Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Happy 4th of July

We packed a lot into just one day today....

After working part of the day today -- [why, if it's called a national holiday, are so many places allowed to be open? Couldn't we survive just one day every few months where only public transportation, convenience stores and a few restaurants were open? Who else is old enough to remember when a holiday meant businesses were closed and most people were off work for the day and could spend time with their family and friends???!!!] -- I dashed home, changed and left for the AFC Bears pool party at Steve and Mike's place.

They've really got a killer location for summer parties. There's room outside in the yard to set up a bar, a buffet area and a grill, they have a big pool, lots of seating and space.... I've been to two pool parties there -- the place and the crowd are both memorable!

After quite a few hours socializing at the party, Tj., Bill, Dave and I headed back to our place, had a quick bite to eat and then drove to Bill's office building downtown. It is one of the top places in the city to see the fireworks -- 30 floors up, just off the bay, and balconies you can go out on for unobstructed views. Here's one of the shots I took this evening.

Happy 4th, everyone!

- T

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Great Dim Sum Find!

This is a shot of Chinatown in San Francisco. As long as I lived in SF and as often as I have visited the city since then, I never get enough of Chinatown (and the great food you can get there!) My favorite? Cha siu bau. Hands down. (There are a multitude of spellings and transliterations -- the one I wrote [and not the Wikipedia-preferred spelling] is the one I'm most familiar with.)

Our first day in San Francisco started with our schlepping our bags from Oakland to downtown San Francisco.

Ugh. How did they build BART in the '70s and not connect Oakland International Airport to the system? Who planned that fiasco? According to Wikipedia, about 14 million passengers traveled through the airport in 2004 -- and it must have increased since then. And still, the nearest BART stop is at the Coliseum -- about 4 miles (6.4 km) away. In order to get to the City, unless you splurge on a cab or limo, you must take the AirBART shuttle bus from the airport to the BART stop. It costs only $3 (exact bills ONLY!), but can be packed with travelers and luggage. Also, depending on traffic (and maybe the route the driver takes?), the ride can take more than 20 minutes!

When you finally arrive at the BART station, you now have to figure out the pre-paid fare card system, put enough money on the card to cover your ride and then insert (and retain) your ticket in the turnstile. Keep the card handy -- you'll need to re-insert it into a turnstile at your destination in order to leave the system....

Finally, you get on the appropriate train (from Coliseum you catch either a Daly City or Millbrae train) and head to your destination -- SF!

[I'll be fair -- other cities in the US didn't immediately see the advantage of connecting airports to public transportation systems either. Chicago has both the enormous O'Hare Airport and the smaller Midway Airport. But, they didn't connect the airports to the CTA train system until 1984 and 1993, respectively. San Diego International Airport has no trolley connection to the airport -- but there are shuttle buses that run right to downtown, and the airport's already basically in the city center -- it's only 2-3 miles away from Broadway.]

Unless the airfare is much lower flying into Oakland, or you're renting a car (not recommended if you're just visiting SF), I highly suggest flying into SFO. Travelers coming through SFO fare much better nowadays -- the BART line finally connected to SFO in 2003. Also, in the very near future (August 2007), the mega-cheap airline Southwest will begin flying into/out of SFO again. Hurrah!

OK, on to food. We walked from Market down 9th to our motel in SoMa. (Is it still a motel if you don't drive there?) Room wasn't ready, but we checked in and checked our bags. Then, instead of hanging around wasting time for 20 minutes, we decided to head out for lunch!

We didn't have anywhere in mind -- just didn't want burgers or the like. Bill had done a lot of online dim sum research before we headed to SF, but unfortunately he didn't have any of the info with him. So, we started doing phone and Treo searches and, while walking toward and then through Chinatown, happened upon a few reviews for Hang Ah Tea Room -- not really a tea room, it turns out, but the 'oldest Chinese restaurant in Chinatown', so they say.

There were enough reviews to warrant checking it out -- and was it worth it.

Getting there was half the fun. You head up Grant through the Chinatown Gate. Pass the many shops (you can get souvenirs after you fill your belly!) and head up the hill. When you come to Sacramento, make a left up the hill. Go past Waverly (but come back later to see what the less commercial side of Chinatown looks like). On your right you'll see the Willie "Woo Woo" Wong Playground. (I kid you not!) Go just past "Woo Woo" and make a right on Pagoda Place. The Hang Ah Tea Room is at the end of the alley on your left, at the back of the building.

When you go in, take a good look at the old pictures of Chinatown and some of the residents from last century. Then, head into the dining area and behold the neon poster paint motif! It is a sort of lime green/yellow, I think. Don't let this discourage you. Get a table, a menu and start ordering from the a la carte section. Don't be distracted by the full meals -- a la carte is where the good stuff is! You can supplement your dim sum selections with some chow fun like we did, but it's not necessary if you like fried foods.

The three of us filled ourselves with delicious dim sum, had an order of chow fun, soft drinks -- and left the place paying about $30 total. A great deal, really good food, nice friendly service -- what else could we ask for?

- T