Thursday, January 7, 2010

back from Chicago and the Atlantic Northeast

"So we have a lawyer in our car... does that mean I can get out of speeding tickets?" -- Dad

I just got back from an 11-day trip to the Lake Michigan area and the Atlantic Northeast with my parents. That was awesome as we saw many sights and reconnected with family and friends. It was one heck of an adventure!

You may recall that we stayed a night in Chicago during our trip to Spain last summer. Two things I wanted to do were hang out with my cousins and see neighboring states, but we didn't have time for either. I've suggested we should revisit the Great Lakes area ever since. Dad apparently liked the idea. :-)

Yet this trip was a bit different: the main purpose of going to Chicago and the Atlantic Northeast was to look at universities to which I've applied. However, that doesn't mean we didn't have fun. Below is the trip report, although it's rather long!

Day 1

It was a hectic morning as there was a lot of packing to do. We had barely finished breakfast when our family friend Karen whisked us off to the airport. Despite the increased security due to the Northwest Airlines incident, the check-in process was quick - aside from me getting a TSA pat down. Other than that, the flight to Chicago was fairly smooth.

The lines at the O'Hare car rentals were long and made the wait in the cold seem like forever. Dad took us to my great-aunt Shu-Ying's warm and cozy house after getting our ride. I saw my cousins Eric, William, Frank and Jennifer, and uncles Da-Wei and Peter. This was my first time seeing Frank in years as he was out of town during our last visit to Chicago.

Once everything was unpacked, all of us went to Royal Buffet for dinner. This is the same restaurant we ate at on our trip to Spain. The food was delicious and filled me up in no time. Jennifer couldn't come for work reasons but still met with us later in the evening.

Da-Wei took me to his place in Darien after a short break at Shu-Ying's house. Dad knew I wanted to spend more time with my cousins and had arranged for me to stay at their home for the next three nights. As embarrassing as it sounds, this was my first real sleepover!

Eric and William were watching the Chicago Bears (their favorite football team) play against the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears won the game, much to our delight. I generally don't follow American football but enjoyed rooting for the Bears with my cousins.

The boys and I played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on the Xbox 360 afterwards. I prefer classic shooters like Doom and Quake over modern ones, but Call of Duty turned out to be lots of fun. Of course, "everything in moderation" applies to gaming too: seeing that it was already rather late, my cousins and I didn't stay up much longer.

Day 2

Da-Wei brought me back to Shu-Ying's house after breakfast. Everyone then gathered at a nearby cemetery to pay respects to my late great-uncle Chi-Ming. Those who follow my blog may notice this trip is starting to sound familiar!

It was then time to hit the road. The first stop was Northwestern University in Evanston. There was a homely feel to the place. We were lucky enough to run into two statistics professors who provided us with lots of useful information. The meeting ended around noon, but because there were no nearby restaurants, lunch consisted of whatever we could find in the car.

The next destination was the University of Chicago. Dad decided to reply to his e-mails after finding a lounge with Wi-Fi. This took a while given the sheer number of messages. There was still time to explore the campus, although we only took a few pictures because it was super chilly outside.

The rest of the afternoon was nice as Dad took us to Indiana and Michigan. Things didn't go without a hitch: during a stop at a rest area, I accidentally spilled some water while handing it to my father and got an earful for it. Thanks, Dad.

Our itinerary originally included Ohio University and Toledo, but we realized the overhead was too high and turned back after crossing the Indiana-Michigan border. On the other hand, my parents and I had a great dinner in Chicago's Chinatown before returning to Shu-Ying's house. I'd love to visit Ohio University in the future as it was my late uncle Harrison's graduate alma mater.

Da-Wei brought me to his place after we got back to Chicago. I got to play Ninja Gaiden II on the Xbox 360 for the first time. That game really looked fun when I saw my old suitemate Bryan play it last April. It certainly didn't disappoint.

Day 3

Peter joined us on our trip to Madison. Given that it was around noon when we arrived, the four of us went to McDonald's for lunch and coffee first. Funnily enough, Dad spilled his coffee while getting in the car. Oops. Can anyone say karma?

The University of Wisconsin–Madison campus was beautiful, especially in winter. I got some great pictures even though the school was closed for the holidays. The others needed something to keep them warm, so we went to Burger King for more coffee.

A nearby point of interest was Lake Monona. While in the parking lot, Mom realized she had left her hat and Dad's gloves at Burger King. Uh-oh. After rushing back to the restaurant, my parents found that their things were still there. That was a close call.

At any rate, it was neat to walk on the thick ice on Lake Monona and watch people fish for bluegill. One could hardly imagine anything would be alive under all that ice. I've seen ice fishing in pictures before but had never witnessed it in person. I'd say this was - pardon the pun - the coolest part of the trip.

The plan was to stay a night in Madison and drive along the Mississippi River to Minnesota and Iowa, but we figured this would also take too much time. I guess that's something to consider for the future. The last stop in Madison was Starbucks as Dad needed to reply to more e-mails. The café was a nice place to relax and escape from the cold. I took the opportunity to treat Mom to a cup of latte. :-)

We had another nice dinner on the way back to Chicago. Though it was somewhat late when we arrived at Da-Wei's house, I still got to play Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock on the PlayStation 2 with Eric and William. That was also a great game.

Day 4

Dad picked me up around noon and took me back to Shu-Ying's house for lunch, after which we headed to downtown Chicago with Peter accompanying us again. The John Hancock Center and Water Tower Place were huge and filled with stores. This easily took up the entire afternoon.

For New Year's Eve, my father invited our relatives to dinner at the Lee Wing Wah Restaurant. The four of us arrived early with the intention of exploring Chinatown, but the freezing weather made us change our minds. We therefore decided to chill out (or should I say warm up) at the restaurant instead.

On the subject of which, the food was pretty good. Dad asked for the bill and was told that it was already paid for. It turned out my aunt Sue secretly picked up the tab as we were eating. That made us feel guilty for sure. ^_^

Everyone then went to Da-Wei's place. I played some more Ninja Gaiden II before counting down to 2010 with our relatives. The gathering was another highlight of our vacation. As much as we hated to leave, my family went back to Shu-Ying's house shortly after midnight as we had to catch a plane to New York City early next morning.

Be sure to read the previous entry for more details.

Day 5

Happy New Year!

The early flight meant we had to get up no later than 6 a.m. To say I was sleepy would be an understatement. The three of us had a quick breakfast and bid farewell to our relatives before going to O'Hare to return the car and check in.

I got stopped by the TSA again on way to the terminal. Lucky me. The flight to NYC wasn't too bad as we got some rest on the plane. The not-so-fun part is that Mom spilled her coffee all over my lap. Holy crap. Is this some kind of curse?

The plane landed at JFK three hours later. Dad rented another car and took us to his friend JJ's house in Morganville. This was our first time getting together with the Yen family in over 13 years. They came to California in the spring of 1996 and stayed at our house for several days. That was so much fun that they decided to come back in August.

But some things aren't meant to be: the Yens canceled that trip after Sing-Long found a job and haven't visited since. As you could imagine, our two families were thrilled to touch base again. JJ's kids have all grown up: Gary is now pursuing his J.D. at the University of Pennsylvania while Greg and Michelle are undergraduates at Rutgers.

Gary was busy with law school, but the other siblings were home. The Yens treated us to a hot pot dinner, during which we had lots of catching up to do. I later played Contra: Shattered Soldier on the PlayStation 2 with Greg. The rest of the evening was uneventful as we were tired from the traveling.

Day 6

JJ gave us a ride to the nearest NJ Transit station, from which we took the bus to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. We then rode the subway to the Grand Central Terminal after buying tickets. I had no idea the Grand Central Terminal was so huge. It was like a city in itself.

Our visit to the Big Apple began with the Columbia University campus. This was another school I had applied for, although we didn't spend more than 15 minutes here as the weather was even colder than in Chicago. All of us started getting hungry at this point and went to a restaurant in Manhattan's Chinatown for lunch. The servings were large and quite filling.

Up next was the World Trade Center site. It's hard to believe over eight years have passed since the 9/11 attacks. The NYC skyline just doesn't seem complete without the Twin Towers. Our next point of interest was the nearby New York University as Dad wanted to see what it looked like.

We then took the subway to Times Square. The plaza was bustling with activity and full of confetti from New Year's Eve. I had hoped to come here for the ball drop as it would have been a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but the prospect of standing on a crowded street for hours changed my mind. It would also have made bathroom trips a nightmare - not my idea of a good time.

The beautiful Central Park awaited us after dinner. I'd have loved to stay longer if the crime rate wasn't so high. The holiday lights at the Time Warner Center then beckoned us in. The three of us went to Whole Foods Market before taking a break at Borders. Our last stop in the city was Wall Street for pictures before heading back to the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

Sing-Long picked us up at the NJ Transit station and drove us to JJ's friend Joe's house. It turned out Joe was having a big party that Sing-Long didn't want us to miss out on. People were singing karaoke; the atmosphere was just wonderful. I was a little bored as there was nobody else my age, but Joe was kind enough to let me browse the web on his laptop. Other than that, the party was so lively that we didn't leave until 11 p.m. What a busy day!

Greg had left for a nine-day road trip to the Great Smoky Mountains with his girlfriend Glorian, leaving only Michelle and her parents at home. Seeing that I didn't get to say goodbye to him in person, I guess a Facebook post will have to do.

Day 7

The main stop of the day was Cornell University in Ithaca. The route took us past Rutgers - which we skipped due to the freezing temperatures. I spotted a nice-looking roadside restaurant and suggested eating here, to which my parents agreed. It was the perfect place for lunch. Everything we ordered was delicious!

The three of us arrived in Ithaca after a five-hour drive. Aside from a trip to the supermarket for dinner, the rest of the evening was uneventful as we were all exhausted.

Day 8

The weather wasn't too cold despite the snow. Luck was on our side again: my family met a professor at Cornell who gave us all the information we needed. The afternoon ended with a visit to the Department of Astronomy - the home of the late Carl Sagan. I've always been one of his fans, and considering that my dream of meeting him will never be realized, this was the next best thing. On the whole, the Cornell campus was my favorite.

The plan was to head back to Morganville, but my father extended our stay in Ithaca to the 9th after another professor said he could meet with us. Dad had hoped to go to Syracuse in the meantime but later changed his mind after the weather turned bad. The evening was much like the previous one: the only thing we did was buy food at the supermarket.

Day 9

The appointment with Prof. Lewis went extremely well. I truly appreciate him taking the time to meet with us during the holidays. Our last stop in Ithaca was the Sagan Planet Walk at my request. This is an attraction I had looked forward to seeing, although we only went to the first four obelisks as it had gotten unbearably cold outside.

Philadelphia awaited us in the afternoon. The reason for coming to the City of Brotherly Love began was to see the University of Pennsylvania. Gary is studying here to become a lawyer (he says he'll be an honest one) and was more than happy to show us around. I could tell UPenn was a prestigious school. We thanked Gary for his time and took him to dinner at a restaurant of his choice before dropping him off at his apartment.

I was getting ready for bed when I realized one of my mittens was missing. Chances are it's somewhere in Philadelphia. Shit happens. It really does.

Day 10

JJ suggested a visit to Monmouth Battlefield State Park after learning that we loved the outdoors. While the hike was enjoyable, the scenery wasn't anything to write home about. On the other hand, Dad found an abandoned baseball in good condition near a frozen pond. He says it compensates for the mitten I lost.

The next stop was Princeton University as my father wanted to see what it looked like too. This was followed by a hike along the partially frozen Delaware River. The trail was beautiful, but we eventually had to turn back after reaching a fallen tree that blocked the path.

The plan was to go to a nearby beach that we heard had a great view of the Atlantic Ocean. Just then, our GPS gave us wrong directions and sent us on a wild goose chase for about 30 minutes. Seeing that it was getting us nowhere, my parents gave up and went back to JJ's place. Don't you just love technology sometimes?

The Yens then invited us to an Asian buffet restaurant. Though I loved the food, this was a bittersweet moment as we soon had to part ways. Michelle actually needed to go back to Rutgers after dinner to prepare for a job fair. I hugged her goodbye before we returned to JJ's house for the night.

While packing up for our trip home, Mom noticed that several hundred dollars in cash were missing from our belongings. I'm guessing a seedy New Yorker was responsible. Fuck those bastards. >:(

Day 11

We thanked JJ and Sing-Long for their hospitality and said our farewells before driving to John F. Kennedy International Airport. On the way through Staten Island, my family stopped at a restaurant called Jimmy Max for lunch. The atmosphere and the food were nice, but the meal would have been even better if our schedule wasn't so tight.

The good news is that we were able to board our flight on time despite the heavy traffic. The plane landed in San Francisco five hours later. Karen picked us up and gave us a ride home, during which we treated her to dinner for her troubles.


As mentioned earlier, the purpose of traveling to Chicago and the Atlantic Northeast was to get a closer look at several universities to which I've applied. Cornell was my favorite of those schools, although I loved UPenn and Northwestern too. Here's to hoping I get accepted into at least one of them!

Spanning 11 days, this was one of our longest trips ever. Of note is that we stayed at other people's homes for almost the entire trip; the only time we booked a hotel was when we visited Ithaca. Though the cold weather limited our outdoor time, my family still went to many places.

The highlight of the trip was watching people ice fish on Lake Monona. The party at Da-Wei's house was also awesome; there are few things better than celebrating the New Year with relatives. It was also nice to get together with the Yen family again after over 13 years. But perhaps the most important thing is that I got a taste of what going to school far from home would be like.

Speaking of which, I ought to be studying as the winter quarter at St. Mary's College of California is starting in a few days. In the meantime, you can see the pictures from the trip here.

Update: The pictures are up.

Currently listening to: "Three Little Birds" by Bob Marley

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy 2010!

Time flies unbelievably fast. 10 years ago, my family celebrated the rollover with the Liangs. I remember checking my ASUS P6300 laptop to make sure it hadn't stopped working due to the Y2K bug. Has it really been a whole decade?

Speaking of which, 2010 sounds so futuristic. I'm surprised we don't have force fields, anti-gravity drives or plasma rifles yet!

New Year's Eve report

I'm in Chicago at the moment, and this was our first time celebrating the new year out of town. The reason for the trip is to see our relatives and visit some universities. For New Year's Eve, Dad invited our relatives to dinner at the Lee Wing Wah Restaurant. The three of us and my uncle Peter had arrived in Chinatown early with the intention of checking out nearby attractions, but the freezing weather quickly changed our minds.

There was so much food that I was completely full by the end of the meal. Just as we were leaving the restaurant, my parents noticed that Aunt Sue had secretly picked up the tab while we were eating. That made us feel somewhat guilty as the dinner was supposed to be our treat. *blush*

All of us then went to my uncle Da-Wei's house. I got to play Ninja Gaiden II on the Xbox 360 (something I wanted to do on our last visit but didn't get the chance to) and hang out with my cousins Eric and William. As midnight approached, everyone gathered in the living room to watch the countdown to the new year. This was definitely a highlight of our trip.

Other than that, my parents and I didn't stay long afterwards as we have to catch an early flight to NYC in the morning. I'm actually a little sad about parting with our relatives so soon.

2009 in review

It seems 2009 wasn't a good year. For one thing, the economy was terrible. The fact that Dad took a pay cut in January didn't help the issue. Last year also saw the passing of Michael Jackson, one of my favorite celebrities. On a more personal note, I lost my uncle Harrison in April and grandfather Ching-Shang in September.

But the past year wasn't without its merits. The best part of 2009 was when I got a 200 mW green laser for free. I've always wanted a high-powered handheld laser, so that was a dream come true. However, the most important thing is that I finished my undergraduate studies in August. Graduating from Berkeley was no easy task for sure!

You can see the pictures from our dinner here. I was preoccupied with Ninja Gaiden II and had forgotten to take any photos at Da-Wei's house, hence the limited number of them. *facepalm*

In any case, I'm extremely excited about what the future has to offer. For those wondering, my New Year's resolutions for 2010 are to do well in graduate school and improve my patience. All that having been said, I should probably get going as we have to get up around 6 a.m. for our flight to the Big Apple. I'll post a full trip report after getting back home. Stay tuned.

Update: The complete trip report has been posted. I've also added some pictures.

Currently playing: Ninja Gaiden II