Friday, August 31, 2012

US San Francisco : Golden Gate Bridge ( A Breath Taking Walk)

I must apologized for the prolonged silence and delay in continuing my update on my visit to San Francisco. With my impending relocation to Beijing in November, there are lots to do, arrange and to settle. I just got back from Beijing after a week there to confirm the school for our son although our apartment hunting provide futile at this point in time. It looks like I would have to make another trip there in early October else we would be literally sleeping on the streets of Beijing. I had the chance to do a short visit of the Forbidden City and was totally awed by her greatness. More pictures of that in my coming post.

For now, I would like to share with you, an experience and activity that you must do while in San Francisco and that, my dear readers and friends, is to WALK the GOLDEN BRIDGE.
We have all seen, read and heard about the Golden Bridge because it is probably the most photographed and well known suspension bridge in the world. In fact, just like the Statue of Liberty is to the America, so is this orange colored bridge which is one of America's pride and joy.

I was beaming with excitement the morning when I knew that I would be visiting this bridge. For the past few days, I have been watching it from afar from Pier 39. I could see it spanning across the San Francisco Bay and shrouded in a thick fog for most of the day, making her almost invisible. The fog in San Francisco is known to be notoriously unpredictable and I was worried that I would not be able to catch a good glimpse of her and captured some good pictures before I left.

One of the best way to travel around San Francisco (just like around New York and Washington DC) was to grab the Hop On and Hop Off. We took a 48 hours pass with a slight discount and took a ride out to the Golden Gate Bridge. When we arrived at the site, I was totally amazed just looking at her. I was lucky. The skies were clear and the fog, no where to seen. This is IT! A good friend strongly recommended me to walk the bridge which never did occur to me. "Why Not?" I told myself and geared myself for the walk.

We took the bus to cross the bridge and intend to walk back from the Marin County end. The chilling wind was gushing as we drove across the bridge and sitting on the open top deck of the double Decker bus amplified the stunning chill effects on our face. It was COLD but it was also exhilarating. 
Being the one of the most visited suspension bridge of the world, expect this site to be totally crowded. Take extra precaution to wear thicker clothing because it can get very cold even in summer. 
This bridge has quite a history. Construction started on 5th January 1933 and was completed in 19th April 1937. Spanning 8,981 feet (2.7km) end to end with the longest span of 4,200 feet (1.28km), she held the longest main span record till 1964 and today is still the second longest main span suspension bridge in the State. With her tower standing 692 feet (211 meters) above water, the Golden Bridge held the record of having the tallest suspension tower in the world in 1998.
The concept of having the bridge went as far back as 1916 at which time, building a structure of such magnitude across the 6700 feet bay with water as deep as 372 feet in strong current and harsh unpredictable San Francisco fog and weather was considered a near impossible feat. Despite strong objections from various quarters for various commercial or personal reasons and overcoming overwhelming odds, build it they did at US1.3m below budget!

The bridge color is known as International Orange and was intentionally painted that way as a design to go with the landscape and also to make it visible considering the unpredictable weather.
Despite the magnitude of her construction, it came as a surprised that there were only 11 fatalities. However, that cannot be said of the suicide rate that follows. Till today, it remains as a favourite spot for many who choose to end their lives for reasons best known to themselves.

As I read of her construction history, one remarkable thing that I could not help but feeling impressed was the silent contribution of one of her senior engineer, Charles Alton Ellis. A Greek scholar and mathematician, he was the one were contributed largely to the technical and theoretical work to build the bridge, collaboration remotely with Leon Moiseiff, who also designed the Manhattan bridge. Ellis was subsequently fired by the Chief Project Engineer, Joseph Strauss (who took credit for most the work done) for apparently spending too much money in sending telegrams communicating with Moiseiff. Ellis obsessed with the project and unable to secure work during the Great Depression and undeterred, continue to spent up to 70 hours per week unpaid to work on the project and turned in 10 volumes of hand calculations. The contribution of the design project team including Ellis was largely ignored and credit were given to Strauss. It was only 70 years later, that the contribution from Ellis and the team was formerly and officially recognized.
The bridge is opened for cyclist and pedestrians alike and I too would strongly recommend that you do either. Seeing her from afar is one thing. Taking a ride to cross her is another but nothing beats the precious moment and feel when you walk the entire length, taking the time to absorb the remarkable awe of this magnificent creation, and to breathe in the cold chill air of the San Francisco Bay. It is here, that you could stop every once in a while (which you would probably have to do anyway, either to get a better shot or picture, or simply to catch your breath), and cast your eye out over the bay, as far as your eyes can see or simply take another look at the bridge majesty towers from a totally different angle.
We took slightly over an hour to complete the walk, stopping countless times to take pictures and to admire the bridge, the bay or simply the people, whom like us were also there to simply enjoy the experience. I must said that this is simply an experience of a lifetime and simply one of the MUST DO things that warrant a place in our bucket list.
So, if you ever make your way to this beautiful friendly city, do not just drive across the Golden Gate and miss this golden opportunity. Walk it and I guarantee you that she will take your breath away!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

San Francisco : Boudin Bakery (The Origin of San Francisco Sourdough?)

Long before I arrived at San Francisco, my wife has been talking about the Clam Chowders that she is going to wallop when she gets there. So did a few of our other friends who would be making their way there too.
Well, we did have our `several' (ahem) Clam Chowders at different restaurants and they were really out of this world. This is definitely something that one must try when you are in San Francisco. Now, Clam Chowder can served in a cup or a bowl, but I would strongly recommend that you try Clam Chowder in the San Francisco traditonal sourdough bread, which by itself has a story to tell....

Sourdough is a bread product made by a long fermentation using naturally occurring yeasts and lactobacilli, a bacteria that can convert lactose and other sugars to lactic acid, which in turn give the bread a mild sour taste.

It was reported that the San Francisco air somehow create a sourdough quite unique and different from those produced elsewhere and hence, the sourdough in San Francisco has become an icon of sorts to the city itself. There were several bakeries that of course claimed to have the original recipe of the sourdough in San Francisco and one of such is the Boudin Bakery.

Boudin Bakery started way back in 1849 and after going through her ups and downs is one of the larger bakery chain in San Francisco who is reputed to be still baking her sourdoughs with a portion of the `mother dough' (pre-fermented starter in the traditional bread baking process). Apparently during the great San Francisco earthquake and fire in 1906, the bakers at Boudin, saved their `mother dough' in a bucket while they escaped from the fire.

We had the privilege to visit the Boudin Bakers Hall located at Fisherman Wharf, San Francisco which was opened in 2005 for one of our breakfast. This outlet covering over 26000 square foot featuring a demonstration bakery, Bakers Hall market where one could buy freshly baked breads of any shapes or sizes, Bistro Boudin, a full-service restaurant and private dining room and the Boudin Museum & Bakery Tour.
Customers queuing up to have their order taken, paid and collect their breakfast....
 Demonstration on how the breads are made. Take note of the huge alligator bread in front ...awesome!
...and not only do they make alligators, but they made teddy bears and turtles too .....isn't this cute?
Freshly baked breads being transported overhead from the bakery to the retail section for sale ....

We were there for breakfast and hence a little too early for clam chowder in their sourdough break. Instead we ordered their breakfast instead.
I ordered their sourdough French Toast set with bacon on the side.....
My wife ordered the waffles with fresh strawberries ....
Boudin has several cafes all over town including one at Pier 39 but I would strongly recommend that you visit this one located at Fisherman Wharf.

So the next time, you visit San Francisco and order your Clam Chowder, do considering it with the sourdough bread.....:)

Monday, August 13, 2012

San Francisco : Cliff House Restaurant (Romantic Dinner Fantasy Fulfilled)

Now, how would you like to a an excellent romantic dinner at an exquisite restaurant? One where the food is heavenly and wine divine, one perched gingerly on a sheer cliff overlooking the ocean, one with a view, a view of seagulls gliding past gracefully, one with a view of the waves of the North Pacific Ocean smashing majestically against some rugged rocks below. As the sun sets slowly but surely in the horizon, her golden sun rays dance and sparkle, reflected on the water while you held on the the hand of your loved one, your face soaking in the very last bit of her warm sunlight before she retires ....
San Francisco has just the perfect restaurant to fulfill your fantasy. Welcome to Cliff House!

Cliff House is a restaurant perched on the cliffs just north of Ocean Beach on the western of San Francisco.

Cliff House has quite a history. Dating back to 1858, this restaurant has underwent major reincarnation to be what she is today. In 1894, the very first Cliff House was burnt down only to be rebuilt in 1895. In 1896, the Victorian style Cliff House was opened. In 1906, Cliff House miraculously survived the great San Francisco earthquake and fire. However, in 1907, she was razed to the ground in a fire. In 1909, the new Cliff House reopened and was bought over by George Whitney in 1937. Since then, she has undergone several remodeling and restoration to what she is today.
Getting to Cliff House is not exactly difficult although it will take approximately 25 minutes taxi ride from Union Square where we were staying. If you are driving, once you get onto Geary Boulevard and drive the entire street, you would find yourself there.

The restaurant is well known and well visited and hence, making an advance reservation is necessary. We got our hotel to make our reservation and since I wanted very much to a glimpse of the sunset, we made our reservation at 6:30pm.

We were quickly show our seats and we were fortunate to be able to get a table for two just by the window with a beautiful view of the cliff and the ocean. The restaurant settings were bright, comfortable with full glass windows all round, giving the diners a spectacular view of the cliff and the ocean beyond. The service was prompt and the staff professional and friendly.
Settings were simple and nice and their appetizer, main, desert and wine menu are definitely inviting.
With so many choices on the menu, it was rather a difficult decision to choose what to order, especially when you do not even know what they were .....
We shared the appetizer, Braised Penn Cove Mussels with House-made-Marissa served with caramelized onions, anchor steam beer and grilled herb bread. Price : USD15.
I had Bacon Crusted Loch Duart Salmon, served with apple, rainbow chard, whole grain mustard sauce and celeriac-potato puree. Price : USD29. I must said that the piece of salmon seared with bacon crust was certainly a very refreshing idea to me at least.
My wife's favorite...scallops. Here we have the Pistachio crusted Scallops and Orange glazed Pork Belly, served with parsnip puree, butternut sauce and red wine syrup. Price : USD32.

How can one be having such fine food without a glass a wine and I order a glass of Chardonnay, produced right here at Napa Valley.
With the main course done, it was time for desert. I am less adventurous when it comes to desert and I simply settled for the Chef's Selection of Sorbets for the day.
My wife is more of a desert person and she gamely took on the Frozen Lemon Souffle, served with fresh blueberries, aged balsamic, lemon curd, citrus softbread and ground black pepper. Price : USD9
With our meal finished and our appetite satisfied, the sun was ready to retire and call it a night. We took a stroll outside the compound of the restaurant, enjoying the chilly sea breeze against our face which gradually turned into a tingling sense of numbness due to the cold. With our cameras ready, we waited patiently for that one good shot of the sun retiring.

Shooting sunsets in San Francisco here is like playing roulette because one can never tell when the infamous fog of San Francisco would decide to come in and refuses to leave.

We were fortunate that the fog stayed away that evening and we were rewarded with some memorable shots that added up as the cream to a wonderful dinner and magnificent evening. This was simply our fantasy fulfilled.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

San Francisco : Eagle Cafe, Pier 39 - Waking up to a Hearty Breakfast!

Leaving Atlanta after 5 days, we took a Delta Air and flew back west across the States to San Francisco where we will spent the next 6 days and 5 nights.

My wife have been to San Francisco some years back and this is definitely her all time favorite US city. I am excited and looking forward to see the many sights of San Francisco in particular the Golden Gate Bridge, an image that I have grown up with, the windy and hilly streets, something I remembered from the TV detective series starring a very young Michael Douglas, "The Streets of San Francisco". I wondered how many of you are `young' enough to remember this series or have even watched it. Well, I grew up with it....

I must said that San Francisco is everything I expected and more. She is definitely different from Atlanta, from the people, the streets to the weather. While Atlanta was hot, San Francisco was cool and chilly even.

Before, I start yacking about the many sights and sounds of San Francisco, which will probably take several post because each site has so much to share, I would like to share something that strikes me while I was in US.....breakfast! (since I am writing this in the morning now and having my normal double espresso as my norm)

I was surprised myself at the volume of breakfast that I can eat while I was there. Back home in Malaysia, my normal breakfast is nothing more than just a cup of double espresso, but in the States, I must said that my breakfast was nothing short of wholesome and full.

Pier 39 is probably one of the most visited sites at San Francisco. The pier itself has an interesting history of how it all started but I will save for a later post. For this post, I would like to highlight Eagle Cafe, one of the few cafes and restaurants located here that is opened for breakfast.

The setting is comfy and nice but if you dare to brave the chilly morning sea breeze, then I would strongly recommend that you sit at their balcony outside the cafe where you will have a full view of the pier, of the many yachts that are moored there as well as a full view of Alcatraz!

Imagine, sipping a hot cup of coffee in your hands, your faced slightly `frozen' by the very chilly sea breeze while seagulls glide gracefully across the pier...the silence occasionally broken by the call of the sea lions basking in the sun further out at the pier, as you take in the magnificent sight of the morning sun on the scenic San Francisco bay and the awesome sight of a golden Alcatraz in the morning sunlight.
 With a view like that, how can anyone NOT enjoy his or her breakfast and enjoyed the breakfast we certainly did, especially if the food is out of this world, well, at least to us, they were ......
I had this for my breakfast...Corned Beef Scramble Egg and what a meal. Now, I normally do not fancy scramble eggs back home and I would definitely prefer my eggs sunny side up. But I was gamed for an adventure and I was pleasantly surprised! The corn beef certainly tasted nothing like the corn beef that I used to have back in Malaysia, out of a can. On a normal day, I could not finish this even for my lunch or dinner cause the portion was huge but surprise, surprise....there was nothing left on the plate by the time I get through with it.....Price : USD14.95 before tax and tips.
Now, did I tell you that my wife could really eat when she goes on a holiday? I didn't? Well, she can and this is what she ordered - Crab Cake Benedict. The egg benedict was done just right and the crab cake, heavenly. Price : USD17.95 before tax and tips.

And when you are in the States, you really really have to have their bacon. Trust me when I said that you can never have the same back home in Malaysia. At least, we have not tasted any as such back home yet.
Sinful but simply to die for .....hehehehe. Price : USD3.95 before tax and tips.

If I eat like the way I ate in the States, I would probably put on so much more weight and I guessed I must have after this trip because everyone I met seemed to say that I have put on some weight....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Atlanta Georgia : Downtown - Peachtree Street

This was my first visit to Atlanta actually. My wife was here several years back and I remembered her telling me about CNN and Coca Cola and that was predominantly what I had in mind when our plane touched down after a very very long flight.

We grab a cab, driven by an Indian national and the journey was a rather harrowing experience. Firstly he was a very impatient and reckless driver, cursing at every corner and at every traffic lights. Suddenly, the taxi drivers we had in Beijing, China were like angels. Secondly, he did not take any highways to avoid the traffic jam but drove through some residential areas which was predominantly black community. Pardon me but unfortunately, being Asians who have had some very bad pre-conceived impression of blacks, I was very apprehensive as we drove on and on and on...passing by houses and streets, seeing the homeless and of course, the tall and muscular teenagers in all their fashion and attire which seemed strange to a Chinese like myself. 

I was very glad as we leave the residential area behind and came into downtown Atlanta. We were staying at Hyatt Regency located along Peachtree Street, which is like the main street in downtown Atlanta. 
Hyatt Regency is a very impressive hotel. The rooms are spacious, nice, clean and comfortable. We managed to negotiate to get one on a higher floor looking across some very nice skyline. However, for a hotel of this caliber and for the price paid, I was rather surprised that they do not provide complimentary bottle water or even a water kettle to boil hot water.
Our room in Hyatt Regency, Peachtree Street, Atlanta, Georgia, USA

Staying along Peachtree Street at downtown Atlanta is definitely a good choice when visiting Atlanta. Firstly, most restaurants, cafes and pubs are located along this street. Staying at Hyatt Regency, Hardrock Cafe and Hooters for example was just 5 minutes walk away.
Most of the reputable hotels are also located around this area, such as Ritz Carlton, Marriott Atlanta Marquis and Westin.
Hardrock Cafe Atlanta and the Westin Hotel in the background ....

Downtown Atlanta is also just minutes walk away from several of the most visited tourist attraction of Atlanta such as the World of Coca Cola, CNN Center, Atlanta Aquarium and the Olympic Park.

So, if you are ever visiting Atlanta, do consider staying around Peachtree Street where almost everything is easily within reach and a couple of minutes walk away .....

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Atlanta Georgia: Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site (Fight for Injustice - where it all began)

Two years ago on the 10th July 2010, I was standing at Lincoln Memorial at Washington DC, looking out over the reflection pool, at the exact same spot where the great late Dr Martin Luther King Jr had stood on 28 August 1963, 5 months after I was born, givin his famous "I had a Dream" speech to the biggest gathering of over 200,000 people on his March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom event. (

As I stood there, I could vividly imagine being in the crowd, cheering as this great man proclaimed ...

"I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together."

God, what a man! What a vision! What commitment! ...and what a sacrifice he has made in order to see it come true....

Two years later on 19thy July 2012, I had to chance to visit Atlanta, Georgia, the very birth place of this great man of our history.

When I learnt that there was a National Historic site dedicated to him and a chance to see the very place where he preached and where he was born, I was determined to see it no matter how difficult it would be to get there....
Although I was living downtown at Peachtree Street, the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site is still a good 40 minutes walk from Hyatt Regency where I stayed. But I was determined. I wanted to walk through the very streets where he grew up....and it was a rather rewarding and harrowing experience at the same time.

As I left downtown Atlanta, walking into the late Dr Martin's neighborhood, I was walking into area predominantly occupied by the blacks. During my 40 minutes walk, I hardly came across any whites and being an Asian (unfortunately with ill preconceived ideas of how dangerous these neighborhoods could be), I was actually terrified.

I was stopped by a `friendly' black man who`offered' me some friendly information about the neighborhood and in return, he asked for some `help'. I gave him USD10 since that was the smallest note I had at that time. I am uncertain whether I had done the right thing but it seemed like the most sensible thing to do at that point in time.

But a visit to the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site is probably the most rewarding trip for me in Atlanta.
With the backdrop of the various Dr Martin's speech videos being played, I walked past the many news clippings of the many efforts of the late Dr Martin's to fight NOT against just colour of the skin, nor race BUT for INJUSTICE! The fight for equality and Freedom. A fight that took his life.

As great as a man that he was, Dr Martin was still a man, a man just like you and me, a man with fear, a man with insecurity, as shown in the story below. But he was a man with faith and a man of commitment ......
"My Wife had already fallen asleep and I was about to doze off when the telephone rang. An angry voice said "Listen, nigger, we've taken all we want from you. Before next week you'll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery." I hung up, but I could not sleep. It seemed that all my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.

I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. Finally, I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing to be a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had almost gone, I determined to take my problem to God. My head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud ..."I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers, I have nothing left...I can't face it alone."

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never before experienced him. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice, saying, "Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth. God will be at your side forever." Almost at once my fears began to pass from me. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything. The outer situation remained the same but God had given me inner calm.

Three nights later, our home was bombed."

What faith! What courage! 

Dr Martin almost foresaw his assassination in 1968! In his last sermon at his home church in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, his famous `Drum Major' speech was played at his funeral ...
 "If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long.  And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. 
I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that's all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.
As I sat in his church, as I listened the the played back sermons of this great man, I was trying hard to hold back my tears, with a lump in my throat ....
In his last public speech known as the "I've been to the Mountaintop" speech, delivered on April 3, 1968,  he spoke ...

"And then I got to Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers? Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn't really matter with me now. Because I've been to the mountaintop. I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord"

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated the very next day.
It is in Atlanta, Georgia where this great man was born and it is in Atlanta, Georgia where he was finally laid to rest .....
Yes....herein lies a man and his wife who gave their life with a firm commitment and belief that all man are created equal. It is NOT a fight about religion! It is NOT a fight about politics! It is NOT a fight about the color of the skin, although the fight was closely associated with the blacks who were severely oppressed then in the States.....IT WAS A NON VIOLENCE FIGHT AGAINST INJUSTICE!
In front of the Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site stands the statue of Kunte Kinte (from the miniseries `Roots') holding up his baby daughter Kizzy at her baptism ....

This is definitely a must visit for anyone who has the opportunity to visit Atlanta. Of the many places that I have visited, I must said that this is one place that leaves the deepest impact and impression in my life .....

The birthplace and the final resting place of Dr Martin Luther King Jr, the man who has a dream and who gave up his life for that dream, so that others could have their dreams fulfilled....this is where it all began .......