Tuesday, December 22, 2009

an exciting holiday season

I've been rather busy lately even though the semester has ended. You see, I'm hoping to continue my graduate studies after finishing my current degree at St. Mary's College of California. To increase my chances, I've applied to around 18 universities. The good news is that I'm mostly done with the applications. That means I'm pretty much free for the holidays. :-)

Christmas is a time for people to come together. Therefore, my parents are inviting some family friends over for dinner in the next few days. However, the best part is that we'll be going to the Great Lakes area and the Atlantic Northeast for 11 days shortly after Christmas. The main purpose of the trip is to look at schools to which I've applied, although we'll visit relatives in Chicago and the Yen family in New Jersey as well. I'm so excited!

In other news...

1. We had Bonnie and her husband John over for dinner on the 20th. Click here to see all the good stuff we ate!

2. In an effort to learn more about finance, I accompanied my parents to their refinancing appointment this afternoon. While the process wasn't as complicated as I had thought, there was a shitload of paperwork they had to sign. Gotta love bureaucracy.

Currently watching: The Bridge at Remagen

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Black Friday report

Yesterday was pretty amazing. To start off, my parents and I went hunting for bargains right after getting out of bed. Given that Black Friday items are usually on a first-come, first-served basis, the only way to have a chance of getting them is to arrive as early as possible. Though it was barely 6 a.m. when we left our house, the stores were already filled with shoppers.

Our first stop was Macy's at Stanford Shopping Center. Seeing that the lines weren't too long, my mother bought a stand mixer and miniature oven. The other stop was Fry's Electronics, although there wasn't anything we needed.

Party report

The highlight of the day was the party at Carol's house. Her family throws a big party on Black Friday every year and decided to have us over this time. Considering that we didn't have our own gathering, I'm grateful that the Liangs invited us to theirs.

Everyone brought lots of food as this was a potluck dinner. Mom's homemade mashed potatoes were a favorite among the kids. I counted at least 20 dishes, not to mention desserts. There was so much stuff that I didn't get to try everything!

Around 30 guests showed up, including lots of Emily's and Stacey's friends. Our younger generation played Taboo after dinner. This was undoubtedly the best part of the evening. I hope it won't be long before the Liangs have another get-together like this one. You could tell I'm a party animal. ^_^

There was a boy named Raymond who seemed bored, probably because he had nobody to play with. I decided to be cool and let him play SNES games on my laptop using an emulator while I hung out with the other millennials. Speaking of which, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars looked so much fun. I really need to try it out myself.

On the whole, the evening couldn't have been better. You can see my pictures from the party on Flickr. Another guest, Clif, has also posted pictures online; those can be viewed at his Picasa album.

Currently playing: Tetris Attack

Historical note: Clif's photos are no longer available due to Picasa shutting down. I'll update this post if I find a mirror.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving report

Thanksgiving was a little different this year. I'm hoping to study statistics after finishing my degree at St. Mary's College of California and have been extremely busy with graduate school applications. In other words, most of my time has been spent filling in forms and writing essays on why I'm so great. It's like applying for college all over again!

This is also the first time since 2005 that we didn't have anyone over. As cooking all that food and cleaning up the house can be daunting, my family decided to forgo a party this time. However, that's not a problem because the Liangs have invited us to their Black Friday gathering. Sweet!

Our other plan for Black Friday is to get up early in the morning to grab some deals. This is something we've never done before and will be a new experience. Friday should be pretty exciting.

The bad news is that I've been suffering from acid reflux for about a week now. I'm guessing it has to do with the stress. The most noticeable symptom is that I often feel hungry even when full. At the risk of sounding like a hypochondriac, I certainly hope it doesn't turn into anything serious.

This year, I'm thankful for having Bonnie as my undergraduate advisor. Those five years at Berkeley would have been much tougher without her help. On the subject of which, my parents invited her and her husband John to dinner at Lo Coco's Restaurant two weeks ago as a show of gratitude. You can view the pictures from the meal here.

In other news...

I recently got my first smartphone: the Samsung Rogue. The built-in browser is useful for accessing the Internet on the go even though it kind of sucks.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

new MacBook Pro

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was getting a MacBook Pro. Well, my new computer just arrived. Sweet!

Seeing that Macs have become popular again in recent years, my father figured a MacBook Pro would be a nice addition. He also felt it would be useful if I ever needed to work across platforms. The laptop has a 2.53 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of RAM and 500 GB of disk space. It makes my IBM ThinkPad T42 seem slow in comparison. The 13" screen is also nice. Thanks, Dad!

I haven't used an Apple product in ages and don't know too much about Macs at the moment. Looks like I'll have to start reading Mac OS X for Dummies soon. :P

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Lobster Feed report

The Lobster Feed absolutely rocked. It was an epic birthday celebration!

I was hiking in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park with my parents last weekend when a banner at the entrance caught our eye. Given that the park is one of our favorite weekend destinations, my father went to buy tickets right away. The fact that the event was on my 24th birthday was a deciding factor. :-)

Dad also invited his cousin Susan and her husband Tony to come along after finding out they were visiting from China. Our party had some tea before starting out as the Lobster Feed was in the evening. We then took the couple to Santana Row in San Jose so they could see what it was like.

It was still early when we arrived at the venue for the event. However, there was a problem: Dad didn't know Tony and Susan were coming and had only bought three tickets. It looked like two of us would have to miss out. But luck was on our side: my parents were about to give up their spots when a volunteer found two more tickets at the last minute - and only because two people didn't show up. That was a close call.

There was some free time, during which we went for a hike. The timing couldn't have been better: all of us got back to the picnic area just as the feast started. Had we returned a few minutes later, the lines would have been much longer.

At any rate, the lobsters were delicious. I was surprised at how fresh they tasted, considering that they were shipped from Maine. Though we enjoyed the meal, the food selection was limited. Aside from the corn, garlic bread and salad, there wasn't much else except ice cream and cookies for dessert.

A local band called Highway One played bluegrass after dinner. Some people got up to dance; there was an Irish couple who knew how to bust a move. Dad also asked the band to give me a birthday shout-out, to which they obliged. That made me blush. ^_^

I also couldn't resist the opportunity to show off my new 200 mW green laser. The steam from the pots made the beam highly visible. People definitely thought it was cool.

The Lobster Feed was overall awesome. Besides the small selection of food, the only downside is that the music was limited to bluegrass. Don't get me wrong - bluegrass is one of our favorite genres - but too much of the same stuff makes it repetitive. Other than that, I don't have any complaints.

While the tickets were $50 each, the important thing is that the profits go towards the park through the Mountain Parks Foundation. It's certainly nice to eat good food for a good cause. All of us were more than happy to give back to the place we love so much. I've posted some pictures from the event.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

officially 24 today

So I'm now officially 24 years old. Gosh, that makes me feel like an old man. ^_^

I mentioned yesterday that my family had an early celebration to accommodate the replacement of our refrigerator. The good news is that the delivery came in the morning, leaving the rest of the day free. As you could probably tell, the new fridge was more of a coincidence than a present. :P

Just because we already had a party doesn't mean the fun is over. Dad's cousin Susan and her husband Tony are visiting from China and coming over in the afternoon, and the plan is to take them to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park for the Lobster Feed. This is something I'm really excited about. I'll post a report of the event after getting home.

I got some nice presents as well: the store where we purchased the Lobster Feed tickets gave us two natural history books as part of a promotion. I also have a MacBook Pro that is due to arrive soon. This is going to be an awesome birthday for sure.

One thing I like to do on my birthday is to share three random facts about my childhood. So here they are:

  1. I sometimes pretended to be a guy named Winston when I was little.
  2. Shortly after I started middle school, Mom wanted me to attend the first LAYC dance so I could see what it was like. However, she didn't have school dances back in her day and assumed it would be a formal event. I ended up being the only one who showed up in a tuxedo. Awkward!
  3. I used to think hugs always went with kisses. There was this one time when one of my elementary school teachers gave me a hug while I was waiting for my mother. Three guesses as to what happened next. *blush*

Friday, October 9, 2009

birthday bash!

As some of you may know, I'm turning 24 tomorrow. However, our new refrigerator is arriving the same day and will likely take a while to set up. Therefore, my family decided to do an early celebration. :-)

Although I generally don't have birthday parties anymore, Mom invited the Chus and the Liangs over for lunch. The reason is that Wen-Ko and I share a birthday on the 10th as do Carol and Dad on the 16th. So we're really celebrating four birthdays at once!

Of note is that Wen-Ko brought a delicious green tea cake from Sogo Bakery. I've posted a picture of it here. She is definitely one of our more generous friends. But considering that it's her birthday too, I couldn't help but feel guilty about her buying the cake. Haha.

The gathering was overall quite enjoyable. The only downside is that there was nobody else my age; Emily had to work while Stacey was at school. Of course, that's not a problem as I'm sure our families will get together again in the future. :-)

Currently listening to: "Vad Heter Du?" by Caramell

Friday, September 18, 2009

my maternal grandfather just passed away :-(

2009 hasn't been a good year: Mom just got word that my maternal grandfather Ching-Shang Yang has died this morning. He was 98 years old. I don't have any good words. :\

The exact cause of death is unclear, but early reports are pointing to gastrointestinal bleeding. This was bound to happen given Grandpa's age but still came as a surprise. At least I don't think he suffered too much.

Ching-Shang was the oldest of my grandparents and the last surviving one. I had hoped he would become a centenarian, but that's a dream that will never be realized. On the bright side, I believe he has been reunited with my grandmother Pi-Tan and uncle Harrison in Heaven. Though Grandpa may no longer be with us in person, he'll remain in our hearts forever.

To those who have offered support during this difficult time, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Currently listening to: "Shine Your Light" by Robbie Robertson

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Labor Day weekend party report

Seeing that it had been a while since our last major gathering, Mom invited some people over last night for an early Labor Day celebration!

Dad was on a business trip and didn't get home until right before the guests arrived. Therefore, the two of us did most of the work in cleaning up the house and setting up the table. Believe it or not, hosting a party isn't all fun and games. However, our efforts paid off because everyone had a great time.

The guests were the Lus, the Lees and our family friend Karen. Though Eddie and my cousins had other plans and didn't come, that didn't make the party any less fun. The table was full of food as this was a potluck dinner. There were also the usual jokes due to Karen being a lawyer. Haha.

The kids and I watched the 2007 remake of 3:10 to Yuma after dinner while the older folks chatted at the table. We later played cards instead as the movie didn't turn out to be too exciting. Tropic Thunder may have been a better choice, but Thomas and Connie had seen it before. It's too bad we don't have Rock Band or something. I also took the opportunity to show off my new 200 mW green laser. People definitely thought it was cool. :-)

One thing that almost ruined the mood is that my laptop got infected with malware while Connie and Jenny were using it. Before anyone asks, they had nothing to do with the viruses. Though the offending programs were relatively easy to remove, the whole situation was a pain in the ass. I hate the jerks that write these things.

The girls later played Text Twist while Thomas and I came up with words. That was no doubt the best part of the evening. But as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end: our guests had to leave as it was getting late. On the whole, the party totally rocked. This was actually our first time having people over during the Labor Day weekend. It seems I now have another holiday to look forward to!

Also worth mentioning is that Mei knew I recently finished my undergraduate studies at Berkeley and gave me a Swarovski crystal set with a graduation theme. I can't thank her enough for the gift. The set is quite beautiful; I've posted a picture of it here.

Currently watching: 3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

new 200 mW laser

You probably won't believe this, but I just got a really powerful green laser for free!

Some of you may have heard of a company called Wicked Lasers that sells high-powered lasers. The CEO has recently been sending samples to members of various forums in exchange for reviews. I was one of the lucky recipients. This was just about the last thing I expected, especially considering that I've harshly criticized the company in the past two years.

The laser I received is the 200 mW model of the Spyder I Pro series. This thing is incredibly bright and actually burns stuff. I could play with it for hours. Unlike the previous laser I got from Wicked Lasers, the Spyder I Pro is extremely stable. I'd definitely like to thank Steve Liu for this amazing opportunity.

You can read my full and hopefully unbiased review of the Spyder I Pro at Laser Pointer Forums. I've posted pictures and videos at Flickr. The videos are also available on YouTube.

August 29 update: The review and media are now online.

Currently watching: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Monday, August 24, 2009

back from Napa and Carson City

"If you want to get a date, then you've got to know how to dance!" -- jazz festival host

Summer is ending on a good note as my family went on a road trip to Napa and Carson City over the weekend. It was certainly a great way to unwind after a busy summer session. :-)

Day 1

The trip began on the 21st just before noon. The plan was to leave three hours earlier, but there was an assignment for FAIM 602 that I had stayed up past midnight to finish. Though it wasn't due until three days later, I felt it was better to get it out of the way first and not have to worry about it during the trip. Dad agreed and let me sleep in.

Our first stop was Szechuan Taste Restaurant in San Francisco for lunch. The food was somewhat overcooked but wasn't too bad otherwise. This was followed by a stop in Muir Woods National Monument in the afternoon. High temperatures aside, the beautiful trails made for a great hike.

The final destination of the day was Napa. Seeing that there were few restaurants near the hotel, my parents bought some frozen meals at a supermarket for dinner. We watched parts of The Seeker and The Dark Knight on HBO as well as relaxed in the spa.

Day 2

All of us somehow woke up around 5 a.m. and were unable to sleep again. Figuring that we might as well make use of the time, my parents and I took a stroll around the hotel before coming back for breakfast. The nice thing about getting up early is that the air is usually very fresh.

The day began with a side trip to the University of California, Davis as we wanted a look at the campus. However, there wasn't much to do here as the school isn't open at this time of the year. We didn't stay long before returning to Napa.

Speaking of which, downtown Napa was quite nice. I had a great time browsing the stores and the Napa Farmers Market. There were also countless wineries in the area, three of which we visited. While wineries aren't my cup of tea, I'm always open to exploring new places. This was an enjoyable part of our trip despite the high temperatures.

Carson City awaited us in the evening. Dad had also seen an ad for a U-pick blueberry farm along the route, but it was closed for the day when we arrived. This was a bit of a shame as we love to pick berries. On the other hand, my family had a nice dinner at Carrows in South Lake Tahoe.

We checked into our hotel in Carson City and had a short rest before going to a local jazz festival. There was a large variety of music as the event was open to both professional and indie groups. The host also encouraged people to get up and dance - which nobody did. :-(

Day 3

Dad took us the historic Virginia City after breakfast. The town had a large number of shops and restaurants lining the main road. I enjoyed checking them out even though there wasn't anything we needed. I'd say Virginia City was the highlight of the trip.

The three of us had lunch at one of the casinos after getting back to Nevada's capital. The food was delicious despite the low prices. One thing I've noticed is that casinos often have cheap eats. They probably do this to encourage people to keep playing.

Downtown Carson City was another nice place for a stroll. Dad wanted to take a detour to Mono Lake and Yosemite National Park next, but we went to South Lake Tahoe instead after deciding the overhead was too high. The cool breeze from the lake was comfortable; I'd have stayed longer if Mom wasn't feeling tired.

As per tradition, the final stop was WinCo Foods in Vacaville. The store had so much stuff that we spent a full 90 minutes buying our groceries for the next few weeks. We got home just as the clock struck midnight.

Conclusions

Nevada is one of those states that we hadn't explored much, making this trip especially refreshing. Virginia City was overall my favorite stop. The hike in Muir Woods was also memorable even though the weather was pretty warm. Considering that I just finished college, there is no better way to celebrate!

I took a huge number of pictures despite the brevity of the trip. Go here to see them. :-)

August 26 update: The pictures are online.

Currently watching: The Dark Knight

Saturday, August 15, 2009

finally done with college!

The CS 61A final was quite tough and took me almost five hours to complete. Though it was almost midnight when I was done, my family didn't get home too late because we did most of the moving two days ago. Assuming I didn't fail the class, then I'll be getting my bachelor's degree.

I'm not out of the woods yet as the classes at St. Mary's College of California started last month. While they aren't a walk in the park either, I can at least catch my breath. One thing for sure is that I'm going to miss college life. But at the same time, I'm extremely excited about what the future has to offer.

Update: The grades for CS 61A and Math 128A have been posted. I didn't do as well in Math 128A as I had hoped, but my GPA is good enough. That means I'll definitely graduate. Woohoo!

The bad news is that I won't be able to walk the aisle until next May as this year's commencement has passed. Of course, that's not too big of a deal - what matters is that I'm done with college. :-)

Currently reading: Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs by Harold Abelson

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First day of graduate school

The first quarter of the financial analysis program at St. Mary's College of California has started. In other words, I'm officially a graduate student!

Unlike regular programs, MS-FAIM is intended for professionals. Though most students are my age, there are a few in their 40s and beyond. The classes aren't held on the Moraga campus, but at the American Management Association conference center at the San Francisco Marriott Marquis. I have to travel to San Francisco twice a week because we meet Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Can't say the commute is fun.

Ant any rate, today was the FAIM 601 lecture. To tell you the truth, accounting isn't exactly the most exciting subject in the world. The fact that each session is four hours long doesn't help the issue. It's going to be hard to not fall asleep. ^_^

I'm actually still finishing up my bachelor's degree and will be taking classes at both Berkeley and the AMA for the next five weeks. The overlap is going to be tough, but nothing I can't handle. On the subject of which, I should probably continue preparing for my Math 128A midterm. Peace.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

back from the graduate school orientation

I just got back from the orientation at St. Mary's College of California. It took a while to get there as the campus is 55 miles away in Moraga. Unlike my college orientation, this one only lasted a few hours.

The event began with a networking session. I got to meet the other students and enjoy hors d'oeuvres. The faculty and administrators then went over things like class descriptions and graduation requirements. The day concluded with a delicious three-course dinner. This was definitely a warm welcome to the program. You can view my pictures here.

It's hard to believe I'll be starting graduate school in six days. Damn, I feel old. ^_^

Sunday, July 5, 2009

a brief 4th of July weekend report

Because I'm incredibly busy this summer, the 4th of July was mostly uneventful. I'm taking two classes at Berkeley and will be starting two others in San Francisco very soon. That means I've had to spend most of the time studying. Yeah, fun.

Other than that, my family went hiking a few times. We also saw a professional fireworks display from our house. So at least the long weekend wasn't that bad.

In other news...

Happy first anniversary to my cousin Anne and her husband Lawrence!

Currently listening to: "Poker Face" by Lady Gaga

Sunday, June 21, 2009

back to Berkeley for the summer

I just returned to Berkeley for the summer session. To save time, my parents already helped me move most of my things yesterday afternoon. The reason for coming back today is that I wanted to an extra day to relax at home.

For those curious, I'm taking CS 61A and Math 128A this summer. Assuming everything goes to plan, this will be my last stint in college. I'll have to work hard as both courses look tough.

Speaking of academics, I've decided to enroll in the graduate program at St. Mary's College of California. Due to a schedule overlap, there is a period of five weeks during which I'll be taking classes at Berkeley and St. Mary's College at the same time. That means I'll be extremely busy the next two months. So wish me luck - I'm going to need lots of it.

In other news...

Happy Father's Day to my dad and all other dads out there!

Currently reading: Numerical Analysis by Richard L. Burden

Thursday, June 18, 2009

two new laptops and a memory upgrade!

Dad just got two new laptops: an Acer Aspire 6930 for Mom and a Dell Studio XPS 1640 for himself. They each have a 2.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of RAM and 500 GB of disk space. Mom frequently complains about her old notebook acting up, so the new one should make her life slightly easier. :-)

On the subject of computers, I also gave my Dell Dimension 3000 a memory upgrade. It's now faster than ever. The difference between 512 MB and 2 GB of RAM is huge!

In other news...

I recently applied for the graduate business program at St. Mary's College of California at the suggestion of my father. The good news is that I've been accepted. Woohoo!

I'm still deciding whether to enroll. If we choose the summer session, I'd have to take classes at Berkeley and St. Mary's College concurrently for five weeks. The other option is to wait until I'm done with college, but the next enrollment window isn't until December. Decisions, decisions.

Currently watching: Night at the Museum 2: Battle of the Smithsonian

Saturday, May 30, 2009

back from Spain

I just got back from Spain with my parents. The vacation was nothing short of amazing. Read on to find out what we did!

Day 1

We left for San José International Airport around 11:20 a.m. to catch a plane to Chicago. The reason for stopping here is that Dad wanted to see his late paternal uncle Chi-Ming's family in Illinois. It was the perfect opportunity to catch up as we hadn't seen them since my uncle Da-Wei's wedding 15 years ago.

Da-Wei picked us up at O'Hare and gave us a ride to my great-aunt Shu-Ying's house. I met my uncle Peter and cousins Eric and William for the first time. This was followed by dinner at a Chinese buffet restaurant. The food was delicious!

All of us headed to Da-Wei's house in Darien to relax after dinner. Eric and William had tons of video games, but there was no time for them as we had to leave for New York City the next day. I saw my aunt Fei-Bi's daughter Jennifer after returning to Shu-Ying's place. Her brother Frank was out of town, so we'll have to wait until another time to see him.

Days 2 and 3

Our families met up after breakfast to pay respects to Chi-Ming at the cemetery where he was buried. One thing I noticed is that Shu-Ying had already reserved a spot for herself next to him. Well, that's just depressing. I'd rather not see my name on a gravestone as long as I'm alive, but to each their own.

Da-Wei took us to the airport after the farewells. On the whole, our stay in Chicago was enjoyable. It's too bad we had to leave after just one night. Looks like we'll have to plan another trip there in the future.

The flight to New York City was mostly uneventful. The three of us made our way to the international terminal at JFK for our flight to Barcelona. I got to see Yes Man and Horton Hears a Who! on the plane. However, my parents soon realized we had forgotten to bring our hotel voucher. To make matters worse, none of us could remember the name of the place. Uh-oh.

The good news is that the three Spanish girls that Mom had befriended earlier were able to help us find the hotel. Those ladies will always have our gratitude - no doubt we'd be in deep shit without their kindness. They even gave us their names: Naiara, Guiomar and Goizane. I wish we had gotten their contact information.

The final stop of the day was Madrid. The plane landed at Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport around 75 minutes later. I then took a two-hour nap in our hotel room. That was quite nice, considering I hadn't slept in about 28 hours!

The evening ended with dinner at a Chinese restaurant and a stroll around the area. Being completely exhausted, my family didn't stay out too long before heading back for some well-deserved rest.

Day 4

The jet lag made it hard to sleep more than a few hours. All of us woke up around 4 a.m. and decided to explore the downtown. It was still early when we returned to the hotel for breakfast. Fatigue soon caught up with us, at which point we went back to sleep.

A popular attraction was the Madrid Vision bus tour. There are two routes, one that runs through historical Madrid and the other through the modern parts. Given that Spain is known for its beautiful architecture, Mom suggested the historical route first.

The three buses that passed us were all full. Dad went back to the store for a refund and was told they couldn't issue one. Funnily enough, the next bus had vacant seats. The tour was fun and informative; it's probably a good thing we didn't get the refund. The plan was to have lunch at one of the stops, but nothing there looked appetizing. We didn't actually have anything to eat until the late afternoon!

Following the tour and another nap, my family went to see an evening flamenco show at a local restaurant. Though ethnic dances aren't my cup of tea, the performance was incredible. There was a funny moment when the lead dancer swung her fan too hard, causing it to fly out of her hand and almost hit one of the guitarists in the face. I'm not going to lie - that would have been hilarious. *evil grin*

For dinner, the three of us went to the same place as the night before. It was well past midnight when we were done eating!

Day 5

The morning began with a tour of Toledo, an old town about 45 miles south of Madrid. The culture was well-preserved - it was like a step back in time. The five-hour tour was lots of fun despite the warm weather. I also chatted with a German girl who kept checking me out. I'm such a flirt. ^_^

On the whole, Toledo was my favorite part of the trip. Mom had hoped to spend more time in Toledo and even take the train to Seville, but neither was possible due to time constraints. Oh well, they're something to consider for a future trip to Spain.

It was 2 p.m. when we got back to the hotel. All of us were super hungry and had another late lunch before catching a Madrid Vision bus for the modern route. The architecture was truly impressive.

The final stop of the day was a seafood restaurant for dinner. It was a tourist trap. While the fish wasn't too bad, I can't say the same for the paella. The €36 dish was undercooked, too salty and definitely not worth the price. The restaurant also charged us for the bread that we didn't ask for. Bastards.

"Lunch" at 5 p.m. and dinner at midnight may seem unusual, but that's not too crazy compared to what goes on in college. ^_^

Day 6

The early flight back to Barcelona meant we had to leave Madrid right after breakfast. Upon arriving in Barcelona, the three of us took the train to the stop closest to our hotel. Carrying all that luggage was a pain in the ass. In hindsight, a taxi would have been a better choice.

The hotel was nowhere to be seen when we got off at the station. It turned out the woman at the airport information booth had given us wrong directions. The idiot wasted an hour of our time, and Dad was pretty pissed off. On the bright side, the right station wasn't very far.

The Barcelona bus tour awaited us next. This one was extensive and consisted of three different routes. I really enjoyed this tour as well. The not-so-fun part is that the selfish driver made us sit in the hot sun while he leisurely ate his lunch in the shade. Sheesh...

The day ended with a nice dinner at a restaurant in downtown Barcelona. There was lots of commotion as we were walking back to the hotel. It turned out locals were celebrating FC Barcelona's victory over Manchester United F.C. during the 2009 UEFA Champions League Final. That was a cool experience.

Day 7

This was the most chaotic day of our trip. One thing we had heard before coming to Spain is that there are lots of shady people who prey on tourists. That didn't seem to be the case... until we arrived in Barcelona.

The breakfast at the hotel was delicious. The free time allowed us to continue with the Barcelona bus tour and have lunch at a deli near one of the stops. This was another memorable moment of our vacation.

Deciding to take a break from the bus, my family went on the Barcelona Metro after lunch. Some people started pushing through the crowd as we were boarding the train at one of the stations. Mom saw napkins sticking out of Dad's pockets as we got off the train. That means someone had tried to go through them!

The napkins were all they got because my father had put them there as a decoy before starting out. I wish I could have seen their reactions. Perhaps I should get some Monopoly money the next time we visit Spain. :P

Later in the afternoon, my parents were taking pictures in a courtyard when three teenage girls asked us to sign some sort of petition. Dad felt these girls were up to no good and told them to GTFO. Chances are that they wanted to do questionable things while using the "petition" as a distraction.

Seeing that third route of the Barcelona bus tour wasn't long at all, my family finished the tour before coming back to the Metro. Things then went from bad to worse. At another Metro station, Mom noticed four young men trying to get close to my father. The escalator we were riding suddenly came to a stop. Just then, she caught one of the guys reaching towards Dad's pocket. The guy only backed off when Mom angrily asked what he was doing. Yikes!

Someone had apparently pushed the emergency stop button to create a diversion. Dad reported the incident to nearby security officers, but they wouldn't give a shit. Only when he threatened to contact the U.S. embassy did they take our statement. A group of girls later told us they were robbed of their luggage right in front of them. Holy crap.

We took pictures at Torre Agbar and the Arc de Triomf before returning to the hotel. The fun wasn't over: my parents were ordering sandwiches for a late-night meal when Dad noticed some suspicious-looking people loitering in the area. First was a guy selling beer. Another beer vendor soon joined him, followed by two other guys passing out business cards. Something didn't add up: why the hell would anyone want business cards in the middle of the night?

Dad had an uneasy feeling and suggested that we get the hell out of there. On the way back to the hotel, my father noticed a man on a rental bike spying on us from a distance. To say this was creepy would be an understatement. But at least the sandwiches were pretty good!

Days 8 and 9

It was time to bid adiós to Spain. The flight to NYC wasn't too bad. I saw Get Smart and Marley & Me before getting some sleep. Upon arriving in the Big Apple, my family took the New York City Subway to Brooklyn and bought some sandwiches there. I was a little worried about missing our connecting flight to Dallas, but we managed to get back to JFK on time.

Given our tight schedule, there wasn't much to do in Dallas other than browse the airport shops. The last leg of the trip was a 12:40 p.m. flight to San Jose. After we landed, our family friend Karen picked us up and gave us a ride home.

Conclusions

This was one of our best international vacations ever. Toledo was my favorite stop, although I loved Barcelona as well. The language barrier posed difficulties at times, but people generally understood our questions and vice versa. It was also nice to finally put my high school Spanish classes to good use.

I was concerned about pickpockets, especially after having heard so many horror stories from other travelers. While we did run into a few of them, they didn't take our stuff, much to our relief. I'm also glad none of them had level 99 thieving in real life. Couldn't resist the RuneScape reference. :P

Seedy people aside, Spain is a great place to visit. I'd love to go back there in the future. In the meantime, feel free to check out the pictures from the trip. Now that we're home, I should probably start preparing for my summer classes. On the bright side, I'll be done with college after this summer session!

In other news...

I just got a Flickr Pro subscription. That means I can start sharing my older photos. :-)

May 31 update: The pictures are now online.

Currently listening to: "We're from Barcelona" by I'm from Barcelona

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Hooray for summer!

The spring semester has ended. The exams weren't easy by any means. I spent most of last night studying and only had three hours of sleep. To say I'm exhausted right now would be an understatement.

One thing for sure is that I'll miss my suitemates Bryan, Danny and Tyler. The same goes for their friend Caitlin; she often visited our suite and was one of the sweetest girls I've ever met. It was hard to part with these awesome folks. On the other hand, I'm extremely excited about my family's upcoming trip to Spain. :-)

In other news...

1. Happy 17th birthday to my cousin Cathy!

2. I went to the MBA open house at St. Mary's College of California right after leaving Berkeley. Dad is suggesting that I apply to their graduate program. That's actually not a bad idea.

3. Today is the fifth anniversary of the passing of my maternal grandmother Pi-Tan. She was an absolutely amazing person. You'll always be in our hearts, Grandma.

Currently playing: Lexicominos

Friday, April 3, 2009

R.I.P. Uncle Harrison :-(

I've got some sad news: my maternal uncle Hong-Sheng "Harrison" Yang has passed away from complications of Parkinson's disease. He was only 61 years old.

There are few people as kind and caring as Harrison. I don't think my uncle has ever gotten mad at me. He always gave to the needy whenever he had the chance and has touched numerous lives during his time on Earth.

I had hoped a cure for this terrible disease would be found while he was still with us, but the powers that be had other plans. On the other hand, my uncle's passing could be a blessing in disguise. The disease had caused him so much pain that he could barely live his life. Even walking was a difficult task for him. Harrison is now with Buddha and no longer suffering.

However, the rest of us face difficult days. I feel especially bad for my cousin Lori as she is now without a father. There is little to do to ease her pain, but please send her positive thoughts. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Rest in peace, Uncle Harrison. You'll forever be in our hearts.

In other news...

On a similar note, my thoughts are also with those affected by the tragedy in Binghamton. Just what the hell is wrong with people these days?

Currently listening to: "Tears in Heaven" by Eric Clapton

Sunday, March 29, 2009

my last spring break of college

So spring break has ended. It wasn't all that bad despite the economic recession. :-)

For starters, my family had dinner with Dad's doctoral advisor from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Seeing that Dr. Trick and his wife were in town, Dad invited them over on the 20th. This was followed by a hike in Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park on Saturday. The plan was to go hiking on Sunday as well, but we went to a farmers' market instead as it was too windy outside.

The rest of the week was relatively uneventful as I mostly studied for the upcoming IEOR 161 midterm. Prof. Lim's class isn't easy for sure. On the other hand, Mom and I went shopping for groceries a few times. As weird as it sounds, I love going to supermarkets. There's always so much food. Haha.

The second weekend was nice too. The weather on Saturday was just right and made for a great hike. Stevens Creek County Park is one of those places that never gets old. Considering that it had rained a lot in recent weeks, Stevens Creek Reservoir was almost full and will likely overflow soon.

Our family friend Karen then came over for dinner. This was overall the best part of the weekend. Given that Karen is a foodie, the conversations were mostly about food and wine. Of course, there were also the usual lawyer jokes. Good times.

The three of us went hiking in Rancho San Antonio County Park this afternoon. However, my parents had to drop me off at Berkeley after dinner. These breaks are never long enough. On the bright side, I'm thrilled to see Bryan, Danny and Tyler again!

Currently watching: Second in Command

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Welcome to my new blog!

I just finished setting up my new blog here. You may remember that I was consideirng switching to another blog platform. I've settled on Blogger for the following reason:

  1. MySpace is plagued with glitches while Blogger is extremely reliable.
  2. The anti-spam "feature" on MySpace was filtering out legitimate sites. It doesn't actually stop spammers from posting their crap.
  3. Blogger is considered more professional.
  4. The blogs don't have ads by default. Woohoo!
  5. Blogger offers more features, such as the ability to manage multiple blogs and authors.

This does not mean I'll stop updating my MySpace blog. Any posts I make here will be available at MySpace and vice versa. So don't unsubscribe just yet. :-)

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Congratulations to my cousin Tom!

I've received word that Tom got married in China on the 10th. I remember when Tom introduced us to Sarah on our visit to Taiwan and China two summers ago. Though I've only met her once, I knew she and Tom were a great match. So without further ado, congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. Hu!

The downer is that we couldn't be there in person. For starters, the wedding was in a remote location. Getting to China on such short notice would have been difficult, not to mention last-minute flights generally aren't cheap. That said, I was definitely there in spirit. Here's to wishing Tom and Sarah nothing but love and happiness as they begin their life together.

In other news...

1. You can read my review of last week's dance here.

2. I'm considering switching to another blog platform. The main reason is that MySpace is full of bugs and often unreliable. In addition, sites like WordPress and Blogger are more professional. Expect a decision in a few weeks.

Currently listening to: Billboard Top Hits: 1987

Saturday, January 17, 2009

one more semester to go

I've moved back to Berkeley for my spring classes. You're probably expecting another rant about how my break was too short, but I'm actually glad to be back this time!

Holiday break in review

Things started out great as I did well last semester. Hard work certainly pays off. Just after the semester ended, my family went to Tahoe to see the Nutcracker ballet. This was followed by an amazing Christmas Eve gathering at Carol's house.

Yet the rest of the break was uneventful. Our own New Year's Eve party was canceled because most people couldn't come. But I probably shouldn't complain as the Shiehs had us over for dinner instead. Though we also had a party on New Year's Day itself, there was nobody my age. Damn generation gap. ^_^

Aunt Cynthia and my cousins came over the next day to make bread with Mom. That was also pretty fun. However, they left shortly after lunch because Cathy was feeling stressed about her SATs. Speaking of which, I was pretty busy studying for the GRE myself - not exactly the most exciting thing in the world.

In any case, I'm thrilled to be back at school. It's so nice to see my suitemates Bryan, Danny and Tyler again. I'm also looking forward to tomorrow's dance. :-)

Currently listening to: Pure Disco

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day party report

You may recall that our New Year's Eve party was canceled due to the lack of guests. However, Mom felt we should have a gathering after all and invited the Liangs, Chus and Guans over for dinner. I'm definitely not complaining. :-)

A cool thing is that our family friend Fennah is a travel editor for a well-known Chinese newspaper. I enjoyed hearing about the places she's visited. That's my dream job for sure. ^_^

Speaking of Fennah, she gave me a box of Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory truffles. I've always wanted to try their confections but could never bring myself to buy them. It's definitely nice to have generous friends. Thanks, Fennah!

The downside is that Emily and Stacey didn't come. This was a little disappointing as there were no other young people. On the other hand, my aunt Cynthia and cousins Connie and Cathy are coming over tomorrow to learn how to make bread. I can't wait to see them again!

Currently listening to: '80s Gold

a quiet entrance into 2009

Just a while ago, I was writing about how awesome our last New Year's Eve was. It's hard to believe a whole year has passed. Where does time go?

New Year's Eve report

Yesterday was a mixed bag. The plan was to have a party at our house. But because only two people said they could come, Mom decided it wasn't worth the trouble and called off the party altogether. This was a let-down as I had been looking forward to it for several weeks.

To make matters worse, my laptop got infected with viruses again. Getting rid of that shit was a major pain in the ass. That is definitely not how I wanted to spend New Year's Eve. Fuck the losers that write these things. >:(

On the other hand, canceling the party made New Year's Eve much less stressful. For those who have never hosted a party before, cooking all that food and cleaning up the house can be daunting. It was nice to get some rest before the New Year. They say every cloud has a silver lining. So true.

But what really made our day is that the Shieh family had us over for dinner. There was lots of good food as Aunt Cynthia is a great cook just like Mom. Though it was just our two families at first, Connie's friend Michelle later came over. The more the merrier!

I saw Saving Private Ryan on TV while the girls made chocolate toffee cookies. All of us then gathered to watch the Times Square ball drop. The cookies were soon ready - and they were absolutely delicious. Just because this was a quiet gathering doesn't mean it wasn't fun.

However, Cynthia and Uncle Dong are both early sleepers. Therefore, my family left around 10 p.m. so they could get some rest. Considering that our own party was canceled, I'm grateful that the Shiehs invited us to theirs.

The other good news is that my mother has planned a New Year's Day dinner and invited three couples over. In addition, my aunt and cousins are coming over tomorrow to make bread and will be staying for lunch. I guess the New Year won't be so bad after all. :-)

2008 in review

The past year certainly had its highlights. For me, the best part of 2008 was when we we went to Yellowstone and the Upper Midwest during the summer. That was extremely exciting as I had always wanted to visit Yellowstone a second time. The trip to Southern California was enjoyable as well.

The downer is that I had to miss out on Anne's wedding in Taiwan because of my summer physics class. The wedding was a big deal as Anne was my first cousin on Mom's side to get married. At least there are the anniversary parties to look forward to. ^_^

I'm proud to say that my New Year's resolutions for 2008 were overall a success. Aside from getting my driver's license just two weeks into the new year, I also did rather well last semester. Considering that Berkeley isn't exactly known for easy classes, receiving an "A" in Stat 157 gave me a huge confidence boost. Two out of three ain't bad.

For those curious, my goals for 2009 are to not stay up too late, kick a few bad habits, be more independent, be more confident around girls and make more "offline" friends. Yeah, maybe five is a bit ambitious. Haha.

Currently watching: Saving Private Ryan