Arrival in Taiwan

The 13 hour flight from San Francisco to Taipei was 13 hours but they went by quickly. There are many contributing factors:

1). I flew United Airlines for the first time, and it was great because they served free meals, snacks, and beverages pretty frequently, and they had a great movie collection (there had to be at least 70 movies and TV shows which could be played on command from a personal screen).

After the lights went out (signaling that it’s “nighttime” in the day of the plane. I’m not sure if it was nighttime in California or over the Pacific where the plane was at that moment.), stewardesses walked down the aisles with trays of water cups, and that was something I’d never seen before.

I watched The Grand Hotel Budapest, Transcendence, and Million Dollar Arm, all movies that I’ve had on my watch list. I liked The Grand Hotel Budapest the most because it was funny in a very toned down way and had a very unique style.

I figured out that to avoid jet-lag, you should pay attention to your sleeping schedule in the plane. Since I left San Francisco in the afternoon and would reach Taiwan in the evening of the next day, I stayed awake so that when I reached Taipei, I would be ready to sleep. It worked!

2). I was probably used to sitting down for long periods of time because one month earlier I’d sat in a car for 6 hours each day for 6 days in a , when my family drove from Illinois to California.

Taiwan is really humid and hot. My bedroom in my host mother’s apartment (my host mother is living by herself now because her husband is mostly in China for work, and her son just left for Germany on  Rotary Youth Exchange) is the only place with an AC that is on, but the wifi only works in the humid living room that has its windows open.

The view from the apartment (we’re on the 10th floor) is really cool in the mornings:

The first day here was tough because my host mom took me to a rotary group’s meeting in Yi Lan, which on the north east coast of Taiwan and a one hour drive from Taipei. After a gigantic seafood feast with 13-14 people at one round table, we got a tour of a nature center and a presentation from a professor who works with the Yi Lan community, and then we got another tour from Mr. Coffee (his nickname) who is building a giant 4-5 story coffee factory/museum near the ocean.

Mr. Coffee put a lot of thought into the building. He made sure the roof saves rainwater, and that customers at the museum get plenty of exercises by walking the stairs. The factory/museum was half built, but we walked through all of it. Mr. Coffee made the views really nice from inside the building, with open-air staircases (and even bathrooms with no ceilings) and balconies.

The rotarians were planning a musical event that will take place on the beach in Yi Lan so we scouted out many spots along the coast of the Pacific.

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A Quick Dinner at Tava Indian Kitchen, the “Chipotle for Indian Food”

That’s what my mom called Tava Indian Kitchen: the “Indian Chipotle”. Sounds trendy.

Tava Indian Kitchen (http://www.tavaindian.com) was spotless clean and trendy-looking indeed.

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Wooden designs plus clean silver or white fonts and steel-looking table tops made Tava even more like Chipotle.

They had three options: Burroti, Bowl (rice), or Salad.

Burroti is a play on the word burrito and roti. Roti is basically an Indian flatbread or pancake. Burroti is therefore a burrito but with a roti instead of tortilla.

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The rotis are kept in small balls. To quickly prepare them, the server places one in the center of the circular machine that he has his hand on in the photo above, and presses down on it with the handle for around five seconds, and that’s an insta-roti.

You could choose from four types of protein: Chicken, Lamb, Chickpea, and Paneer (cheese). Then you got to choose between two sauces: Creamy or daal (lentils). You could add five different types of chutneys (salsa). Like Chipotle, you could have rice, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro.

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The burritos were served in aluminum foil but also in biodegradable cardboard containers and all the silverware was also eco-friendly.

The roti worked well as a tortilla on a burrito. It was a bit thicker than a tortilla but softer as well, making the burrito much more chewy. Unfortunately, the extra thickness made the burrito smaller than the burritos at Chipotle. I was not as full as I usually am after eating at Chipotle. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have any guacamole or cream cheese in my burroti like I would in a burrito at Chipotle.

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Towards the end of the meal I tried out two different types of chutney that my mom’d brought over from the server. The small plastic cups were the typical ones that you find at restaurants, with small bases that widen to a large opening. I was in the heat of the moment (actually literally, because my mouth was on fire from the peppers on my burroti but I wanted more of that spice! ), and pulled at the plastic cup too fast and it rolled out of my hand and onto my pants and shirt.

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I could barely smell the chutney on my pants and shirt after wiping it up. It reminds me of the time I spilled honey dijon salad dressing on my shirt in the middle of a 14 hour flight to China and had to sit through the entire flight with the sickening smell right under my nose because I couldn’t get up and change into another shirt because it was in a suitcase that we couldn’t get to. I am almost 100% sure that my family’s suitcase in the overhead compartment had extra clothes in it for me, but I don’t know why I didn’t eventually get a fresh change of clothes.

But I digress. In conclusion, the food at Tava Indian Kitchen was pretty simple and fast, and there are so many combinations (you can see in the first photo in this post that there are +7,000,000 different combinations for a burroti) that I’m sure anyone who goes to Tava will eventually find something that’ll hit the spot.

 

First time at an Estate Sale

I didn’t know what an estate sale was until today when my mom brought me along to two of them to look for a few household items. After two weeks we are pretty much settled into our California apartment, and we are now working on getting little things now like bookshelves (we don’t have books yet) and decorations for the walls.

Estate sales are basically like garage sales but for everything in the house (and sometimes the house is put on the market as well). I went to two houses today and only the second house allowed buyers into the house.

One interesting thing that I learned was that people hire estate sale companies to run their estate sales. At the first house we went to, there were ~10 workers that covered a wide spectrum of race and age that all wore black aprons and ran around arranging items and pricing them. At the second house, there were three latino ladies that ran things. Here are some photos from that second house:

Each company has their own way of pricing and labeling items. At the second house, they used colored buttons, which was much simpler than the first house’s method, which was having a worker come and stick a custom price onto the item.

The second house was actually really amazing and had a beautiful pool in the back and a spacious garden area right behind the front doors.

The only thing that I dislike about estate sales is that most of the items are old, dusty, and depressing, and since there are so many items in an estate sale, the house tends to look way too crowded. Some people see a bunch of cheap stuff that can be cleaned off and reused but to me it seems like a waste of time to buy them, unless you really like the item or are on a tight budget. By the end, I almost got a headache from looking at all that clutter!

Balboa Park, San Diego

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I was so glad when my mom and I decided we would be going to Balboa Park in San Diego because it meant that I didn’t need to search online for any San Diego attractions like art museums or restaurants. When I looked on Google Maps at Balboa Park, I saw that the giant park (1.875 square miles) had tens of museums and gardens. The park a 2-3 day attraction at least.

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There were so many museums in the park that I couldn’t believe it at first. How great is this park!!!

We got there around 4 pm because we’d gone to 3-4 other places in San Diego before. We found that most of the museums in Balboa Park close around 5 pm, and I was relieved because we’d gone to so many other places already that day.

Food always helps when you’re worn out from walking so we found one of the only places in Balboa park that offers substantial meals (that’s what a park guide told us), the Japanese Friendship Garden. The Garden is two acres at the moment, and it will soon be ~10 acres after some construction.

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Teriyaki Chicken Rice Bowl

The next day, we ate at the Japanese Friendship Garden again for a half-lunch half-snack that turned out to fill us up entirely so it became our lunch.

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Curry Chicken Rice Bowl

We also enjoyed the Botanical Building. I wanted to go inside because on the brochure it listed a “carnivorous bog” as one of the attractions inside, but I couldn’t find the bog. I’d actually seen it back in the building, but I didn’t recognize it until today. I was looking for some giant bubbling mess with insect carcasses floating on the surface, but after searching online I found that it was a collection of venus flytraps, flypaper traps, and pitcher plants that I’d looked at for at least two minutes that day.

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I have no idea how the log above turned out to have such a squiggly cross-section!

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The Spanish Village was really charming but we were too tired to do anything but sit underneath a tree in the colorful courtyard and look at the shops from afar.

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Jackfruit

First of all let me explain the difference between jackfruit and durian.

Jackfruit is less spiky on the outside and doesn’t smell bad like the durian does. Durian is really spiky on the outside and supposedly smells really bad. People say the inside of a durian fruit is like custard, while the inside of jackfruit is smooth and slippery (before it gets sticky).

My uncle once said that to pick out a ripe jackfruit, squeeze it with both hands to see if it gives. The softer the jackfruit, the riper it is.

I’d always heard from my dad that jackfruits have many edible pods inside them. I could picture the pods in my mind but had no idea what would be surrounding the pods. A liquid like juice? Or is it hollow inside?

I’ll try to illustrate what a jackfruit looks like once opened through some photos, but of course, you’ll understand the jackfruit much better if you see it in person.

What separates the pods inside a jackfruit are hundreds of these strips of white things, and they are smooth and almost elastic. My dad said that when he was younger, in India, people would bake these white strands into chips to eat later, so I saved a pile of the strands on the side.

So the pods are separated by these white strands, and each pod is about the size of a giant strawberry. Inside each pod is a semi-round seed the size of a nickel. The seed is usually covered by a semi-soft cover that I spit out but probably could be eaten along with the pod.

If you’re really tearing at the jackfruit you’ll usually see the seed exposed like the photo above.

I used a knife half the time. This might’ve been a mistake because as soon as I cut into the white strands near the base, close to the skin of the jackfruit, a white glue-like substance appeared where the knife cut the flesh, and things got sticky from then on. I heard two days ago from my aunt that people in India often cover their hands in oil before removing the pods from a jackfruit. The white glue was so sticky that eventually I gave up on removing pieces of the jackfruit from my fingers and just plowed through my job of pulling the pods out of the jackfruit.

I was sure that I didn’t have the right technique for preparing jackfruit. Towards the end of the process I felt like I was dismembering and dissecting an alien corpse. It was a cool experience, and I got to eat a pod once in awhile while working.

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Done!!! The bowl of pods went into the fridge for later and the white strands on the right were saved for the oven.

 

New Small Californian town: Morro Bay

My family seems to be attracted to small towns no matter where we go, perhaps because we’re from a Midwestern college town in Champaign, Illinois.  We’ve visited two small Californian towns twice each already, and we just tried out another town: Morro Bay.

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Morro Bay is a seaside town with a population of 10,000. This is the view from our motel.

Evenings and mornings were chilly. Bayfront Inn was great; they gave us free fish n’ chips coupons and cinnamon roll coupons for local businesses (we only stayed in Morro Bay for about 14 hours so we didn’t have time to use the coupons). The inn also left us complimentary salt water taffy from a local store, Capri Sun pouches, and water bottles.

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Every restaurant in Morro Bay advertised fish n’ chips, but I still got a barbecue sandwich. Really big portions!

The coolest time to walk around Morro Bay is in the morning, because of all the fog. There was thick fog that didn’t quite reach ground level. The giant rock in the first photo in this post was completely obscured by the fog.

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The dock above smelled horribly of fish and just of the sea. There were pigeons as well as seagulls, and I’d never seen pigeons in a seaside town.

Small Californian towns: Gilroy, Ojai, and Carmel

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We started off our journey to Ojai at OD’s Kitchen in Gilroy, CA (population 50,000), for breakfast. Locals lined up ten minutes before 8 am and chatted before the restaurant opened. The locals were talking about some sort of festival in Gilroy where you weren’t allowed to bring beer to drink after eating, then a Vietnam War veteran began talking about how during his time in Vietnam he drank more beer than water.

The locals were friendly to us foreigners and when one local recommended a dish on the menu, I decided to order it: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

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He recommended the “Rosebud”, which was a “Kitchen sink” (chopped up potatoes and ham) plus biscuits and gravy topped with an egg. He also recommended the thickly sliced bacon, and we ordered that too.

We got to Ojai in the evening after driving south for about 5 hours. We’d been here exactly two years ago, and we’d loved it. Ojai (pronounced Oh-hi) is a small town of 8,000 in the Ojai Valley.


My family liked three main things about Ojai.

1). Last time we were here, we visited the Pepper Tree Retreat, the former home of Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti.

2). There is a place called Meditation Mount which holds monthly meditations on the full moon. We were lucky enough to visit on the full moon this time, and attended the meditation, which started about an hour before sunset.

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There was a 30 min music session where a young man played relaxing music on a keyboard while everyone (30 ppl or so) sat in a circle on chairs, then two speakers talked about helping humanity by accessing the wisdom from our souls. The sessions stressed unity with each human being. This was the first time I’d heard of this so here’s more information: http://meditationmount.org/meditation-information/about-meditation/

Once the sun set and we’d sat in silent meditation for 10-30 minutes (I have no idea how long my eyes were closed) the leaders of the meditation led everyone outside onto the terrace and we released something we’d built up through meditation out into the Ojai Valley to help humanity.

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3). The third thing we liked about Ojai were the burritos of La Fuente Restaurant: http://www.yelp.com/biz/la-fuente-restaurant-ojai.

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Three types of salsa, each spicier than the next.

We came here two years ago and ate burritos in the hot sun outside the small restaurant because the only sitting room was outside. We liked it so much that we ate there twice last time.

This time we came here at 8:30 after the meditation on Meditation Mount for some evening food. We were glad to see that the restaurant had expanded to the adjacent store space as well, so we could sit inside. The carne burrito wasn’t as good as I’d remembered it.

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Carmel (a.k.a. Carmel-by-the-Sea, (Carmel pronounced Car-Mel(Mel like the name))), California: We’d been here exactly two years ago as well. It’s a really small, touristy town of 4,000, and the only place we’ve been to in this town was downtown. The seaside part of Carmel is also an attraction but we never left downtown.

The streets were so cobbled and sloped that apparently the municipal code prohibits high heels longer than 2 inches unless you have a permit.

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The main reason we never left downtown was a restaurant called Dametra Cafe, which served excellent Greek food. We were glad to see that Dametra, like La Fuente in Ojai, had expanded into the adjacent room. The best part about Dametra was that last time we were here, a cook came out from the kitchen to sing a song to the entire restaurant. A tall, grizzly, hook-nosed man came out to introduce the chef, holding a bouzouki, which looked like a guitar with a broken neck, and a few drummers sat in the back of the restaurant and the short, old chef began to sing.

We learned on this visit that the chef sings at least once every day at random times. And as luck would have it, he came out to sing right after we’d ordered the check.

Golden Gate Bridge

One cool thing about living on Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto is that the Caltrain station is really close and San Francisco is then only a short train ride away.

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San Francisco is usually cooler in temperature than Palo Alto because San Francisco is surrounded by water. Fog was covering the “Twin Peaks”, two hills near the center of San Francisco. Fog was covering the top of the Golden Gate Bridge for awhile. Even though I was wearing jeans and a hoodie for the first time this summer, the breeze traveling up the hilly streets of San Francisco made me cold.

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We joined the hundreds of people already walking on the bridge.

The wind intensified as we walked onto the Golden Gate Bridge. The bridge walkway was pretty cramped because cyclists were supposed take up one half of the space.

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Knowingly throwing objects off the bridge was quoted as a misdemeanor.

I overheard someone say, “The bridge isn’t golden in any way, shape, or form!”, and inside the gift shop there was a book with a title asking the same question. The bridge is that shade of orange to increase its visibility, and it’s named after the Golden Gate Strait, the area between the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay.

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Amazing view of San Francisco.

I suggest bringing extra layers to put on here because it gets really windy and chilly.

I also suggest you go to Tampopo, a Japanese restaurant in Japantown in San Francisco. They have amazing ramen and the food comes sooner than you think.

 

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Day 7: Sacramento, California to Palo Alto, California

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This post is five days late because I didn’t have access to wifi after reaching Palo Alto. We are staying on Stanford University’s Campus and didn’t get a modem and router until today. I guess I could’ve gone to a coffee shop or public library to write this post, but we were all busy unpacking and shopping for food and household supplies.

We immediately began noticing some differences between our old home in rural Illinois and our new home in urban California.

Everything in Palo Alto was clean and space efficient.

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Some space-saving bike rack

Going to Walmart was comforting because the aisles resembled the ones back in Illinois, but the store was ten times as crowded in Palo Alto.

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There were tons merchandise left on the floor and misplaced on the shelves by customers. I would’ve been shocked, but we were warned by others that this was a result of the busy lifestyle that most Californians live.

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First meal at home, eaten on a picnic blanket on the floor of the empty living room.

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It was like a cheap furniture factory for the first few days.

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One of the busiest streets in Palo Alto, El Camino Real.

Day 6: Winnemucca, Nevada to Sacramento, California

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We were actually a day’s drive away from our final destination, Palo Alto, but we wanted to take a detour to Lake Tahoe, California, so we had to stop at the end of the day in Sacramento.

We stopped in Reno, Nevada, for lunch at a Taiwanese restaurant called 101 Taiwanese Cuisine. A large section of downtown Reno was blocked off for an antique car show/competition, called “Show-n-Shine”,  as part of Reno’s Hot August Nights, a six day festival in downtown Reno. There must have been over one hundred classic cars on the road, shined for the occasion with their doors and hoods popped open.

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Owners often sat in lawn chairs on the sidewalk next to their cars.

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Everything in Reno was also really big. In Nevada, casinos are legal, and it seemed like every building downtown was a casino.

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The streets were often tiled by some sort of fake stone formation. The streets seemed sticky and smelled of urine and other bad things. The people were friendly in giving directions.

We stopped at Lake Tahoe, California, for only 45 minutes at most, because we were eager to get to our hotel. IMG_5165

We still have a few more hours of driving to Palo Alto tomorrow, then the Journey West section of my blog will finish, and the California section will begin.