After a bit of a vacation of its own, fresh content returns to Oddball Update. This is really the first significant post I’ve made since Apple and I returned from our three-day visit to San Francisco — not counting the extra day on either end that was spent travelling to and from California by way of Dallas, TX. Overall, I think the trip was an eye-opening experience for me. I know that sounds hackneyed. But seriously, even though it was short, and not entirely without strife, this vacation was certainly needed — and well-received, at least by yours truly.
First of all, allow me to introduce the new photo albums I’ve uploaded to the gallery. If you’d like the self-guided tour, go ahead and browse through them now; otherwise, I’ll be linking to groups of photos individually in the text below as I discuss our trip.
I’ve divided the many photos we took in San Francisco into four such albums, one for each of the places we visited and activities we undertook. In this post I’ll briefly outline some of these activities, but as the last few days have gone by, I’ve come to feel that the most important part of our vacation is the lasting effect it’s had on us. Especially for me, personally, I feel totally renewed by the experience. Before we left, I was pretty much dead with exhaustion from constant working. I still have a task list that’s full of toilsome items, but somehow it doesn’t seem to be a blow to my morale. Our time away seems to have put the truly important things in my life back into perspective; made me realize I was getting bent out of shape over what, in the long term, doesn’t matter a whit. But anyway, more on that later.
We headed to San Francisco on Wednesday the 19th via American Airlines, with a layover in Dallas/Ft. Worth on the way. The flights were fine and there weren’t any problems with luggage or any of that. We wound up getting into SFO pretty late, probably about 10:15 PM or so, and it wasn’t until an hour later that we’d picked up our bags, met the shuttle driver and had a tumultuous ride to the Radisson Miyako Hotel courtesy of a very creepy-looking geezer in an old man hat who looked like he’d crawled out of a dumpster. (The old dude also reminded me of somebody in a strange way, but I still can’t pinpoint who.) We were further unnerved by the fact that a young guy in the lobby of the hotel was totally freaking out because his girlfriend had called his cell phone and claimed she was being “held against her will” in some room of the hotel but couldn’t tell him which room. The San Francisco police showed up right after we completed check-in so we, uh, decided to skip that scene and go pick up some dinner.
A brief aside for a moment, if you’ll permit me. In the previous paragraph, after mentioning the Radisson Miyako Hotel, I decided to hyperlink the property name to the Radisson website so my readers could check out the hotel, see some pictures, etc. since I didn’t take any photos of the place while we were there. To my disbelief, the Radisson company apparently no longer owns any stake in the property as it is completely gone from their website. Here is Google’s cache of the page in question, recorded just yesterday — but if you visit the live page, you’ll see a message stating that “This hotel is no longer represented by Radisson Hotels & Resorts.” Now, the Miyako has not been a Radisson property for that long, and even when we were there I saw a sign disclaiming it was “independently owned and operated” with some kind of joint management agreement between Radisson and a Japanese firm. I guess Radisson decided to pull out entirely. How incredibly weird. For a moment, I admit to feeling a bit like I was stuck in a warp bubble where all the evidence we ever traveled to San Francisco was starting to methodically disappear.
Anyway, it was 11:30 pm when we decided to grab a bite to eat, after not having much more than crackers all day long. Apple and I went about a block down Post Street to a little sushi and noodle house called Sanppo Sushi. They warned us that they were closing in half an hour so we just ordered some sushi rolls and a bowl of noodles and ate up. It was quite good. By California standards I’m sure it was nothing special, but believe me, I’ve had some pretty terrible sushi in other places, made by people who have no idea what sushi even is.
The next day was when we really started to do some stuff. First, we explored Japantown, which our hotel was right in the heart of. It was really amazing, actually — in some ways you felt like you were actually in Japan, but most of the time it just felt like really authentic Japanese culture surrounded by the hint of a familiar American vibe. The centerpiece of Japantown is the Peace Pagoda, which is located right next to Japan Center. Japan Center is a series of shops, restaurants, theaters, sushi bars and other great stuff that’s all arranged in a sprawling mall of sorts. It was really cool and we spent a lot of time there during our trip; in fact I don’t think there was a day we didn’t go there. There was even a store that reminded me a bit of Doug’s Dugout from back home, except it was what Doug’s would have been if you replaced the sports merchandise with Tamiya model kits, because the store was full of ’em. Not only were there lots of authentic Japanese storefronts (ranging from Nippon Ya, a confectionary and gift store, to Auto Freak, a car accessories shop), but there were also photo booths — staples of Japan that they are. You know — those computerized booths where giggly friends go get a bunch of pictures taken of themselves making faces?
Apple and I have done the photo booth thing in both Australia and in Thailand, so we naturally couldn’t pass up another chance. There were several booths to choose from, but we picked this one. The on-screen user interface was entirely in Japanese so we had a good laugh hunting and pecking at the controls to produce what we hoped was a decent collage. For not being able to understand a word of the instructions, I think we did pretty well — the end result is hanging on our fridge now.
After exploring Japantown, we headed back to the hotel where a shuttle bus was to pick us up and take us to Fisherman’s Wharf. We’d booked a bus tour of the city ahead of time, and it was leaving from the Wharf that afternoon. That was a pretty good time, although a bit lengthy for what you wound up getting. Mostly you spend a lot of time in traffic, going between one interesting place and another. But overall it was a great way for the first-time San Francisco visitor to check out some of the city’s most famous landmarks, parks, and tourist areas. The tour included three stops, one each at Twin Peaks, the Japanese Tea Garden, and the Golden Gate Bridge. Plenty of pictures were taken, and I’ve painstakingly set descriptive captions on each of them that do a perfectly good job of telling the story of our tour, so I’ll let them do just that.
The bus tour took us into the evening, and after we got back to the hotel, we had dinner at a Korean restaurant called Seoul Garden in the mall next door. This was also the evening where Apple began to show symptoms of the flu she had picked up from places unknown, and, sadly, where her experience on the trip began to go downhill. 🙁
The second day — Friday — we didn’t have anything scheduled, but that was the day we’d long since decided we were going to spend shopping, most notably in Chinatown. On this day we only took a small handful of photos, since we were surrounded by dense crowds most of the time, and the rest of the time were too exhausted from climbing up San Francisco’s steep, mountainous streets on foot.
In keeping with the shopping theme, the first thing we did was head back to the Japan Center mall where I bought myself a toy from the Doug’s Dugout lookalike shop. Much like Doug’s, there was a secret back wall that was covered with the really expensive looking merchandise, most of it devoid of price tags, in a “If you have to ask how much this costs, you can’t afford it” sort of way. There was a really big (like ten inches tall big) Chun-Li figure on sale that I thought would make a cool desktop trinket, unfortunately it was $170. Luckily, though, there was also a smaller-scale Chun-Li action figure which was an affordable $20, so I picked it up. She now guards my Linksys router. In case the firewall fails, I suppose.
We began the main event of the day by getting on a Muni bus to head down to the visitor center at Powell and Market Streets. There, we were told, we could buy Muni passes that we could use to ride the buses, historic cable cars and other forms of mass transit in the city. Anyway, the first thing we did was get on a bus going the wrong direction, naturally. This was before I got my bearings, and so we found ourselves heading west on Geary Street until we got to a pretty undesirable part of town. So, after realizing my error, before things got any worse we got off the bus and hopped another one going back eastward. By this time, unfortunately, we had about a 20-minute bus trip back into town ahead of us.
It was during this particular ride that we experienced the horror of the Vietnamese Valley Girl. You probably know how a regular Valley Girl speaks. If “like an airhead” doesn’t jog your memory, imagine a vacuous teenage girl chewing gum and going “Yeah, like, whatever!” and using an upward inflection in her voice constantly so it sounds like every sentence is a question. Well, at one of our stops a young Vietnamese girl got on the bus, probably college age, sat right behind me and started calling everybody she knew on her cell phone.
This chick talked loud. I mean, she had one of those voices that’s just naturally deafening. She started off talking in Vietnamese. This was bad enough, but since I don’t understand the language it was just noise that I was somehow able to tune out. Other people weren’t so lucky; the old lady sitting next to her actually got up and moved several rows away, literally wringing out her ear. Then the Vietnamese chick started calling English-speaking friends and telling them how excited she was that it was Earth Day, and her booming Valley Girl voice kicked in.
“So, like, you know how we have Mother’s Day? And Teacher’s Day? Well today is, like, Earth Day? Like, the planet Earth? And so, like, I promised some friends that I would, like, go volunteer in the park with them? For Earth Day? And I know I invited you to my place today and, ummmmm, I was wondering if, like, you want to come with me? To the park? For Earth Day? And volunteer? No? Huh? Oh, yes? Yes? Great, okay, I see you soon…”
Oh man, I was trying so hard not to laugh…or look at the other denizens of the bus, all of whom were either about to laugh themselves or go put their umbrella through the Vietnamese chick’s head, I’m not sure which. When she finally got off the bus a few stops later, everyone heaved a collective sigh of relief and started muttering to themselves in their native languages. Truly hilarious.
Anyway, after getting our Muni passports, we started hiking it up to Chinatown. On our way we shopped around, checking out various big-name stores we don’t have at home, like H&M, FCUK and such. I bought a Star Trek book at Borders, geek that I am, because I knew I wasn’t gonna have enough reading material left to keep me busy during the flights home. Apple bought some cute clothes. We stopped for lunch at a little Thai cafe (that was jam-packed with customers) and I had chicken & cashew nuts, one of my favorites.
We then encountered the horror of the Powell Street slopes. By the time we walked up to Chinatown (“It’s not that far; why take a cable car?”) we were totally beat, and it was hours later. <laughs> Gotta be honest with you, I was pretty underwhelmed by Chinatown. I expected more interesting stores, but mostly it was a whole bunch of shops all selling the same highly-touristy, stereotypically Chinese merchandise. There were three exceptions: One, a store that made the absolute best orange smoothie I have ever had; two, a T-shirt shop where we picked up shirts for absurdly low prices; and three, a hole-in-the-wall clothing store where Apple bought a really attractive Chinese blouse with a Mandarin-style collar, except instead of the usual brightly-colored silk, it was made out of denim.
Exhausted, we went back to Japan Center and ate dinner at a little noodle shop. Apple loves noodles but she did not enjoy it, probably because she was sick. I had hoped for something different, like Italian, but was actually very pleasantly surprised by the “Ebi Fried Curry” I had — it was traditional Japanese brown curry sauce over rice with carrots, celery and other vegetables, topped with three lightly fried shrimp. This wasn’t thick batter, like tempura; it was more like katsu. Delicious.
When we got back to the hotel, we saw a group of young Japanese-American girls getting their photo taken. These were, apparently, the contestants for the Miss Cherry Blossom 2006 competition, which is held every year in Japantown during the Cherry Blossom Festival, which just happened to be that weekend. Frankly, I was used to seeing these young women already because their pictures were all over Japantown, like in every store you visited. The Cherry Blossom Festival is big news; here are the front pages of the various freebie Asian-American newsletters that were offered around town.
On our third and final day in San Francisco, since Apple was terribly ill I figured it would be good if we could keep activity to a minimum. This was the day, though, that we had ferry tickets reserved to Alcatraz Island, where you can tour the former U.S. federal “pound you in the ass” prison that’s now owned by the national parks service. It was partly cloudy and a little chilly, but Apple weathered through, bless her, and I thank her so much for putting up with my little jaunt to the wind-whipped island.
First, though, since we had some time before our scheduled departure and both of us were hungry, we walked along the wharf in search of someplace to eat. Neither one of us really wanted to eat outside in the harsh wind, so we chose Tarantino’s, a right classy elevated joint right on the water where, I kid you not, they have the best clam chowder I’ve ever eaten. (Good crab cakes and mussels, too.)
Afterwards we caught the Blue & Gold Fleet ferry over to Alcatraz Island. Great, more steep hills to climb up! We made it though, and I have to say, touring the run-down old prison was pretty cool. Especially given my penchant for abandoned institutional buildings, and knowing what good survival horror game settings they make (just take a look at pretty much every location in every Silent Hill game ever produced). We went on the audio tour of the cellhouse, where each person gets a little digital audio player and headphones, and you can guide yourself on the tour as you listen to the narration. Every so often they tell you where to walk to so you can be standing in the right place for the next bit they’re going to tell you about, but you can pause it at any time and just wander around to your heart’s content before moving on. Of course, I took lots of pictures of the prison (and, as you’ll see, of the wharf
I’m a bit of a sucker for the supernatural, as well, which is why I like this picture. A lot of “ghost hunters” claim that spiritual energy is often represented photographically by “orbs”, or, circular phenomena that appear on a photograph. To me those things mostly look like dust spots, rain droplets, or the aftermath of somebody sneezing in the vicinity of your camera lens. However I thought it was pretty apropos for an orb-like object to appear on this photo of the racketly old stairs up to Alcatraz’s closed-off hospital wing, especially given that Alcatraz has a long history of being supposedly haunted. Immediately after taking this photo, I took a second only because I realized this one might be a little crooked. The mystery orb doesn’t show in the second photo, so it’s not a spot on the lens, but in a dusty old prison there’s bound to be insects and dirt floating around. I just thought it was interesting. Orb or dust bunny? YOU be the judge!
After concluding the Alcatraz cellhouse tour, we decided to dispense with any other activities on the island since I wanted to get Apple home to rest. After returning to the mainland, we stopped for a light dinner at Bistro Boudin, a famous sourdough bakery on the wharf. There are some suitably goofy photos of the restaurant’s overhead sourdough conveyor, my half-eaten sourdough bread bowl in which I had enjoyed yet more clam chowder, and the like. Finally, we headed back to the hotel where we stayed indoors for the rest of the chilly evening; me surfing the web and Apple trying to get some sleep.
Sunday was just our “travel back” day, and honestly it was terrible — the flights were smooth and uneventful, thankfully, but poor Apple was miserable the whole way and I felt so bad for her. I wished I could beam her straight home in a transporter so she could avoid all the crowds, people, stifling air, cramped planes and all the murderously boring waiting. Finally it was over, we were home and I was chowing down on a frozen pizza…typical me, right?
I took Monday off, and then basically didn’t post anything on the site here because I, too, got sick…although fortunately with a milder version of whatever Apple had. In the process we discovered a nice walk-in clinic near our home that’s also in our insurance network, now that we thankfully have insurance again.
As I mentioned at the start of this post, while it might not have been the best trip ever, especially for Apple, I think it taught me a powerful lesson, albeit one that’s tough to put into words. Getting away for a few days and taking care of my wife when she fell ill really clued me in to the important things in life. I realize I’ve been letting myself get far too mired in the pressures of work, sometimes even creating pressure that wasn’t even there and letting it weigh heavily on me, dominate my thoughts and prevent me from enjoying any of life’s smaller pleasures. That stops now. While I’ve still got plenty on my plate now that I’m back, having taken it all into perspective I realize that there’s no reason to spend every waking second working all the time. Life isn’t worth it, and most of the time, nobody’s really expecting me to anyway. I’ve often bent myself out of shape to kowtow to the perfectionist side of me, and I think it’s been self-destructive more times than not.
My pledge to Apple was to take a step back and mellow out, especially where it comes to work. And I think I’ve succeeded since I’ve come home, and honestly the past week or so has been the best week I’ve had all year, despite still being busy. I find I’m more easily able to think outside the box, devise creative solutions to problems and take the initiative to do extra things — all while keeping my overall level of work within the boundaries of something sane and manageable. And beyond that, I consistently find time to enjoy being with Apple, to care for her and treat her with the attention and the joy that a wonderful girl like her deserves so many times over. There are so many things in life that are fleeting, and though it may not always seem to be, love is one of those things. I’ve been reminded in these last several days just how much I love Apple, and of how proud I am to know that she loves me. “Even in the next life, I want to marry you again,” she said to me last week, easily the kindest and most wonderful words I’ve ever heard. I want to marry you again too, Apple — in every incarnation, at every opportunity, because I truly can’t imagine life without you.
As part of the joint effort Apple and I are embarking on to “de-stressify” our lives, here are four tenets we want to remember…you may find them interesting or inspiring to yourself:
- Don’t have hatred.
- Have less worry.
- Expect less.
- Give more.
Thanks to everyone for reading this humongous post. Here’s to enlightenment, to clearer minds and less stressful lives. I think I’d like to take a little vacation more often. 🙂