Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas, everyone! Here are one or two photos we took yesterday:

Here are a few photos from today...

This morning I drew the short straw to get up at 6.45am and move the car out of the parking spot for street cleaning. Usually I just drive round the neighbourhood rather aimlessly fighting over car parking spaces, but this morning I decided to take the camera and take a few pictures instead of hang around 4 or 5 streets for half an hour or more waiting for the cleaner to pass.

This is the beach next to Fisherman's Wharf - so gorgeous early in the morning.

Lombard Street (aka SF's crookedest street) early in the morning... what you don't see in the photo is the busload of tourists....

I also attended the 4pm service at Grace based on the Kings College Cambridge 9 Lessons in Carols, and Brendan and I attended the Midnight Mass with a fully-packed church. It was absolutely amazing and I'm still buzzing a little bit! I've never seen the massive bronze doors open before...

Monday, December 17, 2007

More Christmas pictures

Gratuitous harbour photo down at AT&T (Baseball) Park, a block from work. I walk here at lunch sometimes.

On Saturday we drove down to San Jose and, amongst other things spent an hour sending our families Christmas presents. It is supposed to get there in 6-8 business days - given there are only 6 business days before Christmas, that is worrying! Apparently today is the busiest postage day of the year.

OK: Christmas decorations from photos I've taken recently - just because you all need to see just how cool it looks here. I love the photo of the Christmas ornament - the background is Union Square, and it's the huge tree in the middle. It's around 8.15 am in the morning last Friday, and the sun is just rising. Click on the photos to make them bigger.

Nob Hill Park and Grace Cathedral with Christmas lights:

Down at the Embarcadero Center (American sp!) somewhere....

Friday, December 14, 2007

Our first parking ticket...

Tonight when we got home from the gym we met a very distraught neighbour, the one who lives underneath us. She was carrying a box to jump-start her car, which was parked on the top of the street and had a dead battery, and the jump-start portable battery wouldn't work. We tried to charge it using our car, but it really didn't want to work. So in the end she called her ex-boyfriend, whose car it was. I can hear her yelling at him right now. (She is very distraught, poor thing.)

The other day I came home and saw a police car parked outside our house. I was a bit concerned for a moment but went inside and everything was fine. No police at the house of the crazy lady next door, etc etc. Turns out that just before I came home there were 6 police cars outside our apartment, with police crouching outside the door of the neighbour downstairs, guns at the ready! They somehow thought she was involved in human trafficking of underage Asian sex workers! Seriously! Apparently it's a huge issue in California right now, which is horrible - people come in on boats, she told us, and are smuggled through the country.

Tonight we also discovered our very first parking ticket from here! It was $40, for not moving on Monday when the street cleaning truck came by. For a long time, the sign which told you when you had to move had been vandalised, but I noticed last week that it was back up. Guess that should have been our cue.... remember to move it every Monday before 7 am!

But, we're really not too concerned. After all, it would cost us $35 a night to park in the parking buildings around here!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Top 8 Awesome Things I've Found in San Francisco

Having been in San Francisco for almost 3 months now, I've had the time to explore a bit and find a few awesome, unexpected, or otherwise entertaining things. So I thought I'd make a post summing them up for your enjoyment.

In theory these are in order of awesomeness, but in reality they are all awesome.

8. The Greatest Spraypaint Artist Ever
Or if not ever, then at least the most entertaining in my limited experience. This guy is so far above the average punk scrawling illegible mess on bathroom walls they probably don't come within 100 meters of his location out of pure embarrassment.

Every piece of art he creates is done as a live performance incorporating everything from music to fire sprayed out of a can with the aid of a lighter. And the final products are impressive. Take a look below for a taste. This piece, of the Golden Gate at sunset, takes him just over 5 minutes from start to finish. No fire for this one unfortunately ;-)

7. A Castle
In the middle of the Mission District, a central, well-known part of the city, there is a castle. See.

From the official website:
This 200,000 square foot reproduction Moorish Castle was completed in 1914 and was used as a National Guard facility until 1976. It is full of period detail including cavernous dungeon-like basements, stone staircases, sweeping corridors, and a gigantic drill court spanning almost an acre. During rioting in San Francisco in 1934, it served as both a barricade and safety point for officers.
Its current use is much more entertaining. It is owned by kink.com, a fetish porn producer. This only occured recently, so for the years since the National Guard moved out in 1976, San Franciso had a full-fledged abandoned castle right in the middle of town. And now it has a porn castle. And both of these things are awesome in completely different ways.

6. The Stone Balancey Guy
This is a recent one from a bike ride just two days ago. Its awesomeness needs no explanation except to say there is nothing except stones and a lot of patience being used here:

5. The internet as a source of nutrients
Of course I was already familiar with the concept of ordering food online. The Hells Pizza website remains the premier food-related site in my mind. But here you can order almost any kind of food under the sun online.

Mmmm... Japanese Nutrients...

4. A car park
This one I've found several times now. And beleive me, here in San Francisco it's awesome every single time. A couple of American friends have told us that we'll know we're true Californians when the sight of a good parking spot brings tears to our eyes.

Just recently we had to have our car jump-started by the AA. We hadn't used it for three weeks because we found a really good spot and didn't want to lose it.

We don't know who DPT are, but they t0w you away when you park next to a curb coloured anything but grey.

3. A Sea View
As it turns out, the view from the top of our street is pretty spectacular. It just took me a week and a half to notice because it was always covered in fog.
It's not always this foggy, but it's a rare morning you can see all the way to the water.

2. A Chocolate Factory
Because not only is it a chocolate factory right there in the city, which produces great chocolate, they also give out free samples. Every day. To everyone who walks in the door. Even if you just go around in a little loop and come back 60 seconds later. They're too busy selling huge amounts of expensive chocolate to notice (or care).

1. A Mysterious Dark Tower with Evil Spires
Honestly, you can see this thing towering in the distance practically anywhere in San Francisco. They have to edit it out of the tourism photos.
Hint: Look for the evil tower of doom lurking in the foggy distance.

Turns out it's actually a radio tower, but San Francisco lore is that the guy who built it designed it the way it is because he liked the idea of the devil looking down on San Francisco. Whether that idea really did inspire the tower or (more likely) the tower inspired the idea, the key message is that it's freaky-looking and always watching you.

Note: Evil Spires.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Abercrombie and Fitch fun

Abercrombie and Fitch is an American (mostly men's) store which is known for its expensive clothing, attractive and snooty salespeople, and promotion of a certain "affluent sportsman"/ "preppy" lifestyle. The tagline for their website says "The highest quality, casual, All-American lifestyle clothing for aspirational men and women", and they only use actual employees as their models for their ads. Anyway. I could spend a long time deconstructing their messages... but you're all not media students, so I won't.

Here is a link to a series of video skits which mock the brand...

And here is a picture of me with one of the models who stood at the front of the store and posed. Seriously. That's all they did. Look left, look right, pose. Look left, look right, and... pose. There were two guys dressed in identical red jackets, jeans and sandals, both just as "ripped". They didn't seem to mind me asking one of the salesgirls to take a photo. I got the impression they had that all the time. (Look at the photo behind us, as well...)

The skits aren't actually far off!!

Christmas in San Francisco

While we're not in the midst of suburbia, where I'm told the residents really go nuts with Christmas decorating, San Francisco is still quite cool during Christmas. Here is a small glimpse from photos today... (finally done the Christmas shopping for family - many shops were perused for their respective benefits. We hope they like.)

Inside the mall on Market and 5th Streets:

Street view including the Apple store looking along Stockton and Market: (not strictly Christmas but still interesting - and yes that is steam coming from a manhole in the road - it always happens - and if you look in the background, there are lights from the outside of Macy's.):

Macy's shops around the outside of Union Square:

They also put up the Christmas tree in Union Square every year: (sorry if it's blurry)

On the left of the Macy's store, a large tree has been put up in the Neiman Marcus store - this one and Macy's are kinda like Kirks department store in Wellington:

Anyway, that's enough photos for now - I didn't take that many today. I just have one more, but that has its own post!

Thursday, December 06, 2007


This morning, on the bus, an old man asked me if his breath smelt like garlic, and breathed on me. I replied, "I don't know!" Seriously! How disgusting is that? Who asks a perfect stranger if their breath smells like garlic? I really don't want to know.

Maybe I should dye my hair brown.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Black Friday antics (the day after Thanksgiving)

Black Friday is traditionally the most crazed, consumer-driven day of the year. It's the day after Thanksgiving, when half of America realises it only has one month until Christmas and oh help how am I going to get time to buy something for my second cousin twice removed?!

But, I saved that stuff for today. At least, I bought stuff for me. While I lamented my spending habits, Brendan pointed out that a.) it was all stuff I needed and had been wanting to buy for ages, like $30 brown boots with kitten heels (seriously!) and b.) that I already had set aside the money for it anyway. (He went to the airport with Alex to see his ex-lecturer for an hour, so he was spared the shopping. Anyway, I work best alone.)

Town was crazy today, especially Union Square and all the high-end shops in that area. Far more packed with people than most Saturday mornings, which are already pretty crowded along the Powell - Market - Sutter area.

Christmas songs were playing. All the Christmas trees twinkled furiously. Tourists tried to get on the cable car. Tourists thought that standing by the kerb would make the cable car come to them (it's on rails... the rest of the people on the cable car laughed openly at them). And everywhere, the bargain-hunters searched frantically with an air of desperation that somewhere, on perhaps that rack or this aisle, might be the perfect pair of shoes that someone else had already swooped on.

But that was today. Yesterday, we had a more interesting day than shopping. We went biking, we went ice-skating and we went and sang karaoke. Yes you heard right... oh the shame...why am I even telling you all?!

We hired bikes and helmets and went for a bike ride across the Golden Gate bridge. It was a perfect day - calm, sunny and a cloudless sky. Absolutely stunning and reasonably cool. (What you don't see in this photo is that recently there was a huge toxic oil spill here and many birds died, and the beach is only just safe enough to walk on again. But you certainly can't eat any of the seafood.)

We are geeks! See, perfect weather. Pretty pretty.

Now Brendan is also talking about this but I think the balanced stones make a nice picture.

On the bridge, we stopped by one of the large posts on the bridge to take a picture. It was a blind corner, and some cyclists stopped on the right hand side of the bridge, opposite from us. Just then, another bike came whizzing around the corner and collided with someone coming the opposite way. The guy who fell over hurt his knee, and said to his friend who had stopped, "You stupid d**khead, why did you stop there for? I told you not to do that, mate!" in the broadest Kiwi accent. Brendan and I thought it was so typically Kiwi!

We also saw a guy in the bike shop from Wellington/Palmy as well on the same day which was pretty unusual as we haven't seen any other Kiwis (apart from our friends) for months. He was in SF for a week before he headed off to Denmark for work.

After we'd dropped our bikes back at the hire shop, we went and had coffee in North Beach near the shop. The owners had a sign: "Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we diet".

The owners laughingly told us that people loved the sign, and often espoused those exact values, saying, "I'm only 300 pounds!" (around 150 kg in very rough estimation), and, "I'm starting my diet tomorrow!"

Halfway through our ride, Stefan called and asked if we wanted to go ice-skating - did I ever! I haven't been before so I was looking forward to it.

So along with Hannah's sisters Claire and Ingrid and her mum, and Hannah and Stefan, we went off to the Embarcadero where a seasonal outdoor rink had been set up. It was fun - I fell over a lot, everyone laughed at me including people on the sidelines, and I have a few bruises today I didn't notice getting last night. I got the hang of it pretty much immediately. I don't care if I fell over, it was fun. Brendan wasn't as keen as me, but he gave it a good shot too. I think next time we will go to the one in Yerba Buena Gardens which is larger and hopefully will let us skate for longer. Still, 2 hours is long enough really when you get a bit puffed.

Lastly we went back to Claire's flat so they could get ready for karaoke, and played the "flag the taxi for 6 people" game which we lost, and had to play the "tag two taxis for 3 people each" game instead. Our taxi driver was nuts - I thought he would accelerate into other cars quite a few times.

The pub was very much like a NZ pub, but with Americans instead. Country songs had half the pub up and line dancing - I kid you not.

Brendan and I talked to a guy who lived in California but was from London. His wife was also from London but 7 months pregnant, so he was taking the best man at their wedding out for a night.

So we all did a few songs... highlights of the evening include Stefan and Hannah doing the "I like big butts" song, Brendan, Stefan and I doing a Crowded House song and the Americans being confused, and some guy singing the "Okie from Muskogee" song which Dad always sings the chorus to but I'd never heard all the verses. Anyway. I should stop talking about karaoke now. It's the first time I've ever done it, and it scares me.

"I like big butts and I cannot lie..." Hannah and Stefan really get into it.

Thanksgiving, a true American holiday

We were eager to experience our first Thanksgiving the proper American way, best summarized by various people at work as "you eat a whole pile and stuff yourself, then sit around with your family and watch TV." Sounds like a NZ Christmas!

So we called our friend Onita down in San Jose, and she invited us to her 'mom's' house in Hollister for Thanksgiving dinner.

We thought the traffic would be atrocious so we left early... we needn't have bothered. The road was pretty quiet the whole way down. It was more busy on the 101 when we came back.

So we drove to Onita's in San Jose, and she drove us to her mum's house in Hollister, about another 45 minutes or so south of San Jose (beyond Gillroy). It was a sleepy little town with a quiet main street. Onita's mum owns her own boutique out in Gilroy, but she commutes because it's less expensive - people now commute from Gilroy to San Jose and San Francisco. That's like commuting from Eketahuna to Wellington every single day - exhausting!

We've been out a few times with Onita's mum, Marie, including our tour of San Francisco when we'd just moved to San Jose. She's really lovely. She and her partner Calvin have 5 chihuahuas, and one baby one that was a week old. I spent most of the time there patting as many of the chihuahuas as I could lay my hands on at once! Onita's brother James and his girlfriend Alex also came. So it was fun. We had a 20-pound turkey and cranberry jelly (it was the colour and shape of sliced beetroot) and mashed potato and beans and pumpkin pie for dessert. Yum. I even had a slice of turkey, even though I'm actually fully vegetarian now - no fish except salmon once in a while. And even then I don't really like it.... (I can hear Brendan's screams in the background... he tried so hard to get me to like fish, he really tried.)

James and Alex had another dinner at 3pm, since we had dinner at 12.30 - they must have been sooooo full afterwards! So we left almost immediately after dinner there and went back home, to have a lazy day. Even Onita said "Mom kicked us out pretty early! Usually I have to make up an excuse!" Her mum is pretty sweet and lovely though - Onita originally wasn't going to go anywhere for Thanksgiving, until we called. Her mum had been asking her for two weeks to come for dinner there, and she didn't want to. So when we called, she asked Stefan if she should buy a whole turkey at Safeway and cook us a dinner! Then she decided to just take us to her mum's house, which was really lovely. Her mum was actually going to bring her dinner up in San Jose if she didn't come down, which we think was sweet. (Onita was complaining.)

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What not to ask at the doctor's....

Cabbie asked me the other day whether I'd seen anything stereotypically American recently. While at the doctor's the next morning, filling out all the forms full of highly personal questions, I started laughing. The first was, "Do you wear a seatbelt?" Heaps of older Americans apparently don't believe in them. The second was, "Do you own a gun?" "Is it in a safe place?" I took a photo but it didn't turn out.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Here are some photos of our past few weekends....

We've been trying to get out and about at least one day a weekend in the last few weeks, or we'll just sit inside and play on our computers, the geeks that we are. So, here are a selection of photos from our travels: (click on them to expand them)

The view from the bus stop on California Street (it's the bus which takes me up the hill) - you can see the Bay Bridge (not Golden Gate) in the background.

The real Chinatown! (click on the pictures for a bigger and better view) It's always packed on a Saturday morning - this is where the Chinese come to do their shopping, and not on Grant which is the touristy area.

Here is the Fairmont Hotel, our house is just behind where I am standing!

Here is my church, Grace Cathedral (taken from the cable car...) - it's awesome and I love it. One day I'll get up there and take some photos of the entire inside and all the little details.

Here's one of the buses on the F-line - they are old trolley buses rescued from all over the world. Here's another that we travelled on to Fisherman's Wharf:

Last weekend, we decided that since it was the last day Brendan had his bus pass, we would travel around on all the cable cars, and the trolley bus. So once we got to Fisherman's Wharf, we went over to our favorite chocolate factory: (they give out free samples - usually caramel squares. This one's a limited edition peppermint one for Christmas.

We ordered extremely decadent sundaes... mine was blueberries with cheescake icecream! Brendan's was far nicer - dark chocolate and peppermint icecream. Very rich though! (And, don't get the cheesecake icecream - the cheesecake goes chewy.)

We sat on the beach across the road and ate our icecream - now how much like Wellington's Oriental Pde does this look like?

But, the presence of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcotraz kinda give it away....

Anyway, it was very nice and relaxing, and we walked out on the pier and took terrible photos and watched people feeding a seal. It was very funny when the seagull stole the fish - the seal chased it, leaping out of the water!

OK, so that is enough photos for now. More to come, as usual.

MUNI is evil....

But that should come as no surprise to people here. San Francisco has several public transport systems: BART, MUNI and the cable cars, as well as Caltrain and Greyhound for longer trips. So MUNI includes the light rail and the buses, and for $45 a month, if you hurry, you can buy a pass which gives you access to all MUNI, cable cars and BART within San Francisco. I usually take the bus to work, as it stops right outside or a block away from my work, depending on what mood the bus driver's in.

The bus I take, number 30 (and sometimes the 45) has been shown to be the slowest bus in all of San Francisco - in rush hour, you can walk faster than the bus drives - 3.7 miles an hour! So a bus ride that would take 10 mins to drive, takes more like 45 minutes on the bus. The worst part is 3rd Street, where my work is - it is the main street that comes off the freeway and is very very slow.

The other thing is that the buses are crowded. Very crowded. Think the subway in New York, and you'll be close. The amount of mornings I've squeezed onto the bus and hung on so that I'm hanging over the door, and almost get squashed by the door as it opens! Sometimes the drivers will kick you off if they think it's too full already, but most don't care if there are people standing at the front. You also have to give up your seat by law for someone who is disabled or elderly, which is probably a good idea that it's law! So the front of the bus especially is populated by little old Asian women babbling away to each other, and stern old Asian men gripping their purchases tightly, and cramped people gripping the bar above their heads, wearing their iPods and swaying sharply every time the bus screeches to a halt. Which is often.

(On a random note, I don't know if it's just where I live, and that the bus comes from Chinatown, but there are so many Chinese people here! As in, way more Chinese people than Caucasians, on the bus at least. I barely see Hispanic people here, compared to the huge population in San Jose which is more Hispanic than anything else!)

But, part of the reason the bus is so crowded is that I get on at the stop 2 blocks away from the main Chinatown stop, in another stop which is part of Chinatown as well. People cram onto and rush at the bus - they push you so hard at the mid-Chinatown stop that you actually get pushed back into the bus! It's true that the Chinese people have no concept of the queue. Chinatown really is a lot how I imagine China to be - but that's another post.

Anyway, I'm telling you all this because something funny happened on the bus tonight. Oracle is currently hosting a huge conference at the Moscone Centre, so there are lots of people, lots of traffic, and two huge LCD screens at the end of huge Oracle marquees, all over the middle of 3rd Street. So the buses are very slow - I had to wait an extra 20 minutes the other day for a bus, when I was already late for work, which was quite unusual.

So I got on the bus after work, and we lurched off. A few minutes down the road, a taxi was blocking the bus lane. (Taxis are awful - they drive so dangerously. I'm scared of them. They run red lights all the time, and don't care if they hit you.) So the bus driver, who is this African-American woman, starts getting mad at it and telling it to move. I thought she was just voicing her frustration, but no. After 2 seconds, her voice came out of a loudspeaker on the bus! I didn't even know that buses had them!

A few more stops later, the bus driver once again voiced her frustration, telling the car ahead, "Don't you f......... badmouth me!" and all sorts of statements! It was very funny to hear her saying this, and then hear it coming out of the loudspeaker two seconds later. The whole bus started laughing.

Later on, the bus driver starts yelling at someone who cuts her off in traffic... and once again it comes out of the loudspeakers. It was rather incongruous - I'm not sure I would want my angry ramblings broadcast for other people to hear....

There's a rule on MUNI that says you can't get on at the back door, but lots of people do - both to save time, or space if there's none, or, to get away with not paying for your ticket. MUNI has a terrible ticket collection rate, so I'm sure a lot of the people who get on at the back don't actually have a ticket. So, back on the bus, a guy tries to get on at the back door. The driver stops gets out her loudspeaker again and tells him to get off the bus and get back on at the front . He refuses, other people start yelling at the driver to just go, that its discriminatory since she didn't tell people to do that at other stops, that it's rush hour and they would pay the guy's ticket just so she would go again, etc etc. Finally the guy got off the bus and on again at the other end, and we lurched off again. I will not miss the MUNI commute when we leave.