best of the bay area

these are not my favorite places; these are the best places. think i'm wrong? do tell.

best place to make reservations just for french toast
custard french toast / nopa / sf (nopa)

best place to take off your clothes and induce tachycardia
archimedes banya / sf (hunter's point)

best place to become a wowowowow-PANCAKES-zomg person
lemon ricotta pancakes / venus / berkeley

best place to have a sit-down on a bench
ina coolbrith park / sf (russian hill)
honorable mention: on a tree trunk bench, west of morrison hall at uc berkeley

best place to bring cash and yell at each other over drinks outdoors
jones / sf (tendernob)

best place to marvel at pretty, dead things
paxton gate / sf (mission)

best place to eat everything on the menu
cafe de casa (brazilian breakfast) / sf (north beach)

best place to eat just so you can check out their bathroom
kenken ramen / sf (mission)
don't actually eat their ramen (it's not great); go during lunch and eat their curry

best place to put freshly fried sugary bread in your tummy
freshly made glazed doughnuts / king pin donuts / berkeley

best instructor to get you to join a cult
andrew / soulcycle / sf (soma) or san mateo or palo alto

best place to lick the thickest, creamiest, whitest, tastiest froyo ever
italian frozen yogurt / foodhall / sf (mission)

best yakionigiri (oily grilled rice balls)
tanto / sunnyvale

best ramen
shio ramen (hokkaido-style white tonkotsu) / santouka / santa clara
if i had to choose on in sf... tsukemen / waraku / sf (japantown)

best place to listen to people telling personal stories
fireside storytelling / sf (mission/bernal)
honorable mention: bawdy storytelling / sf (potrero)

best place to ice cream
tara's / berkeley
if i had to choose in sf... ici / berkeley
oops, for real, if i had to choose in sf... bi-rite / sf (nopa / western addition)

best place to see a play in someone's house (seriously, it's awesome)
third cloud from the left / sf

best place to stare at the walls while you eat
radio habana (social club) / sf (mission)

best place to enjoy some gold ol' fashioned roller disco
6th ave + kennedy in golden gate park / sf

albania montenegro croatia

once upon a time, i went to albania, montenegro, and croatia.

  • according to google location history: i biked 147.5km / 91.6 mi over the course of 4 days in 15h 31m
  • the worst parts about biking around croatia in june: the steep climbs, the unbearable heat, sharing narrow roads with buses
  • the best parts about biking around croatia in june: the steep descents, the unbelievably picturesque scenery, washing off your salty beautiful self by swimming in the salty beautiful waters, the post-cycling feasts
  • number of unique places i'll have spent the night in over the course of 21 days: 16 beds, 1 couch, 2 airplane seats
  • places i anti-recommend for adults: budva (montenegro)
  • things that scared me but did anyway and survived: jumped off a reasonably-sized rock (~10ft) into the sea in dhermi (albania), descended at full speed on brac island (croatia)
  • comments that new people/strangers made to my face that i didn't expect: 
    • "you're obviously not type a"
    • "you're the type of person who'd survive a war"
    • "oh gail, come here, you'd like these -- they're little nerdy toys!"
    • "...what kind of drugs have you taken today?"
    • "i really, really like you. seriously, i haven't felt this way in x years. i don't know why. this is very unusual."
  • silliest interaction (probably incoherent; for my records only): in tirana (albania) trying to figure out where this asian dude + white guy are from by running up from behind them and unsuccessfully eavesdropping. they stop, so we stop. i start speaking in a british accent and make it clear that we speak english. we move on because we're lingering too long. they follow behind and i hear the white guy say "yingguo ren" ("english person"). he says more stuff in mandarin i don't understand, but alfred does, turns around and says, "HELLO, GENTLEMAN." apparently they were trying to figure out where we're from, too, and the white dude said he'd ask next time we turn around.
  • games that more adults should play: uno
  • an ambitious high-impact idea i wish someone would pursue: convince everyone worldwide to replace smoking cigarettes with blowing bubbles
  • new phrase i learned: pussy smoke (means something like 'piece of cake')
  • most memorable thing i ate: a sheep's head (albania)
  • the tastiest parts of the sheep's head: its eyes and brain
  • number of mussels i ate in albania: too many
  • number of juice bottles i drank in croatia: too many
  • percentage of disappointing gelatos i consumed: 100%
  • today, i'm: sick when i should be healthy, peeling where i applied sunscreen a mole of times, blonde where i should be purple, rewatching too many rick and morty episodes
  • tomorrow, i'm: probably staying in all day when i should be exploring istanbul
  • and the next day, i'm: finally back in sf! come visit me! but don't get sick! / probably still desperate for good asian food / relishing in the sub-30C weather

balance and escape

i seem to have this tendency to want to escape my current life/situation when things feel too hectic (see 2013-09 when i escaped to la). my guess is that this has more to do with my difficulties in achieving just the right amount of stimulation; i'm often either too bored or overwhelmed. anyway, to be completely honest, i booked this flight to taipei on my birthday when i was feeling introspective and trapped and had a baby time bomb ticking away in my ear and didn't know when i'd have the chance to go exploring before 2017. booking flights seem to be my weapon of choice when it comes to combating restlessness, i guess, because it feels oddly liberating to know i can 1) do whatever i want whenever i want (within reason), and 2) travel abroad solo with very little anxiety. (i should probably mention that i recognize that this isn't necessarily a healthy thing and have promised myself not to book any flights for the first quarter (maybe two) of 2017.)

this trip is pretty different than my last ones. last year's trip to vietnam was all about adventure and spontaneity and pushing my limits. this year, it's more of a retreat with themes of rest, reflection, and reset. the timing isn't ideal since i just came off a cfar* high and can't work on some of my bugs until i'm back in sf, but this respite from bay area life is much needed and long overdue. i think the fact that people around me are always doing something cool--attending workshops, going to meetups, learning new things, cultivating new skills, meeting new people, running/yogaing, attending some weirdass event--and that we only get 52 weekends a year makes me feel like non-productive things (like watching tv, playing games, cooking, and generally doing relaxing things at home) are a waste of time. the only time i really allow myself to do that stuff is when it can double as spending quality time with someone or when i'm sick and immobile. @_@

for now, here's my workcation so far in images:

 

anyway. so far, so good. clearly i haven't done much in taipei but eat. my days generally consist of waking up at 5am, working, meditating, walking around, eating super delicious foods, inhaling the sweet smells of taiwanese bakeries, drinking boba, working, reading, writing, and sweating like crazy in the heat. alexei joins me on saturday for a week (yay!), which means more adventuring, which means hopefully i'll have a more interesting update with less foods and more scenic stuffs next time. :)

going slow in caye caulker, belize

once upon a time, a few members of my a cappella family and i had this brilliant idea to celebrate america's independence day by leaving the country for a tropical island. it only took a shuttle, three airplanes, a cab, and a water taxi boat to finally arrive at caye caulker, belize.

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caye caulker's motto is go slow. what a fantastic theme for someone who's used to moving as quickly as possible both at work and on vacation. even if i wanted to "go fast", the heat and humidity wouldn't have let me. i showered 2-3 times a day and would walk out sweating bullets pretty much immediately.

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the island is fairly small. we could bike up and down the entire town in about 7 minutes. it was super easy running into other tourists we'd met earlier on the trip (especially since there's really only one bar that comes to life at night).

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we happened to arrive at the start of lobster season! i only ate 8 meals on the island and 5 of those featured lobster. how can you resist when it's on nearly every menu and doesn't cost an arm and a leg?

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this was probably my first vacation where i had nothing planned and didn't really do anything that cost money except eat and drink. i spent most of my time swimming in the ocean, reading, singing, and lounging around. we were approached several times by different rastafarians interested in selling us da ganja. they were super friendly and we politely declined (though i did end up purchasing a lobster curry pie from one of them).

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all in all, an awesome vacation and quick getaway from real life. :D

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japanese brain dump

today is day 9 of adventuring in japan, but within the first day of exploration, i'd already fallen in love with tokyo. it amazes me that there are so many things that just make sense and align with my own values and quirks.

safety. there's pretty much no crime here. i could walk around at 3am by myself if i wanted and not have to worry about being raped and murdered.

 out for a morning stroll at 5am

out for a morning stroll at 5am

design with intent. it seems like nothing here is designed without some sort of purpose. seems like everything's got superb ux (user experience). ridge in the middle of your water bottle? a place to grip when unscrewing the cap. not sure how to navigate the train station? don't worry -- there are a billion signs pointing you in the right direction starting a billion meters away. no sink in the bathroom? look again! it's on top of the toilet and automatically starts running as soon as your flush. need a quick meal but don't wanna leave your hotel? get one from the vending machine and instantly heat it (without a microwave) when you're ready.

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pay what you see. no need to mentally tack on an extra ~30% to your bill to account for tax and tip before ordering. you know exactly what you're going to pay when you order.

efficiency. everyone walks quickly to their destination (at least in tokyo). restaurant checks are given to you immediately after you receive your food so you can pay at the cashier when you're ready. half the cars on the shinkansen (bullet train) are for reserved seats (for planners who want to guarantee their seat) and the other half is for folks who just want to hop on (for spontaneous folks or those who need more flexibility). i guess this section could also be lumped into the ux category.

 no strolling here. everyone walks quickly to their destination.

no strolling here. everyone walks quickly to their destination.

service workers are awesome. they're helpful and efficient. they don't screw up. they don't get mad at you (at least visibly) when you misunderstand. they actually seem to care about their customers and their jobs. one of the cashiers said arigato gozaimasu (thank you very much) at least three times during a quick transaction.

brilliant public transit. average wait time for a train (in tokyo) has been about 45 seconds. maybe faster. train stations are everywhere. subway cards are easy to use and aren't just for train rides; you can use them at vending machines, convenience stores, and even starbucks! the shinkansen goes all over the country, which is why we're able to hit multiple cities on this trip pretty easily. dear bart+caltrain, please get your act together already.

 how many arrows can you spot?

how many arrows can you spot?

respect for others. people aren't selfish douchebags who think only of themselves. they're aware of the people around them and act accordingly. people say things like thank you and sorry. people wear face masks to protect others (and themselves) from germs. people speak quietly (often times not at all) on trains and no one forces their loud music on you (side note: it's amazing how much sound can come out of people's earphones on bart and caltrain. how are they not deaf yet??). people check with the people sitting behind them before reclining their seats. people apologize and bow when you're walking on the street and accidentally get in each other's way. so nice to experience life where people actually follow the golden rule.

streets are clean. there aren't garbage cans on every corner, yet there's no garbage in the streets. people are courteous and unlazy enough to clean up after themselves. why is this so difficult to teach everywhere else?

 i can't read this sign, but i imagine it has to do with littering.

i can't read this sign, but i imagine it has to do with littering.

hygiene. sort of. at the beginning of every meal, we receive a wet nap to clean our hands (and without the sterile cleaning product smell that makes me lose my appetite). the only time you'll see this in the us is at bbq restaurants -- to be used after your meal. almost every toilet i've used has a heated seat and bidet. the little trash cans in the stalls of public bathrooms are hands-free and automatic. the "sort of" comes from the not-so-clean hygienic parts, which include no napkins during your meal and (sometimes) no soap in the restrooms.

dining on a low table. i almost always sit crosslegged, even when i'm in a proper chair. these seats are perfect for me!

 my room in yudanaka (near nagano) comes with a little tea set and dining table.

my room in yudanaka (near nagano) comes with a little tea set and dining table.

 stefan sitting (uncomfortably) on the floor

stefan sitting (uncomfortably) on the floor

fashion. shopping for dresses is always super difficult for me. after you weed out all the ones with plunging necklines and upper thigh high hems, the only things left are super uggos. the department stores here are the opposite, filled with tons of dresses i wouldn't mind wearing.


and of course there are things that don't make sense. but in an amusing way. :) (except for the first item listed below.)

smoking. it's illegal to smoke outdoors but legal inside (??????), so they've created smoking lounges for people who need a quick smoke. many restaurants and shops have non-smoking sections, but it's not like you can really partition the two completely.

robot restaurant. the robot restaurant is neither restaurant, nor robot (okay there may have been a few robots, but the food was definitively not restaurant quality). for $50, you get to be the live studio audience for a wacky japanese tv show... except that it's not broadcast on tv. it's just 60 minutes plain bizarreness. despite being a tourist trap, we thought it was totally worth it.

 live band in the lobby.

live band in the lobby.

 while we waited for the show, we played with this cool robot dinosaur.

while we waited for the show, we played with this cool robot dinosaur.

 pleo reacted to various sights, sounds, and touches (feels?).

pleo reacted to various sights, sounds, and touches (feels?).

snow monkeys. these little guys are sooo cute. i don't understand how they survive in the mountains where it's freezing cold. luckily there are a few hot springs around the area where they spend their mornings lazying around and picking through each other's fur for food and snuggling.

 snow monkeys don't care about the weird humans who come visit everyday.

snow monkeys don't care about the weird humans who come visit everyday.

 keeping warm! (...and making out a little bit? O_o)

keeping warm! (...and making out a little bit? O_o)

 foraging for seeds and bugs in the dirt.

foraging for seeds and bugs in the dirt.

raw meat. why bother cooking when you can just butcher the animal and start plating? so far i've eaten raw fish, raw oyster, raw chicken, and raw horse. who knows what's next.

 raw chicken: liver, heart, and breast. yum!

raw chicken: liver, heart, and breast. yum!

 raw horse (basashi). double yum!!

raw horse (basashi). double yum!!

 freakin' delicious street food: fresh oyster and steamed scallop.

freakin' delicious street food: fresh oyster and steamed scallop.

fruit. stef and i were puzzled by the high fruit prices and the perfectly shaped strawberries for sale. we were later told that only the prettiest fruits are allowed to be sold in the market. cherries are separated by hand by size and, again, only the perfect-looking ones are sold.

 perfectly shaped white strawberries with red seeds.

perfectly shaped white strawberries with red seeds.

 humungo bananas!!!!!!

humungo bananas!!!!!!