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San Francisco Treat

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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.

Chun-Li guarding the router

Chun-Li guarding the router

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.

Asian-American Newspapers from Japantown

Asian-American Newspapers from Japantown

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:

  1. Don’t have hatred.
  2. Have less worry.
  3. Expect less.
  4. 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. 🙂

6 thoughts to “San Francisco Treat”

  1. Not to belittle your post — because it was a really good posting — but when I read “fresh content returns to Oddball Update”, I immediately thought of those horrible WB promos and taglines — “And now…fresh Oddball Update! On the WB!” Or “If you’re just tuning in, Chief Oddball has returned from San Francisco and has achieved a form of enlightenment!” 🙂

  2. ROTFLMAO…you’re right, that’s exactly what that first line looks like. I swear, there was no malicious intent. 🙂 On a semi-related note, even Apple has gotten to the point where she can’t bear Smallville anymore…I gave up long ago because it’s just hackneyed beyond belief, but Apple told me she mostly fast-forwarded through last week’s episode. I could hear the TV in the other room though, and I think I’ve heard every single line at least a dozen times on earlier episodes of the show. “I don’t want you to get hurt, Lana!” “It’s over, Clark!” “Who would want to do this to you, Lex?” Auugghhhh.

    Anyway, thanks for reading the post, glad you enjoyed it…it took several hours to craft all this. 😀 I’m quite pleased with this new state of zen I seem to be residing in here; it’s actually helping me do a better job of getting things done. I’ll be returning an email to you as well, with some Unclean Waterfowl news and other bidness.

  3. Heh, I occasionally still look at Smallville — generally, it’s more of a “I have it on my TV while I’m dorking around on the computer” kind of thing. But you’re right — it’s putrid. I actually have a theory about that show: they have approximately one episode’s worth of main plot per season, stretched out over 22 or so episodes, with everything else being just filler. I think they’re a week or so away from the season finale, and they’re still doing all sorts of filler stuff that a) has nothing to do with the plot and b) has nothing to do with Superman.

    But if you tune into Smallville to see Superman or the like, you’re bound to be disappointed. 🙂

    On an unrelated note, I notice you have Infection in your NetFlix queue. I actually meant to recommend that movie to you a long time ago, since I saw it on TV and I know how much you like Asian horror, and especially horror centered in hospitals and the like. But for some reason I never did! But it’s definitely got some good moments to it. Certainly better than the crap Asian horror I’ve been renting from the movie store lately…

  4. Yep, that’s exaaaactly the feeling I get about Smallville, too. They seem to be devoid of any real ideas. Or more accurately, before each season, one of the writers says: “Whoa! How about we do this in the premiere?” And then nobody bothers to think about the rest of the season, so they’re sorta stuffing filler into it for weeks while they think about what to do to boost ratings for the finale. I begin to wonder if Smallville will “make the cut” and transition to the CW Network at all. (And if you’re worried about making the cut on a network that’s an amalgamation of the WB and UPN, your property must really reek.)

    Wow, you saw Infection on TV? One of the movie channels, I assume? It was pretty freaky-weird, great set design and camera work. The funny this is that I found myself laughing a lot, where by contrast Apple was more creeped out and not laughing at all. I read a bit of commentary from the director and he said that’s the response the film generally gets — Americans laugh, Asians don’t. Heh. Apparently it’s the first film in a J-horror trilogy he’s working on; I don’t know what the next two films are. But I can say it definitely would have been a good recommendation to make. 😉

    Speaking of the Netflix queue sidebar, half the images don’t show up anymore. That top one is Escape from Alcatraz. Obviously there’s a box image for that — you can even see it if you go to Netflix’s site — so why doesn’t it show up? I think I’m going to switch the sidebar display over to “title only.”

  5. Yeah, I saw Infection on one of the Showtime channels we get — that particular Showtime (“Showtime Beyond” is the actual name of the channel, I believe) tends to show more paranormal and sci-fi stuff (as you may have gathered from the name), and every so often they show Asian horror movies and the like. That’s where I saw Infection. Another good one was The Eye (I believe that one is from Hong Kong), about a blind woman who received a new set of eyes — except the eyes came from a woman who had the ability to see the dead (and those who are about to become dead), and the woman who received the ocular transplant gains that ability as well. I’ve also seen The Eye 2 (starring the Asian woman who was in the first Transporter movie, I believe), but that one wasn’t quite as good as the first (as the two movies are unrelated, plot-wise, except fo the fact that the main heroine can see spirits). Another good Japanese one was called (I believe) Premonition, about a dude who receives newspapers foretelling murders and the like, and he’s not supposed to do anything about it. And most everybody else who has the ability goes crazy from their ability, because a side effect of the ability is the need to scribble out newspaper headlines detailing tragedies using whatever implements they can (one dude in the movie was said to have bit his tongue off in order to use his blood to write on the walls of his mental ward cell after writing tools were taken away from him).

    Also lately, The Movie Channel has started to show some Asian movies at night. Nothing too super so far, but I did watch one called Kunoichi, about a group of nuns who become ninja to seek revenge on their fallen comrades. Sadly, though, the movie itself fell short of expectations, what with ADD-esque editing and lots of unexplained plot inconsistencies. And the fact that the women use ninja magic with names like “Nipple Shock Wave” (I am not making that up), and another kunoichi absorbs energy blasts into her private region before regurgitating the blast out of her mouth…yeah.

    I also rented a couple of Asian horror movies last week (as I mentioned above) — Ab-normal Beauty and Marebito (the latter directed by the guy who did Ju-on). But I wasn’t too impressed by either one. The former actually came to a tidy conclusion an hour in — it was about a girl who gets a sick thrill from photographing dead or dying things. Then the last third of the movie (after the girl is somewhat rehabilitated) is about some psycho who knows about her fetish and exploits it by sending her videos of him killing people, including the main character’s best friend. What pissed me off the most about it, though, was that the stupid psycho killer was a dude who we saw for all of 10 seconds earlier in the film. Seriously, it was a book store clerk who rang up the main character’s purchase and had precisely one line of dialogue before he became the mask-wearing idiot.

    The latter — Marebito — was “meh” as well, about a freelance cameraman who longs to find some sort of “ultimate terror” he has witnessed others experiencing, which leads him to kill his wife and turn his daughter into a blood-craving animal (though the director keeps trying to play it off between that and making it seem that the guy is experiencing all sorts of supernatural things — for example, the movie shows the guy finding a massive underground cavern underneath Tokyo, and he “finds” a naked woman — his daughter — there, and he takes her back to his apartment and yada yada oh my god it wasn’t that good). I’m seriously beginning to think that Takashi Shimizu (the guy who directed the movie) sort of got lucky with Ju-on, because I’ve seen Marebito and Ju-on 2 (both directed by him), and they just weren’t very satisfying.

    And one horror movie you DON’T want to see is Wolf Creek. It’s not Asian — it’s Australian — and it’s stupid. Forster rented it and we watched about an hour of it (then fast-forwarded through the rest), and it’s AWFUL.

    …Jesus, that was a newspost-sized comment, wasn’t it? 🙂

  6. awesome entry. creepy photo of the “orb”…and I saw what looked like a silhouette of someone standing on the stairs as well…

    good to know that whole trip helped you reevaluate and reaffirm your priorities…thats what time away from home is good for. Much love to you and Apple…me and Reaper miss you both…

    cheers, love!


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