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.

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breath of the dragon – visiting east asia (part #4 – Hong Kong)

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The final stop of my adventure, Hong Kong was meant to be less of a ‘traditional’ adventure and more of an opportunity to meet friends and see the city as a young adult. But of course, this collection of islands and territories surprised me once again. this time with its history and evolution. Lan Kwai Fong will dominate as my best memory of the place, but behind all the raucous noise of the city, you can see a society accustomed to its place as a world market leader.

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My host, Jethro, and I were having a conversation. I said that unlike the regular tourist, the true traveler values engaging with sights and experiences first, and so we resist paying for needless frivolities like ‘taking photos at the top of a building’. He quickly retorted ‘Well, in Hong Kong, paying is engaging’. I guess that very well summarized the spirit of Hong Kong City. Malls span most places, and right at Causeway Bay where consumerism finds its home, you’ll be blown away by the pure diversity of products you could purchase. At Times Square (obviously named after New York) you’ll find tall and large digital billboards reminding you that the giants of Gucci and Prada still extend dominion even in Hong Kong. You’ll find many more examples of cultural appropriation here, such as at Hollywood Road and SoHo. It’s almost funny how we find issue with the West when they appropriate our cultures, but yet here we are appropriating theirs.

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Probably one of the things you could enjoy and yet escape paying for is the night skyline along Victoria Harbor. In my opinion, both sides of the Harbor are magnificent for the viewing, and one should take the time to admire not only the symphony of lights . Take time to reflect also on the development of a city that was given away ‘in perpetuity’ to the British and then taken back. It’s probably been liable to more political instability than most countries but yet it has stayed its course and arrived here. That’s really admirable in my opinion.

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The Star Ferry brings you across the harbor for a meager HKD 2.50, or USD 0.40 . Reaching Tsim Sha Tsui brings you to the supposed ‘better’ side of the harbor in terms of skyline viewing, and one can also witness colonial buildings that incite curiosity. They’re definitely worth spending the night exploring and admiring.

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Hong Kong’s markets are worth spending half a day exploring. From Bird Markets to Fish Markets to pure fake goods markets, there’s no shortage of products for you to expend a couple of dollars on. Go to Mong Kok or Prince Edward Station and simply walk south towards Jordan Station on the MTR and you’ll be wondering whether the value for money is too good to be true. It probably is, although if you don’t have expectations that are too high , you could enjoy a few good steals.

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Here’s where the trip gets slightly more interesting. Having been to Hong Kong twice before, I decided to take a risk and go into the New Territories. Although the ‘NT’ take up most of Hong Kong in landmass, most people only identify the City as the boundaries of their visit. I’d strongly recommend taking a quick MTR ride out and exploring the Territories, including this Walled Community located at Kam Tin. This is one of the last Walled Communities from the time of the Five Clans i.e. pre-British Hong Kong. Fun Fact : Everyone in the community is supposedly born with the last name ‘Tang’.

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Walk through the wall and you’ll find narrow alleys and people living in close unity. It reminded me of the ‘kampung’ settings in Singapore. What struck me the most was that it wasn’t just the elderly living here, as you’d intuitively expect. Whole families and even children populate this community and add some well appreciated life to this almost ancient and forgotten part of Hong Kong.

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Onto food! My favorite dishes from Hong Kong are Condensed Milk Toast and Milk Tea. It’s a sweet tea-time snack, and the crispy toast is well matched with the soggy texture of the condensed milk. Wash it down with the Milk Tea and you’ve tasted some of the best of Hong Kong. Tsui Wah, a popular chain selling regional dishes, is a great place to grab some of these.

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There’s a lot of dishes Hong Kong is famous for. Go to Mak’s Noodles for Wonton Noodles and Tai Hing for Roast Meat (especially their juicy Char Siew), but don’t leave Hong Kong without going to a Dai Bai Dong place, which is essentially a noodle place that adds ingredients as you ask for them. It’s an old penchant of Hong Kong street-fare and is not lost in the pursuit of great flavors. Chopsticks Kee on Wellington Street was the place I went to, and not only is the food absolutely lip-smacking good, the service staff are very friendly and homely, and the prices are very much value for money. It’s a quiet hole in the wall so you may have some difficulty finding it, although I’d recommend asking around. Most Hong Kong people have proven to be very kind in my adventure.

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And finally, how could we talk about Hong Kong without talking about Dim Sum. Traditionally a brunch meal, dim sum is famous for providing a huge diversity of small dishes that are savory, sweet and even herbal. Most are served in bamboo steamers, which allows the food to be freshly delivered as they’re cooked. We went to Lin Heung Tea House on Wellington Street. One of the strongest merits of this place is it’s traditional demeanor. Most Hong Kong Dim Sum places tend to be in fancy hotels and restaurants and therefore jacking up the prices. Here you’ll find regulars and families, people who value what this humble place has to offer. Don’t take it’s simple outlook as it is though; you will have to fight for your seat, and you will have to join the mad rush to get the dish you want. That’s part of the fun I suppose, and it made for some really fun photos. For a full look at this teahouse, check out ‘Hangry Nat’s’ blogpost here : https://hangrynat.wordpress.com/2015/08/31/forever-1926-lin-heung-tea-house/

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Although I don’t have pictures (for good reason), Lan Kwai Fong definitely ranks up as one of my most memorable watering holes. Accompanied with SoHo, the range of bars and clubs provide no end to your night. Although costly (even costlier than Singapore, who would imagine) , the experiences you will make at LKF probably will never leave you. Accompanied with the ups and downs of the slopes and the open drinking on the streets by expatriates and locals alike, you’ll always leave LKF a little more happier than when you came.

I’ve always compared Hong Kong as a more ‘Chinese’ Singapore, and in many ways its still true. East definitely meets West here as well, but where in Singapore we’ve integrated a lot more cultures, Hong Kong still remains predominantly a Chinese city. It faces the same struggles as Singapore – some search for meaning is going on in all the noise. But you’ll take away a sense of achievement here . People are proud to live in Hong Kong, they’re proud to have a stake in this city. That, to me, is magical.

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Here’s where I pen down my final epilogue on the whole ‘Breath of the Dragon’ adventure. I spent my summer trying very hard to heal the broken parts of myself. I gave myself that goal at the beginning of the year. I never identified as Indian, and always thought I was more Chinese than anything else. I was somewhere in between, almost stuck. These two major trips sought to reconcile these aspects of myself. I’m glad to admit I found the answer ; that while I find strong connections to both cultures, I am definitely neither one nor the other. It is perhaps in that respect, that I find myself indefinitely Singaporean and more so than before. By extension, I’m also an international citizen. The world is my domain and I’ve discovered the ability to empathise with a wide range of people.

Spending my last week home has let me corroborate my thoughts. Summer has been amazing, and I can’t wait to take on the rest of the year.

You’ll hear from me soon.

geronimo.