10 Places In My Cities: Bay Area

1. Montara Beach, Half Moon Bay
It was seven or eight years ago, my ex-coworker and friend T was in the office with me. We were both un-staffed. In consulting world, unstaffed time is downtime, when we weren’t billable, not earning money for the company, and basically had nothing to do. We decided to sneak out in the middle of the afternoon and blow off some steam. At the time, both of us had bottled up lots of frustration from our previous projects.

He took me to Montara Beach, north of the crowded and touristy Half Moon Bay. I fell in love with it right away. It was a secluded little beach, bounded by low cliffs on all sides. The beach descended into the ocean in such an angle that the ocean seemed to be taller than the beach. Waves looked fuller than anywhere else and always on the point of bursting open. Lots of surfers but not many beach goers.

I took mom and Nappy there many times. Because of the low hills on all sides, we could let Nappy go off-leash without worrying about him run away.

I took a boy there after we started dating. He recited a little essay to me on the beach, explaining why he loves me. A month later he broke up with me and I went back to the beach alone, sat on the sand dunes, watched the ocean for an hour, cried and tried to make sense of the series of events. Of course I couldn’t make much sense of it. But the beach looked so angry and emotional that my own emotion seemed rather small, under comparison. It did help me to calm down.

It is still my favorite beach on the N. Cal coast.

2. Pescadero Artichoke Creme Soup & Artichoke Heart Bread

Gui and Matthew introduced me to Pescadero. It is south of Half Moon Bay, along highway 1. Pescadero is apparently Portuguese, means Fish. Used to be a little fishing village, now it has turned into a artist retreat. There is only one restaurant on its little main street. And it is appropriately named, “The Restaurant”. The restaurant serves one specialty soup called Artichoke Creme Soup. It was absolutely delicious. The waitress never made us feel unwelcome even though all we ever ordered there was soup and bread.

Next to the restaurant are a couple of boutique stores, filled with beautiful looking ends and odds made by local artists. Further up the road, on the opposite side of the streets are two grocery stores. One of them always sell freshly made artesian breads. Our favorite was the one with embedded chunky artichoke hearts. On our way home, our cars are always filled with that heavenly smell.

Jean’s Weblog(08/09/2004): Artichoke Bread from Pascadero

3. V. Sattui, Napa
It is a pretty winery with large selection of wine, a decent deli, lovely and specious picnic tables dotted under oak trees, and free wine tasting. I especially love their specialty rose wine, called Gamay Rouge. I usually walk out of its door with a case of these rose wine. It has a strawberry flavor, very easy to drink.

Napa in the Fall, (In Chinese)

4. Skyline Blvd, HWY 35

This is Matthew’s favorite road. I don’t blame him. In the north, close to San Mateo, there was a section of the road that was on top of the hill above the tree lines, in a clear day, one could see San Francisco Bay on the east, and the Pacific Ocean on the west. Going south, it winds its way through beautiful forests with filtered sunlight or mysterious fog, wineries and stately redwoods, passes Castle Rock State Park, and eventually reaches highway 9 which leads further into Santa Cruz Mountain.

Mountain bikers and motorcycle riders love this road, too. So drive carefully!

Jean’s Weblog (09/01/2003): Climbing at Castle Rock

5. Stanford University

I’m sounding like a traitor here being a Berkeley Alumni. But what can I say? Berkeley is too far from my normal commute route. 🙁

Stanford’s main chapel is perfect for roller-skating on weekends. The connected passage ways and smooth marble(is it marble?) floor are smooth going. One could go in circles on this flat “track”. It is especially wonderful for beginners because even though there are usually two or three wedding parties taking photos in the vicinity, the passage way is usually left empty.

Stanford’s art museum opens to the public for free. They usually have pretty good collections on show. Further more, the courtyard of the museum is an amazing sculpture garden features an amazing collection of Rodin’s work. If you can come at night, the piece called “Gate of Hell” will be especially stunning bathed in the special lighting arrangement.

Last but not the least; the Stanford Shopping Center is one of the prettiest outdoor mall I’ve ever seen. I’m especially fond of its Palo Alto Coffee Roasting Company. If I was in an expensive mode, I would go down to Oakville Grocery for a grilled Chicken sandwich to go with my coffee. While waiting for my sandwich, I would certainly be sampling Oakville’s many delicious sauces and olive oils.

6. Castro Street, Mtn View

Cheap and decent Chinese eateries, spicy Thai food, Japanese Udon, Vietnamese noodle house, and good Malaysia restaurant, these are good enough reason to visit. It is close by Shoreline Movie Theatre complex, which makes it a perfect place to grab a late night snack. There is a super friendly Red Rock Cafe, frequent by the locals and sports an open mac night on Mondays. It was here that I heard my “Story in a Coffee house” (in Chinese).

7. California Street, Palo Alto

There used to be an excellent local bookseller on this street, called Printer’s Inc. It was a bookstore plus coffee/deli. Its deli’s logo is a coffee cup with steam came out of it. Nowadays that has become a famous sight due to the popularity of java. In the first java doc published on Sun’s website, at the very bottom, it indicated the origin of this coffee cup: Printer’s Inc, California Street, Palo Alto.

So my guess is the founder(s) of java must have been a frequent customer of Printer’s Inc.

The Mollie Stone’s deli department used to be another favorite of mine. They make the biggest and the most delicious chicken salad sandwiches with a kind of bread they call Dutch Crunch. Each sandwich was large enough to serve as my lunch AND dinner.

There are a couple of other notable food places on California Street. Joanie’s Cafe , run by a French woman. I used to love their Monte Cristo sandwich. La Bodeguita Del Medio, Cuban restaurant, serves wonderful fish and they make wonderful Mojitos.

A few blocks south of California, right before getting back onto the busy Oregon Expressway, there is another lovely Italian restaurant hidden in the residential block. Behind the ivy clad fences, there was the garden of Cafe Riace Trattoria.

8. Fitzgerald Marine Reserve
This little gem located on Hwy 1, north of Half Moon Bay but south of Montara Beach. The reserve’s tidal pool is full of surprises for children and adults alike. Before you go, do check out the tide schedule so to maximize your experience in this little maze of shallow marine wonders.

In addition to the fun on the beach, do climb up the cliff and check out their little hiking trails winding through a gorgeous forest. It was made for a wedding party.

9. Planet Granite Climbing Gym

Climbing is a great way to exercise, not just one’s body, but also one’s mind. Trying to figure out how to climb a route is almost like trying to solve a geometric equation. Instead of using symbols and logic, climbers use their body and will to accomplish this task. Comparing to Mission Cliff in San Francisco, Planet Granite is more like a climbing gym for climbers, rather than a show-off place for over-achievers.
I have to admit that I have stopped climbing. But I still come to Planet Granite for Yoga classes most of the Thursdays.

10. Lake Tahoe
It is three and half hours away from Bay Area. But during Bay Area’s winter, on weekends, especially after a storm, many of the trendy restaurants/bars in SF Bay Area are rather empty. The reason is an open secret, the usual yuppie crowds are up in Tahoe. In many ways, the phenomenon ski resorts that dotted Lake Tahoe’s shores, both north and south, acted as an extension of Bay Area’s weekend life. Maybe that explained why the real estate is sky rocketing in a northern California town like Truckee, and why a pizza from Truckee Brewery could fetch for eighteen dollars.

Instead of waiting for winter to come to us, we go to winter.

A Very Long Engagement

When I first saw the preview of this movie, I wanted to see it. Then in came the reviews. Some put it together with House of Flying Dagger, calling the director a ¡°show-off¡±, some called it Am¨¦lie Goes to War, some said it was very stylish but depressing or depraved of real content.

Amidst the noisy chatters, two things convinced me to see it. One, Terry Gross¡¯s interview of the director Jean-Pierre Jeunet; Two, dotann is also interested in seeing it at Cine Arts, Palo Alto Sqaure, her favorite theatre.

In addition to Palo Alto Square, there are two other Landmark theatres in Palo Alto. I used to go to them regularly, seeing artsy fartsy movies after work. I often went alone. I got laughed at a few times because I went to theatres alone. I shrugged it off. What¡¯s wrong with seeing a movie alone? It is such a personal experience. No matter how many people you went with, you all sat in the darkness, alone. I always enjoyed the long drive home afterwards, when I could digest what I had just witnessed, experienced. As the years go by, I found out that having someone to go to the movie with is more a motivation. Kind of like going to the gym. 🙂

Back to ¡°A Very Long Engagement¡±.

It was a relief that it didn¡¯t much resemble Amelie, which I wasn¡¯t impressed with. I never understood the big fuss around Amelie. I think the director was too obsessed with packing the movie full of cuteness. The result is a surrealistic thing that only went skin deep in my heart. I saw, I laughed, and then I promptly forgot about it.

As for the critic who put ¡°A Very Long Engagement¡± side by side with ¡°House of Flying Dagger¡±, I don¡¯t know what he was smoking. If we are only looking at these two movies on their own, Zhang Yi-Mou might as well bow down and kiss Jean-Pierre¡¯s feet. There was no comparison.

Amelie is a lighthearted sappy romantic comedy. A Very Long Engagement is on the exact opposite end of the spectrum. It is heavy, sad, and right in your face reality that could suffocate you in your seat. A few times I wanted to avert my eyes, enough is enough. I¡¯ve had enough. The detailed narrative was like a cold and powerful hand clutching my nuts slowly but surely ripping it apart. Not just the French side, but the German side, also. I do appreciate the little tale told by a German soldier¡¯s sister, how the Germen were equally torn when the MMM carving cornflower was hurt.

House of Flying Dagger was as empty as a dead seashell pushed up by the wave, with no meaningful content to speak of. A Very Long Engagement¡¯s story line was not just complicated but gripping. A mystery slowly being solved, while so many people were involved and so many side stories were being developed simultaneously. The meticulously laid out clues and the tidy closure of each and everyone of those leads together waved an intricate net of stories. They, as a whole, showed not just the long engagement between Mathilde and Manech, but the long lasting sorrow WWI had spread on that ancient continent. No wonder Europe so united against war, any war, nowadays.

Last but not the least; the stunning cinematography was the fluid and stylish wave that carried the whole movie along. There was one particular moment I couldn¡¯t get out of mind. It was in the beginning of the movie. One of the five condemned prisoners was a farmer. As Mathilde¡¯s narrative voice introduced him, the camera showed he rode a horse (or was it a donkey?) cart with his wife. Golden hay was piled high on the cart. Neatly stacked. Mathilde¡¯s voice suddenly trailed off, we saw two officers stood waiting a few hundred yards down the country road. They were there to take him to war. Camera moved from the back of the farmer¡¯s donkey cart to the back of the officers, we saw a wind suddenly materialized from the bottom of the screen where the officers stood, the wind swept through all the golden fields surrounding them. In the distance, we saw the farmer stopped his cart, at that exact moment the wind had swept up the screen, reached his cart. All the hays on his cart started to fly in the wind¡­

How vivid it was, to see those golden hays flying everywhere. A neat and well organized life suddenly was broken into pieces, swept away by the whirlwind of war¡­

One final observation. I’ve never been to Brittany but had heard plenty of it. If the scenary captured by this film is in anyway the real Brittany, then it is very much like the coast of American Northwest. The sea stacks, the endless wind, the low-growing vegetations hugging the large boulders by the ocean. Made me want to go there and try to climb some rocks. 🙂

Hiking Baltimore Canyon & Cascade Canyon

There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where non intrudes,
By the deep sea,
And music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
–Lord Byron

Went hiking the past Sunday, in Marin county. We combined two small hikes into one: Baltimore Canyon and Cascade Canyon. Redwoods of Baltimore Canyon came upon us so suddenly that all of us were surprised by the prettiness materialized in front of us. Both hike trails start in mountainous residential neighborhood. People who lived there, with their spacious wooden cabins, skylight dotted roofs, large windows opened to the trees, earned many envious remarks from us.

The winter forest was damp and a bit chilly. The light was magically streaming down the tall redwoods. The merry songs of the creek followed us every step along the way. The lush ferns were happy and healthy. Mushrooms numerous.

We encountered many runners, all kinds of dogs and their well-dressed owners. ¡°The Expensive People.¡± I remarked. Gui laughed. Baltimore Canyon was slightly prettier than Cascade Canyon. But the Cascade Fall is more impressive than the Dawn Fall at the end of Baltimore Canyon trail.

more photos…

Poem: “The Haunted Palace” by Edgar Allan Poe

Meant to post this but kept on forgetting. Jan. 19th was Edgar Allan Poe’s birthday.

Poem: “The Haunted Palace”
by Edgar Allan Poe, an excerpt from The Fall of the House of Usher.

The Haunted Palace

In the greenest of our valleys,
  By good angels tenanted,
Once a fair and stately palace
  (Radiant palace) reared its head.
In the monarch Thought’s dominion
  It stood there!
Never seraph spread a pinion
  Over fabric half so fair.

Banners yellow, glorious, golden,
  On its roof did float and flow
(This, all this, was in the olden
  Time long ago);
And every gentle air that dallied
  In that sweet day,
Along the ramparts plumed and pallid,
  A wing¨¨d odor went away.

Wanderers in that happy valley
  Through two luminous windows, saw
Spirits moving musically
  To a lute’s well-tuned law;
Round about a throne where, sitting
In state his glory well befitting,
  The ruler of the realm was seen.

And all with pearl and ruby glowing
  Was the fair palace door,
Through which came flowing, flowing, flowing,
  And sparkling evermore,
A troop of echoes, whose sweet duty
  Was but to sing,
In voices of surpassing beauty,
  The wit and wisdom of their king.

But evil things, in robes of sorrow,
  Assailed the monarch’s high estate
(Ah! let us mourn, for never morrow
  Shall dawn upon him, desolate);
And round about his home the glory
  That blushed and bloomed
Is but a dim-remembered story
  Of the old time entombed.

And travellers, now, within that valley,
  Through the red-litten windows see
Vast forms that move fantastically
  To a discordant melody;
While, like a ghastly rapid river,
  Through the pale door
A hideous throng rush out forever,
  And laugh – but smile no more.

-Via The Writer’s Almanac

China Censorship

Friends visited China recently brought back promising news. How vibrant the economy is, how diverse and readily available the cuisines, how modern the society has become. Under comparison, Bay Area seemed depressing. They were even considering working in China now. An unthinkable idea a few years ago.

I haven¡¯t been back for exactly ten years. But I¡¯ve noticed the rapid advance from Chinese bloggers¡¯ writings. The open up of the society, the amazingly full social schedules for people living in the urban area, especially in Metropolis like Beijing and Shanghai.

One starts to believe that China is a brand new place, a freer, more modern society. It has taken a wiser route, unlike its stubborn and old-fashioned communist buddy, North Korean, or Cuba.

Then Zhao Zi Yang died. But we didn¡¯t hear it from any main stream media of China. We heard it on Chinese BBS, spreading like a murmur. Zhao, Zi Yang used to be the Prime Minister of China prior to 1989. Even though he has been under house arrest ever since then. One would think his death will warrant some kind of respect.

An ex-Prime Minister of a country of 12 billion, died a silent death. A hushed death. Hidden under the cover, as if something secret and dirty. Something untouchable. It reminded me of the documentary image from the banned Chinese Documentary He-Shang (The death of a river), where Liu Shao Qi, the ex-Chairman of China, died alone in a dark room, under arrest. His hair and beard has grown so long when he died, that he looked like a cave man.

I couldn¡¯t believe history is repeating itself again.

I learned the news from a Chinese BBS I frequent on a daily basis: paowang.com. Immediately someone warned the owner of the post, please be careful, we don¡¯t want to get paowang in trouble. A year ago, paowang¡¯s admin was warned by China government that its BBS has shown counter-revolutionary content. We were all prepared for the worst, thinking there won¡¯t be paowant.com anymore. But after the admin cleaned up the BBS, nothing happened. We were relieved. Thinking it is, afterall, twenty-first century. China is no longer as barbarous, as, for example, North Korean.

Coming Tuesday January 18th, 2005. paowang.com disappeared.

I found out yesterday that the hosting company of paowang.com (located in Fu Jian province in southern China) has been told that paowang.com is now banned. The hosting company itself is now under investigation of some sort. We are speculating what exactly happened, did police just barged into the data center, showed their badge and just picked up the paowang server and left?


Miltonia Blooms

Bought this Miltonia from our local farmer’s market last Summer. We were blessed with its fragrant bloom for almost two months. After the flowers wilted, i moved it from the study to our bathroom. The tiny new bulb immediately started showing rapid sign of growth. After we came back from Turkey in October, I noticed a tiny light green flower stem started poking its way out of new leaves. Slowly, the fragile looking flower buds started to transform from three tiny exclamation marks to rain drops, to small painting brush heads. The stem grew longer and stronger, the flower buds grew fat. Starting from the week before last, I started noticing the velvety color sipping through its light green wraps of the flower buds.

When the rain finally stopped, this orchid looks happier and happier, bathed in morning sunshine filtered through our bathroom window. Starting from last Monday, unable to resist its beauty and vibrant energy, I started taking one picture a day of it before I went to work. Surprisingly, it turned from tight flower buds to full blooms within a week!

But it wasn¡¯t fragrant at the beginning. I was getting worried. Mom told me that it seems to start smell nice after a couple of days of bloom. Sure enough, there is a strong scent coming out starting from the third day after it bloomed. Lovely!


Funny Cartoons

The magic of a funny cartoon.

Engineering department is on the second floor. Our main cafeteria is on the first floor. In the main cafeteria, we have an espresso machine. On the second floor, we have a small kitchen with a coffee machine, a couple of microwave ovens, a water cooler, and a frig. One day, someone stick this little cartoon figure on our coffee machine on the second floor. Now everytime i went to the kitchen, it made me smile. All the morning grumpiness could be forgiven, as long as we know the other is just a coffee lover who hadn’t had his fill of warm brown water…

Below is another cartoon that Matthew just sent me. It so accurately described how the software industry work that it is to the point of scary.

click to see a larger version

Million Dollar Baby, Sideways

I wonder if there is an official index number, which could show a person¡¯s tolerance of depression material consumption without getting oneself depressed. If there was one, mine must be above average.

That being said, I must warn you that Million Dollar Baby is one depressing movie. The only other movie I could have given the same advice would be ¡°Boys Don¡¯t Cry¡±(1999). Hmmm¡­ interesting. Swank starred in both.

Thinking back, I have to admit that I did enjoy the first two thirds of the movie. I never liked boxing, still don¡¯t. But in the movie, when Clint Eastwood was explaining how boxing work, I was fascinated, especially when he talked about foot work, about how in order to retreat, you had to advance first. ¡°In boxing, it is all backwards.¡± He said. It reminded me what I had learned from climbing, the physics of our body, and the rational behind each move, the science behind each move. Even though I still couldn¡¯t apply Eastwood¡¯s explanation when I watched the boxing matches in the movie, I did feel the thrill when Hilary Swank beat up each and every of her opponents during first round, competition after competition. The movie conveyed, efficiently and pointedly, the crispness and the awesome feeling of a good punch. I now understand a little better why the director (Eastwood) likes boxing. Even though I myself still am not a fan of this bloody sport.

It has been a couple of days since we watched the movie; I still catch myself replaying the tragic moment of the movie in my head. For the remaining of the movie, I was completely in denial. I absolutely refused, am still refusing, to accept this gut-wrenching turn of the event.

Leaving the theatre, Mi said he spent the remaining of the movie hoping for a miracle and a happy ending.

I can¡¯t venture to guess what Eastwood was trying to convey by robbing the audience of a closure, because I can¡¯t get myself pass this awkward state of being in denial. 🙁


Sideways is a funny little movie.

My favorite scene was when Miles and Maya exchanged their love for wine on the back porch at Stephanie¡¯s place. Miles explained how Pinot Noir could only be made by the most patient person, starting from the grape vine to the barrel. It reminded me of the soft-spoken, gray bearded gentlemen Mr. Wood we have met on the wine country trip Mi and I took to the Andersen Valley in 2002. We stopped by a small vineyard called Chritine Woods, the owner Mr. Wood told us that after some experiment, he had settled on making Pinot Noir and Chardonnay only.

Addicted to Internet

The other day when Gui and M were visiting, she saw I was fumbling on my laptop in the living room while Mi was in front of his eMac in the study, Gui said, ¡°Internet has became such an integral part of our lives¡­¡± I nodded, ¡°Yes. It is like electricity. We would feel so lost without it.¡±

That is reflected in movies as well. Instead of making a big deal out of it and centering an entire movie around internet, e.g. ¡°You Got Mail.¡±, it is now becoming one of the actors on set, almost. Like in Closer and Something¡¯s Gotta Give.

We chat with friends from thousands of miles away, we browse total strangers¡¯ weblog daily to find out what they ate for breakfast, we combat in a game world on-line with comrades that we had never met, we trade and we shop. We share our own experiences, and we are entertained by others.

I love the emoticon (emotion icon?) used for chat programs. My friend J told me that she noticed that she started to pick up behaviors from her yahoo emoticon. For example, there is a [rolling on the ground laughing] emoticon that we both love to use, she says now that sometimes when she hears something really funny she has the impulse to roll on the ground, while she had never done that in her life! There is another one [wow], J says now that when she is surprised, she has the tendency to shape her mouth in the O shape.

There is also the avatar that yahoo put out, where one can dress up a little cartoon character with different sweater, hat, hairstyle, pets, and backgrounds. It gave us a delight almost as enjoyable as real window shopping. 🙂

It has been ages since I last read an old-fashioned book with prints on paper, or wrote a journal entry on my diary lying quietly in the drawer of my nightstand. They would have to wait for next time that we, god forbid, lost our DSL.

## (5:53:00 PM): my friend wrote a poem
## (5:53:07 PM): So much snow, Nowhere to go, Waiting for the road, Spirit low!
## (5:53:09 PM): – Ralph Waldo Emerson (if he were a skiier)

Bee and Trains

Last night, a friend of mine was about to get off her msn, before doing so, with some unknown but surely evil intentions, sent me a problem to solve, ¡°it is fun! Try it.¡± She said Gnight.

Poor me, for the next two hours, I did something I haven’t done ever since I left college exactly ten years ago. I scrawled mathematic equations all over¡­ The equations says one thing, but my mind won¡¯t corporate. How could it be? It doesn¡¯t make any sense! I was convinced the pathetic math knowledge that I still managed not to forget was not sufficient to solve it.

Desperate and decided to stop worrying myself sick regarding the fate of this evil bee and went to bed. Before doing so, I, with some evil intention of my own, forwarded on the problem to my sister. My sister solved it with one page of formulas. Dissertation style. 🙂

So here is the problem. Enjoy!

Two trains A and B are separated by a distance of L, they started approaching each other at the speed of a and b respectively. Mean while, a bee, traveling at the speed of c, is leaving with Train A at the same time and same location. c>a, and c>b. Once c reaches train B, it immediately turns back and goes toward A, so on and so forth. Question is what is the number of round trip the bee has to travel before the two trains collide?