Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

Archive for January 2010

There are no girls in San Francisco….or are there?

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As one of my favorite blogs to peruse when surfing the net for updates on Tiger’s progress, upcoming concerts and shows, and now job and academic opportunities, Why There Are No Girls in San Francisco never fails to draw a few laughs and agreed upon epiphanies. I visit the assertive site once every so often to further remind myself not to take the dynamics between men and women too seriously.

The day I got back from snowboarding with a special someone in Tahoe, I had to drop off the rental SUV close to Union Square and head back to Pac Heights to move my parent’s old Mercedes in order to prevent getting a $53 parking ticket. (Yes, the price has gone up in the city – they get us again.) As I stood on the sidewalk trying to flag a taxi, I noticed the light changed and a yellow cab came flying at me from across the street. I opened the door, and the driver did a quick clean of the backseat so I had room to sit. He looked back at me, smiled, and said “Hi, how are you today?” Oh cool, a friendly driver – I love these guys! I told him how my day was going and how tired I was from the weekend and from the trip I had taken. We started talking about the countries I had visited, and he asked me all of the usual questions I’d heard from friends and family over the last week. I asked him where he was from (turns out he is from Jordan), found out that he had only started driving recently because it allowed him to bring in a higher income than his previous job, he was in his thirties, and that he is now into Asian girls. Wait, rewind…how did I come to know about his little fetish, you ask?

Rami: Wait, before you get out of car, I need to tell you something.
Me: Okay…
Rami: I just had conversation with my sister not long ago. I tell her – I am sick of other women. I need to find myself Asian girlfriend.
Me: (Laughing) Ha, why’s that?
Rami: The other women, they are so….these days. If I find Asian girl to date – they treat me good, they respect me. I think this is what I need.
Me: But what if they aren’t all like that? You know, many Asian girls are more modern now and you might be surprised if you meet one that will make you think you are dating an American. What if that happens – won’t you be disappointed if you go looking for just one type of woman?
Rami: No, I don’t think so. I used to have Korean girlfriend. We were for 1 year. It didn’t last, but she was so good to me. That’s why from now on, I date Asian girl. When I first saw you standing there, I said to myself, no one is going to drive her home but me. That’s why I drove so fast to pick you up. I give you my number so we can go on date. If you ever want to smoke a joint, just call me.
Winnie: (Mortified, but still laughing) Um, okay. Thank you. Have a great day, Rami.

Has the dating scene in San Francisco gotten so stale that cab drivers are now asking their passengers out on dates? I can never decide whether this city is most ideal for singles or people in relationships. I guess it doesn’t have to be one way or the other. Many people never want to leave this 7×7 nook because it’s likely that it accommodates both sides of the spectrum. Having been both single and in relationships within the last 3 years, I don’t recall having complained about the lack of quality men nor the variety of venues in which to meet them in the city. So why is it that the author of the blog, Rami, and many of my single male friends are always griping about how there aren’t any cool girls around, and if there are, they’re usually taken? I think we all need to stop being so picky. I mean – never, never, ever settle for less than you deserve. But really, I think we need to start giving people 2nd chances. There have been multiple times where I’ve met a guy on a first date and just didn’t feel any sparks. What if we went out for a second date? Would the first date nerves have gone away and would the other person’s true personality come through? Who knows? I won’t because I didn’t go on that second date.

Next time you meet someone of the opposite sex, don’t write them off so quickly. You never know what they could mean to you in the future.

Written by winniewongsf

January 28, 2010 at 10:35 pm

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A New Direction

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In an attempt to pursue a profession that would enable me to interact with individuals, groups, and organizations whom each have a story to tell (and the world would benefit from hearing their stories), I am seeking Journalism and Documentary Filmmaking as career prospects. Having been back in the U.S. for a week, the pressure to research academic programs, as well as freelance work and internships has crept up on me.

Because I have little, actually no, experience in these fields, I know it’s going to be a challenge to present my proposals to organizations seeking writers and production interns. I’m currently applying to internships and part-time positions in San Francisco, but if you know of any opportunities that might be of interest, please pass them my way.

Thank you!

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January 27, 2010 at 4:01 am

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Dedicating this blog to my beautiful, loving, full of life Aunt who left us today. May she rest in peace and may her wonderful daughters and husband live long, happy, and fulfilling lives.

I love you, Aunt Kitty.

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January 23, 2010 at 5:34 am

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Highlights

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Since returning a few days ago, a few people have asked me, “What are some of the most memorable moments during your trip in Southeast Asia?” While a whole series of events flash through my mind when I hear that, I do have some favorite memories that I’ll share with you here.

1) Nate and I starting a dance party/limbo competition/congo line on the beach with our muay thai trainers, new British and Swedish friends we had met earlier that day, and other tipsy patrons enjoying “buckets” at Lotus Bar’s happy hour in Koh Tao.

2) Nate, Wendy, and I beer garden-ing and clubbing with Bangkok locals after a group of university students invited us over to their table to help them finish off their Singha “towers.”

3) Riding a rusty, worn-down bike before the sunrise to see Angkor Wat.

4) Smoking what was sold as Cubans and contemplating the meaning of friendship, the complexities of marriage, and the anticipation about the future with Nate in Siem Reap. (If you only saw the flow charts we drafted in my Moleskin. I still laugh every time I flip to those pages.)

5) Meeting Bahn in Sapa and freezing my butt off trekking up to the mountain homestay.

6) Eating Bun Cha for almost every meal in Hanoi.

7) Meeting the Australian cougar at Le Pub who hated me at first and then proceeded (by the end of the night) to tell me that I could move in with her whenever I wanted to visit Melbourne. She could (in a slurred voice) “help make it happen,” because her and I were “the same.”

8) Recovering from whatever mosquito-bourne disease I had in Ho Chi Minh City.

9) Finally seeing my mom and meeting the extended family in Surabaya. The nicest people you could ever meet.

10) Lombok and my very own 5 cougars who treated me as one of their own. (Does that make me a bobcat?)

11) Happy Cafe

12) Dancing (more like moshing) with the eccentric, elder, local HK guy who’s a regular at Peele Fresca

I’m sure there’s more, but those are the first that come to mind. I still don’t believe it’s almost been three months. What’s next? you might ask. Well, I guess I can tell you when I see you.

Good night, and signing off. For now.

Written by winniewongsf

January 22, 2010 at 10:11 am

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HK, I will see you later…

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Originally, I was to stay in Hong Kong until the end of January. I hadn’t booked a return flight, but figured I’d fly back along with my mom who was leaving on the 26th. When news of the critical condition my aunt was in came over from the States, we knew we had to leave early to support my dad, grandma, and my aunt’s family. Thus my mom left on the 18th, and I the day after.

My self-assigned photo project would have to wait, as a week was too brief to document what I think truly portrays life in Hong Kong.

I was able to spend a lot of time visiting more family and even got a few chances to meet up with my good friend Alexandra whom I met in the dorms during our first year at UCSB. We’ve been close since, but because she lives down in LA and I’m up in SF, it’s not often we see each other. Hell, she didn’t even know that my ex and I had parted ways in 2008!

We met for dinner at a Shanghai restaurant in Tong Loi Wan (aka Causeway Bay) and then headed to the Soho district for drinks after. (Soho is an area lined with intimate little bars, restaurants, art galleries, and design studios. Somewhat modern, bohemian, and so very inviting.) She knew of a place called Peele Fresca and mentioned they had Latin night on Thursdays, so we decided to check it out. We danced salsa, drank sangria, befriended the band, and took a few shots with the locals sitting next to us. I quickly remembered how much fun I have when she is around.

What I was disappointed about not being witness to was the protest that was carried out in HK’s Central district during the first few days I was there. Many students and liberal residents were violently defending the small village community in Choi Yuen Tsuen that would be affected by the construction of a new railway line. The villagers are being ordered to vacate their homes (with promise of compensation) in order to make way for this new line that would link China’s Guangzhou and Shenzhen to HK’s commercial hub. About a week ago, lawmakers in HK approved funding (approx. $66.9 billion HKD, which is $8.6 bil USD) for the rail line. The thousands of protesters and local authorities quickly escalated to violence, but fortunately, it only lasted for a day. When I asked my relatives what the popular opinion on this opposition was, they expressed that this was just another way for people to gain momentum on public opposition towards the local government and many individuals were using this specific instance as a vehicle to express their encompassing views. Supporters of the proposal argue that this link will place HK in a strategically positive position with China – by creating more job opportunities, decreasing the time it takes to travel between the three cities, and “helping to reinforce Hong Kong’s status as a transport, financial and commercial hub of China,” according to a press release published by the HK government back in October. Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Most likely. It still would have been interesting to hear directly from the people who participated in this event.

One thing I did do, and it’s something my family and I always do when we come back, is go to see an HK film. I chose Bodyguards and Assassins, which was recommended to me by a flamboyant hairdresser I met at a salon. When I asked him to tell me what it was about, he said it clarified a small portion of Hong Kong history. That’s all it took for me to write down the name and head over to the theater to buy a ticket.

The film was about a sole group of patriotic individuals who plotted to help Dr. Sun Yat-Sen (regarded as the nation’s founding father) arrive and depart HK safely, avoiding the wrath of assassins hired by the Empress of the Qing Dynasty. It’s set in 1906 and portrays the people’s earnest hope for a revolution. The political leader and influential revolutionary was self-exiled and living in Tokyo at the time, however, had plans to meet with 13 delegates from Mainland China to discuss a unified uprising to overthrow the Qing Dynasty. The fickle role of the British Empire, the sacrifices made for the greater good of China, and the fact that this movie was based on actual individuals and events made this film worth watching. What struck me about this film was the fact that I, as well as many other HK locals it turns out, had no idea this group existed. The group who provided protection to Dr. Yat-Sen consisted of a businessman, his son, a scholar and activist, rickshaw pullers, a hawker, and a beggar.

When I told my dad about this movie, he told me that as a child, he had the leader’s picture taped up on his wall by his headboard so that every morning, he could bow to him before leaving for school. He had the utmost respect for this man, and I had only heard of him less than a handful of times before now. Our conversation inspired me to take Chinese history more seriously and try to better understand the events that led the country to be what it is today.

During the end of my trip, a friend emailed me to ask whether I was sad that the end was near. I try not to look at it that way. I feel that this may just be the beginning. I know that many travels lay ahead of me, so to answer her question, no, I’m not sad. I’m excited for what is to come, because I have learned what makes me happiest. I feel passionate about meeting people and hearing their stories and making that connection. What that is going to lead to, I’m not sure yet. I just know that I am headed in the right direction, and it feels really good.

*Being lazy and don’t feel like uploading the pictures I took in Hong Kong. You should be able to view the album on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2451225&id=3612943&l=2a510c8435. Thanks for looking.

Written by winniewongsf

January 21, 2010 at 7:06 am

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Lombok

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I fell so hard for this little island, I don’t even want to tell you about it.

OK, I’ll share a little… but promise not to tell anyone, ok?

Knowing that I was planning on staying in Lombok for three days on my own, my Yee Yee (Cantonese for Aunt) Jean, several of her best friends, sister-in-law, and cousin Faye decided to join me. It was going to be a girls’ weekend. Me and a handful of sassy Chinese-Indonesian women in their 40s and 50s. Meow!

Lombok is situated to the northeast of Bali, a 25-minute flight or 2-hour ride by fast boat or ferry. Since it’s fairly undeveloped – a refreshing departure from the more popular island – with clean white sand beaches and views for days, I suspect it will become a prime location for high-end resorts and boutique hotels in the next few years.

The population here is mostly Muslim, thus as a way of respecting their conservative way of life, things get even more quiet by dusk. The only places that one would seek for a night cap and live music are along the coast of Sengiggi, where most of the major resorts are. I happened to go to a place called Happy Cafe on my 2nd night in Lombok and had such a good time talking with the locals, as well as ex-pats, and listening to the cover band play Tom Petty, Bob Marley, and everything in between. When I asked Heru, the young tan bartender who makes staggeringly strong caipirinhas (trust me on this one), to request Kings of Leon, they played Welcome to My Paradise and dedicated the song to me in front of the audience. (Turns out, they didn’t know all of the lyrics to KOL songs.)

Because Jean had lived here for two years when Annie was still working, she knew all of the best places to eat, the most secluded beaches to visit, and how to avoid getting ripped off. She had numerous friends who owned their own business and would send us off with treats to take on the road. Needless to say, it was on Lombok where I gained the most weight. These women LOVED to eat. Almost every time we stepped out of the car, they would buy snacks and gifts to take back to Surabaya. By the time I left Lombok, I had no appetite.

Over the course of several days, we tried to do a lot. We went to one of the oldest villages on Lombok, called Sade. We also picnic-ed at different beaches, once at Ah An and another at Mawun. These coves were stunning, and I could count on one hand how many other people were there, if any. Most of the locals that were there were these little brown kids in their birthday suits jumping into the surf and playing games with each other that I didn’t understand. We also made our way over to another smaller island off Lombok, Gili Trawanan, to explore the reef along the coast. Since we arrived at Gili T in the afternoon, I didn’t have enough time to go diving again, so opted to snorkel instead (I know, once you go diving, snorkeling is like playing for JV). Supposedly Gili Meno is the best of the three major Gilis. I’ll save that one for next time.

When flying from Bali to Lombok, or vice versa, keep in mind that Merpati (one of the primary airlines serving both destinations) is notorious for delayed flights. This is important to note if you have connecting flights post landing on either islands and need to board your next flight during a small window of time.

Written by winniewongsf

January 10, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Posted in islands, travel

Bali

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Having arrived in Bali, on the first day, I was greeted by Bagus (pronounced Ba-goos), a local driver hired by one of my relatives in Surabaya. Bagus was to help me out for the week and drive with me to different locations on the island (this is the sole result of having an overprotective family in a foreign country). Of course, I’m not used to having someone drive me in the States as I’ve had my own license since the age of 16 and a service like this is not something I could afford (nor would opt for) back home, so I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of viewing Bagus as a personal “chauffeur.” During the five days I stayed on Bali, I have Bagus to thank for introducing me to a plethora of new Indonesian and international music (having been oblivious to what’s playing on radio stations and TV for the last two months). Surprisingly, he and his parents are huge fans of country music (think Billy Ray Cyrus, Tim McGraw, Dolly Parton) and on multiple occasions started belting out “Achy Breaky Heart” at the top of his lungs while we were riding in the car. I’m not a particular fan of the genre, but seeing his enthusiasm made me join him every single time. He called me nothing but Winnie-san the first few days since he speaks Japanese fluently and told me he thought I was Japanese when we first met. He even told me how much it usually costs to get out of a speeding ticket (1000 rupiah). I’d like to think we had fun getting to know each other that week.
Kuta

I stayed in an area called Legian the first night at a place called 14 Roses on the main drag. Legian is situated in between Kuta (the international party scene – think raucous beefcake Aussies with their shirts off) and Seminyak (a quiet, more sophisticated, and ultimately mature area featuring swanky restaurants, luxurious lounges, and intimate nooks and crannies). In many ways, it falls within the two in terms of characteristics. (If you’re traveling alone, like I was, Legian is likely your best bet as you’ll have the opportunity to meet people just down the street towards Kuta, but not feel overwhelmed being in the heart of it all.) 14 Roses is considered a midrange, affordable option for accomodation – a night there runs about $60 (in the high season) for a large single room with a pool and garden view.

I actually wasn’t a big fan of Kuta. Walking on the beach, I had to step over a number of dead fish that had washed up to shore. When I asked Bagus about this, he said this was an effect of the pollution coming over from Java. I also wasn’t fond of the notion that you have to pay at least 30,000 Indonesian rupiah (approx. $3 USD) to use a lounge chair on beachfront property for an hour. If you like the Cancun scene, and you don’t mind partying with Arnolds (in his early days) and bleach-bottle blondes, Kuta is for you. For me, it was basically a shit show. The only night I spent out in Kuta that I would write home about was when I went to Apache, a reggae club that had great live music, a resident DJ, and a very mixed crowd. I actually accompanied a friendly waiter I had met at the place I had dinner at that night close to my hotel. Since Apache was right down the street, and I asked if we could walk as opposed to getting on his bike, I felt fairly safe. It turned out to be really fun, so if you’re planning to go to Bali anytime soon, make Apache your first stop on a weekend night. (Just try to stay away from consuming too many “jam jars,” which are the equivalent to “buckets” in Koh Tao. Many Balinese are fond of Arak, a rice spirit usually mixed with a fruit drink. You’ll see an “Arak Attack on almost every menu.)

It’s funny – when you go to a local store and buy something, you may notice that the shop owner will take your cash and touch it to against other nearby products to ensure that he receives more business that day. I don’t know why, but I really liked that. Just something to remind you that you’re not in Kansas anymore.

For the second and third nights, I stayed at Hendrick’s (Annie’s husband) best friend’s home in Kuta, which was in a more residential part of the city. Here, you actually see the daily activities that don’t entail catering to the tourist community. In the mornings, you can witness men and women at the nearby temple making basket offerings that include cash, flowers, rice, and other foods, countless warung getting ready to serve their regular customers for the day, and young children in burgundy and white uniforms riding in the front of their mother or father’s motorbikes headed for school. In the Kuta or even Legian stretch of southwest Bali, tourists are just getting up struggling with hangovers from the night before, looking to ease their headaches by consuming yet more cocktails and beer on the terraces of bars on the main road. In San Francisco, we call that brunch.

Jimbaran
For the remaining two nights, I stayed in Jimbaran at Hotel Puri Bambu. I only knew to stay there because my grand uncle, aunt, mom, and grandma stayed there a few weeks before me and they recommended it for its price, service, and proximity to the ocean and variety of fresh seafood. I checked in and immediately knew it was a good decision. A traditional hour-long Balinese oil massage only put me behind $5, not including the tip. The midrange room rate includes a daily breakfast of Indonesian dishes and fruit buffet, access to the shuttle that goes to and from Kuta beach, and the tranquility of being tucked away in a little alley only a few minutes walk from the beach. After having spent the majority of my trip in places where I checked under the sheets each night for bed bugs, this was a treat.

You can get ikan bakar (grilled fish) anywhere along the beach here, whether it be at the fancier restaurants where you pick the size and type or the catch of the day slung at the seafood market a little north of the hotel. I chose Blue Ocean to try their grilled red snapper, fried calamari, and a cold Bintang.

Etc.
Between laying in the sun and eating fresh food, Bagus and I did get a lot done in the matter of a few days. We went to Uluwatu, the southern tip of Bali where an ancient temple sits atop a cliff above rocky shores. Here, monkeys are especially notorious for their aggressive antics and interaction with people, so we put away our sunglasses, made sure we didn’t have food in our bags, and kept my camera under wraps. We continued up north to visit Tanah Lot, another temple that lies on the western coast of the island. (Indonesians sure know how to kick back even when they’re paying respect to the spirit gods…)

We finally made our way to Ubud, which I’d anticipated visiting since reading a memoir called Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. If you’re female, you’ve most likely read this book and vowed to go on a journey of self exploration, such did the author, through Italy, India, and Indonesia. (Julia Roberts, to portray Elizabeth in the onscreen adaptation, was actually in town shooting while we were there. Didn’t see Ms. Roberts, unfortunately.) In the book, Elizabeth befriends a Balinese healer (what Westerners would recognize as an herbal doctor) who becomes a primary character in the last third of the book. I told Bagus I wanted to meet Wayan Nuriasih so I could talk to her about creating some jamu to bring back to my mom, so I showed him the address listed in the Bali Rough Guide Nate so kindly lent me before leaving SE Asia last month, and we went on a mission to find her shop. After almost an hour of driving around and stopping to ask for directions, we came to the front of her home and asked a teenage boy sitting on the steps whether she lived or worked here or both. He pointed us in the direction of the street where her shop was, and we set off again. When I got out of the car, I was surprised to see that it wasn’t packed with tourists, as I expected most of Elizabeth’s audience would come to pay homage to Wayan. The walls of her shop were covered with exotic herbs, roots, and powders in clear glass jars. Apparently, since the book was published in 2006, business has boomed and many of the locals, as well as foreign visitors, flock to her shop for special massages, treatments, and natural remedies. I wanted to talk to her before making a purchase, but was informed that she was booked for the day. Her assistant gave me his mobile number so I could reach him to schedule an appointment later in the week, but I really didn’t have much time so I bought a packet of tablets for my grandpa’s arthritis and left. Should have known her services would be popular.

Ubud’s claim to fame isn’t just due to Wayan’s popularity. It’s been long considered an artist’s haven and looking around, you will understand why (it may even remind you of Berkeley with it’s hippie atmostphere and laid back vibe). It’s lush setting among forested hills and wet rice fields provide shelter for craftsmen, carvers, and artists alike. It’s a rewarding getaway from the chaos that is south Bali. Ubud is also famous for the various babi guling joints found all over town. Babi guling is a dish that consists of slices of roasted pork, pork skin, and Balinese spices served with shrimp chips over rice. If you ask me, Chinese-style roasted pork tastes much more flavorful, but when in Ubud, right?

One of my favorite activities was mountain biking with a group of Australians and a local guide from Bali Bintang. We were picked up from our hotels early in the morning and shuttled to a coffee and tea plantation near Kintamani for product tasting and breakfast. We then spent 3 hours biking downhill on backroads towards the direction of a village called Pejeng, in central Bali. Riding through several alleys where angry stray dogs barked and growled at your feet, I regretted not getting a rabies shot at the travel health clinic in SF. The ride allowed for some breathtaking views and we were able to stop and meet people along the way, stopping even at Wayan’s (our guide) own village to say hello to his friends and pass by the home where he grew up. I should forewarn you about the downhill nature of the ride. You’ll be using your brakes constantly and your forearms will be sore from intensely gripping the handlebars for 3 hours, so it can be tiring.

My last night on Bali called for a very unique experience. I rode on the back of a friend’s motorbike, in the rain, to a multi-level dance club and karaoke venue called Asakasa in Denpasar. Walking in, I didn’t know what to expect. The club only saw local patrons, so I was the only non-Indonesian inside. Once in, I was asked to pay a cover and leave my camera inside a locker to be picked up upon leaving. (I know, I know. I had stuffed my D40 into my purse that night knowing I was going to a club. Call me crazy, but I didn’t want to miss anything in case something good happened.) The house music thumped so loudly I thought my heart was going to explode. There were creepy looking older men who were dancing up front where there was a large stage, watching several go-go girls who wore nothing but a lacy bra and underwear. I have nothing against voyeurismn, but I wasn’t sure this was my style. We stayed for a little while longer, but I decided to call it a night once 1:30 rolled around.

Overall, I feel that I was able to experience multiple sides of Bali. While it is a tourist destination on the southeast Asian route, you can still find places where the people aren’t going to try to sell you something and meet individuals who are genuinely interested in talking to you and exchanging perspectives. It’s definitely a place I’d like to explore more of in the future.

Written by winniewongsf

January 10, 2010 at 10:17 pm

Posted in food, travel

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