Tag Archives: California

Across the Bay

My summer break this year started with a few days in San Francisco before I crossed the bridge into Berkeley for the Greater Good Science Center Summer Institute for Educators. I’ve been trying to go to this institute for a few years and I’m finally not moving countries so my school agreed to fund my attendance! The summer institute focuses on socio-emotional learning (SEL), mindfulness, and character education, all of which are at the core of how I believe education can make the world a better, more peaceful place. One of my leadership roles at school is closely tied to SEL and I attended the institute for reasons of personal growth as both an educator and individual and to develop as a leader. I won’t go into the details of the institute here, but please send me a message if you’d like to hear about it! It was a very valuable experience and I’d really love to chat!

Every morning of the institute began with an optional hike or yoga class, which was a clear indication that I’d be spending the week with a group of 8- like-minded people. Choosing between the two activities was easy – I love yoga but one can’t hike the Berkeley Hills anywhere but Berkeley. Beginning the day with time outside in the sunshine makes me very, very happy and a way to start the day feeling alive. The weather at the beginning of the week was chilly, cloudy, and a bit rainy (the first rain in months, we were told) but it quickly turned bright, sunny, and just gorgeous.

The flowers were beautiful, too, whether cultivated in gardens or growing freely in nature. I love seeing the differences between flora (and fauna, for that matter) in different places.

The hikes gave us beautiful views of San Francisco, too, which got better as the weather cleared up, though the locals explained that the marine layer of fog does take time to burn off.


The institute concluded daily at 5pm and with one exception I spent each night wandering through town with new friends. It’s amazing how people can come to know each other in such a short time under the right circumstances, and I’m really grateful that this was the case. The night I didn’t spend in Berkeley was special, too, because I went to neighboring Alameda to reunite with Singapore friends who moved to Paraguay the year that I moved to New York! I was really glad we could make that work, especially because we missed each other by a day in Washington, DC last summer. I love having people all over the world.

The part of Berkeley around the university was definitely in summer mode. Shops and restaurants had limited hours and were pretty empty, which was both a blessing and a curse. But there were also parts of town that were more “real people” than “college kid”. It made me laugh because I was mentally comparing everything I saw and everywhere we went to Syracuse University where I went to school; our “college kid” was Marshall Street and “real people” was Armory Square. But it was fun to look around, especially considering Berkeley’s social activist history, People’s Park, and excellent street art.

I really enjoyed my time in Berkeley and it was nice to have some time there to collect and wrap up my thoughts about the school year before travelling to Rochester to be with my family. This was an institute for educators, after all, and I did have one assignment to complete for work.

I know I’ve said this about a few different places lately, but I think Berkeley is somewhere I could live in great contentment. There are beautiful places to hike, the weather was glorious (based on my sample size of the last week of June), and the food was delicious. It’s close to San Francisco and it’s near the water. Yoga, zen, and vegetarianism were everywhere.

But then again, especially because I’ve been thinking like this a lot, maybe it’s not so much the place that makes the difference but the mindset that I have while in a certain place, the person I am in that place. Because what do I actually need? What do I want? The simpler those things are to obtain, the easier it is to feel content exactly where I am.

Maybe I’m getting better at that.

Very small me and very tall tree

Travel Guide: San Francisco

This trip to San Francisco was my second time in California and, like the first time, I left wondering why we all don’t live in California. (“Cost of living” likely answers this question for many.)

I landed at SFO Wednesday night and, marvelling all the while at the difference in weather between San Francisco and Singapore, spent most of Thursday just walking around the city to vanquish the jet lag (a failed pursuit) and enjoy time outside in non-humid air. I headed first to the Embarcadero where I took in the sights of the city from one of the many docks. I love water and was happy to be so often in sight of it.


The Ferry Building was only a short walk away and I enjoyed the indoor upscale food and merchandise stalls . . .

. . . as well as the outdoor farmers’ market. . . .

Jet lag from Singapore had made it a very early day, so it was only late morning when I began my walk along the Embarcadero. I stopped at Pier 39 to admire the boats . . .


. . . take in the carnival-like atmosphere complete with boardwalk sweets and treats . . .

. . . and get an unexpected peek at some lounging sea lions!


From there, I was pretty close to Fisherman’s Wharf. I admit that much of the hype and excitement were lost on me because I don’t eat seafood, but I enjoyed looking around and watching people enjoy themselves.

From there I walked to Ghirardelli Square, which I revisited the next day to sample the beer at San Francisco Brewing Company. We have a few microbreweries in Singapore but it’s nothing like what’s in the US.


After that, I decided it would be fun to walk up a whole lot of hills to Lombard Street. I can’t say the walk itself was what one typically thinks of as fun, but we don’t really have hills in Singapore and the views were well worth it.

Later that afternoon, I went to Alamo Square to see the famous painted ladies. I was very tired and very jet lagged by that point but again, pretty views!


A very old friend from high school flew up from Long Beach to hang out with me for the rest of the weekend and really I could have been anywhere in the world. Catching up and hanging out was the highlight of my San Francisco experience, but we did some cool things on the side. We started our adventure Friday morning with a walk across the Golden Gate Bridge, which I was really excited about. It was so windy up there but the expanse of blue sky was extraordinary.

After walking back along the bridge, we followed the beach, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. I really love all the flowers in California because they’re different from anything I’m used to seeing. I also really love long walks without sweating!

The beach path took us to the Palace of Fine Arts, which neither of us had known existed. There were young women and their families taking quinceañera pictures and it was easy to see why. The Palace of Fine Arts, originally built in 1915 for the Panama-Pacific Exhibition, seemed a strange architectural choice for northern California but is really beautiful.

We decided we’d done enough walking for one day and saved the rest of our energy to celebrate San Francisco Pride in the Castro, San Francisco’s historic gay neighborhood and therefore the perfect place to be! It also had some great street art, which I love.

We returned to the Castro the next day to check out the festivities in Dolores Park . . .


. . . and join another old friend and his new girlfriend for brunch! They drove up from Palo Alto to hang out with us, which was really special. The longer I’m away from home, the more I appreciate when people make the effort to spend time with me. We ended up spending the rest of the afternoon with some of my friend’s relatives and their adorable dogs. Naturally, we walked them to Kite Hill, a beautiful park with sweeping views of the city. It was very windy up there, too!

After a couple very busy days and much jet lag, we decided it was time to relax. The Palo Alto friends headed home and my Long Beach friend and I stopped at a couple more Castro spots to continue our celebration of SF Pride. He left before the parade the next morning and though the parade was great fun, I couldn’t see over anyone’s heads enough to take a decent picture.

Insert time warp here!

After a week in Berkeley (more on that in my next post) for the conference that prompted the trip to San Francisco in the first place, I spent a final afternoon with a new friend in the Haight-Ashbury district, made famous by the 1967 Summer of Love.


The whole area was an interesting mix of hippie counterculture and gentrified boutiques, which seems to embody the feel of much of San Francisco. My favorite part was the street art . . . and how it extended to cars and houses!

When I first told my principal that I was going to northern California, he told me I wouldn’t want to leave. He wasn’t wrong, but I was also very excited to go home to Rochester to visit my family. That’s where I am now and it’s taken two days to write this post because I keep getting distracted by the laughter and activities of the people around me. I am so lucky to have them! When I get a quiet moment, I’ll share the photos of my rural and urban hikes around Berkeley.

Delicious food, good friends, and diverse neighborhoods to explore – thanks, San Francisco!

Travel Guide: Southern California

For about three years, I’ve been saying that someday I’m going to fly to San Diego, rent a car, and drive up the California coast to San Francisco. For whatever reason, I always envisioned spending two or three weeks alone and contemplating life’s purpose along the way. Somewhat of an On the Road dream, I suppose.

This year, for the first time, I didn’t spend the holidays with my family. Instead, I flew to LAX, rented a car, drove to San Diego to visit a friend who I haven’t seen since June, and then drove up the California coast to Costa Mesa to visit another friend who I haven’t seen since September, venturing further north to Malibu from there. Over the course of the week I met a number of people who had me laughing more than I have laughed in months. I felt light, carefree, happy, and optimistic about what is possible. The second half of 2016 was really tough for me and I could not have been happier to feel like my old self again.

San Diego and Around
With the aid of a cute little red rental car and a San Diego native (with whom I traveled to Laos in June) as my tour guide, I saw quite a bit of San Diego County and ate the most delicious Mexican food item I have ever had – a chile relleno burrito! Some of our stops included:

Del Mar, my first California beach experience:

Mount Soledad, with beautiful views of San Diego:

PB (Pacific Beach), where I got a real kick out of  winter Christmas decoration with palm trees and the beach in the background:

Coronado, which was just stunning:

Julian, an absolute gem of a town that looks like time forgot about it:

The interior of that used bookstore looked like this:

And you know how I feel about books!

We took a beautiful drive back from Julian along Route 78 and I took a break from driving to gaze out the window at the stunning valley:

Sunshine, blue skies, mountains, oceans. It’s no wonder everyone was so friendly and welcoming and actually seemed to care about the answer to the generic, “Hi, how are you?” that I heard everywhere I went.

Costa Mesa and Around
After three nights in San Diego, it was time to drive north to Costa Mesa. I’d originally driven south from LAX in the dark so it was nice to see the same roads in daylight. The blue skies, beaches, and mountains adventure continued with a best friend from high school (also a travel partner in Hong Kong and Thailand) who moved to California three years ago. Our exploring included:

Top of the World hike at Laguna Beach, which was the warmest day of the week:

A drive to Long Beach to meet some more people, eat dinner, and have a night out:

Driving to Long Beach

Santa Monica, which we visited on a damp, chilly day that was still iconic and beautiful:

Los Angeles, where we took a quick nighttime walk around Staples Center before seeing a concert at the LA Convention Center:

Newport Beach, which was adorable and thoroughly enjoyable even though we got caught in the rain:

County Line Beach in Malibu to watch a stunning sunset on New Year’s Day:

This week was the perfect way to put a positive spin on the end of a strange year, as well as the perfect way to begin a new year – time with friends, full of laughter, exploring beautiful places.

I didn’t realize how much I needed this week and time with these people until I was fully immersed in it. As soon as I got in a taxi on the way to the airport in New York I felt a weight lift that I didn’t realize I was carrying. There was a physical lightness in my body for the week that I spent in California. The tension I normally carry in my back went away after a few days. Being around such good friends in such a beautiful place was physically and emotionally rejuvenating, which is all I can ask for.

Newport Beach

Hopefully in a summer or three I’ll fly again to LAX, rent a car, and drive up the California coast to San Francisco. I’m already excited for everything there is to see and experience. And something tells me I won’t be doing it alone.