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I went on a quick road trip to Monterey Bay this past weekend with Jian & our little bean. We had a really fun time taking a scenic drive & enjoying the good weather. Our main purpose on this trip was to not only introduce our little bean to a new place, but to take her to a proper aquarium (the Shark Reef attraction at the Mandalay Bay casino hotel in Las Vegas does not count). All in all, we had a great time eating lots of seafood, hanging out at the Cannery row & the wharf areas, as well as exploring spots that were new to us, like the Lighthouse district & the hipster spots in the downtown area.

Jellyfish at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

One thing I reluctantly decided to do while we were in Monterey was to book a spa massage at our hotel. Jian always encourages me to take advantage of the extra amenities (anything other than ordering room service) at the hotels we stay at on our vacations, but I am always stopping myself & making excuses not to do anything extra. I find it to be too extravagant & expensive. Doing things like getting a spa massage makes me feel selfish (in a non self-care kind of way), & I’d rather spend the money on my little bean instead.

This time Jian convinced me to book a spa appointment & treat myself to a massage. I guess he was feeling extra generous that weekend, specially since he got a new job working at a mega brand name tech company. He said he could handle our little bean by himself for an hour or two, having some quality father-daughter time. So, I bit the bullet, pushed aside all of my inner overreactions & excuses & booked an appointment. Well, I’ll just say it outright. I was simultaneously looking forward to getting a tension-relieving massage & looking forward to getting it over with.

I have had a couple of spa massages in my life. This wasn’t my first experience. Most of those past experiences were a waste of time & money, & a few of them stood out as being exceptionally memorable. Well, only one massage experience stands out in my memory as being the best massage I ever had & it was at a family-style ranch resort. My sister had plans for her kids to go swimming in the pool, learn how to feed chickens & ride horses all while my mom & I made plans to get shiatsu massages. That masseuse worked out every kink & knot in my body to the point of hurts-so-good pain. I nearly cried “ouch” out loud. I could feel every single nerve ending & muscle in my body being electrified in the best way imaginable. I was basically having a massage-gasm. It was incredible.

On this trip, however, I did not have the same experience, not even close. Don’t get me wrong. The masseuse I had in this experience was an absolutely delightful woman. She could not have made me feel more comfortable & relaxed. It was through my own stupidity, though, that I did not properly communicate or express my preferences.

Throughout most of the massage, I was feeling so ticklish all over my body. The masseuse noticed me wincing once in reaction to being tickled, & had asked me to tell her if I was feeling ticklish, but I was feeling too embarrassed to say anything after that. The appointment went very well. We had a fun time talking to each other & telling stories about our families. The massage itself was satisfying. It wasn’t a rock-my-world experience like the one I had before, but it was still adequate. I didn’t exactly feel like all my knots & kinks were relieved, but I did feel more relaxed & calm. Over all, it was a soothing massage.

Most often, almost always, when I think about getting a professional massage I stop myself with my own self-insecurities & weird quirks. First off, I’m very insecure about my own body image & shy away from professional massage therapists from seeing my exposed body rolls. Oh, & never mind my apprehension in changing my clothes in the shared dressing room. Next, I am not sure if I am supposed to keep making polite small talk, or if it’s ok to be quiet, like, am I being rude if I don’t engage in a friendly conversation? Also, I am never sure how much I am supposed to give in gratuity, & who am I supposed to give it to (i.e. charge the gratuity to my bill, or directly tip the professional in person?). Then, there are more news stories popping up about spas being fined for having pervy, handsy employees. Lastly, it’s the massage oils that deters me from getting massages; well, it’s more like the smells of massage oils that deter me. I just can’t stand the smell of any massage oil/lotion/product.

This is a big issue for me. Never mind the fact that I feel like an absolute grease ball afterwards, but I just can’t get rid of that unpleasant plastic-y coconut-y smell. I understand that not all massage oils smell bad, but the ones that I have encountered have all evoked an unpleasant feeling for me personally. Immediately after the massage, before I put my clothes back on, I vigorously wiped myself down with a towel. It was useless. In my mind, I still felt greasy & sticky afterwards. The smell, oh the smell!

The massage oil smelled like a cross between plastic & old cooking oil from a sketchy Chinese restaurant. I could not wait to get back to my hotel room for a thorough scrub down in the shower. I even made sure to scrub myself twice with extra body wash & my loofa towel, but the scent still lingered everywhere. Not even dousing myself in cologne could mask the odor smell of the massage oil. For the rest of the day, I couldn’t help but feel paranoid that all I could smell was the scent of the massage oil all over me. Maybe it was some sort of psychological reaction I was having, & I was so fixated on the smell that I was imagining that I could smell it everywhere. That was the perfect time for my quirky OCD behavior to pop up & drive me crazy.

Just the aroma of any massage oil is enough to turn me away from getting massages in the future, but I believe that with more careful planning, & communication on my part, I would probably get more massages in the future. Oh man, I wish I could go back to that ranch resort again just to book another epic shiatsu massage. Hopefully that resort has survived through the pandemic. Right now though, I don’t think I will be interested in going to a spa for quite a long while. Until the next time, I gotta work on being less ticklish. Cheers, all!

Today’s song of the day:

I’m officially back from Vancity, & I just want to say that we all had a blast! I felt like an awkward tourist that stood out like a sore thumb whenever I walked out of my hotel lobby wearing my thick jacket & scarf each day. I mean, seriously, I don’t know how the locals are able to walk in the brisk/chilly weather wearing what I would consider to be nothing (but actually thin layers), some wearing only t-shirts & thin hoodies, & I saw some girls actually wearing skimpy dresses. I’ve experienced crisp, cold weather like this before, but I still could not imagine wearing such thin layers. I probably looked like the Michelin tire mascot the whole time I was in Vancouver. My mom surprisingly had no major issues with her sciatica (no flare ups), & all the walking we did around the city did wonders for her physical therapy regimen. Well, now that I’ve gotten that little intro blurb out of the way, let me get on with it.


THE WEATHER

It was freaking beautiful the whole time we stayed in Vancouver. We thought it was going to rain the entire time we were supposed to be there, so we brought our rain coats & compact umbrellas, but we practically had no need for them. It seems Mother Nature had cried out all her tears the week before we arrived, so it was sunny with mild wind nearly every day. There was only one day where it barely drizzled, but nothing that required us to pull out our umbrellas. It wasn’t nearly as cold as we thought it would be. A couple of Jian’s co-workers explained to him that the weather was supposed to be much colder than it had been during that time, & that kind of scared us a little bit, but in the end the weather wasn’t much different from the cold wintery days of San Francisco.

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THE ACCOMMODATIONS

We stayed in the Yaletown neighborhood, right behind the BC Place Stadium, at the DOUGLAS (an Autograph Collection) hotel. The hotel was very close to Jian’s office in the Olympic Village area. He could walk to his office in approximately 15 minutes or so. First of all, I loved the neighborhood of our hotel. It was so convienient to get anywhere around Vancouver proper. I loved our hotel even more. The staff were super friendly, & the service was excellent. I was the most charmed by the architecture & decor of the hotel itself. It was a mix of modern city living, contemporary luxury, & mid-century modern. I took some photos of our room for your reference. I feel like for three people, the room might feel a little too cozy for some, but if there were only two people, then the room size would be adequate.

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THE FOOD

I’m not very much of a fan of fusion style food, but I ate quite a bit of it while I was in Vancouver. One of the first fusion style restaurants we ate at was called PIDGIN, & I think Jian just single-handedly turned me into a bona fide foie gras fan after trying their infamous foie gras rice bowl (a.k.a. donburi, 丼). After listening to the many times Jian had raved & gushed over this restaurant (especially raving about the rice bowl), I decided to try this restaurant, just to make him happy. Jian was not wrong. In fact, he was so very right. We shared the foie gras rice bowl & a dish of sweetbreads. I can clearly see why Jian loves this restaurant so much & has to eat there at least once on every trip to Vancouver. This restaurant has a great Japanese-Korean-French fusion style, but they also make killer cocktails. Sorry, we don’t have any photos of this famous rice bowl…we always end up digging right in as soon as the food arrives, without even thinking of a photo-op.

Another fusion style restaurant we tried was called BAO BEI CHINESE BRASSERIE (宝貝, a.k.a. treasured object). This restaurant is pretty popular, since it’s owner(s) are trying to revive the nearby Chinatown area by opening this restaurant there.  The place serves Chinese-French/ish fusion food, but we were not too impressed with the dishes we ordered based on our first impressions. Also, although the restaurant interiors looked hip & swanky, the space itself was rather tight (as in small). I think that if we have a second chance, I would like to visit this restaurant again, & see if the second go will change my impression of this Chinese-French/ish cuisine.

One of the most memorable eateries I tried in Vancouver was, of all places, a bakery called SMALL VICTORY BAKERY. Oh, man! I ate at this bakery at least three times during my stay in Vancity. Yes, that’s how much I enjoyed the pastries (& the coffee!) at this fine establishment. Plus, it was super close to my hotel, still in Yaletown, so it was easy for me to pop over there for a nice hot cup of drip coffee & a freshly baked treat. The decor & the font of the bakery’s logo remind me a little of our MR. HOLMES BAKEHOUSE here in San Francisco.

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We also ate at various other delicious eating establishments like: THE FLYING PIG, MINAMITUC CRAFT KITCHEN & TETSU SUSHI BAR. At The Flying Pig, I’ve never seen my mom devour a whole plate of tri-tip steak sandwich and shoestring fries. It was very delicious (& incredibly filling), & the restaurant’s menu items reminded me of the typical California-style cuisine I’m used to back home. Jian was very eager to introduce us to Minami, a very traditional Japanese restaurant, where we could try their version of box sushi (a.k.a. Oshizushi, 押し寿司). I don’t really eat boxed sushi, mostly because I don’t like warm sushi topped with warm, cooked fish. The textures & sometimes flavor don’t appeal to me, but the boxed sushi at Minami is definitely worth a try. I tried their version, & genuinely liked it.

When we ate at TUC, I didn’t know that I’d be scarfing down a 12 ounce slab of porterhouse steak. It was massive! OK, so I didn’t actually eat the entire 12 ounces of meat; I shared a little with my mom & Jian, so I pretty much ate close to 10-11 ounces of juicy, flavorful steak. Yum!

Remember when I sad I was converted into a foie gras fan? Well, Jian took my mom & I on our last supper in Vancouver to Tetsu Sushi Bar. This sushi spot serves up sushi using super traditional techniques, & it was some of the best sushi I’ve ever eaten this side of the Pacific Ocean (meaning outside of Japan). We were treated to a delicious slice of heaven when Jian ordered the foie gras nigiri sushi (握り寿司) for each of us. My mom didn’t eat her piece, so Jian & I each shared one half of her piece, which is a big-time faux pas in sushi eating culture. (Part of the so-called unspoken rules of eating sushi, especially at the counter in front of the sushi master himself, is you do not split your slice of sushi in half, nor do you pick off the slice of fish from the ball of rice. Those actions are like a metaphorical slap of the face to the sushi master, as though you’re quietly saying his skills suck.) So, we tried to be as discreet as possible in sharing my mom’s piece of foie gras sushi…because Jian thought it was unfair that my mom gave me her entire piece for myself. Therefore I decided to share it with him.

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Is dessert considered to be an actual meal? I would think so because the cups of liquid nitrogen frozen ice cream from MISTER were pretty substantial. I also visited this ice cream shop about as many times as I visited Small Victory Bakery. Well, when my mom requests to eat ice cream, who am I to turn her down? Plus, their creme brûlée ice cream was to-die-for! I mean, the shop went the extra mile & added a layer of sugar crust just like a regular creme brûlée dessert. If ice cream wasn’t such a guilty treat, then I’d eat this flavor of ice cream everyday.

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Ok, & here is where I’m going to insert a montage of all the delicious libations we partook in.


THE ATTRACTIONS

Aside from all of the walking we did, my mom & I visited many of Vancity’s finest museums & gardens. We first explored around the VANDUSEN BOTANICAL GARDENS, where I got to experience my first hedge maze. Even though my mom was suffering through her bout of sciatica, she pulled through like a badass trooper, & was able to walk around the entire botanical garden without a single hitch or twitch. It was a nice relaxing day getting some fresh air & observing all of the various foliage & flowers. It made my mom & I really wish my dad could be with us to share in this enriching experience. My dad always loved gardens & parks, & the two of us enjoyed reminiscing aboout the good ol’ days with my dear ol’ dad.

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I was extremely thrilled when I found out that there was still a chance for me to catch the art exhibition from one of my all-time favorite pop art artists Takashi Murakami at the VANCOUVER ART GALLERY. I had heard about his unique exhibition called THE OCTOPUS EATS ITS OWN LEG through a video blogger on YouTube. This girl, whose monthly vlog I watched, explained how she got personally invited to the exhibition while she was in Vancouver doing a photo shoot for her startup fashion brand. She had incorrectly informed her viewers that the exhibition would be over at the beginning of March, which bummed me out, but then I was lucky to find out that Murakami‘s exhibition would be running until May 6! I quickly bought tickets to this exhibition (which also allowed us to visit the rest of the art gallery)…I could not miss this opportunity. I’ve seen a few of Murakami‘s artwork here & there around various museums, galleries, & high end shops, but I’ve never actually been to one of his full exhibitions before. It was a real treat to not only be able to view his art, but also learn about the excruciatingly painstaking process of creating one of his art pieces, & learn about his inspirations & art idols. At first, I wasn’t sure my mom would want to accompany me to view pop art flowers, cartoonish skulls, & grotesque morphed figures, but she was curious to say the least about this exhibition & thoroughly enjoyed herself. She was especially taken with the pop art teddy bear figure Murakami had created for Kanye West & his album Graduation. My mom had fallen in love with the diamond-encrusted gold necklace on the bear figure. I was especially grateful to be able to take a closer glimpse into the art life of one of my creative idols & inspirations.

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Aside from viewing one of the most creatively inspiring exhibitions at the Vancouver Art Gallery, my mom & I also visited a few historical & cultural museums along the way. We went to the MUSEUM OF VANCOUVER & the MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY. At the Museum of Vancouver, we learned so much about how Vancouver was formed, & we were especially interested in learning about the rich & long-standing Chinese & Japanese history of Vancouver, like how Chinatown was formed & how the Japanese were treated in the internment camps during the war. This part of Vancouver’s history particularly struck a chord with me because there’s a lot of both Chinese & Japanese culture &/or ethnicity threading through my family tree. We didn’t get to spend very much time at the Museum of Anthropology because my mom’s sciatica was bothering her a little bit, but we were able to take a look into all of the amazing artifacts from all of the First Nations of Canada. The museum was so well organized & orderly. It was too bad we coulnd’t browse around more. On top of that, we were eager to meet up with Jian, since he noted he would be able to leave his office extra early on that day.

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ALL THE REST

I was flabbergasted & shocked to learn from Jian & various other sources (like our varied taxi drivers) that: 1. there are no freeways, highways, or interstates going to or through Vancouver, & 2. there are no UBER drivers in Vancouver (yet…I think). I just could not fathom the fact that everywhere you go by car in Vancouver, you must take commercial & residential street routes. I am so used to driving on a major freeway or interstate in my city to get around more efficiently (even though our road traffic is getting increasingly worse each year). Then, I just got the hang of using the super convenient UBER instead of calling a taxi, but to find out that UBER is not allowed to set up shop in Vancity, that just boggled my mind. However, I heard from a taxi driver that sometime within the next year or so, UBER will be allowed to operate in Vancouver, which is a good sign.

One other note, I love how friendly, polite, & amiable the citizens of Vancouver really are. I mean, it’s no exaggeration when Canadians boast about how polite & humble they are. There was one night when we were trying to get a cab from the taxi stand in the public garage of our hotel, & the line for taxi service was pretty long since a lot of people from the BC Place Stadium next door had just finished watching a Canada Sevens rugby game & were all trying to get a taxi as well. One guy had gotten into a heated argument with his girlfriend earlier on in the day, & was already amped up from that fight after the girlfriend had stormed off in the taxi they were supposed to share, leaving the guy to awkwardly hold her purse. The guy eventually took his frustrations of missing his cab out on the valet at the taxi stand as well as some guys waiting the taxi line who were trying to stick up for the ever-well-mannered valet. After this angry dude let out his teeny-tiny tirade, he quickly & profusely apologized to everyone in view of his little rant. He kept saying that he didn’t mean to project his issues on to everyone else. He made a grand apology & then quickly got into the first available cab. Nobody said a word about his tirade other than to comment on who witnessed the argument between the frustrated guy & his pissed off girlfriend. This incident surprised me. In San Francisco, if a situation like this ever unfolded, the guy ranting about his missed taxi would’ve been in the middle of a fist fight real quick.

There is one last thing I want to say about the fair city of Vancouver. THANKS FOR PLAYING ALL OF MY FAVORITE MUSIC EVERYWHERE I WENT! I mean, every time I ate at a restaurant or cafe, or whenever I stepped into a shop, there would be commercial-free music playing throughout the entire place…& not just any music. All the music being played were all the golden hits from the 1990s, early 2000s, & the chart topping music hits of today…most of it being Alternative & Rock music. I practically was singing everywhere I went. It was epic.

[INSERT MY AWESOME SPOTIFY PLAYLIST HERE]


Overall, my Vancity trip was great. We got to catch up with old friends visiting us from Seattle, Washington. We stuffed ourselves silly on food & drinks…soaked up all the culture & good weather.

I wish I had more time in Vancouver to explore more neighborhoods & areas, but since my mom was sort of limited by her sciatica, & I was there playing care-giver to mom, we pretty much stayed within our Yaletown/Gastown bubble. I would have liked to explore more of the city on my own & walk to more places or do more outdoorsy activities. Jian is scheduled to take another business trip to Vancouver in a few months, & he has already invited me to travel with him. If I am able to roma around by myself, I would love to explore more of Vancouver! Until then, cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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It’s like LL Cool J said back in the 80’s: “I’m going back to Cali, Cali, Cali Vancouver, Vancouver, Vancouver…”. Or like what Notorious B.I.G. said back in the 90’s: “I’m going going, back back, to Cali Cali Vancouver Vancouver…”. Yes, folks. I’ll be traveling yet again. It almost feels like I’m never settled down in one place lately. If I’m not traveling, then I’m always hosting visiting family members at home. There is never a dull moment in my life, & I’m so extremely appreciative/grateful/thankful of every aspect, every facet, everything.

Truth be told, Jian is heading to Vancouver for a week-long business trip, & he invited me to tag along. I accepted his invitation, of course, but also suggested that we invite my mom to tag along with us. Jian agreed with my suggestion wholeheartedly. As a matter of fact, Jian enjoys traveling with my mom every now & again. We once tagged along with my mom on a trip to Washington D.C. where she was invited to a family friend’s wedding, & the three of us had the time of our lives despite the wet weather. My mom & I are super excited to be visiting Vancouver once again. Jian, not as much…because of his work obligations. [Insert laugh track here.] My mom hasn’t visited the lovely country of Canada in several years. The last time she traveled there was to attend one of my dad’s high school reunions of all of his foreign-born-Japan-schooled classmates. The last time I visited the North, was almost 25 years ago. I was barely a teenager when I visited Vancouver with my parents & younger cousin for the first time.

I’m really, genuinely excited to be traveling to Vancouver once again, but one thing worries me: the shopping! I don’t want to go all the way to Vancouver & come back with another giant haul of stationery & office supply goods. I can’t believe I’m actually saying this out loud, but I’m getting a little weary of my ever-growing mountain of stationery goods. It’s kind of becoming overwhelming, & I barely have time to use everything. I’ve got quite a few items, in their original packaging, that have not even had the seal broken or even seen the light of day. The KonMari guru Marie Kondo would not be happy with me right now. I’m actually quite embarrassed myself, but I’ll live with it.

Jian has already been on a few business trips to Vancouver, & sometimes he says the food there is positively delicious. Other times he says the food sceen is mediocre (like how he described the food in London). I plan on proving Jian wrong, just like I did about the food we ate in London, which was incredible by the way. I’m planning on stuffing myself silly with good food, scrumptious cocktails, & piping hot drip coffee. (OK, I’m officially making myself hungry as I type this paragraph.)

Spending quality time with my mom is also a bonus. We are definitely going to have a blast together (mom’s Sciatica be damned!). But until our trip, Cheers!

Today’s song of the day:

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