coasting it on the west – +portland

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We’re 5 days in, and we have 2 more days to explore the West Coast. We can’t hit Seattle in time, but we know Portland will not disappoint. The road north is beautiful on the coast, but we take some roads inwards to explore the mystical forested area in between San Francisco and Portland.  The Redwoods are about, and they do not waiver in making you feel absolutely minute.

Take a detour and go to the Muir Woods National Monument, a preserved park area where there are groves and hiking trails that bring you through the majestic Redwoods. The atmosphere is peaceful and there’s no denying the calmness you experience in this beautiful preservation.napavalley

We took another detour and went eastwards to Napa Valley, home of some of the best wine in the country. Being the only person above 21, I treated myself to a wine tasting session in Silver Oaks winery, and got a good afternoon buzz. Some of the Vineyards are especially worth visiting because of their novelty, such as this Castle Vineyard here. A lot of these vineyards are owned and patronized by the extremely wealthy so you can imagine the grandiose nature of the area. I also have to admit, I had some of my better wines here, comparable to my time in Paris and Milan.avenueofgiants

We still had a long way to go up to Portland, but in order to make the ride interesting, we took a couple more detours. One of my favorites was the Avenue of Giants, a road that is simply flanked on every side with Redwood trees and amazing nature. There’s a river than runs right by the side with an ecological richness to impress. Roadtrips run the risk of being boring easily when on long stretches, but making efforts like these to explore the coast make it worthwhile.oswego

We reached Oregon but before we headed up to Portland, John kindly offered to host us in his house for the night. Coincidentally, his house also had a lake as a backyard, opening up the opportunity for us to play Lonely Island’s ‘I’m on a Boat’ while on Lake Oswego. Being on land for that long in a car made being on a boat such a pleasure, especially since we got to just chill out and enjoy both each other’s company and the serenity of nature.innout

We had a bunch of decent meals while on the road, but I wouldn’t be a good travel writer if I left out In N Out from the list of eats. In N Out is the West Coast’s defining fast food franchise, with affordable delicious burgers. The Animal Style Fries is the move to make though, where they top their fries with thousand island dressing style Secret Sauce and grilled onions. You can’t go to California state and not have it.

Portland

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Portland, proudly weird and unique. It’s a pleasure visiting a city so comfortable with itself and refusing to conform to some form of arbitrary standard of what a ‘modern city’ should be. From strip clubs that offer proper dinner meals to hipster subcultures, Portland is going to surprise you around every corner, and I guess in many ways that’s the story of this city.hipster

Just walking around the various districts is one of the first things I’d recommend. Hawthorne neighborhood is one of the more hipster areas, with a bunch of open air food truck parks, and amazing amazing cafes that serve robust freshly made coffee. It reminds me slightly of Kreuzberg in Berlin, but vastly more American and weird in its own way.foodtruck

Speaking of food trucks, food truck parks are plentiful throughout the city, providing cheap and fun meals at any time. They’re actually really diverse and you see a lot of international cuisine being authentically offered. The lack of Sales Tax in Portland is an amazing boon, that frees up so much money for more spending. I had some of my best meals in Portland from Food Trucks.powells

Portland boasts a couple of things, but Powell’s Book Store is on the top of that list most times. Portlanders weirdly enough love to read and this vast bookstore that is perpetually packed is a testament to that. There’s such a diversity in this independent book store, and it’s not hard to find people engrossed in a story sitting between aisles. rosegarden

Another one of its boasts is its natural backyard and parks. We didn’t have the time to go hiking as much as we’d have liked to, but we did visit the Rose Gardens where they make new strains of roses regularly and essentially liven up the city. The park is a good escape from regular city life and there’s almost no trace of the city other than paced views. voodooFood in Portland is diverse and well rated, but you have to try their donuts. any argue against Voodoo Donuts, but the novelty is worth trying. This outlet has many hilarious and deliciously sweet donuts that redefine the donut experience. The line can get long so give yourself an hour to try and enjoy the vast variety they have. Also make sure to box some of them to take back.rogue

Finally, the craft breweries in Portland. Oh, the craft breweries. The flights in most bars are incredible affordable, and the staff across breweries such as Rogue, 10 Barrel Brewing and Deschutes are more than happy to provide information and recommendations for beers. I had a whole range from fruity beers to IPAs in one day, and walked away pleasantly satisfied.

Portland is an adventure. It catches you by surprise ever so often, and offers you a lifestyle unique to the city. I would love to visit it again.

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It took me some time to put together this travelogue. I had a great time with some of my best friends, and while tired at the very end, I experienced such a rich rush of adventures that I felt like I was in my normal state of traveling again. The travel bug feeds on itself in that way, every time you travel to satisfy your craving to travel, you give yourself more reason to travel again.

And that’s completely fine.

hooah.

coasting it on the west – +san francisco

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We resume our adventure on Highway 1, the famous coastline highway that is uninterrupted in beauty. Between LA and SF, sticking on the highway will bring you up along the mountains and on literally the closest reachable point to the Pacific Ocean on this stretch. It’s a breathtaking sight, and a dangerous one too as the mountainous path curves unexpected and propels you to another risky stretch.

It’s all completely worth it though, for sights as the one above. Wild, untouched and absolutely mesmerizing, this was by far one of my favorite parts of the trip.

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Go further north, and you’ll hit Monterey, a lovely coastal town that is home to a number of attractions including the Monterey Aquarium.  We reached too late to visit the aquarium, so we took the time to explore the 17 Mile Drive though, a famous route that passes by many beautiful natural coastal sights and the well known Pebble Beach Golf Course. I’m not sure if it was named Pebble Beach because of the beach above, but I’d like to think so.

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What you’ll notice immediately about this route is how secluded it is. It’s really a testament to the exclusive lifestyle lived by those who can access these parts of the country. Beautiful, untouched and barred by gates.

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The lone Cypress tree is known as one of the most photographed trees in North America, and it sits near the end of the 17 Mile Drive. It’s held by cables, but one must ask – how does a tree endure the hardships of being exposed to the elements all by itself and remain standing? I guess that got pretty deep.

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Of course while in Monterey, we decided to try some of their famous seafood. The Clam Chowder at Old Fisherman’s Grotto was memorable, with its hot, creamy and delicious flavor going doing your throat. Their crab sandwich is worth trying, although the chowder was definitely the star.

San Francisco

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The next day, we made our way into San Francisco, the second most famous city in the US. SF is full of promise, and its city seems to suggest a new way forward for the US. The first stop for us was Pier 39, a pier completely redone to accommodate commercial activities and restaurants. There’s tons to see and do on this pier, but only if you’re looking for ways to simply spend money.

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Walk further along the pier and you’ll notice Alcatraz, the infamous prison island for the US’s most dangerous prisoners. You need to buy tickets weeks in advance to even have a shot of stepping on the island, but the view from afar is already thrilling in imagining the lives of those on the island and how difficult it must have been to be so close to the mainland.

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One of the more unique attractions is the Bay of Seals. I’m still puzzled on how all these seals manage to just flop on over to these platforms and how they do so consistently every day, but they do and people simply watch. One must wonder who’s watching who – are we watching them or are they watching us?

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One of my favorite sights in SF was the trolleys moving up and down the main streets. Apparently, SF has brought in all the trolleys from around the world and incorporated them into its network, making it a unique way to travel around but also a iconic part of SF transportation.

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My only grievance, if you would call it that, of San Francisco is the hilly streets. Without a car, one can expect to climb a couple of blocks uphill before reaching your destination. The most significant point is Lombard Street, that peaks on Russian Hill. From this point, you can see most parts of SF but you’re also going to see the world’s ‘crookedest’ street, which is quite the comical view.

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How can one go to San Francisco and not see the Golden Gate Bridge? It’s an architectural wonder and the photos never do justice to the scale of the bridge when up close. We took the bicycle tour and biked up and across the bridge. It was a good exercise but an even better memory as we crossed one of the most iconic structures of the world on our bikes.

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There are many good sights of San Francisco. Twin Peaks is normally suggested as a popular spot, and I have good memories there from my previous trip, but this time our friend Lucas brought us up to Corona Hill, where we coincidentally opened up some Coronas and enjoyed the view. It’s a secluded and therefore cozy running trail that only those who want to put in the effort to climb get to enjoy the view from.

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Being in Chicago, you become familiar with Boystown – the popular Gay district where gay people have their own bars and clubs that are catered for them. But in a lot of ways, Castro in SF stands boldly as a whole cultural district. It’s not just bars and clubs, it’s a celebration of the LGBTQ culture and stands boldly for them. I was personally caught unaware by the Rainbow streets which made for a great picture.

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Finally, a trip to San Francisco is not complete without a trip to Ghirardelli, the chocolate factory that is similar to the fictitious Willy Wonka’s. The smell of chocolate in the building is intoxicating, and such a pleasure.

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I got the world famous Chocolate Fudge sundae, and I had a tough time eating anything else the whole day. The fudge is smooth and rich, and the ice cream mixes well with it to make a sweet escape.

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On the topic of food, one of the must-eats is Boudin’s sourdough bread. Yes, the bread. The clam chowder is what’s well known, but I decided to try their shrimp sandwich and was not disappointed. The bread is flavorful and adds such distinction to each bite, the shrimp played but a supporting role in this meal.

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Finally, while in SF, one cannot avoid the Asian Food. Dim Sum places are plentiful and at good prices, and it was a good time taking my friends who had never tried it before on an adventure where it was as authentic as it got, with shouting waitresses and bamboo steamers. The food reminded of Asia back home, and that was all that mattered.

San Francisco was full of culture, with people trying to make their claim on the new America. From a strong immigrant culture to the obvious rise of Silicon Valley nearby, this city is where you’ll find energy. There’s much to be aware of as well, it’s not all gold and silver – with many homeless and places in shambles – but those stories don’t get told of much in favor of shining light on the promise of a new future.

In the next and last post, we finish the adventure by traveling through the Redwoods and ending up in Portland, where things get weird.

till then,

hooah.

coasting it on the west – los angeles+

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I travel a lot. One might even say, excessively. Part of that motivation to travel comes because Singapore is such a small island that after living there for nearly 20 years, you realize that there’s probably more to your world. The US is different though. The sheer landmass of the country opens up so much variety within their borders that many need not even leave the country to experience sun and snow in the same week. In that spirit, for Spring Break this year, to escape the cold of Chicago, a bunch of my closest friends and I packed our bags, rented a car and explored the famous West Coast.

Los Angeles

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This adventure starts in Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood and where American culture is thought to originate.  Los Angeles itself is a large city though, divided into distinctive neighborhoods, and surrounded by other interesting localities such as Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Our AirBnB was in Hollywood itself, and we could immediately see how much of an effect that had on the community. Hollywood culture was everywhere, with large filming studios, monuments and posters boasting stars and celebrities. pic5

Walk not too far into the main Hollywood district near Hollywood Blvd and you’ll notice the ground is painted with stars.  Who are we kidding, these are probably one of the main reasons why you’re even in Hollywood. From musicians to actors to basically anyone famous in the media industry, the Walk of Fame pays homage to the personalities that shaped American popular culture. It’s quite the adventure, hunting for that one actor or personality you have a special affinity to, but that same hunt leads you to explore the Boulevard and the other sights peculiar to the area.

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One of these many sights is of course the Chinese Theatre. There’s an Egyptian theatre too, and a bunch of interactive museums, but this was definitely the most memorable for me. Built using distinctive oriental motifs, the Chinese Theatre is grand and boisterous, and very non-Chinese. It’s ironic that American’s heart of popular culture has a focal point that is essentially the appropriation of a whole ‘nother culture. It’s worth the visit though, to see how Americans saw the Chinese culture as ‘exotic’ and ‘alluring’, and in some way this reveals the historical tendency of Hollywood to tell stories of escapism and adventure to the world at any and all costs.pic10

Popular culture irks me sometimes. I love movies and television, but because fiction in many ways shape realities, when done irresponsibly, I fear for the future of our society. What does inspire me though is science. Science, when unrestricted to everyone, encourages to look at the world as it is, and confront realities. You can’t pick and choose what you like, you must deal with the complete laws of the world. The Griffith Observatory is one of Los Angeles’s best examples of opening science up for the masses. Set up on a hill, the observatory is a grand statement to how small we are in comparison to the universe. We were fortunate enough to go on a night where they opened up the telescopes to the public and we managed to catch sight of Jupiter. It was pretty much one of the more beautiful nights.pic14

The next day, we went out of Hollywood and to the actual West Coast. Venice Beach was our first visit, where we spent a few hours exploring the colorful beachfront with attractions such as street performers, a skateboard park and Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym where only the truly built occupy both physical and egotistical space. pic13

The beach itself is large and expansive, and with some thrilling oceanfront attractions including rock crags and surfboarding attempts. The only thing that surprised me was that the waterbody at the beach was literally the Pacific Ocean, meaning that the water would have been incredibly cold. Yet, people were still surfing without bodysuits, but I guess if you do it enough, you could get used to it.pic15

Near Venice Beach is Santa Monica Pier and the neighborhood. One of the richer neighborhoods in LA,  this area is populated with boutique shops, famous brands and hipster restaurants. Food trucks line Ocean Avenue and 3rd Street is the place to go for street musicians and promenade style shops. It’s a good place to see why LA people love LA.pic7

We’ve seen popular media, we’ve seen science and we only had art left to encounter. The Getty Center, accessible primarily by a tram that goes uphill, is set on a hilltop over West LA, and is a quiet recluse from the busy city. Funded by J. Paul Getty, this campus is made up of multiple exhibits including art museums, sculpture gardens and open public spaces, It’s a beautiful escape.pic8

Again, one of my favorite parts of this was with the exception of parking, there was no cost associated with visiting this Centre. Art and space was open to everyone who was interested. Be warned though, phone reception here is poor so don’t leave your group.pic1

Now we proceed to my favorite part of my travelogues : food. LA food is known for two distinctive cuisines : Mexican and Asian. Historically, there’s many reasons for this, but we won’t delve too much into that. One of my top choices was Ricky’s Fish Tacos – a taco food truck set near Hollywood that won Food Network’s Best US Taco Award.pic2

They have both fish tacos and shrimp tacos and a combo version, which of course I took advantage of. The seafood is extremely fresh, and evenly battered. Every bite cut into a pleasurable amount of batter before exploding into the soft fish or shrimp meat. You can add your own choice of sauces too, and the hot sauce was my go-to, making the taco even more exciting.pic6

In our pursuit of Asian food, we headed to Koreatown to try what people note as some of the cheapest and best valued Korean BBQ in the US. Honey Pig is famous for its Pork Belly, but their service, adding kimchi, bean sprouts and vegetables to the plate was very much welcomed. They end the meal by frying rice with your leftovers to make a delicious summary to the experience. They also have a Thai Village and Chinatown we never visited, as well as multiple Ramen shops I could only dream of dropping by at, but yes, the Asian food in LA is in the multitudes.pic11

Finally, of course, LA, home of American culture, needs to have some good ol’ American food. Pink’s hot dogs are famous for their themed dogs – hot dogs designed and named after famous Hollywood movies or phenomena.pic12

I got the Lord of the Rings dog, which classically had Onion Rings drizzled in BBQ Sauce placed on my hot dog. Delicious , sure. Eligible to become a regular dish in my life – probably not.

On the Roadpic16

Leaving LA for San Francisco gave us the opportunity to take Highway 1 and witness the overwhelming beauty of the West Coast. This was the famous roadtrip, the story shared by those who dared, of the most beautiful road in the US. There were many sights, some of which will be shared today and some of which will be shared in my next post.

One of the most unique aspects of this trip was the various Spanish themed cities that we went through including Santa Barbara and San Luis OBispo. Beautiful beachfront cities, we tried our best to enjoy every one of them, and truly relish the historical profoundness of how these cities came to be. One of my favorite sites was this Bubblegum alley in San Luis OBispo, where apparently tourists are able to stick their own gum on a gallery of what is thought as ‘bubblegum art’. Disgusting or captivating – that’s up to your interpretation, but sights like this are representative of the curious things I was witness to. Such pleasures are only given to those who go off the boring roads.

In the next post, we look at the actual coastal beauty of the West Coast, San Francisco City and more of the Bay Area.

till then,

hooah

people at war & thinking about toxicity

Elements of war can be separated into explicit and subtle elements. Explicit elements include manpower, ammunition, supplies and modes of transportation. Subtle elements, and this is where it gets interesting, include propaganda, sabotage and intelligence. I thought I had a break from the battlefield after I had finished my National Service, but the real world is made up of multiple ideological battlefields, all with the same elements as military ones.

Let me begin by acknowledging that there is a place for battles in our society. When a dominant narrative oppresses counter-narratives simply to maintain the status quo, battling helps shatter the glass and open the door for change. The qualification for this though is that battling is important when the leaders or the community is actively trying to prevent change, or simply refusing to engage with counter-narratives.

But the goal has to be to move forward from battling into endorsing change and working on actual policy shifts. If a community has accepted its need to change, what must be next but to work with the groups it seeks to include or address and partner for effective transformation. This is the work of peacetime operations – realizing that war was a result of problems in society and so something must be done to prevent another war.

But peacetime operations cannot proceed when it’s constantly distracted by war. Leaders cannot focus on working with partners and creating programs, when they constantly have to be talking in the media about their response to issues and having to defend its position. War takes away time and resources from peacetime work to address PR dilemmas and various forms of posturing.

Perhaps the perception is that leaders aren’t really trying to effect change, but how can anyone be sure of that until both parties, engage and have a conversation? People hardened by the struggles of battling, experience a likelihood to become jaded and critical of anything. Their logic is complete and not irrelevant in any way, but change could perhaps be better effected in partnership with the communities they’re trying to change. Would it be possible for battling to not be the default response?

Killer Mike mentioned in one of his speeches that he joined the NRA because he believed that he had to be on the inside, hearing people’s’ views and realize that he had a bigger chance at influencing mindsets by working with the people who were themselves trying to create a ‘safer America’.

Toxicity prevails when engagement is absent. Parties are entrenched in their views, believing in absolute truths and absolute moralities on both ends, but worse, believing that the other side is absolute evil. Until one engages with the other though, on the topic of creating change, how can one know the other’s views and perspectives without taking assumptions and theories at face value?

I believe in social justice. I believe that there are groups all around the world that are being oppressed and that change needs to happen. I also believe that there are good people out there, allies that exist, that are seeking to use their privilege to help people. But to assume everyone’s evil before proved as an ally, is to assume that people are inherently toxic. How can a society built on that assumption ever seek to sustain past its policies?

Instead, I hope that we move to a form where best intentions are assumed in parties until proven otherwise, in which case battling may be necessary, such that we remain as far as possible in peacetime work and moving forward our society. Because war is a violent and disgusting place, and it brings out the worst of us. It pits us against each other in vile ways and reduces our humanity to but ideologies.

There is hope in humanity. There can be a better future. One must simply keep believing.

hooah.