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.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

What kind of month has it been.

After thousands of profanity-filled hours spent on writing papers, exams and presentations, I have decided the best way to celebrate such feat was to do my best impression of the Statue of Liberty. (Photo credit to Douglas Chong, who is awesome).

Two weeks ago, on my way down Burnaby mountain after my grad convocation cruising down Garglardi road, suddenly my car stereo started playing this song by Blink-182. The song was called "Going Away To College" and was very much a late 90's punk song. Still a pretty cool song really, albeit a bit nostalgic listening to it now and well... It started reminding me of when I graduated from high school back in 2006.

I haven't been this scared in a long time
And I'm so unprepared so here's your valentine
Bouquet of clumsy words, a simple melody
This world's an ugly place, but you're so beautiful

Listening and reading back the lyrics had me thinking. It is a transition from one institution to another. When I was a kid I always thought that after high school, I'd go off to University -- the holy grail of a high school kid's future. I seemed to know what I wanted to do post-secondary, but really at the time I was as lost as anyone. Maybe even more so.

The good thing about having Asian parents is that they paint your targets pretty well for you. So after high school you just do what everybody else is doing and march to University. It just seemed to be the final stop of whatever destination I thought I was going to reach.

And then there's now.

When I got to where I am at today, I look forward and still see the same fog. The way I felt in high school still pretty much applies today. I must say though that this is hardly the first time I've felt this way -- I've graduated grade 11 in Hong Kong (which used to be a pretty big deal over there for most people), graduated grade 12 over here, and somehow made it through University -- despite all expectations for me to fail rather miserably every single time. And for good reasons.

I was a mess studying in high school when I was in Hong Kong, and things didn't really look up when I came here either -- grade 12 was a downright disastrous year for me. I almost didn't graduate and waited until June for SFU to say yea to my application.

I came this close to booking a ticket to Kamloops for school over there.

So really, I got incredibly lucky making it to university in Vancouver. Looking back now, it feels like I've managed to sleepwalk through the years in University. The past 4 and a half years have been a blur in retrospect. It could've been a lot steadier for sure, but then it could've been a lot worse too.

Here I am, a University graduate and much, much further than what I thought I'd be able to achieve before I came here. What can I say? When your new life just started in Canada less than six years ago, you kinda have to keep your expectations low -- and alas having your childhood absolutely fucked by the education system in Hong Kong is another good reason too I suppose.

The past four and a half years have been... Well, as Marty McFly put it, "educational" -- I've taken some good courses, crappy courses, met new people, found some old friends, lost touch with others, got into conflicts, been through four jobs, explored new places, found success in photography, opportunities missed, directions lost. All that is behind me now.

Being an avid West Wing viewer (if you are not, go watch it), there is this phrase the fictional President always used whenever a thing had been solved or resolved or lost or won, and that it was time to move on:

"What's next?"

Now that I am 23 and I have just graduated with a degree that will certainly be mocked mercilessly by all Asians in the world ("not engineering? not business? no math? Pffft"). Nevertheless it is time for great things to happen. If there's anything I got out of the 12 semesters worth of University education, it is that I ought to start setting the bar just a tad higher and give myself just a bit more confidence -- because that's always been one of my greatest -- and often crippling -- vices. I am ready to move on, whatever twists and turns are ahead of me.

In June, I have walked the hills of San Francisco, explored the deserts of California, reminisced on old memories in Los Angeles, came back home, celebrated (or mourned, depending on which way you look at it) my graduation with some of my best friends, and got a year older. Not too shabby for a 30-day month.

Still no job offers, though. That will be what's next then.

The road through university hasn't been the most calm or indeed easy, but as ever a lot of you have always been here for me through it all, and I know for a fact that it is your support (forgive me for sounding a tad cliched here) that brought me here in the first place instead of cowering back to Hong Kong in defeat. It may be a little late now, but thank you all for the birthday / graduation wishes. You guys are the best. I love you all.

The past couple years are also for my family too -- I have the best parents and sisters that any sons and brothers can ever ask for. I love you guys.

Below is just a little something to show my gratitude to some of the best people I know -- those who has been there for me for the good and bad of the years past. This is probably the last shoutout I'll ever do for a long time... So do hope that you guys like it because it's taken me over a week to finish writing.

And yes, the song right next to your name is a song that reminds me of you. Might be a tad random I know, but I've done shoutouts in this format since 2006. So yeah...

Thank you to...

Sonia Mak (Rent - La Vie Boheme)
Sorry sorry -- it HAD to be this song. After all, La Vie Boheme is a song we have been secretly singing since the age of note-passing and iPod-sharing in Ms. Kreb's (that's how it's spelled right?) math class. Come to think of it, we are old (well, I am). High school was like, *does sisters voice here* so 5 years ago. Coincidentally, that's how long we have known each other and decided to be best sisters *secret fistbump / handshake / hop*.  After countless bubble tea, movies, badminton, hangouts, Eddie Izzard, Stephen Fry, a couple Seattle trips, Calgary, Hong Kong, Thailand (ahem), the countless times I've put up with your Victoria's Secret fetish, in the addition of the sheer amount of unfortunate lame jokes, it is fair to say that you really cheated in that goddamn political science exam in which you drew inspiration from the notes that I compiled. AND GOT AN A. No, really though -- it is hard for me to even think of a week or two where we both didn't somehow meet up, greet each other in ridiculously posh British accents (how the heck did that get started anyway?), and have a random chat. For over five years now you've always been around to make me laugh, supported me in every single way and make me feel better about myself (although really it's hard for anyone not to feel better about themselves after meeting you OH SNAP!). Okay okay, in all honesty I can't be more glad to have met you at PW -- because people as thoughtful, funny, smart, random, and at the same time being a shemale is really, really hard to find. Somehow I managed to find one in one of those portable classrooms for a math class in 2006, and ever since then we have become the most awesome duo ever. We read each others' minds like a book (albeit if our minds are made into a book it'd probably be the worst book ever). Time and again you've done so much for me over the years that I simply don't know how to repay you. I guess when we are best friends saying "thank you" is a bit cliched, so let me say this: Screw you for using my poli-sci notes. To sum up: You are my best friend, I love you, you are awesome. Now go fail some exams or something.

Kenyx Au Yeung (The Trews - Hope & Ruin)
It's a sunny afternoon in Vancouver (or Hong Kong, Tianjin, whatever). It's two years from now. We are both much, much older (well, you are -- I'd still look young and awesome then). We will sit down and crack open that bottle of ice wine we promised to use celebrating the ten years we will have known each other for. Sounds good so far, no? And then you will treat me to an expensive buffet dinner. Even more awesome. Since we have only known each other for a measly eight years (pffft), this is what you get from me for now. Needless to say, there aren't a lot of people who know me better (and longer) than you do. Even now after all these years, it's never boring to talk to you because you have the mind of a comedian -- darn funny and creative. What still impresses me the most though is your perseverance -- I don't know too many people who'd go all the way to China to study alone, not to mention the fact that you've managed to do a fantabulous job -- it is something I wouldn't be able to do myself. I have massive respect for you simply because of that. The thing I love most about you is the fact that you are there every time whenever I am lost -- even when I've given up already, you'd pick me up and tell me without reservation to get a move on. Unlike a lot of people, you tell me what I need to hear instead what I want to hear -- you're not one to sugarcoat things after all, but to me that's a true sign of being a great friend. You are a big influence in making me a better person. That being said, I know that I can always count on you to cheer me up when I am down -- and I have never been disappointed. At times in past years we have gotten in a several stupid arguments, but we have always prevailed and we'd be SKII again. How often do you find that anywhere? Thanks for everything. Next year I'd make you that bubble tea I promised and we'd head to New York or Vegas or whatever our plan's going to be (as long as you clean my house).

Vicki Lee (Christina Aguilera - Beautiful)
Oh Vicki. You have forever haunted me with your rather, erm, enthusiastic rendition of this song (and Britney Spear's "Lucky") in my car. Now every time I hear this song I have the urge to blow my brains out. But I guess that's okay because it reminds me of you too and you're so very awesome. I met you in second year and yet you're one of my first and few friends at SFU -- because oh man was it ever hard to meet new people in University even within your own faculty. A year and a half later we are both up all night in Surrey trying to finish our take-home final for like the 4th or 5th classes we have taken together, while really hating that douchebag of a TA Clayton. Your expertise in math and statistics bailed me out of that godforsaken project in 260, while my expertise in... erm, nothing at all in particular have not helped you in any way at all. I know I suck. All these years you've always maintained that I am supposedly the "expert essay writer" or whatever you call it but in reality you've always been the smart one. Not only did you beat me in school, I can tell you for sure that you've accomplished a lot more than I have in the same amount of time we've been through -- and we've been through lots. The great thing is that we go through so many similar things that we often know how each other feel about school or jobs or... Crappy TAs. We always end up talking it over and working it out together though -- which is why I always maintain that although things may not be the way you want them to be, but give it time and you will find your way up soon enough. Thanks for being there to listen to me rant all this time (and repeatedly playing Lady Gaga on my rock band so much that I considered throwing the drum set out my balcony). It's been fun!

Amy Yen (Hall & Oates - You Make My Dreams)
Right now, you're probably having the time of your life vacationing in Taiwan. If I typed this two weeks ago, you would've been in Vancouver and I would be in California. If this is the Winter, you would've been in Taiwan and I was in Vancouver. Which was okay because in February, I was in Hong Kong and you were again a couple thousand miles away. I don't know why, but locating you is probably even harder than locating the Zodiac killer (okay, slightly weird example). You are just shifty that way. That's okay however, because the time when both of us ARE in town is still plenty, and we make good use of the time catching up with movies that you should've watched (cough-Inception-cough) or movies that I should've watched long ago (cough-How to Train Your Dragon-cough) or movies that Butter should've watched (cough... erm, cough). We haven't known each other for that long, but the first time we met it already felt as if I've known you since the Napoleonic Wars. It is weird, because I remember we both agreed that SFU was a rather crappy place to meet new friends, and yet it didn't take long for us to start being friends -- and all it took to have you to be my friend is a blue ball-pen for a birthday present. Talk about lowering standards, eh? Really though, I don't know if I can be more glad to have taken that class sitting right in front of you (even though the readings were hard). You are an amazing friend -- smart, funny, and unbelievably nice. I can't count the number of times you've been there for me just to listen to me talk or rant about the lamest of things. You're also impossibly talented -- whether it be making food or making music. Oh, you still owe me a special piano lesson by the way, provided that the absolute hopelessness when it comes to me performing anything resembling music will almost certainly put an end to all your hopes in humanity. It's alright though, by the end of the lesson you can cheer yourself up by making a cupcake or something.

Dominic Wong (ZZ Top - Sharp Dressed Man)
Dr. Dom, now I don't really remember exactly the moment when I met you, but somehow you've managed to creep into my life like a TV soap opera. I just remember playing badminton with you some time last year and then all of a sudden you made for Calgary... The trip, however, was awesome fun and I have known you a lot better from the trip -- and I cannot be more glad (the crotch grab in that group shot we did at the steakhouse was a bit regrettable, alas). To be honest, we do share striking similarities: you're from Hong Kong (as am I); you've gone through HKCEE in high school over there (as did I); you pick all the old 90's Chinese songs whenever we do karaoke (as do I); you can speak fluent Cantonese (as can I); you can play badminton (as can I... sort of); and you are an incredibly smart person (...). Seriously though, if I can be half as smart, charming, or as quick-minded as you I'd probably be doing much better for myself right now. Your dress sense -- as the song I've dedicated for you suggests -- is sharp (red trousers? seriously dude?). Joking around at the expense of Sonia has never been more fun until you popped up, so thanks for that too LOL. Like Sonia, you've been incredibly great to me (thanks for the pen and the Beatles book! And that cowboy hat came to great use under that California sun after all) and hanging out with you is always fun -- you're got a quick wit and you're always more than willing to play along with some of... to put it lightly, the painfully lame jokes I usually come up with. Thanks for being such a great guy. AND BY THE WAY NIKON SUCKS!!11!

Eric Chiu (Elton John - Crocodile Rock)
Hey mommy. Now I don't know how you got that name in the first place, but well... It does fit you rather well I suppose. Have you worked on your troll face lately? Because you know... You are quite natural at it. You wouldn't be the best candidate to have as a driver for, say, a California road trip; nor would you be the best guy ever for badminton (the bird goes inside the court, dude.). Ahahaha, I kid, I kid -- you'd still kick my ass all the time in badminton anyway, but then I suck so that's nothing much to be proud of. But then lately I have discovered this strategy to win against you -- just wait until you've killed your own teammate with the bird, and the bragging rights are mine. In a lot of ways, you're like a 15-year-old who also happens to be a grown-up, but that's awesome because us kids can communicate with you rather well (seriously, don't kill me). You're a heck of a nice guy, and the best thing about you is the fact that you do make an effort to take care of everyone (coincidentally very mom-ish) -- whether it be driving to Calgary, Seattle, or driving all the way from Richmond just to have 5 minutes with me on campus for my grad convocation (seriously, something's wrong with you though -- who the heck drives an hour across town just to take pictures with a dumbass like me?) But then, it does show your character -- you care for people, and actions speak louder than words. As with the whole badminton group, I joined you guys well after you guys have known each other for a long time, and yet every time we hang out it feels as if we studied in the same high school. Thanks for everything, and I hope I am not somehow injuring your shoulder when I body check you every time we meet, you pensioner.

Oleg Meshrin (AC/DC - Shoot To Thrill)
This may seem a little weird (which seems to be the common theme when it comes to you, weirdly), but the more I think about it the more you remind me of Robert Downey Jr. At a glance you seem to just be a normal bloke -- subtle, a bit understated. Then you open your mouth and say something and you bring down the whole fucking house. You're hilarious, cool, and you're good at everything. One of the first things I still remember when I first met you back at Stephen's new year's party was when you started an impromptu rapping session in the middle of the kitchen. How random is that? Your wit is legendary; you know how to write; you have awesome taste in music, TV and movies; you are learning to act; you can play badminton; and your Russian accent is impeccable, well, partly because you're Russian, which means you know how to take a drink too. You're strangely knowledgeable about everything, which is why it is never boring to be hanging out with you. Have I mentioned how much of a chronic jokester you are? We know no boundaries when it comes to making a good crack out of nothing. It is not all just fun and games obviously, because when it comes to being a good friend you do a fine job at it -- if things get tough you are there to make sure things are okay too. Oh, and the best thing of all? You like Stephen Fry and Eddie Izzard too, which in my book not only means that you practically speak my language (that look you gave me when I said something along the lines of "I'm covered in bees!" was absolutely golden). You are one cool person, sir. Sorry that I've disappointed you about the adventures (or lack thereof) I had in Reno -- we will make up for that with that debt you still owe me *wink wink*.

Teresa Li (The Cranberries - Dreams)
Since we've met in grade 12 (and rather luckily, found each other studying in the same faculty in SFU), there hasn't been a lot of people who look out for me more than you do. If it wasn't for you, today I wouldn't be taking wedding pictures for people (and therefore getting a new camera, and therefore taking all those photos for all those road trips, and so on and so on), and most importantly I'd probably still be out of a job right now. I don't know exactly know why, but every time there's a job you think I would be great for, you'd always let me know. On top of that, you helped plan my birthday party (best birthday ever by the way), gave me a sweet Canucks jersey, and filled me with valuable knowledge about... erm, lip balms. Thanks. It feels so good every time I walk into a Walgreen's feeling like an absolute idiot asking them if they have that Revlon... Kissable whatever-you-call-it. Consider my humiliation my small payback for all the things you've done for me, eh? That and being your part-time on-call computer technician whenever your laptop decides to get some software-crippling computer virus. And well, yeah, becoming your amateur stalker, but hey -- from the photoshoot we did I think it is established that I can pull off that creepy stalker look with ease. All jokes aside, you have always been the one who keeps sending things my way just to help me out -- even when I haven't asked you to. You've helped me moving forward in the past couple years more than anyone I know, and believe it or not, all the things you've done for me made a huge impact, and I can't thank you enough for everything. You work very hard for yourself, and it shows -- we entered SFU the same time, you graduated last year and now you already have a full time job and planning wayyyy ahead of me. Now if only you'd let me teach you how to use a bloody camera...

Douglas Chong (Monty Python - Always Look on the Bright Side of Life)
You're one of those people in the badminton group that I don't really recall meeting. It all seems kind of Inception-esque that way -- you don't remember how it started and then the next thing you know, you're playing doubles with each other in badminton and having my sorry ass owned by your skills. Obviously, we haven't known each other for the longest time -- but then like everyone in the badminton group you are a great friend. To me, you've always been quite an amusing character -- your sense of humour is a weird one, but then since when is that a crime? The thing that struck me the most is the way you handled yourself in the Calgary trip despite having the car... Well, quite cruelly taken away from you (the encounter with the tow truck on the way didn't help either...). Still, you kept your spirits up and it is something that I am not sure if I could've managed myself. You are easily the most cheerful guy I know, and that to me is something important that most people are lacking nowadays. You have a sweet camera and an even sweeter car, and your skills for both is frankly awesome (thanks, by the way, for being my main photographer every time when I am not behind a camera). You are always nice to people too, and I honestly was surprised that you'd take time off work just to attend my convocation -- let alone taking photos for me. The photos were absolutely perfect, by the way, and they will be a big part of my collection of memories. Thanks for everything and I'll see you Friday!

Paul Kim (The Black Keys - Gold on the Ceiling)
Unlike a lot of my PW pals, you are one of the few people I got to know not during grade 12, but after I've graduated. Kind of weird really, because I don't exactly recall when we started hanging out (I suspect it's your birthday at Genzo's. Man that was a long time ago). The first time I met you though you turned out to be an awesome guy who has a razor-sharp (and super deadpan) wit, which makes you just side-splittingly hilarious. The fact that you have a good taste in music makes you so much cooler, as there isn't much in life more satisfying than the fact that I can blast AC/DC in my car knowing that the passenger in my car will enjoy it as much as I do. I've always thought that you're very cool person, although your cred has somewhat taken a hit since you moved to Richmond -- Burnaby is where all the cool kids come from really (according to me, that is). You are my main go-to guy when it comes to everything Canucks. Which is great, because when it comes to hockey buddies I am really lacking of people to rage and sob uncontrollably with (ie. "41 yearsssss WHYYYY DAMN AARON ROME SAMUELSSON SCREW BOSTON" and repeat). The couple of games we went to was superb -- and the Canucks won every time (although they were playing the Oilers and Flames so...). Still, we need to go to more games -- the 40th anniversary jersey you got me is still the best single thing I've ever received for my birthday and I'd like to wear it for a game some time. Worry not though, for there is plenty of time though for us to witness the Canucks' playoff futility... Sigh. For now though, keep being awesome. Oh, by the way, if you haven't heard of this song already, go ahead and do it -- the Black Keys is utterly awesome.

Wesley Sze (Relient K - Jefferson Aero Plane)
Why so serious, Commissioner Gordon? Isn't this all part of a plan? Oh wait, I am supposed to be Batman, so erm... I am what Gotham City deserves, but not what it needs right now. Or something along those lines. Yes, that night where we are all dressed up as batman characters and dine at Joey's still cracks me up to this day. As were those days we spent hanging out back at the hallways of PW when I was still a grade 11 student (apparently), freaking out over Ms. DiSpirito's photo 11 or having those "mind-expanding" exercises with Mr. Taylor in writing 12. Or having a burger at the Downtown burger king. Time flies by real fast eh? You are the smartest and nicest guy I ever met -- and thanks to your cool taste in music and movies I have a rather disturbingly large collection of music in my iPhone. Bands like Jack's Mannequin, Relient K, Switchfoot, Radiohead are only a tip of an iceberg... That will crack open a bottle of champagne when all those copyright infringements catch up to me.Hope you're enjoying your 5D by the way, because when you come back we need to have a duel at taking night shots around town -- my 60D is no weak sauce either although my skills certainly is. It doesn't seem that long ago when you were still here in Vancity working at Starbucks. Now you're in Stanford Law -- how insane is that? Okay, I say that but it's hardly surprising really -- I knew that you'd do great, but man look how far you've gone since. Massive congratulations and celebrations will be in order when you come back in July. Oh by the way -- if you're back in town by mid-July we HAVE to watch The Dark Knight Rises. I can go dressed up as Bane or something.

Bettina Ng (Switchfoot - Awakening)
Who knew that a simple seating plan change in Chem 12 (well... that and my broken ankle) would lead me to meeting you? I guess being Simony helped, too. The first time we talked it felt as if I was talking to an old friend -- you and friendlier than everyone I know and you are such a great person to talk to. I couldn't have been luckier then, as I didn't know anyone when I got here and you just happened to be the first real friend I met when I came here to Canada --  and I couldn't met a better person I can stress out with over math, chemistry, the provincials and all that bullcrap at school. There was a time in high school when I was being the most Simony and you were there all the time to listen to me rant about everything and making sure that I was okay -- you kept me sane and helped pushing me over the Everest that was grade 12. If it wasn't for you, I wouldn't have gotten into the group and met everyone else. You were just so nice to me, even though I was just this fresh-off-the-boat Asian kid who just can't stop complaining about everything. Can you imagine? I wouldn't know what sort of path I would've taken if I haven't met you guys at PW -- hell, I might be back in Hong Kong by now doing something lame. Honestly though, the way you push yourself forward despite the challenges just shows how strong of a person you are -- and it is something that I've always admired. I remember how tough grade 12 was and that the first couple years at UBC was even harder for you; but then now you've done co-op in Singapore, doing well at school and have a job. I'd say you're doing pretty well in my book. Hope you and Jam had a fun birthday and we will hang out soon again okay?

Jamilla Ng (Maroon 5 - Makes Me Wonder)
Okay, just for the record, The Darkest Hour =/= The Dark Knight Rises. I was practically jumping around for joy anticipating to see the pre-screen of the biggest movie ever the minute you told me about the movie, and then it turned out to be a Russian movie. About aliens. Thanks for getting me excited over that... Of course though, it turned out to be quite a fun night -- as it would be every time I hang out with you. Before I met you in the PW group I only knew you as Mr. Haji's CS student -- ridiculously helpful in every single way and, well, seemed a tad nerdish maybe because of that. At the time when I first saw you I didn't even associate you with Bettina -- as identical twins go (okay fair enough, I only know two pairs of identical twins in my life and one of them are called the Sedins -- you might know them) you guys were pretty easy to tell from each other. When I finally got to meet you though it turned out that you are an incredibly fun person to be around with -- whether it is for a movie or for a bubble tea, or even for a walk around an over-sized shopping centre in the middle of Hong Kong -- it was great seeing a friendly face around. Man, PW has been 5 years ago already even though it feels barely half of that, there was some fun times indeed back then hanging out in the hallways. Don't think you have changed all too much all these years though -- deep inside you are still that hard-working, helpful and friendly person who was always around whenever I was taking Bio 12. Happy belated birthday again, and keep working hard!

Yan Cheung (The Foo Fighters - Learn to Fly)
I wonder how often do people just meet online, and just become really good friends for over a decade -- my guess is that not too many people have done it, yet somehow we have. When we first talked to each other, George W. Bush just became president, people still used Yahoo! to look things up, T.a.t.u was your favourite artist, we both just made it to secondary school, and ICQ was still popular (and coincidentally, how we met in the first place). 11 years later, we have gone from worrying about CE to worrying about going to university, and now we are both out in the world stressing out about jobs and life in general. We have practically grown up together, yet we have never been to school together or worked together. Doesn't matter really, because it didn't stop us from being such great friends. How weird is that? It hasn't even felt that long really... Times does go by very fast indeed. You've always been so nice to me, and I know how much my chasing of the bus after school would still crack you up to this day (seriously, it is NOT that weird to chase after a bus... Even though the next one wouldn't be more than 10 minutes away). One of the reasons I'd still look forward to going to Hong Kong is the fact that I know I'd hang out with you again whenever I go back. You are, after all, one of the few people I have known from Hong Kong that I still talk to now. That night spent waiting at your school earlier this year would've been very successful at being a surprise had I known that it wasn't actually the campus you had a class at, but oh well... You may not think so, but I've always thought of you as a very strong person who knows what you want in life -- so keep working hard! Thanks for trusting me all this time whenever you were faced with problems -- just know that if you do ever feel like a talk I am always here!

Angelica Lau (Marvin Gaye & Tamil Terrell - Ain't No Mountain High Enough)
Your Majesty the Queen Royal Highness Chickus Chickus Angelicus, this is Si. Lord Pigeon of Vancouver, I mean. Also known as the your royal servant (one of your medical staff, I'd imagine). Oh wait, is this still the 1940s? Why did we give each other Fuhrer salutes and mustache? I AM SO CONFUSED. But with you it always is, because our trading of our identities have rendered the both of us immensely super bloody awesome. Honestly, has there ever been a day when the both of us have talked normal and not always resulting in inventing new characters and laughing our asses off? I think not. You're like, the ultimate enabler when it comes to talking about the most randomest things ever -- you drive me insane. In a good way, of course. I think there is a reason why we have yet to meet each other, because the day that we do the whole bloody Universe would collapse on its own from the sheer force of the randomness generated by the both of us. Isn't this random? Oh God, you are so extraordinarily random that you've made this post utterly random already. Look what you've done to me. Anyways, there isn't much I wish more than the fact that someday I'd be able to meet you soon, because you've been too marvelous of a friend for me not to have met you in person... You have been a great friend to me, and I do miss you lots! One day, Queen-Chick, one day. You need to make an official visit to Vancouver, and I shall welcome you with open wings. Oh by the by, do you still need the answer to how much wood could a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Honestly though, it is common knowledge that a woodchuck would chuck as much wood as a woodchuck can chuck wood that is if a woodchuck could chuck wood in the first place! Jeez.

Kathleen Pow (Martin Solveig feat. Dragonette - Hello)
여보세요, Kathleen. How is Korea treating you? I hope you haven't stuffed yourself completely with kimchi yet because the day you drag your ass back here to Vancouver would be the day I am taking you out for some good food (hint: it will be Korean food just in case if you haven't had enough of that in Korea already). It is worth it to troll you after all, as you, Tiffany and I have been annoying and fighting each other since the day we all joined this planet. You guys always had the unfair advantage, of course, by the virtue that there were the bloody two of you, versus me -- the nicest guy in the whole freaking universe. It is about time I get some revenge... But ah well, we will figure that out eventually over bubble tea or something. For twenty years we have been playing, joking, laughing, mocking and embarrassing each other -- or as we might call it, "having a good time". We have been in each others' cross hairs since we were kids, but that just shows how much we know each other and enjoy each others' company. You have been such a fun person to be around all these years -- you know how to take a joke and you know how to retaliate which makes it ever more fun. I always win, of course -- but fun nonetheless. I do have a lot of respect for what you've achieved for yourself, after all I would imagine it is no easy task to be living in Kamloops and then of all places, in Spokane on your own for university. Massive kudos for that, because it is something that I probably won't be able to do. Not only have you managed, but you managed well -- and now you're having fun in Korea. Just, you know, come back soon so we can go get some good food!

Tiffany Pow (Lykke Li - Dance Dance Dance) 
Same with Kathleen up there, we have practically known each other since the Mesozoic Era -- laughing, joking and fighting each other before it was even cool. With you though, it was a little different as you were the youngest amongst us three -- so whenever I used to make fun of you it was fun seeing you trying to retaliate to my superiority (often by punching or crying to Kathleen so she could go and punch me at the same time). Come to think of it, you are still doing that to this day with the minor difference that you run off to Ken instead and complain LOL. All joking aside though, when it comes to being a good friend I really can't ask for much more from you, because I know you will be there if I need someone to talk to. Looking at our childhood pictures and it is very hard not to smile. I remember the first time you came here after F.6 in Hong Kong thinking that you were awfully brave moving to North America being that late -- I learned the hard way adjusting to Vancouver in one of the most crucial years of my life just before university. Worse, you were going to a small city where everyone was a stranger. I don't know how, but somehow not only have you managed to pull off the unimaginable, but you've done remarkably well despite the difficulties -- but then it shouldn't come to me as a surprise really, as I've always known that you are way, wayyyy smarter than me to begin with. You should be proud of your achievements over here, because I sure as hell am very proud (and a bit jealous) of the both of you. Do wish you are back here in Vancouver soon though, just so we can go back to the good ol' days of getting on your nerves being nice to each other.

Carly Sun (Don Henley - New York Minute)
If there's anything I want, it is that if you can just share some of your smart genes with me... You Suns are all so darn smart. My dearest cousin, if we are even closely related (and you're only one year older than me, mind you) then how come you're becoming a doctor soon enough (SEE I TOLD YOU!) and I am a cashier at a sporting goods department store? It is unfair really, because when you have a smart cousin and a not-so-smart cousin, it automatically draws comparisons from people (ie. my parents). But then me being a lazy bastard probably has something to do with it too, because man you have worked so hard to get where you are at right now. I know that things have probably been crazy since you got into medical school, but then I always knew that things would prevail at the end and you'd end up doing something that you like as long as you keep working hard. Talent, of course, has a lot to do with it too, which is I guess where your smart genes come into play (how you've managed to do THAT well in CE was beyond me). It's not all just books and stethoscopes though, we have played with each other since we were kids and it wasn't until when we made that trip to New York in 2008 when I realized just how awesome of a cousin (although I see you more as a friend, really) you really are. New York (plus 4 other cities but NYC was the main point really) was just something that I'd never be able to forget -- you're fantastically fun, adventurous, classy, and you are simply the perfect companion to go on a backpacking trip with. And whenever you're ready to go on a trip to North America again, I'll be here waiting. We can go pin-shopping for your pair of crocs again. Next stop Florida?

Brian Leung (Smashing Pumpkins - Today)
We came here to Vancouver at the same time in 2006. Before that, we have been in the same class together since F.4. We have been through all the CE crap, the school board exams, grade 12, TOEFL, LPI, and all those university stuff after we came. Then, we both made it to SFU and are pretty close to making it to the real world. To say that I relate to you the most out of everyone I know would be an understatement. Our background is so strikingly similar, yet you've always managed to do better than me in almost everything. Sure enough, you're busier than a stockbroker but hey, you've found yourself a great job and earned yourself some pretty good living so far and being able to sustain yourself. Me? I work part-time at sport chek after graduating from university. You work hard and you play hard, and you deserve everything you've gotten yourself -- and I have nothing but massive respect for what you've achieved in a span of less than six years. Every time we hang out -- whether it be for bubble tea, hot pot or skiing in Cypress -- you and your family have always treated me well. It is always fun to be hanging out with you guys. Although in the past couple years you've been the only guy from TSSS in Vancouver that I have regularly made contact with, it couldn't have been a better guy. Good luck with SFU buddy, and thanks for everything! We will go for all-you-can-eat dinner or something soon, yeah?

Steve Fok (Blink-182 - What's My Age Again)
In theory, there is absolutely no way that we should be friends in the first place. You were an annoying little brat in high school, you secretly think that you're the British reincarnation of General Patten, and frankly your version of playing hockey is nothing like the real one we play across the pond. Indeed, there have been times in the past when I had to resist pulling my hair out because you just wouldn't stop yanking my chain. Yet ever since we met in F.3 in that MTR ride (and subsequently, AWE programme) you have been like a brother to me. Every time I go to Hong Kong, the trip wouldn't be complete without finding you and catching up with you again with some BG4 action. Honestly, in the eight or so years I've known you I honestly think that you haven't changed much at all -- you are still the same loyal, hilarious, hard-working, stubborn, annoying little brat that you were when we first met. To me that's fantastic, because when I see you every now and then (getting a bit or a rarity as of late... but they this is why you should be coming to Canada after you graduate) I know you'd still be your same old self -- trying to tick me off and then take me out for lunch and a coffee. Back in high school I probably wasn't the easiest to hang out with either, but despite everything you have always stuck by my side. My time at TSSS would've been a lot more unbearable had I not have you around as a friend to chill out with, and I would definitely have failed HKCEE if we hadn't studied together all the time. The time with you and Vanessa at the Police club was just the most fun I've ever had -- and in stressful times like F.4 and F.5 I really needed something like that. Keep studying hard at HKU and soon enough you'll get your turn wearing a funny hat to graduate.

Alice Ho (Hellogoodbye - Two Weeks in Hawaii)
Well well well, I have saved you for the last because a) you are special and b) when it comes to you, I know I can probably write a couple thousand words (and have in the past, coincidentally) and still feel that it doesn't adequately describe how I feel. I'll avoid being long and dreary, but being me I have the suspicion that this will end up being exactly that (plus the fact that I've written about you here, here, and here; so it is entirely possible that you already know what I am going to say), so... Here goes anyway. It has been 7 years since we have known each other, most of them with us being on the opposite sides of the world. Despite that fact though, these were years of awkwardness, joy, care, fun, adventure, attachment, confusion, pain, regret, reconciliation, trust. To say that you are the one who most influenced me as a person is a grave understatement -- after all, we have been through this 7-year roller coaster ride together and for better or worse, what we do now still carry significance in each others' universe. From time to time I look back and I sometimes wonder what would happen if we hadn't met on MSN back in 2005 -- and always ending up absolutely dreading the possibility of that. After all, you've added so much colour into my life. Funny how a simple conversation would come to something like this, eh? To this day I am sure that there isn't anyone who knows me half as well as you do, at the same time being someone who would stick around with me to support me and motivate me every step of the way, even though sometimes I may seem to not bother anymore. At times we might frustrate each other but at the end of the day we both know what we have is something special and is too much to be tossed away. Sure, by your definition of special it is probably in the shape of a sparkling new G-Class (and a missing kidney), but still special nonetheless. I find myself being jealous of you sometimes, as you are smarter than me, you are more talented in photography than me, and you have always gone for the things you wanted instead of sitting on the fence. The day you become a successful photographer -- and that day will come -- I will be waiting around for you to hire me as an assistant or something. A heartfelt thank you for those graduation flowers you gave me. Always good to know that I don't have to wait until I am six feet under before receiving flowers from a living person (the XGL reference is a very nice touch too). The only thing you have to do now is to come here, but until that happens I will keep on waiting.

Thanks for everything, everyone.
It has been a great month, and an even greater six years since I've been here.

PS: Regular service will resume with the continuation of my California trip diaries.
PPS: View my convo pics here.