Skimming Deep

Searching, traveling, talking, reflecting, and exploring. Read along with me as I continue on my journey through life.

Category: Photography

Backtrack Travels

It’s been a loooonnngggg time since I last blogged.  It may be the longest I’ve gone in between posts since I started this blog 154 posts ago!

I’ve done a bit of cooking and traveling since December 17th, so here’s the first bit.  A friend visited right after Christmas, and we did some fun activities: a sculpture garden tour in Sonoma Valley and a wonderful hike in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.  So I wanted to share some of the sights we saw as well as the logistics, so you, too, can enjoy what we did!

Big Basin Redwoods State Park

I’d heard that Big Basin was THE place to go see the redwood trees instead of Muir Woods which is often overrun with tourists on a weekend.  So because I’m not a fan of big crowds, I took people’s word for it, and we did the two hour drive from Berkeley on New Year’s Eve to the Big Basin park headquarters.  It was a beautiful (and windy, especially at the end!) drive.  One thing to note if you’re going to do this hike is that you have to pay $10 for the entrance fee to the park.

We did the popular waterfall loop trail, which is about 11 miles, pretty strenuous in parts, but do-able for a pair of pretty fit people.  In all, I think we took about 5 hours, with a short break to eat our almond-butter and jelly sandwiches.  Along the way, we saw the beautiful, breathtaking redwoods:

big basin trees

It’s amazing to think how old these trees are.  To think who’s come before us and seen these trees and who will come after to see them.  And they just keep doing their thing – growing, reaching for the sky.  As we walked through the forest, we noted that there weren’t many birds or other critters filling the area with little noises.  It was very quiet, and we rarely came across other hikers.   We’re not big talkers, so we were just caught up in our thoughts and nature’s majesty all around us.

We also came across some waterfalls, which weren’t flowing in large amounts but enough to appreciate:

big basin falls

The only thing I was hoping for was more views outside of the forest.  There was a point (I think it was the midpoint) where there was a clearing and we could see other hills around us.  But that part was short-lived.  The forest was beautiful, don’t get me wrong, but I like to have top-of-mountain views as payoff for lots of climbing steep switchbacks.

Regardless of that small disappointment, it was a wonderful, rewarding hike.  I would definitely do it again.

Do-It-Yourself Sculpture Garden Tour

We spent another day driving up to wine country, not to drink wine but to see outdoor sculpture gardens!  I was doing some research on fun, free things to do in wine country; and I found that there were some outdoor gardens at wineries as well as stand-alone gardens that seemed like fun.  I chose three destinations for this self-guided tour:

Cornerstone Gardens: 23570 Arnold Dr., Sonoma, CA

A really great outdoor garden/ museum.  We easily spent almost two hours or so walking the grounds and exploring the little stores.  All the sculptures made use of the environment in some kind of interesting way.  These were two favorites – a big head of garlic (well, that’s what it looked like to me – that’s not what the artist titled it) in the middle of a small pond.  And a desert scene with clouds made of wire mesh and crystals resembling raindrops.

Cornerstone

Matanzas Creek Winery: 6097 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa, CA

There wasn’t a sculpture garden at this winery, but there was a beautiful lavender garden.  We just saw lots of dark bushes of all sizes, but I could imagine what it would look like in the spring, a landscape of purple.  This constituted a short stop, but it was enjoyable, and the views from the winery and the lavender garden were worth it.

lavender

Paradise Ridge Winery: 4545 Thomas Lake Harris Dr., Santa Rosa, CA

This was the last stop on our tour, and what a nice way to end it.  There were two sculpture gardens that were at this location: one is named Marijke’s Grove and seems to be the more permanent of the two “exhibits.”  The other was a temporary exhibit titled The Spirit of the Man.  Both had some pieces that really struck me.  And we spent another hour-plus at this place.  Taking fun photos, engaging with the art, musing about the meaning and the sculptor’s intent… you know, all the things you do when you walk through an art exhibit.

LOVE

One of the nice things about our whole tour was that there weren’t too many other people around, in fact, zero at some places.  So we got to enjoy all this wonderful art and scenery by ourselves.  I highly recommend this tour if you’re not a wine drinker or if you just want to be outdoors and see some interesting art.

A side note is that we stopped in Santa Rosa for lunch at Flavor Bistro and had a throughly enjoyable meal.  That part of Santa Rosa looked like it had a cute main street that we could have walked down if we had more time.

Happy 2014!

Endings and Beginnings

It's been awhile since I last blogged (a month!), and it's been a whirlwind month. I have:

  • traveled to Boston, the Bay Area, Philadelphia, and New York
  • had some job interviews in the Bay Area
  • signed a lease with a friend for an apartment in Berkeley
  • eaten out a ton, allowing me to reconnect with countless friends from all parts of my life
  • slept in many different beds
  • ridden on planes, trains, buses, and cars
  • packed up all my belongings into two moving containers to be shipped cross country
  • experienced the mixed emotions of watching the 117th Boston Marathon
  • been to a pig roast
  • presided at a wedding
  • done my laundry twice
  • reached the seventh week of my C25K training, now running a straight 25 minutes!
  • made the official decision to move out to the Bay Area

View of Oakland and the Bay Bridge from the Ferry Building in San Francisco

It's been a busy and productive month. And now my time in Boston is coming to a close after 14 years. I came to Boston to go to graduate school; and over the last 14 years, I have (note: as I have shared before, I love lists, and it seems apropos in this entry where I'm reflecting a bit on this past time period, so bear with me!)

View of the Boston skyline from the red line train crossing the Charles River

  • lived in six places
  • had three full time jobs and a few part-time gigs here and there
  • put in countless volunteer hours working on projects and initiatives with amazing teams of people, mostly on issues in the Asian American community
  • had great meals in restaurants and in people's homes
  • participated in three, maybe four, different CSAs
  • bought a car, my trusty 2000 Honda Accord
  • been on lots of weekend retreats, with youth and adults (I think over 20…)
  • grown my hair out and cut it short again
  • picked up yoga
  • watched lots of teens grow up before my very eyes, where many of them are now getting married, having kids, making a difference in the world
  • mentored and been mentored
  • met and become part of many people's lives, people I now consider family

The last time I left a place where I really felt connected and sad to leave was in college, 17 years ago. But then it wasn't really a choice. We had graduated, and it was time to leave. Now, I make this choice to leave voluntarily, not because of anything bad that is pushing me out. In fact, I have much to keep me here– namely, the people I know and love here.

Not really sure what kind of tree this is, but look at those buds and flowers on the branches!

I've made the decision to leave Boston because I'm ready for a new challenge, to take on a new city and see what I can make of myself and my surroundings. To push myself out of my comfort zone and build new things: work, relationships, community, space. I've never been one to do things “traditionally,” and I wonder what the future holds.

I'm looking forward to settling back down in a new place, cooking my own meals again and having a regular schedule. It's been an amazing 8 months traveling and exploring, but I'm definitely done with the living out of a suitcase, eating at restaurants, not having my own bed, and spending money that comes with traveling.

 

Four Airports in Three Days

In three days, I went through four airports, crossed the international date line and went through four time zones, and got to eat some great meals in all the cities I went through. And now I'm in Arizona, trying to get into the Christmas spirit in the 60 degree weather!

I started in Kuala Lumpur, hanging out in the airport for many hours, waiting for my late evening departure.

The flight to Los Angeles went through Narita/ Tokyo, so that leg was about 7 hours, and I was able to get in a little bit of sleep and a movie. We arrived at dawn as the sun was rising.

I had a nine hour layover and had arranged to meet a friend of mine's mother. I hung out at the airport to wait for her, and we found each other despite never having met each other. It was such a sweet meeting– my friend's mom speaks only Japanese and a few phrases of English, and I only speak English with a few words of Japanese, but we managed to communicate with a lot of sign language and body language. She took me to Narita, the small town where the airport is located. There was a long street of cute shops and restaurants leading to a temple, so we took a nice stroll down that street. It was a chilly day, especially coming off of hot and humid tropical weather. But I had prepared myself for the cold, and with the help of a scarf that she lent me, I was fine. It was a beautiful, crisp winter day.

The highlight of that few hours was the sushi! We went to this little sushi bar right as it opened. Edokko Sushi. It was a tiny little place, but the sushi chef seemed to know everyone and was super friendly. The fish was so fresh and buttery smooth. So simple and so delicious. I was happy. And it was only a short train ride from the airport. Good tip– if you ever have a layover in Narita, go here! It opens at 11:30am and they have great lunch specials which seemed pretty reasonably priced.

I got back to the airport with a heavier bag (my friend's mom bought me some goodies to bring back to the U.S.– Japanese pickles. Yum!), and I finally got on the plane for my next destination, Los Angeles. This was the long leg of my flight– a 10 hour flight. It was a bit of a bumpy flight but we got into LA Monday morning with no mishaps.

I spent a day plus a little extra in Los Angeles, bookending my travels with great food (see my earlier LA post for what I had three months ago as my farewell from the U.S.). As always, my stay in LA with my cousins was a gastronomic affair. We had Korean BBQ for dinner at Kalbi King.

I was stuffed beyond comfort. We had all kinds of beef and pork, and it was delicious. Plus I had a bowl of naeng-myon, a cold soup noodle dish that is great with Korean BBQ.

The next day a few of us went to get lunch at Pizzeria Mozza, Mario Batali's restaurant in town. Thin crust pizzas with amazing toppings and great appetizers and even better desserts. We each got a different pizza and shared. Mine had bacon, leeks, roasted garlic, and goat cheese. Soooo good. And the crust was amazing.

A mix of the three types of pizzas that we ordered.

The desserts were incredible, and since my cousins never do things in moderation, we each got a dessert and shared.

The lemon ice cream pie (upper right) was delicious. And the caramel ice cream with peanuts was great, too. But the best dessert was the Butterscotch Budino (bottom middle)– it's what this restaurant is known for, and it was amazing. A kind of butterscotch creamy pudding with a caramelly top…not too sweet and just so good.

Then it was off to the airport again for the last leg of this travel odyssey. And it was a short flight– just about an hour from Los Angeles to Phoenix.

That was the last flight for 2012. The next flight will be back to the East Coast at some point, but for now, I'm sitting tight in Phoenix with family. And then maybe a few road trips.

Thanks for following me on my journeys! This closes the travel portion of the blog for now. I'll be reflecting on the journey and share some thoughts when those crystallize. But from here I'm working on my next steps of “real” life. Where I'll be living. What I'll be doing. It's still blurry, and I'll be releasing some ideas on the blog to get feedback, but until then…

Kuala Lumpur: The Finale

Kuala Lumpur is an interesting city. I can't quite put my finger on what it is. I guess the word that comes to mind most quickly is “MIX.” It's a mix of so many things: cultures, architectural styles, modes of transportation, languages, people, foods… And my whole time in the city, I only came across white tourists a handful of times. The rest of the time, I was surrounded by different kinds of Asians– South Asians, east Asians, Malays, mixes of ethnicities. And I couldn't tell who was a tourist and who was a local.

The Petronas twin towers overlooking small side streets with hawker stalls.

I was in KL a total of about five days, and there's so much that I saw, so here is a random assortment of highlights:

  • The markets were definitely my favorite part. I saw six in all:
    • Chinatown at Petaling Street— I wrote about this in my first blog post about KL. I went back to Chinatown as almost a homebase, mainly to eat! On my last day, I went back for some asam laksa and tofu fa. I was looking for this guy who was making a sweet treat (a cookie wrap with sugar and peanuts inside), but I think he only comes out at night. Bummer. The best part about this market for me was the food. Otherwise, it's just lots of vendors selling bags, gadgets, and typical Chinatown-wares. Not my interest.

    Chinatown in the morning before the vendors and hawkers have set up their stalls. Quite peaceful in the morning.

    • Central Market and Kasturi Street— this is more of a tourist market, I think. It's right across the street from Chinatown. There are tons of vendors selling Malaysian and Chinese trinkets, souvenirs, batiks, keychains, clothing, etc. And there's a food court of more “upscale” food– not that it's expensive, but it's more expensive than the hawker stalls in Chinatown for sure! It's a fun place to walk around and buy souvenirs for people back home, which I did on my last day.
    • Pudu wet market— this was the first “wet” market I went to in KL. It's called wet because they sell fish and meats and to keep the meats fresh and cool, they use ice and water which means the pathways are often wet. There were so many colors– the fruits and vegetables, the plastic bags used for customers, the meats, the makeshift signs and tables and umbrellas covering the stalls. And so many sounds– people yelling their prices and their products, butchers chopping their meats on wooden chopping blocks… I loved it! I really wished I had access to a kitchen so I could have bought some stuff to go home and make. I had some congee at one of the hawker stalls. Most markets have areas where they sell prepared food; it's just a matter of finding that section!

    • Imbi market (also called Pasar Baru Bukit Bintang)– another wet market with the same kinds of things as at Pudu. This place had a better set of food vendors, and I tried a few different things. Pohpiah, milk tea, and the wantan mee. I also bought some kuih because they were just so darn pretty.

    • Kampung Baru night market— I read up on this and this night market supposedly opens up around 6pm on Saturday night and goes until the next morning, the wee hours. I didn't want to be out walking around so late, so I went around 7pm, and I must say I didn't get the best vibe. I saw a few rats as I was walking toward the market area (my first rats that I've seen in all my travels these past three months! I was surprised I hadn't seen more, actually). And the market just wasn't as interesting. I think I was probably too early for the full night market feel. Also, I just didn't feel so safe there. So I came, saw, and left.
    • Chow Kit wet market— this was another great market. It felt bigger than Imbi and Pudu… but with these markets, it's hard to get your bearings. I just walked down paths, meandered to the right and to the left, ended up somewhere new… I could have done this for quite awhile in any of the markets to really map out my path, but I didn't take the time. There were lots of fresh produce at this market. This market also has more of an Indian/ Malay feel than the other markets I'd seen. So I had a noodle soup at a hawker stall– the vendor called it soto ayam– a curry soup with chicken, I think. It was good.

    I loved walking around these markets, mingling best I could with the locals. I rarely saw any other tourists. I'm sure I stuck out, though, with my backpack and iPhone taking photos. But it was great fun to just walk around and use all my five senses to just soak in the environment.

    I usually went in the early morning (since I was waking up anytime between 5am and 7am everyday), which is the best time to go to be part of the crowds of people who are buying what they need. Markets just aren't the same when there's no one around. I loved the hustle and bustle of the shoppers and the vendors.

  • Air conditioning. So it's not so eco-friendly of me to think this, but in this tropical climate, I was so appreciative of the blasts of a-c that were ever present in shops, stores, public transportation, my hotel. I'm just not meant for tropical weather, I think. I really felt like I was melting. I don't think the actual temperature was higher than the low 90s, but the high humidity, burning sun, and heat-absorbing asphalt all combined to make it feel like it was in the 100s. I was dripping sweat the minute I stepped out the door. I needed a handkerchief to wipe the sweat off my face and neck every few minutes. Not fun. So a-c was a welcome treat. I even went into malls (which I usually can't stand) to get some a-c relief.
  • Craft Cultural Complex (aka Kompleks Budaya Kraf). This was a nice surprise. I ended up spending a few hours there. It's a combination museum, artist colony, exhibition area, and store. It showcases traditional Malaysian arts– batik, songkat, woodcarving, silver and other metalwork, painting, and other fabric arts. The artist colony consists of little huts all over the campus that are artists' workshops. They do their thing in these huts and people can walk around, talk with them, and admire their work. What I really enjoyed, in addition to seeing the artists' huts, was doing my own batik piece for just 15 MYR ($5). I got to pick out an already prepped design, and then I got some paints and I went to work. Very cool and so worth it. Batik is basically creating designs with wax and then using paint and water in those wax-outlines. I bought some souvenirs, too.

My batik creation of a gecko. Purty!

  • Batu Caves Hindu Shrine. This was a last minute sightseeting decision. I hadn't even really known about this place until Sunday, my last day in the city before my evening flight, when I was trying to see if there was anywhere of interest that I had not yet visited. I did a bit of research and read about Batu Caves. It sounded interesting as a landmark plus it was a train ride away which would use up some of the ample time I felt I wanted to use up. So I paid one MYR to take a 30 minute train ride out of the city to this really impressive and jaw-dropping natural PLUS man made wonder. Batu Caves itself naturally formed– caves with really cool craggy stalactites from above. Really tall, too. The shrine part was built by people and includes some small Hindu temples scattered around the site as well as two really really tall Hindu gods– Hanuman and Murugan. Really really tall. These photos don't do their height justice. But alongside the caves, it's really quite cool. I'm glad I went. The site also includes a 272 step hike up to the cave entrance, and then you walk around inside. Totally worth the trip. And it was free except for the 3 MYR or so that I spent on public transportation there.

Murugan on the left (the 272 stairs are to the left of his statue) and Hanuman on the right.

I'd say in all, I enjoyed my stay in KL. I'm not a big city person, though, so I could only take so much at a time. I splurged my second time around and stayed at a nicer hotel– the Sky Express Hotel, right near Bukit Bintang which is the hip, happening shopping district (still, only $60/ night!!), so I did some sightseeing in the morning and early afternoon, came back and rested for a few hours, and then went to get some dinner. It was nice to have a spacious and clean air conditioned room to come back to for a few hours.

Now ready to go back to some non-city living. Back to the U.S.!

Scrumptious-ness Abounds in Melaka!

When I was in Indonesia, I met a German traveler who had been in Malaysia. I asked her some places to check out and I asked her about the food. She didn't seem all that impressed by the food, which surprised me because I thought the food was famous here… I must say with no reservations that she was totally wrong. Or I should rephrase that, we must have completely different palates. The food in Malaysia is AMAZING! I have to say that pretty much everywhere I've eaten, both places I did research on and places I just ended up at have been really tasty. I have not had one disappointing meal.

Melaka has been a highlight of my Malaysian food pilgrimage. So much to try, and I think I was able to try all that I wanted. Sorry if you're not as into food as I am, but I'm going to do a meal by meal documentation here. Get ready for the ride!

I got into Melaka in the early evening on Monday, and after checking into my guesthouse, I headed straight to Jonker Dessert 88, a popular joint for cendol (a Malaysian ice dessert) and other dishes. I'd been craving laksa, so I got their signature baba laksa, which is noodles in a coconut soup base with fish cakes and a few veggies. So tasty. A great first meal in Melaka and it cost me 6 MYR ($2). Woohoo!

The next morning, I was up early and went to Low Yong Moh for dim sum. I ordered a bunch of things, but I had no idea what I was eating. I really wish I could read and speak Chinese! The roast pork bao was delicious. The other dishes were good, but I think I've had better dim sum. I spent 13 MYR ($4.30) on this spread!

For lunch I went to Poh Piah Lwee for poh piah (a Malaysian crepe-spring roll with some mix of veggies. I thought it was onions, but I think it's turnips and/ or jicama (according to Wikipedia!). So delicious. Light, savory and a bit tangy. I've never had anything like it. This place specializes in it. The cendol I had for dessert was ok… Someone had reviewed that this place's cendol was great. I'm not sure if I agree. But the poh piah was definitely worth it. And all together, 6 MYR ($2).

I had a snack later of a Nyonya dumpling from Poh Piah Lwee. The cute lady of the shop told me to come back that afternoon for their dumplings. She was too cute, so I came back to give her my business, and I was not disappointed. It was sooo good. And I ordered two more for takeaway. There were people driving by and buying up bags of these dumplings! Glad I got the two extra. I had them in my hotel in KL! Each dumpling was 4 MYR (a little over $1).

The dumpling was just a snack, so I went to Calanthe Art Cafe for dinner. I had passed it several times and it had a really cute exterior, so I went in for some coffee and more baba laksa! The waitstaff were really friendly, and I had a nice chat with one while getting bitten up by mosquitoes, as I found out when I got back to my guesthouse. These Malaysian mosquitoes are vicious! The interesting thing about this cafe is they have gone to all 13 Malaysian states and come back to sell all those types of coffees under one roof. They also have other kinds of coffee drinks and various Malaysian and Western dishes. They were setting up their Christmas decorations and playing Christmas music while I was eating; it was a really nice holiday environment, and the coffee and laksa were yummy. All together for 16 MYR (about $5.30).

Thursday was my last day in Melaka, with an early evening bus ride back to Kuala Lumpur. I had some Nyonya kuih and a nasi lemak at a small little eatery, Dans Dapur Ekspres. The owner, Danny, was a nice guy and chatted with me and two other visitors, two guys from Singapore. The kuih were good. They reminded me of Vietnamese rice flour desserts or Japanese mochi or Korean 떡 (rice cake). The lemak was ok. That's a very traditional Malaysian rice dish that usually has some dried fish.

An assortment of Nyonya kuih on top. Nasi lemak below.

Nyonya food is the traditional fusion food of the Malay women who married Chinese babas. My understanding is that Nyonya food has developed in its own vein, and it's a unique blend of various cultures. In any case, all the dishes I has were delicious!

My last meal in Melaka was at Nancy's Kitchen, known for their good Nyonya food. And it did not disappoint. I got Kueh Pie Tee, which is basically the poh piah filling in these little pastry shells shaped like top hats. Great hors d'oeuvres type snack. Then I had the chicken candlenut with rice for my main dish. Candlenut looks like a macadamia nut and it's used in sauces. This dish reminded me of a curry of sorts, very flavorful, lemongrass, ginger, and other Southeast Asian flavors. Really rich and tasty.

Kueh Pie Tee

Chicken candlenut

Thus ended my eating travels in Melaka. Very enjoyable and scrumptious! There are lots more places and foods to try, so if you end up going, just do some research and approach it all with an open mind and empty stomach!!

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