Although COVID screwed our first wedding over and our plans to check out Europe for our intended honeymoon + swing over to a friend’s wedding in Hamburg, we somehow, still managed to check out Europe for 8 days.. and 25 weeks in pregnancy, I’m calling this a baby honeymoon. While I’m a planner enthusiast, I’ve been so scarred from wedding planning for 2020 that we didn’t purchase our round trip flight to Venice until mid/end October for our early November trip.
Surprisingly, it’s O’s first time to Europe. I’d think a TCK has “definitely” been to Europe, but I was ecstatic to be a part of his first visit to Europe. Aside from going to my favorite European store, Merci, I was really keen in checking out Italy for the first time as well with him. Aside from my dad assuming we’d go to Hawaii for our honeymoon *laugh* we enjoyed its stunning beaches and views already; honestly, O and I are much more of a city/island/artsy/culinary adventurer. (that’s a mouthful)
I had no idea how my pregnancy would pan out, which is partially why this was kind of whipped together last minute: 7 flights in 7 1/2 days.
Definitely not on my Euro priority list, but part of our long layover to Italy. All I remember about Frankfurt was it having heavy doors, generally pretty bleak architecture that somehow reminded me of Disneyland, and a sausage/bratwurst + beer galore – all things that I was kind of feeling meh about. While I was honestly kind of dreading it, I was relieved and happy for O since he told me he’s actually wanted to visit Frankfurt and I was happy to knock this out of his bucket list. I asked him to come up with a list of things for us to do within 7 hours, which mainly included visiting this castle via a pricey taxi, walking through a market to eat some bratwurst and sauerkraut, and more bratwurst and sauerkraut (+ ales for O)
We finally then arrived Venice, which seems like an obvious place for us to start our honeymoon at; it’s a beautiful Italian capital that is built on 100+ small islands in a lagoon within the Adriatic sea, there are no roads – only canals, and is lined with these historical, gorgeous Renaissance and Gothic palaces. However, based off of my very little research and hearing about this about a week before we departed LA, did I realize that while it’s so small and one of the most expensive areas crowded with tourists (tons of tourist traps + overpriced goods + food) it wasn’t the best choice for our Euro trip, but one of the best choices to start and leave Europe with. The fish platter by the way down there, was the best fish / sardine platter we’ve ever consumed. And we’re keeping that as our secret.
P.za San Marco, 1, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
Doge’s palace AKA Palazzo Ducale was hands down, one of the finest pieces of architecture we’ve ever seen and visited. I had no idea what to expect when approaching it, but it was obvious we were approaching it and entering it. Just like every other magnificent royal landmark, the ornate interior and artwork are so intricate and every time I visit places like this – I am blown away that it was built in its time (1340) and am awed by its beauty.
P.za San Marco, 30124 Venezia VE, Italy
I’m very embarrassed that I told O going up this was going to be a “waste” of our time/money since it was clearly the shot that I have 0 regrets on and we ascended it around sunset and I even put it in our Google sheet schedule for sunset. It was …beautiful at every side.
Since O and I have been (Neapolitan) pizza enthusiasts from living in NYC and O’s been making pizza at our home, this was a personal must for me (and us, I believed) What’s better than enjoying Neapolitan pizzas, trying to make pizzas at our home, than to literally visit the origin of pizza…? That’s right, nothing. A friend of mine thought I’d get “sick” of pizza, which I laughed at – because out of all the food out there, I will certainly not get sick of some solid Neapolitan style pizza. The pizzas in Naples if you hadn’t heard are practically all made with some of the best crust (thin and crispy on the outside with an incredibly fluffy and airy inside), slathered with some of the freshest tomato sauce, and topped with the best cheese I’ve ever had. With a list of pizzerias in my Google sheet, the one we loved most was hands down, L’antica. (The pictures of this pizza don’t show at all its justice of how amazing it tasted) and was certainly the pizzeria/meal we were happy to repeat. Other than that, we did stop by Pizzeria da Atillo for that Ricotta star pizza. Honestly, I’m not a huge flan of ricotta pizza and shouldn’t be eating so much ricotta-so while it was good, it was probably one of my less favorable pizzas I had. As for sweets, I thought I’d go running around like a child. While the gelato was amazing, the tiramisu, most of the cannoli, and babà I had was too sweet, and the tiramisu was usually so intensely drenched with rum that it felt like I was drinking alcohol.
Did I mention that flying with a bunch of beautiful clouds and being revealed Naples was probably the most epic arrival I’ve ever viewed? (The 1-hour flight from Venice through the morning was so gorgeous that O and I couldn’t stop staring outside the window instead of the quick nap we intended)
via Cesare Sersale 1/7, Naples, 80139, Italy
L’antica Pizzeria Da Michele is so good that we went there twice for just $5 a pie and it deserves its own section. If you’ve ever traveled with me, you know I never go to the same place twice unless it’s really that damn amazing. While we did half plain and half Margherita, the Margherita was so heavenly that I’m pretty sure I could have inhaled two of them. When people ask how one could consume pizza like this, it’s because if it’s Neapolitan style and made well, the ingredients are of such high quality + so fresh that it doesn’t really make you feel gross.
Via Chiaia, 1/2, 80132 Napoli NA, Italy
Espresso game in Italy was very intense activity to me but certainly shook off our jet lag and any moment of sleepiness. If you hadn’t seen Jordan Schlansky take Conan to the same Cafe Gambrinus we went to, you must. We were blessed that it was literally down the street from our AirBnb so practically every morning ritual started off with espressos at the bar that you get in, you get out and you go about your day” experience Jordan Schlansky refers to. I tried a few other drinks like the Neapolitan Cappuccino, but espresso was the drink to consume here in front of these Godfather-like baristas.
I had no idea Pompeii was so close to Naples, but it was a quick ~40 min bus ride and while we were kind of bummed that it was raining (and cold as hell) – it was a surreal architectural site. When O asked me what I wanted to see, I vividly recall reading the Eyewitness book about Pompeii being completely covered from a volcano eruption and being shocked to see images of the excavations (I never read when I was a kid) – to see the casts of these remains in real life in the general area where they were found was quite chilling. 18 hours of a volcano destroying an entire civilization into ruins.
While we love our neighborhood cafe called Capri coffee & gelato, this was a fun, dreamy island hop. After a quick 1 1/2 hr ride around the island, I learned that:
1) I’d feel nervous hopping onto a ski / gondola like lift until I got on it (practically begged O to not have me go on it but swallowed it all up + told myself to not overthink that a bar holding me from falling over ~50′ would be fine)
2) Italians really give zero shit about operating hours; no matter how “organized” we were with restaurants/planning, we had to accept whatever food was available even with this sports game that they were watching from their restaurant TV’s.
After especially learning that second lesson + it poured rain, I figured it was a perfect time to go to our next destination: Paris.
is always a good idea. Really. Even the simple buttery ham sandwich they served on the airplane was really impressive to me. I’m relieved that O and I still pushed this through even though we thought it was something we could overlook. While I originally thought of Paris as the internationally renowned hub of arts, impressionism, black noir film, high fashion, french onion soup, buttery pastries, and some overrated romantic getaway infested with trash + smoke + baguettes, it felt like the perfect, romantic getaway. While I also only came here twice previously for a day trip, I booked this sweet Airbnb that was in a truly magical location with high ceilings that captured the gorgeous streetscape.
The streets were surprisingly way cleaner than I remembered from my last 2 trips, and people seemed kinder. O and I also observed that everyone was good-looking (I think it’s because they just dress so much better than us Americans)
This was also the first time I visited Paris with a partner. After I made my mandatory swing by Merci and picked up all the plates for our home (my “gifts” to myself) – Europe was complete (ugh, I love that store and if I could, I’d fly over there to just go shopping every year and I’m not even a shopping type of person)
While I loved walking through the Louvre + laying on the grass by the Eiffel Tower with happy people picnicking with platters of cheese/sandwiches and bottles of wine, something about spontaneously walking through the Louvre + rushing over to the Eiffel Tower on our first night and watching it twinkle was so much sweeter + stunning.
1 Av. du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, 75014 Paris, France
For the next morning, I gave it all to O to figure out whatever he wanted to do and check out, which included the Catacombs of Paris: a 1,500m underground ossuary containing remains of millions of Parisians dating back from the late 18th century. While I thought descending the staircase was never-ending and made me feel a bit nauseous, this labyrinth was never-ending and apparently, “and clearly” not recommended for sensitive individuals or pregnant people like me with the few opportunities to rest. However, it was quite remarkable seeing how they so neatly organized and preserved all these skeletal remains.
After ascending back up into life, O and I continued to just walk through different streets and parks. The architecture was stunning at every angle + perspective + I had the best crepe with sardines. While I was feeling a bit defeated that we didn’t get anything for our baby boy (isn’t that what you’d do as well for a babymoon?) it was as if it was a happenstance to find ourselves right by the Little Prince, where we bought some gifts.
44-47 Passage des Panoramas 75002 Paris France
O had such a huge smile for me when although we were trying to focus on gettin some grub, we spot Arabica. Back for our first international trip (to Japan in 2017) I made it such a trek for us to go to the one in Arashiyama, Kyoto; the line was the longest line O had ever waited for – but he didn’t complain about it after he sipped. I was relieved to see that this didn’t even have a line (the barista probably thought I was overreacting in delight), and it was as delicious (I didn’t even care that it was almost 6PM) Because of how sensitive I am to coffee, O was able to enjoy it while I “almost” enjoyed the croissant.
We had so much fun that by the time we flew back to Venice, we realize that we forgot to get our COVID tests to return to LAX (sigh, look up your traveling regulations since rules have been changing on a daily basis) So while it sucked to pay ~1,000 USD to rebook another flight/AirBnb with hours of being stuck at Venice’s only airport, we did get to spend another “last” day in Venice (mainly enjoying more espresso’s and taking turns of napping in their waterbus)
7 flights in 7 days honestly wasn’t as bad as I was fearing (except for the layovers + traveling between US + Europe) but hey, at least we made it through the adventure before Omicron + Germany’s shutdown.
With NYC’s incessant spread of COVID-19 cases, O and I decided to temporarily move to LA until restaurants open/I have to go back to the office (the cue that it’s “safe” to roam + work outside) I deeply love NYC; I wanted to stay, push through to save cost and soak in the Big Apple. But after about a week of talking it through, I’ve realized that we should just drive across America (Read the end if you’re that interested) Even with remarkably cheap plane tickets at less than $50, it wasn’t worth risking our health and possibly infect others. Also, a cross country road trip was on my bucket list and something I wanted to check off. What better time is there than when there’s practically no traffic?
[Baby, I got a plan; run away fast as you can…]
Leaving our home happened so quickly; I packed about a month’s worth of clothes, toiletries, as much food and homemade meals, work supplies, entertainment, and my air plants. With 3 packed luggages and bags of various food for the road (1.5 lbs of mozzarella balls, 10 spicy salmon/smoked salmon onigiri, 2 avocados, 2 clif bars, a box of apples, and more) …we left.
With swarms trying to leave NYC as if it was the apocalypse, we took the last car available at La Guardia’s National- a Jeep. I can’t express how hilariously painful it was to ride in it, nor imagine what it would’ve been like driving our 2871+ miles across the country, but fortunately, we exchanged it for a free upgrade later that night to a Mercedes GLA250. Since Trump had just considered closing New York’s borders earlier that day, we quickly packed at least 15 days of quarantine-2 months worth of prized belongings and left New York State by midnight. I don’t know about you, but I deeply didn’t and don’t want to be stuck at a random state during a nationwide season of chaos.
While it would normally make sense to plan an itinerary for a multi-day trip, we had to improvise much more than we’d normally do. Neither O nor I planned any pit stops, nor knew where we’d stay each night because we wanted to leave as soon as possible that weekend to avoid a NY parking ticket and arrive O’s LA home as quickly as possible so that I could rest before working by Wednesday 6AM. While switching off drivers throughout the night might make sense to get to our destination ASAP, I didn’t want to pull an allnighter because that could potentially put us into danger, accidents, and/or more costs. Thus, we began our journey across the United States AKA the 21st century version of Oregon Trail.
Driving from LGA through SoHo and out was surreal and weirdly reminiscent of Star Tours. After we passed the state line, I felt a rush of adrenaline that helped us navigate to a hotel in Pennsylvania by 2AM.
Start Time: 11:58 PM
Time: 2 hrs
Distance: 950 mi
After inhaling some homemade milk tea with mozzarella balls, we breezed through several northeastern states. We passed through West Virginia so quickly that I forgot to even play <em>Driving Home, Country Roads</em>. Because we wanted to check out the Mississippi river and we’d finished about 12 hours of driving, we decided to check into a hotel in St. Louis.
Start Time: 9:48 AM
Distance: 1050 mi
Thanks to Dosh, we were able to stay at the gorgeous Drury Plaza Hotel St. Louis at the Arch for just a small handful of dollars than the cigarette infused motel down the street. While the crime and homicide rate in St. Louis was a little unsettling, I felt really relaxed and relieved in the hotel and woke up to one of the most gorgeous sunrises.
While we did hope to snag some BBQ through Amarillo, Texas, 2 out of the 3 were closed/sold out of food. So, we settled to drive through Crazy Larry’s BBQ. Did it fulfill my cravings for southern food? ..Sadly, it didn’t (I wonder if it’s because I didn’t have baby back ribs) But hey, who knew New Mexico sunsets were also stunning?
Start Time: 9:10 AM
Distance: 1050 mi
Out of all gorgeous views of the sky and everything that we drove by, the ancient petroglyphs at the petroglyph national monument in Albaquerque were the highlight of the trip. I didn’t know what to expect in New Mexico, but stepping out from our car a bit to do a peaceful hike by ourselves while seeing various art engravings on glyphs was so personal and mesmerizing. What were these artists thinking and what was their motivation? What were they inspired by? How did they survive 300+ years? Who knows…
..and along Arizona’s Route 66, we grabbed some of the most delicious tacos + churro (thank you Tacos Los Altos!) and headed for our last stretch to California with some of the most stunning sunsets along Led Zeppelin’s Going to California and 2Pac ‘s California Love.
Start Time: 11:24 AM
Distance: 812 mi
I couldn’t help but think damn, this is why people love California. It never felt so good to be back in masks and to quarantine. With the 4 day car rental of our sweet GLA, GLA’s mileage of ~27 mpg, 9 gas station stops, 4.5 tolls, occasional food/drinks, everything cost about $900. I’m sure if you strategize and plan your itinerary, you could make it across much cheaper.
But would I recommend a cross country road trip? Absolutely-if you have at least 1 fun partner, good podcasts like Conan Needs a Friend, Office Ladies, a singalong playlist that includes Weezer’s Blue Album, Radiohead’s The Bends, and the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack – oh and of course, hopefully a comfortable car like our GLA. Of course, nothing screams Welcome to California more than IN N OUT.
Fast forward to a week after arriving LA-With the whole stay v. leave NYC, controversy, I do understand the sensitivity and extent of “stay home saves lives.” There is so much talk about why leaving NY is selfish, but do I regret coming? No.
I deeply love NYC and left a part of my heart there. I wanted to endure everything and happily cook and paint in my tiny little apartment. At least a handful of us couldn’t even step outside nor order food without wondering if a door knob was infected or a delivery person/groceries/package might be COVID19 infected – which could ultimately lead to paranoia, angst within my building or apartment itself. It’s almost appalling that some residents believe that the truly devoted and selfless New Yorkers are those who stick in tiny NY homes through the hell.
With the ongoing xenophobic “Chinese virus” talk and various assaults happening throughout the country, I also believe that we have to look out for ourselves and our loved ones, which hopefully includes our community. If we have to step out for a few days in a car to be in a larger, brighter home …and that lifestyle that could strengthen my relationships + build new ones, then yes x1000.
Summary of our cross country ride:
Total Distance: 2812 mi
Time: 68 hours
Rather than stressing ourselves about our wedding (6-ish months away?!) + splurging for a honeymoon, O and I decided to break out of cold and bleak NYC into the hearts of tropical Bali as our pre-wedding honeymoon. Except, it didn’t start off as dreamy as we thought; we landed in Denpasar mainly frantic about my missing outfit for our pre wedding shoot. Fortunately, the streets of Seminyak and Paulina Katarina saved us by delivering the breezy shirt dress to my hotel within 15 hours. Another plus – our hotel had everything we wanted: lush nature, gorgeous architecture and interiors done by our colleague Jess’s father’s firm, and a private beach front.
Oh, and did you know that Bali is known for its gorgeous waterfalls as well? After I saw gorgeous waterfalls online, I had to snag photos of us in one.
Jl. Ir. Sutami, Kemenuh, Kec. Sukawati, Kabupaten Gianyar,
Bali 80581, Indonesia
Thanks to our USC architecture colleague Jessica and her dad, we were able to stay at the hotel designed by her dad’s firm for 3 glorious nights, 3.5 heavenly days with morning yoga, lagoon lounges, and a private beach. The chic and contemporary hotel doesn’t need much introduction, but we love it for the beachside pool, views, and how all of this nests in nature. I visited it back in 2015 as my first trip to Bali and loved it with Jessica.
Photos don’t do justice, but seriously, lounging at the lagoon with nasi ayam and other delicious Indonesian dishes was nothing less than excellent.
Jl. Danau Tamblingan, Sanur, Kec. Denpasar Sel., Kota Denpasar, Bali 80228, Indonesia
This pre-wedding honeymoon was particularly mentally powerful for overcoming fears. While I just learned how to properly swim a month ago thanks to Coach Brian, I truly overcame my fear of water by completely submerging myself in all kinds of water, including sitting 35 feet on Nusa Penida’s ocean floor. A few lessons I’ve also learned (the hard way) from our two dives:
Lesson #1: Quickly figure out a way to adapt to the water pressure changes while descending/ascending or your ears and head will be in excruciating pain
Lesson #1: Do not drink seawater or you’ll feel nauseous enough to be projectile vommitting through scuba diving equipment or over the boat.
Lesson #3: Water can get damn cold; there is no shame wearing 2 wetsuits.
While I wanted to have pre-wedding photos of us taken by a waterfall, I wanted to also suspend myself off of a waterfall. While there are few waterfalls you can jump off of, the infamous Aling Aling and its jump-offable cliffs were on the other side of the island, 75 damn km away. I’ve never been so proud to be with a man who was willing to drive us up (literally, up mountains into clouds of wind + rain) on a motorbike for his first time. We only live once, right?
According to O, waterfall/cliff jumping was going to be “much easier” than scuba diving. But honestly, walking up to a cliff with a crowd of people watching me finally stand at the tip of a 10m high cliff to jump off of.. released so much adrenaline that my heart was beating as if I ran a mile and my body was trembling in anxiety. I had to meet that minuscule margin of error; over-rotating or incorrectly angling myself within the 5 seconds would hurt – probably badly. Yet as soon as our guide walked over to me, claimed that I wasn’t ready and suggested I skip it, I insisted that I was ready to jump off; I’ve been having an incredible year and we didn’t come all the way up here for me to just stand and walk away.
Before I knew it, I jumped off the cliff, somehow angled myself at a 15 degree angle and hurt my ass as I broke the water. Seconds later, I floated back up as gracefully as possible, more eager than ever to get back onto land, hug O, and move on to graceful waterfall slides. As Tupac says, “…life goes on.”
Lesson #1: “Anything that’s not straight up and down is really going to hurt.” -Orlando Duque
Lesson #2: Jump off with arms out left/right, then toes and arms as straight and close to the body right before hitting the water with feet first.
Jl. Raya Desa Sambangan, Sambangan, Kec. Sukasada, Kabupaten Buleleng,
Bali 81161, Indonesia
Aside from staying at Sanur’s gorgeous 5 star hotel, I wanted half of our trip’s accommodation in something more atypical of a honeymoon: a treehouse. Of course, you could find any accommodation via Airbnb. I found this gem that wasn’t only a treehouse that sits on a tree with branches protruding in/out of, but that was also in Ubud, another town that I wanted to explore. Showering in a treehouse immersed with lush leaves was one of the most bizarre feelings we’ve ever had.
Hars, the owner, manager, architect, landlord, entrepreneur of the property is truly the 21st century Renaissance man. Every morning he prepared and served us breakfast from below in another treehouse dining room. Starting every morning with home-grown fruits, vegetables, and potato patties that’s sourced just feet away brought us so much joy.
If you know me, you know that I am obsessed with visiting local cafes at every endeavor around the world. Once we learned that our photographer Nat and her aunt owned a pet project cafe, we slipped in some time to visit the cafe gem (snug within a car wash, next to Nat’s uncle’s barbershop) Their industrial and cozy cafe also embraces urban coffee culture overseas (their favorites being hole in the walls) while also respectfully using Balinese arabica beans in a humble way. While I am a huge sucker for arabica coffee, we could clearly tell that the cafe is clearly driven by nostalgia… from the delicate dainty ceramics (I couldn’t help but feel like I was at my grandma’s) and the photography books (literally, the same one I owned and referred to) …We just couldn’t ask for a sweeter, sentimental way to leave Bali.
And last but not least, every time I visit a country, I love swinging by at least one local cafe (who doesn’t know that?!). This time, we swung by our prewedding photographer’s cafe. Yeah, how cool is she?! Nat so happened to help start up this smitten cafe, Oli Kopi. – right alongside her uncle’s barbershop, within a car wash (we had to find a way to swing by, and we literally did just before we departed Bali)
To this date, Bali is the paradise trip that made me not even want to sleep-to an extent that I got sick as soon as I came back to NYC.
Kerobokan Kelod, North Kuta, Badung Regency,
Bali 80365, Indonesia
While I was in London, I figured I might as well swing by Paris on my own. Since I was jet lagged for the first 2 days in London, I figured I might as well just take the first train ride to Paris. One all nighter for traveling wasn’t uncommon for me, but 2 hours of sleep on 2 days was entirely a new level that I hope none of us has to endure. But because I was too excited and tossed/turned all night (calling friends of different time zones) I bounced off C’s bed and quickly caught the bus for my 6am train ride to Paris + ridiculous security protocols. (Eurostar is the way to go. Shame on America for not having transportation services like that)
And before I knew it, I arrived Paris within a few hours. My first and last time I visited Paris was back in 2014 and an entirely different experience with my Itoya coworkers (who paid for us to visit everything including the Louvre, Eiffel Tower, and Palais Garnier via Taxi)
Immediately after arriving Paris (ah, the good ol’ Gare du Nord) + picking up train tickets, my priority was to grab a croissant …obviously, further away from the station/shopping. Something about walking down boulevards with no reception was very liberating. As soon as I found a hole in the wall bakery along my path, I walked in. I didn’t even know how to pay for the croissant (nor ask for it), but began pointing at one and am (optimistically) sure that the French owner didn’t overcharge me. That flaky, buttery croissant just smiled at me and spoke to me that I was officially in Paris. And that’s how I really woke up to Paris.
Because I didn’t really plan/RSVP this trip either, I couldn’t visit Musee d’orsay and Atelier des Lumières (damn you Mondays + Pre-sale tickets) However, I did manage to scavenge my way through various city zones and got a good glimpse of the streets. Paris’s metro to me is Tokyo’s metro + NYC’s metro; Efficient with automated announcements, but strangely filthy. Somehow, every train I’ve been on is cooler than NYC’s. I’m still traveling to see which can disprove that.
Whenever I was tired or felt defeated, I grabbed more buttery carbs like this huge galette (+ a glass of champagne) to regain energy.
Fortunately, one museum I was able to step into was Musée d’Orsay, with a fantastic collection of Van Gogh’s water lilies. My photograph doesn’t even capture a quarter of how dainty and wonderful it is to be in the space with lilies that large. Something about museums that I realized I’m disturbed by is when people papparazi around an art piece and take too many selfies for me to never get to. Something that I love about museums is re-experiencing brush strokes, particularly Impressionist work.
Although I’m not a shopping enthusiast, the only shop C recommended me to check out was Merci (but before, a kickass French waittress at Merci’s cafe gave me that wonderful detox tea that really, kicked my ass)
Merci’s store is impressively well curated, quaint, and dangerous with a superb collection of various textiles, accessories, furniture, home decor, stationery, and beauty products (basically, everything I love). If American Apparel + Anthropolgoie + West Elm altogether gave birth, then Merci would be their offspring. Merci tempts me to go all the way back to Paris just to pick up another plate.Although I’m not a shopping enthusiast, the only shop C recommended me to check out was Merci (but before, a kickass French waittress at Merci’s cafe gave me that wonderful detox tea that really, kicked my ass)
While I was a bit concerned about how I’d freely and quickly explore Paris on foot without having to #RentAFrench, be fluent in French, nor carry a fanny pack for my passport, I’m quite proud to say that I did everything I wanted to do…and more. Something about my solo day trip in Paris made me very proud to be a woman. (Was it because I’m a designer? Because I didn’t look suspicious? Because I didn’t keep looking down at my phone?) Whatever the reason was, France made me feel fantastic. Paris is certainly comparable to NYC in having filthy streets. But somehow, it’s still so much more romantic and chic.
My favorite type of tofu is now the yuuba. With a burner heating a pot of tofu soup, I’ve learned to use a bamboo stick to pick up layers and layers of tofu skins gradually. Who knew tofu could be served in so many ways. The first time I came to this comforting tofu restaurant was with my Kyoto friend, Rika-chan. Ever since then, it’s been a tradition for me to visit the Kiyomizudera temple and tofu restaurant everytime I come to Kyoto. And of course, end with tofu ice cream – creamy, slightly sweet with subtle flavors of soymilk and tofu.
Before/after tofu and ice cream I know it’s always a good idea to swing by Kiyomizu dera aka “Water Temple” – which was and is always particularly beautiful in the fall, not necessarily for their light show nor the swarms of tourists in kimonos, but how gorgeously red and vibrant it stands with bright leaves – naturally and from all angles.
This Shinto shrine of thousands of gorgeous Torii gates is perhaps most infamous. there’s no wonder why it’s featured in so many films, music videos, posters, art in general. This is hands down, a favorite stop that I love walking up in early mornings. While I should’ve truly believed my friend that there isn’t much at the top, O and I hiked to the top.
3-47, Sagatenryuji Susukinobabacho, Ukyo-ku
Kyoto 616-8385 Japan
Although I never like to wait in long lines nor be associated with coffee snobs, I always make time for Arabica Coffee, particularly the one next to the breathtaking Arashiyama river. After I saw Arabica Coffee in a magazine last year, A and I taxied over first thing in the morning and was alright with just a few people in front of us in line; A liked it so much that he went again the next day – and bought a bag of coffee beans to bring back home. Not sure if we were just lucky then going in early in the morning or if it’s gained so much more popular by now, but even after O and I taxied over on a Friday morning, we had to wait a good 30-ish+ minutes in a line full of other coffee enthusiasts/photographers/foreigners around the world. No, they don’t offer seating, but yes you can sit outside and enjoy the gorgeous scenery or you have to rent that space for $10 per hour.
I’m still seriously amused by their consistency in serving superb coffee in such small space with mobs of customers. Something about the coffee beans being brought from high elevations elevates my experience.
I also tell my friends who want to see the Golden pavillion, to visit either by sunrise/early morning or sunset; it’s one of the best things you could do for your soul. O and I arrived shortly before it started raining and the sun set, which created such a heavenly experience.
Since I’ve been particularly fascinated with history and learned more about samurai and imperial history, I fall in love with Nijo castle and am always mesmerized by how sophisticated the Japanese culture has been throughout centuries and how well they preserve their culture. Although photos are prohibited, I well…. accidentally snagged a few.
Kyoto wouldn’t be Kyoto for me without the nostalgic Mister Donut “pon-de-ring” – this very chewy sugar coated donut that’s filled with mochi. Thank God there is one in Kyoto station. I always love to snag one (or two) as soon as I arrive and just before I leave. Something about that texture in donut form…
Our one night stay in our tiny little hotel in Shimogyo-ku was not only traditional and clean, but so serene with the phenomenal view. Who knew sleeping on the floor could be so dreamy. This time I also appreciated Kyoto just as much or more than I had Tokyo. Not sure if it’s because I’ve gotten older, or if it’s because I was so much busier in Tokyo meeting with friends and old coworkers, or if it’s a mix of those and Kyoto’s traditional architecture and general serenity made it so much more peaceful than our lives in New York City.
Ever since I grew up in Orange County and moved on, I felt embarrassed because there’s a handful of people having bad/snobby impressions of me…because I grew up close to where they filmed the OC, (a T.V. drama series of spoiled high school drama-driven posh kids getting busted for all sorts of crimes but still having loving hot parents) AND I went to USC for college (AKA University of Spoiled Children) but hey, I got my ass kicked in Tokyo, and drive a Corolla. so does that possibly even things out?
To grow my cooking blog, try to complete a new recipe every week, run errands, and to “slow down” from the bustling in LA, I’ve been going back to O.C. every weekend. I’ve learned to love it because of how chaotic/difficult it is to drive and park through L.A. and spend time with my mom, dog, and childhood friends.
I found two (somewhat new) places that I love going to.
1) Hopper and Burr
202 W 4th St
Santa Ana, CA 92701
Hopper and Burr’s second location: (relatively quiet) minimalist and sleek cafe, awesome customer service, cool menu projected out from above, outlets, magazines, clean tables, and relatively cheap parking.. I ordered a latte, then tried this refreshing “egg cream” (a creamy citrus drink… like a step up from the orange julius?) AND finished drawing my Yuzu Blueberry Biscotti recipe and a few Kinfolk articles. What a productive Sunday. I definitely want to come back to work on my other recipes and read their other magazines.
2) Anaheim Packing District
440 S Anaheim Blvd, Anaheim, CA 92805
This is a renovated 42,000 food court from a 1919 Sunkist (citrus) packing house. If you don’t know what the O.C. stands for, it’s Orange County. Orange County grew its crops and focused on oranges in the early 1900s… and millions of crops were planted. I also love my orange tree because it’s really refreshing. So my friend from THIRD GRADE, Andrew C. – proposed we check out this newly renovated food court. It’s basically like the O.C. Mart Mix – industrial boutique stores where cool hipster kids hangout and grab grub, coffee, beer, candles and home decor items.
My first 18 hours from LA TO SF from Friday to Saturday were the most traumatizing and exhausting hours of traveling in my life. And my trip overall was filled some of the biggest lows and highs. LA’s insane storm on Friday was so awful that the Uber surge pushed my ride from downtown LA to LAX airport to $85 (almost as much as my flight) Then after arriving the airport, my flight time was delayed 10 times, with 4 gate changes across the airport. I was too afraid of falling asleep, moving around, and my phone dying. I was initially scheduled to depart at 9:30 PM, then eventually scheduled to 2:51 A.M. But thankfully an engineer fixed one of the planes to set up a new flight and I made the list of passengers to take that 1:30 AM flight.
By the time I got to SFO at about 3 AM, my friend who I planned to stay with… fell asleep, so I was left wandering around lost and completely drained at 4:30 AM. Thank God- My friend’s boyfriend picked up her phone, called me back and ran out to save me and bring me in. I was so traumatized from my night that I was shaking and couldn’t sleep more than 3 minutes. I thought things would get better after having coffee and breakfast with our solid group, but while we were eating, my friend got his parked car windows slashed, battery died, and we were waiting for over an hour for cops and AAA to help.
I forgot my dress for a wedding in my friend’s closet..and by then I regretted my itinerary. But Andrew picked us up and dropped us off at the nearest BART station so we could make it to the Palace of Fine Arts, really a stunning architectural masterpiece… and thus allowed us to walk over to check out the nearby Wave Organs (these man made PVC pipes that create different sounds of splashes and splashes when the waves hits these instruments)…. really soothing.
On Sunday, after a heavenly 8.5 hours of sleep with Nyquil, I reserved a popup lunch in Russan Hill for Andrew and me and he drove us for Feastly, which includes rotating featured chefs with temporary menus for you to RSVP for. I’d never heard of it, but Feastly’s popup meals extends throughout several states including San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Portland, Chicago, and Washington D.C. This lunch really lightened my terrifying Friday because I had the chance to meet and talk with the chef, Andrew, photographer, and manager, Monica. Surprisingly, their space doesn’t include vents… can you imagine how hard it must be to cook without a vent…?
The main reason why I came was to attend my Gamble House roommate, Cece’s wedding. She’d tell me at USC that her family only allowed her to marry a guy in the same tribe as her from Nigeria…. and she met him in NYC. Cece is truly, one of the smartest and talented individuals/architects I know – she won so many scholarships that the school asked her to stop applying because she hogged too many… I feel pretty lame next to her.
Anyway, as for the wedding- it was engaging and really cultural to see all her tribal rituals carried out after the ceremony. The ceremony lasted about 30 minutes and ended by 5/5:30. but the ceremony after lasted until at least 11 when I realized…crap, I have to get up at 4 A.M. to catch my flight because yes, I had to work on Memorial Day. Anyway, it feels good to be back in so-cal. Until next time, peace SF!
I was addicted to traveling in 2016. But yes, flights are damn expensive. I still want to continue to travel to at least one destination every month, so to take it down I decided to go on a road trip. My architect friend Mikey proposed to drive up to Big Sur just as refreshing getaway from the ton of architecture wall sections and the busy city life I’m surrounded with.
Big Sur is known as the “great meeting of land and water in the world” and is a 90 mile stretch along central California. Look at that coastal fog from the waves that crash against the coast. Check out that Bixby Bridge. I watched Death Cab perform the song, “Bixby Canyon Bridge” live and would sing along to it in my car but wonder what it must be like. That reinforced concrete / open spandrel arch bridge is incredible. Yes, Ben Gibbard wrote this song while he was staying in a cabin in Big Sur.
Surprise! I’ve never been to NYC. They say NYC is the “American version of Tokyo,” which is why I considered moving to NYC without even being here, and I’m extremely glad that I’ve visited. Out of all places I’ve traveled, this was the best vacation. I ate and drank an ungodly amount of food and drinks, walked at least 8 + miles every day, met some solid old and new friends/instagrammers, and also had my own solid time of solitude. Plus I slept like a fat baby.
2016 was hands down, the shittiest year of my life… was it yours too? I’m so relieved that I’ve made it to 2017. Although I’ve gotten fatter from NYC because I ate like a fat king who’s probably going to have major heart problems, I’m happier and stronger. Cheers to all of us and 2017 – a better, happier year of more opportunities and better friendships.
Such a pleasant 1.45 mile long park to admire NYC’s skyline. We’ve all studied this through architecture at some point for landscape and furniture design inspiration.
My first 12 hours in NYC were quite disastrous. For dinner, I ate a lobster roll that my brother highly encouraged to try because I thought my lobster allergies were gone. On my walk back through Times Square a food delivery guy walked into me, dropping all his food down to the floor. I apologized and kept walking, but 2 blocks later, he demanded me to pay $28 and to cover the food. Stunned and hoping nothing worse would happen, I paid him $15 in cash because it’s also his responsibility as a food delivery man to get the food delivered safely and dodge me, right? Oh, then I was throwing up over the toilet from the lobster allergies until 2AM. Then on my way to brunch, a man was pushed into my train track… It only got exponentially better after this.
EN JAPANESE BRASSERIE
435 Hudson St, New York, NY 10014
I loved this restaurant so much that I ate here twice (dinner with my brother and his friends and lunch with my cousin) En Japanese Brasserie specializes in Kyoto cuisine with homemade silky tofu, sticky mochi, smooth miso cod, and blowfish sashimi. (yes, I did not die) I love the interior ambience: the smooth leather seats, elegant menu, and soft background jazz / Ella Fitzgerald. This comforting restaurant takes me back to Japan and adds a classy jazzy twist. We can easily spend 2 hours just lounging here. I highly recommend this restaurant for lunch/dinner.
FLATIRON, WORLD TRADER CENTER, 9/11 MEMORIAL, THE OCULUS
The Flatiron is a wedge situated architectural precedent that I’ve been studying for my current residential project in San Francisco…. and the 9/11 memorial was very emotional and leaves us all breathless. The oculus, a transportation hub and shopping center in the world trade center that cost a whopping $4 billion…opened this year. I came to these sites three times as well for moments of reflection and solitude.
BLACK SEED BAGELS + MILE END DELI
Thanks to Addison O’Dea and Alex Ostroff, I was able to snap some photos of my first bagel and a few Canadian dishes. My first NYC bagel: Smoked salmon with sliced beets and dill sandwiched between an everything bagel. As a food photographer, you have to avoid customers and for me it required me to wake up and come by 7AM.
(L) Poutine is this Canadian dish that consists of french fries with thick gravy and gooey cheese curds. But Mile End brought it up another level by adding beef chunks… imagine having this at 8AM…. Probably the deadliest/heaviest/amazing breakfast I’ve ever had.
(R) Latkes are Jewish potato pancakes that are traditionally served during the Hanukkah festival. The word latke, derived from Russian / Ukranians, simply means patch, but it’s still typically referred to as the potato pancake dish.
The MET and MOMA have such a crazy extensive collection of arts. I think I spent at least 2-3 hours in each. I highly recommend both.
DESSERTS AT DOMINIQUE ANSEL BAKERY, LADY M CAKE BOUTIQUE, 7 POINTS ESPRESSO, AND THE GOOD BATCH.
Alright. That’s it for now… Bring it on, 2017!
It’s been only 4 months since I moved from Tokyo to LA. But after those most horrifying first few months of my life, I booked my flight to Tokyo to pamper myself and make my transition from home to home a bit smoother. Although I lived 15 years in California (5 of it in Los Angeles) I still feel like half of my heart is in Tokyo. Living and working just over 2 years in Japan made me feel like I’ve lived and learned 20 more years.
I’ve realized all the foreigners and Japanese individuals I’ve worked and befriended with in Tokyo are older, worldly designers, builders, go-getters, do-ers. We all wanted to escape from something and/or find something greater in our lives. The Tokyo lifestyle I became accustomed to kept my mind, hands, and feet busy with designing, photographing, and cooking, but it also made me afraid to rest and sleep – because I became too afraid to miss an incredible moment and opportunity. And by the end of my journey, to leave my incredible friends – my family, all my memories and incredible projects we worked on together behind, to move back to Los Angeles – was the scariest move that I had to do by myself. Some tell me I moved not only back, but backwards in life. And it still hurts.
I specifically want to thank not only the loyal friends who reached out to me for support in this season of uncertainty, but also the friends who accompanied me as I re-visited Japan. My head spun with excitement, nervousness, and anxiety as I organized, but my architecture colleagues who flew in from all cities throughout the states and accompanied me reminded me to truly let it all go and enjoy this trip. Surely, it is quite exhausting to lead a group of 5 guys through their first time in Japan, yet we were able to organize appropriate roles for each of us to contribute our skill sets to the trip.
The experience of going through Japan is extremely different as a visitor versus a full-time working designer and resident. The grass is typically greener on the other side (of the world) But I think when all things come crashing down on you, it’s appropraite to be selfish in pampering yourself- escape from all daily life duties, regain your wholesomeness, and go out as far as possible. Lately, I’ve also been interested in creating my own job between the United states and Japan because I am certain that both cultures can contribute and benefit to one another in regards to design, art, social issues, and cuisine. I’m not a fluent translator, nor am I an expert architect/chef/politician, but I have a huge heart for serving both countries and I believe the powers of kickass food and kickass design can improve lives. Japan clearly excels in the culinary and art; Japan consists2x more architects than in the states, and consists of the most Michelin restaurants in the world. Simply growing up in the states as an American woman has taught me to speak up, work collaboratively, and fight the fuck on and for others for my rights, our rights. And I believe this can resolve Japan’s social issues on depression, overworking hours, gender inequality, and high suicidal rates.
This 10 day trip through Japan has helped me step closer to creating this job by re-uniting with some of the most talented designers and chefs in the world. And I want to translate the best of both worlds to everyone. This trip also wouldn’t have been as great if it weren’t for the handful of designers and chefs throughout Japan that reached out to us with such hospitality. The crew that accompanied me were my 5 architecture colleagues: Benny W. and Marcos C. from LA, Andrew L. from SF, Jordan R. from Seattle, and Spencer M. from CLV. Our itinerary covered 4 major cities: 1) Tokyo, 2) Kyoto, 3) Kanazawa (my solo trip), and 4) Naoshima.
I first visited Tokyo, my hometown and neighbors in Nikotama, sped through my favorite streets and buildings through Shibuya, and caught up with a few Itoya coworkers, Satsuki-san and Miyasaka-san in Omotesando and Ginza. Then just before catching a shinkansen/bullet train to Kyoto, I visited my previous firm JMA, for lunch and with my interior design team, visited a multi-purpose office project that I also worked on in Kanda. Fortunately, it was just one stop away from Tokyo station so after checking out the progress and patterning of M3, I was able to quickly re-unite with the rest of my crew and head out to Kyoto.
I first met Irven Ni, Cordon Bleu Paris alumni, in Tokyo at a Nikken Sekkei/Kuma house party during my first year in Japan. He’s this British humored/shit talker, yet smooth gentleman who I was astounded by because he would cook up anything delicious and new in the kitchen instantly for me. He inspires many including me with his courageous background story: He quit his actuary job years ago, traveled around the world for a year, and courageously took the leap to become a chef 3 years ago. After he studied French cuisine in Le Cordon Bleu for a year, he moved to Tokyo to further develop his French cuisine, and eventually farewelled me goodbye on my last evening in Tokyo. While I moved to Los Angeles in July, he moved to Kyoto to work as a chef in 3-star rated Michelin restaurant, Kikunoi. After I told Irven that I was visiting Japan this November, Irven invited me and my friends for a stunning kaiseki lunch. We were welcomed by the restaurant owner’s daughter, and gestured into a gorgeous 9-tatami sized private room with a Japanese garden and pond that Irven specially selected for us. Notes from the restaurant and chef’s statements: “Kaiseki means a traditional multi-course Japanese meal. Yet originally, kai means bosom and seki means stone… and over the years, the word came to mean light meals to ward off the pangs of an empty stomach.” Our menu for the month of Shimotsuki (November) consisted of: anglerfish liver, mibuna, karasumi, kuwai chips, duck liver pate with white poppy seeds, maple leaf shaped cuttlefish coated with pickled sea urchin, tai sashimi, bluefin tuna, vinegared chrsanthemum petals, curled udo stalks and carrots, red tilefish steamed with chestnuts, lotus root salad, quail dumplings boiled in a hot pot, mochi and rice steamed in sake, topped with salmon roe, fermented black bean paste skewered on pine needles, and persimmon splashed with brandy.
It was truly a sensational, heartwarming gift to enjoy this kaiseki lunch with hot sake made by my friend and his team, in a private, carefully arranged and decored room, especially while cold rain started pouring outside. At the end of this evening, Irven and his friends treated me to drinks at Fishbowl in Kyoto, while he introduced me to other international Michelin chefs and taught me how he poured sake into my rice halfway done before it finished to make it melt in my mouth.
I couldn’t help but break the silence and laugh at the scale comparison of Andrew and the chairs they gave us. I’m relieved that Andrew didn’t complain about the pain of his legs/back, and it’s probably because every mouthful of the 3 hour meal, gulping sounds of endless refills of hot sake, and ambience were that damn divine.
And me being me, restless and anxious to catch some espresso (and photography) shots at Arashiyama’s Arabica, I woke up soon after sunrise to catch a cab and head out for Arashiyama’s Abrica coffee.
I’m still trying to be better, stronger, independent, happier, and conquer obstacles in the morning, so I made this one day getaway break by waking up early and taking another 3-hour shinkansen ride to Kanazawa. I came here once with my boyfriend at the time and coming here alone was strange, sad, but also kind of refreshing with bittersweet memories. I’ve been so determined to move on and free myself of all bad memories by moving forward and I practiced shooting more photos of contemporary design by swinging by the Umimirai library (to my bitter disappointment, the library was closed temporarily and the website didn’t post an update on that) so I only caught a few exterior shots and visited a few other parts of SANAA’s 21 contemporary art museum I didn’t get to see before. I’ve been obsessed with Maruni chairs and these by SANAA are just so lovely. But I fear that if I were to purchase one, it’d break on me because of the rate of all the sushi balls, ice cream, and drinks I’ve been intaking.
The guys and I then took another shinkansen to Okayama, a train to Uno station, then a ferry to Naoshima Island. Naoshima reminded me of a remote secret agent headquarter island, and Ando’s Benessee and Chichu museum reminded me of a villian’s lair. (enter whatever 007 quotes you can think of) After biking about 10 minutes uphill and walking into Chichu’s Art Museum’s of mystery (and works by Monet, Turrel, and Walter de Maria) we were all left breathless. Ando always does a fascinating job angling light and designing with concrete. His concrete is always so smooth that you want to rub your face all over it and touch everything you shouldn’t touch. Although photos are strictly prohibited (and I was called out countless times with curators even following and watching me put away my camera) I snapped no less than a hundred photos. And after Andrew jumped on top of Yayoi’s pumpkin, I’m pretty sure Andrew and I are one of the least welcomed back onto the island.
Now, it’s been a few days since I’ve been back and better from Japan. And I’m really excited to continue exchanging all kinds of baked and handcrafted goods with my old and new friends here and abroad this holiday season. It’s a sweet time of giving and receiving. Bring in the last few weeks of 2016. I’m ready to kick the shit to the very end of 2016 and run through Boston, New York City, to start off 2017.
After wrapping up a Revit presentation of our current mid-rise SF project, I flew up to San Francisco and reunited with one of my best friends from Architecture school. A.L sat next to me on our first day of studio, and although our friendship has extended to this brutal LDF, I’m incredibly thankful to have designers/friends like him in my circle. My last trip to San Francisco was just this past December, but I booked this flight to SF for the purposes to have another getaway from Los Angeles and to reunite with some solid friends while I check out new cafes/potential upcoming collaborative projects. My schedule was slammed back to back and the lack of sleep from the previous week + heat tormented my skin and flared up my eczema. But, thank you so much A.L. for driving me to every destination for me to reunite with architecture colleagues + Japanese friends from Tokyo and Osaka, waiting in lines for me, keeping me cool, and for taking such wonderful care of me. San Francisco was again, so stellar.
1. Song Tea and Ceramics
2120 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94115
I found this tea shop with A.L the last time I swung by San Francisco. This time, I didn’t get the chance to see Peter Luong, founder of Song Tea and Ceramics, but I happily picked up some Snow Jasmine tea to bring back to LA.
2. The Elite cafe
2049 Fillmore St
San Francisco, CA 94115
While my eczema was completely tearing my skin apart, A.L found me some shade and a place for us to settle down in a cooler area. It’s been too long since I’ve had southern comfort food, and just one of these buttery biscuits fulfilled every longing.
3. The Mill
736 Divisadero St
San Francisco, CA 94117
The Mill is also a great resting / afternoon spot, with sweet stacks of fresh loaves of bread (coming straight out of the open oven), a selection of Dandelion chocolates and pastries that go perfectly well with your coffee and sketchbook.
4. Tartine Manufactory
595 Alabama St
San Francisco, CA 94110
Tartine Manufactory is this up and coming San Francisco cafe that combines a bakery + restaurant + bar + ice cream parlor + coffee shop into one heavenly space at the corner next to Blue Bottle. I was initially invited to join brunch with my Japanese girlfriends at Bar Tartine, but because of my misreading and clash in dates/schedules, and a friend working in Tartine Manufactory, A.L and I decided to scrap the Bar Tartine brunch idea and instead swing over here for brunch. Although the line is a drag and the circulation – a mess (a bit of a clusterfuck especially on Saturday mornings that mislead customers with a bad sense of direction), the tables were great and the food? … fantastic.
A.L. and I settled on the porchetta sandwich (a stack of assorted meats and vegetables covered in a buttery bun) with a liege waffle. (A.L opted for the house coffee while I chugged my drip of Blue Bottle)
5. SF MOMA (extension design by Snohetta)
151 3rd St
San Francisco, CA 94103
Right after Tartine Manufactory, we quickly drifted to SF MOMA to check out the extension/renovation by Snohetta. Thanks Anish for the SF MOMA tickets + A.L. for capturing the candid portrait of me.
6. Samovar Tea Lounge
Yerba Buena Gardens
730 Howard St
San Francisco, CA 94103
I came here to reunite with another tea enthusiast blogger who I met in Tokyo. This duck jook was so damn tasty and the bottomless pu-reh teas really calmed me down after a restless weekend. I’m really excited to see what upcoming projects both Steph + I can steep up in the near future.
Unable to sleep for the hundredth time, I called Catalina Express at 6:00 AM and bought the last ticket bound for Catalina Island on Saturday morning. I left at 5:30 AM for the harbor, boarded and arrived Avalon at 8:00 AM with my brown satchel and phone that died minutes later.
My motives for solo getaways is to liberate myself, strengthen myself, be better in problem solving independently, and discover beautiful things, places, and people. Growing up, I believed fulfilling dreams quickly = success = beauty. Now, I’m done with being pissed at myself for not fulfilling my dreams by 25. I aspired to have a cookbook published, a few recipes featured on Foodnetwork, knock out a few ARE exams, and marry a solid handsome gentleman by 25. I aspired to bust babies out by 32 and hand them brown paper bag lunches every morning at the door and prepare heartwarming comfort dinners for my husband and kids to come home to. I’ve been invited as a single individual to 14 weddings within the past 3 years, and now, I’ve accepted the fact that my dreams weren’t/won’t be fulfilled because of how naiive, stubborn, and impatient I’ve been with them. Surely I’m still determined to fulfill my dreams. Yet I forgot that many pursuits demand a period of solitude, patience, and reflection.
One thing I really love about traveling solo is that I can do whatever the hell I want, whenever. This includes a pretzel caramel stracciatella gelato in a thick, buttery waffle cone for breakfast (and chugging large iced coffees with extra espresso shots) on a Saturday morning in mid-September.
I spent the rest of my morning walking along the harbor, sketching and painting on a bench, sliding through pockets of downtown alleys to check out boutique shops and skim articles of various architecture/interiors/fashion/trashy girl magazines. By noon, I went up inland, encountered a few water buffalo, appropriately devoured some juicy, tender buffalo tacos at the peak, got lost, found a talented musician playing and singing one of my favorite songs, “Israel Kamakawiwo’ole-Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” on the ukelele. My heart sank and I almost cried as the beautiful performance ended.
On my way to Descanso Beach Club, I walked underneath the arcades of the Catalina casino, sunk onto the sand with a refreshing mojito slush while reading the latest issue of Bon Appetit. A drunk, sunburnt white dude stumbled into me as he pounded his party straw hat over my hat. He started talking to me in broken English while I was eating oysters and I couldn’t stop laughing. We fooled around and discussed stealthy acts of what we could do to cause the restaurant more problems. It’s really fun meeting other strange locals and/or travelers. A tease here and there. Not expecting more/less. A polite nod, smile, and laugh. Aside from whatever personal stories/experiences that fall into our conversations, the only personal information I give to strangers who ask, is my first name. I enjoy sharing stories with some encouragement / thought to ponder about – nothing more.
Then I was surrounded by blondes in bikinis and sailor hats shouting and spanking each other in a train lineup around a bar to an EDM version of Journey’s Don’t Stop Believin’, old chubby wrinkly sunburnt shirtless men and Latino girlfriends stroking their tattoo arms. Although it was really cute and amusing, I realized how alone and out of place I was socially and culturally. In Japan, none of these (nor me being by myself) would be proudly exposed, because these generally aren’t considered beautiful. Then I wondered what really is beautiful? For my thesis in architecture school, I investigated the definition of beauty by discussing the art of Mary Cassatt, Degas, and Angelo Merendino. I concluded that beauty is timeless, not bound by gender roles nor cultural standards. Beauty is always emotionally evocative, timeless, and always motivates you to do something out of ordinary. Now I furthermore believe It requires strength, to stand boldly, with or without support.
By sunset, I painted by the shore for T and continued to walk around the harbor, play some arcade games with hot cocoa, and while I sat and waited exhausted on the sand for the last yacht to take me back home, I read my favorite excerpt of my favorite poem again:
And indeed there will be time
For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,
Rubbing its back upon the window panes;
There will be time, there will be time
To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;
There will be time to murder and create,
And time for all the works and days of hands
That lift and drop a question on your plate;
Time for you and time for me,
And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.
In the room the women come and go
Talking of Michelangelo.
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
-The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Elliot
“On Labor Day and Memorial Day weekends, we travel for miles on roads without seeing another vehicle, then cross a federal highway and look at cars strung bumper to bumper to the horizon.”
— The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (current read)
My 2 busy weeks of cramming my home improvement project for a photoshoot + Revit and poche cramming for Tuesday’s client deadline finally ended. Since Tim was getting even busier, we parted, I left on Sunday morning for my solo getaway; I put on my travel essentials: Uniqlo leggings, tank, New Balance running shoes, Northface backpack, and packed my open back Bali spa onesie, Franco Sarto leather sandals, black moto jacket, an extra pair of lingerie, skincare essentials, watercolor sketchbook, palette, brushes, novel, Kinfolk mag, Banh Mi sandwich from mom, latte from Zweet cafe, and $40 cash ($20 for refilling gas, $20 for whatever needed food/drink/emergency)
Throughout my years I’ve refrained from driving for long hours and hiking by myself because of fear. But after spending too much time at home and in the office, Tim truly inspired me with his solo road trip stories. I decided to leave everything, just drive, explore, and go solo. No trip advisor / Yelp / texts / phone calls. There’s something very liberating about making an as-you-go adventure for yourself in unfamiliar places. And there’s the risk of going solo as a woman with health insurance still being processed. But pushing all my excuses aside, I drove 250+ miles up north, listened to some solid Radiolab podcasts, then blasted and sang along to every track on Weezer’s Blue album and Avril Lavigne’s Let Go. I was in search to fulfill my list: 1) Trail 2) Something strange 3) Seafood 4) Beach (and somewhere along the line, read and paint a bit)
After rushing into the Jack in the Box restroom, I drove up to the very peak of a steep neighborhood and found the beginning to Bishop Peak Trail. The lack of signage, the unstable boulders piled on ridiculously steep hills really caused me to struggle. Within 30 minutes of this trail, I was completely alone, lost, and surrounded by poison ivy and other weird bugs I thought only existed in Lion King, so I decided to jog towards whatever light and open space I could find, which led me to this sunny spot of solitude. I sat, felt and heard nothing but really cold wind blowing my hair in front of my face for a good 10 minutes. Since it was getting really cold and a bit dark, I decided to drive out towards downtown.
2. Something strange.
I’ve heard about this gum wall, but didn’t know where it was. I didn’t know I would walk right by it after sipping on some sparkling pear tea, reading at Cafe Scout, refilling coins at my parking meter. Yet the wall is pretty obvious because of the kids shrieking and laughing, and the smell is quite disgusting as you proceed through the alley. But walking through it, reading messages that people wrote with their gum – was quite fascinating. I too wish I had gum to sign my name with.
Years ago when my brother and I swung by Pismo beach, we swung by Splash cafe for their award winning, kick ass clam chowder. Although I was getting really cold, I wanted some seafood that came in something other than in the form of soup And I found it: 2 Shrimp tacos drizzled with this creamy, pesto glaze for $7.50.
4 . Beach.
Just around the corner of the main street towards the pier, I picked up ice cream (another great choice as I was shivering). Luckily, this hole in the wall, janky looking ice cream parlor just had everything I wanted at that moment to fulfill my sweet cravings: sea salt caramel ice cream with a chocolate dipped cone. While I was sketching a mountain and enjoying the sunset by the pier, a few Brazilian men who seemed French, asked me to take photos for them and told me that my English was great. I laughed and we exchanged our travels / living abroad stories. I found myself agreeing with them on so many levels of LA: Unfriendly, cold people in sunglasses, crappy public transportation, yet good weather, an extensive variety of food options and cuisines, and laid back lifestyle with a hodgepodge of cultures.
Would I do this solo getaway again? Hell yes. Next up, Catalina Island.
This week I had the pleasure to meet with Kirk Bairian, Co-founder of No Greater Good Magazine, and take him around Tokyo for the weekend while sharing my experience for his magazine! Thanks again Kirk for entrusting me for the weekend! Excerpt taken from original published post here
My name’s Lillian Lin. I’m a full time Interior Designer.. chef, blogger, and photographer who moved from Los Angeles to Tokyo in May 2014. You can follow up with my latest recipes on TheChefcharette.com and my adventures on my personal blog: Lillianlin.com!
a. What drove you to Tokyo?
Throughout my childhood, I loved cooking, arts and crafts, and architecture.. and I was always mesmerized by Japanese cuisine, art, and culture. I was so keen to learn how to properly assemble a bento box and package gifts so well since I loved preparing meals, baking and shipping cookies for friends… and I also wanted to learn to live more minimally and nourish my own future family well. All the Japanese moms I’ve also met have always excelled in all these hospitality and household managing areas…so I thought I could really learn from them to apply these skills into my life since I’m so passionate about design, hospitality, and building a bright, future family.
While I was studying architecture at USC, I was accepted a job opportunity to design this rooftop cafe in Ginza for Itoya, this stationery company I was interning for in their LA office. Itoya invited me to come, move to Tokyo as soon as possible, so I had to fly in a week after graduating and start working on this project immediately…Hahah It was an INSANE transition, since I had to move out of my apartment,say goodbye to all my friends within a week, start learning Japanese quickly since hardly anybody in the office spoke English, and I was completely financially broke… but I believed it was an amazing opportunity I couldn’t miss and that it was worth immersing myself in this culture that excels in all areas I wanted to grow…Although it’s still been a difficult journey, I’m very thankful that I came and am at this point today, because the experience of working and living here has definitely honed all the hospitality, design, and woman skills I wanted to hone.
b. What’s been the hardest aspect of Japanese culture to adapt to? The easiest?
I think the hardest aspect of Japanese culture is the communication barrier…not necessarily speaking and listening to the language (which is difficult), but more-so understanding, accepting, and committing to Japanese standards. I think Japanese expectations are generally exponentially higher and stricter than American/European standards… Particularly, the Japanese working environment is very unique, strict, traditional, and usually not flexible. I’ve been working here for almost two years and although I’m very used to constant bowing and speaking like this Japanese…secretary, it’s still a very physically, mentally difficult environment to adapt to.The easiest is figuring out things to do and what to eat, whether you’re by yourself or with friends. Japan comes up with some of the craziest, strangest, and most fun activities that are easily accessible all over the country so my friends and I never get bored. The food and restaurant standards are so high that you don’t need to Yelp or check with people for food recommendations. You can easily walk into a random place and find something at least decent to eat… People even waited 2 hours for the Taco Bell here since it tastes exponentially better than the ones in America haha.
c. We know the Japanese aren’t exactly famous for their love of human interaction. Do you find this to be true, and is it affecting you at all?
Hahah oh yes… I actually didn’t know this about Japan until I settled in. But I was totally creeped out when I walked into a ramen restaurant with my senpai (professional mentor) and couldn’t see him nor the person serving food to me. I was sitting on a small stool, facing a counter, and there was a wooden board in front of me and against my sides… I watched the board in front slightly lift and hands pop out with my ramen…and had to talk to my senpai by listening through the wooden boards between us. It was SO weird and awkward to me. I eventually started feeling really uncomfortable and depressed since I went months without a hug/handshake…so my friend convinced me to buy this Duffy stuffed animal at Tokyo Disneyland so I had “someone” to hug and sleep with at night. And I seriously spent my only $40 in my wallet then on this stuffed animal for unlimited hugs and more loving nights…
d. I’ve been reading a lot of Japanese fiction lately (cough Murakami cough), and it seems that there’s always this aspect of… surrealism, or sense of magic that pervades everyday life. Do you think this is just the vestiges of ancient Japanese mysticism, or a vehicle of escape from the soul-crushing banality of the salary-man life? Or both? Or should I just stop reading so much Murakami?
I’ve actually never finished reading a Murakami book… oops…. hahah, so I’m not sure if I understand your question. But I think there is a strange aspect of surrealism here because it’s so crowded here and a lot of us still tend to feel extremely lonely and troubled to express our feelings and ideas…especially with all this high technology and little human interaction and . It’s hard to explain but even though I keep myself preoccupied with work and friends, I definitely feel it.. Especially when I’m squished commuting in trains to work, or when I hike, run, visit parks, shrines… explore and travel through Japan by myself.
e. Best food? Best coffee?
Food-wise, I am a huge sucker for izakayas. They’re basically these small, cozy, loud and lively Japanese gastropubs that serve a variety of yakitori (chicken skewers) and other traditional Japanese comfort food and drinks. My local friends and coworkers typically go to these after work or any evening and spend hours in them having a blast. Sometimes we’ll also order nomihoudai, a 2 hour all you can drink option. For something more upscale and intimate, I like Kachou in Ginza – my last CEO surprised me by treating me and my friends to a private dinner here for my last night at my first job. The interior and food presentation is absolutely stunning with gorgeous fine wallpaper, napkins, floral arrangements, and shoji screens.
My favorite coffee shop was this coffee kiosk called Omotesando Koffee; it was this 3×3 meter cube coffee kiosk tucked away in a 60 year old traditional Japanese house in Omotesando. It was always an obstacle to get to since it’s tucked away in a neighborhood, but that was part of the fun of it. Eventually you’d step into this mysterious wooden cube with delicately arranged lights and paper bags…and finally reach the counter and order from this ridiculously good looking, pleasant Japanese gentleman – barista – owner. He made the best macchiato and even small cheesecake cubes. It was like…this coffee ritual experience I enjoyed by myself on weekends. But since it sadly closed at the end of 2015, I’ve been searching for the next best coffee in Tokyo.
f. I’m in town for one night – where are you taking me? Let’s get wild.
First, we’ll eat an early dinner at an izakaya and nomihoudai (all you can drink) with a Japanese set course menu for 2 hours, run through Harajuku’s Takeshita and Shibuya’s crossing, blast through the arcades, karaoke and bar hop in Shinjuku’s Golden Gai / micro-sized pubs, take kawaii purikura photobooth pictures that filter us to make our faces look thinner and eyes look ginormous, club 11PM – 5AM in Roppongi, and eat ramen for breakfast and green tea ice cream waffles in Lawson’s until you really have to leave… You can sleep on the airplane.
I’ve promised myself I won’t leave Japan with any lingering bitterness. And after last year’s excruciating 8-hour Fuji-san climb through hail for a cloudy sunrise, I couldn’t look at a Mt. Fuji postcard without flashbacks of misery and disappointment. Thus, this year I forced myself to re-climb it.
Difficulty breathing through the night and a pain through the legs, up the ass for days is still, an understatement of how painful the Mount Fuji climb is (quoted by experienced climber friend) Nonetheless, between July and August, thousands of individuals from all over the world compete to reach the summit by sunrise. The sunrise on Fuji-san’s summit is truly, a sensational hit/miss- unpredictably cloudy/clear. Furthermore, after you celebrate whatever glory and that victory ramen breakfast on this summit, you realize, “F- I’m only halfway done, I still have to shuffle all the way back 4-5 hours down the steepest trail with dead ankles.”
This explains the Japanese proverb: A wise man will climb Mt Fuji once; a fool will climb Mt. Fuji twice.
After being teased for my second attempt, I still agreed to re-conquer it in July with my work-out partner / Swedish friend, Carl-Ray. And yes, after compromising on this safe and efficient strategy, we killed the memory of my first bitter experience with this sensational victory.
1) Physically prepare: We built up cardio by hiking together and regularly running several kilometers together at night (I ran at least 120 km each month) 24 hrs prior to the climb, don’t drink / smoke/ run, but sleep as much as possible.
2) Choose your partner/team wisely: We agreed to climb as a pair because we were comfortable with each other’s schedule and pace; A bigger team/joining a tour would stall us (more bathroom breaks, more wasted time, etc) There are plenty of opportunities to befriend other awesome individual climbers, so we climbed parts with them as well.
3) Coordinate in packing: Both of us carried waterproof backpacks and bags, proper clothes, and several 100 yen coins for bathroom/water/emergency food. I carried our oxygen can, extra headlamp/batteries, heat packs, clif bars, medication for altitude sickness, and skincare while he carried our space blanket, gauze, 2L water, energy drinks, and my DSLR. (I highly recommend each individual to carry their own space blanket and oxygen can)
4) Regularly check the weather and NOT go during heavy rain/typhoon: Climbing during rain/hail last year was not only difficult and miserable, but extremely dangerous. This time, we regularly checked the Fuji live cam for the weather at http://www.fujigoko.tv/
5) Plan for emergencies: Fill out safety forms and emergency contact information; both of us brought our ID cards and 2 cell phones. We also promised to not leave each other behind, no matter how anxious we are to reach the summit by sunrise.
6) Organize transportation: I reserved and purchased bus tickets online @ http://highway-buses.jp/fuji/ to leave Shinjuku station by 3:30 PM and arrive Mount Fuji’s 5th station by 5:30-6:30PM. (If you plan to rest halfway at a hut, you should leave Shinjuku station by 10 AM and start climbing by noon-1 PM) Carl-Ray purchased our return tickets to Shinjuku station at the central bus ticket booth after we finished our climb.
7) Plan a climbing schedule: Our plan was to climb to the summit from Friday 9:30 P.M to Saturday 4:20 A.M to avoid the heaviest crowds along Yoshida trail. Since 8-9th station takes significantly longer, and the 9th station-summit sometimes requires 3 seconds for one step, we quickened our pace to beat the crowds to make it by sunrise. From 6:30 AM to 10:00 AM, we descended back to 5th station.
Because of unpredictable crowds and our anxiety to successfully reach the summit before sunrise, we began climbing up earlier than intended: 6:30 PM. By 8 PM, my head began pounding with a headache/altitude sickness and I fell behind in the dark, so Carl-Ray took my backpack. After I took some extra strength ibuprofen, I healed and we continued up as quickly as possible with few breaks.
Climbing Fuji-san was generally pleasant underneath millions of quiet stars, until we climbed from the 8th to 9th station by around midnight. This is not only the longest stretch, steepest, with thinner air, but by then we were really fatigued. Since we struggled through it impatiently and deliriously, we slightly cut the trail and lineup of climbers to the 9th station, and semi-unconsciously entered through the white torii gate as we reached the summit at a whopping record: 2:30 AM (2 hours early)
Reaching the summit was our Titanic moment. It was dark, freezing, windy, and only 4 other seemingly dead climbers were at the summit – completely silent, mummified tightly in space blankets. Carl-Ray and I collapsed at the front/edge of the cliff and desperately covered ourselves in as many clothes we could find (literally boxers on his head and socks on his ears, heattech and hats down my bra, all heat packs madly ripped apart against our bodies..no pictures, hah) We huddled ourselves in one space blanket while uncontrollably shaking and confessing to each other that we might not be conscious by sunrise…As I curled up in fetal position on a wooden plank, I even plead last words that I want all my friends back home to know I love them terribly. We fell into a state of delirium… and woke up at around 4:15 AM with the sound of paparazzi of at least 100 climbers behind us with cameras.
And then this happened:
We gazed out to the distance, breathless in silence. It feels unreal to stand at the very edge of a 3776m high cliff. It’s like you’re floating in the middle of a beautiful 360 painting that’s changing in hues and saturation… a panoramic of several famous Japanese sansui paintings.
I’m sure that as the sun rose, several individuals also visualized a new dream they wanted to fulfill in life. After Carl-Ray asked me where Tokyo was, I realized my dream was to find out where my home was. I actually felt lonely and confused with scattered Holden Caulfield thoughts. I’m tempted to say my home is LA because I terribly miss my friends and want to cook, bake, and photograph in an actual kitchen for them. Yet I fear that if I call LA my home, I’ll struggle with major reverse culture shock and my friends will move on to other states. After being so distant from my remaining family, I actually also don’t feel that I have a family to go back to anymore; it tears me that family members discourage me from returning to them because they believe I’m meant to do “greater things” afar… and after listening to the heartbreaking cries of my over-worked/under-compensated Japanese friends, my heart also sinks at the idea of leaving them.
But I also fear that if I call Tokyo my home, I’ll never finish this cookbook, forget how to hug, and die as an exhausted, unmarried, child-less woman. As my European friends here also ask me to move on to Europe with them, I fear that if I call Europe my home, Vienna’s Opera House won’t be worth drawing in my sketchbook anymore and a galette won’t be heartwarming to bake anymore.
I hugged Carl-Ray and realized that I should stop being such an anxious ‘what if’ / control freak and simply cherish my present moments. Carl-Ray is returning to his home in Sweden soon… I’ll eventually find my way to my home…wherever that beautiful place is. Although I struggle with this loneliness and distance, I’m incredibly thankful to be able to communicate with friends abroad- I love these opportunities of exchanging postcards, paintings, cookies, and films with friends wherever I’m at – may it be the summit of Mount Fuji, for the second time.