Bay Area Life

Life through the viewfinder

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Midwest Vacation (it was fun, but glad to be back home)

Midwest Trip

“So, why has Michael not updated lately?”, you might ask yourself. Well the reason why I haven’t been able to update lately was because I was on a two week adventure exploring the Midwest of America racking up a staggering 2300+ miles driving. On my trip I encountered so many cool things that they all can’t be explained in words. Some things were so awesome that you just had to be there to fully take it in. I travelled across half the country in pursuit of visiting all of our nations baseball parks plus one more that is located in Toronto. However, on this trip I was able to tackle just four teams/stadiums. In the process of visiting cities within the United States I met some pretty amazing people; had I been accompanied with someone on my trip I don’t think I would be approached as much as I was when travelling alone.

Meeting and talking to new people is probably one of the most enjoyable things about travelling that one can experience. Getting to talk about your hometown and your likes and dislikes is something that keeps conversations going. It’s something about the unknown that makes people keeping wanting to know more and more about. For example, I had no idea what life and the cost of living was like in the Midwest and for people I met they had no idea how life was like here in San Francisco. As people I’ve talked with they are often interested in what San Francisco has to offer, they often are interested in knowing why I would come
all this way just to visit their hometown. Once I get started talking I’m very passionate about the things that I say and I often pride myself on having come from one of the best communities that this country has to offer. I must say yes the cities I’ve been to visit have been absolutely great, but there’s just something about good ol’ San Francisco that I still am in love with and that I would never find myself living away from. San Francisco has so much to offer and so much diversity that it’s surprising to know how much can fit into a 7 mile by 7 mile city.

Likes and dislikes of my trip often revolved around with what I have here, back home, versus the other cities not having what I’m use to or vise versa. What I like about the cities I’ve travelled to is the fact that some of the food is so amazing that I wish I had them here locally. Yes you can ship it to your home, but it’s just not the same when all the goodness is made there. I loved the weather over there. It was mostly sunny in the 70s and it was not humid at all except for a few days before it was going to rain, but an overall great sunny trip. Gasoline is probably the cheapest I’ve seen in a long time. In San Francisco the average gasoline price is about $3.15 and the average price in the Midwest is $2.15 with exception to Chicago which average prices were about $2.85. I like the fact that people are genuinely nice and polite if you are willing to give them a chance to introduce themselves and talk with them. I like the museums and attractions that are pertinent to their area. I like visiting different baseball stadiums and seeing what each has to offer. Finally, I like being able to explore on my own and not having to keep a friend waiting to go to another destination (allows me more freedom to strike up conversation with others).

Dislikes from the trip are few, but still important to record down. I dislike travelling alone at times because travelling gets to be very expensive when there is no one to help share the cost with. I dislike having to go to some of the very best places to eat, but not being able to try everything on the menu because there is only so much you can eat and diversity in dishes is next to none because you lack a travelling buddy to try their food. I dislike the fact that there’s not a big Asian community to feel a little comfortable in. I sometimes felt that I was being looked at a lot because I was different or maybe perhaps I had my zipper down. At times I really did miss seeing another Chinese person or not having been able to eat some Chinese food which would have been comforting to me. There are a few more, but I feel like you get my point.

So now you’re probably wondering where have I been to and why am I just rambling well right about now is when I disclose all. My itinerary was to visit St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, and Kansas City. Along the way I visited a few other cities that were pretty awesome too. I visited St. Paul and St. Joseph as two additional places. All I can say now is that two weeks weren’t enough to see all those places for the first time.

I flew out of San Francisco to St. Louis on Southwest Airlines. I had one of the most entertaining flights I’ve ever had on a Denver to St. Louis connection flight. The male flight attendant was one of the most hilarious persons that I’ve encountered. He made flying so much fun and eased the tension for those that hate flying or even flying alone. He basically turned the plane into a party plane, it was so fun. One thing I was questioning myself was to get off that plane to take an offer of a hotel stay and a $200 voucher for a future flight in return to give up my seat for someone else because Southwest overbooked the flight. If I got off in Denver I would have experienced heavy rain, my luggage would have been sent away from me for a day rotating around the baggage claim carousel, and I wouldn’t have been on the party plane.

In St. Louis, there is so much to see and explore that a few days is not enough. In St. Louis I got to see the Gateway Arch, Anheuser-Busch Brewery, Jefferson Barracks Historic Park, Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery, Missouri Botanical Gardens, Science Center, the Old Courthouse, Museum of Westward Expansion, Missouri History Museum, St. Louis Zoo, Forest Park, Busch Stadium and other various places in and around those areas.

Chicago is a great city, but what absolutely sucks about the city is that no matter where you go you have to pay for parking with a few exceptions though. Even city parks you have to pay for parking which I found to be a little ironic, those places should be free to park. I’ve been to Chicago before and did all the touristy things that there is to do, but on this trip I brought along my DSLR so I revisited some of the spots that I’ve seen. While in Chicago I visited the Eli Cheesecake World Factory, outside the Museum of Science and Industry (which is an amazing museum), Lake Michigan, U.S. Cellular Field, Wrigley Field, United Center, Shed Aquarium, Alder Planetarium, Buckingham Fountain, Public Library, Millennium Park, Magnificent Mile, Lincoln Park, and other areas of the city.

In Milwaukee I got to walk outside the Harley Davidson Museum, Miller Brewing Company, Mitchell Park Conservatory (The Domes), Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee City Hall, Pettit National Ice Center, Shops of Grand Ave., Riverwalk, Lake Michigan, Water Tower, North Point Lighthouse, and Miller Park.

In St. Paul I saw the Cathedral of St. Paul, Cherokee Park, City Hall, Como Park (zoo and conservatory), Landmark Center, Minnesota State Capitol, and Mickey’s Dining Car.

In Minneapolis I visited the Minneapolis Museum of Art, Mill City Museum, Guthrie Theater, Minnehaha Park, Steven’s House at Minnehaha Park, Upper and Lower St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam, the Metrodome, Stone Arch Bridge, Downtown, and a few miles south the Mall of America.

In St. Joseph I visited the Pony Express Museum, Pony Express HQ located at Patte House Museum, Jesse James’ Home and the original site where the house was built before moving to the Patte House, Robidoux Row Museum, the outside of the National Military Heritage Museum (which was closed), the Missouri River, Downtown, and Lovers Lane.

In Kansas City, MO I got to see Downtown at night, the Harley Davidson Kansas City Manufacturing Operations Plant, Union Station, National World War I Museum, Crown Center, outside of Hallmark Visitors Center, a glimpse of the Toy and Miniature Museum, Jazz District, The Plaza, the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, and Kauffman Stadium.

In each and every city there were absolutely some great food and there are so many places I would love to share with you, but you’ll just have to wait and see when I have time to get reviews of those places up. I must say though it was sure some great eats.

Overall, the trip that I took to all of these places were absolutely amazing. While travelling alone I couldn’t help not forget all the generous people who have made my trip much more enjoyable. Being offered free tickets to sampling food made this trip one to remember. I’m so thankful for those of you who made this such an awesome trip. Travelling alone is not foreign to me because now I can say that I’ve been there and done that. I will embark on a new adventure next year and I hope that the trip then will have much of an impact on me as it has now.

Pictures of the trip will eventually be put up in my travel section of my website, but for now keep the anticipation up and encourage me to get it done. Hope to share with you some of my travels. If I met you on my trip please leave a comment I would sure like to keep in touch with you. Thanks.

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Fireworks at the Ferry Building

Fireworks at the Ferry Building

It was a party cloudy night sky downtown on the waterfront when I was at a friend’s birthday party. While enjoying the party all of a sudden the night sky overlooking the Ferry Building errupted in dazzling light and loud bangs. I hurried over to the balcony and I noticed a barge sitting out over the calm waters behind the Ferry Building.

The fireworks that night was one that caught me by surprise, but I’m glad I was there at that particular time and place. It was a spectacular sight to see, but it all was a little surreal. For one thing, this was an almost eerie situation. As I glanced over the skyline, I noticed that the Bay Bridge lights were turned off and there was no noise from cars driving on it (due to the Labor Day weekend closures to construct a “S-curved” roadway on the eastern section of the Bay Bridge) and also I found it a little weird that there was no one on the streets or on the waterfront crowding to watch a show.

I tried researching online to see what occassion it was and I even contacted the police department in hopes of finding out what the deal was about. To no avail, I had not gotten any information on the incident, but I just am thankful that I got to see a spectacular show on a spectacular night with the conditions being just right and the moon in the background to see an awesome show.

If anyone has any ideas of what the fireworks were for on September 5th, 2009 please comment on this posting.

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Hasbro’s Candy Land celebrates 60 years

Candyland (click here for images)

Hasbro’s Candy Land, an iconic game almost every American has played at least once while growing up celebrates 60 years. For this anniversary celebration Hasbro had turned Lombard Street, which is San Francisco’s iconic landmark known to be “The World’s Crookedest Street”, into a giant Candy Land gameboard.

Children from the UCSF Children’s Hospital were invited to attend and play a game on this real life sized game. Even the colored game pieces were large, just imagine trying to shuffle the deck before the game. The children were divided up into four teams. Team colors were red, blue, green and yellow. As the cards were drawn the teams travelled down the hill any means possible. Some children ran down the hill, some skipped, some walked, and even some slid down the hill on their stomachs.

Along the gameboard were three Candy Land characters. King Kandy, Princess Lolly and Princess Frostine. They stood in their respective positions (Princess Frostine at Snowflake Lake, Princess Lolly in the Lollipop Woods, and King Kandy up the road from Candy Castle) on the gameboard until the children had passed their spots on the board. After all the children passed these locations each of three characters accompanied one of the teams. The team to finally reach the winning square was the yellow team. The team was congratulated with a hailstorm of confetti and lots of jumping up and down.

Following the game, the four teams gathered around the Candy Land decorated birthday cake and celebrated Candy Land’s birthday by singing “Happy Birthday”. The cake was vanilla flavored with a chocolate filling and covered in a fondant. Children took home a game of Candy Land and a bag filled with their selection of candies.

Pictures are added to the gallery click picture link above.

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Kiteboard Course Racing World Championship

Kiteboarding

The World’s first Kiteboard Course Racing Championship was held here in San Francisco brought to you by the St. Francis Yacht Club. The competition brought contestants from all over the world with a majority of them from the United States. Here they faced off with each other on a huge course.

The course covered an area that was supposedly one nautical mile, but the leg of the race seemed much longer than that. From Crissy Field the boundaries were assumed to be the west end of Crissy Field to the west, Alcatraz Island to the east, Sausalito to the north, and Crissy Field Beach to the south.

Race qualifications began on August 4th through August 6th. Race Finals were held on August 7th and 8th. The qualifying races seemed like it would be a lot of fun. When looking at all the competitors out on the water it reminded me a huge biker gang riding behind one another. It was a pretty amazing site.

At first glance, when arriving to the beach it was surreal to see a beach lined with a rainbow of colors. If one did not know that there was a competition, someone can easily mistake the kites as tents. The week had excellent conditions. It was sunny skies with a few scattered clouds and the winds were good enough for a great competition. Tourists and native Bay Area locals lined the beach front for a glimpse of this sport. To some this event was something new and cool and to others they thought that it was a little crazy to see people being pulled on a surfboard by a kite and going around inflatable buoys. Interesting enough, if you haven’t seen a competition like this before it is something to see for yourself. Like in any sport you will have your likes and dislikes. I felt that this sport was a little slow for me, but I bet if I were to pick up the sport of kiteboarding my opinion would dramatically change.

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The Lone Sport of Abalone Diving

Abalone

I had the privilege of meeting a man by name of Lenny at the SalmonAid salmon bake event. At the event we exchanged some conversation and later swapped information. He later invited me to what I would have never experienced if it were not for him. Abalone diving is not something you hear about every day. It’s something that you eat every once in awhile. Most Americans eat beef, chicken, pork, fish, and all sorts of vegetables. Shellfish is great, but I believe most people tend to stay away from it because they are either allergic to it or it can be rather expensive.

Lenny took me up the coast of Northern California in his vehicle along with two other guys, Ryan and Beldon, who I got acquainted with while on the drive to our diving location. During our trip, I learned a lot about the nature of abalone diving. I found out that it is a sport that is done solo. Divers can dive in partners or small groups, but the sole act of diving and capturing abalone is an individual task. If going in groups one person in the group is assigned to be a spotter just to make sure if one person doesn’t come up for air then the other diver has to go in and to prevent a potential drowning situation.

The whole sport of abalone diving starts out when divers swim out from the coast with their equipment.  Divers can equip themselves with tools to capture abalone, but they they are not allowed to carry any breathing apparatuses with them in their hunt. Among a diver’s list of tools that he/she can bring out onto the water can be and are not limited to the following items: wetsuit, mask, snorkel, fins, knife, weight belt and weights, depth gauges, at least a 7inch gauge (ruler), an abalone iron (spatula looking tool), flashlight, and personal abalone floats (rubber inner tube encased in a backpack styled cover which allows the diver to use as a flotation device to rest on and to enable storage of equipment and abalone caught). Other optional flotation devices are used such as inflatable surf mats, boogie boards, kayaks, canoes, and even boats.

After a hike out to the coastal waters, Lenny, Ryan, and Beldon got out into the water. The waves were a little choppy, but to me it did not look too bad. The tide was coming in and everything looks totally fine observing from the surface. However, while in the water that is a different story. The three guys told me later that the water was a little rough.

While on a dive there is so many things that a diver has to think about. Divers need to think about their oxygen in their lungs, they have to keep aware of the tide and the waves because within the water there is a lot of power which can easily take you in or out to sea, wave could also smash you into rocks or into fields of kelp. Divers sometimes fear the possible confrontations of sharks, and the fear of suffocating. When divers dive near the coast they face kelp fields. One of the worst scenarios is to be running low on oxygen, thus a diver comes up for air, but while coming up for air it is possible to get tangled in a strand of kelp which can easily attach to your belt or other equipment. Being anchored down the last thing a diver should do is struggle and panic losing any remaining oxygen left. Divers need to remain as calm as possible and either untangle themselves or cut the kelp with a knife.

After collecting three abalone each, the guys come to shore and showed me their wonderful stash. The catches seem really good and large, but no record keepers. The largest abalone caught on record in California is 12.34 inches. It was caught by  John Pepper. Catching of any abalone under 7 inches is punishable by fine and confiscation of fishing license. One article I found on illegal poaching of abalone was written by the Oakland Tribune in 2005. You can read more about it here.

Later that evening, Lenny invited me over for dinner and I partook in an abalone feast. Lenny took the abalone and sliced it thin, where he then smashed it with a tenderizer, breaded it, and then fried it on a skillet of olive oil. Accompanying the meal were rice, green beans, artichokes, and chicken wings (the chicken wings seem odd right in this meal, that’s because I brought them over along with green beans).

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SalmonAid 2009

SalmonAid 2009

SalmonAid is an awareness festival that allows people to come out and enjoy themselves. At the same time SalmonAid tries to inform people of what happens to wild salmon when dams are being built to block the natural flow of rivers.

Friday was SalmonAid’s kick off celebration where a few native tribes who live off the Klammoth River came down to host guests with a salmon bake. Saturday is SalmonAid’s festival at Jack London Square. What was suppose to happen on Friday was that the some tribes from Northern California near Yreka were suppose to come and bake salmon by first building a large fire pit. Something similar to a bonfire and then filleted strips of salmon would be put on sticks of Redwood. Then the sticks would be inserted in the sand around the fire and the heat from the pit would bake the fish. Flipping of the fish once was the only thing required after a few minutes. Then just serve and eat.

However, Friday was a really windy day at Ocean Beach and the whole salmon bake had to be postponed. Disappointing as it may sound, it wasn’t. The salmon bake was brought inland into Golden Gate Park and it was there were the event turned into a salmon BBQ. Some people picked up some charcoal and lighter fluid at the local Safeway nearby and I helped pitch in by getting the charcoal going on two grills. Once the grills were fired up and ready to go, salmon was tossed onto the grill. The salmon was simply seasoned with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Boy was it tasty!

Turnout for the event started with a group of about ten, but as time progressed into late evening people trickled in and the size was about a good forty. Who would have figured a salmon BBQ in Golden Gate Park? What started out as a strong windy day at the beach ended up being a cool calm day at the park. Thank goodness for the park trees to break all that wind and sandblasting.

For more information on SalmonAid, check out their organization’s website at: http://www.salmonaid.org

A couple things that you can do to help the tribes and other people that live off the Klammoth River is to educate family and friends of this potential hazard of damming up the river. Damming rivers not only prevent the salmon from naturally swimming upstream to spawn, but it allows toxins and other pollutants to build up. Releasing water from the dams will in turn slowly kill off all wildlife downstream. Also by educating the public would hopefully allow legislation to help put a stop to damming up other rivers not only in California, but other states as well. People like the native tribes of Northern California get their food from the river. Some do go off to grocery stores to get food, but part of their diet comes from the fresh wild caught salmon and acorns. Lastly, another way to help is to support the sale of wild salmon and the fisherman that catch them.

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55th Annual North Beach Festival

North Beach Festival 2009

The North Beach Festival this weekend has been a fun and great festival which takes place in Little Italy. This has been my first experience at the festival and it has nothing, but great things about it. What I thought was going to be only two blocks of festivities ended up being more like eight or more blocks of awesome art, food, music, and other commercial products. The festival also included the entire Washington Square Park. There were two grandstands, one located at Columbus and Green and another located at Washington Square Park.

The North Beach Festival is probably one the most relaxing festivals that I’ve ever been. How relaxing can it be? Well, you can first start off by walking throughout the whole festival and see all sorts of things, then when you get tired, grab a bite to eat and bring it over to Washington Square Park and have a seat on the grass and listen to some live music.

What made this festival fun and different was that I saw artists creating masterpieces on the pavement made from chalk, a pizza tosser, a “swing” band getting 10 couples out on the dance floor, people getting their animals blessed in the local church, a band singing “Motown” in North Beach, and an overall fair that was divided into many different cells.

This event was so much fun that I spent a hefty amount time just walking and looking at the different booths that were here. I had some delicious Sicilian pizza. I listened to some great music. I saw some cool works of art. I got to see a pizza tosser and while taking a picture I caught a huge blob of raw pizza dough thrown randomly at me as the tosser was trying to throw it into the crowd behind his back. I even got a tan.

There is so much art and color and history in this festival that it was a shame that I haven’t come to this festival ever before. I do hope to come back in future years and I hope that if you haven’t attended the festival that it is one to mark on your To Do List.

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A Day In Pacifica

Pacifica Pier

Today I decided to spend a day out in Pacifica. I first started out the day at Camelot Fish & Chips, a local pub that serves great food. The restaurant does wonders on fish and other seafood. I haven’t found one in San Francisco that was consistent and I’m glad I came to this spot because they know how to prepare a mean meal.

After my delicious meal, I drove around the small town of Pacifica and checked out a few local shops and found myself at a sea cliff. I spent some time here just smelling the fresh air and checking out the view for as long as the eye could see. While there I saw a man fly over head with paragliding and in the distance Pacifica Pier. Finished checking out the greenery, I decided to take a drive and find that pier.

When I got to Pacifica Pier I took a stroll along the concrete seawall and proceeded to the concrete pier. While on the pier I noticed that there was a high volume of men, women, and children fishing and crabbing off the side. Some had poles and some had nets. I came across a nice couple of folks while there. I conversed first with an elderly gentleman who brought out his kids to go fishing because he wanted to get the kids away from the television. We began to talk about the whole fishing season and what’s legal and illegal to catch. He then on informed me that fishing is totally free as long as you are on a public pier. I had no idea of that and I hope to bring back my old school fishing skill one day.

Later, I walked further and met up with Craig and Deborah. Craig was scaling his striped sea bass that he had caught off the pier at Crissy Field. He gutted up and filleted his fish. After taking all the pieces that he wanted, he had no need for the rest of the body and so instead of letting it go to waste, he gave the head to this elderly lady that so happened to have a plastic bag in her pocket and she was so happy. She went on to tell us that this was better than going to a casino because here she actually got something. Craig decided to give me the center body and I plan to use it to make some sort of porridge or soup with that in a few days.

Continuing on my journey to the end of the pier, I came in contact with two gentlemen who have been striking it rich with crab. Frankie and Russ told me that they got there at about 2:30pm and about every four minutes they had some crab action. Frankie went on to tell me that he made his own snares to capture crab and went into detail about how he used deer fencing to do so. As I was talking with him they kept reeling the lines in and each time they did they caught crab after crab. Some of them of were not of legal size so those had to be tossed back, but it was remarkable at how many there were able to catch. They caught a total of about 24 crabs which were a combination of red crab and dungeness crab. Russ while counting the crab towards the end of their evening decided to give two crabs and for that I am grateful. I had no idea he would be so generous, but I’m glad he did because once I got home I cooked those bad boys up. I couldn’t wait for myself to get any ingredients so I just decided to steam those suckers. And to end the whole day of my excursion after having fish and chips, I ended the night with some delicious crab to top off the day.

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Making Chinese Tamales

Last night, my friend invited me to help make some Chinese tamales, otherwise known as “doong” or “joong” depending on dialect. What is a Chinese tamale? Well in short terms it is a food that is made up of short grain (gluttonous rice), meat, and whatever else you would like to add to it, all wrapped in banana/bamboo/lotus leaves and tied up with string. It is then boiled or steamed for about 1.5 hours.

How we went about making the tamales was first to boil and soak the banana leaves  for about 20 minutes to soften up the leaf good enough so that they can become soft and pliable in the wrapping process. Then by grabbing two leaves, we filled up the leaves with two or three tablespoons full of uncooked gluttonous rice which had been seasoned and we placed on top of it marinated pork and Chinese sausage. On top of the meat, we then covered it with about another two to three tablespoons of rice, just enough to have the meat entirely covered. Finally we folded in the sides of the leaf and wrapped the whole entire tamale with the remaining excess part of the banana leaf and tied it all together with some string. We boiled the Chinese tamales for about 1.5 hours and after cooking set them out to cool off.

In totality, I think we made about 60 or so Chinese tamales. They were just great. Excess tamales that could not be eaten will be stored in the freezer where at a later date they can be reboiled and then eaten. My favorite thing to do with “doong” is to cut it up in to half an inch slices and pan fry them in some oil. Pan frying it will allow the outside to become crispy and crunchy while the inside still remains soft and chewy. Great comfort food and I’m glad that after so many years of wanting to make it, I’ve had the opportunity to actually get it done. I now hope to do this again and put some crazy amount of ingredients in my “doong” the next time I make it.

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Crabbing

Bait for Crabbing

Last night a group of my friends decided to go crabbing. It was a cold night, but it was a very beauitful night. The moon was full and shining bright.

To begin our adventure we had to bait some nets and snare traps. We used some squid, shrimp, and fish heads for bait. We  then had to put the traps in the water. Some traps were casted in by fishing rods and some traps were lowered in by hand at the side of the dock. No sooner than when we set the traps, the sealions came. They circled the waters like sharks eager and looking for prey. However, in our case the prey had already been killed and all they had to do was just break into the traps and grab the bait out. We were successful in keeping some bait free from being eaten, but in total we had two fish head casualties.

Throughout the night as we waited for the biggest catch, we all gathered around an old Coleman camping stove cooking up hot dogs and cheddar dogs. In addition to the hot dogs, we had some blueberries, grapes, cheese and crackers. As we were eating we checked the nets and fishing lines every 10mins or so. We managed to capture many small crabs, but they were too small to keep.

Overall, the night was long and cold, but in the end we were able to keep one crab. I think the true reward from all of this was not the one crab being caught, but it was the friendship and bonds that we had built up that night. This crab adventure will hopefully not end here, but will continue for years to come.