always hold a special place in my heart, and I have a feeling I will return to the city one day.

Places I ate: Which Wich, La Feria, Salt Lick BBQ, Ichiban, Oma’s Kitchen

monotone photoblogging theme

May 9, 2008

There’s this new theme for WordPress called “Monotone” that caters to photoblogs. What’s amazing about this theme is that it takes your photo of the day, does some analysis on the dominant color, and changes the page background to match it. So each page/day has a different background color. In the words of the Guinness Beer commercials, “Brilliant!” Here’s a demo site. I’m hoping I can somehow incorporate this theme, maybe make a spinoff photoblogging only site. We’ll see…

d.i.y. flash diffuser

April 21, 2008

For those of you who are too cheap to buy an external flash unit for their DSLR’s, or even a cheap diffuser, here’s a d.i.y. project that seems to be the best homemade diffuser I’ve seen up ’till now. It’s better than those business cards bent and tied with rubber bands at least. Jump:

porsche ride’n’drive

April 15, 2008

Cayenne GTS

I attended a Porsche Ride & Drive event at the Driveway racetrack. Basically, it was an event to allow people to test out the newly released Porsche Cayenne GTS. I first drove the SUV for 3 laps, with a race instructor by my side, giving me tips on when to accelerate, when to brake, what line to follow, etc. It might as well be a car, because this SUV handles like a dream. Then I switched seats and he drove full out for 3 laps. That’s when I realized how lame of a driver I was. Although it felt like I was pushing the GTS to it’s limits, I think I ended up going at 1/3 of the limit. After that I was able to sit in for 3 hot laps each on the Cayman S and the Carrera S, and realized just what that extra $$$ (compared to the Boxster) translates to: balls to the wall adrenaline rushing euphoria, which can be experienced in the Boxster as well, except in these cars, you feel like you might die any second.

bench project

April 12, 2008

As blogged about on photojojo, basically what this guy did was tie up a disposable camera to a public bench attached with a note to encourage strangers to take photos. Pretty awesome if you ask me. I just might have to try this one out. I think it’d be quite interesting to see this at a location full of college students. Maybe even an E-Bus stop. Just not sure if they would just decide to steal it.

canon rebel xsi

April 11, 2008

Not to be just blogging about random tech products that are coming out and announced on other blogs, but anyway, here’s another. The Canon Rebel XSi, which is the successor to the Canon Rebel XTi, will finally be on sale April 27th. It’s available for preorder from Amazon. 8 Benjamins for the kit, 7 for the body only. Main upgrades? It uses SD Cards instead of the clumsy and less popular Compact Flash cards, it’s got the expected bump in megapixels, from 10.1 to 12.2, faster fps (3.5), faster Digic III processor, and a Live View function that allows you to see your photo before you take it on the new 3″ LCD screen, much like a regular point and shoot digicam. Not that I would use that last feature much, but it’s really odd to me why it took them so long to implement these into DSLRs. Anyway, as tempting as it is, the upgrades are not compelling enough for the amount I’d be spending. If it had a GPS tracker and WiFi, I’d bite. Right now, I’d rather buy a new lens like this Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8.

home slice pizza

April 4, 2008

Home Slice Pizza

Home Slice Pizza

If you’re ever in the Austin area, and you want to try some really good NY style pizza, head over to Home Slice Pizza on 1415 South Congress. I’ve actually tried pizza in NY, so I’m not sure if it lives up to those standards, but it sure lives up to mine. The crust is oh so crispy and thin, yet bendable. You can dine-in to order a whole “pie” or you can order from the side window by the slice. I ordered by the slice since the dining-in option was almost a 45 minute wait (!). There was a nice patio out back where I think they sometimes have live music. There’s also a great cupcake place a block down called Hey Cupcake! which is also highly recommended. Order the Red Velvet. Mmmm….

spider house coffee

March 26, 2008

Spider House

So I’ve lived in Austin for almost 7 years (!), and never been to Spider House… until now. This is of course mostly due to the fact that I don’t really drink coffee. It’s not that I don’t like it, it’s that I never really had the necessity for it like other people. Coffee and caffeine in general has very minimal effects on me, so I failed to see the benefits of drinking it, unless I was auditioning for a role to be an asian pirate (à la Chow Yun Fat) and purposely wanted realistic looking yellow teeth. I would of course have to drink coffee until I reached the age of the above mentioned semi-well-known-asian-actor without brushing my teeth. Speaking of coffee, I do have to say that I really like McDonald’s “new” iced coffee for no explicable reason whatsoever. I’m sure the lower cost psychologically affects my taste preference towards it.