My First Disneyland Day

For me, magic doesn’t usually require waking up an hour before my work day morning routine, but when you save an hour waiting in line for Space Mountain, it definitely feels like the right decision.

Since moving to the Bay Area just over 10 years ago, I have made many trips down to LA but never quite made it to Disneyland. We typically would leave at earliest on Friday afternoon and drive back to be at school or work on Monday morning, so we never found the time to make the price of admission worth it. However, my cousin Owen’s high school graduation was on a Wednesday, so since we had to dip out in the middle of the week, we extended our vacation through the following weekend and cut out a day to spend at Disneyland. Continue reading “My First Disneyland Day”

The Policy Bubble

For the 4 years, I have been out of town for the 4th of July, and each time was for completely different reasons. In 2014, I spent the 4th in Indianapolis for a college friend’s wedding. In 2015, I spent the 4th at a friend’s cabin in Minnesota. In 2016, I spent the 4th in Ireland for my honeymoon. And in 2017, I spent the week around the 4th in Washington DC visiting my sister. Continue reading “The Policy Bubble”

A Visit to the Houston Rodeo

A few weeks ago, Julie and I went back to Houston for a friend’s wedding. Despite having spent a third of my life there, I don’t identify much with Texas in conversation, and I warn against making vacation plans to anywhere except Austin. However, it’s always nice to spend time with family, and that Sunday, we decided to visit the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo. That would sound like a very Texan thing to do, but my family never went while I was growing up, so it was worth trying. Continue reading “A Visit to the Houston Rodeo”

Surviving the Bane of Road Trips

I grew up on the family road trip. Every summer, my family would pile into the minivan and travel across the United States to national parks, amusement parks, and swimming pools at Fairfield Inns. I would pack a bagful of toys to occupy myself in the car, and over the years, those toys turned to library books, then copies of the USA Today. Some of my best reading was in the car on a random interstate because I had nothing more interesting to take my attention.

My family abided by a strong, tacit principle of keeping yourself entertained. My sisters and I spoke only to change the temperature or get a snack from the trunk filled with cereal, granola bars, and fruit taken from continental breakfasts. Altogether, it was an undemanding experience that we were all well-prepared for and very comfortable with.

Despite my extensive experience on interstate highways, road trips these days make me nervous. I mostly travel via plane since road trips only make sense for a few California destinations. However, my habit of road solemnity is apparently the anomaly. On my first Los Angeles road trip, I was shocked when a friend took shotgun with only a water bottle in hand. He wasn’t planning on sleeping: he was planning on talking for 6 hours.

I often ramble just to avoid awkward silences, and over the course of several hours, that is a lot of space to fill. I consider myself a decently interesting person, but I can only babble for 2 or 3 hours before running out of things to say. And if we’re doing the road trip to LA, that leaves us somewhere between remote and nowhere with only uncomfortable silence to keep us company.

Despite my inadequacy for the task, I too have embraced this chattering mindset. In fact, I now consider it my job as a road trip passenger to talk and keep the driver occupied. It’s only fair for all of us to share the load, and an engaged driver is a better driver.

Still, I had hoped there was a better way to road trip together, and I think I might have it. On the drive back from LA this past month, my cousin Adam introduced Julie and me to what I see as the future of non-awkward driving: Dungeons & Dragons (or just about any role-playing game). Specifically, I’m referring to the style of D&D that plays like improv theater using dice to resolve situations with chance. It is brilliant in several ways.

First, it’s not just a way to kill time: it is legitimately fun. Games like Contact and I Spy aren’t fun. If they were, people would play these games in regular life or at dinner parties, too. On the other hand, D&D is fun enough that there are conventions and businesses built around it. It is still somewhat niche, but this game has something for everyone.

Second, it is totally flexible with the number of people participating. It works for pairs. It works for 7 people stuff in a minivan. It works when someone falls asleep. It works when you’re skeptical friend realizes it is awesome and joins half-way through the game.

Second, you can play by only talking. Most board games require boards or cards to look at or share information. And if you were playing D&D as a tactical combat game, you would need a big grid map, miniatures, and a table for your players to surround. However, if you’re just focused on the storytelling, you can play the entire game in words and not worry about setting something up in a car. Also, it doesn’t require much packing or preparation. It’s nice if you can have character sheets printed ahead of time, but these days, you can find everything you need on the internet and use a dice rolling app.

 

Third, the driver can participate as well. Reading is a great way to pass the time in the backseat, but that doesn’t keep the driver entertained or engaged. Sleeping is also great but highly discouraged for drivers. Other than needing someone else to click the dice roller on their phone, drivers can participate fully.

Fourth, road trips fix the worst part of D&D: the time commitment. As much as I love D&D, it does take a very long time to play. Combat is slow as you go turn-by-turn, and even out-of-combat interactions are filled with long decisions and scene descriptions. Although it is engaging, an evening of D&D can fly by without much progress. On a road trip, however, that’s not a bug. That’s a feature.

So the next time you are packing for a road trip and dread how you’re going to get through the car ride, remember D&D. Or if that sounds too intense, check out Fiasco, an amazing storytelling game. Or try out improv theater games or group storytelling. All it takes is a little imagination.

Traveling Local

This past weekend, I went up to Sausalito with Julie and my cousin Adam, a fresh Bay Area transplant. After a typically slow drive through San Francisco, I drove northbound across the Golden Gate Bridge for the first time in my 3 year old car into this cute, throwback town across the bay from San Francisco.

We started with a late lunch at Lighthouse Cafe, a small throwback diner where we sat at the bar and saw our lunch come together. I learned that the trick to perfect eggs is to use a lot of oil to make sure they don’t stick. Also, if they don’t turn out perfect, throw them out and try again.

We walked over to Bay Model, a massive 2 football field sized model of the Bay with water accurately flowing to emulate tides and such. It’s a former US Army Corps of Engineers research facility turned museum because computer models made physical models outdated. Sadly, my home was not in the model because we’re too far away from water, but we did trace through various towns and roads we had traversed.

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Photo credits go to Julie who can actually appreciate visual things

Continue reading “Traveling Local”

Surprises and Plans in San Francisco

This past weekend, Julie and I went up to San Francisco to fulfill my birthday present for her. I said I would get her a messenger bag, but it was important that we find the right bag that would work for her and hopefully last a lifetime. SF is home to Chrome Industries, Timbuk2, and Mission Workshop, so we made a walking day trip out of the store visits around the city. We planned out our route, major stops, and meals, but a big part of these day trips are the unexpected parts, like seeing the Dalai Lama.

On our walk from Uniqlo in the Union Square area to Timbuk2 in Hayes Valley, we passed by the Symphony Hall on the other side of the street where we saw people standing around with signs. As we approached, the letters cleared up to a most surprising protest target: the Dalai Lama. I asked a guy standing on our side what was going on.

“The Dalai Lama is coming out of that door,” he replied.

“Soon?” He nodded in response.

I looked over at Julie, and we agreed that we could wait to see the Dalai Lama. There were a few false alarms when other suited security members walked in and out of the musician’s entrance door. We were amused by an enthusiastic passer-by who happened to carry dog treats in her purse and dog owners who were more permissive of random food than the dog itself.

Several minutes after the police has blocked off the street and the 3 black Suburbans had started their engines, we saw a figure robed in orange emerge from the door. The protesters immediately began their not-so-religious chanting: a call-and-response from a guy on a speakerphone. The first monk went into the first Suburban, but then another monk appeared and went into the second Suburban.

I had seen the Dalai Lama once in real life, and though I couldn’t remember it that well, I was pretty sure that neither of the monks were him. Then, the giant rolling garage door opened, and we saw the feet of more security guys. Behind it, we saw 2 more black cars, which pulled out as soon as possible. They drove off with the rest of the convoy, and I only got to maybe see the Dalai Lama through a tinted car window.

As Julie and I continued our walk, we joked about the “decoy monk” strategy by security. Obviously nothing went wrong with security, but had something happened, it was a pretty clever strategy. Were it, say, George Clooney, it’s somewhat difficult to fake a George Clooney. With the Dalai Lama, however, it’s probably not unlikely that there were more people like me who just know that he’s an old Tibetan guy.

When we planned our trip to the city, we did plan to have a delicious brunch in SoMa somewhere. We didn’t plan to see the Dalai Lama, or to almost see the Dalai Lama, or to see the Dalai Lama impersonators who actually look nothing like the Dalai Lama. We did plan to pick up socks from a shop in the Mission. We didn’t plan to get into a discussion with a Spanish storekeeper about the ethics of eating meat.

In fact, we weren’t even planning to go as of dinnertime the evening before. When Julie told me that her weekend was comparatively light, I off-handedly asked if she wanted to do this day trip to the city, and she agreed. I myself wasn’t actually so resolved to go up, so I hesitated in that moment: I had sketched out the day, but I didn’t have a route or specific stops in mind. Of course, it was only a matter of looking at a map and train schedules, so we figured out the details there.

Had we not decided to go then, however, I’m not sure when we would have gotten around to the trip. I have drifted back and forth on the best way to figure out the best things to do. When I was gung-ho about planning, we ended up waking up early on weekends and rushing to hit train schedules to maximize our time. When I relaxed, we ended up sitting around at home and not getting out there.

Like with many things, it seems the best methods are somewhere in-between and dependent on the situation. In this case, it took the right amount of planning to assemble an exciting itinerary and spontaneity to get out and do it. And the trip itself worked out with both the intended stops and unexpected encounters. I’ll have to stay both intentional and open-minded in the future.

My Parisian Getaway

Growing up, my family went on 1 vacation a year. Typically, we would go on a 10 to 16 day road trip during the summer to see some major American city. Despite having lived in Canada for half of my childhood, Canada apparently wasn’t worth seeing to my parents, who had already seen it and actually determined vacation itineraries.

So, we would pick a Boston or a Atlanta and drive, seeing national parks, museums, and Fairfield Inns along the way. We weren’t too much into trying local cuisines. The trunk was usually loaded with 2 crates and a cooler of crackers and cereal. My fondest memories of meals were continental breakfasts in hotels and the amazing hotel room-prepared combination of ramen, salad, and chocolate milk (we did this more than once). And so while the parts I most enjoyed of vacation were swimming in the hotel pool and watching SportsCenter, I’m thinking that we mostly spent vacations either in the car or at a museum or park.

Nowadays, my mom mostly vacations on cruises, but I did have the pleasure of going to Paris for a week on vacation with my mom, sister, aunt, and 2 (female) cousins. Continue reading “My Parisian Getaway”

Better than Begging?

A few weeks ago, I went down to Santa Barbara for the weekend with 3 friends. Santa Barbara is the stereotypical California city: the weather was summer-sunny in March, surfers milled around the beach, skateboarders weaved through the laughing tourists, storefronts and restaurants covered all of downtown, and the hills and ocean bracketed the town.

There were bums, too. Alongside the boardwalk leading out to the pier, several beggars had setup coin targets on the beach below. A sheet was covered with a few cups or sharpied circles, where some targets were just bullseye, while others would tell you have good of a lover you were.

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There were some coins on the targets, though I couldn’t really estimate how much was there, or how much money there was compared to a guy with a sign and a hat. There are many reasons why you might guess that targets might be a better or worse strategy.

The targets lack the human connection. You can’t look into the eyes of the man who has nothing other than hope for your pity. Without that, you won’t feel the same guilt or sympathy that might drive you to give. I don’t have a reference on-hand, but there’s at least a Stalin quote about how people are more sympathetic to individuals than to statistics. For example, organizations gathering donations to end hunger in Africa use a picture of a cute kid and may even let you “adopt”a child instead of explaining to you how your donation will affect millions in poverty. So, advantage to the panhandler on this issue.

Looking at the beggar himself may not always encourage us to donate. Many societies have stigmatized begging and homeless people, and interacting with them may be discouraged. We avert our eyes from things that disgust us, and we may feel better pretending as though these things don’t exist or never happened. In this case, giving only encourages beggars to continue to leech on society. A target, however, is less likely to trigger this social reaction, though that may change in the future. For now, advantage target.

The target also does offer some value to society. We play darts, bowling, and other carnival games to test our dexterity, and the target constructors made a game for our entertainment. Beggars, on the other hand, appear to offer little value, other than to Sherlock Holmes. Advantage target.

If we’re looking at offering value to society, though, begging may not be the fair comparison. There are many people who earn money on the street for minor tasks. There are dancers, buskers, the bush man, and those guys who stand really still. Whether you like them or not, they try to offer some service to earn your money. So maybe that last point was a wash.

One last comparison for the target could be fountains, where people will throw coins in for a wish. That’s a lot of money being thrown away just for a silly superstition, and who knows where the money goes. Maybe some really clever beggar made up the practice years ago as an easy way to get people’s money without them knowing it. So I guess it’s no worse than that.

So back in Santa Barbara, we did end up playing, and my friend Jordan almost claimed the title of best lover in the west. I’m not sure whether just missing the cup means that he’s almost the best in the west, or that he almost could have been the best in the west, but either way, he missed. I should head back to Santa Barbara again: not only is it as delightful as stereotypical California can be, but there’s a target maker who deserves my quarter by now.

My Vegas Heist

It’s the perfect heist. I go to Las Vegas for the long weekend with small team, masquerading as a bunch of recent grads looking to live up a weekend on the strip. We walk up and down the strip, try to beat the buffets, and see shows. Meanwhile, we have acquired keys to a home in the area that is currently unoccupied and have arranged transportation. One afternoon, we slip out of the crazy Vegas life, take what we want out of the home, and drive away with a truckload of things that happen to have a new home in my place in the Bay Area.

Well, it’s not perfect. I think in the perfect heist, the owner of the acquired items shouldn’t agree to the plan. A few months ago, I began a furniture hunt for my new place, and while standing outside a Starbucks next to a mattress store where a salesman was waiting for my response on a “take-it-or-leave-it” offer, my mom told me over the phone that I shouldn’t bother buying furniture since my grandpa had a fully furnished place in Vegas that only needed furniture for 2. At that moment, I was annoyed because I had been somewhat anxious about furniture shopping and had finally mustered up the courage to go to a mattress store. Ultimately, taking my grandpa’s furniture was lot less work and a lot more fun, at the risk of turning my own home into a weird reminder of my grandpa.

On Thursday night, Jordan, Heidi, and I pulled up to the community gate in what was almost a Volvo but ended up a Mazda 3 when the Hertz garage guard informed us that we had taken the wrong car despite the Volvo being in the stall number we were told. Anyways, at the community gate, I was stretching out of the window while keeping my foot on the brakes to look at the sign with the neighborhood map. The numbers were hard to make out in the dark, but I spotted my grandpa’s unit in the upper right corner, then pulled up another couple feet to the access box where I punched in the gate code.

The drive through the neighborhood was quick, but even in the dark, my expectations rose. I had imagined my grandpa in a cheap condo, but the buildings looked relatively new and well-maintained. We found our assigned parking spot right in front of the address I was given and quickly got up to the door. I pulled out the key ring my mom had given me over, or maybe “for” in retrospect, Christmas and saw 3 keys. The first key I tried worked, and upon popping open the door, we had arrived.

In the car ride over, I joked that I hoped the place didn’t smell like my grandpa. Well, it didn’t, but as soon as I stepped in, I saw a cashew can converted into a toothpick holder in the living room and recognized his handiwork. The living room opened to the dining area behind it, with the kitchen adjacent to that. In the coat closet, I found a “Hitachi” sweater, which is a holdover from his furniture and appliance store. The desk in the master bedroom had the clutter I expected from too many different things and an inability to part with old electronics.

The kitchen was filled with more reminders of my grandpa. I saw a reused jar on the counter filled with hard candies, like the Werther’s caramels that he, my mom, and I all love. Dried shrimp, appropriate for soups and fried rice, were in the fridge. I found dried orange peels in a cupboard and was immediately reminded of those sweet, sour treats in the small, heart-shaped plastic containers. Another cupboard was dedicated to large containers of rice.

As I was admiring the items around the kitchen that would soon be mine, Jordan pulled me into the washroom to point out that the toilet wasn’t flushing. I yanked the chain directly and was thankful that it then flushed, but that didn’t address the toilet carpet that had apparently been sopping wet even before we arrived. It was wet enough that it had to be recent, which was surprising because no one had been there for awhile. I grabbed a plastic bag from the bag collection that I had admired earlier, put the carpet in it, and carried it outside to dry.

Going back into the washroom, I flushed again and saw a drip from the pipe behind the toilet. It took me no time to find another reused plastic yogurt container in the kitchen to stick beneath the drip. First crisis averted.

In the next few minutes, we found maybe 5 bugs, mostly dead and swept those along. Next, I sat back in the beige couch in the living room, grabbed the remote, and hit the power button. The TV didn’t have any signal, and though I knew to scan for digital channels from my own TV, I decided instead to just turn it off. Looking around, I had the strange feeling of meeting important friends. Like a freshman arriving at their dorm and meeting their dormmates, I knew I would become well acquainted with everything in the room and would soon develop a relationship with all of it. But for now, it was all still new.

On the coffee table in front of me that looked more like a barebones bookshelf sat a pile of newspapers, with dates from about a year and a half ago. After chatting for a bit longer, we all decided to turn in for the night and each went to our own bedroom.

I woke up the next morning sometime around 11, maybe. None of the clocks were right, with the best being an hour off for daylights saving time. Coming out into the kitchen, Jordan told me that he had tried to take a shower that morning but couldn’t get any hot water. I tried the hot water from the sink, but it was even colder than the cold water. I had seen the hot water heater the night before and took a second look. There weren’t any obvious controls on it besides a spout at the bottom, which released cold water as well when opened.

Jordan seemed willing to deal with the situation as is. He would take a cold bath and boil some water to shave with, but I remembered that my grandfather had written an email introduction to the neighbors in the unit above, so I visited them for answers. The meeting was short, but he told me that the heater was electrical, so perhaps the circuit breaker was thrown.

We found the panel behind a door in one of the bedrooms, and as the neighbor suggested, many of them were turned off. In my grandfather’s handwriting were descriptions of every switch, so I flipped the one labeled “WATER HEATER” back on, and a few minutes later, we had hot water. Besides needing to empty the bucket behind the toilet twice more later, everything else went smoothly.

It was a strange confluence seeing my college friends in an environment so clearly constructed by my grandpa. For them, a water bottle cut in half as a rice scoop is maybe quirky, but to me, it’s his quintessential creativity for being economical. The 2 boxes of pancake mix, 3 bottles of pancake syrup, and waffle iron were just a characteristic of my grandpa to them, but I was surprised to learn about this food preference. In fact, the only connection I can find is that my mom owns a waffle iron that we haven’t used in years.

As we carried furniture and boxes to the moving truck a few days later, I felt a strange mix of the novel and familiar. I had only first seen the beds and couches when I arrived, but everything seemed to be a good fit for my own home. Far from a reminder of my grandpa, the pieces work well with the quirks I carry forward from him.

Beating the Staycation

(This post was written 2 weekends ago and edited more recently)

I’m watching baseball from my bed while writing in my journal. After dinner, I’ll probably play some StarCraft against the computer, then get ready for bed around 11-ish to get plenty of rest before early morning of work. This is a solid evening

Incidentally, I’m also in Anaheim for a library conference, though I may as well be at home. Other than not having ESPN, what I described sounds like a perfectly achievable & relaxing evening after work. This evening, however, is very atypical. In a whole week, I might catch at most 1 baseball game while preparing dinner. I don’t play much StarCraft anymore and haven’t written in my journal for weeks, and even then, it was sporadic. Somehow, it takes almost 400 miles and a hard bed to get me to where I should normally be.

I have heard a lot about “staycations” as a cheap, travel-free vacation. We all have those local attractions that we never get around to because we could do it at any time (but never do). And travel always involves away-toilet situations and added exhaustion from moving around. The staycation seems like an ideal way to take time off and enjoy the world around you. I, however, can’t imagine that working out. With a day off, I would likely read more reddit, find something on netflix to watch, and maybe watch some StarCraft before going to sleep. In fact, that sounds exactly like my regular 2 day vacations: weekends.

I always imagined the way to beat the staycation funk would be to add constraints. Here are a few I’ve considered:

  • eat out for every meal. As much as I love cooking, it actually can be a lot of work, and there’s a long list of recommendations I have yet to follow up on
  • no internet allowed. That’s the world I need to get away from
  • don’t look at the time for an entire week. Do things roughly by the sun and my own body clock, eating and sleeping as necessary
  • try to do everything outdoors

It would be interesting to see how I would adapt to the different circumstances. The changes aren’t necessarily to discovery new experiences I couldn’t have imagined before, but more to force myself into something different. Without some change in my environment, I’m likely to fall back onto the same habits as usual, without the refreshing vacation feel.

But why stop there? A hallmark Kevin move I’ve mentioned is planning significantly ahead of time to trap myself into doing something that I would otherwise lose motivation for. Maybe I just need to plan to do more planning of things like trips to the city or zombie movie marathons. Although I’m attracted to the life of whimsy where I remain open-minded and stumble across an array of different experiences, the truth is that those are the moments where I am most likely to fall back on my old ways.

In the end, a vacation is a break, no facebook pictures required. A coworker mentioned that on a recent weekend cruise, she spent a significant time in her cabin watching TV. I thought that was odd, except that on a family vacation, the “kids” generation ended up playing cards a lot. Could we have done this at home? Absolutely. But we wouldn’t have.

So like usual, my blog is filled with more stories of life as usual. I played about 4 to 6 hours of StarCraft instead of galavanting around Disneyland with Mickey Mouse. My refreshing experience was crushing a Zealot-Immortal push I’ve been losing to for a long time by scouting and making Roaches instead of defending with only Queens and Zerglings. I might have gone on months without figuring that out without a break.