Friday, September 5, 2014

Beach Blanket... Banana?

Yesterday, we went to the de Young museum, because SF MOMA is closed for renovations, and Ken wanted to go to an art museum.  (I would never suggest going to an art museum.  I spent approximately one half hour in the Louvre nearly three months after I had moved to Paris, and only because my friend Graham was visiting.  This accurately reflects how much appreciation I have for art.)

The de Young is pretty reasonable in terms of admission prices ($10 general admission/$7 students with valid ID, $21 including special exhibitions, $17 students).  I searched for and found a discount code for 20% off, so I suggest doing 30 seconds of internet research.  Retailmenot.com is an excellent resource for this, but if that fails you, Google is good, too.  This, of course, applies to everything in life, not just the de Young or travelling.

There is also an observation tower that you can get to for free and has a pretty cool view of San Francisco

That tiny thing in the back about two thirds from the left is the Golden Gate Bridge.
The Academy of Sciences across the way.  That is a really cool place, and I highly recommend it.  (I've been there on previous trips to SF.)
I didn't realize until very far into our visit that there were no signs indicating photography was not allowed (which is what I usually assume in a museum), so I don't have too many photos of the art itself, but I can describe my feelings, which I'm sure are as deep and profound as the art that evoked them.  Said feelings are that I don't understand art.  As far as I can tell, the modern art that was featured in the Modernism exhibition was a series of rectangles on each other.  One of them looked like a minimalist ninja turtle.  Others were Rothkos, which are literally rectangles on top of other rectangles.  There were also a lot of pieces by Barnett Newman, who also painted rectangles on rectangles.  Then there appeared to be a sort of "miscellaneous" section, with a piece by Roy Lichtenstein, and some 3D stuff, "Saigon, Minnesota," which depicts something between child sex abuse and materialism (?), and this weird painting with wax arm models on the canvas that strongly reminded me of Phoebe's "Gladys" and "Glynnis" from Friends (the TV show), in which said works are obviously hideous to the audience (and Rachel and Monica) but are Phoebe's proud works.

I will say that I do prefer abstract expressionism to other kinds of modern art that I've seen.  Don't get me wrong; I'm not a fan of rectangles on rectangles, and when an artist paints a dark grey rectangle on a dark blood colored canvas, I don't think it is some great accomplishment that he has made me feel a vague sense of dread or doom.  Using dreadful colors will do that.  However, I do prefer it to the modernist paintings with people who are just there to be "unsettling" or wax arms in them, and I have no idea what the fuck is happening.  At least I like the look of lines and shapes.  I do not like wax arms.

What I actually enjoy at art museums are things from other cultures.  Particularly things that also have a real function, whether in daily life or as part of a ritual.  This is way more interesting to me.  I have discovered that I really like Eskimo and Inuit art.  Mostly because it incorporates animals and is often adorable.  So many seals and polar bears!

Here is some random art, most of which I found really funny:

This is actually a coffin, so it shouldn't be funny, but it looks like an enormous carrot.  (It is actually meant to be a cocoa bean or something.)
This is the goofiest Angel of Death.
I imagine these portraits were the old version of facebook, where you get to portray this cooler, more educated version of yourself, and that's why they both have their fingers in books, as though they were just caught leafing through them... for the three million hours it took to paint this.
Washington, Washington (link, especially audio, NSFW)
After the museum, Ken became delirious with hunger, so we ate dinner at 4:30.  (We had a big breakfast but skipped lunch.)  We went to Sakesan Bistro, where it was happy hour, so we went a little crazy.  We got a dozen oysters that the waitress couldn't name but were from Canada ($12), two spicy tuna tartare tacos ($2 each), two spicy albacore tartare tacos ($2 each), a spicy salmon roll ($5), a 20-piece sashimi combo ($35), and two beers ($3 each).  We ate it all alarmingly quickly.



The regular tuna tartare was much more flavorful than the albacore, but the texture on both was really nice.  As you can see, it's not really a taco, but it's served on a fried chip type thing.
The restaurant has an interesting setup.  There are about four small two-tops that are regular seating, but there are two other sections with completely different seating.  One is three or four larger tables that could seat six or maybe eight, and you leave your shoes outside and sit on a floor-level bench.  There are also grooves where your legs can go, so it is not that different from a regular table, but I guess it is slightly more Japanese?  These tables are divided by floor-to-ceiling panes of glass, so you almost have a little room to yourself.  Then in the back, there are actual individual rooms that can seat a lot of people and are equipped with karaoke machines and microphones.  That's awesome.  There is a karaoke screen playing the restaurant's own playlist out in the main area as well, but I'm not sure if diners in that area can opt to sing or not.

This whole time, we were sitting next to someone who appeared to be insane.  She was wearing a black wig, and seemed either drunk or high.  She placed her order for food, then left.  Her food was brought to her table, and there was no sign of her anywhere.  We thought she left.  Nope.  She comes back, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes later, and eats her food.  She then leaves again, but leaves all her stuff behind.  Then she comes back and says her friend is coming.  Her friend arrives, and they are speaking in a mix of English and French, but they don't seem to be native speakers in either of those languages.  Ken hears her say to her friend that European teenagers are smarter than adult, educated Americans.  Her friend expresses some resistance to that idea, so she steps it up:  Any European boy is smarter than any 100-year-old American college professor.

Ok, let's be real.  I get that Americans don't have the best reputation abroad.  I really do.  Our foreign policy is atrocious.  Don't even get me started.  But teenagers?  Really?  You can choose not to put your faith in Americans, but where is this random confidence in European teenagers (or any teenagers) coming from?  Teenagers think they know everything, yes, but adults shouldn't think teenagers actually do know everything.  That's just wrong.  I'm not going to take too seriously random hyperbolic statements from someone who is probably crazy, but this was pretty ridiculous even for a crazy person.

We wandered around the neighborhood after that, gleaning some great life advice from a bookstore:

One of the levels of commitment was "keeping his head warm."  Also, moving through all these levels of commitment would provide this man with about six scarves.
Then we got some dessert at the Toy Boat Dessert Cafe, which is decorated perfectly for a kid nerd.





The Mayan hot chocolate was not very chocolatey.  I do not recommend it.  The hot cider and the red velvet cheesecake were good, though.  Ken and I discussed our extremely limited common literary knowledge.  I complained about Catcher in the Rye and the Scarlet Letter, which are probably my least favorite books ever.  I know that most people find Catcher in the Rye to be this amazing classic, but I have read that book twice, once in high school, and once in college, and both times, all I could think was that Holden Caulfield is a dick.  I don't get the sense that he's struggling with growing up or his burgeoning sexuality.  All I get is that he does stupid shit and is an incredibly annoying human being.  We began discussing books because Ken used the word "ignominious," and then I asked him never to use that word because I hated the Scarlet Letter.  Hawthorne uses that word at least as many times as Stephenie Meyer (of Twilight fame) describes someone's face as "expressionless" or "unreadable" or the like.  I GET IT HAWTHORNE.  SHE SUFFERED A LOT.  (That, by the way, is the whole book, or at least the middle 80%.  You're welcome.)  I think someone once told me that the Scarlet Letter was supposed to be a much, much shorter story, but then Hawthorne's editor told him to make it a book.  If there is any truth to that, I hope that editor died violently BECAUSE IT SEEMS EXACTLY LIKE SOMEONE FORCIBLY DRAGGED OUT A SHORT STORY FOR AN ENTIRE BOOK AND IT IS TERRIBLE.

Our last stop of the night was Cathy's place for some Pandemic.  I hadn't played it before, but I'm hooked.  It's a collaborative board game in which all players work together to cure four diseases that are spreading across the globe.  The only way to win the game is to cure all four diseases; there are several ways to lose (which I can't explain concisely without explaining the entire game).  Each person draws a role card that gives them certain powers that help in this process.  For example, some roles increase mobility, some decrease cure requirements, some prevent spread of the disease, etc.  The key to the game is in managing the synergies between the various roles, and since there are more role cards than there are maximum players, each game is different.  The cities that start out infected are also different, and depending on how close they are geographically, this can also heavily impact game play.  It's pretty cool, and I'm definitely going to buy it.

Today, our main priority was to help Cathy with cleaning her apartment and doing some last-minute wedding stuff.  It was fun, stuff got cleaned and crafts got made, and I got an awesome gift bag with whiskey made in San Francisco and New York (among other things), which was really sweet.

But first, we had to switch rooms at our hotel, because Kevin is joining us and we need another bed.  The room we switched to is enormous and awesome, and I wish we had been staying here the whole time.  Strangely enough, the bathroom is teeny tiny.  But all the lights are plugged in, and there's flowers in the weird tube on the wall that we couldn't figure out the purpose of in the other room, and everything in this room is better.  For some reason the windows face directly into the windows of other rooms at this hotel, so that's a little too awkward for my taste, but maybe some guests are voyeuristic and/or exhibitionists.  It would be in line with the Hotel Diva theme.  The guest information book begins with, "Hey SEXY!!!"  So yeah.  This room also has small flying bugs, but these seem to be everywhere in San Francisco, including restaurants.  They seem harmless, and I'm convinced natives just don't notice them anymore.

On our way to Cathy's, we got some lunch to go from Olympic Cafe, a basic diner, where the cook must have been around 90.  The waitress had to repeat our order to him three times because he simply could not hear what she was saying.  He then explained to us why San Francisco has the same weather all year round in a very thick accent.  His fries were absolutely terrible, but he was a very likeable old man.

After wedding preparation, Ken and I met a law school friend at Shanghai Bund for dinner.  He had just returned from Burning Man, which was surprising, as he is one of the last people I'd ever expect to have attended Burning Man.  He showed us some photos on his phone, and it actually seems like a very interesting experience, even if you pass on the stranger sex and illicit drugs.  Good for Burning Man.

I didn't take photos at dinner, but the soup dumplings/xiao long bao were pretty good, and very reasonably priced.  Would go again.

After that, Ken and I went to Beach Blanket Babylon, the third word of which I could never remember, hence the title of this post.  The internet described this as a gay outlook on a straight man's world.  That is probably the least accurate description of a show ever.  The basic premise (no spoilers) is that it follows Snow White, who is from San Francisco, on her journey around the world to find love.  But the premise is wholly irrelevant.  The show is characterized by topical humor, exaggerating various cultural stereotypes, and wearing ridiculous headpieces, all as a song and dance.  Snow White's travels are just a device to work in these stereotypes, although the "segues" are often just the use of one word that launches into a completely unrelated song.  There is no effort to create a coherent show, and there is no apology for this lack of effort.

The show's parodies include, and are most certainly not limited to: Michele Bachmann, Miley Cyrus, Prince William and Kate Middleton, James Brown, Les Miserables, Barbara Streisand, Jewish people, and someone who seemed to be neither Spanish nor Latin American.  It was certainly worth $25 of entertainment (and runs about 90 minutes), and I recommend getting those tickets (the cheapest ones).  The lower floor is just rows of chairs on a flat floor, while the center/rear balcony are tiered, so for short people like me, it's much better for visibility.  Plus the theater is really small, so there's no concern that you won't be able to see as a result of being on the upper floor.  The singing is very impressive.  The writing is ok.  The acting is moderately funny.  I think if you've never seen a show like this, or you are drunk, you'll think it's hilarious, but otherwise, it's just a regular amount of entertainment.

The next two days are all occupied by wedding stuff, which I may or may not blog about, but at the latest, I'll update on Monday.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

City Upon A GABILLION Hills

The primary reason I am in San Francisco is to see friends and attend Cathy's wedding, so there isn't too much touristy stuff that I can report on.  I also come here about once a year, so I've lost that newcomer vision to some extent.

One thing I do always forget every time I come is that San Francisco smells like weed all the time.  I don't know how I manage to forget this every time, but there's always a moment in every trip where I think, "Oh yeah."  I also always forget it is cold at night.

After getting in on the train on Saturday, I spent the night at Liz's.  Her apartment is enormous, there's laundry in the apartment itself, and her rent is very low.  This is the takeaway of this entire trip:  Why do I pay so much to live in New York, even though it is more stressful than any other place in America?

Her roommates have chickens, who lay eggs.  One of them died (unknown cause).  Another was unloved, so they killed it and ate it.  There are still three left, who live in a coop in the backyard.  They also decided to simplify their lives by throwing out dishware.  I do not understand this.

Sunday was a wedding craft day (and laundry day for me).  We made glittery escort cards and welcome bags and talked about boys.  We also made fun of people for being so out of touch with wedding etiquette, even though I myself was one of these people before Cathy got engaged.  Apologies to the couples whose weddings I have attended as a random "and guest."  (But at least there was an "and guest" invited.)  Yes, I'm in those photos forever, and no, you will never remember, and perhaps never knew, who I am.  Sorry!

We had dinner at the Vestry and drinks at the Sycamore (the latter of which reminded me of San Francisco's pot smell).  The Vestry was ok, but I wouldn't recommend it, as it was not that notable.  They do have an interesting take on fish and chips, where small pieces of battered fish are served on actual potato chips, but it's not worth making a special stop.

The Sycamore smells like pee when you first walk in, and the sign outside is pictured below, so that should give you an idea of the level of class of this establishment.  They have a back patio where they play movies on a white brick wall, but by play movies, I mean play through the previews, and then stay on the screen where you choose between the widescreen or standard format without ever making a selection.


I uber-ed to the hotel, because Uber and Lyft are in a serious bidding war and are ridiculously cheap.  Between the two, I prefer Uber, because Lyft doesn't give you a cost estimate prior to requesting the car, and it also requested another ride after I had already arrived at my destination, which I did not want.  And then I couldn't cancel it, and it kept saying the driver was on the way, so I panicked and uninstalled the app entirely.  The app also doesn't let me see my past payments, so I don't know if it charged me for cancelling the ride I never requested in the first place.

While I was waiting for Ken outside the hotel (because he was pretty close), a couple had a very drunk and very violent argument in front of me.  Evidently, they were at a party or a bar or something, and then the woman was waiting for the guy in an uber, and the guy gave his number to some rando.  His defense was, "I thought you left!"  (Good job.)  There were multiple slaps dealt out (to the man) and a lot of hurling her purse.  So I just stood there awkwardly on my phone panicking about Lyft drivers showing up en masse and tried not to look up.

Ken and I are staying at Hotel Diva, which is a member of a group that calls itself "personality hotels."  The personality of Hotel Diva involves a lot of legs and bustiers on the decor, and some of the signs are randomly in Italian.  There are also several little flying bugs of unknown origin, but they don't seem to be the biting kind.

On Monday, we had lunch at The House, which had the best cod ever.  I'm told that this is a huge accomplishment because cod is normally terrible, but it was really, really good.  Very umami in flavor (much more so than umami burger).  Ken had the seared ahi tuna, which was also perfect.  I would highly recommend going here.  Both the tuna and the cod were daily specials, so definitely consider those.


Softshell crab appetizer
Seared ahi tuna
Awesome cod
The afternoon was highly stressful.  I was shopping for makeup, which I had researched on the train ride, in preparation for Cathy's wedding.  I do not understand makeup.  Walking into MAC and/or Sephora is extremely overwhelming.  Ken bailed immediately, but then I made him come back because I couldn't handle it either.  The salespeople seemed really aggressive to me, even though they probably weren't being aggressive at all, and it was just that I didn't understand anything.  I imagine that for some people, this is what they experience when they travel to a foreign country.  You're just so lost and confused, and you're not sure whether to believe these people or not.  The guy asked me what primer I currently use, and I was like, I literally just learned what primer is.  I have no primer.  And then there's all these different brands that get carried in all these different stores, and the choices and my lack of understanding of the difference between the choices was all just very stressful.  Plus there aren't really any objective answers to which is the best product, because it depends on your skin type and your undertones (what the fuck are undertones?), and SPF causes flashback in photos, but not always, and do I really want to spend $42 on a foundation I'm only going to use once before it expires?  IT'S ALL TOO MUCH.

So I was glad to go to hot pot for dinner and be saved from this cosmetic misery.  Hot pot, for those who are unfamiliar, is sometimes referred to as Chinese fondue.  Basically you have a pot of boiling broth, and you order raw ingredients to put into the soup and cook.  We went to Little Sheep, which is a chain from mainland China, but this location (near Union Square) was new, and it showed.  They didn't ask for our broth/base order up front (which you want, because they can bring that out first so it'll be boiling by the time you get your ingredients), and in fact they served us our raw meat before we had anything to cook it in.  AMATEURS.  The hand cut fatty beef was also way too thick.  And they gave us a random order that we didn't ask for, which would have been cool except it was POTATOES.  Who orders potatoes at hot pot?  No one.  I don't even know why it's on the menu.  Then, everybody else was full, but I wanted to keep eating, so I ordered three other things and asked them to put it on a separate check.  We had to explain this at least three different times to two different people, who kept checking that I wanted it on a separate check, and then asked if we had ordered/received it already.  It is not that difficult, guys.  Then they forgot to bring me the fresh shrimp balls, which were also not fresh at all.  The sauce was also bad, and there was very little selection.  I love hot pot, but I cannot in good conscience recommend this particular location.  Maybe they will get the hang of it eventually, but they are pretty far off right now.  Still better than trying to understand makeup though.

We then went to High Tide Lounge, which is a super divey bar that patches up its seats with duct tape and is covered in dollar bills with various notes written all over them.  I really liked it, but it's definitely not a "nice" place.  The cocktails are served in teeny tiny glasses though, so I'd recommend a draft beer instead.



Yesterday, we had tacos in the Mission, stopped by Dolores Park, and then went thrifting.

We also passed what I can only assume is Barbie's house.
Mission Thrift is a store that goes out of its way to be ridiculous.  Example clothing sections: pirate section, pirate wench section, skanky dresses, sparklers (which as far as I can tell is various sequined clothing), Victorian dresses, [insert decade here] dresses, tutus, wigs, and so on and so forth.  It was awesome.  Nothing like makeup shopping.

Later, we went to Fisherman's Wharf for dinner (Crab House) and a "7D" video game experience.  Neither of these was particularly notable, but it was worth the $8 of fun (for the video game), and the food was ok, though I prefer plain steamed with butter to their garlic sauce mix thing.  (Ken really liked it though, so I think this is just a matter of taste.)  Also, I totally beat Ken at shooting zombies.

The most notable part was our Uber driver, who used to live in New York, and his takeaway was that no one has time to go to the consulate with you (obviously?) and instead will just tell you how to get there.  He was also held up by some Black guys, whom he then could not identify for the police because, "Back then they all look the same, you know?  Now Obama's president so they look different, but back then - all the same."  I'm not sure if he means he can now only identify the president, or somehow Barack Obama being in office has suddenly resulted in his ability to distinguish faces across racial boundaries, but either way, it was weird.

Crab chowder (very flavorful)
"Lotsa crab" (3 lbs.) (too flavorful)
What was really awesome was the Red Jack Saloon.  I wish I had a bar like this near my apartment.  Drafts were $4, and they had board games and an old school Pacman machine.  It was well-lit but not overly bright, and it was just people hanging out with their friends.  No pick-up vibe whatsoever, just relaxing and having a good time.  It is, however, a Boston bar, with Red Sox paraphernalia and a wifi network called "Patriots#1," so you'll have to decide whether you can make your peace with that.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Coast Starlight (northbound)

This post is mostly just information on the logistics of taking this train and some photos.

I decided to take the train from L.A. to SF, because it is supposed to be a really nice train ride (it was), and I'll probably never have 11 hours to take that trip again.  Let that be the first note: train travel is the least efficient way to get from point A to point B, at least in America.  (Step up your train game, America.)  The only reason you should ever take this train is for leisure/scenic value and that it happens to go where you need to be two days from now.

Prices go up as you get closer to the departure date.  I could have gotten my ticket for ~$50, but I waited a few days, and it went up to $80.  The internet tells me that the price continues to skyrocket as you approach the date.  There do not seem to be any last-minute deals.  So buy early.

If you're going coach, you will have a choice between the upper and lower level.  The upper level is the way to go, unless you have mobility issues.  The lower level of the car is split by a hallway for the staircase and restrooms, so it seems much more cramped and unpleasant.  Plus, you can't see as far out, and that is kind of the whole point.  I'm not sure how the roomettes and sleeper cars work.

Riding the train (at least superliners like this one) is not like flying.  The seats are like La-Z-Boy chairs where there's calf support and a footrest and the chair goes pretty far back.  You can also get up and move from car to car, and it's just much more pleasant overall.

Now the whole point of this train is the view.  There seems to be some process where you can reserve a particular seat in advance, but I was not aware of this.  The person in charge of my car told me to go to the Amtrak desk at Union Station to get assigned a seat, but by the time I got there, they said to go back to the track, because they had sent up the chart with reserved and open seats.  I asked for a window seat on the west side, probably using the word "west" at least three times.  She said no problem, and she even switched me to a seat with a better window when I asked her to (upon discovering that the first seat was where the divider between two windows was).  After the train started moving, I thought, well this is weird.  I'm on the right side of the train, going north, but this is the west side?  Maybe we go "backwards" at some point?  But no, once the beach showed up on the other side of the train, I realized she just completely got the east/west orientation wrong.  SHE HAD ONE JOB.  (Ok, she probably has a lot of jobs, but certainly this is one of them.)  From what I can gather, the chairs always face the direction of travel, so if you think something is weird about the side you were assigned, it is.

I could still see through the other side's windows, and there are areas behind rows where you can stand by a window without being in anyone's space (except the recycling box), so it was fine.  The view on the east side is also pretty cool, and the whole ride is scenic, whether it's the ocean/beach, mountains, sand dunes, or nature preserves with birds and otters (except the otters weren't out yesterday), but you don't get any water views on the east side.







Aside from the passenger cars, there is also an observation car and two dining cars.  The observation car has chairs that face the windows where passengers can just sit and watch the scenery go by.  These are not the fancy chairs, and you don't reserve these seats; it's just a lounge where you can come and go as you please.  On some trains, there are "rails to trails" volunteers who narrate what you're seeing as you pass by certain things.  The train apparently cuts through an air force base, so you can see missile silos (?), and they'll tell you what rivers you're passing and whatnot.  Unfortunately, the windows are really dirty for something called the "observation car," and everything will have a bit of a yellow tinge to it.

In front of that is the dining car, which is pretty nice, and the food is actually not terrible.  The wine they serve is from the Coppola vineyard, if you are so inclined.  Lunch is much cheaper than dinner ($10-12 versus $16-23), and it's still light out, so if you plan to do one meal on the train, make it lunch.  You need to make reservations (once you're on the train, but perhaps you can make them in advance) with the person who's in charge of the dining car, and they have seatings every half hour.  Get the last slot, because they're in no rush to kick you out after you're finished with your meal, and if you're going from L.A. to San Francisco, this is when you'll have the best views of the coast.  Single riders and couples are grouped with others to make tables of four.


Panko Chicken.  Surprisingly not bad.

The train doesn't actually stop in San Francisco but Oakland.  If you purchase a ticket "to San Francisco," you then take a "thruway" bus, which is dedicated service for train passengers, so you don't need to worry about missing it if the train is late.

The only drawback was that the train conductor was a lady, so I was worried her menstrual fluids would attract bears the whole time.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

My Genes Remember Jurassic Technology

Is it wrong of me to assume that all attractive women in L.A. who are currently in service jobs are struggling/failed actresses?  Because I definitely assume that.  But who knows, maybe they'll pull a David Schwimmer and be on one of the most successful television shows of all time.  Relatedly, people here are very well-groomed and very focused on their health.  I would not do well here.

Yesterday, Christopher and I met at Union Station to go to Philippe's, which serves "french dipped sandwiches."  (I've eaten them, and I still don't know what that means, but they are definitely a thing.)  There is no vegetarian option for the sandwich, but they do have run-of-the-mill salads.  For meat eaters, you have a choice between pork, ham, lamb, or beef.  I believe you can also get it at various levels of dip, but the default that they serve you if you don't specify otherwise is "double dipped."  I'm not really sure what the meat is dipped in, but it is very tasty and juicy.  The bread does get soggy where it touches the meat, but the crust that you're holding shouldn't be too bad.  It's definitely worth a try if you're in the area.






They make their own hot mustard, which is surprisingly spicy.  Do not get this up your sinuses somehow.  It is not a good time.

After lunch, we just wandered around Chinatown, which is very, very subdued compared to New York.  There weren't a lot of other people out, and not a single person tried to sell me a knockoff Louis Vuitton handbag.  Here is a photo of the central plaza, where you will notice the only other people in the photo are also tourists taking a photo:



One of the few attractions in Chinatown is the Thien Hau temple.  (I'm assuming this is 天后 in Chinese.)  The website that led me there described it as Taoist.  I disagree with this description, since there was a figure of the Queen of Heaven (deity, obviously), Guan Yu (关羽, a real person who was a general during the Three Kingdoms era), and a Buddhist guy, I think (福德).  I think of Taoism as more of a philosophy, emphasizing balance and moderation, with the yin yang as its primary  (which I did not see here at all), whereas the Chinese pantheon is a completely separate mythology, but Wikipedia says they are intertwined.  This is definitely the case in Chinese culture, but I think that's just because the vast majority of Chinese people are just vaguely superstitious and/or spiritual and conflate everything together while not actually being devout to any one principled religious/spiritual/philosophical school (as demonstrated by this temple, which is similar to many that I've seen in China).  But then I guess, what's the point in saying it's separable if it's never actually separate?



While we were here, a bespectacled Black man who seemed to work at the temple (whose race I point out only because it is rather uncommon in this context, and you probably would've reasonably assumed he was Asian) came up to us and started telling us (mostly me) that it was no accident that we stepped into that temple today, and that it's because my genes "remember," and this is their way of pushing me towards the spirits of my ancestors.  This is also not what I consider a Taoist belief, but ok.  He explained to me that every lunar year, there are four zodiac symbols that are supposed to pray on the first day of each new year at the temple.  I had never heard this before, but I don't doubt that it is a belief held by some school in China.  (The zodiac is also not a Taoist thing.  Can you tell I really don't think this temple is rightly described as "Taoist?"  I'll stop.)  Anyway, he suggested that I go to the corner mom & pop store and buy a dozen eggs and some peaches and leave them at the altar.  I opted not to do this.

Afterward, Christopher and I got boba (the California way of saying bubble tea), and among our topics of conversation was Christopher's weird cab driver in Egypt, who kept talking about how much he hated his wife and about killing her, including an actual plot he pursued to kill her via a "lethal" amount of some spice.  It was entirely unclear whether this was a joke or whether he was seriously trying to kill her, but she lived, and apparently liked spicy food even more, so I'm inclined to think this is a joke, but delivery of jokes just doesn't translate very well between Egyptian Arabic and English.  This also makes me think that complaining about one's wife and plotting to kill her are common themes of small talk jokes in Egypt.  (This is how potentially completely wrongheaded assumptions of cultures begin.  You are witnessing it right now.  Cab drivers contribute disproportionately to this process, since they have a lot of interaction with foreigners.  This is why I hate cab drivers who scam tourists.  It is diplomatically irresponsible.  Was that $7 worth tarnishing the reputation of your people?  WAS IT?  Also, cab drivers in China:  Stop asking Westerners if the carpet matches the drapes.  In what world is this an appropriate question?  Answer: none.)

Anyway, we wandered over to Olvera Street, which is one of the oldest streets in Los Angeles, and has a bunch of stalls that sell Mexican goods and snacks.  We were there somewhat late in the day, so it may be more eventful in the afternoon, but nothing was going on while we were there, so it was just a quick stroll.




We made our way downtown, where we discovered that L.A. has the nicest administrative buildings ever, among other things.


LAPD
Dept of Transportation
Signs pointing to sister cities
I'm not sure what this is - an old hotel, probably - but it's clearly historical, since it's utterly useless (boarded up at street level) and yet it's still here.
This is a seemingly equally useless hotel filled with cardboard hippo-headed men.
We got dinner at a Peruvian tapas-style place called Mo-Chica that was right next to Bottega Louie.  It was much less pretentious.  The tables had this really thick fuzzy padding underneath (alpaca?), the purpose of which was unclear to me.  We shared a ceviche, which was more like sashimi, and a grilled artichoke, which neither of us knew how to eat, but that's why Google exists.  Christopher had a yummy risotto, and I had alpaca "stew," but it was clearly pasta.  Everything was pretty good, and the portions are more substantial than tapas typically are, so you didn't feel as ripped off as you would at most other tapas places.





Before we headed into the restaurant, a manager at Bottega Louie was reporting some loiterer to a guy on a bike in a shirt that said something like Downtown District Security.  When we left, neither the loiterer nor the security guy was there anymore.  Earlier in the day, I also saw someone at Union Station being asked to perform a task for a field sobriety test.  (Not a driver, just a person who was sitting on the floor.)  I don't know California law, but aren't these not a real thing?  Breathalyzers, yes, but subjective field sobriety tests?  I don't think so, buddy.  But I guess this is a thing in L.A./everywhere.  Know your rights, people!  But also don't circle a crime scene for half an hour, and then when the cops totally reasonably pull you over and question you about that, proceed to yell at them, "AM I BEING DETAINED?!  AM I FREE TO GO?!"  You're being super weird and clearly trying to get them to respond to your behavior.  You, on the other hand, are not proving the point you think you're proving, unless that point is, "I'm a dick." Let's keep in mind that bad cops reveal themselves without any need for instigation.  Relatedly, if you don't believe in privilege, whether it's for being white or male or straight or cisgender, or any number of other traits that are in no way related to competence, you are a stupid person.  I really mean that.  Not in terms of raw intelligence, but in terms of the amount of thought you have ever dedicated to the experiences of other people.  The presence of challenges does not equal the lack of privilege.  Just as, borrowing from Jon Stewart and xkcd (I think), just because it snows doesn't mean global warming isn't happening; you just never knew real cold.  But presumably if you're reading this blog, I'm just preaching to the choir.

Anyway (yet again), on Friday, we had only two things on the agenda: Father's Office (a burger place, not a Freudian therapist) and the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

I almost could not finish the burger at Father's Office.  Considering I just spent the previous week eating half-pound orders of fatty brisket, that is saying something.  It isn't that the size is overwhelming; I'd estimate 8 ounces or so.  It's that the flavors are so rich and sweet.  (...And also I was having a pretty heavy beer.  They have a huge selection on tap.)  Here is Father's Office minutes after opening at their secondary location:



The flavors of this burger are strong.  This is the order in which they hit me: super caramelized onions, blue cheese, spinach.  The meat was also good, of course, and the medium rare was indeed medium rare, but the other stuff definitely outweighed it.  You have the option of adding shoestring fries, which are served with a dipping sauce that I think was a garlic aioli.




We then walked over to the Museum of Jurassic Technology.  If there is any chance that you will ever go to this museum (and I think that you should, if you're in L.A., but not with children), stop reading after this paragraph; I will pick up on new stuff in a later post.  I'm serious.  It will ruin everything.  Suffice it to say, it has nothing to do with Jurassic Park, and the whole thing is like wandering through a crazy person's acid trip.  This is your last warning.

The Museum has one entrance/exit, so you when you enter, you are in the gift shop.  It becomes immediately apparent that this museum has no theme whatsoever.  Don't try to guess it.  You will not win this game.  Here are some, but not all, exhibits in the museum:

A section that appeared to be about people who spent their whole lives pursuing a dream that failed
Skeleton of a European mole, described as being between the size of a "large mouse" and a "smallish rat"
Cat's cradle and its attendant superstitions
Tea room and aviary
Micromosaics made out of insect scales
Trailer parks in the U.S.
Failed materials for dice
Stereoscopic radiograms of flowers
Archaic "cures" for ailments (including, literally, hair of the dog)

To be clear, these things were not presented as superstitions, but just as they would have been presented by someone who really believed them.  ("A woman giving birth is the most dangerous thing in the world.")  The whole thing is just rooms of eccentric interests that have no relation to each other, except that no one uses those things or believes those ideas anymore.  In fact, I'm pretty sure one of their exhibits had the world's earliest scam.  It was a telegram soliciting interest in the idea of doing something with sunbeams that would be worth billions.  It is also really dark inside, so it feels like you've entered an alternate dimension when you enter from and exit into the ridiculously sunny streets of L.A.  The layout is a bit labyrinthine, and if I hadn't been led through it by Josh, I definitely would have missed whole sections and possibly been unable to find my way out at all.  The exhibits are not always the same, so even though I've given away a lot of it, you should still check it out.  (And if you thought you could, you shouldn't be reading this anyway!)