Jollibee and Red Ribbon in Carson

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Whether we have one, small difference or are polar opposites, we can agree on one thing: there is halo-halo in heaven.

Tagalog word of the day: Sarap.
Meaning, “delicious.”

There are only a few desserts I really enjoy and crave: French macarons and halo-halo. Of course, living in Dallas means you don’t get halo-halo often—actually, not at all—and now that I think about it, even French macarons aren’t super easy to come by. That’s probably one of the downsides of living in the Dallas suburbs—a certain lack of culture that is found in places like New York City or Los Angeles.

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Two Days in San Francisco

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For the last week, I’ve been constantly thinking of what to write. There’s so much that happened in California that I have no idea how to cover — how would I talk about spending time with relatives? As fun as it was, I can’t just write a synopsis of our conversation without the risk of boring everyone (including me) to death. What about New York? I have to get to that sooner or later!

That’s when I realized something: I’m not here to write a diary of my encounters in Los Angeles or San Francisco or northern California! If I wanted to write a diary, then I should’ve done that immediately after each day in California, not nearly a month after returning home!

If I wanted to write about San Francisco or New York for so long, then what should stop me? This is my blog after all, this is my virtual notebook! If I feel that I want to talk about my time in San Francisco and then jump over to New York, who should say I need to write about the not-as-fun-to-write-about parts?

I guess the number one reason I wanted to avoid skipping parts of my journey were because I didn’t feel it was fair to the people, mostly family, I had met during my trip. Is it wrong to purposely cut out my recollection of the time I spent with them? I’ve come to the conclusion that no, it’s not.

That’s why I’m going to just jump right in to one of my favorite cities: San Francisco.

San Francisco

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There’s something I really love about San Francisco. I love the long, curvy streets and the heavy Asian influence. I love the cold, breezy weather and I love walking around in a jacket in July!

The hotel had fortune cookies inside a glass container for their guests. Jude and I each took one — I got 500 points and Jude got a free room upgrade!

Chinatown

The first place we went to was Chinatown. Personally, I think Chinatown is really cool. Jude and I even got those touristy squished pennies from the machines dotted around the area.

In Chinatown, we met with the AADP (Asian American Donor Program) and talked about some of our ideas for getting Asian-Americans to join the bone marrow donor registry while eating really tasty Vietnamese sandwiches from Saigon Sandwich Shop.

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Disneyland, A Photo Blog

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To me, Disneyland truly is the happiest place on Earth. I don’t like Disneyland for the rides (I’m still afraid of roller coasters…), but for the experience.

My dream has always been to collect every character’s autograph. While I feel like I’m too old to really try and fulfill it, I realized the only sensible thing to do was pass the torch on to Jude.

Jude searched for characters with a fervor. It was a very familiar eagerness though — it was the same eagerness I had when I searched for characters or tried to go to every country in Epcot!

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Disneyland Hotel and Downtown Disney

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There’s something truly magical about Disney. I’ve always loved that breathtaking way Disney can make you feel like you’re in a different world — their world — whenever you step into any of their Disney properties. I’ve always been (and still am) a huge fan of the Epcot theme park in Disney World. Being someone who loves to travel and experience other cultures, the Epcot World Showcase always felt like a thrilling departure into eleven different countries, even though I wasn’t a fan of the Colonial America area at all.

Honestly, I was skeptical about returning to Disneyland. After all, this was just the Magic Kingdom that I had experienced so many times. After all, I’ve been to every Disney theme park — Anaheim, Orlando, Paris, Hong Kong, and Tokyo — on the planet, except for the unopened Shanghai Disneyland. (It’ll give me a reason to visit mainland China one day.)

Day 3, part 3: The Disneyland Hotel

Stepping into the Disneyland Hotel brought back those feelings I used to experience when I’d step into a Disney themed location. Honestly, how would you not be happy about a lobby filled with teacups instead of couches?

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Our room was in the Adventure Tower — there is also a Frontier Tower and a Fantasy Tower. I won’t go into too much detail about the room, but I noticed that there was a quote spread across the two beds:

“A dream is a wish your heart makes when you’re fast asleep.” 

My dad and Jude wanted to go to the pool. As I’ve said many times throughout this blog, I’m not a huge fan of swimming (probably because I tend to sink, not float). After some initial prodding, I went to the pool area with them.

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Because we arrived in the evening, the pools were quite cold. I wanted to turn back — swimming in cold water just isn’t enjoyable — but Jude wanted to go to the water slides. Continue reading

Orochon Ramen (and more J-Town)

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Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York all have something in common: each of these three cities fooled me into believing that I had somehow left the country and I was actually traveling abroad.

J-Town was when it started.

I’ve always been a big fan of Japan and many things Japanese. I definitely wouldn’t consider myself as part of that awkward obsessed-with-Japan-because-of-anime crowd that seems to be growing (“Japanophilia”). From less-than-a-year old to three-and-a-half, I lived in Tokyo — my dad worked there for about six years altogether — so naturally, I’m curious about the country I spent my infanthood in.

When my Tita Giselle, who was at the mini-reunion in La Puente, offered us a choice between J-Town (Japantown, or Little Tokyo) and K-Town (Koreatown), I naturally chose J-Town as my go-to place. Not only that, but my dad prefers Japanese food over Korean food.

We went to the Weller Court Shopping Area, a multi-level outdoor shopping center. In the parking lot, Tita Giselle gave us the infamous, small box of donuts she promised me we’d get.

As we looked for a restaurant, there were three main contenders: a curry restaurant, a Japanese barbecue restaurant, and a ramen restaurant. The ramen place, Orochon Ramen, was featured on Man v. Food, so I thought we might as well go there! Besides, I haven’t really had any good ramen; I’ve only had the instant ramen that you can buy at the Asian supermarket.

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A-Frame and Uncle Steve

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After driving from La Puente, we stayed with my mom’s college friend (Uncle Steve) who lives in Torrance.

For dinner, he brought us to a place in Culver City called A-Frame — a trendy Asian-fusion restaurant created by Roy Choi, the creator and chef behind the wildly-popular Korean-style Kogi food trucks. A-Frame serves what could be considered “modern picnic food,” with menu items such as furikake kettle corn, baby back ribs, beer can chicken, and pandesal.

A few of my favorites from our order were the kitchen fries, the baby back ribs, and a whole beer can chicken.

The kitchen fries weren’t what the average person would consider “fries.” Instead, they were better. The kitchen fries were slices of purple Okinawan potato, yam, and Korean sweet potato topped with sea salt and served with a kimchi sour cream sauce. The purple Okinawan potato was surprisingly addictive. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be having them for a long time.

The baby back ribs were delicious! I’ve never had better ones in my life! Personally, I’m not a huge fan of barbecue — ribs included — which is ridiculous since I live in Texas. Texans eat barbecue, and it makes it incredibly awkward for me whenever I go to someone’s house or some social gathering and they serve barbecue. Even the high school I’m attending this fall wanted to have a new student barbecue! (It ended up raining so I didn’t go.)

These ribs, on the other hand, tasted good. I didn’t have that feeling like I wanted to throw up after taking my first bite! The baby back ribs served at A-Frame were glazed in hoisin-chili sauce — hoisin is used in char siu (Chinese-flavored barbecued meat) — and had a much more Korean flavor.

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The beer can chicken was also surprisingly good. The chicken was served with kimchi, century egg, and salsa roja, and salsa verde. However, both sauces had flavors much more reminiscent to Indian cuisine — the red sauce was stronger and spicier while the green sauce had a cooler, mintier taste.

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For dessert, Uncle Steve tried to bring us to an ice cream place near Venice Beach. Unfortunately, the place’s generator broke so they were closed for the night. We decided to walk through Venice Beach since we were so close — I wanted to get a picture of the beach while the sun was setting — and I was in for a big surprise.

Venice Beach is full of people with diverse lifestyles and interests. It’s absolutely crazy! Walk through the boardwalk at night and you’ll find palm readings, people singing and playing guitars, flashing lights, people on skateboards flying past you, street food, and so much more! Venice Beach, while beautiful in the daytime and probably more “normal,” is a prime location for great people watching (if you’re not afraid to see a few startling types of people).

My dad pointed out that the guy with the turban who was playing music had been there since he was in college. My dad’s been out of college for a very long time. In the end, we decided to ditch Venice Beach and go somewhere else. (Unfortunately, the sun set before we could get out to the beach itself.)

Just a little side note, but the MasterChef episode that aired on July 2 (“Top 12 Compete”) took place in Venice Beach. The episode involved three teams in a food truck battle. Each team was assigned a different cuisine (Mexican, American, and Indian) and competed to see which truck would make the most money. I thought that was interesting since I also happened to spot a food truck, albeit it was parked and closed, in Venice Beach.

Uncle Steve ended up bringing us to a shaved ice place, since he wanted us to see what shaved ice is. It’s such an interesting concept, and I think it would sell really well in Dallas. (Hear that entrepreneurs?)

The shaved ice place he brought us to sold a regular sized bowl for $3.50 with 50¢ for each topping and 25¢ for an extra drizzled sauce. Not only that, but the place was cash only.

Fun Fact: The total cost per bowl (including the cost for spoons) for shaved ice comes out to only 27 cents!

In the morning, I woke up to a very good breakfast consisting of toast, eggs, bacon, strawberries, blueberries, and orange juice prepared by Uncle Steve. It tasted delicious! Honestly, I didn’t expect for him to be good at making breakfast!

After eating breakfast, we rushed out of the house to get to the Philippine Consulate.

Family Friends in La Puente

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This may sound somewhat shocking considering I was in Los Angeles and the Bay Area for about 11 days, but I only had Filipino food once during the entire trip. Isn’t that crazy? Thank goodness it was good Filipino food!

July 1 was the beginning of the busiest part of our vacation. My family and I left Camarillo that morning to make the drive to La Puente, where one of my mom’s grade school classmates lives.

Before we officially “left” Camarillo, we stopped by the place — a small building outside a strawberry farm — that sold Tita Chabeth the sweetest strawberries I’d ever tasted. We bought one bag of them as a gift for my mom’s classmate.

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Camarillo is over seventy miles away from La Puente, so it took a while to get there (to say the least). The one thing I noticed is that the temperature outside got hotter as we got closer!

When we finally made it, we were greeted by some of my mom’s grade school classmates who live in the area. Lunch, entirely Filipino food, was untouched on the table, and we were told to eat. That’s one of the things I noticed about Filipinos in general — food is a top priority in social gatherings. Don’t serve food? You’re not a good host.

Want to hear a difference between Los Angeles and Dallas? Smaller homes. Homes in LA just tend to be… well, smaller. Sometimes, it’s a little shocking to see that not every house fits Dallas norms. Personally, I kind of like smaller houses. They give that more cozy and “homey” feel.

One of my mom’s classmates also had three children that she brought along with her: two daughters (both older than me) and one son who was slightly younger than me. I’ve noticed something — a somewhat disturbing trend — throughout my trip regarding people around my age: once you hit around age 12 or 13, talking with peers you don’t know can be very… awkward.

If you’ve never met in person or you don’t follow each other very much on social media like Facebook or Instagram (trust me, it makes a huge difference), then you have to go through an obligatory “warming up” period filled with very little talking. It usually takes somewhere between a few hours and a few days, but it’s usually towards the “few days” end if any one is on the shyer side.

It makes me jealous of my younger brother, a seven-year-old, who can just find anyone near his age and start playing with them. When you’re young, you can just play whenever you want with whoever you want. You don’t have to have anything in common — some of my friends I met when I was younger turned out to like the opposite of the things I like — you just have to want to play!

Those three definitely had one major advantage over me, though. They actually know what Filipino food is. Seeing the three of them get food on their own made me feel out of place. I had to keep whispering to my mom, “What’s that? Is that good?”

The biggest problem is that my mom doesn’t make traditional Filipino food. (Every adobo I’ve tasted tastes similar, except for my mom’s.) My mom has this tendency to “fusion-ize” or just simply change her Filipino food so that it’s more “fun.” I can’t complain, though. After all, I do like my mom’s cooking best. (Everyone should like their mother’s cooking most of all, right?)

I got my food and sat down on the couch with the other three — they were finishing their food — as I tried my best to not sit too close to them. I’d rather not be remembered as the person who doesn’t know personal boundaries.

Like any good Filipino household, The Filipino Channel (TFC) was on in their living room. It gave us all something to stare at, and it distracted them from noticing my complete helplessness with the food. The only problem was that I don’t speak Filipino. I don’t know if they understood Filipino (maybe they thought I spoke Filipino?), but I ended up just staring at the television hopelessly. They at least seemed to know what was going on.

“Just make up a conversation based on their facial expressions!” my friend Alessia texted me. (For those of you who watch TFC, it was one of those pop culture shows where they talk about celebrities and trendy things.)

The three kids seemed very nice, just a little bit on the shyer side. They’re probably like me; I don’t do that well with a group of people I don’t know. When they left, they all still said, “Nice meeting you,” which I thought was very kind considering we barely spoke to each other. I’m sure that if there was more time, maybe another day, we would’ve definitely started talking a lot more. (It happened later in my vacation with my cousins I didn’t even know existed, so it’s definitely possible.)

I ended up sitting there on the couch watching TFC. I had absolutely no idea what I was watching, because there were some children (and I do mean children) singing “What Makes You Beautiful” by One Direction. It was complete with lyrics on the screen, beach scenes, and a girl their age.

It was great to see my mom’s classmates again. Tita Giselle, who stayed at my house a few years ago when she and Tita Happy visited, actually remembered the promise she made me years ago! She promised that we would go out for donuts together (we both love donuts, although we don’t have them often), and she told me that she would bring donuts with her tomorrow when we go to the Philippine Consulate. I would’ve never guessed that she would remember!

It was great seeing my mom have so much fun. Occasionally, she’ll remark about the food we had there and how good it was. I’ll always respond with, “Which one was that?”

After we left La Puente, we began the drive down to my mom’s college friend’s house, whom I affectionately call “Uncle Steve.”