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48 Hours in Portland

18 Sep

I still had six hours before my red eye flight back to New York took off. I was sitting at Jake’s, after a two-and-a-half-hour walking tour, three local draft beers in three different bars and a half dozen oysters. Feeling a little tired and tipsy and realizing I still needed to drive my rental car back to the airport later, I decided to skip the class of chardonnay I was going to order. My waitress Stephanie strongly recommended the Sunset Beach Oysters from Hood Canal, Washington as I told her I love big and fat oysters.

Sunset Beach Oysters at Jake's

“Anything to drink?”

“No, thanks. I’ve been drinking beers all afternoon. Portland has great beers!”

“We absolutely do! I’ll bring you some bread and iced water. They are good to sober you up.”

Stephanie’s recommendation turned out to be excellent. The oysters were so fresh, fat and juicy. I washed down my second half dozen oysters of that day with a glass of Portland’s sweet iced tap water, feeling sober enough to drive.

Jake’s apparently is one of the most well-known restaurants in town. About 20 minutes after I sat down at the table set up on the curb, I overheard the waiting time for a table was around 40 minutes. I looked at my iPhone, it was only 5:50pm.

For entree, I ordered Seafood Newburg–sauteed prawns and scallops in a lobster cream sauce. It was a fantastic meal but what made the dining experience more lovely was watching Stephanie greeting old customers with a big smile and reading Jake’s menu where I found a story about the history of this 119-year-old seafood restaurant.

Jake's Seafood Newburg

Across the street, there was Kenny & Zuke’s, where I had my brunch that morning. I waited for a half hour to get a small table at around 12pm. When I finished my last piece of bacon, it was 1:20pm and there were still a long line outside of the restaurant. But the line of Kenny & Zuke’s was actually much shorter than Mother’s Bistro, where I was told the waiting time for brunch that morning would be more than 2 hours. I had dinner at Mother’s Bistro the night before. After spending a long day at Columbia River Gorge and Mount Hood, taking photos and hiking, I finished the “Cascade Natural” Beef Pot Roast served with a rich & velvety gravy, smashed red potatoes and sauteed green beans and a glass of Oregon red wine in 20 minutes.

Brunch at Kenny & Zuke's

Brunch crowd outside Kenny & Zuke's

48 hours in Portland is of course so much more than great food, beers, wines, friendly bartenders and waitresses who are enthusiastic about telling people how great Portland is.

The historic scenic drive Route 30 is filled with mysterious waterfalls; Mount Hood not only has breathtaking views for road trip lovers, but also long trails for serious hikers and vineyards for wine lovers; TriMet, Portland’s public transportation system has a huge free zone and what makes everyone happy is there is no sale tax!

Mount Hood (Some smoke caused by a wild fire)

Vista House on Route 30

Kids & Waterfall

Columbia River Gorge

Multnomah Falls

Besides all the above, Portland is just a cute and smart city with self-maintained solar-powered garbage cans that don’t need to be cleaned out for every eight months, colored bike lanes on almost every street and unfiltered but sweet water pumping out from public water fountains.

A summer afternoon in downtown Portland

A summer afternoon in downtown Portland

Who doesn't like bikes?

During my 48-hour visit, I spent a lot of time thinking about Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove who purchased downtown Portland for 50 cents and named the town in 1845. Sitting on a bench on the bank of Willamette River and watching time passing by as the river running through the center of the city, I was wondering how many things have changed in the last 166 years–the buildings, the bridges, the boats and the people. But there are also things that have never changed —the running river and the snow capped Mount Hood and Mount Saint Helens in the backdrop.

Take a closer look at Mount Hood

I told Stephenie I was totally full and had to pass the very tempting desert. On my check, it was a whole number, no tax, of course.

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A Transit Life

11 May

Everyday I spend at least one hour in transit, that’s 5 hours every week, 20 hours a month, and almost 10 full days every year. I know most of my colleagues and friends spend even more time on the subway, NJ Transit and the PATH Train.Riding a train with strangers is how we start every day. We often don’t realize the fact that we have become so rely on public transit until the train comes 5 minutes late and totally disrupts our morning plan. Transit, to some extent has almost defined how a metropolitan area like New York City is structured. I take the PATH train to work, getting on the train at New Port in Jersey City and get off at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. It’s been almost a year but sometimes I still feel overwhelmed when I see the 8 gigantic elevators in WTC station are packed with people rushing to work. And before I could take a moment to process the amazing scene, I remind myself I am just one of them.

Transit is always an amazing topic. Especially in New York City, the subway serves as such a great resource for writers, reporters, artists and photographers. Over the last weekend, I took a couple of photos in PATH and NYC’s subway. I’m not sure why I had wanted to shoot New York transit for such a long time. But I did quite enjoy the project.

PATH New Port

PATH New Port, Jersey City

PATH New Port, Jersey City

PATH New Port, Jersey City

PATH, New Por

PATH New Port, people waiting for train to 33rd St.

NYC Subway, 14 St.

NYC Subway, 14 St.

NYC Subway, 14 St.

NYC Subway, 14 St.

A one-year reading project of Yosemite

26 Jan

In 2009, when I was visiting Yosemite during the Christmas, I bought a book called One Hundred Years in Yosemite. I started reading the book in my tent the night I got it. It was a bitterly cold night. I was laying in my tent near Curry Valley. I could hear snow falling on the tent and small pieces of ice dropping off the giant sequoia trees. I couldn’t think of any better place and time to read the book that was first published in 1932. The history that the book covered dates back to 1830s when Britain was about to start the first industrial revolution while China’s last feudal empire, the Qing Dynasty was about to inevitably collapse. But in the Sierra area in the New Continent, it was so quiet and peaceful, just like the way it is today.

About to enter the mysterious Yosemite valley

I finally finished reading the book during the holidays of the past Christmas, a year after I bought the book.

Of course, I rarely spend one year to finish a book. Normally I try to finish a book as soon as possible if it’s good or I quickly switch to another if I found the first few chapters not interesting enough–nowadays, we just can’t afford to waste anytime consuming information that we think is not relevant. But I didn’t want to miss any single page of this book. It stayed on the little desk by my bed so that I could read it when I had a chance and when I was in the right mood.

A snow storm was just over and the sky got clear

Too beautiful to be real

Reading the book was truly a conversation with its author Carl Parcher Russell, a recognized authority on the early Westward Movement and the creator of an innovative curatorial program at the Yosemite Museum that resulted in the acquisition of many valuable relics and records from the past. The feeling of being guided through a century-long history of the stunningly beautiful Sierra area was wonderful, especially for people who have actually seen the beauty and magnificence of Yosemite.

Snow covered Yosemite Valley and the Half Dome

Time is what makes every visit to the national parks such a privileged experience. One year may be a long time to finish a book but it’s barely one page in a history book. 100 years may be a long time from a human standard but it can hardly even be identified from a geology standard. How fortunate a human could possibly be when he could see the great wilderness through his eyes and touch the nature that took millions of years to shape by his hands. Only at that moment, we would truly understand where we come from and how humble we are, like the moment when I was trying to move forward on the snow-covered John Muir Trail and almost fell off the cliff—I came from a world that has been restructured by humans but the rocks of Yosemite remain intact for millions of years.

John Muir Trail, overed with about 2 feet of snow

Vernal Fall

Man v.s the nature

Looking outside my window, the Empire State Building was lighted up by glamorous colors. But who knows 100 years from now what the skyline of New York City would be or if the city will still exist. One thing that can be foreseen is that the Nevada Fall, the Glacier Point and the Half Dome of Yosemite will be the same after 100 years, 200 years and many more years.

Another snow storm before I left the valley

Travel in 2010

7 Dec

I recently had a week-long trip to California. I thought I have to write something before my next one to Seattle.

Travel in 2010 is different. First, we have to deal with two more new things among the complicated TSA airport security procedures– the pat-down and full body scanner. Second, now you can expect more when flying in the air, things such as watching live TV and checking in on Foursqure. Third, AT&T seems slowly improving its 3G network in major US cities, which means, you may have a smoother experience when using Google Map app on your iPhone or iPad to figure out where you are while traveling in a city you’ve never been to.

Many people still travel in an old-fashion way–carrying a real book on the trip, booking tickets through a travel agency, checking in flight at airport and writing down all the research they have done about the destination at home. Many people including me no longer do such things. We carry an iPad to read and to watch movies. We book our trip purely online or even through our mobile gadgets. We almost forget what it means by “checking-in at airport.” We check in online and pass the security with a mobile boarding bass on our Blackberry, iPhone, or Android. We figure out what time the next bus comes on mobile Google Map service. We find the nearest popular restaurant on Yelp.

Travel in 2010 is truly different. You can choose to travel the way people did in 20 years ago and there’s nothing wrong with that. But you can also have a cheaper, less stressful and more productive trip by embracing social, digital and mobile. We may be sitting right next to each other on a Boeing 737-800 plane but we are from totally different two worlds. Technology and mobile networks have not only redefined the way we travel but more importantly, they have redefined our perception about travel. A destination could soon be your new home with all the help from mobile apps. A trip may no longer need a carefully planed itinerary. An improvised one could end up being an unforgettable and pain-free travel memory, like the one I just had in California.

Watching Thanksgiving Parade live via Direct TV on a Continental EWR-SFO flight. Yes, I was also watching a movie on my iPad.

Reading the New York Times on Santa Monica beach. 3G covered.

Finding a fabulous restaurant in SF on Yelp is easy

I was at the same gate in SFO 2.5 years ago but this time I used a mobile boarding pass to pass the security. It was seriously cool.

However, I was eventually given a real boarding pass at the gate.

One thing that did not change is Continental's F class breakfast menu. But it was still a hearty and delicious meal though.

A road trip to Vermont

27 Oct

It’s been almost three weeks after I got back from a road trip to Vermont. It’s about time to write a wrap-up before I totally forget what happened during that crazy weekend (Like many people who work like crazy, I constantly feel the onset of my Alzheimer’s already started).

It was a long, dramatic and crazy trip featured a car accident (everyone involved was fine and it was not my fault at all), breathtaking views, more than 800-mile driving, an improvised itinerary and heavy highway traffic.

Getting out of the heavily populated tri-state area through I-95 was once again proved to be a nightmare. The heavy traffic extended till New Haven of Connecticut where our rental car was slammed by an old Volvo from the back. The driver turned out a high school girl who was totally freaking out. Luckily no one got injured. But it was impossible for us to continue driving the damaged car to Vermont. Long story short, the tow truck managed to take us to New Haven airport one hour before the Hertz counter closed so that we could replace the car. The process was smooth and efficient. We hit the road again around 11:30pm. Thumbs up to Hertz! (But wait…Just yesterday, I got a phone call from Hertz telling me that they didn’t find the damaged car in the parking lot of New Haven Airport and asking me which tow company I was using. This is truly a bit absurd because you would imagine a rental car company should make sure it gets the first car back before it gives you another car. Anyway, I simply gave Hertz the tow company’s name and told the agent on the phone again what happened that night. Hopefully things can be sorted out soon…)

When we finally got to Vermont, it was already 2:30am. And the rest of the trip was all about driving. I consider myself a quite experienced traveler and I understand the importance of doing the homework BEFORE a trip. But with a busy job during the week, me and my travel buddy decided to take a risk for this time and improvised our itinerary while we were on the road. Not so surprised, things turned out not very brilliant—although we did see a lot of nice views, we ended up driving across Vermont and New Hampshire in one day, which was about 8-hour driving.

I don’t have many interesting stories to tell you this time but I do have a lot of photos to show off, a lot!

Morning of the first day in VT

nice color, that's the point of this trip

You know what is this. I got two though I'm not a big fan of sweets.

Made a stop at Dartmouth College and had the lunch. Feeling smarter.

Somewhere on the road. Had to stop to take this photo.

Almost the end of the first day. Made it to the White Mountain in New Hampshire. But our hotel was in VT. Another 3.5-hour night time driving.

The temperature dropped to 40 degrees.

Then came the best view of the trip

Captured the sunset. Amazing view.

Turned out a historic site

I feel this looks like somewhere in the Jurassic Park.

The second morning. Skinny Pancake restaurant at Montpelier, V

What do you think of the menu? Everything was great.

Pancake wrapped with cheese and bacon. Best ever!

Hit the road again, heading to Stowe

Here we are. Stowe! a nice small town.

Made it to the top of the mountain. Some exciting mountain dirt road driving.

Chef Shie feels like taking a photo of himself.

only wish I could stay longer

PM, in the Little River State Park. so peaceful

breathtaking view

Heading back home. Something is not so right. where's the highway???

Turned out Tom Tom took us to a ferry back to NY.

A busy ferry

Heading back to NY

wondering when was the last time i was on a ferry

Perfect light

New York does not only have New York City

A road trip, indeed!

Super Spicy Szechuan Chicken

3 Oct

First of all, I have to clarify a long-lasting mistake that many Americans hold regarding Chinese food–there is no such dish called “Szechuan Chicken” on any authentic Chinese menu, neither is “Szechuan Beef” and etc. However, there is a well-know Sichuan-style spicy dish called “Spicy Chicken” or “La Zi Ji” in Chinese. The dish was originally invented by chefs in Chongqing, a big city about 300 miles away from Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan. Technically Chongqing is not part of Sichuan province, but it has always been considered an important origin of Sichuan cuisine.

Back to the spicy chicken, the authentic way of making this super hot dish is to chop home-raised chicken into small pieces with keeping bones in them and pan fry the pieces with a lot of dry pepper until the meat gets dry and crispy. The chicken becomes literally spicy chicken because the meat absorbs all the spicy flavor from the pepper after the juice evaporates. Even for those who claim they can stand with super hot food, they may need some gut to taste the chicken.

My recipe is not for authentic Chinese food lovers but for those who are not lazy enough to just order Chinese takeout and would like to spend some acceptable amount of time to  prepare a decent meal without making their kitchens super messy.

Having said that, I used boneless and skinless chicken thighs. Of course, I need a lot of dry pepper (you can get in any Asian market or you can just use Mexican dry pepper as well). Another ingredient that can really bring the dish to a new level is celery. Other seasonings include sugar, ginger, salt, soy sauce and wine (ideally, Chinese rice wine but you can just use white wine, lousy white wine is totally fine here!) .

The procedure is super easy.

1. pour some vegetable oil on a hot skillet

2. put chicken thighs and 5-6 pieces of gingers onto the skillet and fry them until seeing golden color on both side

3. put 6 tea spoons of sugar, 3 tea spoons of wine, 1 spoon of soy sauce and 1 tea spoon of salt into the pan and stir

4. put roughly chopped dry pepper into the pan (the amount you use depends on how spicy you want)

5. cover the lid and let it cook with mid-mild stove heat for 7-8 mins

6. open the lid and put diced celery and stir

7. Done!

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