the seattle travelogue – welcome to emerald city

In the range of regions in the US, the Pacific Northwest is a favorite amongst anyone who wants to see the future of American cities. My previous trip on the West Cost stopped in Portland, and I was still itching to see Seattle, the emerald city. I finally found the opportunity to make my way there in April.

skyline

Seattle is a beautiful city and ranks high on my list as one of the most liveable cities I’ve been to. Aside from the rainy winter weather, Seattle has everything going for it – from a young progressive population to a beautiful natural backyard. From Kerry Park, you can get a sick view of the city and skyline including glimpses of the snowcapped Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle.

seattlecenter

The downtown area that caters to tourist basically revolves around the Seattle Center, which I honestly accidentally chanced upon during the walk down from Kerry Park. This area is a futuristic one with Glass Gardens, exhibitions, and other interesting sights. I’d say it’s more telling of Seattle’s commitment to being a city of the future and a meeting place of minds than anything else.

slu

One of the best things you can probably do for yourself while in Seattle is to find a way to do something at the Lake Union, the lake that stands in the middle of the city. The lake is absolutely beautiful especially with the mountains in the backdrop and the sun setting. You can do sports activities, ride a yacht (if you just so happen to own or rent one), or as I did, grab dinner by it. This is at White Swan Public House. 

poutine

I normally keep food recos for the end, but while we’re here, I’d say this restaurant’s main merit is its location and vibe. It’s charming and heartfelt, with good shellfish such as this clam poutine, but its service tends to be slow.

starbucks

Another place that is worth the visit is the Starbucks Reserve Roastery, where Starbucks shows its chops as a legitimate coffee producer. The place is divided into a coffee tasting area, a cafe, and a publicly viewable roastery.  You can talk to professional coffee roasters about the variety of blends and methods to extract coffee. It’s slightly sad that every other Starbucks in the world tends to be just sugary concoctions without the same appreciation for the coffee bean, but this was slightly redeeming.

coffee

I’d definitely recommend getting some flight from the menu. I got the cold brew flight, with one being a nitro version and they were really interesting profiles. They even give you info cards on the beans and where they come from.

pikeplace

Another big place to visit in Seattle is Pike Place Market. This is near the main downtown area of Seattle and is another tourist hotspot, although if you’ve followed my travelogues you would know I love markets anyway.

market

There’s a decent amount of goods here from flowers to spices to spreads. What’s especially captivating is the wide array of seafood that is freshly caught from the Pacific Northwest. I didn’t manage to get a good picture but there’s a shop that’s famous for throwing seafood between its folks when you order something, so if you’re willing to drop a dime just to see the act, definitely go for it.

pike

It’s probably worth taking the side-step to talk about some real issues in Seattle, beyond just the sights. Seattle has a huge problem with homelessness, and it becomes obvious once you walk the streets and look away from the mountains and straight onto your sidewalks. The city is largely filled with white upper middle-class to upper-class people, especially with the tech boom from Amazon and Microsoft, and it’s displacing people fast and furiously. Even at Pike Place, there’s a viewing area that is just occupied by homeless folk and it reminds you of how different people can experience the same city in vastly different ways. It’s worthy perspective to hold as you visit this city.

macandcheese

While you’re in Pike’s Place, make the slight detour to find the original Starbucks (which isn’t that interesting but worth noting of its existence) and also Beecher’s, which apparently has the best mac and cheese in the world (shown above).  The Mac and Cheese is extremely creamy but surprisingly not too heavy. You can see how they make the cheese in-house from the peering window.

fremont

Another good area to check out is Fremont, slightly north of downtown Capitol Hill, and where most people try to live. This is where our Airbnb was and the neighborhood was just such a pleasant place to be at. On the sunny day that we were there, it’s a beautiful walk to check out the town and have food at Paseo’s, a carribean sandwich place that will blow your mind away, and grab a cold beer at Fremont Brewery.

beer

Slightly west of Fremont is Ballard, which is where all of Seattle’s famous breweries are. My friends and I did a bar-hop and we got a good fill of amazing beer from the likes of Peddler, Populuxe and Reuben’s. You can go for flights at each place or enjoy a beautiful pint of it’s signature beers.

littlesi

Don’t miss out on exploring the natural backyard while you’re in Seattle. Make sure you go hiking or some sort of adventuring. We climbed Little Si, which was a 2 hour hike each way (mostly because I had lost a lot of my fitness), and the trail was absolutely stunning with the different terrains we had to traverse. Again the sights are amplified with the presence of snow-capped mountains.

sushi

For food, we’ll continue with seafood. You must appreciate the local catch including salmon, albacore, and geoduck. Moshi Moshi in Ballard is a good place to start with the sharing platter being around 60USD and the service being top-notch. It’s a small place and the neighborhood is a charming one, but the sushi and sashimi stand out as stars in this place.

portage

Brunch is also a big deal in Seattle, and Portage Bay is a well recommended venue with tons of gluten-free and farm to table options. I got the vegetable hash with pork belly strips and I ended up with a very filling yet healthy meal that tasted so fresh.

There’s a lot more places I didn’t get pictures of, but definitely, check out Canon (a whiskey speakeasy with great service and selection), Kedai Makan (a malaysian fusion restaurant if you miss southeast asian food) and Li’l Woody’s for greasy late night burgers. I’ve also heard Dick’s is a good place to check out for late night but I didn’t get the chance to go.

friends

I do want to take the time to thank Daniel and Mac for being such great hosts, showing me around this amazing city, taking care of me when I was enjoying myself too much and making me remember this city with such fond memories. I’m almost down for more adventures with these folks.

I’ll miss you Seattle and you better bet I’m coming back to visit you.

hooah.

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have you ever seen a grown man?

Salar De Uyuni In The Rainy Season

04 Feb 2010, Bolivia  — Image by © Kazuyoshi Nomachi/Corbis

I’m taking a break from all the travelogues to finally write a thought piece. It’s been a while, and I’ve forgotten how much I enjoyed writing in this space. This has served both as a dumping ground for all kinds of thoughts and yet, paradoxically also a curation of who I am. Leaving this space to rot will give very little for future-me to reflect on.

I’ve been in a naturally reflective state recently, given the stage of life I’m transitioning through. I’m graduating out of college, and while I’ve always believed I came in here at a different stage from my class (given my experience with the military and running a company), I still find myself grateful for the maturity these 3 years have granted me. I find myself thankful for the friends I’ve made – I’ve never wanted to stay in touch with people more than with these souls who I’ve had the privilege to encounter. I pause at moments to breathe and appreciate the range of opportunities I’ve been granted – from governing over a council of fraternities to producing a musical to signing a big name artist for a festival to running a research project at one of the world’s best museums. I struggle with the difficult lessons I’ve learned and I contemplate daily how to apply myself to advance social justice, community building, and leadership development both in my daily life and the various contexts I’ve become embedded in. The worlds I have to straddle become discrete yet overlap and I feel challenged yet empowered to care about all of them. I think frequently about Singapore, my home, but I also care about Evanston, the US, the world I belong to and to which my friends around the globe live in.

It makes me wonder how college is supposed to serve the individual. Yes, the primary purpose is the education. My Computer Science degree will serve me will in the future, both as a bolster for any career choices I make and a foundation to understand the world as it evolves.  But this environment has been rich in its experiences. I came to the US with an objective of transplanting myself away from Singapore – not because I disliked my home but because I loved it so and needed space to understand it from afar. Contrast and juxtaposition increase awareness of what makes us unique. Northwestern has provided me that platform to explore my passions and goals in a setting that is relatively free of expectations. I don’t have to fit a preconceived notion of a college student in the US – I can be whoever I want. Success belongs to those who find excellence in whatever form. It’s starkly different from Singapore, where as a country we struggle to appreciate the humanity of our society. We think in numbers, laws, and achievements – not in values that connect us. Because where the former keeps us safe and moving, the latter keeps us alive and excited for life. The joy of life is in our ability to choose our own struggles to earn the rewards that matter – not in inheriting struggles imposed by social hierarchy, hyper-legalism, and history and finding ways to accommodate our existence.  Our children must find meaning in their day, they must see themselves molding society. That shining sense of opportunity has to surpass the ‘needs of the economy’. The economy grows because of our ambition. Our ambitions should never be limited by the decisions of society.

College built my hope in change. I’m notoriously known for my optimism and it’s exacerbated by my youth. When I was running The Hidden Good, I remember the countless number of not only older people but also my peers feeling the need to provide a ceiling to my goals or a signpost back to their idea of reality. I’ve always been fearful that perhaps I do live in my own head too much – that perhaps my hope for society can only manifest itself in the smallest of doses. But college has given me the platform to shape my own future, not because it’s a magic bubble, but because if you look deeper it has similar levels of unfairness, inequality, and injustice. Yes, the progressive slant of Northwestern is enabling, but reality is encountered quickly when you push for anything more than a statement or declaration. Action requires getting down in the mud, and I’ve focussed my time away from the surface level politics and in the work of understanding and empowering change. The successes have given me momentum but the failures have only riled me up more to recalibrate and go again.

There’s so much more I could probably write about. From the thoughts on traveling as a student to the consistent effort to diversify my circles, but I think I’ve run out of mind-fuel. This post will continue to serve as my reminder of my optimism, just as my posts from the last 10 years have been equally charged with positive energy and the journey to improve the communities I’m a part of. I’m excited because I’ll be graduating college excited about possibility.

The world is a jungle and I’m excited to explore it.

hooah.

 

 

some southern charleston charm

church

They call Charleston the ‘holy city’ which is kind of weird, given that the Vatican City comes to mind with that nickname. It’s well-intentioned though, as this beautiful city is charmed with church steeples instead of skyscrapers, which were guiding points for ships coming into the port. When Travel + Leisure ranked Charleston as the “Best City in the World” and I saw Anthony Bourdain make an episode about this city, I knew that I had to add it to my list of cities to visit in the US. So off I went on this adventure.

customhouse

When I was first learning about the US all the way in Singapore, I had two contrasting images. I had a visual image of New York city, the home of glam and modernity and where Alicia Keys belted out while on the piano. But I also had the image of the America of Atticus Finch and Scout – of the cute houses and prairies. The bible-thumping anglocentric not-so-diverse part of America. I had seen a lot of the first image in places like Chicago and DC, but in Charleston I had perhaps one of my first peeks into life into the second image. Charleston is historic. The buildings are stunning and quaint, and emblematic of the architectural styles of the south. You’ll find something traditional or historical at almost every corner, which made the travel more of a blast into the past than anything else.

market

One of the places to definitely stop by is the Charleston City Market. This is where a lot of the farmers and plantation owners – the main economy drivers in the Lowcountry – used to sell their goods. It’s one of the most visited places in Charleston and a National Historic Landmark.

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A lot of the goods here are craft materials that are really cool, but I think what caught my eye the most were the people selling Sweetgrass Baskets, traditionally made to winnow rice on plantations. The designs seemed intricate and inherited from generations of passing down the techniques. It’s probably one of the many ways to understand the conflicted past Charleston has, in recognizing its slavery-based past and still honoring the people and culture that it brought to the US.

college

Charleston is very heavily populated by students. Cistern Yard, shown above, is one of the more iconic parts of the campus of the College of Charleston and another reason to appreciate the beauty in the area.

horse

Contributing to the oldern charm are the horse carriages going about. I personally don’t go for these because they’ve become slightly cliche, but a lot of my fellow travelers have recommended this as a good way to tour the city with a guide and get a unique experience out of it too.

slavemart

There are many cool views and buildings to check out in Charleston, but if you were to prioritize any, it would have to be Chalmers Street in the French Quarter. This is a cobblestoned street, but it also used to be where the Old Slave Mart was. This is now a museum, but it’s a visual trigger for the disgusting past of the US, where slaves were traded and sold. It’s a necessary stop to understand that the beauty of Charleston hides some nastineness in plain sight.

ravenel-bridge

Aside from the city itself, it’s a good idea to explore the Lowcountry around Charleston and see more of what the region is about. The Ravenel Bridge is one of these sights, standing over the Cooper River, and connecting Charleston to Mount Pleasant. It’s like a mini Golden Gate Bridge but cool in its own way. I’d recommend driving through it too (walking may not be as pleasant).

fortsumter

A good place to catch a view of the bridge is on the way to Fort Sumter. You have to buy tickets for this, but it’s completely worth the cost as you take a 10 min ride out to this fort which has major historical significance. This was where the first ‘shot’ of the Civil War was fired and has contentious meanings for different people.

flags

One of the major reasons for this was because of the occupation of the fort by both Secessionists and the Union. Given that South Carolina was one of the first states to secede, this makes more sense. The Fort has seen a lot of damage and the history around it is pretty dramatic, so again I’d recommend the visit. The National Park rangers who manage the fort are very friendly and keen to impart the knowledge to visitors.

patriotspoint

Another historical sight to check out is Patriots Point which is in Mount Pleasant. This is mainly a museum area but it has aircraft carriers and major warships which are really cool. The tickets are slightly pricy which meant that I didn’t go onboard, but the view from afar is pretty stunning by itself.

boonehall

While in Mount Pleasant, take another 15 minutes east to go to Boone Hall Plantation which is one of the most gorgeous looking estates but again, another reminder of how slavery was such a big foundation of the economy here. Now the plantation serves more of a historical and an aesthetic purpose, providing backdrops for weddings and festivals with its beautiful promenades.

boonehallbldg

While in Boone Hall, the main building will definitely catch your attention. This is where The Notebook with Rachel McAdams and Ryan Gosling had some of its scenes and is therefore a photo attraction for many of the movie’s fans.

oyster

While we were in Boone Hall, the Oyster Festival was going on, which was a crazy good experience. They sold Lowcountry oysters by the buckets and my friend, George and I just gorged on them. This was definitely a highlight of the trip.

sullivan

Just south of Boone Hall is Sullivan’s Island, home to a simple expansive beach that provides a stunning view of the Atlantic Ocean. This is also the entry point for a lot fo the slaves that were brought into the Lowcountry. The island has seen a lot of battles fought here as well.

shemcreek

Finally, on your way back to Charleston, catch the sunset at Shem Creek, and if you have time, dinner and drinks too. This is one of my favorite photo opportunities I caught and is probably one of the best ways to capture the spirit of the Lowcountry.

angeloak

All the way on the west side of Charleston also lie many sights. Due to limited time, we couldn’t check out all of it (incl. Magnolia Plantation and some other marsh areas) but one sight that is grand is the Angel Oak. This is a 20-30 min drive from the city but is one of the oldest oaks around and you can see it the moment you arrive. It’s seen a lot and is truly gorgeous.

Charleston is also famous for its food. It’s seen a revival in its culinary scenes as a lot of local chefs have started trying to recover ingredients and styles from the south and integrate them back into the minds of major food enthusiasts. I’ll be honest, one of the main reasons why I came to Charleston was to try some good southern cuisine.

nastybiscuit

One of the best places to go is the Hominy Grill on Rutledge Ave, where you can get the Nasty Biscuit. This is a fried chicken biscuit sandwich, with a slightly spicy sausage gravy generously poured over it. The chicken was brined and fried well and the biscuit was fluffy in the middle but flaky on the outside, just the way it has to be. The gravy added a whole new dimension to the sandwich as the biscuit continued to soak it up.

bbq

South Carolina BBQ is pork oriented, but what makes it stand out is the White Mustard sauce that is unique to the region. At Swig & Swine, the portions are large and the prices affordable for a range of BBQ dishes with a myraid of sauce options including the SC BBQ Sauce. Definitely worth trying the Sweet Red Sauce as well. Also their Mac and Cheese IS AMAZING.  AND THEIR BRISKET. Yes, I typed it in CAPS. Yes, it’s that good.

pigearsalad

Finally, you know I had to make my way to Husk, where Sean Brock (one of my favorite chefs) has created a cultural entity around southern comfort food. It’s hard to get a place, so reserve early. Their brunch is what I’d recommend, even better if you have someone to share with. I started with their Pig’s Ears salad, a sweet and crispy mix of caramelized pig’s ears, onions and fresh cucumbers.

shrimpandgrits

The star of the show though was definitely the Shrimp and Grits. I love grits now because, in this dish, the soft flavorful grits were such a simple but addictive part of the meal. The shrimp was fresh and the soft-boiled egg was a bonus. I was so happy at the end of the meal.

Another place to drop by in Charleston is AC’s Bar and Grill which has the cheapest beer I’ve seen anywhere in the US. Most beers go at 2 USD and they don’t stop becoming cheaper at any point aka all day happy hour.

Charleston needs to be added to every list of cities to visit in the US. It adds more dimensions to what this country is about and provides just as much of a cultural and histroical experience as most other big cities. You can Uber around but I’d strongly recommend renting a car to see a lot of the natural parts of the Lowcountry.

Thank you Charleston for showing me southern hospitality. I look forward to coming back.

hooah

fall travel series – boston & delton

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8 years ago, when I was 15, I made my first trip to the U.S. The first city I ever saw was Boston. I had the privilege of being introduced to America through this charming community and remember good times. 8 years later, I realize I didn’t remember much about the city as much as I expected, mainly because I was trying to take in the overall vibe of the US. This time, I went back with a purpose. Let’s see the historic city and get some lobster while I’m at it.

Boston
boston_freedomtrail

Boston is probably as historic as it gets with the US, alongside companions like Philadelphia.  One of the best ways to see how “New England”, which was essentially colonized America, broke away and became independent is to follow the Freedom Trail, a 1.5-3 hour walking trail that brings you through not only most of historical Boston, but also major food and cultural attractions as well. I learned so much about the US’s major independence leaders through this trail, starting at the Boston Commons.boston_union

One of my favorite stops was the Union Oyster House. Union is the oldest restaurant still running in the whole of the US and by extension is not only part of the Freedom Trail, it’s also a major US relic. The restaurant is still alive and well, and I had the pleasure of being their first customer of the day and getting a place at their historical Oyster Bar. I didn’t grab oysters this time, but apparently the shuckers here are in the Top 3 for Oyster Shucking nationwide annually.boston_quincy

Another one of my favorite stops on the trail was the Quincy market area. Sam Adams stands adjacent to the area, and invites you to partake in the delectable offerings of the market behind him. From fried oysters to Thai food, the market is quite the sight. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see street performances on the walkways, which are definitely worth stopping a while for.

Continue on the trail and you’ll reach North End, which is essentially the Italian Village in Boston. This was by far one of my favorite parts of Boston because of its rich heritage and affordable food. You feel like you’re immersing yourself in this new world when you pay close attention to people, architecture and mannerisms all around. boston_harbor

And of course, the harbor. Boston is famous for many things, but its port was what made it functional. The view is beautiful from the Waterfront and you feel the same calming vibe of Boston just pronounce itself clearly here.boston_samadams

If you have more time in Boston, there’s definitely neighborhoods you can visit too. Cambridge is a natural choice, and I explored it with my host pretty extensively. South Boston is also increasingly recommended as a site to go to, and if you want something laid back, Jamaica Plains is where you should look. I went to check out the Sam Adams Craft Brewery in JP and it was definitely one of my favorite Brewery tours I had been on. The tour guides are very entertaining and the tours provide  a lot of knowledge on one of the US’s oldest craft breweries.

Now, food. Boston has a lot of great food options. Seafood is definitely on the plate, but so is Italian, and a growing New American scene. It’s an exciting time in the culinary world for Boston.boston_lobsterroll

I was insistent on having one of the best Lobster Rolls in Boston. After all, I could get Lobster imported in Chicago, but if I was in Boston, I only wanted the best. I couldn’t go to Neptune Oyster, which apparently had the very best roll, but James Hook and Co wasn’t far off at all. This small shack by the Waterfront is unassuming and a really good value for money deal, given the amount of lobster meat they put in the roll. I was blissful after this meal.boston_mikes

Another place that was highly recommended was Mike’s Pastry. Mike’s is in North End and it sells a variety of Italian Baked Goods, but primarily Cannolis.boston_cannoli

There’s really not a lot I can say about this place other than that it definitely meets the hype. These are some of the best damn cannolis I’ve had in my life, aside from the ones I ate in Rome, and the variety of flavors really don’t make it easy pickings. I had to eat my one cannoli in two servings because it was well stuffed and full of flavor.boston_chowda

Clam Chowdah is a Bostonian classic, and the Union Oyster House serves bowls up at a regular rate. Creamy, chunky and delicious – I definitely enjoyed this mid-day slurp with my beer. You can probably order other seafood here too, but the chowder is a staple.boston_jplicks

For some reason, almost 70% of the recommendations I was given for Boston were dessert recommendations, so I had to check some of them out. JP Licks was my choice and I wasn’t disappointed by both the rich flavors and wholesome satisfaction of the ice cream. A lot of ice cream these days tend to be empty, but JP Licks definitely gives you your money’s worth.delton_aldenharlow

And finally, in my effort to discover more of New American cuisine, which focuses a lot on farm to table and locally sourced food, Alden & Harlow is in bougie Cambridge and does exactly that. The brunch here was such a delight with new twists on traditional breakfast items. Their famous burger (of which they only make 30 a day!) was the star though, with a unique beef blend and a soft potato bun. I really want to come back here.

Nightlife in Boston is actually pretty huge, mainly because Boston has the most amount of students per residents in the US and probably the world. It’s unique because a lot of the hot spots also happen to be old taverns that are attempting to rebrand, which provides a very unique proposition to your night plans. Irish bars are definitely worth visiting too, because Boston just has so many of them.boston_derrick

Derrick was my host in Boston and I loved just being able to spend all this time seeing my bro fall in love with his passion here at MIT, and see a part of his life here. Thank you for hosting me and making me so comfortable.

Thank you Boston, for never stopping to be special to me.

____

Delton, Michigan

For Thanksgiving, one of my best friends, Jacob invited me to visit his hometown and see a new part of the U.S. When he said that, I definitely wasn’t expecting what Delton was – rural and beautiful. I haven’t been to a lot of countryside towns in my life, and Delton isn’t necessarily one of them, but it certainly an adventure to get to.

delton_forest

First of all, you must be prepared to drive through dirt tracks and forests to get to your friend’s or family’s place . Second of all, you must get used to the fact that hunting rifles and crossbows are common household appliances, and that it’s just a way of life here. I honestly wanted to participate in some mock hunting myself, but we couldn’t find the time. Lastly, you must love nature and the ability to create out of what you have in front of you. I always saw that in Jacob in college, but coming here, I definitely saw how that evolved.delton_trail

I think my time traveling has always been biased to cities, mainly because I love culture, history and good food and they tend to centralize there. But coming to Delton just blew my mind on what I had been missing out on if I don’t aspire to see more parts of the world outside my comfort zone and immediate peripheral vision. 15235397_10154127493854117_4056201537452086465_o

I must give so much thanks to Jacob and his family for taking me in and making me one of them. I got a lot of mom and grandma hugs, which can never makeup from embraces from my own folks, but definitely made me feel better after the tough quarter. I had good food, a great experience and a more nuanced perspective on the US and the world from this.

Thanks Delton.

hooah.

fall travel series – washington dc

dc_capitol

Looking back at Fall Quarter Senior Year, it was definitely the most academically tiring and difficult quarter I have had so far. I was taking classes mostly to fulfill requirements and I was on the tail end of most of my extracurricular responsibilities. I had committed this senior year to unabashed traveling,recognizing that I am probably not going have this much access to the American continents in a while to come. The past few months saw me visit some great parts of the US, out of which I feel like I have gained a deeper but still incomplete appreciation of a cross-section of this country.

Washington D.C.

D.C. was the number one recommended area to visit by all my friends. ‘You really haven’t seen the US till you see DC.’

I don’t think you can ever say you’ve seen the US till you’ve seen almost every major region given its diversity, but DC encapsulates most of the US’s history and political climate. Half my trip was visiting the major monuments and museums, and the other half was hanging out with friends and checking out Georgetown.
dc_whitehouse

Now I’ve been to many iconic sights in the world, including the Great Wall and the London Tower, but the White House has by far been one of the few attractions I actually have always wanted to see in person. It’s surreal how so many people get emotional knowing that whoever occupies the House has such a large effect on their lives. This is literally where the most powerful person in the world lives. Security doesn’t let you in unless you request a tour from your Congress representative (or in my case, from the Embassy) so I didn’t get to see the interior, but the moment of reflection outside the House was profound enough for me.

dc_monument

I spent the rest of the day walking the National Mall, which is a strip of monuments starting at Capitol Hill and ending at the Lincoln Memorial. Right at the center is the Washington Monument. The Monument doesn’t waver in intimidating you as you approach it, which in some ways is pretty reflective of the US. It’s large and phallic and is meant to remember George Washington, the first US President. I had some divided feelings about it. I was initially excited to see the Monument, given how iconic it is. But the more I heard actual Americans’ views on it, I realized the Monument strikes different sentiments to different people. Ironically, it sits right next to the recently opened and critically acclaimed Museum of African American History, which has a distinctive style from the marble and granite look of old American monuments, and my Uber Driver told me how some of his White passengers had expressed their annoyance of how the new Museum disrupted the feel of the Monument. My immediate reaction was to remark how that was probably the intent and how it helps to provide a draw away from what traditional history has represented to many citizens and an alternative look at their celebrated history. Yep, I had all these thoughts just at this monument.dc_vietnam

The rest of the Mall has its moments. A lot of it is about War and a lot of it is about sacrifice. I cringed every time I saw someone taking a cheesy selfie next to any of these. Perhaps having served in the Army helped, but I felt troubled that so many people had to die for these grandiose monuments to be built. It would be sad if what people took away from this was that the architectural or aesthetic aspects of these monuments were photo-worthy rather than that people had died for their current way of life. That question haunts me to this day – will I die for Singapore? And it should, it’s not a question anyone should answer blindly. This grim memorial of the Korean War definitely reminded me of that.dc_freedom

I took a lot more pictures and they’re in my album but I really felt like I walked away from the Mall with a different feel than most tourists there. I came to get some good photos, but I left with a heavy heart and a reminder of the role I play in peace and war.dc_smithcastle

The eastern part of the Mall has most of the Smithsonian Museums which are amazing publicly accessible museums that celebrate one of the things I think the US does well – to search for knowledge and to discover. The architecture of most of these buildings by themselves are fascinating but the interiors are filled with boundless sources of information and exhibits.dc_natlhistory

I spent some time in the Museum of Natural History which was just a joy to walk around in and immerse myself in.dc_newseum

The Newseum isn’t a Smithsonian Museum but it definitely sits on my list of favorite museums in the world. (My favorite is the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.) This museum takes you on a journey of the history of the Press in the US and how the four Freedoms have played a huge role in shaping American history. I absolutely loved the variety of exhibits and the thoughtfulness that went into sharing how so many lives have been affected by the press. I guess that becomes even more relevant now with the rise of uncredible news sources and their impacts on how people see their worlds.

All in all, the Mall was definitely a day’s worth of exploring (possibly two if you want to visit multiple museums). I would encourage people to go with a reflective mood to really get the most out of it. A lot can be trivialized easily but I really took a lot away from the walk up and down the strip.

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20 minutes away from downtown D.C. is Georgetown.  Now Georgetown is beautiful. I honestly would want to retire here if I was to retire in the US (probably won’t happen). It’s a quaint neighborhood with a European charm and a good number of recreational options. As expected, Georgetown is heavily White. There’s a SoulCycle that’s packed and multiple high-brow brand stores on the central street, but it’s become almost fun watching this way of life being insulated from the rest of the world and even closer home, to D.C.  I would definitely recommend coming here for brunch and a walk down the Promenade.

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Georgetown University also sits nearby and its architecture is Neo-Medieval, with gargoyles and steeples. It was quite the delight walking around their main campus and seeing the building.

D.C. isn’t really known for its food, but as you probably know, I’m a big foodie and see food as a lens to understand culture and history. So here’s the food section.

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The only D.C. local specialty is the half-smoke. I find it kind of weird how such a distinctive city hadn’t formed its own local cuisine, but in some ways I get it too, because D.C. only recently became a livable city. Tons of young people live here now as a way to climb up the political ladder, and in another 20 years we may hear of DC local dishes, but for now only the half-smoke holds a spot. The half-smoke is essentially a chili-dog, except the dog is smoked instead of grilled/steamed which adds a spicy kick to the dog. I enjoyed it, but definitely think it’s not that much of a deal. Ben’s Chili Bowl is apparently where the original is made, and where Obama has gone to, so I went there for this.dc_ebbitt

Not so much of a local dish as much as it is a regional dish are the oysters. I went to the Old Ebbitt Grill which is the oldest restaurant in DC and where a lot of high brow political dinners happen apparently. I went for the famous Happy Hour Oyster special where everything is half off, and sat at the Oyster Bar and became friends with the bartender over an extended time. Greenspeake oysters join the choir of other regionally sourced oysters to provide a good range of options. I simply enjoyed pretending to be bougie for a while.dc_georgetown

Finally, going back to Georgetown, go for the cupcakes. I went to Georgetown Cupcakes and waited in line for an hour but honestly, there’s a decent number of other cupcake stores in town that are just as phenomenal. These were pretty great. If you don’t know, Georgetown Cupcakes is the store that had a whole TV Show made after them and became famous as a result.

On a side note, nightlife in DC is a thing. There are whole bar districts and club districts that are packed and I patronized a couple of them. Like I said previously, DC may be run by old people but the city is populated by youths and you see that clearly at night. I loved it.

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All in all, my short weekend in DC was an absolute blast. Elyssa, my dear friend, was such a blessing and hosted me for the weekend and I’m ever so grateful. I definitely think I can make one more weekend trip out of DC, to see some of the other museums (the African American History one especially), to check out more of the bars and to take a trip out to nearby Baltimore where I have more friends studying. DC, you were fun, and I’m glad I got this opportunity to walk down your streets.

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.