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Not Quite Eden - Monday, May 18, 2020
It's now been two months of mandatory working from home for my company, but it feels like it's been forever. Today, Santa Clara County finally went to Phase 2 of California's four-phase plan to reopen the state. Now only two counties in the state - Los Angeles and Sacramento - are still in Phase 1. Nonetheless, an end to the current shelter in place order seems far off.

I've accepted the reality that I may never set foot in my gym again. It seems more likely that they won't survive the current economic crisis. I've been doing pullups and dips at the park, and I have some really ghetto adjustable dumbbells in the shed in the backyard. In the midst of sheltering at home, the backyard has become my second home, of sorts.

I've contemplated building my own monkey bars in the backyard, but that project will be at least a few months out. What I have been doing is clearing out weeds, as I do every year. Except this year, I've also been filling in the gaps between patio sections (where weeds love to take root) with polymeric jointing sand. I also plan to replace sections of the backyard with rocks and mulch, and convert sprinklers to drip irrigation. With investments in making my backyard low-maintenance, I hope to reduce the amount of time I spend doing manual labor in the future. Like with improving the infrastructure at work, it's about spending less time bailing water out of the boat and finding more time to build a better boat.

I've also planted quite a few green onion bulbs. Every time we finish using a sprig of store-bought green onion, the bulb gets planted in the back. So far I've planted 36 bulbs in the planter box and another 30 in small plastic pots. I've had issues with some animal burying its poop almost nightly in some of the planter box holes where I planted a green onion bulb, and from some cursory research, I believe the animal to be a cat. Covering the smaller plantings with buckets at night and spraying the area with citrus has seemed to deter the animal from leaving its droppings. I've also noticed that the animal hasn't gone for the larger plantings, which is another reason I started the new bulbs in pots instead of immediately putting them in the ground. Not to mention, starting plants in pots seems to be a very common thing to do.

I also had to deal with bugs which appear to be aphids attacking the green onions. Spraying with neem oil seems to have helped. And when I watered using a wide spray pattern, small weeds popped up everywhere. After spending a couple hours painstakingly pulling all those weeds out, I switched to spot-watering using a pitcher. I have drip irrigation parts due to arrive in a couple weeks, at which time I'll run a drip emitter to each planting, with weed barrier and mulch in between plantings. Overkill for green onions, maybe. But, better boat.

While I've been spending much of my free time in the garden and learning more about gardening, I wouldn't say I actually enjoy it. I guess what really appeals to me is not the act of gardening, but the state of not having a ghetto, weed-ridden garden. And I like the idea of having food automation - having low-maintenance plants that will provide some food during the year. It won't really protect us from being affected by potential food shortages, but it's something productive and worthwhile that we can do with our space. One of the many ways in which we are truly blessed.
Sheltering in Place - Wednesday, April 8, 2020
It's amazing how quickly society can adapt to a new normal.

It was only 7 weeks ago that the 3 major US stock indexes were at an all-time high and most people didn't have a reason not to be confident in the economy.

Since then, due to the ongoing pandemic, the indexes lost 33% of their value in a 1-month period, though they've been climbing slowly (currently down "just" 22% from the all-time highs) due to the unprecedented $2 trillion stimulus bill passed by Congress.

It seems that nothing about this crisis is precedented. Statewide shelter in place orders, aimed at slowing the spread of the virus, have caused millions of jobs to disappear. 10 million people filed for unemployment in the span of 2 weeks. Many who can still work are forced to work from home (I'm in my fourth week of doing so). The amount of vehicular traffic I've seen around here is maybe 15% of what it used to be not all that long ago. Weekly gas demand has fallen to the lowest rate since 1993, and gas prices are at a 4-year low.

California was the first state to issue a statewide shelter in place order, and since then, 41 other states have followed suit. Under shelter in place orders, people are allowed to go out only for essential purposes including buying groceries, exercising, and commuting to essential places of work. Maintaining six feet of distance from others who don't live in the same household, a.k.a. social distancing, is required. When two people are nearing each other on the street, one of them moves well out of the way. It's become so second-nature.

Only businesses considered essential are allowed to be open. The stores that are open are limiting the number of people who can be inside at one time, causing lines to form outside during peak hours (which, at Costco, seems to be all hours of the day now). It's common to now see stickers on the ground, both outside the store and inside leading up to the register, guiding people in where to stand to maintain adequate distance. Stores have put up plexiglass barriers at the registers to separate cashiers from customers. And it seems like more people than not are wearing some sort of face mask, with Santa Clara County having recommended cloth masks to help limit transmission of the virus. All of this would've been a foreign concept a couple weeks ago, but now it's the norm.

Priscilla and I have been walking outside every day. Exercise, after all, boosts the immune system. In the quiet of night when there's almost nobody out, it feels like, in Priscilla's words, an introvert's dream. Grocery stores now have special hours and are closing earlier, so there's really no reason for people to be out at night unless they're crazy, which it appears that most people are not. On the flip side, it's hard for me to not be able to go to the gym. I can do pullups and dips at the park and bodyweight exercises at home, but it's not as practical. I'm getting tired of working from home, mostly due to the lack of office perks - I realize how entitled that sounds, but something can be said for being able to better focus on tasks when you don't have to worry about things like grocery shopping, cooking and washing dishes. Meanwhile, Priscilla wishes she were working from home more (she's only able to work from home twice a week, and she had to fight hard with management to be granted even that). But at the end of the day, we're very fortunate. We have stable jobs, shelter, food, savings, and good health. How many others can say the same? Plus, it seems like the curve is starting to flatten in the US, echoing what's already been seen in some other countries. There may very well be a second wave of infections down the road, especially if the virus mutates, but hopefully by then the world will be more strongly positioned to handle it. Ultimately, as Christians we must trust in God's sovereignty over all things. Yes, we must all do our best to protect health and save lives, but ultimately God is our shelter, and we must bring everything to Him in prayer.
Coronavirus Pandemic - Friday, March 13, 2020
2020 has shaped up to be quite an eventful year. It seems like the coronavirus outbreak (a.k.a. COVID-19) is what's on everyone's mind these days. State and local governments and companies have taken drastic steps to limit transmission of the virus. This week alone, the outbreak was declared a pandemic by WHO, the NBA has suspended the basketball season, the three major US stock indexes touched into bear market territory, California governor Gavin Newsom banned gatherings of 250 people or more, President Trump imposed a 30-day travel ban for flights from Europe, and, just today, Santa Clara County closed all public schools for 3 weeks as Trump declared a national emergency.

Many tech companies have required their employees to work from home, and while Pure has made it optional, my manager mandated that our team work from home until further notice starting next week. My commute to work this week has been great; I guess it's going to get even better now. It's difficult for people at Priscilla's company to work from home due to the nature of their work, but it sounds like the company is seeing what can be done.

At church, youth ministry and Sunday School were cancelled. Yesterday the pastors decided that we'd continue having worship service while advising people to stay more than an arm's length from each other, but today they sent another email announcing that worship service will now only be available via streaming after the Santa Clara County Public Health Department issued a legal prohibition against gatherings of more than 100 people. It's amazing and frightening how many new developments there have been in just a few day's time.

On a societal level, frequent hand washing and social distancing has suddenly become the norm. And stockpiling seems to be increasing, with Costco and other stores quickly running out of toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizer, water and some food. There's especially been an insane level of toilet paper buying. Once some people started panic buying, others felt forced to as well. This is how runs on supplies happen.

Though some supplies are running out at some stores daily, so far we haven't seen real scarcity. But there have already been some reports of isolated instances of violence over things like toilet paper. I shudder to imagine how society might unravel if scarcity and joblessness increase. Businesses in industries including travel, food and retail are losing money, which affects how many people they can afford to hire. What's going on isn't economically sustainable, and it seems like a recession is all but inevitable at this point. Our renter's internship at a school is threatened by today's school closures, and she also just lost her waitressing job at a restaurant that has closed indefinitely. What will be the ripple effects of many people losing their jobs? It feels like we're teetering towards the end of the world, but I have to remember that many people/places have it much worse.

In my lifetime I have not seen a global response as strong as what is happening now. So far there have been 145,810 cases of the virus worldwide, with 5,436 deaths and 72,531 people recovered. In the US it's been 2,466 cases, 50 deaths and 41 recovered. The amount of tracking, the amount of up-to-the-minute updates on this pandemic is of a scale not seen before. Information spreads faster than ever, and perhaps that's a large reason why the response has been so dramatic. To put things in perspective, it's estimated that the 2009-2010 swine flu pandemic saw 700 million-1.4 billion people infected, with 150,000-575,00 deaths. However, swine flu had a mortality rate of 0.02%, while WHO has estimated the coronavirus mortality rate at 3.4%, topping out at 14.8% for adults 80 and older. And since a viable vaccine could be many months away, I can understand why governments want to severely limit the spread of the virus. We don't want hospitals overwhelmed with critical cases like what's happening in Italy, we want to protect those who are most vulnerable, and we want to give researchers more time to develop a vaccine.

As Christians, our hope must be in God, not in the flawed institutions of this world. I know this, but living it out is hard. I still feel hopeless when my stock portfolio drops by another 7%, when I read about the permanent effects that the virus can have on the body, and when I think about how society could be on an unchangeable course headed towards major systemic problems. But as an article from The Gospel Coalition reminds us, "it takes the same amount of energy to worry as to pray. One leads to peace, the other to panic. Choose wisely."
Just Cruisin' - Monday, March 2, 2020
Priscilla loves traveling, and perhaps cruising in particular due to the aspect of everything being taken care of. And because I'm married to her, I occasionally have to go along with her crazy schemes. So three weeks ago we took a 4-day cruise from Long Beach to Catalina Island and Ensenada aboard the Carnival Inspiration. At least we got it free thanks to credit card points; all-in-all, it would've been $600 something otherwise.

This was my third cruise overall (all of them with Carnival) and my second cruise to Ensenada, the first one being in 2009 when Priscilla's parents brought us there (but we didn't do Catalina that time). Priscilla was particularly keen to include Catalina this time because it's where I proposed oh so many years ago.

So on Monday, we flew down to Long Beach Airport and Ubered to the Long Beach Cruise Center where we boarded the ship. The next morning, the ship docked off the Catalina coast and we had to take a ferry to get to shore. We walked around Avalon, which was in a quiet, sleepy state, perhaps because it was a weekday. We hiked up the same trail that we tried hiking up last time (where I had proposed), except this time we made it to the top! Priscilla had brought proper footwear this time and was resolved (or more like resigned) to get to the top, not because she likes hiking, but because she knows how much I like it. We enjoyed the scenic ocean view on both sides of the island, and had a local there talk a lot to me, before we continued along on a route down the mountain.

The route down took us to the Wrigley Memorial and Botanic Garden through the rear entrance, where we were able to enter without paying a fee. I got that tip from another local who struck up a conversation with me when we were at Vons getting sparkling water (those locals really like to talk!). We were able to enjoy the memorial and garden before heading back to the ship. Altogether our trek was a little over 10 miles - not too shabby, especially for Priscilla.

Ensenada was the next day, and our time there started with a 1-hour horseback ride with Rancho los Bandidos, an excursion booked through Carnival. We joined around 18 others riding single-file on a trail in the mountains above the city. The views were great, but the pace of the horseback riding was pretty slow. I did get a lot of chafing from the times when the horse was running, due to me bouncing up and down as a result of not knowing proper technique. So I guess there's an upside to the pace being mostly slow.

Priscilla's feet were sore from the day before, so we only walked 4 miles around Ensenada before going back to the ship. We briefly passed through the area with touristy shops but were scared off by all these guys wanting us to check out our their respective souvenir shops. We didn't have a pre-planned route, so most of our walking was through nondescript parts of town. But along the way we managed to pass through the grounds of the Riviera de Ensenada, Plaza Cívica de la Patria (a park with busts of the heads of three historical figures), and Ventana al Mar (a park along the harbor near where the ship was docked). I wish we had done more walking, but next time we should probably have a plan, or at least some idea, of the places we want to visit.

The day afterwards, Thursday, was the day at sea. We went around the track in the morning (I mostly ran, Priscilla mostly walked), learned how to fold towel animals at a session, worked out at the fitness center for the third time during the cruise, and enjoyed the Motown musical Motor City in the evening.

I definitely ate a lot and often on the cruise (though my waistline would disagree). We always had breakfast and lunch at the Lido buffet, and we got burgers from Guy's Burger Joint a couple times. For dinner, we ate at the dining room except on the last night. We found that the quality at the dining room was hit or miss, and service was extremely slow. A lot of the same food was at the Lido buffet. And unlike with our previous two Carnival cruises, there was no longer a night when lobster was on the regular menu at the dining room. Lobster tail was on the menu as a $20 item, but of course we didn't want to spend extra money. Since there was no free lobster to look forward to (we were able to preview the next day's menu), we skipped the dining room and ate at the Lido buffet on the final night.

On Friday, we disembarked after breakfast and walked along the Long Beach waterfront to Yard House, where we had a couple unmemorable appetizers. We weren't too hungry and I was also starting to get sick (which happens often when I travel), so I didn't feel like ordering more.

Speaking of cruises and getting sick, there's been a lot of news/panic lately about the coronavirus outbreak that originated in Wuhan, China, and everyone on the Diamond Princess cruise ship was quarantined in Yokohama as a result of passengers being infected. Fortunately, things haven't gotten too bad on this side of the planet (though reading about shoppers snatching up all the basic provisions at Costcos may make one wonder). Based on my symptoms, I only had the common cold. Unfortunately, Priscilla later caught it from me. Plus she had prolonged land sickness (MdDS) to deal with, lasting much longer than it has in the past for her. And she'd already booked the same cruise for her and her parents for later this year. Fun times!

The quality of the cruise could've been better. But it was still nice to get away for a few days, have food always taken care of, work out when I wanted to, and have some time to catch up on writing Yelp reviews (Priscilla had spent some credit card points to get the unlimited Internet package since she knew it would keep me sane). I guess I do get the appeal of cruising. I'd be hard-pressed to want to go on a 3-month cruise around the world, but a 4-day cruise to a couple places where we have some cool activities planned, ones that don't involve chafing on my rear end? Sure, sign me up.
Happy New Year! - Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Happy New Year (and New Decade)! This holiday season, because Christmas and New Year's fell in the middle of the week, Priscilla and I stayed in the Bay Area for Christmas (and had dinner with Uncle Kenway, Aunt Susan and their family) and went down to LA for the four days leading up to New Year's.

So the Saturday after Christmas, we departed at 7:30am en route to LA. I-5 had been closed at the Grapevine just two days earlier due to snow and icy roads. Fortunately, it was nice and sunny on Saturday, and unlike on Thanksgiving Day, we didn't need to detour to the 101. There was constant traffic but it wasn't too bad until we got to the Greater Los Angeles area, and the total transit time was 5.5 hours. Not the most optimal, but way better than Thanksgiving's 9.5 hours.

Saturday night, we had dinner with my parents and Aaron and Lauren's family at Mandarin Deli. We stayed at my parents' place that night, and Priscilla's parents' condo the following three nights.

Sunday was pretty packed - we went to CCAC in the morning (at the new Granada Hills location), ate with Gina and Cindy at Pieology afterwards, and ate dinner at Gen Korean BBQ with Raymond in Alhambra. Our original plan was to stay at my parents' place Sunday night, but since my other high school friends weren't available to hang out that day, Raymond was the only one who could make it. He had to drive from Orange County, so we decided to go Priscilla's parents' condo one day early and meet him in Alhambra.

Monday was a more restful day, and I took the time to run a few miles. Cindy (the other one) and Tracy visited us on Tuesday and we ate lunch at Bopomofo Cafe. We even caught a sighting of the cafe's cofounder, Philip Wang of Wong Fu Productions. He said hello to the people at the table next to ours - that's as close as we got, though Priscilla later went inside to ogle at him working at the counter.

And today, on New Year's, we stopped by my parents' place to pick up food before driving back up north. My mom had cooked us a lot of food - mung bean noodles with ground turkey and vegetables, chicken and vegetable soup, and turkey porridge - so that we wouldn't have to cook after getting home. This was on top of the soup, porridge and ribs that she had us take to Priscilla's parents' place on Sunday. I've realized that cooking for us is one way that my mom expresses love, and she usually always overdoes it and heaps food on us in her neurotic, loving way, but I'm really blessed to have a mom who loves me this much.

Our trip down to LA was a good time of seeing family and catching up with friends. We're really blessed to have so many people who continue to care about us after all these years.
AirPods - Monday, December 23, 2019
It seems like Apple AirPods have been all the rage recently. And perhaps especially so with the AirPods Pro, released on October 30, which have better features (like active noise cancellation) than their predecessor models.

Apple experienced such high demand for the AirPods Pro that they're out of stock in most stores and won't ship until January when purchased from various websites. Which is especially suboptimal given that Christmas is fast-approaching. So it's a pretty amazing feat that my company gave everyone in our division a pair of AirPods Pro (with wireless charging case) as a year-end gift. How we were able to acquire a few hundred of these is beyond me, but clearly somebody in the company is on top of their game.

It seems like the AirPods hype may be justified, but Priscilla and I wouldn't be able to make use of some features like Siri-integration, since we both have Android phones. And reportedly, streaming AAC audio over Bluetooth is noticeably worse on Android, though that seems like a narrow use case. We also already each have a pair of wireless headphones that work decently well for their $26 price tag. Priscilla likes having headphones with a cord since she can wear them around her neck when they're not in use, and the cord helps her not lose them. And I don't like accumulating more things. So we were both ok with selling the AirPods.

Online, people are selling them marked up by 25% or more. Exploiting scarcity for personal gain. Or call it retail arbitrage. Since I received the AirPods as a gift, I didn't really feel like selling them for more than face value. They're retailing at $249, so I priced them at $270, which is around the after-tax total that somebody would pay in a store. A coworker recommended selling on Facebook Marketplace, as it lets you vet buyers by looking at their profiles. So yesterday, within a few minutes of my post there, I got a message from a woman whose profile showed pictures of a nice, normal-looking family. I arranged to have us meet up at the local library today.

Today, the woman had her brother-in-law and niece meet me. They came at the arranged time, looked over the box, asked some questions about my work, and gave me the $270 in cash. They were very nice and seemed happy to finally get the AirPods, saying that it was a Christmas present for the niece and that all retail stores were sold out. This was my first time meeting a stranger in-person to sell them something (well, excluding the few times I met a fellow student in college to sell them my used textbook). But it ended nicely and I like the fact that I was able to vet the buyer to some extent, something that elevates Facebook Marketplace over Craigslist. If only either service had a reputation system built in. But I think I'll arrange my in-person transactions through Facebook Marketplace going forward, and that may even apply to the next time we're looking for a new renter.
RBF Choir - Sunday, December 15, 2019
Ever since moving to the Bay Area and joining RBF, Priscilla has always wanted to have an English choir at church. We have a Chinese choir, but nothing on the English side has materialized. Chalk it up perhaps to a lack of interest on the congregation's part, our pastors' seeming view that singing should be congregational, and the lack of somebody stepping up to lead.

Well that has changed over just the last three weeks. One of our more musically-inclined members, Stacy, used her influence to assemble a seasonal choir, with her leading/directing, to perform at this year's RBF Christmas party. And the pastors were ok with it. Nearly 30 people signed up, and Priscilla of course jumped on the opportunity, and she pretty much forced me to sign up with her. Anything for the wife...

There were three practices held, with the expectation that everybody would make at least two. The first was in late November, but we missed it because Priscilla was traveling in Orlando with Tracy at that time (and I didn't care to go to that practice by myself). The second was last Sunday after church, and the final practice was this afternoon after church. Our performance songs were "A Joyous Christmas" (a medley of "O Come, All Ye Faithful", "Angels We Have Heard On High", and "Joy to the World") and "Silent Night" in four-part harmony. We were also to lead the congregation in singing "Go Tell It on the Mountain", "The First Noel", and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing", with all of us singing just the melody. Vera, who was visiting for a couple weeks, got roped into playing piano for us after the original pianist got sick. That's what happens when you've got a heart for serving others and have mad skills.

Doing choir doesn't come easy for me. Reading music is not my forte, and I'm not really able to look at notes on sheet music and immediately turn that into musical notes (hence why for worship, I play drums). I'm only able to sing through a song after essentially memorizing the notes, using the relative positions of notes on the page as a guide. The first practice that we attended was rough for me, but I spent a lot of time afterwards working through the sheet music learning my part (I chose the tenor role). I even highlighted every one of my notes, because otherwise I wouldn't be able to pick them out in real-time with so much other stuff on the page. By the time the final practice rolled around this afternoon, I knew my part fairly well, and it seemed like everybody else was in the same boat. Stacy was great about giving us constant feedback about technique, style, and everything in between. She mentioned things like rounding out our vowels, singing more legato instead of staccato, and being mindful about crescendo and decrescendo to make our singing more dynamic. People incorporated her feedback well, and we all sounded undeniably better at the end of practice versus at the beginning.

Finally, this evening, we performed for the 150 or so people at the Christmas party. I think we sounded terrific, especially for having only three weeks of practice. The choir was split roughly 50-50 between guys and girls, and there were a few other guys in the tenor section. Where I messed up, they and the rest of the choir would carry the song, and it sounded... beautiful. I really enjoyed singing as part of a large group, hearing the sum of each individual's effort culminate in something collectively grand. I guess there was interest after all!

When Priscilla first signed me up, I thought the experience would be miserable for me (only slightly exaggerating). While it's still true that doing choir is not something I would pick for fun, I did enjoy the experience of seeing the fruition of the work put in, singing with others more musically gifted than myself who lifted me when I stumbled, and reaching a shared objective as a team. I daresay that I perhaps even had fun. No promises, but if we do another choir next year, I wouldn't be entirely opposed to signing up.
An Eventful Thanksgiving - Wednesday, December 4, 2019
As usual, Priscilla and I visited LA for the Thanksgiving holiday. But unlike the previous few times when we went down, this time we drove instead of flying. Not having the Southwest Companion Pass this year was part of that decision.

We departed the Bay Area on Thanksgiving Day at 6:30am, hoping to beat most of the traffic. However, we found out halfway down I-5 that the highway was closed at the Grapevine mountain pass due to snow. We were previously made aware that this might happen, but I possibly didn't check traffic conditions the morning of and thought that any snow would've thawed by the time we got down there, and furthermore, Google Maps wasn't reporting the closure. When we saw highway signs indicating the closure, we started looking for detours. I thought that taking SR-58 through Bakersfield was the next best option. Google Maps was reporting that route as closed, but I couldn't find any information from Caltrans online for that route, so I decided that we should chance it and head that way anyway. That turned out to be a mistake, since we shortly after did see a road sign warning of SR-58's closure.

So we headed back to I-5 and hopped on SR-166 going west, hoping to take SR-33 south to get across the mountains. Alas, SR-33 was closed due to snow as well. So we ended up taking SR-166 all the way to the 101, and then the 101 down the rest of the way, encountering traffic jams along the way in Santa Barbara. Altogether, a 5-hour drive turned into 9.5 hours. Had we stayed on the 101 the whole time, the drive would've been closer to 6 hours. Next time if it's raining up in the Bay Area and is expected to be cold around the Grapevine, then we'll play it safe and stay on the 101.

Our time down in LA was eventful as well. We had Thanksgiving dinner at my parents' house with them and Aaron and Lauren's family. Priscilla's parents didn't join us, since they didn't want us driving on the highway at night in the rain in order to go pick them up. So instead we saw them the next day, bringing them lots of leftovers from Thanksgiving dinner that my mom packed for us, and stayed at their condo for two nights. The first night at the condo, the ceiling above the kitchen started dripping water. We thought it might be due to the rain, but when the rain stopped, the dripping continued and then got worse. Priscilla's parents got the upstairs neighbors to agree to let us shut off the water (shared by both units) before everybody went to bed, and that stopped the dripping. Fortunately, the condo plumber/handyman was able to come the next day and found the issue to be a leaking fitting on the wall-mounted electric water heater for the upstairs unit. Replacing the fitting fixed the leak, and it looks like there shouldn't be much long-term damage to our unit.

On Sunday, Priscilla and I attended the second service at CCAC. Coincidentally, this was the last service ever at the Northridge location, as CCAC is moving to a new location in Granada Hills. Looks like that site used to be occupied by St. Stephen's Lutheran Church, and the buildings there are a good size. After the service, the pastors for the three congregations prayed, and we all took a church photo in the sanctuary, which was difficult because people were spilling out into the foyer. This was definitely a bittersweet moment for CCAC, but I'm excited to see how they will continue growing.

The rest of our time down in LA was more normal. It was good spending time with family and friends. And the drive back up on Monday took around 6 hours, with some extra time added due to a traffic jam on the 152 caused by a vehicle being on the side of the road. It was pouring rain at that time, of course.

December weather is fun.
Terrain Race - Monday, June 10, 2019
This past Saturday I did Terrain Race with Tracy at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds in San Jose. This was where Priscilla and I did the Bubble Run last month. I was originally supposed to do Terrain Race with a coworker, but he later had plans to be out of town, so he let me have his registration. I normally wouldn't sign up for an easy event like this, but it cost only $17.09. It was touted as "free", but tacked on were mandatory insurance, a nominal donation to charity, and tax. Still quite a bargain compared to Tough Mudder or Spartan Race.

The pre-race bib pickup was last Friday at Sports Basement in Sunnyvale. It was supposed to be from 10am - 8pm, but I got there around 9:50am to try to beat the crowds. When I picked up our packets for the Bubble Run, there were maybe 200 people in line ahead of me and I waited for over an hour. I was determined to not make the same mistake with Terrain Race. Despite getting there early, there were still 50 or so people ahead of me, and it looked like the line was already moving before the announced start time. A note for the future.

On race day, we were in the first wave which started at 7:30am. This was the only free wave remaining when I signed up; otherwise I would've chosen a later one. So I woke up at 5:30, had a quick breakfast, Tracy came over to my place, and we started driving over at 6:30. We parked on the street nearby in order to avoid the $10 parking fee. We were one of the first cars to park on that street, and I soon found out that there was no additional checkin since we already had our bibs. So we had half an hour to kill before our wave started. The event email said to bring a signed waiver, but nobody was collecting those. And security was so lax that start times were not enforced. Pretty much anybody could just get in the start area and run with any wave!

The course was supposed to be 5k, but it felt a little short and my GPS measured 4.5k. We ended up walking most of the course because Tracy is not a runner. To be fair, I did spring Terrain Race on her at the last minute. She wants to do Spartan Race with some church people in November, so hopefully she'll train for that.

The obstacles on the course included 4ft walls, 6ft walls, giant tire flipping, tire on rope pulling, concrete block on chain dragging, sandbag carry, balance beams, hay bales, pipe crawl, and a cargo net crawl through a pool of mud. The cargo net crawl was the second-to-last obstacle and got everybody really muddy. A video from a couple years ago showed monkey bars and other obstacles that required upper-body strength, so I was saddened to not see any of those on the course.

The event was more enjoyable than not, but I would've liked more challenging obstacles. I don't think I'd do Terrain Race again. Even though it was dirt cheap, it's not worth the overhead of getting dirty. I think I'll stick to Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, though I'm still not planning on doing another Tough Mudder unless somebody else wants me to go with them. Running it solo isn't much fun. I'm glad I at least had a partner in crime to do Terrain Race with.
Barcelona - Monday, April 8, 2019
Priscilla and I took a vacation to Barcelona from February 23 to March 6. Why there? Mainly because she wanted to go somewhere international, and non-stop flights to Barcelona were pretty cheap ($350/person round trip on Google Flights with Iberia Airlines, contracted out to Level). So on Saturday, we boarded an 11-hour flight from SFO en route to BCN.

Day 1:
It was Sunday when we arrived. We took Aerobús to Plaça de Catalunya (the city centre), then walked to our Airbnb, a 6th floor apartment in a neighborhood close to La Rambla. Markets in the city are closed every Sunday, but restaurants are open. We ate dinner at a tapas place near our Airbnb, La Viena Blanca, which included patatas bravas (these are pretty common in Barcelona) and bombas picantes, the latter which we liked the most.

Day 2:
We first stopped by La Boqueria, the outdoor market, and bought zumo (fruit juice), an empanada, and a dish with potato and cheese. We bought groceries from Carrefour Market (we would end up visiting several times during our trip). We then joined five others at Foodie Experience Barcelona and learned how to make paella, sangria, and crema catalana from our welcoming host, Carmen. Each of us was given a different task, and mine was to make the sangria. We all got to cook our own crema catalana dish with a blowtorch. And then we got to eat everything! This was so fun and educational and was one of the highlights of our trip. We walked to Plaça de Catalunya for a free Gothic Quarter walking tour, but we were the only tourists there because it was not peak-season, so the guide canceled the tour. So we spent the rest of the day back at our Airbnb taking it easy.

Day 3:
We elected to start using our 3-day Barcelona Pass on this day and used it to visit 5 museums: Casa Batlló, Egyptian Museum of Barcelona, Casa de Les Punxes, Casa Milà, and the Museum of Modernism. So tiring! My favorites were Casa Batlló and Casa Milà, both designed by famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí. His works are so creative and inspired, yet also thoughtfully functional.

Day 4:
We used our pass to see the city via the hop-on, hop-off bus (Barcelona BusTurístic). The first stop we got off at was Parc Güell, a park designed by Gaudí. We decided not to pay to see the buildings there, but walking around the park and admiring the viaducts was enjoyable and relaxing. Our next stop was Camp Nou (the home stadium of Futbol Club Barcelona), where we toured the stadium from the locker room inside to the press boxes up top. Very cool. Then we got off at Poble Espanyol, where we walked around the quaint village, saw a film about how people in different regions of Spain hold celebrations, and visited a modern art museum. The village was pretty quiet and a third of the shops were closed, not that we minded. Finally we walked over to the nearby Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya (MNAC), which was closed for the day but had a really photogenic exterior.

Day 5:
The morning began with a 2.5-hour walking tour of the Old Town (I learned quite a bit about architecture), followed by L'Aquàrium Barcelona (they had a cool oceanarium but everything else was meh), Las Golondrinas for a boat tour of the city shoreline, and Museu de Cera (wax museum). All these were included with our Barcelona Pass. We definitely got our money's worth from that pass (it cost €116 and we used €226 worth of benefits).

Day 6:
We had originally planned to do a day trip to Sitges (a coastal town) on this day, but instead decided to take a rest day. And Priscilla's idea of a rest day is to eat, so we got tapas from Quimet & Quimet, pinchos from La Tasqueta de Blai and Blai 9, and finally chocolate con churros from La Churre. Each place was good in its own way, but we liked the quality of the food at Quimet & Quimet the most. Their signature dishes were the most enjoyable: mussels and caviar, and salmon with yogurt and truffled honey.

Day 7:
This was our day trip to Girona, another highlight. From Plaça de Catalunya, we rode a bus for a little over an hour to Girona, a city that feels like a mini Barcelona. Our guide Guillermo gave us a tour of the old part of the city including the outside of the Girona Cathedral and old Roman fortifications. Priscilla and I had time to explore on our own while most of the group headed out to another town (Figueres) on the optional part of the tour. We had seafood paella at Via Augusta (was ok) and explored everything from the city's distinctive bridges to walking atop the Roman wall. There's much to enjoy in the old part of the city, but the sweeping views from atop towers along the walls were probably my favorite. We ended our day trip by strolling through Parc de la Devesa before reuniting with the tour bus.

Day 8:
The day started with a couples photoshoot in the Gothic Quarter, from which we got some nice, professional-looking photos. Many museums in Barcelona are free to visit on the first Sunday of the month, and since this day was that, we visited MUHBA and enjoyed seeing the underground remains of the ancient Roman city of Barcino. Next, we tried to visit the Picasso Museum but found that tickets were sold out (they need to be reserved online ahead of time). So we consigned ourselves to finding lunch and settled on Taperia Princesa, where we had some decent tapas.

Day 9:
This was our day trip to Montserrat, which was my favorite part of the entire trip. Priscilla had purchased ToT Montserrat passes from Expedia which paid for everything: subway and train fare to get there, a cable car ride up the mountain, unlimited use of the funiculars, lunch (unfortunately the buffet place was closed, so we were only able to get selected items at the cafeteria), and admission to the Museo de Monserrat. Admission to the monastery is free, and there we enjoyed the grand architecture and saw the famous Virgin of Montserrat (La Moreneta) statue. We did the hardest hike up to the Sant Jeroni lookout point (and were rewarded with amazing panoramic views) and took a funicular back down to the village. We revisited the monastery towards the end of the day, after the tour busses had left, and were pleased to find the place almost empty. I enjoyed Montserrat for the hiking and architecture, both of which there are plenty of. If I could, I would stay overnight in a hostel here so that I could explore the area over the course of two days.

Day 10:
Priscilla liked Quimet & Quimet so much that we went back again for brunch. We had the two signature dishes again plus a few other things, but the signature dishes were still our favorites. Afterwards, we walked over to La Sagrada Familia for a pre-paid tour from a company called Visit Europa Today. Our guide Isaac had a deep knowledge of the place, but more importantly, his passion for the history and culture of La Sagrada Familia was evident. The tour was very helpful, as there's so much history that you would otherwise miss. My favorite part of the church was the polychromatic stained glass windows, which bathe the inside in a flood of multiple colors. The church was designed by Gaudí, who drew his inspiration from nature. Maybe that's why his works speak to me on a personal level. After La Sagrada Familia, we made an impromptu visit to the Arc de Triomf and Parc de la Ciutadella (I enjoyed the beautiful fountains at the latter) before eating at La Viena Blanca again.

Day 11:
This was the last day of our trip and consisted pretty much of walking to Plaça de Catalunya, taking Aerobús back to the airport, and a 12-hour flight back home. The end of the flight was pretty turbulent and made me nauseous, and I arrived home still dizzy on top of being extremely tired. There's no place like home!

Barcelona was really enjoyable; the fights there and back less so (I don't enjoy being cooped up on a plane). We went when it wasn't peak season, fearing that the weather would be a little chilly. But it turned out to be fairly comfortable. The city is unfortunately known for pickpockets, so Priscilla and I tried to travel light with our valuables in inner pockets. We left the suitcases at home and managed to fit everything inside of two backpacks, my laptop bag, and a tote bag for food. We brought a few day's worth of clothes, and Priscilla washed our clothes at the halfway point during the trip. It's surprising how much space you can save when you really try to avoid packing non-essentials.

Maybe more so than on past trips, we tried to incorporate rest time so that we wouldn't feel overwhelmed. I think that helped me enjoy the trip more. Also, Priscilla tirelessly cooked food almost every day (hence the reason we went to Carrefour so frequently), so that helped us save money. Our total cost for this trip was $2605, cheaper than our trips to Hawaii and Ireland. And after travel credits from credit cards, it was $2127. Which seems very reasonable, all things considered.

Barcelona is a polyglot city with Spanish, Catalan and English seeming to be the predominant languages. The people that we interacted with there generally seemed to understand English, but once we got out of the city, it seemed like a smaller percentage of people spoke it. Priscilla and I had tried to re-learn some Spanish leading up to the trip, but I felt that my vocabulary during the trip was pretty lacking. It was enough to get by, but only barely. Every day I would pick up a little bit more Spanish, and sometimes Catalan since some signs were only in Catalan. Trying to learn a new language is hard enough, let alone two new languages at the same time! Google Translate was an invaluable tool.

Would I want to live in Barcelona? Not really. The city is pretty dense (1.6 million within city limits, making it the second most populous city in Spain) and felt busy. I can only imagine that it would be even busier during the peak tourism season. There is also a lot of graffiti around the city, including on historic buildings. Apparently graffiti there is associated more with free expression and political dissent than gang activity, but it was still off-putting to see, especially on buildings of historical importance.

But would I want to live somewhere else in Spain? Somewhere smaller and quieter? Maybe for a short period of time. The weather during our trip was nice and the food was generally a little cheaper compared to back home. But the most appealing thing would be being immersed in a culture and having to pick up the language. I probably wouldn't want to live there long-term, but staying for a couple months learning to get by might be fun. It aligns with my desire to learn to do life better. I've been spending more time learning Spanish since the trip, and Priscilla is planning for us to take a cruise to Mexico early next year. Hopefully by then my vocabulary will extend past just the menu at a restaurant!
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