Wednesday, December 26, 2012


It is long overdue, but my photo website / portfolio is finally here. I figured that if I was to be doing this photography thing on the side anyway, it would be helpful to have something that people could... You know, witness my greatness and all. Or lack thereof.

After about two weeks of construction, my web portfolio finally online. The process hasn't been the easiest -- compiling what I think are the best work I've done in the past couple of years is a surprisingly tedious process (a.k.a. "There is too much to choose from!"). After the photos are chosen, then came the production of the actual website. Now, there are handful of webpages nowadays that would allow users to design and put up a website without making it seem like studying organic chemistry. I found one easily in this otherwise fantastic site called weebly -- which allows me to do precisely that. Theoretically.

But wait a minute, there is more. After you pick the host, then came the design of the site, which presented itself with a dizzying selection of colours, fonts, and themes -- some able to make your website look like the Sistine Chapel, while others have the aesthetic properties of Piers Morgan's face. Selecting the right one took quite a good deal of patience -- the kind of patience one requires during a fishing trip. Or a curling tournament.

When you finally get all that sorted out, you move on to the single most important element of your web photo portfolio -- the logo. The logo could be the difference between the audience being interested enough to stay on website or hovering the cursor back to their facebook account. Creating a logo of my liking was probably the most challenging thing I've partaken since the last time I sat in a math final -- even more so for a guy such as I, who can't draw a Pontiac Aztek even if I wanted to, let alone drawing on a computer. With much struggle, the logo alone took me almost a week to finish designing, only to find out that it takes Alice Ho 5 minutes to design the one above that looks a whole lot more awesome than my original... So yeah, massive boost to my ego there. (really though, thanks!)

Nevertheless, with great pleasure and relief -- I present to you my new photo web-folio.

... And yes, I need to think of a better way to call my photo-lio.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

California Dreamin': Day 8. -- Close to Paradise.

When: June 2, 2012.
Where: San Francisco --> Los Angeles.
The main objective of the day: Five words -- California State [expletive] Route 1.

Now this is what I am talking about.

Sweeping rights, tight lefts, series of S-curves, long straights, hilly terrains, unlimited ocean view on a warm, sunny day, and a stereo that plays my favourite driving music. Oh, and a car too, obviously.

I've driven from Vancouver to Victoria, Seattle, Portland, to Yellowstone through the back roads of Montana and Wyoming, to Calgary through the rockies, as well as from Las Vegas to the Grand Canyon, not to mention a drive through the heat of South and North Florida; but truth be told I don't think I've ever had as much fun as I did this time.

Highway 1 has never been the most practical highway out there: as a road to get one from point A to point B, it is neither the fastest nor the most convenient comparing to the nearby Interstate-5 highway. Case in point: driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles typically takes less than 8 hours on the I-5, but on Highway 1 it takes 10 hours. If you don't stop. Which you will, because you'd be stopping every 10 minutes to take a picture of the view.

The Bixby Canyon Bridge.
On top of that, there's only one lane -- so if some dimwit decides to tackle the road in a motorhome it is pretty much guaranteed that you'd be stuck behind them for at least a fortnight. From time to time you'd also get the spikey-haired yobbos that scream by in their Yamasaki RK50687-39586ZZ hair dryers, puncturing your ear drums in the process. Going from north to south also means that you'd be driving about two inches away from the edge of a 100-foot cliff with raging Pacific waters right underneath, made even more exciting when you have to make room for the tour buses traveling in the opposite direction in tight corners. The landslide warning signs do help calm things down a bit, though.

But all that doesn't matter, because I have got wind in my hair, AC/DC in my ears, and I'm blasting across the Bixby Bridge at 100 km/h (okay, more like 80, but that's only because of the damn camper van). The variety on this road is amazingly diverse, with corners that would make a Need For Speed video game feel like morning commute, and views that, well, looks like this.

"The Greatest Meeting of Land and Water in the World."

The Agaves Burrito.
Along the way you'd also pass Santa Cruz, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Malibu, and it'd be wise if you make a stop at each of them too because they are all brilliant places. Santa Barbara in particular had one of the best Mexican joints I've ever encountered. Fair enough, to encounter a Mexican joint in Vancouver is like trying to find a graduate from Milford Academy -- they are neither to be seen nor heard. This particular restaurant is called Los Agaves, and the Agaves Burrito is something to die for.

... Crap, now I feel like having Mexican. Anyways, back to Highway 1.

I was also hoping to get to Malibu as well -- the home of Hollywood stars and, well, Iron Man. But since I spent so much time taking photos along the highway (and eating the Burrito), it was nighttime when I reached Malibu. Ah well, next trip I guess.

They call this the greatest road in California. I'd say that this is probably the greatest road in North America in general. It was probably not as much fun as I had at Knoxville in Napa (the road is literally a rally cross with no traffic), but on Highway 1 you can sit back and take in the spectacularness of the views and the gracefulness of the roads, and just drive. Nothing seems to matter anymore, and on this road you'd just be driving to drive.

This day has perfectly satisfied the "road" portion of my road trip: it has roads, it has corners, it has views, and it was extraordinary.

The day started at 10am (yes, I overslept), and 11 and a half hours, 740km and over a couple hundred corners later, I was in la-la-land.

Next up: Joshua Tree National Park, as well as the hidden American treasure -- Route 66.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Six years with my Acura EL: Life in pixels.

My Acura 1.6 EL: 2006 - 2012.
2006, driving the car for the first time.
2012, driving it for the last time.

Me posing in the car, 2006.

Granville Island night shots, 2007.

First crash ever in 2007, when I skid down a slope and ran a red light...
2008 snow storm.

My day of being a stalker (according to Teresa).
Trip to Calgary, 2011.
The Californias.
Driving with an Aussie.

6 idiots in Washington, 2011.

San Francisco, California. 2012.
Siberia, California -- where the temperature gets up to 45 degrees during the day in the desert. The car soldiered on. The man needed a Sprite.
Reaching nearly 10,000ft at Yosemite National Park.
August 25, 2012: Last day it will see the roads for a while.
September 2012: Old ride vs. New ride.

September 19, 2012: Goodbye.

Thanks for the ride, friend. All 120,000km of it.

PS: Normal blogging services shall resume in a few days.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

California Dreamin': Day 7. -- Lights.

When the lights go down in the city
And the sun shines on the bay
Ooh I want to be there in my city, oh oh
When: June 1, 2012.
Where: Golden Gate Bridge, Palace of Fine Arts, Nike SF-88 Missile Site, Muir Woods, The Presidio, 49-Mile Scenic Drive (well... Some of it), Treasure Island.
Times I've listened to this song by Journey on this day alone: 9556473 times.
Verdict: Despite some of its flaws, San Francisco may be my new favourite city after Vancouver.
Utterly random thoughts: Driving around San Francisco, it was hard not to imagine myself in a 1967 Ford Mustang doing this all day.

Seeing how this was my last day in the Bay, I just had to make sure I've exhausted all the things I can do before moving on to LA. And that I did -- I went to seven different places on this day alone, and it was great.

Probably the 100 millionth photo I've taken of the Golden Gate Bridge.
First day of June and the fog is making its way in already.
That said, I am not going to spend too much time talking about the Golden Gate Bridge and the Palace of Fine Arts -- after all their history is well-documented and are considered a must-see for most travelers in San Francisco anyway. One note about the bridge though: I've been repeatedly told that biking across the bridge was a rather great experience -- unfortunately there wasn't enough time for me to do that on this trip. Ah well, next time I guess.

I did drive across it though. Interestingly the infamous Bay Area summer fog was making its way into the city so I didn't see much of the bridge when I was on it (that said though, driving through the fog on the bridge is about as spooky as a David Fincher movie). Another side note: Apparently the bridge is a rather popular destination for suicidal jumpers. So if that's your thing then...
The Palace of Fine Arts.
One of the reasons I was pretty excited about this day was because during the planning of my trip I came across a website that recommended this small, mysterious decommissioned Cold War military base about half an hour north of San Francisco, something called the Nike SF-88 Missile Site. It is one that even the locals know little about -- can't blame them really, as a search on the GPS hasn't really aided me in locating its whereabouts. Hell, the official government website for the base doesn't even have an address for the location either. All I knew is that it is within the Golden Gate Recreation area and that the missile base is located on a road perhaps appropriately named "Bunker Road". So I went in that general direction and hoped for the best.

The Nike SF-88 Missile Site.
After about a 45-minute drive across the bridge through some obscure tunnels and back roads, I was there. Camouflaged by the surrounding hills, it looked like just another small military base with a patrol station in an area about as big as a Safeway parking lot. From the outside, it didn't seem like it was once the launching pad of six Nike Hercules nuclear warheads, ready to pick off any incoming Soviet bombers.

I was just in time for a guided tour of the missile base. When I got there, there was only one missile above ground in the middle of the base -- the only visual clue that suggested this was no ordinary military base. The missile itself is about as long as a semi-trailer, which as it turns out could be stored in an underground bunker by an elevator-esque trap door, which is so obscure that you wouldn't know until the pad you're standing on sinks into the bunker, revealing five other nuclear missiles (now decommissioned of course) underneath the ground you were just standing on.

The underground bunker itself wasn't big at all -- it had room for six missiles, and that's about it. A small tunnel led to a small, windowless room about as big as a washroom, and in the centre of it was a machine about as big as one of those old Sony TV sets, with some indicator lights, dials, and a red button marked "FIRE".

"The whole point of the doomsday machine
is lost if you keep it a secret..."
It was probably just me, but while I was in the room, I couldn't help but keep playing scenes of Dr. Strangelove in my head. The reality at the time during the Cold War though was probably not as funny.

The site was the last line of defense against a possible Soviet invasion, and was in operation from 1954 until 1976. Small wonders really -- at the height of the Cold War during the Cuban Missile Crisis the city of San Francisco (and most major cities in the United States did at some point have missile bases similar to this one too) was a launch button away from being the centre of an all-out nuclear war.

The tour itself was only about half an hour long, but it is easily one of the most fascinating places I've ever been. If you ever find yourself in San Francisco, I would highly recommend it -- even though tours are only available from Wednesday to Friday every week only. Apparently they do have an open-house event on the first Saturday of every month though.

After the military base, I made my way to the nearby Muir Woods for a 2-hour hike in the redwood forest -- because hiking around the hills of San Francisco clearly wasn't enough for me already. Here, the trees were like skyscrapers, and sunlight made its way through the trees onto the trails. It was fantastic.

(Side note: Completing the 49-mile scenic drive in a
car sounds like a good Amazing Race challenge just to
see everyone getting utterly lost. Just a thought.)
I then spent the rest of the day driving around The Presidio -- again, one of the must-sees in San Francisco. This part of the trip was rather regrettable, as by the time I made it back to the city to start touring around the Presidio, everything had already been closed (it was about 6 in the afternoon already at that point).

So I moved on to my next target: The 49-mile scenic drive -- a stretch of roads around the city that would take me through all the major attractions in the Bay Area. Sounds tempting for a guy like me, of course. Unfortunately for me the roads are only indicated by a small sign on the side of the road, and the signs were few and far between. It didn't take long for me to be off the route completely and became entirely lost in the city. To make matters worse, none of the locals seemed to know much about the scenic drive either.

So, the 49-mile scenic drive? It was more like 5 miles of scenic drive followed by 10 miles of sign-searching before giving up completely. Ah well, next time I guess.

At the mean time, the sky was getting dark and I knew I was running out of time. So I headed for the coast and found myself on the Bay Bridge on route to Treasure Island -- a small island between San Francisco and Oakland. What's there? Well, quite literally nothing. Most of the island was a residential area with only one small restaurant. There really was no point of anyone getting there at all, except for one tiny thing -- it offers views like this:

Needless to say, I was in photography heaven -- to the point that I stayed on the island for two and a half hours snapping night shots like crazy. And I thought the view from Alcatraz was amazing enough.

Before I knew it, it was late enough for me to realize that I probably should head back to the hostel to prepare for the long drive ahead of me the following day -- 10 hours of pacific coast goodness, to be precise, before reaching the la-la-land.

So in the week I spent in San Francisco, I've driven on two of the most iconic bridges in North America, visited an old prison, had dim sum in Chinatown, trekked up and down Lombard Street, been harassed by hobos, nearly froze to death in the summer cold (yes that wasn't a mistake), been thoroughly confused by San Francisco's parking bylaws, celebrated the Golden Gate Bridge's 75th birthday, watched a baseball game, been to an old Cold War military base, and met some amazing people. I don't know about you, but I'd call that a week very well spent.

San Francisco is one of those places where you probably wouldn't appreciate if you don't like the quintessential West-Coastness of it -- the liberal politics, the hippie subculture, the "beach boys", the hobos, the expensiveness of everything, the lack of "exciting" things to do in the area. On top of that, if you love shopping, the Bay area is probably not for you either (LA is probably much better for that). Indeed, this is not LA nor New York City -- its true uniqueness lies with the city's charm and beauty. During the week I spent over here, it felt a lot like home -- and by home I mean Vancouver -- everyone was amazingly welcoming (except of course the drunk hobos), the city is filled with history, the utterly breath-taking view over from Twin Peaks and Treasure Island, the food was amazing ( expensive); and to complete the experience, the ridiculously over-priced parking in Downtown -- it does feel a lot like Vancouver. Everyone I've talked to has been fantastically friendly, and in a major North American city, that kind of friendliness is pretty hard to come by.

Despite all its flaws, San Francisco is one of the places I wouldn't hesitate coming back to. Hell, I wouldn't even mind moving here, to be honest with you.

Mind you, I will probably have to win the lottery 20 times to be able to afford living here.

For now though, I'll see you again San Francisco.

Next up: California Route 1 (a.k.a. The greatest road in California).

So you think you're lonely?
Well my friend I'm lonely too
I want to get back to my city by the bay
Oh, oh, oh oh

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

California Dreamin': Day 5 & 6. -- I get around.

The infamous Full House view... Whatever that means.

When: May 30 - May 31, 2012.
Where: Castro, Alamo Park, Haight-Ashbury (day 5); Cable Car Museum, Mission, San Mateo (day 6).
Hippies: Present.
Hobos: Present.
Hippies that look like hobos: Yes.
Hobos that look like hippies: ... Weirdly, yes.
Things they have in common: Drunk and weird.
Where they differ: One of them would ask you for money and the other would ask you for peace... Whatever that means.
Utterly random thoughts: Starting to regret the decision not to buy sun-tan lotion before going on this trip.

[Before we start, let us just take a moment to remember that I suck very dearly at this blogging thing... Hence this travelblog picks up over a month later after I've already been back to Vancouver, graduated, got a year older, and worked a trigazillion hours at Sport Chek. That said, the memories are still fresh and the photos are all edited and done, so I am doing this now. Thank you for your attention.]

Day 4 kicks off with a visit to the infamous Castro district -- those of you who are familiar with Harvey Milk and the LGBT movement in the United States should be no stranger to this place at all. In the 1970s the Castro was the hot bed (rather poor choice of words here) for gay activism, and 40 years later it still shows. Strolling along Castro and Market street, one would find an abundance of evidence of the city's open-mindedness and acceptance towards the LGBT community. One that ought to be observed everywhere else, no matter your political or religious views.

The Castro Theatre.

Alas, it also turned out that the Castro was a pretty small district, so less than an hour later I went to the nearby Alamo Park for the infamous Full House view -- except the fact that I have never watched the TV series before, so I didn't care too much. Fun fact: the houses prominently seen in San Francisco are known locally as the painted ladies. Because, uh, the houses look like ladies. Painted too, obviously. Uh, yeah.

Pictured: A hippie crossing a street with a walking guitar.
The long-lasting stereotype of San Francisco is that it is a city full of hippies -- a bunch of peace-loving, guitar-playing, bearded people wearing tight jeans and headbands, while listening to Jefferson Airplane in their Volkswagens while being all tripped out on acid. Well... at least I thought it was a stereotype, until I set foot in Haight-Ashbury and found that hippies, like the zombies in Left 4 Dead, are absolutely everywhere.

Not that they are nasty or anything, it's just that they are, well, there. All the time. I made my way to my cousin Jessie's place -- who lives right in the middle of Haight-Ashbury, and found a group of hippies just camping outside her doorstep having a drink. Normally if I find drunk people in front of my door I'd chase them with a broom. Plus maybe a Remington shotgun. My cousin just gave them a nasty look and whisked them away, as if this stuff happens all the time. I guess when you live in the middle of it all does get kind of annoying.

"We come in peace," they said. Yeah, okay... 

Day 6 started with a cable car ride to the west side of the city. The cable car itself was pretty fascinating -- the car moves about by grabbing on to a network of moving cables underneath the roads. In a city as vast and hilly as San Francisco, one could imagine how complex the whole system is. Indeed, it is the only traditional cable car system in the world still operational today. Like the Golden Gate Bridge, it is pretty much a living, breathing historic icon... Albeit a very expensive one. Hopping on one would cost you $6 dollars. No transfers either. My particular line was finished in 15 minutes.

And the most disappointing part? You can't even chase a cable car down and jump onto a moving cable car like they do in the movies. Outrageous, I say.

That said, the experience is something that everyone should have a go at least once. As a way to get from point A to point B, however, it is hardly the most practical.

The rest of the day was spent strolling around the Mission District, which is a blended mix of a historic, artsy gentrified neighborhood with a gritty, lower-income areas with abandoned theatres and shady convenience shops and stores that's been closed down. Signs of the economic crisis in America is still pretty evident here -- and if I can be brutally honest -- the hobos around here are everywhere too -- and they are a tad... Nasty.

One of many abandoned buildings around the Mission.
If I can do a crude comparison here, strolling around the neighborhoods in Mission felt a lot like walking from Gastown in Vancouver all the way towards Downtown Eastside -- the further you go, the streets sort of descend from the high-end eccentric art stores to low-end hardware stores and shady grocery shops. The differences is rather mind boggling, too -- it is only about a half an hour walk from the forest of skyscrapers in the Financial District across Market Street towards the urban grittiness of Mission, complete with street art, aluminum can-filled shopping carts and hobos. Every major cities have their own underbellies, I suppose.

That said, it was still a fascinating experience walking around the Mission seeing all those Spanish-Mexican influences in the architecture of houses, churches and missions. Some of the street art in the alleyways were also some of the most eccentric I've seen. Not your usual touristy destination for sure, but certainly worth a visit in my view.

The rest of the day was spent with one of my friends from high school, Willie, who went to South Bay to dress in a suit and be in meetings all day. Definitely a lot of fun catching up and seeing a familiar face in an unfamiliar place.