Through My Eyes

Timing was everything.

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Happy (early) Father’s Day

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In light of upcoming Father’s Day, Refinery29 published a roundup of 11 of SF’s coolest dads. Most Dads don’t get the every day recognition they deserve, my own included.

Last week, I had dinner with four women who used to work with my dad when we were still living in Hong Kong in the 80s. Although they (and the rest of their old PR crew) see him only once every blue moon, the long-lasting dynamic between the group is truly something special.

These were the women who held me in their arms weeks after I was born. During breaks, my sister and I were shuffled between the PR staff at the VIP office of HK’s airport and received royal treatment as only first ‘work babies’ would. I can go home now and flip through faded old photos of each woman, and some of the men, holding us up tickling us to laugh for the camera. Wendy and I grew up thinking these people were such cool adults – they’d always be reserved a special spot in our hearts.

I took a bus back to my aunt and uncle’s after dinner, and one of the women, Melissa, wanted to accompany me since she lived just a few stops after mine. We talked a bit about what she’d been up to, what I’m doing now, and about the past.

She then brought up the day that my family left for the U.S. It was 1987 – 10 years before what would be the Hong Kong ‘handover.’ I was almost four. She said she remembered so clearly – almost haunted by – the look in my Dad’s eyes when he looked back. He was last to step through the gate at the airport…he looked back at the closest friends he had made in his adult life. She said he looked like he almost couldn’t bare it – to leave everything he had known, loved, and felt safe with…all to pursue a possibly better future for his two daughters and his wife. At the time, no one knew what it would be like once HK was handed over to the PRC. To this day, I wonder what life would have been like if we had stayed. I do know that my parents made countless sacrifices for us. They left their loved ones, they left a city they both loved, and they left for the unknown. That, to me, was the most selfless thing they could have done.

Now, every time I return, I weep just a little knowing that I will also have to go. Hong Kong is about holding onto memories of what it once was and hopes of what it will always be. Hong Kong, for me, will always represent my parents’ love.


Written by winniewongsf

June 10, 2012 at 10:26 pm

Posted in travel, Uncategorized

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Shaking The Sand Off

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The longer I wait to write this, the less I’ll remember from my trip to the UAE last week. I flew over with my friend Kelly from college to visit my old roommate, who’s now living and working in Abu Dhabi. Kelly is the person who introduced me to James during my last year at UCSB, so this trip really closed the circle for us.

Before getting on the plane, I had just left my job at Joyus, which had consumed most aspects of my life for the last 9 months. I wasn’t up-to-date on current events, I barely had time to read, let alone learn more about where we were heading for the week. When I got on the plane, I realized I knew almost nothing about Abu Dhabi and it’s naughty sister to the north, Dubai.

When you think of the Middle East, you associate it with dry sand dunes, flavors of saffron, dates, and mint, and never-ending religious, territorial, and ethnic conflicts that plague the region. Well, the UAE is the new Middle East. I would liken what Dubai is to Abu Dhabi with what San Francisco is to Sacramento. In Dubai, you’re either a poor migrant from the Philippines, Pakistan, or different parts of India working in the service or hospitality industry, a trust fund baby, or a privileged ex pat who plans to stay only 2-3 years spending just as much as he makes. In Abu Dhabi, where it’s a bit more conservative, mature, and low key, you still don’t encounter many native Emiratis on a daily basis.

One thing I did observe was the culture and acceptance of infidelity, especially within the ex pat community. It seemed as if every man we met was cheating, was willing to cheat, or was looking to cheat on his wife or girlfriend. It was depressing that when we went out at night, if we were dressed a certain way, we were also treated a certain way. Men in the UAE (those who can afford it) have access to an extremely diversified population of prostitutes, it seems. One morning, we witnessed a plethora of  girls walking out of our hotel in 5-inch Louboutins, wearing last night’s makeup, sporting sex hair. When we asked our friend, he said this was just like any typical morning in Dubai. When I asked our dune driver, he also confirmed that it was very easy for him if he wanted to “find a woman.”

Something else that threw me off was how new Dubai is. I was looking for more history and craftsmanship in the things I bought for coworkers and friends by home, but all we could find in old town Dubai near the Gold Souk (market) were manufactured souvenirs made in India, China, and the Philippines. I was disappointed that I didn’t see anything traditional that represented an actual culture there.

In the end, I’m happy to have experienced that part of the world and to have spent time with good friends. But having been there, I don’t think I could ever live there. Unless I was there working on a project, of course…


Written by winniewongsf

April 20, 2012 at 12:03 pm


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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


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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.

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.

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.

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

Fingers Crossed

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So, this is it. I’m heading to the US Embassy in the next hour to ask them to add pages to my passport. If all goes well and the task is completed within a few hours, I’ll be on the afternoon flight to Surabaya.

While I hadn’t planned this stop in Singapore, the last few days haven’t been disappointing. I went out to dinner with DH and Stella again the night after Christmas; this time Luke McNeal (another Service Sourcer) and his wife joined us for Mexican food before we went and caught James Cameron’s new 3-D fantasy adventure, Avatar. Like most of James Cameron’s films, I thought this one was half an hour longer than it needed to be. But, it was entertaining, and the range of imagination displayed made the length of the film tolerable.

Yesterday, I took a bus down to Little India and caught a glimpse of a special ceremony at one of the Hindu temples. I could listen to the men playing their instruments for days…

Written by winniewongsf

December 27, 2009 at 11:27 pm

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