48 Hours in San Francisco - 2019 Edition

Day 1.

Get up around 9am to meet my best friend J for the first time in five years. Obviously, the first brunch place is Tartine Bakery, where we split a croque monsieur (okay) and the brioche bread pudding (as amazing as I remember it and I’m not a bread pudding person).

Tartine Bakery.

Tartine Bakery.

The Brioche bread pudding from Tartine Bakery.

The Brioche bread pudding from Tartine Bakery.

Next, head to Craftsman and Wolves for the Rebel Without A Cause, which tastes like a slightly onion-y scone with a runny egg inside. It’s particularly good with the pink salt on the side. We are getting kinda full. I hand off the Conveni stuff I’d bought for J back in Japan. He gives me a pair of coveted Air Jordan 1 Low Slip Chicagos in exchange.

Craftsman and Wolves.

Craftsman and Wolves.

Pastries at Craftsman and Wolves.

Pastries at Craftsman and Wolves.

The Rebel Without a Cause from Craftsman and Wolves.

The Rebel Without a Cause from Craftsman and Wolves.

Egg porn.

Egg porn.

We walk south along Valencia Street and drop by Dog Eared Books to check out their used book section. I get a used copy of “The Sympathizer” by Viet Thanh Nguyen and get a couple recommendations from the guy at the counter.

#hypebeasts.

#hypebeasts.

J shows me Al’s Place, a largely vegetarian restaurant with a Michelin star. We walk to La Taqueria and get tacos (meat for him, vegetarian for me). The guy who rings me up gives me a rose because every woman there gets a rose and compliments along with amazing tacos and burritos. The Jamaica juice (sweetened, bright red, hibiscus tea) is delicious.

Tacos from La Taq.

Tacos from La Taq.

On the way to the CalTrain station, we stop by The Boba Guys because we haven’t exploded yet. J gets the Matcha Strawberry which tastes like strawberry juice, and I get the Dirty Horchata. The bubbles are chewy and delicious and the espresso mellows out the sweet horchata.

Our drinks from The Boba Guys.

Our drinks from The Boba Guys.

We part ways and I have a Whole Foods salad bar dinner because I have some work to do. A vegan carrot cake finishes the day.

Day 2.

I take an Uber to Green Apple Books, but decide I’m too hungry to browse books. I head up a block to Nourish Café and order the Bap Bowl. The vegan sriracha miso dressing is addictive and it has just the right amount of crunch and creaminess. I’ll be thinking about this for days.

Nourish Cafe.

Nourish Cafe.

The Bap bowl at Nourish Cafe.

The Bap bowl at Nourish Cafe.

I head back up to Green Apple Books and raid their used book section. They have an annex three doors down that has all their used fiction, plus a second story in the main store with used nonfiction. I buy as many books as I think I can bring back. I find a copy of a book about Hinault and buy it for the pictures.

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Back in the Mission district, it’s time for dessert at Garden Creamery, which offers six non-dairy, vegan ice creams. I choose one scoop each of Earl Grey and Dark Chocolate. The Dark Chocolate tastes like the inside of a truffle.

Garden Creamery.

Garden Creamery.

All the flavors.

All the flavors.

The dark chocolate and Earl Grey (vegan) flavors.

The dark chocolate and Earl Grey (vegan) flavors.

I somehow get on the CalTrain that has a weird weekend schedule and have dinner with Bestie and his family. I learn I am not bad at playing with kids. We head to Salt & Straw for more ice cream. J orders a cone with the Wild-Foraged Berry Slab Pie flavor. I get a cup with a scoop of Freckled Mint TCHO-colate Chip and Dandelion Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies & Cream (both vegan!). The coolness of the mint chip balanced out the gooey-sugary-filled-with-cookie-bits Dandelion Chocolate flavor. I go home full of good food and great times and catch a flight back to Tokyo the next morning.

Salt & Straw ice cream.

Salt & Straw ice cream.

I love San Francisco.

Miracle [Dole] Whip

Back when I was around eight years old, my parents took my sister and I to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. As my mother hated rollercoasters, and I wasn’t the kind of child that liked to terrorize myself voluntarily, we avoided all the rides that seemed designed to test the strength of your sphincter in the face of a fabricated yet realistic, life-threatening situation. The spinning teacups were as dangerous as the rides got, and my family was quite happy with that.

We ended our Disney World tour at Tomorrowland. We’d checked off most of the non-rollercoaster rides, and we had one more to check out. We didn’t know what it was, but there was a long, snaking line, seemingly a hundred people deep. We joined the line and waited, wondering what was to come.

I remember a tinge of doubt when I saw a sign that indicated how tall you had to be to ride. As we shuffled closer to the front of the line, we heard screams.

“I think this is a rollercoaster,” I said.

For some reason, we didn’t beg the ride operator to let us out of the line. Or maybe my father thought this would be a good time to teach us an early lesson in commitment. We got on and after what seemed like an eternity of being bounced violently around in a dark planetarium, I got off with PTSD and an understanding of what kind of ride Space Mountain actually is.

Over 20 years later, I’m still cautious about theme parks and rollercoasters. Finding myself on a two-week vacation to Orlando, Florida I turned down Universal Studios for a slightly muddy walk around the Tibet-Butler Preserve and some face time with injured Gopher Tortoises.

gopher tortoise
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But afterwards, I still got a piece of the Magic Kingdom, in a Styrofoam bowl of soft, creamy, sweetly-sour, pineapple Dole Whip.

Originally limited to Disney parks and the Dole Pineapple Plantation in Hawaii, it’s now available at Twistee Treats in Orlando and several other locations around the U.S. It’s a surprisingly vegan soft serve that doesn’t lack in creamy heft – I would have assumed there was some sort of dairy in it if I hadn’t been told otherwise – but light enough to be the kind of thing you’d want to eat all summer.

I am the kind of person who craves and/or fixates on some highly processed candy bar or food item for some indeterminate amount of time. I am also the kind of person who usually forgets about the food I’m craving after, at most, a couple of hours. After my pineapple Dole Whip experience at Island Fin Poke Company, I couldn’t stop thinking about it for over 48 hours. The question, “what do you want to do?” was usually answered with the words, “Dole Whip.”

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Even after I’d hyped it in my head, my second cup still tasted just as delicious as the first. As I scraped the last smears of Dole Whip from the bottom of a Styrofoam bowl, I said that we should go back and order more. I was only sort of kidding.

That was nearly three days ago, and I’m leaving Orlando, once again, after having made a life-altering discovery.

Time to get more Dole Whip.

Letting Go at Loi Krathong and Yi Peng

By happy coincidence - though Buddhists will tell you that there's no much thing as coincidence - I ended up in Chiang Mai during the Loi Krathong and Yi Peng festivals (the latter overlaps with the former). I released a small float ornamented with orchids, incense, and a candle, into the Ping river in the spirit of Loi Krathong. Then, watched hundreds of floating lanterns be released into the sky. 

It was the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. 

Lost in Chiang Mai

Last month, on impulse – or what can be vaguely considered impulse given the forethought involved – I booked a ticket to Chiang Mai, Thailand. A Buddhist mountain mecca and an infamous vegetarian haven, the second largest city in Thailand always seems to get more Internet love than the first. Travel bloggers, digital nomads, and Solo Female Travelers compile multiple lists devoted to the cheap food, affordable massages, and plethora of cafes offering both outlets and free wi-fi. The abundance and availability of information on life in Chiang Mai fueled romantic ideas of escape. Of recharging mentally, meeting interesting people, and relaxing shamelessly. At the same time, I dreamed, it would harden me; that becoming a Solo Female Traveler – however briefly – would make me more resilient.

Instead, within 72 hours of arriving, I had a meltdown.

Had I been less optimistic last month, I would have booked myself a flight to somewhere busy, cold, and miserable, like New York City. The primary reason being that, when I am in my right mind, I am well aware that I don’t do relaxation well. It is seemingly always coupled with guilt, only occurs when asleep, or, in the best case scenario, lasts a mere day. Presented with the opportunity to do nothing for the better part of three weeks, alone, I panicked. I had no portrait to obsess and worry over, and any new ideas I came up with were inevitably shelved until December, exacerbating the helplessness. I couldn’t work. Worse, I couldn’t write. The vacation that I was convinced would be empowering was, instead, sapping my sanity.

It wouldn’t have been so bad, maybe, if perpetual indigestion hadn’t followed. For the carnivore, omnivore, vegetarian, and vegan, Chiang Mai is a gastronomic heaven. Cheap, delicious food is available everywhere, from food markets to proper restaurants. There is pad thai that comes wrapped in an omelette, addictive, green papaya salads, and cheap, enormous smoothies. If it weren’t for my roiling stomach, I would have probably gained 20 kgs by now. Somewhat fortunately, my digestive system has put a near moratorium on eating. A difficult task when surrounded by the smells of sizzling, smoking, street food.

When I realized that this unhappy set of circumstances had solidified in my mind into the opinion that I wasn’t really enjoying Chiang Mai as I should, as I was supposed to, the experience became worse. I hate this place, I thought, alone in my air conditioned Airbnb, while simultaneously committing myself to at least go through the motions.

And so I dragged myself, stomach acid lurching, to Tha Pae gate – the main, and easternmost, gate to the Old City of Chiang Mai – and down to the Sunday Walking Street. From just outside the iconic red brick gate, down Rajdamnoen Road, vendors set up stalls offering soap carved into flowers, silver jewelry, tribal handicrafts, and silk scarves. Food stalls cluster into temple courtyards selling both snacks and bigger meals. Between the waves of tourists and Thai couples, I snapped a picture of a man selling omelettes cooked in small banana boats, and made my first friend in Thailand.

“Take a picture,” the omelette vendor demanded, then, “show me!” I laughed, for what seemed to be the first time that week.

“You come here alone?” He asked.

And breaking that rule of the Solo Female Traveler to lie when asked, to make up a phantom husband or boyfriend, I said yes, I did come here alone.

The questions continued, and when I bought a 10 baht omelette from him, hot off the grill, he also dusted burnt shards of banana leaf off the plastic chair next to him. “Sit, sit here,” he said. And suddenly I was behind a Thai food stall, chatting to its middle-aged proprietor while he served customers. Spooning the custardy egg into my mouth, I learned that Ernie – the man steaming the egg boats – was from Bangkok and his favorite city is Phuket. He dumped shards of imitation crab onto my egg boat, and motioned for me to eat up. “Let’s take a picture,” he demanded, and unable to find anyone else, we had a friendly customer take the following slightly ridiculous photo.

“The trip was totally worth it!” A friend said later when I related the story to him. Even if I didn’t make another friend here, it was so true. 

Scenes from San Francisco

Oh, San Francisco. You let me gorge myself on coffee (Blue Bottle and Four Barrel)...

Eat my weight in pastries from Tartine...

Experience the phenomenon that is In-n-Out...

Plus, oh, yeah, La Taqueria...

Showed me what heaven might look like...

Provided super fun times with a bro for lyfe...

And got me hooked on Humphrey Slocombe's P.O.G. (that's Passionfruit, Orange, and Guava) sorbet).

I miss you so much already!

Feeling Colorado

The decline was so slow that I didn’t notice it until it was nearly a free fall. It had started with lingering self-doubts that riding suddenly couldn’t erase, and only exacerbated. In response, like most idiots, I had clung harder, binding my identity to the bike, trying to ride off old wounds that kept opening up. When the physical symptoms of stubborn unhappiness emerged – then persisted – it felt like my world imploded. Previously, I couldn’t stand to look at my bike, but guilt usually got me pedaling. Suddenly I didn’t even have that unhappy choice. My identity became a blank hole which I attempted to fill with food (for those that are wondering, it didn’t work; I just got fat). About a year ago, I realized I was in a depression so deep I didn’t recognize myself.

Unable to control them, I attempted to tie up all the unraveling emotions. I stopped feeling as a form of damage control; it seemed like a reasonable solution for someone inclined to feeling too much. That is, until the sadness – unable to be contained – seeped out, staining everything it touched. Even writing couldn’t save me. I turned to food art to stem the flow, stuff down the anger, cover up the massive sink hole of hopelessness. I cried a little less, but still felt surges of self-hatred so intense I wanted to cut off my own face.

I started taking a small white pill in March and have felt the best kind of normal since moving back to Japan. Most days I can effortlessly keep my shit together. America, however, gets me feeling.

Like extremities gone temporarily numb, when prolonged periods of emotional apathy are interrupted, the unfamiliarity of feeling takes some getting used to. Once I’m warmed up, though, I don’t want it to stop. However intense or extreme my emotional scale, it is – embarrassingly – a significant part of who I am. It’s the thing that drives me just crazy enough to create, limits the number of friends in my inner circle to a small, very tolerant handful, and often makes me a huge asshole.

Stateside, the emotions hit like a heat wave, only heightened by the curves of a language I love, the promise of possibility, new friends, the whispers of adventure. It’s overwhelming, but for once the act of feeling wasn’t coupled with guilt or weighed down with melancholy.

The ironic thing was that on this trip, adventures – for safety and conservation’s sake – were, like those pesky emotions, neatly contained within clearly marked trails. In a loop of Chatauqua Park, up Mount Sanitas, or on the ascent to the Hanging Lake, containment was given structural reinforcement in the form of fences, barriers, signs. “Closed Area No Trespassing,” they stated, allowing only a peek into either unforgettable adventures or bad decisions and inevitable bodily harm. When scrambling up the last stretch to the Hanging Lake, I made full use of the man-made railings, but was reminded of how small my heart can get when bound to the safe, simple, and unfeeling.

Because, like Colorado will show you, there’s beauty out there. And unlike protected parks, maybe I don’t need so many barriers for protection and experiences limited to well-trodden paths. Maybe I can grow back without safeguards and stay open to exploring the sometimes risky and treacherous. Maybe I can keep feeling without getting stuck in those dark places.

Maybe feeling all those feelings isn’t such a bad thing after all.