Monday, March 31, 2014

I'm Gonna Be Okay.

For the first time in over a month, I can finally say, "I'm doing okay" and mean it.

I've written before about how devastated I was seeing a full-body shot of myself in a recent video that FoF did. At that moment I could no longer be in denial, and I didn't like it. It hurt. I don't mean denial in that I wasn't aware that I was fat until then. Of course I was. But in my head, I was so ashamed of and disappointed about how I looked, and I wanted to be just like everyone else so much that I tried to dissociate myself from my body. Whenever I looked at my body I would think, Tsk, tsk. It's a shame that this is what people see. That's not really me. That's just how I unfortunately look now, but that's not really me. The real me is underneath all that. That's just the ugly-looking cage I'm in for now.

I could never look at myself as a fat person and really take in the extent to which I was overweight, because it would've just been too much. It would've meant that I've been failing this whole time, and that it's been all my fault. So I was in denial. And when I was put in a position  where I had to look at myself in full and couldn't just brush it off as temporary or not real or not that bad, I didn't handle it very well. I couldn't. I broke down. Honestly, this past month or so has been one of the darkest periods of my life.

Now that the dark cloud that was filling up my head has passed, I understand that this period has been necessary. It was an uncomfortable, painful, yet necessary opportunity for me to really face myself, and take responsibility for the physical predicament that I'm in, but not in a way that produces more self-loathing. I've done enough of that. I think now is the first time that I've genuinely been willing to be patient with myself and learn to be nice to myself. I'm starting to be able to look in the mirror and say, Okay. This is my body. This is my face, these are my thighs, these are my arms, this is my stomach, this is my behind. I have a lot of work to do. And it might take a long time. But that's okay. I can do it. I'm still a good person, even now when I don't look the way I want to look.

Yesterday I was thinking about all this, I had a moment, I wrote a couple notes to myself, and I decided that I need to change things. Take different approaches, make new plans. So now I'm starting over. And I'm gonna be okay.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Return of Superman/Superman is Back.

 I kinda fell off the Korean drama train last year, so Korean variety shows were definitely not on my radar. But I stumbled across this one recently and I can't. stop. watching. it!

Celebrity dads taking care of their children by themselves for 48-hours at a time, getting to know their children better, learning how to be better parents. Reflecting on life and the memories they'd like to make. And those kids' warm hearts and cute little faces! Why don't we have anything like this in the States?

Thanks to KBS World TV for making this accessible to English-speakers!

Thursday, March 27, 2014


Rain is not a nuisance to me.
It whispers to me, tapping softly on my consciousness.
It reminds me that I am part of this earth.
Really, what could be more natural than wet skin?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

OddDreams: The Class I Keep Forgetting to Go to

Over the past month or so I've been having this recurring dream where I've completely forgotten about a certain class that I'm enrolled in, and then don't realize I've been missing it until a long time has passed or the semester is almost ending. This fictional class is a Japanese class that is solely about kanji. And oddly enough, it's taught by the professor who taught a Korean history course that I took a year ago.

I remember dreaming about the first day of the semester, where I walked into the classroom (which was abnormally large both in size and headcount), we went through the syllabus and got our first assignments, etc. Then I remember having another dream where I had missed a couple weeks without noticing. I was just going about my normal school day when I suddenly realized, Wait! I have another class, don't I? What's that class again? Oh yeah, the kanji class. Why do I keep forgetting that one? I return to this class, but am overwhelmed and frustrated by how behind I am.

Then, last night I dreamt that I'd completely forgot about the class again. But this time, I have a meeting with the Korean professor who explains to me that it's near the end of the semester (my dream follows the same time frame as my real life), I've missed too much to even think about catching up or getting a decent grade, so I've just been removed from the roster with an "X" on my record. No damage to my GPA, just money lost and time wasted. This professor helps me to arrange to re-enroll in the same class next semester.

The scary thing is that this thing feels really real. The feelings of frustration, confusion, and discouragement that I have in my dream feel really real. I'm serious! It's very unsettling. It's so bad that a couple times I've woken up and had to run through this semester's schedule in my head just to be sure that I haven't missed anything, that there's no extra class hiding in my brain that's just been escaping me all semester.

 I don't know what any of this means.

The Pump-Up

Whew! Today I had a  25-minute placement interview completely in French, and I'm so glad that it's DONE! I know I need to get used to doing things like this since, hello, I'm going to France. But Lord have mercy, I was so nervous that "nervous" isn't even the word for it. I'd been freaking out unnecessarily about it for the past few days (as I tend to do; it's part of how I prepare for important things). But a couple things happened yesterday that allowed me to wake up this morning and not be so anxious about it. Hence, "The Pump-Up":

In one of my French classes, there's this dude named Les. Les is a really silly person who likes to either 1) talk people up, 2) confuse them and see what happens, or 3) do both at the same time. So often he'll come up to me and instead of having a normal conversation he'll keep asking me questions or complimenting me on this or that. And I respond to it as always, like OHkay, Les.

Yesterday our class was required to go to this French-language symposium on historical memory, and he came up to greet me while I was there. He asked me if I would be performing in some upcoming event this weekend. I told him that I wasn't. Then he started randomly going on about how much he respects and looks up to me, "You're like a natural leader. I see so much leadership potential in you. And your work ethic is just, like, crazy." OHkay, Les.

Later yesterday evening I ran into Les again in a different setting. We were chatting in French and I told him about how I was nervous about this interview, and he said you'll be fine, you're like the best speaker in our class, blahdeblah. OHkay, Les. As I was about to leave, he called his friend from Mali  over to where we were standing and told him that I speak French too. I introduced myself to this friend, and as he listened to me speak he asked me where (what country) I come from. In my head I was like, well duh, I'm from America. Isn't it obvious?  "I'm from here. I'm American."

He was stunned. "What?"

"I'm American."

"Okay, but where did you learn French?"

What do you mean? Didn't I just tell you that I'm American?  "Here. I've never been to France."

"Really?! Wow. You sound like you're from the métropole (mainland France). You have like no accent. You know, like Americans have sometimes."

And that just got me so excited! This is not the first time a native or fluent speaker has complimented me in this way. But because I tend to brush off compliments that I receive, I also forget them easily and so when I hear one again, it feels like the first time. Anyway, my point is that when he said that, it was really encouraging to me because at that moment I felt like I was automatically set to fail at this interview.

But I didn't fail! This morning I woke up and wasn't nearly as anxious as I had been, thanks to yesterday and some self-coaching, Okay Danielle. This is going to happen, so go with it. He's just another human being. Just ask God for the right words and say what you need to say. Remember, this is what you wanted. Needless to say, everything was fine. I don't mean "needless to say" as in I'm just awesome like that. I mean it to say that things always work out in the end. Nothing ever ends up being the death of me or the end of the world. Did I make mistakes when I was talking? Sure, probably did. But what matters most is that I got through it and made myself understood, so I'll take that.

Now it's on to waiting game round 2 to see where/what I'll be assigned as an intern...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Black History Month Tokyo 2014

I came across this video this morning and it made me happy. Not just because of the song, but also because it gives me a glimpse of what I might look forward to after I graduate. If I move to a big city in Japan and am proactive about it, maybe I'll be able to find a community of fellow black- and brown-skinned folks whom I can rely on and call my friends. I find that possibility very encouraging.

Also, check out the woman in the denim dress and purple sweater. Her name's Monique Dehaney, and she's an awesome singer. After participating successfully in a singing showcase for foreigners and releasing a Japanese-language album, she's slowly but surely gaining popularity in Japan. Don't sleep on her!

Saturday, March 22, 2014

PHENOMenal human BEing

"I already know I'm a phenomenal human being." -Esse, my friend

Things People Give Me #10

We had a test in my Japanese class on Thursday, and before the test started our sensei passed around a plastic bag full of cellphone charms (or 携帯ストラップ/keitai straps, in Japanese). She said we could each take one, none,  or however many we liked. Each charm had a tiny dragon figurine with a bell attached to it, hanging from a tiny lanyard.  They were left over souvenirs from Japan that she'd bought last year (which was the year of the Dragon).
I know that she was just trying to get rid of them,  but nonetheless I really appreciated receiving my charm. The one I chose has 開運 (kaiun, opening/renewing of luck) carved on the side of the dragon, and.... Well forgive me for getting to deep or sentimental, but I've been feeling low for the past few weeks, and looking at those characters helps me remember that there is always hope. I've put it in my box of small, special things and I will try my best not to misplace it.
えんど先生、この携帯ストラップをありがとうございました。Thank you, Endo-sensei!

Sessions with Sue 12

I had a few other things that I'd wanted to bring up yesterday, but we ended up talking mostly about my upcoming trip to Paris this summer and the fear and anxiety I've been feeling about it:
  • Going to Paris. This is not a life and death situation. Fear won't defeat you; it'll just be really uncomfortable for a while at first.
  • What are you going to take with you to reassure and remind yourself that you are going to be okay?
  • Going to another country is a great opportunity to be who you want to be. No one knows you, so you can sort of remake yourself and try things that you wouldn't normally do.
  • Accept people's invitations! Trying something new (just the act of it, regardless of whether or not it's successful), can build up confidence.
  • Being able to smile and ask questions will get you through over there.
  • You already have the skills that would make a good intern/employee. You just need experience adapting them to a work environment.
  • Might need to see a doctor about medication; depression and anxiety nearly paralyze you sometimes.
That last one really hit me. I was incredibly disappointed. Things have been kind of stagnant for the past few weeks in regard to my negative mental and emotional state, so I know she was only mentioning it as an alternative option. And I nodded in agreement at the time she said it, but in my head I reacted as if I was being faced with punishment. Like, look what I've done. All this time and effort wasted. If I don't shape up now, I'm going to have to be put on drugs. Medication? But, but... I just got finished telling you how I don't like doctors or hospitals. And only the real crazies get medicated. I can't be that bad, right? I know I have problems, I'm not crazy. I thought you said that I was working hard and making progress? I don't want another doctor or another drug. I know it wasn't her intent to make me feel this way, but I kind of feel like I've failed.

I met Cyril Payen!

On Wednesday, I met journalist and authorCyril Payen. He is the senior international correspondent in South East Asia for France24, which is the leading international news network in France. He came to my university for a couple speaking engagements. Because the professor of both my French classes is high up in the department and had a hand in organizing said speaking engagements, she arranged for him to join her classes on Wednesday. So not only did I meet Cyril Payen, but I got to interact with him twice!

As we'd learned before he arrived, Payen was born in raised in France but has a personal interest in Southeast Asia. His grandmother was Laotian, making his mother half-Laotian, and so Cyril himself is one-quarter Laotian. However, even though he was aware of having Laotian heritage, no one in his family wanted to talk about exactly what happened and he had no connection to that culture or his relatives in Laos. At the age of 20 he traveled to Laos with the little information he had, visiting various people and places in search of answers.  He didn't really find those answers, but as he explained to us, the journey is a reward in itself. He wrote a book about his journey and other research he did while there, which sold very well and was highly acclaimed.

A lot of us were really nervous about meeting him at first. We were intimidated by his success and prestige, and thought he might be self-important and cold. We also feared that he might be appalled by our French. But he was  actually very friendly. He gladly answered the questions we had about him and his career, and he seemed to be interested in learning about us and our interests too. He didn't poo-poo anyone's French, and he actually complimented us on the depth pertinence of the ideas we expressed. Surprisingly, he was also quite funny. A few people were confused about his life story or just hadn't been listening, so they repeatedly asked him how he identifies himself and if he has ever felt out of place in France. To which he responded resolutely (but with good humor), "Non, je suis français. Touchez-moi, je suis français!" ("No, I'm French. Touch me and see for yourself, I'm French!")

Also, this is going to sound crazy, but Cyril Payen looks like someone who belongs on television. Other than the fact that he's shorter in person, he literally looks like he's just stepped out of one of his news reports. I don't know if he was born looking TV-ready or if he's just regularly groomed that way, but either way, he is striking. Some of his statements were equally so. In answering our questions or sharing the knowledge that he has on this topic or another, he would say one inspirational thing after another. And what was cool about it was that he wasn't even trying to be inspirational. He was just talking. But so many things that he said were just so insightful. One of my favorite things he said was that he doesn't believe in words like "satisfied" or "content", because those words imply that there is nothing more to be learned or gained. And anything we do, even life itself, is a progression that continues on and always has something to offer us. I heard that and was just like, Wow.

Even though I'd been intimidated to meet him, and my professor piled up extra projects and assignments on us in both classes in order to prepare for his visit, it all ended up being very rewarding. I even spoke to him up close for a bit. A few of us stayed after my second class, and he asked each one of us why we'd decided to study French, and he didn't cringe or look at me crazy for butchering his language when it was my turn to answer. In all, Wednesday was a very good day.

That's him in the orange sweater with his arms folded. I'm off to his right. My French professor is in the back, wearing the orange and burgundy scarf.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

When Ma's Away...

...We defy the "no dogs on the furniture" rule and have cuddle time! I miss this old lady so much!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Sessions with Sue 11

Yesterday we finally got around to discussing the letters I wrote about my dad. To be honest I don't like to think about my dad too much, much less talk about him, because it's incredibly painful and uncomfortable. So you can understand how yesterday's was a difficult conversation for me. I won't go into the details of what I wrote, but here are some of the things that came up as Sue and I discussed my dad and the influence that he's had on my life:
  •  You feeling lost and uncertain about your purpose in life or what direction you should go
    that's where you should be at 21.Your dad being that way at 50-somethinghe should've figured a lot of that out already. So just because you see that commonality between you two doesn't mean you'll end up chronically unhappy in adulthood like he is.
  • Underneath the depression and anger you have due to what you've experienced, there's also profound sadness that you didn't get the dad you deserved. You didn't get the stable foundation of unconditional love that you needed from him.
  • Even though you've been physically separated for 10 years, he still has power over you because you operate with the mentality that his evaluation of you was correct. And it wasn't. You have more depth than your dad does.
  • Good thing is now, no one has to control you. You get to say how your life will go. Rather than living in what you didn't get or he didn't give you, you get to say, "Well, I'm going to make something good for myself now."
  • Taking advantage of opportunities to socialize with people affirms for you that you're worth spending time with.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Fools for Jesus!

I think I just died. Twice. I don't know how they pull this sexy saint thing off, but they do time and time again. Gotta love these men actin' a fool for Jesus!

Sneak Peek!

So I forgot to mention this before, but... First of February made it into the MSU Grammys! Each act performs as an already-established artist or group, and we'll be performing as "Floetry". The show is on Friday April 4th at MSU Business College. For now, here's a sneak peek of what we're working on.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


"Stop trying to see yourself through other people's eyes. You're wasting your time." -Ma

Saturday, March 8, 2014


Coming off of last night I'm still in a very insecure moment right now, so please bear with me.

While at the Walt Disney Family Museum I read a panel discussing Walt's doubts about whether or not he would make it when he first moved to Hollywood. He was quoted as saying that he feared that he was getting into the business too late, like the business was already established and he wouldn't be able to break into it or find a place for himself. Now obviously, things worked out for him. But I read that and thought, Wow, that's exactly how I've been feeling since I've been in college. I try to ignore it, but this question has been popping into my head more frequently as graduation nears:

Is there really room for everyone to follow their dreams, become successful, and be happy?

Sometimes it seems like all the good spots are taken, everything great has already been done, and the rest of us have shown up so late for the party that we just can't even get in. It seems like we'll just have to settle for what we can get. But I really don't want to settle.

Being my age, in college, and on social media, I hear and see a lot of the same ideas that are meant to inspire and encourage people. Rise and Grind. Anything worth having is worth working hard for. If you give all you've got, something is bound to happen for you. Never give up! But no one wants to acknowledge the reality that there are plenty of people out there who have done all the "right things", and still end up average. Disappointed. Failures, even. I mean, that's life right? That's how things have always happened. Not everyone is going to get exactly (or anything close to) what they want.

Forgive me for sounding cynical or pessimistic here, but what if a lot of us are just fooling ourselves into believing that we will be the lucky ones, the exceptional, the shining stars who demonstrate to the world what's not impossible?

Sometimes I sit and think about all of these overwhelming ideas and (im)possibilities, all these unfavorable odds, all this uncertainty, and I wonder, Well what am I here for, then? Where do I fit?


One of those desperate nights when you sit up and try to plan out your future in an attempt to alleviate that feeling of being pushed out of a nest, off of a cliff, into darkness. Alone. With no wings or maps. And no guarantees.

I graduate a year and two months from now. I have no plans or prospects. I am afraid.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Things People Give Me #9

I'd gotten so out of the habit of doing these posts that I forgot about receiving this!

I've never had a reason to celebrate Valentine's Day, so I wasn't expecting anything on February 14th this year. But after a long day of classes, I returned to my room to see a card on my door! My neighbors down the hallthree sisters, one of whom I got to know in Japanmade and signed a card for me for Valentine's Day! So sweet and unexpected!

Thanks Susan, Anna, and Heidi!

I'm on a Website!

The honors college interview I'd mentioned a few weeks ago is now up! You can access it here, if you'd like to read it.

On the Honors College homepage
On the article page

Thursday: Walt Disney Family Museum and Golden Gate Bridge

We started our last full day in San Francisco by going to the Walt Disney Family Museum, and ended it by walking the Golden Gate Bridge. Twice.

The museum was Ma's idea. I hadn't heard of it, but I've always been a fan of Disney movies ('90s/Disney Renaissance babies stand up!) and it was something Ma wanted to do, so we went. It's in the Presidio, which is big and green and wealthy and beautiful, but it's too clean and quiet for my liking. Anywho, this small museum turned out to be one of the most interesting museums I've been to in a while!

The lobby is a mini-exhibit of its own, showcasing 248 awards that Walt Disney received from national and international film festivals, motion picture academies, academic associations, and various other clubs and organizations during his career. There's even an entire case that's just for the Oscars he's won. The main exhibit of the museum begins with Disney's family tree and ends with his death in 1966. When going through it, you notice that the focus alternates between two  currents: Walt's work/accomplishments and his family life. The message is that being an artist and being a family man were both essential parts of who Walt Disney was.

This museum is so detailed with the items it displays and the stories, events, and techniques it recounts that you can tell that a lot of thorough research has gone into it. And everything comes together to produce a story of how a kid with a knack for drawing persevered, started his own studio in Hollywood when it seemed impossible for him to break into the business, and created works of wonder and laughter that came to mean many things to millions and millions of people. It's a very inspiring narrative. I couldn't help but notice that this narrative is also carefully constructed, making no mention of the racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism that more people are calling attention to in regard to Walt and his work these days. But this museum was created by his family, so what do you expect? In all, we enjoyed it and learned a lot about Walt Disney that we hadn't known before.

Next stop was the Golden Gate Bridge. We figured walking it would be a nice way to say farewell to San Francisco. Being so high up, surrounded by water, with nowhere to go but  foreword or backward, surrounded by a history and possibility of injury or death... it's both exciting and a bit stressful. Almost like riding a rollercoaster. Even though all we'd done was walk across a bridge from one city to another, Ma and I both had an odd sense of accomplishment. Ma for overcoming her nervousness and making it to the other side. And me for... I don't know. Being able to move forward on foot while cherishing a powerful moment in a beautiful place, I guess.

Our plan was to walk to the other side then ride a bus back, but nope! We got there and there were no buses, and we ended up having to turn right back around and walk our behinds back to San Francisco. So we walked the Golden Gate Bridge twice. And you would've thought someone was after us, as fast as we were walking trying to get back before it got too dark. We just didn't want to be on that bridge at night. Plus there is always the possibility of witnessing a jumper, which was also something we wanted to avoid (Golden Gate Bridge is the most used suicide site in the United States, and second in the world). After some time we made it, took one last look of the bridge, then rode two buses to get back to the hotel.

This week was an amazing week for us spending some quality mother-daughter time. We did and saw everything that was on our list, and we never got lost when finding our way around the city. What matters most for me is that Ma enjoyed it. Seeing her so relaxed and pushing herself to do things that she wouldn't normally do at home made me happy for her. To be honest, I'm not looking forward to going back to Michigan tomorrow. My life back home, my "real life", is so sad and lonely and I don't feel like I have anything to look forward to. But alas, I can't stay away forever.

Thank you, San Francisco. First vacation accomplished.

SB in SF! photos

What I've Given Up for Lent

For some reason Baptists, or most of the Baptists I know, don't practice or observe Lent like other Christians do (maybe because it's more of a Catholic tradition?). So it was never something I really had to think about, other than when people would mention "I can't do/eat _______ because I gave it up for Lent" during conversations. But yesterday (Wednesday) I realized that Lent started, and I decided to not look at Intagram for the next 40 days.

I don't post much on it, so that's not the problem. And it can be used to see and share beautiful, creative, and inspiring things. But too often I'll sit and waste time scrolling through it, thinking how much more beautiful and capable and talented and just "better" other people and their lives seem to be than me and mine. It's a waste of time and enables me to make unhealthy comparisons and put myself down. That's not good at all. So no more Instagram for me until April 19th.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Wenesday: Japanese Tea Garden, Haight-Ashbury, and MoAD

Our first stop today was the Japanese Tea Garden which is in Golden Gate Park. It's not a huge garden but it tries to give you a little bit of everything: a zen garden here, a couple koi ponds there, stone lanterns, a bronze statue of Buddha, a couple Shinto pagodas, sakura trees, a moon bridge. Listing all these things off might make it sound clustered, but it's actually designed, organized, and maintained exceptionally well. So well that I just kept saying to Ma, "Ah, now I want to go back to Japan." It's beautiful and it smells like the color green! Once we'd gone through the whole garden I was so relaxed and in such a nostalgic mood that I almost didn't feel like doing anything else. I was ready to take a nap, haha!  But we were on a roll, so we walked through more of Golden Gate Park then took a bus to Haight-Ashbury.

Ma and I aren't very knowledgeable or interested in hippie history or subculture, but we knew that Haight-Ashbury is a very important neighborhood with a lot of personality, so we wanted to at least visit and see what it's like. We walked around a little bit, popped into a couple vintage stores, took pictures of some buildings. But there wasn't much for us there. We spent a few minutes deliberating on what to do next. Looking for "Painted Ladies" was next on the list, but neither one of us could agree whose idea this originally was. And neither of us was all that excited about going just to look at houses, so we decided to skip that one.

There were still plenty of hours left in the day, so instead of waiting until tomorrow like we'd planned,Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD). It's a small museum whose public space emcompases only three floors. But its goal is unique and well-executed given its size: helping people see and understand how different cultures and populations of African descent around the world are connected and speak to each other. Their current exhibit is "Crosscurrents: Africa and Black Diasporas in Dialogue, 1960-1980". It aims to demonstrate dialogue and solidarity between people of African descent through art, literature, and activism ("Culture as a means for holistic empowerment... African people to define culture on their own terms").  It runs from now through April 13th.

The second floor holds most of the exhibit. In one room are posters, photos and other materials from the Blank Panther/SNCC/OSPAAAL movements. There's also a projector in this room showing a documentary called The First World Festival of Negro Arts in which groups of African descent from several different countries are shown celebrating diversity and solidarity through performances. Another room is darkened with benches along the walls; you sit while listening to the accounts of people who survived slavery and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. There's also a small theater, where you can choose from a selection of short or full-length films about various topics or people connected to the African diaspora. Despite Ma's protests, I chose an episode of a children's educational cartoon from Nigeria called Bino and Fino. The title characters are young siblings, and in this particular episode ("Big Birthday Party") their grandparents explain independence and colonial rule to them on Nigeria's 50th Independence Day. I liked the way they handled the subject in a sensitive manner, referring to colonial forces as "bullies" and "uninvited guests" (as opposed to thieves, white supremacists, rapists, murders, you know). The last two rooms on this floor feature numerous examples of cultural diversity and commonalities that exist amongst blacks around the world.

The third floor is an art gallery showing paintings, sketches, posters, and sculptures made my artists of African descent. Some of the works are explicitly about members of the diaspora or issues related to them, others are not. My personal favorites were Nap Tapestry by David Hammons and Trophies of Empire by Donald Locke. Overall, the museum is small and the exhibit is kind of short, but no less interesting. We were glad that we went.

From there, we returned to Bellini to try their non-dessert items. I had croque monsieur (another first!), and I have nothing to compare it to but I enjoyed it very much.

Another day well spent. Tomorrow's our last full day here, and I can't believe how quickly this week has gone.

SB in SF! photos

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

My element

While at the Japanese Tea Garden today,  Ma's like,
"Here, let me get a picture of you in your element."
"My element?"
"You know... Asian stuff."
Shoutout to parents who know and appreciate their children's interests, even if they don't completely understand them. Haha.

Tuesday: Fisherman's Wharf, Lombard Street, and farmerbrown

I was really tired this morning, but seeing these beautiful and unbothered creatures perked me right up!

Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf were our first stops today. Being near so much water was incredibly refreshing, and we had a nice walk taking in the sights. After watching the sea lions and taking pictures, we stopped to buy some bread from Boudin at the Wharf before leaving. From there we walked to Ghirardelli Square. To be honest, there isn't really much to do there other than buy stuff and eat things. But it is a very pleasant place to just sit and enjoy the day. Ma and I aren't really chocolate lovers, so we didn't buy anything, but we each got free chocolate upon walking into the Ghirardelli chocolate shop and marketplace.

We had one last site that we wanted to reach today and that was Lombard Street, "the crookedest street in the world." We backtracked a bit from Ghirardelli Square and walked up the steeeep hill (basically climbed a mountain) that is Hyde Street until we reached the crooked street. I'm so proud of Ma for persevering and making it all the way. Other people took the easy way up by car or streetcar, but we worked hard to get up there even as the hill got higher and steeper, which made looking down Lombard and out over the city that much sweeter. This is yet another place that's full of tourists staring down the hill, standing in the middle of the street to take pictures of it, or even driving down it in their cars and taking pictures of themselves in the act. I feel bad for whoever lives along this section of Lombard, because it's literally all homes that line this crooked street and tourists are all over the place hanging out and making noise. After taking in the view we walked down the steps on the side of the street and snapped some photos from the bottom. Then we headed back to the hotel for a little rest.

For dinner Ma and I returned to the soul food restaurant that we couldn't get into on Saturday, farmerbrown. With dark lighting, earthy colors, and oldschool hip-hop and R&B music in the air, the vibe of the place is part country kitchen part underground hip-hop spot. The word "cool" came to mind immediately when I sat down. Paintings of important black artists decorate the walls, and the movie Dreamgirls was playing on a projector hanging from the ceiling. We made a reservation this time, and since today was a Tuesday it never got too crowded even at peak dinner time. I went with the day's special (chicken and waffles), with the traditional staples of macaroni and cheese and green beans. Everything tasted wonderful, but I was especially pleased with the chicken and waffles since it was my first time having
 it. And what a coincidence, we were seated next to another pair of French-speaking people! It was hard for me to tell that they were speaking French at first though, because their accents were a little different. Maybe they were from Quebec? Again, I was tempted to try speaking with them, but chickened out.

You can't really compare farmerbrown and Brenda's because they offer completely different styles of soul food, but I will say that farmerbrown's style was more akin to what Ma and I are used to. Oh, and the service is really great; probably the best service we've received since we've been here.  Before we left I got red velvet to go, and though the coloring is a
little brown I have no complaints. Very moist and not too sweet, so almost perfect.

After all the walking and climbing we did today, I know I'm going to sleep well. My feet, thighs, and hips are still talking to me after that challenge going up Hyde.

SB in SF! photos

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Monday (part 2): Yerba Buena Gardens, Chinatown again, and Café Bellini

With nothing left on our self-made itinerary for today, we went back to the hotel for a little bit before trekking through Union Square toward Yerba Buena Gardens. We were only vaguely aware of it as a San Francisco place of interest, but we figured why not?  Come to find out it's a nicely groomed, built-up area with lots of interesting architecture. The latter is due largely to its surrounding buildings: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD), Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Children's Creativity Museum, and others. The gardens themselves also contain the MLK Memorial Waterfall and a few delightfully odd sculptures such as "Shaking Man" and "URGE." There's also an overpass that gives a spectacular view of the hills that lie beyond Howard Street.

After wandering around for a while, we still had plenty of time left in the day and no plan. I was itching to go back to Chinatown because even if it wasn't going to be our favorite place, I wanted to be able to say we'd eaten there at last once. Come on, it's the largest Chinatown in the nation! So I looked up restaurants there and came across a sit-down place called Great Eastern Restaurant. President Obama has been there once, so I figured the food had to be at least halfway decent. Turns out it was more than halfway decent. I got one of the specials, which was stuffed tofu, eggplant and pepper with black bean sauce. The restaurant has the air of a formal dining hall, with miniature chandeliers and waiters in white shirts, black bowties, and green jackets. But it's certainly not a place that you have to get dressed up for if you don't want to. Just walk in as you are and enjoy.

We took our time eating and then returned to the hotel. We were about to call it a night when I got a sweet craving, so we went out one last time and ended up at a really cool café called Café Bellini. It's got this red and black, American and European thing going on that is fun and sophisticated at the same time. I also really liked this place because there were so many different people there. A French family of three sat two tables to our left. I was tempted to try and speak with them, but I figured that'd be weird. To our right was a curious Australian woman to whom we explained the origins of red velvet cake. Bellini has a long menu with a variety of options, so there's bound to be something for everybody. I just had a "Berry Berry Tarte" and a Coke. After getting our sugar fill, we returned to the hotel for the night. I'm glad that we were able to explore more of the city than we'd anticipated today.

 SB in SF! photos

Monday (part 1): City Lights and Chinatown

All we had planned today were City Lights Bookstore and Chinatown, but we ended up doing quite a bit more.
City Lights was first, and I have no shame coming off as a nerd when I say that it's absolutely one of the most beautiful places I've ever stepped foot in. Books everywhere, two floors and a basement just full of beautiful, colorful, sweet-smelling, thought-provoking books! The place has a laid-back feel but is also impeccably organized, with lots of wood and  natural light and clever signs/posters. City Lights is not only cool and quirky, but it's actually a historical landmark since it was the first to publish Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems in 1956. So this (and the Beat Museum across the street) is a must-see for Beat literature readers/Beat movement enthusiasts. I went in halfway thinking that I wouldn't buy anything, because otherwise I would've wanted to buy up the whole store. My resolution was further solidified when I realized that City Lights was  NOT an "old book store" but rather just an "old bookstore", with no more used or cheap finds than you'd get anywhere else. But of course, I just couldn't resist and I changed my mind. Ma and I left with The Invisible Man (Ellison), Naomi (Tanizaki), Howl and Other Poems (Ginsberg), a blank City Lights journal, and a City Lights button. 
Next was Chinatown. We only went down 3 streets, one being Grant Avenue which is strung with red lanterns and is tourist central. You can find anything you could want or need in Chinatown, and while restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops,  clothing and accessory shops, convenience stores, electronic stores, banks, law offices, markets, etc. can be found throughout the area, Grant Avenue is one of the most crowded. I hadn't planned on buying anything here either. But we came across this one accessory shop that featured rows upon rows of leather animal-shaped coin purses, and an orange elephant one caught my eye. After we paid for it I turned it over in my hands and said to Ma, "It's useless, but it's cute right?" Pretty much sums up a lot of what you could buy here.
All of what Chinatown offers isn't useless though. It's interesting because on the one hand you have hordes of tourists seeking cheap goods or cultural experiences or whatever. And on the other hand you have Chinese people who live in, work in, or otherwise frequent the area who are just going about their day-to-day lives. I find that fascinating.
Overall, it didn't turn out to be as awe-inspiring as I'd hoped, but I'm certainly glad we went. However, I will say that it's probably better if you go there knowing where you're going, that is, if you have a place in mind. Otherwise all the streets might start looking the same pretty quickly. In Ma's blunt words, "It's all the same thing. I don't see anything different.  Just a whole bunch of shops selling stuff." As you can see, Ma wasn't very impressed with Chinatown. Nor was she impressed with the pearl milk tea (bubble tea) that I had her try with me at Ten Ren's Tea, which is both café and tea shop. But hey, she stepped out of her comfort zone and tried something new, and that's all I could've asked for.
Click here for Part 2!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sunday (part 2): Brenda's, Japantown, and Karaoke

We would've explored the rest of the museum, but we had other places we wanted to go so we left after going through the whole Yoga exhibit. On to our second spot of the day: Brenda's French Soul Food. This is another well-reviewed spot, and the chef/co-owner is from Louisiana so we figured it'd
be worth the hype.
They said it would be an hour to an hour and a half wait, and they were not lying. But house rule #8 claims that "Your patience will be rewarded with a belly full o' goodness!", so we decided to trust them and wait it out.
We stood outside for most of the time until a couple seats opened up in the waiting area next to two young Asian women. I was listening to their conversation to pass the time, and apparently one of them has been (secretly?) dating singer and YouTube star David Choi since December. They've yet to meet in person though. Anyway, after exactly an hour and a half of patience, Ma and I were seated.
It's possible that I had such a strong reaction because I hadn't eaten in hours, but the food was honestly some of the best I've ever had in my life. From their weekend brunch menu Ma and I split beignets, and I ordered Fried Chicken Eggs Benedict, which came with grits (I'd never had beignets or grits before). All of it was wonderful. As I ate, I kept swaying to the blues/Motown/soul music that was playing, shaking my head and making my This is so good! faces, and asking Ma, "What did I do to deserve this blessing?". Like House Rule #8 had promised, I sho' nuff was "full o' goodness" and it was almost too much for me to handle! Totally worth the wait.
From Brenda's we walked to Japantown, where we explored the Peace Plaza and all three of its surrounding buildings (East Wall, West Mall, and Kinokuniya Building). I won't say I was disappointed, because it really is a nice complex. Let's just say I was underwhelmed. Having been to Japan, I always tend to prefer the real thing to attempts at recreation. Also, the "malls" were quite smaller than I'd imaged. I guess if we didn't have full stomachs and were in the mood for buying things (other than "towel handkerchiefs" from Daiso), we would've enjoyed it more. Still, there were many nice things to look at, and it felt good to hear and see Japanese in such a concentrated space again.
From there we walked to our last stop of the day: karaoke! Ma had never done Asian-style karaoke before, and I figured it would be something fun for us to try together since we were already in Japantown. The place we went to is called Do Re Mi Music Studio, and despite being in Japantown it's actually run by Koreans and its song selecting system is in Korean. But we had no trouble figuring it out, and once Ma got the hang of it I think she had a really good time! We paid $20 for an hour, which wasn't bad at all. After that we took the light rail back to our home for the week.
Despite our setbacks this morning, we ended up doing everything we'd planned for today and it was only 7:30pm when we returned. I said yesterday that we would enjoy today, and we certainly did!

Sunday (part 1): A Friendly Local and the Asian Art Museum

It took us longer than expected to get out of the hotel today. First Ma forgot her umbrella. Then the strap on my purse broke and I had to switch to my backpack. Then we had to move our things into the room next door (a smaller one, mind you) because our first room's ceiling was leaking.
When we finally got on our way, I stopped to take a picture of the facade of a Uniqlo store. A man was passing by and offered to take a picture of Ma and me. He was a tall, light-skinned man dressed in a particular way (think James Earl Jones in Coming to America, but in black and white, minus the furs and the accent). We declined, to which he replied, "Yeah, you never know with some of these folks out here. They might run off with your camera. That wouldn't be me, of course." He was a funny man.
Since we were all heading in the same direction, he kindly walked with us to the stand where we needed to buy transportation passes. He gave us a number of tips along the way. One of which was not to go too far down a certain street called Eddy. If we did, we'd see a lot of people shooting up, smoking, talking to themselves, etc. Oh ok, that might've been nice to know. We didn't mention that we'd already gotten acquainted with some of these people during our unsuccessful quest for soul food last night. He welcomed us to San Francisco and wished us safety and good times as we parted ways.
After getting our passes, boarding the correct bus, and walking a little ways, we arrived at the Asian Art Museum.  We went specifically for the "Yoga: The Art of Transformation" exhibit and it was excellent! It was divided into three galleries, going in chronological order, with the vast majority of pieces originating from the Indian subcontinent. The first gallery had paintings, sculptures, and illustrated scrolls and manuscripts of Buddha, Hindu gods and goddesses/yogis and yoginis, and people practicing yoga or imparting yogic wisdom. The second gallery went from paintings of folktales and historical events involving famous yogis to Western/Orientalist depictions of yogis through photo, print, and film. The last gallery had diagrams, text excerpts, and videos that linked yoga practice to health, science and medicine. I certainly didn't understand everything that I read or saw, but it was great learning about the concepts that formed the foundation of yoga, and also seeing how yoga changed in response to historical and cultural influences.
And this exhibit seems to be pretty popular;  there were all kinds of people there!  There was one Asian woman whom I found to be particularly interesting. At first I thought she was taking notes, because she would get really close to each piece and then start scribbling. But I was able to get a glimpse of her pad and realized that she was sketching! I overheard her telling someone that she'd even gone to India to study the style of drawing that was used in many of the paintings. How cool is that?

"Yoga: The Art of Transformation" runs from now until May 25th at the Asian Art Museum.
Click here for Part 2!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Don't touch nothin'!

Ma makes a clean sweep of the room and concludes, "Don't touch anything in this hotel room, you hear? That's how they get you. You need anything, just go on down to Walgreens."

SB in SF!: We're here!

After hours of traveling, Ma and I have finally made it to our Spring Break destination.... San Francisco!

This trip means a lot to us because it's our first time going on vacation together ever. It's also my first time in California. So hopefully this week turns out to be full of new things, bonding, and good times!

Originally, the plan was to go to this well-reviewed soul food restaurant after we'd checked in to our hotel. Before we left Michigan I asked Ma about making a reservation, but she didn't really want to do it. We'd just go there and see, and if it was too crowded we'd go somewhere else. So we arrive in San Francisco, drop our stuff off at our home for the week, walk the 1/2 mile to this soul food restaurant, and what do you know. A restaurant. In the city. On a Saturday night. Packed. 2 hour wait. Who knew? Wasn't happening. I wasted no time saying, "I told you so" as we left.

So we walked back and decided to eat at the Italian restaurant attached to the hotel. And despite my preconceptions when Ma first mentioned "hotel restaurant", this place called Scala's Bistro is actually a very fine place with delicious food. A little pricey, but nothing that's going to put you in debt as long as you pay attention to the numbers. And the atmosphere of the place may seem a little stuffy at first, but the staff is actually very kind and everyone's just there to relax and enjoy good food and conversation.

I have to admit though, after having walked around a bit, seeing how cool and fun and well-put together people seem to be, and sitting in this really nice restaurant... I felt a bit anxious and out of place. For some reason I feel insecure about being here. Ma tried to reassure me,

"We're just two people out of thousands here. Ain't nobody looking at or thinking about us. You always go somewhere and act scared like people already know you and everything about you, and that's not the case. So chill."

Tonight that's what I'll do. Take a breath, get some rest, remember that this supposed to be fun, and that everything's going to be okay. Tomorrow's a new day, and we're going to enjoy it!

SB in SF! photos