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Jonathan - Sunday, February 26, 2017
Today was Jonathan's last day playing on the worship team with us, and it was a bittersweet time for me and Priscilla. It was great playing "Jesus Shall Reign" and "O The Deep, Deep Love of Jesus" with him today. He has his own unique style (and level of talent) that nobody else at church can replicate. It may very well be that we'll never do those songs at church again.

Jonathan joined the team in either 2009 or 2010. Before that, it was just me and Scott. Over the years, Jonathan and I have played together under every worship leader we've had: Scott, Uncle Raymond, Tim, the other Tim, Joe, Daniel and Brian, though he's had to play less frequently as a couple other pianists joined over the years. I've really admired him for his talent, his humbleness, and his words of godly wisdom over email and on our short-lived RBF worship blog.

I'm a little sad that I never got the chance to know him outside of worship at RBF, but perhaps there's still time for us to get together before he leaves. He is leaving at the end of next month to accept a professorship at my alma mater. We wish him well, and he will be sorely missed.
Saving - Tuesday, February 21, 2017
For about as long as I've known the concept of money, I've always been a saver. I would probably credit my father for instilling in me the value of money, and my paternal grandfather for instilling in me the value of saving that money.

In Christmas of the year I was born, my grandfather sent me a $200 EE savings bond. Holding this bond in my hands right now, it feels like a piece of history. It's printed on cardstock - slightly thicker and heavier than more modern ones. The bond features a picture of John F Kennedy and has several rectangular holes punched through it, for running through what was surely a state-of-the-art computer back then.

The bond is addressed to me with my dad listed as the co-owner, in case future me would stick a fork into an electrical outlet and fry himself. Our names and address appear to have been typed with a typewriter. "Moanalua Branch First Hawaiian Bank" and the date are hand-stamped onto the right side of the bond.

I can picture my grandfather over 30 years ago, when he and my grandmother were living in Honolulu, walking into this bank, filling out a form and paying for this bond with $100 (half the face value) from his checking account, and mailing it to his son 2,500 miles away across the Pacific. Maybe the bond was mailed with a Christmas card, and as he wrote that card, I wonder if he wondered himself what kind of person his grandson (barring any mishaps with electrical outlets) would grow up to be. Did he have aspirations for my career and family? Did he want me to go to good schools, to become an engineer like himself, to marry a good Chinese girl? If so, he would probably be pleased on all accounts with how things turned out. Unfortunately, as he wasn't a Christian himself, he wouldn't have had in mind what is truly most important - learning to live a life glorifying to God.

But my grandfather did teach me the value of saving and of planning for the future. By the next year, he was sending two $500 bonds every year, for my birthday and for Christmas. He started doing the same for my brother after my brother was born. My grandfather kept this up for over a decade before his health started declining rapidly.

He may have intended for the bonds to be used to pay for higher education; college never gets cheaper, after all. But EE bonds reach full maturity in 30 years, several years after a person typically graduates from college. Was he hoping that I would purse more education after undergrad, or was the money for my older and (hopefully) wiser self to decide what to do with, including redeeming before the maturity date if I thought it prudent? I don't think it was ever made clear to me, and in fact, my dad held onto the bonds for me until I asked for them after I graduated college (he probably just stashed them away and then it was out of sight, out of mind). My parents graciously put me through college, so I didn't have to spend any of that bond money. Now that I'm working, the amount of money I get from maturing bonds, though not insignificant, is not a life-changing amount. But for me to even be in this position of relative security is something I owe to my parents and grandparents. Many others are not as fortunate.

In terms of the value of money, my dad said to me when I was young that "$1 is a lot for a kid". I don't remember the context, but it probably had to do with him giving me some money for discretionary spending at school (e.g. a book fair or something). I guess that idea stuck with me, as I've been pretty frugal my whole life. In grade school, I would enjoy buying the occasional item from the book fair, and in middle school, I went through a phase where I thought it was ok to pay $50 for a deck of Pokemon cards, but by and large, I didn't buy a lot of things.

I was never given an allowance. In grade school, when I wanted a new bike, I had to earn it by doing chores; each completed chore was worth a dollar or two. That was a lot of chores for a bike that cost over $100. My parents trusted me to keep a tally of completed chores and to let them know when I had reached the goal. It was never about them not wanting to spend the money; rather, it was about instilling a work ethic in their children. I think that paid off.

Nowadays I still consider myself to be frugal, but I've learned to spend money on things that really matter - on activities with people, and on quality things that will make my life better. It's still hard for me to be ok with spending $50 on dinner with friends, but if it's a special occasion with people I care about, then I'll do it. Or for me to let Priscilla spend a few thousand dollars on an international trip for us, but I do appreciate the value of experiences.

Someday if we have kids of our own, I hope to be able to provide for their growth and happiness, while instilling in them a strong work ethic. And while I'll teach them the importance of saving, I hope I can also demonstrate the importance of spending money and time intentionally on the things that matter most.
Dogs - Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Our dog Lady died last Thursday, Feb 2. My mom called me the day after to let me know that Lady hadn't been eating for a week or drinking water for three days, and that she passed away peacefully in her sleep. She was 16.5 years old.

Lady was born on July 7, 2000. We found her through PennySaver from a woman whose dog had had a lot of puppies. My mom and brother went to see the puppy, a German Shepherd and Chow mix, and my brother liked her a lot. The woman gave us Lady for free; apparently the $10 "price" was just to dissuade people who collect dogs for animal research.

I still remember when we brought Lady home. We brought her home in one of those yellow recycling crates, which she fit easily inside. She was very timid and scared, but warmed up to us in short time. My parents named her after the dog in the movie "Lady and the Tramp". She especially liked my mom and would always wait by the gate for my mom to come home from work, and would willingly let my mom give her a bath, even though it was pretty clear that she didn't enjoy being wet.

Like the two dogs we had before Lady, we kept her outside. Is this primarily an Asian thing? I'm not sure, but we probably did it for the same reason we don't wear shoes in the house. We had a doghouse and a dog feeder for Lady like we did for our other dogs.

For most of her life, she would love to chase the tennis balls and spikey balls that we threw, and would never seem to tire of it. One would merely have to say "get the ball!" or even simply just "ball!" in order for her to run and bring one over eagerly. Seeing us get the leash was a visual cue for her, which let her know that we were about to take her on a walk/jog. For most of her life, she was able to keep up on my dad's jogs around the neighborhood, and there was only one place out there she would poo without fail - on an undeveloped tract of land at the base of a hill.

Lady had a good sense of direction. One time when my uncle was over visiting and took her for a walk, he got lost and said to Lady, "go home!". Lady took him back to our home. Later, my mom wanted to test Lady's sense of direction and took her to the bottom of the hill, made a pointing gesture away from our house, and said "go home!". Lady turned around and ran home.

She was also a bit mischievous. We built a makeshift fence in the backyard with chicken wire, separating the patio from the grassy area and the slope beyond it. I don't recall the reason why we did this, but it probably had to do with not letting her poo just anywhere in the backyard. But Lady could easily hop the fence, and we often caught her after the fact, because we would call her and she would come bounding back over the fence and act like nothing ever happened. She knew that she wasn't supposed to go on the other side, since she wouldn't go through the makeshift gate when we were outside and had it open. But that didn't stop her from enjoying her freedom when she was alone.

She also liked to chase the occasional small critter that wandered through our yard. At one point, my family got a bunny from somebody through PennySaver. We put the bunny on the grass on the outside of the makeshift fence, which was probably a bad idea, because Lady would chase the bunny across the yard with only the fence in between them. No doubt she also hopped the fence when we weren't around, which must've been traumatizing for the bunny. The bunny disappeared a few days later; we think she ran away. I still feel bad about that.

In the last couple years, Lady's health began to noticeably wane. Her hearing got worse, and she would no longer bark at people passing by on the sidewalk. Her energy diminished, and she wasn't so energetic about playing fetch. I saw her last when I visited over the Christmas break last year, and she just looked so tired. She would lick my hand and follow me in the backyard, but not do much else, and she wouldn't pick up the ball when I asked. I had a feeling that that might be the last time I would see her.

So her death wasn't really a surprise for us. It's obviously sad, but we're also relieved that she's finally at peace, and if there is an afterlife for dogs/pets, hopefully she's enjoying it with the renewed energy of her youth.

The two dogs we had before Lady were Lucky and Amy. Lucky, an Australian Shepherd, was my mom's first dog. He, like Lady, lived to 16.5 years. Amy was a German Shepherd and Collie mix, and we got her after Lucky, but she only lived to age 11, dying before Lucky did.

While Lucky was leaner and nimbler, Amy was bigger and less athletic. My brother and I would love laying a plank of wood across the retaining walls in the backyard, creating a hurdle for Lucky to jump over as he ran after a tennis ball. He was able to do it with no problem. Not Amy.

Amy was the caring one of the two. When I was small, I went (fell?) down the slope in the backyard, and my grandmother, who was babysitting, went down to get me. She wasn't very athletic, so she failed to climb back up, and called for help. Lucky ignored her, but Amy (the unathletic one!) came to the rescue, letting my grandmother hold onto her back as she helped her climb back up. My mom recounts that one time at the park, Amy refused to start leaving with her, tugging stubbornly on the leash and looking back at me and my brother, until my brother and I also started leaving.

Amy was always my favorite dog, and I was the one who spent the most time with her. She made a weird howling sound that I've never heard any other dog make, and I could get her to howl by making the noise myself. We could go back and forth several times just howling for the sake of it. She died when I was in middle school, and her death came as a shock since I didn't feel like she had really been sick. I never fully understood how she died; my understanding is that she had a stomach illness, and the night of her death, in a lot of pain, she dragged herself to the sliding glass door to my parents' room and died there. Her death hit me hard, possibly the hardest amongst my whole family, and in some senses I'm still not completely over it.

Lucky, according to my mom, was the smartest dog in the world. He was the one who figured out how to eat from the dog feeder, and he taught Amy to do the same. One night, my dad tried to go running with Lucky not on a leash, but Lucky ended up running away. Lucky was a fast runner, so he got away easily. We spent a few hours driving around trying to find him, with no luck. Amy cried the whole night. The next day, we woke up to find Lucky waiting outside the front gate of our house. He had found his way back on his own. Apparently, all he wanted to do was go for a long run. Or find a mate somewhere. Who knows.

Speaking of being strong-willed, Lucky never enjoyed being given a bath, and unlike Lady, he actually growled when my mom tried to give him one. Nonetheless, he liked my mom the best, and one day when my mom was showing affection to my dad in front of Lucky, Lucky got jealous and voiced his disapproval by growling and barking. My mom also recounted a funny story when she one day brought Lucky into the master bedroom, and when Lucky saw himself in the mirror, he started barking, thinking it was another dog.

Lucky's death was probably the most gradual of all our dogs'. Towards the end of his life, his vitality and eyesight waned, and the last week or two, he could barely move. I remember him just lying in the planter box on his side, in pain from arthritis, with my parents unable to do much for him. His passing was a huge relief, though obviously sad.

Nothing in life is permanent, and that includes our canine companions. For me, it's hard to know that a dog that becomes such a huge part of our lives will probably not live much longer than 15 years. Why intentionally create that strong emotional connection when you know it will be severed in just a matter of several years? But I think there's a lot of truth to the saying (cliche) that "it's better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all". As I write this, I'm still thinking about how much I miss Amy, and fighting back tears. But if I had the power, would I erase Amy's existence from my life to remove the pain I feel at her loss? Absolutely not. The pain of loss, though great, is easily overshadowed by the joy she brought in life. And that means the world.

My parents love dogs and are now looking for another one. Priscilla has never had a dog, and has wanted one ever since we got married. I liked Lady, but I don't think I was ever fully taken with her since I've never fully gotten over Amy. And maybe that's ok. I think I'm open to letting Priscilla get a dog for us, and maybe I'll never be fully taken with whatever dog we get, and there will probably be some feelings of pain since I know what will inevitably happen, but that's ok. Dogs bring joy, and joy is one of the best things that we can have in this life. And it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
2016 Highlights - Thursday, January 5, 2017
Another year has unceremoniously come and gone, and while 2016 was a prodigious year for us in terms of activity, the same cannot be said of my blogging habits.

So for the benefit of posterity (or, more likely, my future self), here are the highlights from 2016.

At the end of April, Priscilla and I went up to SF to celebrate our anniversary. We got free entry to the California Academy of Sciences, de Young and the Exploratorium, courtesy of our friends' Chase Private Client card. We stayed a night at the Grand Hyatt for free, courtesy of Priscilla's credit card rewards. And we rode Uber and Lyft for free due to a signup promotion. Not a bad deal for an anniversary weekend!

At the beginning of June, we went to Carmel to celebrate our birthdays. We hiked Point Lobos and stayed a night at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, again for free. We spent some time exploring Fisherman's Wharf the next day before returning home.

In mid-June, Sarah got married, so we drove down to LA and got to spend some time with family. Sarah got married at Bel Air Presbyterian Church, which has a really beautiful building and campus. I got carpal tunnel that weekend, presumably triggered by the driving, but that cleared up after a couple weeks of wearing a brace and trying to not type much. The joys of getting old.

Our all-church retreat was at Redwood Christian Park in August. It was about the same as the last time we were there, except Priscilla and I were in a family cabin this time instead of in a suite. We hiked to the cross in the nearby hills, and even got to do rock climbing this time around. The rock climbing was difficult and I didn't see anybody make it to the top of the "medium" difficulty route. Our retreat speaker was Pastor Alton from Berean Mission Church, and his messages encouraged us to live as a steward, a disciple-maker, a child of God, and a pursuer of Christ.

After the retreat, when trying to look for productive things to fill my time with, I came across a fitness mobile game called "Zombies, Run!". Definitely more productive than sinking all my time into an MMORPG. I played it for a month and ultimately quit due to the game always restarting when being run in the background, but during that time I bought some gear for running including bluetooth headphones for listening to music. In October, I bought a heart rate monitor to use with Strava, as well as a yearly subscription of Strava Premium. I really like Strava's Beacon feature, which allows me to share my real-time location data with Priscilla, and the Heatmap, which shows my running and cycling activity as a colored heatmap. I've also been more motivated to rack up running badges on Strava, which are admittedly easier to get than cycling badges. Apparently, badges and points, even if they are virtual, are the key to my heart.

So in trying to maximize my Strava achievements, I've been trying to do more runs and hikes. In 2016, I went on a total of 29 hikes; Priscilla a couple times fewer. My favorite hike this year was Mount Diablo in September. The panoramic views from the top were amazing. I went with Priscilla and Tracy and we did a 15-mile hike, and they were pretty tired most of the way up, but we slogged through it and I later designed die-cast medals for them for making it to the top.

We drove down to LA for both the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. Both were a good time of getting together with family and friends. We hiked with Victor and Sally during the Thanksgiving break, and ate with my Van Nuys friends and hung out with Raymond during the Christmas break.

During the Thanksgiving weekend, I bought new phones for myself and Priscilla. I got us both the ZTE Axon 7 Mini which, despite the name, is quite a large phone. This phone is better than our old ones in nearly every way, and we've enjoyed no longer having to deal with the frustrations of having a cheap smartphone.

During the rest of the holiday leading up to and following New Year's, I took the time to get housework done and look for contractors to help overhaul our front yard. I'd like to rip out the neglected plants we have and put in drip irrigation so that I can plant something that will be low-maintenance. With any luck, and a bit of money, we will have a nice looking front yard yet.

I have no doubt that the new year will be exciting and productive in its own capacity, but I'm hoping that it will be equally as restful. There is a saying that in the beginning of your life when you are young, you have energy and time, but no money. Then in the middle of your life, you have money and energy, but no time. Finally, towards the end of your life when you are old, you have time and money, but no energy. Well I'm clearly in the middle of my (anticipated) life, as I wish there were more hours in the day to do everything that needs to be done. I guess what I need is more downtime!
Fourth Pure Ski Trip - Sunday, February 28, 2016
Pure had our annual engineering ski trip at Heavenly resort in South Lake Tahoe this weekend, and about 200 employees attended. Once again I took ski lessons Saturday morning. I forgot that I took the novice level lessons last time, so this time around I again requested the novice level. However, one co-worker who was in my class last year was in my class this year as well, and overall I felt like my class this year built on what I learned last year rather than merely repeating it.

I definitely improved my control. I found that I was having trouble making right turns, whereas my left turns were generally fine. I think the three main reasons for my bad form were: not always leaning forward in the boots, not shifting my weight when making turns, and my right foot being lazy and not doing as much work. The instructor, Ian, told me to consciously keep focusing on making my right foot do what it needed. Additionally, regarding stance, he reiterated the fact that I should always been leaning forward to maintain control of my skis and thereby my speed.

In this year's class, we focused mainly on turns and using "skidding" to control our speed. The instructor taught us that we should be leaning forward but mostly standing straight ("tall and forward") when going straight, and then crouching a little when turning in order to help absorb the impact.

After the class and after I had practiced my form on the green run a few times, I decided to try the California Trail blue run again. I was definitely making the widest turns there compared to everybody else, and I fell a few times, mostly when trying not to build up too much speed and not crash into other people (it was a little crowded). Were I in a competition, I would've been awarded no points for speed and even fewer points for form, but at least I was able to mostly turn where I wanted to go and control my speed to the point of not just barreling down the mountain. In other words, I have a while to go before I can do a blue run comfortably, but it was my best blue run to date!

This year we stayed at Harrah's, and the rooms were quite nice. It seemed like every room had a double bathroom! I was rooming with Maciej, and unlike the past two years, I didn't get the room to myself due to my roommate not being able to make the trip.

Friday night, Pure had the South Shore Room at Harrah's booked, and we had an awesome dinner with salad, sliders, tacos and ice cream. A rock band, Hairballs, starting playing an hour into the dinner, and people were definitely rocking out on the dance floor. On Saturday, breakfast was provided at the hotel and dinner was provided at a nearby lounge, but for dinner a small group of EngOps people crashed a nearby cabin owned by a friend of Chris'. We had salad, mashed sweet potatoes, steak and salmon - definitely better than pizza!

Due to traffic, the bus ride back to Mountain View ended up being just over 6 hours instead of 4.5. I'm tired from the long weekend, but I had a lot of fun and will most likely want to attend next year's trip as well.
Last Year's Goings-on - Monday, February 8, 2016
Since I've been on an unintentional blogging hiatus (another way of saying "neglecting my blogging duties") since August of last year, here's what's happened since then:

On the CI team at Pure, we had two college interns join us from June till September: Celia and Candice. I was their mentor, and the three of us worked on a project called the Artifact Cache, a system for caching build artifacts. The interns did well for their role, but we ended up extending an offer to just one of them, who initially accepted but later declined due to having moved up to San Francisco. Overall, it was a pleasure working with them, and our team learned a lot process-wise and what expectations to set on both sides of the fence.

In the middle of September, Priscilla, Christine and I flew up to Seattle to visit Nathan and Andrea, who had moved up a few months prior for Andrea's new job at Microsoft. On Saturday, we explored Pike Place, Chihuly Gardens and Glass and the Sky City restaurant at the Space Needle. On Sunday, we went to their church and did some hiking at Snoqualmie Falls, which has a beautiful waterfall. We flew back on Monday, but not before getting a tour of Microsoft.

On October 7, Pure IPO'd! Most Mountain View employees gathered early in the morning to watch the livestream of the opening bell at NYSE. The day was filled with much partying and food and little work, but the next day was back to work and business as usual. Since then, not much has changed, except for the fact that our options can be exercised for real shares of stock now (still in the 180-day lockup period until April).

Shortly after the IPO, our newest team member Maciej joined CI, and I served as his mentor. I've learned a lot about Docker and related technologies from him, and it's been a good pairing. So far we've used Docker to deploy a cron runner service and an HA-environment for our CI web applications.

A few days before Christmas, Aaron and Lauren tied the knot at their church in Laguna Hills! I was the best man (returning the favor), and I didn't say anything too embarrassing during my speech, so presumably it went well. Priscilla and I drove down for the weekend and then drove back to the Bay Area on Monday. So for once, we were in the Bay Area for Christmas and New Year's and were able to spend those holidays with Uncle Kenway, Aunt Susan and her family.

It's been a busy few months, and with many things going on in 2016, it's sure to be a busy next few months as well!
New Phones - Sunday, August 2, 2015
Since MetroPCS got acquired by T-Mobile, a couple months ago our area was being transitioned off the CDMA network and onto T-Mobile's GSM network.

Metro did something nice, offering trade-in upgrades for old phones, and in June I was able to get a new LG Leon, a case and a 16GB microSD card for free after trade-in. The Leon is a quad core phone with 8GB of internal memory, and seems superior to my old LG Spirit in every way except one: the camera is fixed focus and doesn't take clear pictures up close. But overall I'm pretty happy with the new phone as well as the blazing-fast LTE speeds.

At some point in the past, Metro upped the amount of data in my plan from 1GB to 2GB without changing the price. Priscilla's also had smartphone envy for a while now, so two weeks ago we drove to the Metro store and got her a Samsung Core Prime. We also switched to the 1GB plan, so each of us would be paying $30, but Metro was also doing a promotion where multiple lines under the same plan would pay just $25. So while before I was paying $40 for just myself, we're now paying $50 for the both of us. Not too shabby!

Now I just have to watch my data usage, as I tend to go over 1GB at the end of the month (Yelp and Chrome are such data hogs). Metro does unlimited data, so after you pass the cap, you still have data but it's throttled a LOT, such that you should basically not bother trying to watch Youtube or view pictures on Yelp.
Fun with Sink Strainers - Sunday, June 7, 2015
For the last couple weeks, one of our kitchen sinks has had a "do not use" sign taped in front of it because the sink strainer was leaking. The washer underneath the sink was starting to disintegrate, and the putty was starting to crack, allowing water to slowly drip out.

So after watching a few DIY videos on Youtube (especially this one) and perusing the numerous sink strainer options online, I ordered a replacement strainer from Home Depot's website and had it shipped to the store. I picked it up from the store yesterday, along with plumber's putty and a 12" pair of Channellock pliers.

To my frustration, I found that the nut holding the strainer housing to the plastic tailpiece was so tight that trying to turn it with the pliers just caused the whole strainer housing to turn. I found a suggestion online that said to try sticking a pair of needle nose pliers down the strainer to hold it in place, but even that was no match for the stubborn nut. After half an hour of struggling with it, I realized that I wasn't making progress.

Fortunately, our church friend had a 16" pair of Channellock pliers that he let me borrow. So today, using his pliers to hold the strainer assembly in place, I was able to loosen the nut with my pliers on the first try! Unscrewing the big ring holding the assembly to the sink was a bit harder, but with Priscilla clamping hard with one set of pliers, I was able to use the other to finally break the seal on the stuck ring and finally removed the worn-out strainer.

It was then that I discovered that my replacement strainer, carefully chosen to match the old one in height, was actually 1/5 of an inch taller. I thought I was screwed until I realized that the plastic tailpiece is height-adjustable. So plumber's putty on the new strainer, I set it into place and was starting to tighten the ring on the underside when I realized that I'd forgotten to put the plastic tailpiece back into position after I'd taken it out.

So after detaching the new strainer from the sink, putting the tailpiece back in, reapplying the putty, I finally got everything installed and tightened down the ring and the nut. After removing the excess putty that had squeezed out from around the strainer and testing for leaks (I found none), I realized that the strainer was off center from the hole by just a millimeter. Not sure if the old one was as well, but it's barely noticeable and hopefully won't cause a leak. Only time will tell.

And the next time I have to do this, maybe it'll take only two hours of work instead of three!
Trip to Portland - Saturday, June 6, 2015
Because we haven't traveled enough this year, Priscilla and I visited Portland from last Friday until the following Monday. Actually she had scheduled this trip before deciding to schedule Hawaii, but that was besides the point.

So Friday morning, we landed at PDX. We liked how the airport was well-laid out and had lots of restaurants and shops - in some places it looked more like a mall than an airport. We made our way to the Alamo counter only to find a sign saying to go outside and wait for a shuttle. A shuttle came shortly and brought us to the Alamo lot a mile away, where the agent said we could choose any of the economy cars. There were actually only two left in the lot, and we picked a blue Kia Rio.

Our first stop was Forest Park, where we hiked 5 miles. I was really impressed by how much greenery there was everywhere. We had a late lunch at The Waffle Window, which we thought was just ok (the waffles weren't crispy). We went to Costco and got a cup of chilli and four salads, two of which we ate that night in our hotel room at the Holiday Inn Express.

Saturday morning at 11am, we met up with our tour guide Erik from the Secrets of Portlandia free walking tour. We met in front of the Pioneer Courthouse, and our first stop was the Pioneer Courthouse Square just across the street. The square is nicknamed "Portland's Living Room" and is the site of 300 events a year. We walked past the Teachers Fountain, where our guide explained that it's legal to swim in many of Portland's fountains, and they're purposely designed to be swimmable. We walked through the South Park Blocks and learned about the Abraham Lincoln statue there. We walked past The Heathman Hotel (which is supposedly haunted), the Portlandia statue (whose image rights are owned by its sculptor, so its image can't be used commercially), the Elk Fountain, and Mills End Park (aka Leprechaun Park), which holds the Guinness record for the world's smallest park. The park is a mere 452 square inches but continues to be the site for St. Patrick's Day festivities. People even get married here.

Food carts, the Keep Portland Weird sign and Voodoo Doughnut were our final stops during the tour. The tour was quite informative and we learned a lot about Portland's history and culture.

Afterward, Priscilla and I got food from different food carts - I went to a place called The Cultured Caveman, while she got a pita taco from a Mediterranean place. We walked to Powell's City of Books, a huge book store occupying an entire city block. We stopped by a coffee shop called Public Domain to get some coffee before hitting up the International Rose Test Garden, a public 4.5 acre garden which has 10,000 rose plantings representing 600 varieties. Minus all the people, what a beautiful and serene place! We had some really good Mediterranean food at Nicholas Restaurant, and ended the night watching the Starlight Parade on TV back at the hotel. Apparently lots of people set up chairs along the parade route in downtown, because when we were walking through during the day, we saw lots of chairs already set up where people had staked their claim!

On Sunday, we hiked around and saw the Wahkeena Falls and Multnomah Falls, just two of the many locations along the Columbia River Gorge. We parked right off the road by the start of the trail up to the Wahkeena Falls, and it was a short 0.2 mile walk up to see the falls. The water flows down in a series of steps, and you can get pretty close and get misty.

We then walked over to the lodge in front of Multnomah Falls; walking turned out to be a good idea because it was extremely crowded there with lots of people waiting for parking spots. It was very touristy with a restaurant, snack shop and gift shop. It's a short walk up to a bridge at the base of the falls, but you can continue the rest of the 1.2 miles to get to the top of the falls. The view isn't great from the top since there are some trees obscuring, but at a little over halfway up, you get a nice view of the Columbia River. Plus, the all uphill hike makes for good exercise! I really enjoyed both of these, but I think my vote is in favor (only slightly) of Multnomah Falls. It's a lot taller than Wahkeena, and the pattern the water makes is very distinctive. From in front of the bridge, you can see the main waterfall behind the bridge, as well as a smaller one in front. This was my favorite outdoorsy activity during the trip!

We had a restful remainder of the day and watched a lot of Shark Tank back at the hotel. We even worked out at the hotel's gym, which had only an extremely basic set of equipment.

It was raining on and off on Monday, but we managed to avoid most of it during the times that we were outside. We had lunch at a place called Shut Up and Eat, picked up donuts from Voodoo Doughnut Too (their second location, which had no line) to bring back home, and walked around a Catholic sanctuary called The Grotto. The gardens there are beautiful, and they have an upper level atop a cliff that costs $5 per adult to take an elevator up to. We enjoyed walking around up there and enjoying the view from the meditation chapel. Finally in the evening, we returned our rental car and boarded a plane back to San Jose.

Portland was a lot of fun, though on Sunday my skin started breaking out again like it did in Hawaii, only this time a week earlier into the trip. Perhaps I haven't had enough downtime from traveling, though us having walked around in the sun for a couple hours the previous day, and it being too warm at night, might've also had something to do with it. But I think at this point, I really just need rest. Aside from there being lots of fires at work to put out, June should be a restful month, and I hope to have some time to finish up some Yelp reviews and home repairs that I've been putting off.
Hawaii, Round 2 - Thursday, May 21, 2015
Priscilla, her parents and I went to Hawaii from February 20 to March 2. I'm only writing about it now. I guess you can say that I've been busy, and that when I try to multitask, it's easy for me to let things fall by the wayside. Here's one step towards turning that around.

Friday, 2/20
Because her parents had never been to Hawaii, we (Priscilla) wanted to take them before they get too old to travel. So on Friday at 8am, we headed off to San Jose Airport for our flight to Honolulu. Our plan was to visit Oahu for six days, reliving some of the things that Priscilla and I did the first time we visited for our honeymoon, and then something new afterwards - Kaua'i for five days.

Upon landing in Honolulu, we got picked up by Star Taxi and taken to the Aqua Bamboo Waikiki, where Priscilla had arranged our stay at a rental unit owned by a guy named Norman and his wife. We had an early dinner at Marukame Udon (of course), watched a music show at the Royal Hawaiian Center, walked around Waikiki and bought food from Food Pantry. So far, all familiar activities.

Saturday, 2/21
The next morning, we got a rental car from Budget and hit up Manoa Falls, a short hike out in the jungle where parts of LOST happened to be filmed. It was really cool hiking through the jungle, and the first half of the hike was mostly flat, but there was a small ascent in the second half over terrain that was narrow, rocky and sometimes muddy. Priscilla's parents had a more difficult time with this portion, but they forged ahead and made it to the end eventually. People on Yelp had called this an "easy" hike, and for me and Priscilla it was on the easy side, but had we known exactly what to expect, we probably wouldn't have brought the parents here.

The falls at the end were a bit underwhelming - just a small trickle down the face of a small cliff; I guess it just wasn't rainy season. But it was definitely a memorable hike!

After Manoa, we did something more manageable - visiting the Dole Plantation for Dole Whip and the pineapple cutting demonstration. No pineapple maze this time, as they've raised the admission fee to something like $15. We visited a beach at North Shore, took a wrong turn on the way back and ended up at the spot where the food trucks congregate. Hono's Shrimp Truck again! We got three plates of shrimp and Priscilla's dad got a fish sandwich from the McDonald's across the street (he's funny). On the way back to Waikiki, we went to Walmart and picked up a multi-box of Hawaiian Host chocolate-covered macadamia nuts to give to friends.

Sunday, 2/22
The next day, Priscilla's parents went on a bus tour and visited Pearl Harbor while Priscilla and I took TheBus to Hanauma Bay and swam (me)/snorkeled (Priscilla) with the few fish scattered here and there. The beach was quite beautiful but it was sad for me to later learn that the now-brown coral used to be colorful but was killed due to human activity.

We rejoined the parents for early dinner #2 at Marukame Udon, got more groceries from Food Pantry, and watched TV back at the hotel.

Monday, 2/23
We went to the Royal Hawaiian Center the following day and attended a session where we learned huli huli massage, went to a storytelling session given by a docent, and did lei making with Aunty Bella's, where I, for whatever reason, was better at lei-making than Priscilla.

In the evening, we took a bus up to Paradise Cove, our first-ever luau! Our guide, Cousin Kai, was hilarious and a really down-to-earth guy who likes to keep it real. At the luau, we were welcomed with shell leis and found some games (like spear throwing and bowling with a rounded block of wood), a 2-minute canoe ride, and beautiful scenery. The blowing of the conch took us to different portions of the evening's activities - a hula lesson that a few selected guests got to participate in, a shower of flowers from atop a tree, pulling in the fishing nets, hula dancing, hukilau on the beach, more hula and the unveiling of the pig that had been cooking in the ground for hours, and finally the nighttime dinner and show, where you don't eat till you're full, but eat till you're tired.

The dinner was so-so; can't say that I was really enjoyed having non-traditional food like spaghetti and fried chicken, and I tried the poi at Cousin Kai's suggestion and can't say that I really cared for it. The nighttime show was entertaining, and the fire dancer was really talented (I think he'd won first or second place in some legit competition), fearless, and probably just a little bit crazy. All in all, a fun luau!

Tuesday, 2/24
On Tuesday, we hit up the Royal Hawaiian Center again for hula and ukelele lessons, respectively. I was equally unadept at both, but it was fun. Back at the hotel, I did a bit of swimming while Priscilla and her mom relaxed in the hot tub, and then the four of us went to see some hula put on by dance troupes at the free Waikiki Beach Hula Show. We picked up dinner from Me's BBQ on the way back to the hotel.

Wednesday, 2/25
We spent this whole day at the Polynesian Cultural Center! Maybe because it was a weekday, the place was not as crowded as the first time when we went. It was fun like the last time, but the island of Tahiti was a notably smaller production this time around with just a single dancer. The Gateway Buffet was again fine, and the HA: Breath of Life show was enjoyable as ever.

Thursday, 2/26
After checking out of our hotel, we boarded an Island Air plane for Lihue Airport on Kaua'i! After getting our rental car from Avis, we ate poke at Pono Market, popular with the locals, and visited the Kapa'a Beach Park nearby. Priscilla and I walked a bit of the paved path while the parents napped. We bought groceries from Cost-U-Less and checked into our room at the Aston Islander on the Beach - quite a charming place located in a beautiful spot (aren't they all?) on the beach. Each room has a PS3 in it, and there are two DVD/game rental kiosks downstairs, so I played some PS3 Minecraft (my first time really playing it) and we watched Big Hero 6. We got dinner at TC's Island Grill in the shopping complex next to the hotel.

Friday, 2/27
While Priscilla's parents spent the day around the hotel, Priscilla and I rented a kayak from Kamokila Hawaiian Village and did the kayak + hiking trip to see the Secret Falls. The falls were slightly more impressive than Manoa Falls, and there was a pool in front of the falls where people were going in. Priscilla and I stood right under the falls and let the water rain on us - it was like taking a big shower! We saw Opaeka'a Falls from a lookout point on the way back. I swam at Wailua Beach in front of the hotel, which I would not recommend. People generally say you shouldn't swim at non-lifeguarded beaches on Kaua'i because of the fierce currents, but the currents at this beach were not bad and the water was shallow - I could stand on the ground even 200 feet from shore; but the worst part was all the coral that I kept being pushed into, which gave me some cuts. Yeah, not a great swimming spot. Dinner was at Tiki Tacos, and the tacos were just ok.

Saturday, 2/28
This was another outdoorsy day for me and Priscilla, and we made the 1-hour drive to Waimea Canyon, sometimes referred to as the Grand Canyon of Hawaii. We drove along the two-lane highway 550, ever so often taking pictures at photo op spots along the way. We hiked the Canyon Trail, which was only a 3-mile hike but had lots of inclines (Priscilla didn't enjoy that part). On our hike, we saw a small waterfall and had lots of gorgeous views of the canyon. I would love to come back here.

We made a short stop at Kaua'i Coffee Company, sampled several flavors of coffee and took a guided tour. The place had a gift shop and a visitor's area with a movie about the plantation playing, and felt more touristy than Mountain Thunder on Big Island. We had dinner at Kaua'i Ramen (a Chinese ramen place) on the way back, and at night was when my skin started breaking out.

Sunday, 3/1
Like with our trip to Europe several years ago, I found out again that my body doesn't like it when I've been traveling for several days. I think the combination of not drinking enough water, not getting my normal dose of vitamins and healthy foods, and travel-related stress causes my body to freak out, which manifests as hives all over my body. This time around it was all over my arms, legs and neck. It took a few weeks to fully dispel, but I learned a valuable lesson for the next time we travel.

So on Sunday, being in a bad condition to go out, I spent the whole day in the hotel room, playing Minecraft on my computer after I bought it. Hooray.

Monday, 3/2
This was our last day, and after checking out of the hotel, we had Pono Market and made a short visit to Kapa'a Beach Park again. Priscilla's mom got a coconut from a vendor, and we all agreed that it wasn't the most fresh. We returned the car, took a shuttle to the airport, and all got on a plane bound for San Jose. I had the next day off from work and dropped Priscilla's parents off at SJC again for their return trip to LA.

Overall we all had a good time, though Priscilla's dad's stomach is a little weak and he can't eat everything and has to use the bathroom frequently. He was always a good sport, but it was clear that certain parts of the trip were hard for him.

Kaua'i was definitely interesting in contrast to Oahu. It felt slightly less touristy than the Big Island, even though life seems slower and more relaxed on both. Priscilla had planned full day's worth of activities for Oahu, but we sort of winged it for Kaua'i. I wouldn't mind coming back to Kaua'i, but hopefully we'll do a bit more research and I'll keep myself from getting sick next time!
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