Thursday, December 10, 2015

Best Coast

It's warmer here than we expected. Normally this part of the coast is cooler in the fall, but luck is on our side. I tie my sweater around my waist, letting the gentle sun tickle my skin. We take a stroll around the wharf to walk off our rich clam chowder lunch. During previous visits, I'd always been able to hear the barking of the sea lions at the end of the wharf, but this day is an especially quiet one. We soon find out why. Peering over the edge, we see nearly one hundred sea lions rafted together, snoozing in the afternoon sun. Fin to fin, head to head, they silently float along. 

My grandma and I were inspired to go on a road trip by the travel class that we take together at the local senior center. There, we are whisked to a different destination every Friday morning by our instructor and her slideshow of pictures. Wanting to to get out of town and see some things for ourselves, we invited my grandmother's sister, my Auntie Emily, booked a few hotels and set off down the California coast. 

Santa Cruz is my grandma's favorite place. We walk to the Boardwalk, past the the Giant Dipper and the carousel, where riders grab metal rings from a machine and aim to throw them into a giant clown's mouth. We wind through crowds of families and couples and teeny boppers. Everyone is taking advantage of the good weather. Our destination: dime pitch. I packed a little coin purse just for the occasion. We find ourselves lucky once again. Toss one, then two, then three dimes into three Christmas-themed mugs. 

Winter is coming, but up here on La Cuesta Encantada it feels like an endless summer. That's what Hearst Castle once was, a summer home. A place where William Randolph Hearst invited an elite group of friends to frolic on the hills with exotic animals by day and sip cocktails in the grand rooms by night. The Pacific glimmers below, stretching to the ends of the earth. I take some time to wander the grounds and get lost in this vibrant paradise. 

The languorous breeze as you sit 'neath the trees
Is laden with scent from the flowers
And the castle nearby, lifts its mass to the sky
And the lights glimmer down from the towers...
--William Randolph Hearst

While traveling with Grandma and Auntie Emily, I can confidently say I live in the moment. Our pace is unrushed; we take our time and cruise along leisurely, stopping to savor the sights, sounds, smells and tastes. We walk along the marina at Morro Bay, fascinated by Morro Rock, a colossal mass of earth that shoots straight up out of the water. Fishermen haul in the fresh catch of the day and dogs pitter patter happily down the dock, owners in tow. 

We make our way down the pier at Pismo Beach. 
Below us, a wedding ceremony takes place on the waterfront. 
The groom may now kiss the bride. 
The crowd goes wild. 
What a beautiful day. 

Solvang means "sunny valley" in Danish. Our next destination is the tiny village founded by settlers from Denmark. Aboard a horse drawn carriage, we ride past the cottages in their signature half-timbered style. We pedal little red bicycles toward the sun setting between two hills. In the morning, we will eat a pancake breakfast at Paula's Pancake House. Maybe it's all a fairytale. Maybe it's just a dream. 

Our final stop is Santa Barbara, where we stumble upon a magnificent court house. The colorful tiles and swirling staircases leave us awestruck. We shop on State Street and find a fountain filled with little turtles, swimming and climbing on the rocks. As we eat lunch on the harbor, the waves quietly glide up and down the shore at low tide. I see a boat in the harbor dubbed Star Wonder. I can't help but think that the whimsical aura of that name embodies the essence of our road trip: bright, fleeting and full of wonder. 

Thursday, November 26, 2015

To Grandpa: A Thank You Letter

Thanksgiving and the holidays in general always prompt a period of reflection for me. The year is winding down, the seasons are in transition, and before we know it, a new year is upon us, lofty resolutions and all. 

This holiday season will be a bittersweet one. Though I am thankful for the time I will get to spend with many loved ones, I am reminded of a great presence I will dearly miss: my grandpa. A wise friend once told me during a difficult time, "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." In the same vein, I would like to take the opportunity during this season of gratitude to express my appreciation for the memories I shared with my grandpa.
Dr. Kenneth Fujii was my grandpa. But to me, “Grandpa” was far from being his only role. To me, he was my favorite teacher, an extraordinary storyteller, my moral compass and inspiration to whom I looked for the right thing to do. He was my hero and I grew up wanting to be just like him.

A lover of storytelling, Grandpa never failed to tell a good tale. From the books he read and movies that he watched to the events featured on the front page of the paper, his stories were vividly spun. I listened to these stories on the carpet of my family room floor huddled around the heater in the winter, on the drive to Lake Tahoe, during hikes through the woods and over the phone once I had gone to college. But the story I had become the most captivated by was not one you will find featured in any film or novel. My favorite one was his.
Grandpa first told me his life story when I was 10 years old. It was for my fifth grade Heritage Report. Part of the requirement was to interview a family member and learn more about my family’s history. I learned he lived during the Great Depression, spent his teenage years in an internment camp during World War II, served the country during the Korean War. And yet, despite all of these obstacles, he established his own dental practice, raised a beautiful and successful family, and never hesitated to give back to his community through all of his service organizations.
What resonated with me the most were the words at the end of his interview: “I hope to leave behind as my legacy the virtues of what my parents preached; that is to be honest, humble, study hard, work hard, persevere and have faith in whatever you believe in.” In that, he said it all.

These were not just words. Grandpa exercised these ideals in his every action.

He constantly told me that his deepest wish was for each generation to be better than the one preceding it. Better did not mean wealthier in a monetary sense. It did not mean heightened social status. Better meant richer in opportunities. Better meant heightened education and enrichment. Better in health. Better in happiness.
Grandpa was so forward thinking. Every so often, I would receive little notes in the mail from him. Like this one...

To Karisa:
Subject: What It Takes To Succeed
Enclosed is an example of what this person did. Thought you would be interested in this article.

Attached was an article on a Gates Scholar who was planning to attend Stanford in the fall.

Here’s another…

To Karisa
From Grandpa

He carefully hand cut and pasted his favorite quotations collected from newspapers, magazines, letters and speeches onto a sheet of paper.

MY FAVORITE IS THIS (he annotated in all caps)

“My interest is in the future because I’m going to be spending the rest of my life there.”
-Charles Kettering, American Engineer and Inventor

Grandpa, you will forever live in the future. Your stories and lessons, smile and humor, generosity and humility, will live on through us. Your lessons are the ones that I will teach my own children one day.

I will miss you and your tidbits of wisdom. But you guided me throughout my entire life and taught me ideals that I will forever live by, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Angeleno Again

I had called Los Angeles home for four years. But when I returned to visit this autumn, I explored the city with fresh eyes. From the new to familiar, every adventure was unique. The sky was a little bluer than I remembered. The palm trees were welcoming, waving in the easy breeze. Everything was more vivid. 
Brunch with Kari at Blue Daisy in Santa Monica. We ordered the Napa Scramble. 
Admiring a chandelier at The Hotel Cafe, a cozy, intimate venue where we saw Alex & Sierra perform. 
Soaking in the sun and a stellar view atop the Los Liones Trail.
One of the many highlights of my trip was our visit to Malibu for a wine safari, where the vineyard invites guests to "get their wine on in the wild." We boarded an Indiana Jones-esque vehicle and whirled around the ranch, feeding carrots to animals ranging from alpacas to zebras and tasting the local flavors, from pinot noir to sauvignon blanc.  Mountainous Malibu stood against a cloudless sky. It was a perfect day. 
Farhan was my next door neighbor in our freshman dorm and we have been best friends since. A born Texan, but Californian at heart, he flew to the city for the week as well. We had both been to The Getty while we were students, but our experiences had always been rushed. We carefully curated a picnic lunch, and with the help of a friendly docent, found a rooftop patio displaying a panoramic view of the city and coast. We basked in the sun and winded through the exhibits. We took our time sitting on a bench in the gardens. Though a place we had known before, this visit felt like an escape to somewhere new. 
Chatting over iced chai and a carrot & cream cake.
Taking a stroll down Ocean Ave. 
I am so thankful for the days I got to spend in this city of endless sun. I am grateful for the caring friends who took time out of their busy schedules to host and meet with me. Each moment, each memory was one I want to bottle up and keep forever. I'll always be connected to this city and the people whom I have been lucky enough to cross paths with here. Until next time, LA. 

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Right This Way

Sometimes a wrong turn can lead to the right kind of day. The original plan was to hike around Lake Berryessa, but our trail of choice was closed due to damage from a previous fire. Curse the California drought. After getting some directions and tips from a kind local on another trail option, we winded down the highway, through tree-lined roads and dusty grey hills that faded into green. But we missed our turn and found ourselves in Napa. Not a shabby place to stumble upon. 
We spent lunch at the Oxbow Market. On a Saturday afternoon, this medley of local businesses was bustling. Cheese, wine, pumpkins, and ice cream galore. Spice jars stacked neatly in cubbies against the wall. We zig-zagged through the crowd and snagged a table on the patio to enjoy a couple of artisan tacos. Mmm. 
All fueled up, we headed out for an afternoon hike on the Skyline Trail and strolled through a garden flourishing with foliage native to our golden state. A steep descent up, and the panoramic view of the valley took our breaths away. Looking southwest, we caught a hint of the bay. 
Little Lake Marie hid quietly in the shade at our destination. A breeze rippled the water and the chill reached us as we hiked past. Much of the landscape had turned ashy from the drought. A large tree covered in a beard of minty lichen slouched next to our path, its branches so affected by gravity they nearly touched the ground. It looks like a grandfather, I thought.  
A tiny cave carved into the slopes. Abandoned concrete structures. A trough filled with goldfish and seaweed. Little mysteries lined the trail. A family of deer grazed, paying little heed to a group of turkeys a few yards away. The sun sprinkled the hillside, peeking through trees as we made our way back. The wrong way had led to quite a beautiful day.