Road Trip, Day 10 – Rock Springs to Richfield

day10

November 9, 2012 – Friday

The tenth day of our cross-country road trip saw us depart Rock Springs, Wyoming and deviate southward. We still had 4 days until the rental car was due, and heading straight west would have taken us home before that time. We’ve always enjoyed Southern California, so a plan was made to go there by way of Las Vegas. But first, we would spend a night in Richfield, Utah, roughly a five-hour drive away.

The night before we had seen some rain clouds approaching, and by morning there was a pretty steady rain going. I remember feeling the cold and rain hit me while I stood outside refueling the car. We only needed about half a tank so I wasn’t out in the elements too long, and soon we were on our way.

Rainy Morning in Wyoming

Rainy morning

Turned out that the highlight of this day was the weather. As we headed out of Rock Springs it changed from light to heavy rain, then snowfall, and then, if I’m not mistaken, even a blizzard (I realize that what I consider a blizzard might actually not be one). We were lucky to have avoided snow back in South Dakota when we went through the Badlands and Mount Rushmore, and Independence Rock in Wyoming, and now we continued to be lucky since we didn’t have any scheduled sights to see on this leg of the journey, with the snow itself becoming the attraction, adding to the variety of things we saw on the road trip.

Snowy Morning in Wyoming

Snowy morning

Lyman Rest Area, Interstate 80, Wyoming

Lyman Rest Area

Continuing west on Interstate 80, our first rest stop was the Lyman Rest Area about an hour out of Rock Springs. We took some photos to commemorate our first Adventure 2012 snow encounter. I enjoyed crunching the snow with each step. JC liked the snow-covered plant-life. I also got a kick out of our car’s frozen license plate, something I rarely see.

Snow Shrub

Snow cover

Frozen License Plate

Frozen

40 minutes later, we crossed the state line into Utah. The snow came down harder, and visibility decreased. Got a little hungry and stopped at the next available rest area, Echo Canyon. It happened to also be a Welcome Center so we were treated to a museum-like interior, with exhibits on various Utah attractions. A receptionist was present to answer questions. After taking a look around, I bought a Slim Jim and a Dr. Pepper, both of which I had not had in a very long time, which became a topic of conversation between JC and I. ? It was really pleasant sitting in the warm confines of the car, eating my snack, and watching the snow fall. Sometimes, it’s just about the simple things in life, isn’t it?

Welcome to Utah

Welcome to Utah

Echo Canyon Welcome Center Snow Bird

Just outside the Welcome Center – what is this bird doing here?

Up until this point we’d been taking some regularly-timed breaks so after Echo Canyon I wanted to drive a little longer and make some time. We continued on Interstate 80 and then US-189 through the mountains. As we descended into Orem and Provo, the snowfall intensified. It was the first time in my life seeing snow “falling” sideways, and the first time I’d seen it so heavy. While I was excited, I was pretty glad that we were out of the mountains as it was some intense driving with me not being used to the conditions.

Heavy Snow in Provo, Utah

Starting to really come down…

Sideways Snow in Provo, Utah

And now it’s sideways

Now, we were in Provo. We saw a sign that read “Welcome to Cougar Town” which I thought was pretty funny (due to this definition of cougar) before realizing that Provo is where Brigham Young University is located. Being from the Bay Area, my only knowledge of BYU is that it’s the school Steve Young went to. At that time, the only cities I could name in Utah were Salt Lake City and maybe Ogden. I never actually thought about it but I probably assumed that BYU was in Salt Lake City. I hadn’t even heard of Provo until Adventure 2012.

Anyhow, the snow died down a little while we were passing through the city. As it’d been a couple of hours since Echo Canyon, it was time for a stop. We saw a McDonald’s and went there, a great choice because I still remember how good the meal was: Southern Style Chicken sandwich and medium iced coffee while watching the snow fall outside. The hot, freshly fried chicken contrasted perfectly with the iced coffee and snow, a really memorable experience for someone who has never spent extended time in a snowy climate.

McDonald's Provo

It’s Mac time

From Provo, it was smooth sailing via Interstate 15, US-50, and finally Interstate 70. The snowing had mostly stopped, but we were still treated to a white-blanketed landscape until we were close to Richfield. Once we passed the snow, there was an ominous-looking fog phenomenon that crept alongside us on the highway. Very strange indeed.

Driving into Oblivion

Driving into oblivion, somewhere near Scipio, Utah

Mountains near Richfield, Utah

Out of the snow…

Creeping Fog

… and into the creeping fog

Once we arrived in Richfield, we decided to get gas immediately instead of the next morning. It had been one of the longer journeys of the road trip, starting around 11:00 AM and ending near 6:00 PM, and we wanted to save some time for the next leg to Vegas. After settling in to the hotel, we had one of my least memorable meals of the trip, from Arby’s. Richfield definitely seemed more remote than any of the other cities we had been to, and prospects for anything else weren’t great (no other major fast food chains nearby). Maybe it was because the Arby’s wasn’t quite a burger, and wasn’t quite a sandwich. I just remember being disappointed, especially after the long drive, especially after the mostly decent selections we’d had up until that point. Nevertheless, we enjoyed our cozy room and slept well that night after a long and snowy drive.

Next: Road Trip, Day 11 – Richfield to Las Vegas

Two Dollars

I woke up feeling depressed on Monday, one of those days when I have zero motivation to do anything, when I futilely click around the same websites over and over, looking for something new to show up. There’s a feeling of fatigue, sadness, and frustration all rolled into one, and the word “depression” describes it exactly. To try and get out of my rut, I forced myself to get out of the house with a single goal in mind: to replenish my supply of Old Town White Milk Tea.

I was in a daze the whole time walking to BART, to riding it, to walking to Chinatown. On the train I allowed myself to space out, staring into any direction without a person in it. At times, I’d read a few lines on my phone. But the feeling never subsided. I felt self-conscious. I felt ashamed to be seen, afraid to be judged, worried that people might somehow know my current emotional state. I was still able to put up my front, standing up straight and walking like I was sure of myself. When I read the e-book on my phone, the words clicked even if the feeling remained unchanged. It’s a strange experience, like I’m outside of my body, which continues to do what it normally does even though I’m tearing up inside. Sometimes, I make eye contact with people and wonder whether the bad vibe can be seen emanating from the top of my head like a smoky black cloud. I do get an occasional smile so perhaps I’ve gotten good at keeping up my appearance.

My goal complete, I go to my neighborhood McDonald’s to get lunch. I have to say, McDonald’s is a comforting place to me. It’s a place where anyone can go, where people will leave you alone. You don’t have to dress a certain way. You don’t have to have a lot of money. This is true in San Francisco, and it is true in Hong Kong. It is truly a people’s place. It’s the perfect place for someone like me on this day, a place where I can go to blend in.

I’m sitting at one of the high tables with bar stools near the entrance. I watch people come in and out. Halfway through my fries, I notice a scruffy, skinny, street man come in. He’s probably homeless; there’s no way to know, but I’m willing to bet he spends a lot of time on the street. His clothes are dirty, his face is dirty, and he looks run down.

He first approaches two women sitting near the front registers. One of the women is on her cellphone. He sits down across and says something to them. The woman not on the phone looks scared, while the woman on the phone shakes her head. He lingers for a few moments before making his way to the next table, this time a tattooed man with long hair with his headphones on. The man removes his headphones. He shakes his head and mouths something which I can’t make out. The street man tries again and the tattooed man repeats his previous action. The street man turns away and continues to the other tables.

Earlier, when I exited the Embarcadero BART station on my way to Chinatown, a self-proclaimed veteran sitting in a wheelchair next to the top of the escalator asked me if I could spare any change. We made eye contact and I pursed my lips, throwing up my hands to indicate that I had none. I didn’t think much of it as I continued on. On my way back, however, I saw that the man was still there. Because I was walking towards him this time, I could see the tattoos on his left leg, suggesting that he might really be a veteran. I could also see person after person walk by him without even the slightest acknowledgement, as if he wasn’t even there. When I tried to make eye contact with him again, he just kept his gaze downwards. It must be exhausting to be rejected and ignored so consistently.

I actually had two quarters on me this time, the change from getting the milk tea. I reached into my pocket to get them, but then I hesitated. I was expecting him to ask for change again, and when he didn’t I froze and continued walking down the stairs like everybody else. I didn’t want to be caught out, to be the only person who deviated. As I entered the BART station, it bothered me that I didn’t just do it.

Seeing the street man in McDonald’s getting rejected over and over, I was reminded of the veteran and tried to put myself in their places. I thought about the idea of rejection, of being ignored. It reminded me of trying to find a job, except with a job it doesn’t happen every ten seconds and it’s not right in your face. Would I be able to do what they do? On this day I couldn’t even walk around without fear of being judged or doing what I really wanted to do.

Now, it was finally my turn. The street man came up to my table and asked if I had any change. I didn’t hesitate this time and gave him the fifty cents. He then turned to the kids sitting next to me and asked if they could help so he could get a burger or something. When I heard him say he wanted to get a burger, it occurred to me that fifty cents wouldn’t be enough. I asked him, “oh, you want to get a burger?” and he eagerly replied in the affirmative. I reached for my wallet and pulled out two dollars. The street man’s face lit up and he seemed to be in disbelief, letting out a chuckle and exclaiming, “two dollars!”. I was a little bit startled myself seeing his reaction to receiving two dollars. He seemed excited and hurriedly left the McDonald’s.

At that moment, I realized that I may have been had. The way to a burger was inside the McDonald’s, not outside. Maybe his face lit up because he couldn’t believe that for once someone was naive enough to believe that he was actually going to get a burger. I realize that I may have acted as an accessory to drug or alcohol addiction, but it doesn’t matter. The look on his face when he received the two dollars was like the boy who received a Nintendo 64 for Christmas, and him leaving hurriedly was like he couldn’t wait to hook it up to the TV. It was real.

In the past, my policy was to never give handouts to panhandlers because I felt it would further encourage begging and not really solve the underlying problem. But now, my mindset is different. If anything, I was probably naive before to think that societal problems like poverty and homelessness could ever be solved in my lifetime. Do you really think that by withholding fifty cents, you’re going to make this guy turn his life around? Yes, it’s true that able-bodied people should try to find jobs and work hard to pull themselves back up and that my giving them money might encourage them to not do that. But in order for that to work, jobs need to be available. Hard work needs to pay off. Increasingly in society, we find that these two things no longer apply. People can toil for 16 hours a day and still remain stuck in their socioeconomic echelon.

I recently re-watched the war movie Saving Private Ryan. In the movie, medics would give dying soldiers morphine to ease their pain. There was no way to save them, yet the medics expended resources on them. Why?

We are all real people with real feelings. Can you imagine how you would feel if you worked 16 hours a day with no end in sight? Can you imagine living in a cage home in Hong Kong during summer with no air conditioning, again with no end in sight? Knowing you were stuck in this situation, would you still want help, knowing it was only temporary relief? People are not just statistics, and poverty is not just some arbitrary number. There is real suffering going on, and if I am to withhold aid that alleviates that suffering even for just a moment, claiming that my aid would prevent someone from helping themselves, then there actually needs to be a way for that person to do it. Otherwise I’m just making excuses when people continue to suffer indefinitely, and I am just trying to make myself feel better for being a hypocrite.

With society facing issues like overpopulation, limitless greed, rising inequality, and political corruption, creating euphemisms like “the working poor” and “extreme poverty” (as opposed to regular poverty, right?), it’s pretty amazing that two measly little dollars could light up someone’s face like that. These are large, complex problems with no solution in sight, and yet all it took was two dollars to grant a momentary easing of pain. Will two bucks pave the way to utopia? Probably not, but now that I’m more experienced in life, I realize that there are no absolutes when it comes to resolving society’s problems. The best you can do is to try and make people in hopeless situations as comfortable as possible, like in Saving Private Ryan.

As a society, we are supposed to take care of one another. It’s why humans first banded together in the first place. And yet, we seem to have forgotten this. It seems like it’s every man for himself now. I recently tweeted about watching an intersection to see why the housing market in SF is fucked up. To expound on this, what I meant is that people can be so selfish, self-centered, and self-absorbed. Drivers accelerate at yellow or red lights because they are in a hurry. Pedestrians start crossing when the signal starts counting down because they have the right of way. People think only of themselves, and not the people around them. And that includes landlords.

As an alternative, how about try stopping at a red or yellow light so you don’t endanger anyone? How about waiting for the next “walk” signal so that drivers can make their turns? How about charging a rent that’s good enough instead of trying to squeeze out every last penny just because the next landlord is doing it? Again, it’s real people with real feelings. Remembering that society is made up of individuals, if all the individuals are only capable of thinking for themselves, then sooner or later society will break down. We are already seeing signs of this. Why not try remembering that we are part of a community and try to help out your fellow man?

That night, I went to Monday night basketball at Dolores Park. It’s been going on for a few years now, just a bunch of guys from around the neighborhood getting together to exercise and unwind. I ended up on a team with a bunch of selfish players who never passed the ball. We ended up losing badly. I didn’t think it at the time, but as I write this now I realize it was yet another reflection of what’s going on in society now. Told you that basketball is a reflection of life.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up and the depression was gone. It’s happened enough times now for me to expect it. I remembered the look on street man’s face when I gave him the two dollars, and I wanted to write it down so I won’t forget. So now, a few days later, I present to you this blog post. Happy Friday, and happy holidays!

A Day in the Life

5:15 AM – Today is Monday, which means early shift. I went to bed around 9:00 last night, but around 2:00 I woke up and checked the clock, wondering if I should let myself go into a deep sleep. With 3 hours left, I tell myself that I should just let myself sleep. Near the end, I wake up again and keep worrying that if I fall asleep, the alarm will go off. Finally, it does and I stay in bed a couple more minutes before getting up.

5:30 AM – I grab a few extra moments of sleep in the shower.

5:53 AM – I kiss JC goodbye and walk out the door, wondering whether it might be the last time I ever see her. It does seem a little paranoid, but it’s a good way to make sure you say goodbye to your loved ones the right way.

6:05 AM – For coffee I stop at McDonald’s, since it’s the only place that’s open. It comes with a Filet-O-Fish and a hash brown, valuable protein and carbs for later in the morning. I still have a few minutes so I sit at the bar table and open up my coffee, taking a few sips before covering it back up and inserting a straw into the little sippy hole. It will be useful for when I’m on the MTR.

6:20 AM – I’m sitting on the MTR, watching people reading their papers and playing with their phones. Sometimes I wonder if I’m wasting my precious time by just sitting or standing on the MTR doing nothing, but at the same time it’s too early in the morning to be craning my neck down to look at my phone. I prefer to keep my mind quiet and my neck unstrained.

6:35 AM – Now on the Tung Chung line, I see 3 of the same people that I saw last week. One of them turns out to be a cleaner in my building. It’s interesting how if you repeat the same patterns, sooner or later you’ll run into someone else who shares the same pattern. When I’m on late schedule I often run into the same girl heading in the opposite direction.

6:43 AM – Two escalators take me all the way up to the open square above, which I only discovered recently (not a loss though because the weather became walkable only recently). It’s a lot better walking in the open air than inside the shopping mall. The LVs, the Shanghai Tangs, the Piagets, the Piguets, boy it does get stuffy after a while. It’s monsoon season so the wind is strong this morning. The air is pretty clear, too, and I can see IFC across the harbor haze-free. Compared with last week, it’s darker. Pretty soon it will probably still be completely dark at this time.

6:53 AM – I get in to work and eat my hash brown before sending the first report of the day. It’s a weekly check of machines to make sure they’re all running OK. Everything checks out so I begin my rounds. It will take me over an hour and a half to do 5 floors, but in the end if it saves a flurry of calls later on, it’s worth it. As it is every week, a conference call starts playing on the phones. Words like earnings, outlook, and quarter accompany me on my walk. At the end (or actually, the beginning) of the day, it still is all about the money.

8:10 AM – Now I’m on the top floor, the penthouse. The decor is different up here. I rarely see the faces that occupy the seats and offices, because usually no one is in yet at this time. I walk into the office of the CEO, and it’s pretty bare, suggesting that she probably spends most of her time elsewhere. I wonder how someone becomes a CEO. The first thing that comes to mind is you know somebody. Of all the abilities people have, of all their Ivy League educations, the most important ability is to be able to interact with people, to get them to want to put you in a position of leadership. It probably helps if you inherently enjoy being around people. I think to myself that I’ll probably never become a CEO because of this one thing.

8:20 AM – That’s OK though, because now I’m finally done and I get to eat my Filet-O-Fish. I scarf it up (down) while I record the results of my walk. Now, my normal workday begins.

12:00 PM – Just like that it’s been a few hours. I’ve spent most of the morning multi-tasking: reviewing emails after being gone for the Thanksgiving holiday, responding to user queries, and following up on existing cases. Now it’s time to finally close out an old case, to switch out a user’s loaner machine for his real one. He’s a British guy and says “Cheers!” to me when I’m done. I answer “Cheers!” back, but I doubt I’ll ever get used to using this term in this manner. It belongs with a drink in my hand.

12:30 PM – Lunch time, but today we are understaffed so I stay at my desk to monitor the queue. I had brought my laptop to work so I could update my journal, too, carrying it in a big, bulky backpack. No matter, I do enjoy closing out tickets, and coming back from 4 days off it’s a little easier. I’ll call it a working lunch.

4:25 PM – The afternoon has been a whirlwind, dealing with tickets and users left and right. With 5 minutes left in my shift, a user desperately needs my help. I scramble trying to find him a solution, and finally I find what I’m looking for. I bring it up to him and connect it to his machine, and it works. Wow. It is there that I realize that it’s not just for him, but for his entire team as well. The moment of genuine gratitude from the users is the best part of the job.

4:48 PM – Finally in the elevator on my way out now. I send a message to JC to tell her I’m on my way home. Since it’s early shift today there’s no free shuttle until 5:00. Rather than wait, I take the MTR. It’s nice to be able to get a seat again, even if it’s for one stop. I’m not so lucky when I get to the Island line.

5:15 PM – I don’t get why people never move into the center of the car. I don’t get why people don’t vacate their seats for an old lady. That’s people for you. It will never change. If you are a government or someone in a position of leadership, you’d better take this into account.

5:29 PM – Home in less than an hour, and still less than an hour from my official off time. Not too bad, and dinner is about to be served, too. Tonight’s dinner is vegetable pancake and miso soup. Good stuff. I eat two bowls of rice while checking out the news every so often. Wow, so Occupy has deteriorated into this. I just wonder, in any relationship, what would happen if one party decided to completely ignore the other’s expression of concern, and then use forceful action to get them to stop expressing those concerns. Or, in other words, JC tells me something bothers her, I beat the shit out of her, realize that it’s the incorrect course of action, ignore her for a month, then two, then get a marriage counselor to order JC to suck it up, and then get tired of her nonstop complaining and beat the shit out of her again, all the while claiming she’s violating our marriage vows. Wonder how long I’d stay married if that were the case.

7:00 PM – We watch a show about the Vietnamese refugee situation in Hong Kong in the 80s and 90s. We have some ties to this community and it’s interesting to see the old footage. We wondered if we might see anyone we know. The funniest thing heard was a refugee saying that he felt like he was being played by God. He left Vietnam to escape communists only to find Hong Kong handed back to them again.

8:00 PM – It’s only the first day back but I’m exhausted already. This is the worst part, the energy cost I mentioned in this post. Even if there’s time, there’s no energy. I decide to go take a shower hoping it will refresh me a little. Before I go I pour myself a bottle of wine from the box I got for Thanksgiving. The boxed wine is pretty awesome, it’s vacuum packed so it keeps for weeks in the fridge. I just have to let it sit for a bit before drinking it.

9:29 PM – I had a nice shower but it didn’t really rejuvenate me. I came in to the office and started typing this. I wanted to type it this morning after reading another “day in the life” of a celebrity over the weekend. I’m no celebrity, but I wanted to see how I spend my day. If anything, it might help me organize my time better. You know, do the important things rather than the urgent things. It’s 9:30 PM now. My absolute deadline for bedtime tonight is 12:15. I’ll review and post this and then call it a night.

9:49 PM – Going to post now. Good night.

Road Trip, Day 6 – Rochester to Mitchell

Day 6 - Rochester to Mitchell

November 5, 2012

Aptly for a Monday, the sixth day of our road trip was one of the more uneventful ones, a straight east-to-west drive on Interstate 90.

Starting off at the motel in Rochester, we had the first of many hotel-buffet-breakfasts. It was a novelty to me that most of the hotels we stayed in during the road trip offered free breakfast (of course, they weren’t really free, but priced into the room rate). Maybe we’d just never noticed before or had paid the rate that didn’t include it, but we had it now and JC became the official bringer of breakfast. She would go out each morning while I was still in bed and return with everything in the same Holiday Inn Express bag (from Cortland). It’s a sweet memory and one of my favorite ones from the road trip.

Bath Towel Elephant

Who would’ve thought that a couple of rolled-up towels could turn into an elephant?

There were two unique things that we encountered only at the hotel in Rochester. The first was a La-Z-Boy recliner. We took turns sitting in it and pulling the lever. It was a shock when the seat-back reclined with unexpected rapidity. What a roller coaster ride. The second unique thing was how the bathroom was arranged. Rather than hung from a rack or placed in a neat pile, the towels were folded into bows on one side of the bathroom and, even more elaborately, in an elephant shape on the other. The shower curtain was tucked neatly into the soap holder in the middle, creating something like a big top circus tent. When I mentioned this to the owner at checkout, she said that it was something the maids liked to do, a way to brighten up an otherwise dreary bathroom (and job).

Jackson County, Minnesota - Interstate 90, Exit 57

Jackson County, Minnesota – notice the road color; does it have to do with the fog? Or snow?

After checking out, we gassed up the car and went on our way. We used less than one tank of gas that day, stopping only to eat and go to the bathroom (at the Blue Earth Rest Area, at the McDonald’s in Luverne, Minnesota, and at the Beaver Creek Travel Information Center in South Dakota).

Near the MN/SD Border

From Scotland to NY to SD to CA, we never figured out what those rolley things were (we did much later)

Once we arrived in Mitchell, we checked into the hotel before going to Walmart to buy dinner and some other necessities, including thermal underwear and a bottle of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey. The former was because we were heading into snowy territory and the coldest place we had been to so far was Niagara Falls where we had frozen our butts off despite maxing out our clothes; the latter was because we had been bombarded with Tennessee Honey ads while in London (especially in the Tube) and finally succumbed when we saw it at Walmart. Sadly, we ended up using neither of our purchases because the weather in South Dakota turned out to be great and the whiskey turned out to be so disgusting we eventually poured it down the drain (at the next city, wanted to try it a couple of times just to be sure).

Route Planning

Planning the rest of the trip

We spent the rest of the night in our cozy suite (with a nice couch and coffee table) eating a dinner of various packaged foods and planning the route for the rest of the trip. After driving for over 5 hours from Chicago to Rochester, we realized it was too draining so we planned a more leisurely pace going forward.

List of packaged foods (for the record, of course):

Lastly, here is the world’s largest bull’s head:

World's Largest Bulls Head, Porter Sculpture Park

World’s largest bull’s head at the Porter Sculpture Park, Montrose, South Dakota

Next: Road Trip, Day 7 – Mitchell to Rapid City

Road Trip, Day 2 – Cortland to Niagara Falls

Day 2 - Cortland to Niagara Falls

November 1, 2012 – Thursday

We started a bit later this morning after an extended night of restful sleep. Compared with the apartment in New York City, the hotel room was a lot nicer.

The night before when I was picking up our Chinese food, I saw a Tim Hortons. Being the Tim Hortons fanatic that I am (Can you blame me? None exist in either SF or HK), I had to have breakfast there.

Tim Hortons - Cortland, NY

Tim Hortons – Cortland, NY

With the remnants of Sandy still bringing rain and wet to the region, I wanted to improve my visibility when driving. On the way to Cortland, I noticed that the rain on the windshield was not beading, and rain on the side mirrors and windows impaired my visibility. From my experience taking care of my Acura, I know that there are products out there that can repel water, and just as luck would have it there was an Advance Auto Parts across the street. I bought a bottle of Rain-X (I actually prefer Stoner, but they didn’t have it), sprayed it on, and for the rest of the road trip rain was no longer an issue.

With that taken care of, we were on our way. When we mapped our route earlier, Google Maps suggested going through Syracuse, which didn’t make sense to me since it was slightly in the opposite direction. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to drag the route to a different road if the first one is not to your liking. Instead of heading northeast on Interstate 81, I chose to go northwest on NY 41. In hindsight, it was a great decision because we ended up driving on smaller country roads and passing through smaller towns and villages, something that wouldn’t have happened on the interstate.

Hong Kong in Cortland

Hong Kong in Cortland? Sadly, no longer in business.

Military Vehicles Outside the CNY Living History Center

Wow, a tank! Outside the Central New York Living History Center.

Just outside Cortland is the village of Homer. This is old America, going back all the way to the American Revolution. Pretty amazing. Even more so, it’s larger than San Francisco in land area, but has over a hundred times less people.

Homer, New York

Passing through Homer, NY

As we went further up highway 41, we encountered fewer and fewer cars. Pretty soon, it was just us on the road, and we drove relatively slowly so we could take in the sights (the roads were wet, after all). After a while, I noticed a huge, orange truck bearing down on us – it reminded me of a Caltrans truck, and it was probably the New York equivalent. We were driving slowly and enjoying ourselves, and this truck was in a hurry. It got stressful after a few miles and I couldn’t wait to find a turnout to let it pass. When I saw a 3-way intersection approaching, I quickly signaled left and made the turn, and the truck whizzed by with a cloud of kicked-up water droplets flailing around behind it.

Beware the Truck

Beware the truck, and notice how clean the mirror is.

A few minutes later, we passed through the town of Scott. After that, it was mostly farmland and random houses here and there.

Limited Visibility

Mostly farmland

It was dull, it was dreary, and it rained, but it all added to the experience. I had always enjoyed driving in the rain, listening to it hit the windshield and roof while I’m inside the car, staying warm and dry, and now I was doing it while exploring the New York countryside. Less than two weeks ago, I was doing the same thing in Scotland. Crazy.

The thing about driving in the countryside, though, is the lack of rest areas. Fortunately, the drive from Cortland to Niagara is pretty short, and in between there are towns and villages. We were driving through the historic district of Skaneateles when we saw a sign for a public bathroom. It’s not often that you see a sign for the bathroom when you really are in need of one, and we took advantage. Having been in the warm confines of the car, the moment I stepped out I was quickly reminded of what time of year it was and put on my jacket and gloves.

I-90 New York Toll Ticket

Entering I-90 at Waterloo…

Back on the road, we headed west and passed through Auburn before merging onto Interstate 90 near Waterloo. This was our first time traveling on I-90, and we would travel on it a few more times before the end of our trip. For now, we stayed on until our next stop, the Ontario Travel Plaza. It was here that I encountered the pinball machine from my first job for the first time in nearly 17 years. It was pretty unbelievable. I hurriedly finished my McDonald’s lunch so I could go play.

We continued on I-90 until Buffalo, then switched to I-290 and eventually I-190. It took just a little over an hour to get to the Canadian border.

Entering Canada

Entering Canada

The first thing we saw after we entered our hotel room was the view of Niagara Falls. We must have spent at least half an hour standing at the window looking at it, photographing it. It was something JC had always wanted to see, and something I hadn’t seen in over a decade. The window itself could not be opened, but underneath it was some sort of vent. Since the room had air conditioning, we surmised that the vent was not an air vent, but a sound vent so that guests could hear the rush of the waterfall.

Night was approaching so we stopped marveling from our room and headed down to marvel in person. Alas, the stairs that connected our hotel to the parkway below were closed for maintenance; we ended up doing a lot of extra walking. It was already cold, and as we walked the wind and rain picked up, making it even more so. Still, it was our only chance to see the falls at night and we somehow managed to brave the elements for over an hour before making the uphill walk back to the hotel. I’ll always remember the chilling cold, the tripod feeling like a popsicle, and the wind hitting my face while we walked along the parkway.

Niagara Falls - Horseshoe Falls

The Horseshoe Falls at night

That night, we took advantage of our hotel package and enjoyed a discounted, full meal at the restaurant. After all, we had been in the cold and needed to warm up. Considering the time of year, the restaurant was mostly empty and we had almost the entire place to ourselves. A couple of candles and the light from the falls illuminated our table while we dined on French onion soup, chicken corn chowder, ribeye steak, lobster tail, and pork chop, all accompanied with wine. It was the fanciest meal we’d had since London.

Steak and Lobster Tail

Steak and lobster tail

Completely stuffed, we retired to our room and relaxed for the rest of the night, looking forward to seeing more of the falls the next day. It had been a complete day with driving, pinball, and Niagara Falls.

Next: Road Trip, Day 3 – Niagara Falls to Farmington Hills

Recovery in London

October 3rd, 2012 – Wednesday

As is usual after arriving in the evening after a long haul flight, I woke up super early the next morning. No use trying to sleep when the body won’t cooperate, so I got up and got dressed, grabbed the camera, and left the hotel to scope out the neighborhood.

Paddington Underground, Praed South

Paddington Underground Station

On Praed Street I headed back the way we came the night before, towards Paddington Station. It was 6:00 AM, it was damp, and it was chilly. I was glad I put on an extra shirt. There were already a few people out and about, and just as it is all over the world during those hours, double-parked trucks stood on the street while their drivers made deliveries.

Earlier, I had checked online and saw that the nearest ATM was a block away; I made my way over there and withdrew some GBP. The second objective was breakfast, so I walked back towards the hotel, to the McDonald’s right next door. I guess McDonald’s has the worldwide early morning market cornered, as it always seems like it’s the only place that’s open at such an early hour.

McDonald's UK Breakfast Wrap

McDonald’s UK Breakfast Wrap

I had a nice little breakfast wrap that I’d never seen before (I don’t think they use that box in the U.S.). The coffee was also different than the black drip-type that I’m used to (I think they call it “white coffee” and it already has milk in it, and it’s slightly frothy), but that’s been the case everywhere we’ve been outside of the U.S. Nonetheless, the meal was satisfying and I was ready to go on my way.

You might notice a bottle of water in the background of the photo above. I drink lots and lots of water, and often one of the first things I like to do after I come home is to drink a big glass of water. Well, when first arriving after a long flight, water isn’t always readily available (i.e. I’m too exhausted to go buy water), so by the time I wake up the next morning I’m pretty thirsty and dehydrated. I don’t usually buy bottled water at McDonald’s, but I wanted something in addition to coffee to hydrate myself with.

Now, I was fueled up and feeling fresh. I tried walking in the other direction this time, towards the East. I walked past the recently-in-the-news St. Mary’s Hospital. At the time I wasn’t aware of its history, and when I saw on TV that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge had her baby there, I took a second look and realized that I had walked by this historic hospital. Dang.

Further down Praed Street, I saw a Tesco Express and went in to check it out. As it was still so early, there were unshelved groceries all over the place, but I was able to bag some oranges and, of course, drinking water. I also looked for a phone SIM card as my online research showed that Tesco sold them. I didn’t see any and didn’t ask (social anxiety FTW), and headed back the way I came.

2012 Limited Edition Oyster Card

Our 2012 limited edition Oyster cards

I must have had a reason at the time for going back and forth, but I don’t remember anymore. This time, I walked past the hotel and went into the Underground station to get some Oyster cards. Unlike Clipper cards in San Francisco or Octopus cards in Hong Kong, I was able to purchase them from an automated machine. How civilised. At this time, the station was starting to get a little crowded from the morning commute. I figured I’d test out my new Oyster card and followed the crowd. It occurred to me that I could go check out the hotel where we would be staying after returning from Paris, near the Eurostar terminal at King’s Cross/St. Pancras, but somehow I ended up on the notoriously slow Circle line terminating at Edgware Road, the last station on that line. No wonder the train was so empty. Luckily, the correct train was just across the platform.

First Time on the Tube

First time on the Tube

I scoped out the area of the hotel as well as where we would be boarding the Eurostar. Having accomplished my mission, I headed back to Paddington. There was a Vodafone shop inside the station so I went ahead and bought a couple of SIM cards. After such a productive morning, I went back to the hotel to rest for a couple of hours.

Now, JC was up and hungry, and I was ready for my second breakfast, so we went downstairs to try out the other restaurant that was right next to the hotel, Garfunkel’s. I guess it is like the Denny’s of London. It was our first time having full English breakfasts with tea, and we were pretty excited about it. It was also our first time trying HP Sauce. It’s almost like A1 Steak Sauce but a bit sweeter and less tangy, in my opinion (well, I liked it enough such that it was one of the first things I bought after moving to Hong Kong). There was also a triangular fried item that we thought was a hash brown, but then realized was fried bread. Very interesting, and very delicious.

Garfunkel's Full English Breakfast

A “very happy” inducer

Another interesting thing was the nationality of the servers. Our server at Garfunkel’s was from Lithuania. In quite a few restaurants that we subsequently went to in London, we encountered staff who were from Lithuania. I wondered if Lithuanians in London were like Mexicans in San Francisco, immigrants just trying to make a living in a land of opportunity.

Having had such a hearty breakfast, we decided to walk it off with a stroll through the neighborhood. No matter where you are, one of the more adventurous things you can do is to just pick a street and walk down it. In our case, we headed South and eventually reached Hyde Park. We walked into the park but then it started raining, so we headed back to Praed Street.

Equestrians Entering Hyde Park

Equestrians entering Hyde Park

We decided to take a bus tour as it was still early and we didn’t want to go back to the hotel room. In Hong Kong, one of our favorite activities is sitting on the upper deck of a double decker bus and just watching the world go by. One of the lines we ride the most is the 23, so when we saw a 23 on Praed Street, we decided to take it. You could call this our initial tour of London, as the 23 traveled through a lot of popular tourist sites, including Oxford Street, Piccadilly Circus, and Trafalgar Square. We took it all the way to the end, to Liverpool Street Station, and then boarded the return-trip 23 to go back, as we were now pretty tired from the jet lag.

The driver of the 23 on the way back drove the bus in a very jerky manner, pumping the gas and brake pedals, causing the bus to stutter and rock back and forth. In our jet-lagged state, it was more than we could bear, so we got off at Charing Cross Station to take the Underground back to Paddington. We used our first 30p pay-toilet inside (guess it’s a good idea for keeping out homeless people) and then took the Bakerloo line back to our hotel.

For the rest of the day we stayed in, resting and recovering from jet lag. We bought KFC takeaway from across the street and enjoyed a nice fried chicken dinner before turning in early, for the next day we would be heading to Paris!

Next: London, Day 3 – Off to Paris

All Nighter

I’m typing this after having pulled an all-nighter tonight. Why did this happen? Here’s the story.

We’ve been enjoying life and living with little restriction. As my current tagline reads, we eat when we’re hungry, and we sleep when we’re tired. That said, our current sleep cycle begins in the morning and ends in the late afternoon. Today, we were supposed to wake up early so that we could meet JC’s former employer at 11 AM and collect her final paycheck. That’s right, collect her final paycheck from her final day of work, which occurred on April 21, 2013 – nearly two months ago.

We should have known something was up in the very beginning, when they asked JC to come in for a couple of “trials” to see if she would be a good fit to work at the place. The trial was at least two full workdays, neither of which were compensated. Now, to be clear, compensation was neither promised by the employer, nor expected by us. At the same time, if I were the employer, I would at least offer some sort of token compensation (maybe unsold product at the end of the day?) to make up for the person’s time. I mean, this is a low wage, front-end retail food-service job. Seriously, how much trialing is required? You’ve seen JC’s resume. She’s a fuckin’ degree-holder and graduated top of her pastry-school class. The “trials” just happened to occur on days with special, larger-than-usual orders. Trial indeed.

Later on, we found out that the contract JC signed was an illegal contract. In the contract, it stated that if JC decided not to continue employment during the probation period she would be dinged some amount of pay. When we checked the labor laws and consulted with the Labour Department, we found out that this behavior is explicitly prohibited in the labor code so as to protect employees from cheap-ass employers like this one. The law is clear in stating that that particular clause in the contract is null and void.

The other thing about the contract was that there was an explicit clause requiring JC to behave ethically and with integrity. As there was no corresponding guarantee in the contract stating that the employer would behave ethically and with integrity, I copied the entire clause and replaced every instance of JC with “employer”, and gave it to JC to ask them to add it to the contract. In my mind, the whole section was throwaway anyway because it was so vague; to anyone who was already ethical, it would make no difference whether the language was in there or not. I figured it would be a good way to test them. If it’s good enough for the employee, it should be good enough for the employer, right? Wrong. They rejected the addition, essentially reserving the right to behave unethically. Do as I say, not as I do.

(Speaking of which, they verbally “agreed” to consider increasing JC’s pay at the end of the probation period, but refused to add that agreement to the contract as well.)

On the day that JC was originally supposed to collect her paycheck 19 days after her last day of work (problems with the accounting software, of course!), there was a thunderstorm. She went all the way over there in the rain, only to find that the employer had indeed illegally subtracted the difference from her paycheck. The employer said it would consult its “legal department” (this is a 2-person business, and if there really was one, they would not have allowed the illegal clause in the first place) to find out if what we were saying about the labor law was true. OK, so we play along. A week goes by, no word. Two weeks go by, no word. Eventually, JC is the one to contact them to see what’s up. Then, it’s one excuse after another. A busy week. Oh, got sick. Have a bunch of meetings.

So, why did I stay up all night? Because I can. Because the chicken-shit amount of the paycheck makes no difference to whether we continue to enjoy life or not. Because I’m not going to change the way I’m currently living for some cheap-ass motherfuckers who don’t have the decency to pay their staff for services rendered. I’d rather stay up all night doing what I want to do than futilely attempt to fall asleep 4 hours before my bedtime and try to get up after sleeping for only 3.

I make no apologies for the level of discourse I’ve used in this post. I have the backing of principles and values. The type of people running this business are probably the type of coward who would hide behind such things as discourse, completely ignoring the substance of their own actions. Speaking of business, in business you scratch my back and I scratch yours. Everybody wins. Each side benefits. To me, these are the fundamentals of a long-term positive and productive relationship. On the other hand, the type of one-sided take-advantage-of-people exploitation happening in this situation is short-sighted and outdated (well, maybe not in developing countries – oops, did I just lump Hong Kong with the third world?). It just amazes me that what seems to be a promising premise, starting a new pâtisserie in Hong Kong, sharing your creations, following your dreams, being an entrepreneur, is tarnished by such cheap and unscrupulous behavior. I’ve tried the product and examined their sales model and, to put it mildly, they have some things to work on. I mean, maybe they can fool people in the beginning to part with their money, but long term, forget about it. What’s that statistic about businesses failing in their first year? Or that proverb? Fool me once, is it?

On a happier note, so far we’ve enjoyed a late night meal from McDonald’s, watched Iron Chef (Black pig, then clam battle), I’ve written and posted a couple of entries on Paris 2012, and now there’s a 1970 Hong Kong movie on TV (seeing my parents’ version of Bieber Fever has validated this entire exercise). The birds have started singing, the sun is rising, and later I’ll probably go shoot some buckets before getting ready to go pick up the check.

I’ll update this post if, during the course of picking up the check, something happens that refutes what I’ve said here this morning. Here’s to hoping I’ve been wrong. Still, whatever happens, whether we get paid or not, today is the last day that we will concern ourselves with this issue. Life’s too short.

Good morning, good afternoon, good evening, wherever you are.

Update 6/19/13 2:49 AM: Turns out I was wrong about the uncompensated trial days; the final paychecks did include these days. That was the only thing I was wrong about, though. First, we were asked if we would be OK receiving half the amount now, and half the amount in one month, in the form of a post-dated check. We accommodated because as I said, we wanted to put this behind us. After we agreed, we got lectured on the law, how to run a business, how we missed a great opportunity, how JC put them in a “very bad position” (yes, a little RETAIL SALES job that didn’t work out put them in a bad position). OK, so they wanted to get in the last word. When I tried to explain the part of the labor code regarding probation, I was dismissed and kicked out of the store. I guess when you’ve got no argument, those are the best courses of actions (the LA LA LA I can’t hear you tactic). Only thing left to do is to cash the checks. Oh man, please don’t bounce so we can finally get this over with!

Paris, Day 4 – Walking, Pâtisseries, and the Louvre

Louvre Pyramid

Going to the Louvre on Sunday

October 7, 2012 – this was our fourth day in Paris, and the only Sunday that we would be in the city. How do Parisians spend their Sundays? We thought we’d walk around our neighborhood to see if we could find out.

Instead of walking along the main boulevard (Avenue Kléber), we decided to try one of the back streets instead. The street we were on is called Avenue Raymond Poincaré; if you look for it on Google Maps Street View, you’ll find that it is kind of a back street, narrow and with 2-lane traffic, perfect for a Sunday morning stroll.

Sunday Church

As it is all over the world, people go to church on Sundays. Here, we are passing by the Church of Saint-Honoré d’Eylau. I am guessing that these people just got out of the morning service and are catching up with their fellow church members. It’s nice to see smiling faces and babies. Coming from California, though, it’s different seeing so many people smoking everywhere, even amongst kids. I noticed this everywhere we went, not just Paris.

Place Victor Hugo

Soon, we reached a roundabout with a sign that read, “PLACE VICTOR HUGO”. Victor Hugo. The name sounded very familiar but we couldn’t quite put our fingers on it. Luckily, Google is our friend: Victor Hugo. “Oh! He’s the Les Misérables guy! Huh huh huh”.

Sunday Filming

On this Sunday there was some filming going on in the roundabout. It was an old Mercedes Benz convertible in front of the camera. I wonder what they were filming for? Maybe the company site has some answers.

Giant Blocks of Granite Buildings Made of Stone?

Walking around an old city such as Paris is really awe-inspiring and fascinating. Where I’m from, there aren’t many buildings from the 1800s that have survived World War II (and these are probably some of the younger ones!). I suppose it’s not too surprising that these buildings have stood so long because they simply look so solid; they look like someone carved them out of a bunch of gigantic slabs of granite that conveniently formed in city-block sizes. Maybe that’s why Paris doesn’t have rectangularly-shaped city blocks, because the granite randomly formed all over the place!

Without new, there can’t be old. Here’s a newer-style apartment building, along with some creations brought back from the New World:

Apartment Block in Paris Starbucks in Paris

Red Pepper Burger, McDonald's Paris Royal Cheese, McDonald's Paris

I don’t know why I like McDonald’s so much. I guess I like seeing what kind of localized offerings are available, seeing what the product managers at McDonald’s think locals will like. Don’t know about the Parisians, but I didn’t like that Red Pepper Burger too much.

From our seat on the 2nd floor of McDonald’s, we could see a store across the street called “picard”. The only thing I associate with that word is the captain of the Enterprise, and I ended up spending my lunch doing lame Captain Picard impressions (“Make it so”). After lunch, we went inside to take a look, and it turned out to be a frozen-gourmet-food market. No wonder their logo is a snowflake.

picard picard Frozen Desserts

After picard, we headed south on Rue des Belles Feuilles (the Street of the Beautiful Leaves). Referring to Wikipedia, it seems that the street used to border a park which is no longer there, hence the “beautiful leaves”. Now, there are various culinary establishments selling everything from Chinese food to sausages to roast chicken to lemon pies. The place selling the chickens was packed and had a long line (apparently, the Bresse is a top breed of chicken in France). The lemon pie place was opened by a famous French baker named Frédéric Lalos. Why do I suddenly feel sick that I had McDonald’s for lunch?

La Mandarine Chinese Food Au Poulet de Bresse

DSC_3846 Lalos Tarte Citron

Well, no need to feel sick because at the end of the street, at a roundabout known as the Place de Mexico, we got another view of La Tour Eiffel. It’s kind of neat that you can do your own thing in your neighborhood like shopping at picard, drinking Starbucks, and buying roast chicken, and then you look up and the Tower is there. It seems reassuring in a way. We made a right and proceeded down Rue Decamps and saw what I presume to be an incinerator with a giant chimney.

La Tour Eiffel The Incinerator

Soon, we arrived at Avenue Georges Mandel. Again, the name sounded familiar (maybe because of Howie Mandel?), but after checking Wikipedia it turns out he was a member of the French Resistance who was executed during World War II. The street sign said as much. Speaking of which, it’s pretty cool that some Parisian street signs come with a little caption explaining who the street is named for. Rue Decamps was named for a painter and engraver. Coincidentally (though under different circumstances), both Mandel and Decamps died before their time in a forest outside of Paris known as Fontainebleau; perhaps that is why the rue and the avenue intersect.

Intersection of Avenue Georges Mandel and Rue Decamps

At this point we were pretty close to the Rue de la Pompe Métro station, so we decided to Métro instead of walk back to the hotel for a short break. Take line 9, transfer to 6 at Trocadéro, and get off at Boissière. Voilà!

Paris Métro - 16th Arrondissement

Short break over, we were now on our way to the Musée du Louvre, but by way of a couple of pâtisseries in the 6th arrondissement (JC is a student of the culinary, particularly pastry, arts). If I’m not mistaken, we took the 6 and transferred to the 12, getting off at Rennes.

The first one was pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris on Rue de Vaugirard. As can be ascertained from the name, this is a pâtisserie with Japanese origins, with stores in Tokyo and Taipei, in addition to Paris. You’re not supposed to take photos inside the store, so I snuck one in from outside.

pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris pâtisserie Sadaharu AOKI paris

Heading east, we found our way to Rue Bonaparte, which is where the second pâtisserie we went to is located. Pierre Hermé has been called “The Picasso of Pastry”, so naturally there’s a huge crowd outside the store:

Pierre Hermé

It was a little too much excitement for me, so I went and hung out across the street, at the Fontaine Saint-Sulpice:

Fontaine Saint-Sulpice

There was a little café nearby, Le Café de la Mairie, so we sat down for some espressos and some rest. When we first sat down, there were a couple of empty tables next to us and no one waiting. I sat next to JC, so both of the seats opposite from us were empty. Later, a party of 4 came and took the remaining tables, and after that a couple came in and stood around the bar. I was kind of in my own little world and not really paying attention, but then I started noticing that they were staring at us, and then the lady started shaking her head. I caught on and moved to sit across from JC, the couple sat down, and it was thumbs up all around (they literally gave me the thumbs up sign, hopefully it wasn’t the French way of flipping the bird).

Inconsiderate Tourists, First Person Perspective

From the café we walked over to the Saint-Germain-des-Prés Métro station to take line 4 and then line 7 to the Louvre. The cool thing about the station was that instead of billboards, it used spotlights and slides to create displays on the walls.

Saint-Germain-des-Prés Métro

As it turns out, it was the first Sunday of October, so admission to the Louvre was free. Even though it was late in the afternoon, there was still a significant line to get in. Fortunately, the wait was pretty short and soon enough we were inside.

The only thing I know about the Louvre is that it’s where the Mona Lisa resides, so of course that was the first exhibit I went to. When I think about it, it’s kind of odd that people would crowd around a painting and take a bunch of photos of it, but that’s what people were doing. I couldn’t resist either and snapped a few photos. What are these forces that cause people to do odd things? Perhaps that’s part of the mystery surrounding this historic painting.

Mona Lisa Crowd Mona Lisa

After the Mona Lisa I just walked in whatever direction my curiosity took me. One of the things that struck me was that people used to actually live in the museum before it was a museum. I wondered what that must have been like, thinking about basic human needs such as eating meals and going to the bathroom. When I think about it, I just shake my head at how incredible it is.

When I read history in a book, the timeline is arranged in discrete centuries and years, in black and white. One might be inclined to think that at the end of one era and the beginning of another, things immediately changed. In reality, change happens slowly, like how it is in the present, incrementally, and almost unnoticeably. A law here, a natural disaster there, and the way people live changes. A few hundred years from now, people will look back at today and say, for example, that the internet exploded in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. To someone in the future reading a history book it may seem like someone in our time flipped a switch and turned on the internet. In reality, we know that it was built a piece at a time, adopted by sections of the population at a time, built on and accessed with different and new technologies as they were invented. It’s like trying to grasp the concept of infinity and limits in calculus, very analog. I have to crane my neck and think really hard just to keep that glimmer of understanding in my head.

And so it is with the Louvre. Over hundreds of years, piece by piece, it has become what it is today. Here is a portion of the Louvre from the 12th century:

Medieval Louvre

Crazy.

Later on, I stumbled into the Egyptian exhibit and saw some real mummified humans. The feeling I got when I looked at the mummy, knowing that underneath the bandages was a face, a body, arms and legs, was indescribable. And yet, I wasn’t exactly sure how I felt about these displays. I imagined the family of the deceased saying goodbye to their loved one, mummifying the body and placing it in a place where it could rest forever. I’m not sure how I would feel if someone dug up someone I cared about and put her on display, thousands of years into the future. On the one hand, I’d be dead already, so it probably wouldn’t matter. On the other, I might take some comfort in knowing that my loved one could provide a glimpse of how we used to live.

JC and I had gone our separate ways at the Louvre and had agreed to meet at a seating area beneath the pyramid, but a security guard asked her to leave as it was closing time. I must have sat there for 30 minutes (strange that no security guard ask me to leave) before it occurred to me to go upstairs to see if she was there. As long as our day had been, though, it was still going: our next stop was Galeries Lafayette, a famous Parisian department store. Since it was just a few line 7 stops away from the Louvre, we figured we’d squeeze it in.

Well, it was bad news for me as it was just too crowded and I was tired and cranky. I took the Métro back to our hotel, but not before stopping by Carrefour Express again to buy some food and wine for dinner. JC came back a little while after, and we enjoyed a relaxing night at home after a long but enjoyable day 4 in Paris.

2009 La Croix St-Louis

Next: Paris, Day 5 – Eiffel, Aquarium, Ramen, Eiffel Again

Paris, Day 2

October 5th, 2012 – Friday

Our second day in Paris, almost 3 months ago…

Based on their intertwined histories, it occurred to me that it might have been worthwhile to try Vietnamese food in France. We made our way to the 13th arrondissement, home of Little Asia and Chinatown. Walking from the Métro to the restaurant we got a feel of what it would be like to live in Paris. We passed quite a few apartment blocks, and it was certainly more of a residential area than a tourist one. For a moment, it seemed as if we were Parisians walking home from work after getting off the Métro.

Soon, we found the restaurant that I had looked up online earlier:

Pho Bida Vietnam

Pho at Pho Bida Vietnam

Well, I have to say that although the meal was good, nothing beats pho in the Bay Area. Probably a matter of personal and localized taste. We walked further into Little Asia and noticed a lot more pho restaurants, in addition to a sprinkling of Chinese places. It seemed to be mostly Vietnamese, though. Not surprising due to the history.

We made our way back to the hotel for a short rest. Actually, it was a short rest at the laundromat near our hotel. It was our first time using a French laundromat. Instead of paying individually at each machine, you paid at a central box and punched in your washer’s code. Luckily, English instructions were available and with the help of a nice French lady we were able to launder our clothes.

French Laundry

Lessive means soap

While waiting for our laundry we had a snack at the bakery across the street. Afterwards, I also got myself a haircut. I never imagined that I would be getting one in Paris. Amazing!

Tart & Cap

Tart & Cap

Now, we were rested and ready to walk over to the Trocadéro, which wasn’t far from our hotel. I hadn’t done my homework on Paris so I didn’t realize that after the Trocadéro was the Eiffel Tower. We got to the roundabout and the Palais de Chaillot, and we crossed the street on the side of the Théâtre National de Chaillot. As we made our way around the theatre, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the sight of the Eiffel Tower. Oh, man, you mean it was here all along?! What a tourist.

Théâtre National de Chaillot

Théâtre National de Chaillot

La Tour Eiffel

La Tour Eiffel

La Tour Eiffel

A beautiful autumn day

La Tour Eiffel

Famous around the world, people come to see it

La Tour Eiffel

Getting closer

We made our way down to and across the River Seine. Now, we were right beneath the tower. Usually, when we see it in pictures, it isn’t up close and you don’t realize how much detail and texture there is to the Eiffel Tower. There are actually names engraved into the tower. Fascinating.

Up Close and Personal

Up close and personal

There was this pond next to the Eiffel Tower that was curious. It was like a nature reserve or something, complete with fish, ducks, and other birds. There was a fence around the pond and the grass surrounding it, and what was curious was that a lot of people were leaning on the fence and feeding the ducks and birds and having a grand old time, as if the Eiffel Tower wasn’t even there. Kinda funny, actually. We got sucked in ourselves, taking dozens of duck photos.

Ducky

Quack! Welcome to my home. Please don’t litter.

Since we were already by the river, we decided to take a river cruise on the Batobus. Boat in French is “bateau,” pronounced “bato,” so there you go. The best part was we really were going to the Champs-Élysées (see the map below), so we got our money’s worth on the cruise.

Batobus

Batobus, cool!

So there we were, sailing along the Seine at sunset. We passed under many bridges, including the famous Pont Neuf (actually I learned about it from the Bourne Identity). To me, it was like sailing past history. Of course, there were the famous landmarks such as the Notre Dame de Paris and the Musée du Louvre, but many of the “plain” residential buildings were old as well. I imagined what we might have seen had we been making our cruise 150 years ago: the warm light of candle chandeliers escaping out of the tall windows, the sound of classical music playing in the background, men and women dancing in their elaborate suits and dresses.

Sunset on the Seine

Sunset on the Seine

Last Stop

Last stop of the Batobus

The Batobus stopped just shy of the Place de la Concorde. We wanted to walk the entire length of the Champs-Élysées, so we backtracked our way over. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Place was where hundreds of people were beheaded during the French Revolution. When I think about it, it’s really unbelievable. I was actually there! I remember watching as a child in Hong Kong an anime series that was set during the French Revolution: the Rose of Versailles. The images in my mind of the candlelit rooms and people dancing were probably scenes from that series. I remember an ending, either of a specific episode or the series, in which the guillotine was being prepared for someone to be executed (probably Marie Antoinette), and there was a huge crowd in the square. There was a sort of finality and futility to that scene that has stayed with me all these years.

Place de la Concorde

Place de la Concorde

As the sun set and day transitioned into night, we made our way up the Champs-Élysées. We had already been walking all day, through Little Asia, from our hotel to the Trocadéro and Eiffel Tower, and from the Batobus to the Place de la Concorde. We were tired! Avoiding the many tourist-trap restaurants in the area, we got on the Métro and headed back to our neighborhood for a nice, quiet, French dinner, turning in early afterwards to dream about all those places that we had been to on our second day in Paris.

Champs-Élysées

Champs-Élysées at dusk

McDonald's

Let’s use the facilities at McDonald’s…

Crowded McDonald's

One of the busiest McDonald’s locations in the world

Arc de Triomphe at Night

The Arc de Triomphe at night

Next: Paris, Day 3 – Saint Chapelle, Notre Dame

Take a Hike

Another early morning this morning, but a much different feeling as I probably had around 11 hours of sleep. It was a great feeling, the cobwebs were gone, the fog was gone. We had another McDonald’s breakfast (nothing else open at 5 AM and nothing like Filet-O-Fish at that hour) and then JC went back to the hotel while I explored the area. My goal was to make my way up the hill to the park I saw on the map.

Breakfast at McDonald's

Macaroni in soup, available at your local HK McDonald’s

I wanted the most direct route and I figured that footpaths and stairways would not appear on Google Maps, so I headed in what I thought was the best direction. A steep street (Kai Yuen Street, 繼園街) with a stair-step sidewalk looked promising, but after I made my way up I found only culs-de-sac and dead ends (<– is that redundant?).

Not a Through Street

Not a through street

Having learned my lesson, I backtracked and consulted Google Maps for the best guaranteed route. It was basically one giant switchback (Pak Fuk Road, 百福道) with no direct path. Of course, being the man that I am, I didn’t follow the map. I saw a flight of stairs heading into the trees and took it, and it turned out to be a private staircase leading up to a private residential estate with a mini koi pond.

Koi Palace

No, I’m not here to feed you.

Once back on the switchback I noticed a bunch of really nice housing estates. I looked closer to see if I could peek inside, but most of them had their shades drawn. There was one with a globe on the bay window ledge, another with anime posters displayed for the world to see. I imagined myself living in one of those units someday. It probably wouldn’t be hard with a two-income household.

The complexes got nicer as I got higher, and then I realized I was in a fancy area of town known as Braemar Hill (寶馬山). It’s interesting how one part of town is really gritty, and a few minutes up the street is a luxury residential neighborhood. I encountered quite a few seniors out for their morning walks. I thought about Hong Kong a few decades ago and how these seniors had contributed their bit to society and now get to enjoy retirement.

Looking Down from Braemar Hill

Looking down from Braemar Hill

Finally, I reached another dead end, and the park I was looking for was right next to it. There were more seniors doing their daily routine in the playground area. Further down, I saw a path leading into a wooded area, but I had been walking for a long time and the sun was rising higher, so I decided to head back.

There is more to explore in and around the park. Something to look forward to in the coming days.

Choi Sai Woo Park