Lilypie - First Birthday

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

[San Francisco] City by the Bay

Week 1
Day 4 (Nov 23rd, Sunday)
Day 2 in San Francisco - Morning in Golden Gate Park, Marina Green (Palace of Fine Arts)

The second day, I woke up in a room with a view, still feeling that I was living a dream. Was I really in San Francisco, a few thousand miles away from home? It seemed too good to be true!

The remnants of last night were still fresh in my mind. After descending from Glacier Point, Yosemite, we stopped by a shopping mall with a J.C. Penney's to have dinner. It was our first time eating Panda Express, and we over-ordered. So we packed up the remaining food, then I fell into a half-sleep-half-wake state in what seemed like the longest journey in the car till we crossed the Bay Bridge to San Francisco.

The first time seeing the city of San Francisco, even at night, was fascinating. We passed through the Financial District. The feeling was out of this world, like I was suddenly picked up by a giant hand and placed right in the center of a very modern world, where bright lights filtered through glass-windowed offices and lit up the entire business district. Though KLCC is almost certainly compatible, the place gave out an entirely different vibe: it was very clean, very organized, very Wall Street, very American-movie-ish. I suddenly thought about all the movies featuring business offices, like Paycheck.

The ride to Sutter & Powell, where our hotel was located, was by no means easy, even with the help of the trusty GPS. The streets of San Francisco are up the steepest hills I've ever seen! Not to mention the streets are narrow and difficult to maneuver, with roadsigns filled with words to test your reading skills, and you might not notice a cable car coming from behind! Thank God for auto-gears!

Since we could not stop for long in front of the hotel, Leo and Dad went to check-in first with most of the luggage, while the rest of us drove to O'Farrell & Powell garage, which was like a few blocks away, to park the car. Parking in San Francisco is damn expensive, cos the land is limited and expensive, somewhat like Penang. The 'Evening Special' at the garage cost us $15.90, and we had to leave by 9a.m. the next day, which was a Sunday. Luckily parking is free on Sundays! Meeting up at Macy's after that, we ate the rest of our Panda Express for supper and drifted off to sleep in the rosyness of the San Francisco night.

Steep streets of San Francisco

Back to this fine morning, it was a Golden Gate Day! Our itinerary for the day was to take a stroll in the Golden Gate Park, visit the Palace of Fine Arts in Marina Green area, take many photos of the famed Golden Gate Bridge at various scenic viewpoints, head off to Sausalito for lunch then go wine-tasting in the vineyards at Napa Valley.

Neighborhood Architecture on the way to Golden Gate Park - I saw this photo too in the Chinese book titled "50 Ways to Hug San Francisco" 《50个拥抱旧金山的方式》

Golden Gate Park

Who would have expected a city as small as San Francisco to contain the largest man-made park in the world? I only learnt about it much later... To think we were only wandering around a small part of the park! We were at the right-most end of the Park, near the Conservatory of Flowers.

Conservatory of Flowers

Taking a lovely stroll in the park

Nevertheless, it was a wonderful morning for us to 'paktoh', holding hands and walking side-by-side down the lush greenery of the area, breathing in the clear morning breeze and only stopping now and then to capture those precious moments with our camera. There was a small university marathon event going on and found ourselves walking into a multitude of joggers coming from the opposite direction. I guess every city needs a green lung for its dwellers to de-stress and do some exercise during the weekends; San Franciscans are truly lucky to have such a huge beautiful Park to their usage; as are we with our Penang Botanical Gardens and Ipoh Polo Grounds, though small.

Gigantic reeds make a lovely wallpaper

Other spots of interest in the vast Golden Gate Park are the Dutch windmills, the beautiful lake with a small island called Strawberry Hill in the middle where lovers can row boats, the bison paddock and the Japanese tea house. I wish I'll be able to visit these places one day.

Marina Green

Elegant houses in the Marina neighborhood - note the jutting window structures that bring in more sunlight in a city which is often shrouded in fog

Palace of Fine Arts

We took a stroll in the lovely grounds of the Palace of Fine Arts. Unfortunately we couldn't go in, because it was closed for repair. It was a beautiful, beautiful memory because of the romantic landscape - the lush greenery, the pond where we saw swans, mandarin ducks and various types of water fowl, and of course, the Roman-Grecian inspired Palace itself. How nice if I could take my wedding photo here?

Palace of Fine Arts

However, the top of the structures feels a bit creepy because there are "men" trying to peer into the interior!

We saw someone being interviewed... a famous author, perhaps?

Feeding pigeons, geese, seagulls, etc...

Oooh... romance is in the air

I love em' Mandarin ducks

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I left my heart in San Francisco

Song of the day: "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" by Tony Bennett

The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gay
The glory that was Rome is of another day
I've been terribly alone and forgotten in Manhattan
I'm going home to my city by the bay.

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me
To be where little cable cars
Climb halfway to the stars
The morning fog may chill the air
I don't care

My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco
Your golden sun will shine for me!

This song will be the 'song of the day' for the whole duration of my stay in San Francisco. Fittingly, this beautiful song is one of two official anthems of the city of San Francisco. Playing this song over and over in my head evoked so much romanticism as I traversed through the mixed modernity and antiquity of Union Square, up and down the sloped streets of the city at night, and past its quaint neighborhoods in the daytime. I haven't been to Paris yet, but I must say so far, San Francisco is the most beautiful and romantic city I have ever visited.

Week 1
Day 3 (Nov 22nd, Saturday)
Day 2 in San Francisco - Hotel 180

Daybreak - View from our hotel overlooking Union Square, San Francisco

In-N-Out burger

When I came back from the U.S. one of the frequent questions I get from my colleagues is: "Did you try the In-N-Out burger? The fries are very nice..."

I said "Yes!"

I didn't know the fastfood joint was one of the best then!

Yummy fries!

Their fries are really thick, big and REALLY fresh! I saw the kitchen workers taking huge potatoes, peeling off their skin and straightaway cutting and frying them!

My regret is: why didn't I eat more In-N-Out fries?!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Yosemite National Park, California

Song of the day: Whatever You Like by T.I.
This song has been playing on the radio since the first day I stepped into the U.S. It has some real dirty lyrics, but what the heck, I totally dig it.

Week 1
Day 2 (Nov 21st, Friday)
L.A. -> Yosemite National Park -> San Francisco

The U.S. is a place of great natural beauty. Yosemite National Park, the U.S.'s first National Park is truly one to prove it. I regret not going along with Leo's suggestion that we visit Yosemite on the way back from S.F. to L.A. It took 6 hours to drive to Yosemite from L.A. while it takes only 2 hours from S.F. to Yosemite. Wintertime means shorter days and longer nights. In not doing so, we only managed to spend less than half a day in the great Yosemite park. :-(

Road to Yosemite

Trees slowly changing color in late fall

We passed by beautiful meadows...

...and creeks so quaint that we couldn't help but to stop and take pictures...

...saw the largest trees in the world - Giant Sequoias at Mariposa Grove that can live up to 2000 years and grow up to a diameter of 25 feet...

...and tempted little rock squirrels to feed out of my empty palm...

We had only a few hours of sunlight left while we were faced with a choice of either visiting Yosemite Valley or Glacier Point. In the end we chose Glacier Point as the road would usually be closed in winter and there was a lesser chance to visit a second time. At an elevation of 8000ft, Glacier Point is one of the most easily accessible mountain viewpoints by car! I had never been this high before! And the view was breathtaking!

View from Glacier Point - the Clark Range mountains (At this point I seriously regret not buying a DSLR with wide-angle lens to capture the astounding scenery)

Half Dome rock - Sometimes it looks like a bird to me and sometimes it looks like a Red Indian chieftain. The left face looks as slippery as a mirror. I was surprised to know that people can actually hike up there from the right then gaze down the slippery face! It's amazing how human challenges nature!

Behind me is North Dome. There is a legend stated in the National Park leaflet where Half Dome and North Dome were once husband and wife who quarrelled a lot and were punished by the gods to be turned into stone and stand forever facing each other across the valley. Doesn't sound quite appealing to me if I hated my other half enough to tear his hair off each time I see him.

I'm guessing that's the Merced River down there.

All of us!

I love this picture very much - my family portrait

Colors of dusk at Yosemite

Sadly, there was no time left for us to visit Yosemite Valley. We had to beat nightfall by getting out of the park as fast as possible as it would be dangerous to drive downhill as the night deepened. The drive downhill was extremely winding, dark, and scary. It was an amazing relief when we got out of the National Park and saw civilization again at a nearby village. We drove on to San Francisco and reached around 10pm.

I'd used the word 'amazing' 3 times in this post and I think it would not hurt to use it a few more times here. Leo, you're an amazing driver and boyfriend. Without you it would not be possible to see this amazing creation of God. And also to my brother, it was amazing for him to continue halfway driving us safely to San Francisco even though it was his first time driving in the U.S. Hopefully I'll be able to pay another visit to Yosemite and see Mirror Lake! My friend just told me he's been there 4 times and not finished seeing the Park yet!

Arrival at LAX and Santa Monica Pier

Song of the day: Santa Monica by Savage Garden

Week 1
Day 1 (Nov 20th, Thursday)
Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

After a gruelling 14-hour flight from HKIA to LAX (not to mention the previous 4 from KLIA to HKIA), my family and I finally touched down on U.S. soil on 20th Nov, around 8.30pm Asia Pacific Time. Truth to tell, by then I was too washed-out by the long travelling hours and the tight confinement of an Economy class seat, not to mention the mixed feelings of anxiety and fear of getting picked for Special Registration to clearly appreciate the fact that I had, already, arrived in America!

Call me hopelessly brainwashed by Hollywood, but visiting the U.S. of A had long been my childhood dream - even when my British tuition teacher sniffed up her high nose in response to me choosing the U.S. over Britain when I was 10 years old. So when I was feeling less than appreciative of my surroundings, a little voice in me scolded myself, "C'mon you! It's the U.S. of A for God's sake! Where's that little spark of excitement in you? Give it to me!" But I had patience. Maybe not yet, not at that moment, but I knew I would surely gain that 'correct' feeling somehow, that special feeling one can only have, once you step into fabulous America.

Half an hour later... (at the arrival hall after smoothly passing through U.S. immigration, phew!) - I saw him! I saw him! We had been apart for what, just 4 months (now that it's in writing it seems curiously few!) yet I was missing him every minute of the time. He looked so Americanized, blending perfectly into the people around him by wearing that Guess jacket and carrying a huge hardcover (it could only be Stephen King) under one arm. He looked fatigued as well, the poor thing worn-out from his 7-hour drive from Arizona, but every bit the loving boyfriend I had remembered him to be. It was worth every moment apart.

My family upon arrival at LAX - I'm in mom's dorky sweater. No worries about seeing that sweater on me again - it had shrunk to baby size after putting it in the dryer!

Santa Monica pier

The first thing we did out of the dingy airport was to grab a footlong Subway and stop by Santa Monica pier. Wait a minute, did he mention Santa Monica? Immediately, the Savage Garden song sprang to mind: "Santa Monica, in the wintertime, the lazy streets so undemanding..." It was really Santa Monica in the wintertime! However, it was already 10p.m. and the place was devoid of in-line skaters waiting to knock us down.

We took a good long walk at the pier, taking deep long breaths in the salty sea-breeze and trying not to chill to death. It was cold, but not winter-cold yet, just the chilly breeze from the sea trying to knock us off our feet.

The pier was beautiful, not to mention surreal - I felt like I had stepped into a Hollywood movie set. My brother and I remembered the pier from a movie we watched when we were little, about a kid trapped in Tom Hanks' adult body. It even had Zoltar the fortune-telling machine, which I also remember seeing in the movie. By the way, the Santa Monica Pier is really a favourite shooting spot for movies. The film 'Hancock' featured it near the ending where Charlize Theron took a walk with her family. Because my family camera went dead, we didn't take many photos then but surprise, surprise, fate brought us back on the last day before I left U.S. so I'll be posting Santa Monica pics on the last post of this trip!

Dad trying to pull a Forrest Gump at the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company

Dropped dead on the bed in the motel afterwards... but not before a nice bath with almond-and-oatmeal soap!

My first stay at a U.S. motel - complete with kitchenette!

Next up: Yosemite National Park! Stay tuned...