Things I learned from my East Coast trip

  • When hopping from city to city, it’s always more fun with a partner in crime
  • East coast trips are good with the likes of Southwest, Chinatown buses, Jetblue and Virgin America
  • Pittsburgh can be hip too…with zombies
  • No matter what, classrooms that harbored my academic struggles will always trigger a gag reflex
  • And the classrooms where I succeeded almost effortlessly (and had the most joyous time) will recall nostalgic times of energy and creativity
  • I don’t think I will miss the food available on the CMU campus
  • Walking to and from Squirrel Hill to campus really really isn’t that horrible
  • Houses in Pittsburgh really are almost lit like fires, quiet and brooding
  • But Pittsburgh isn’t a walkable city
  • It’s still easy to get lost in a city with colored belts
  • What some call hip isn’t hip to me
  • Repeated confirmations of “do you want me to drive me to the airport” should be assumed with a no instead of the expected polite yes
  • There is tons of stuff in DC that I haven’t yet explored
  • Good hosts provide a place to sleep, a blanket and at least something resembling a pillow
  • Tacos with insects…oh yes!
  • National museums are free in DC (I really did not know this!)
  • Cities change a lot, especially if you haven’t visited since you were a 5th grader
  • When you lose something, don’t give up hope
  • Thank everyone who helped you graciously
  • There will always be a homeless man asking you for change in the worst of times (the next worst time was when someone kept asking for change when I was just laid off)
  • Favorite people are always my favorite people
  • Throw yourself in any situation when you can talk to people
  • A great way to start is “is this the train I am supposed to be taking?”
  • Don’t carry too much cash on you
  • Carry two pairs of shoes with you—one for walking and one for the dressed up
  • Make sure one pair is easy to carry around
  • All big cities (at least in the US) are the same
  • Choose one or two friends in a city that you want to see—then spend as much time with them
  • Make sure that your intention is clear
  • I think I love the DC metro
  • I also love the unlimited pass on the NYC subway system
  • etsy has a pretty cool office
  • It’s easy to spend an hour getting from point A to point B in NYC
  • I still don’t understand why certain significant others disappear when the unintimidating, naive me comes out
  • I do love them chicken and waffles
  • I have pretty good self control when it comes to spending money on things
  • Unfortunately very little when it comes to great food
  • I love love love all tea!
  • It’s really not worth it to buy gifts in America for someone in America
  • I love ice cream…always! And gelato.
  • Food carts are great in every city
  • Japanese cuisine is the way to go in NYC
  • I think if I lived in Manhattan, I would live in Park Slope or DUMBO
  • All amazing…even with Toad, I wished there was someone who accompanied me…
  • New York is just like San Francisco?

    As I was walking down Lafayette street in SoHo toward the Village, I overheard a daughter trying to brush aside her overbearing mother. I could hear the Jersey accent…or was it Long Island…one of wealth and prosperity…the kind that would flag down a taxi so that their shoes wouldn’t break from a walk of three blocks.

    I stopped by a popular store along the way. Kid Robot. I immediately recognized everything that they sold—similar to a store I loitered at in the Haight-Ashbury. I hopped out of the store and continue browsing nearby stores, passing hipsters and tourists. My hands were freezing, as the wind blew angrily. I stopped by a coffee store and tea…the smell was engulfing—designed to overwhelm the senses into buying a single $5 latte.

    Then I arrived at my destination—a specialty artisan gelato store. The furniture was hip and sparse. Utilitarian with bright colors. A mixture of Italian was used for the flavor names and I tasted several flavors in the empty shop.

    As I sat down with my $5 small cup of gelato…it suddenly struck me.

    How is this any different from San Francisco? Like the time I would hastily sit down in the park gobbling yet another $5 cone of ice cream?

    I put out my hand and it came back with nothing: Part III

    “Ma’am?” the bus driver suddenly called out.

    I hurried over to the front of the bus. The bus driver said, “They found it.”

    I stuttered a thank you in my emotional state, tears streaming. And tried to describe what was inside the wallet as verification. The driver laughed and called out to my friends, “You can come get her now. I don’t know if I can handle this.”

    I stumbled to an empty seat across from Jen and Michael. It is going to be ok. It is going to be ok. I felt that ironic wave of relief wash over me. If I hadn’t…only if I hadn’t…

    I chatted socially with my friends—as if nothing had happened. I told stories of kidnapped toad and how I was always lucky when I lose things. Like the time I lost my keys, but it turned out to have fallen into the depths of my desk. The time I lost a $48 unused BART ticket that I found more than a year later under my rug. Things like that. How I was getting to a point in my life where I had to accept that I was naturally absent-minded. At least when it came to physical things.

    The bus driver called out, “There” She pointed at a car outside, saying that was where the supervisor sat.

    I prepared myself, ready to gush appreciation. Ready to lavish rewards to anyone who deserved it. Twenty dollars sounded about right. I rushed over to the car parked in the rain.

    “Hi…the wallet…” I started and identified myself. “There’s a driver license with my name…it’s…”

    She had rolled down her window and shook her head. She handed me my wallet. The fat black thing that I had missing for the last hour. Relief.

    “Can I give the bus driver something?” I asked and looked inside the wallet.

    “You can,” she said.

    And there was nothing. Where I had stuffed wads of cash because I couldn’t fold the bills that well…there was nothing. I checked my other pocket where I had stuffed some folded singles. Nothing. I was in disbelief and said frantically, “There’s no cash!”

    She seemed slightly ruffled, but I was not accusing her, “I had the wallet verified three times. A passenger handed to the driver who gave it to me.”

    Never had cash been taken from me, so deliberately. I felt suddenly dirty, so taken advantage of, so cheated. I mumbled thanks and was distraught. Back on the bus, the driver asked me what happened. I said my thanks and said that my cash was taken, but that I really appreciated her help and her patience.

    “I am sorry…I thought we could have a happy ending,” she said and closed the bus door.

    A few tears dribbled off my face, as my friends assured me that…at least…at least my wallet was back. In some way, I knew that this was the best of luck. All my credit cards were there. Even my BART tickets and my DC pass which only had $1.35. All my frequent flier cards, my other blockbuster cards, my health insurance cards…still there. All that was taken was the cash. Those green things that meant value to something.

    Around $100, I think, was lost. Many of it singles because of my attempt to use up $20s so that I could go dutch easily. I did spent money earlier that day at the frozen custard place and fojol brothers. But I had made myself use my amex everywhere else so that cash wouldn’t be taken so easily.

    I complained that I felt defiled…that I wanted to get a new wallet. The wallet that was almost 10 years old and I had disliked the moment I got it. We arrived back at Marvin, the bus driver apologized again. She said she was writing up an incident report and I gave her some details. Jen and I thanked her profusely again.

    Although I sulked for the rest of the evening, I held it in. We spent an hour at a nearby lounge since Marvin’s kitchen closed, 2 hours at a nearby bar where the bartender eventually made me Paradise Punch because he noticed that I drank only water, a guy wearing a DEA cap tried to buy me a drink, and we sauntered across U street to find that a nineties party was closed…and my friends paid for a cab all the way back…where I collapsed on a futon on the floor…talking on skype to Chris in California…

    I put my hand out and it came back with nothing: Part II

    I had been planning to meet Jen with Michael at Marvin. In my search for chicken and waffles across the nation.

    But I was stuck across the street, back where I got off the bus. Back where I last remembered seeing my wallet.

    Jen called me, “Where are you?”

    “Across the street,” I composed myself. “I lost my wallet…”

    “I am coming right over.”

    I saw her hurry out of Marvin—a place where I was supposed to be enjoying delicious chicken and waffles out to the cold dark drizzly night. As she arrived and hugged me, I awkwardly introduced her to Michael.

    Jen said, “Good to meet you…under the circumstances.”

    I was frantic…I asked a driver of the MTA driver about lost and found. The driver just gave me an apathetic look, “Sorry.”

    Then the circulator, the same line arrived. Michael and Jen followed me on as I explained my situation to the bus driver lady. I was already downtrodden, but not quite sure about my alternatives—the power of my credit cards, atm…and my id…gone. Do I have to get someone to fedex my passport? What would I have to do? Would I be stuck in DC?

    The bus driver spoke on her radio. Between each call, she told me what was going on. I regretted being somewhat obnoxious on my initial ride, perhaps laughing and talking too loud with Michael. Perhaps I looked so helpless and fragile that she was persistent in trying to reach all the drivers.

    “It was a bus line…about twenty minutes ago.” I hesitated in describing the African American driver. “It was a woman.”

    “Can you describe her hairstyle?” she asked.

    Normally in these situations, I would joke that everyone looked alike. I was suddenly afraid that I offended her. So instead, I simply said, “Sorry, I can’t remember…it was dark.”

    There were three bus drivers on duty. One returned a negative. The other unfortunately didn’t have a radio. The bus driver told us to sit back since she had to continue on her route. Because the third bus driver did not have a radio, the driver would check in with the supervisor at the end of the line to keep status.

    As we sat back, no fare needed, she apologized to the other passengers and I stumbled to seat. What if this third bus driver never responded? What if it was gone? Losing a cellphone, camera, keys…it’s easy to recover. But now what?

    I was glad that Michael and Jen were getting to know each other…and they chatted as I tried to recollect my thoughts…

    I put my hand out and it came back with nothing: Part I

    No leathery touch that I usually would feel at the bottom of my bag. The bouncer looked at me quizzically. But it was just here! I thought to myself as I recalled the last time I saw my wallet.

    I had pulled out a single bill to paid for the fare and dropped my wallet back into my bag. Michael ambled to the very last row in the bus. I chatted excitedly about various stories and joked about my eccentricities. Worried that my athletic shoes wouldn’t be well-accepted in the U-street corridor, I decided to change my shoes right there to my chocolate Brazilian flats.

    I started telling story about the people I knew and the experiences I had in San Francisco. So engrossed in the story, I was surprised when it was our stop. Michael moved forward but my bag got caught in the railings. The bus driver must have noticed my idiocy as I tried to move forward but couldn’t. I struggled for a few moments and finally freed myself. Across the street, we went into Marvin—I wasn’t sure if Jen had arrived and texted her. The hostess led us around, but she wasn’t there. We decided to head upstairs where bouncers were checking id. And just like I always did, I thrust my hand in my bag to find the leathery box—it was bulging this week because of the extra cash and coins I had been carrying for purposes of travel convenience.

    And it was not THERE.

    Breathe, right now, I told myself. I checked all my bag compartments. My shoe bag. I squeezed the bag holding Toad. My ticket compartment. My feminine necessity compartment. My mini medicine cabinet compartment. Not there.

    It was horrifying as the consequences dawned on me. I was heading to NYC the following morning—in less than 10 hours. And my flight? And my bus? My credit cards? I found another single dollar bill in a compartment, but that was all.

    I had nothing…and needing to get out of the bar—the bar I had been waiting for months because of a special dish….all gone…

    Going outside, I tried to think. The same bum that asked me for money when we went in…asked again. “Please,” he said. “I just need money for food.”

    He repeated that again and again. It was not in a desperate tone. It seemed automatic. As I stood out there, he wouldn’t stop asking. I bluntly told him, “I lost my wallet. I am sorry.”

    Maybe I wasn’t apologetic enough and maybe my tone was as dismissive as the times I would only say a “sorry” and not even glance at the face. Would it be ironic if I gave him my saltine crackers? Especially if I had nothing to save myself?

    I called the numbers that was listed for the lost and found bus line. It rang and rang. No answer. Then I tried the customer service line.

    “I am sorry. The number you have dialed is no longer in use.” A pleasant voice said with the familiar…disappointing…frustrating tone…

    And a knot was caught in my throat…

    Readying myself for being Asian

    I was feeling somewhat exhausted from flying early in the morning from PIT to BWI and stumbled out to the ground transportation at the terminal. As I finally caught the shuttle to the MARC/Amtrak station, a middle-aged graying man got on.

    He glanced at me, studying my sprawling bags over the seats.

    Then he leaned forward and mumbled, “The bus was late. I am trying to catch the 9:20.”

    I could barely make out the words and stared back blankly. I slowly nodded.

    “Don’t speak English?” he asked.

    I couldn’t help but pass judgement quickly. “No, it’s just loud in here,” I motioned to the bus in my American English.

    He said something extra and I realized that another reason that I couldn’t understand him was a thick Southern accent. We exchanged additional pleasantries and settled back into silence.

    And then I didn’t feel so well

    While walking through Newell-Simon Hall at Carnegie Mellon—at least the third time since I had graduated, I suddenly felt this knot in my stomach when I spotted a former classroom and a lab.

    Immediately, I remembered not only the squeaky chair with attached writing surfaces, but also the horrible feeling of frustration and confusion. I could remember a desire to flee what seemed like a never-ending chaos. It was so visceral—this feeling that I had to walk out.

    Oddly enough, only hours before I had offered plentiful optimistic advice as an alum. I was eager to give back to the students what I never got as a student. I sat in the lab for more than 3 hours telling students about my experiences and advice for each of their personal issues. At some point, I knew it was slightly stroking my ego…but in some way, just like many alum, I couldn’t remember the exact frustration, the never-ending work, the judgement…all that made up the demanding program. All I could remember was the good times that made me get my masters.

    And so from Newell-Simon Hall, I walked up Forbes toward Squirrel Hill admiring the new bike lanes and signage. It reminded me of San Francisco, almost. Until I saw all the brick houses that all looked alike, lit up like burning fires.

    Cupcake Camp 2009

    “Let’s make cupcakes!” I declared. “For cupcake camp!”

    After experiencing cupcake camp last year, I decided that I wanted to participate this time. Meaning not just eating, but actually baking.

    I convinced a friend to partake in the journey (Chris was as interested) and after much indecision and experimentation (coffee with donut? cereal-themed? cocktail?), we whittled down to Mojito.

    Without alcohol, it is my favorite “cocktail” drink. A bartender once scoffed at me when I asked for a virgin mojito—isn’t that just soda water with lime juice and sugar? At alcohol-filled parties, I would bring mojito mixers and spend time hovering near the bar, filling up my cup with soda water/7-up mixing it with the sugared liquid and mint. As surprise gifts, Chris would suddenly produce a bottle of strawberry mojito mixer, mango mojito mixer…all most likely purchased at bargain basement prices.

    And it surprisingly tasted so good in a cupcake form.

    So in much brainstorming and last-minute desperation, my friend and I concocted a presentation that did knock the socks off many people at cupcake camp. Although it did not win any awards (was it not unique enough? why was the decoration award only considered for a single cupcake than all), it was a hit.

    Our construction:
    4 (borrowed) martini glasses
    1 LARGE goblet from Thrift town
    frosting filled in each glass
    bed of mint leaves on top of the frosting
    all 24+ mini mint-infused and rum-glazed cupcakes with lime triple sec cream cheese frosting pierced with a decorative toothpick

    Now…presenting the amazing…MOJITO TWIST!

    We had to convince the cupcake organizers to allow us to carry the cupcakes out not ruining the logistics. Somehow Chris (in a cat sweatshirt no less) found himself checking off the cupcake tickets.

    More photos: close-up, more, mine

    And so ends another adventure….

    High Trek Adventures East Bay!

    It’s more than a month since Chris and I did the High Trek Adventures in the East Bay! After failing miserably at Journey to the End of the Night, I went on a scavenger hunt rampage. And I stumbled across this one.

    It was an one-day adventure—truly like the Amazing Race–where we raced around the East Bay solving clues and running to the locations. We only had to take a photo at those locations (no crazy puzzle solving) and get to the finish line as quickly as possible.

    At first, we solved all the puzzles using Chris’ incredible sink of knowledge and our smart phones at our disposal. We called ta-ching, but he couldn’t compete with the quickness of our puzzle-solving.

    Then we strategized how to get to the locations—most located in Berkeley (Ashby, downtown, on campus, on San Pablo/University) and Orinda. And off we went.

    Our first clue
    Starting Point

    Bonus points
    Bonus Points - Group Hug in front of a sign with "Berkeley"

    Orinda #1
    Stop #3 - Entourage

    Orinda #2
    Stop #4 - Turquoise

    An exhausted us, but it doesn’t show
    Stop #7 - Cory Hall

    At the end, we were exhausted from running up and down the Berkeley campus. I am pretty good at walking long distances, but running at full speed wasn’t something I had done since high school. Not to mention that it was in the high 80s in the East Bay.

    As we finished the last TREKpoint collaborating with another team, the team said that they were going to run to the finish line at Lane Splitters—located more than a mile away. Chris and I looked at each other—there was no way we had the energy to run at a full sprint all the way there. I suggested that we catch the bus.

    So we ambled on the other side of University. We ran into another team who told us the next bus—a 52—wasn’t going the direction (later we discovered they were WRONG). So we waited a little longer and caught the 51. Somehow we were lucky and got on last. Standing in the front row, a handicapped woman said she was getting off and that we could have her seat.

    The bus was packed, even on a Saturday afternoon. The handicapped woman got off and we sat in the row. As the bus pulled into the final stop, another elderly woman got up. The bus driver proclaimed, “Front door only!”

    Bonus points for us as we noticed that the elderly woman blocked all the teams from exiting. Chris and I dashed off the bus to the corner. Unfortunately all the lights had just turned red. The light for turns on opposite directions turned green. Chris spotted the team that we had just collaborated with in downtown Berkeley sprinting down University.

    “Oh no…” we both thought in our heads.

    That’s when Chris said, “Whatever I do, just follow me.”

    Too defeated and exhausted to say anything, I nodded.

    Then he took off on a run through the middle of the intersection sprinting from the corner we were just on to the opposite corner. I ran after him, trying not to see that cars were coming toward us…but hopefully not close to us. As we ran, the teams left at the corner yelled, “Cheaters!”

    And then we ran with that other team into the finish line. The High Trek rep declared a tie at 10th place. And we were in the top ten team of finishing of over 100 teams.

    After more tallying with bonus points, somehow we ended up at 9th place and the other team at 5th place. Mysterious how they jumped since we had the same exact bonus points. But for Chris and me, it was proof that we could finish a race like this well even with the lack of ability to run long distances…and that we were SMRTer than everyone else.


    Because I am going to finally do the Journey to the End of the Night!!!!!!!!!

    After having a horrible moment at the East Bay one, I was so unhappy that I missed out. Even though I heard that people wimped out and tired before the last one. I just couldn’t let it go. I was do disappointed that I threw cash down and time down for all other scavenger hunts. But the fact that I missed out was burning a hole in my chest.