Cherry Blossoms in Union Square

Passing through Union Square as I do most days saw that the Cherry Blossoms are in bloom

In Japan we would always go the park at this time of year for Hanami (花見). The event is pretty much a picnic where you eat snacks, drink sake and look at the blossoms. The blooms are only out for a week or two and the event is huge in Japan so parks are pretty crowded.

No picnics going on in Union Square but there is the weekly Art show and plenty of tourists!

— Post From My iPhone

Location:Post St,San Francisco,United States

Nanci Pelosi in Town

At the Mark Hopkins – Commonwealth Club Event

Got to see Nanci Pelosi speak at the Mark Hopkins hotel during my lunch hour today.  I really have to hand it to the Commonwealth Club of California.  I also feel a story coming on so let me back up a bit.

When I lived in Vietnam I had access to a lot of governmental types, Ambassadors, Consulate Generals and so on.  The debates were high level and I learned so much about the complexities and realities of many different subjects.

When I returned to the United States and turned on that which is currently passing for news here I felt disheartened to say the least.  Most discourse here is superficial, biased and what I would characterize as a finger painting of the Mona Lisa.  Most international affairs are complicated but the likes of Glen Beck and other talking heads really dumb it down to gain viewership.

Then I found the Commonwealth Club.  This is a non-partisan forum which features internationally renowned speakers and makes them accessible to the general public!  My first thought was that I did not have the influence to attend such events and that they were only for the elite.  I was wrong.

Today, I got to see the Speaker of the House, Nanci Pelosi.  Now politics aside, the last time I saw someone at such a high level I was in Vietnam.  She spoke mostly about Healthcare and the question of the day was from a “Rockefeller Republican,” who is fiscally conservative but “Socially Liberal.”  This person asked how she would respond to someone like him regarding the Healthcare bill.  Her response was “Take back your party!”

This drew a lot of laughs from the audience and was something I agreed with.  The Republicans are not “bad” per se but in recent years have been hijacked by the likes of Palin, Beck and Limbaugh.  I look forward to the days when the party is not dominated by extremists because I am really an independent at heart and could go either way depending on the issue and logic involved.  The trouble is that the views on the right have become so abhorrent and their mouthpiece “Faux News” is despicable.  The Republican party needs to stop being the “Party of No” and get back on track.

If they cannot do that then I would welcome good, honest debate which is certainly not happening at the moment.  Bring back civility to the national discourse and becoming an independent might be more of an option for me.

Changing gears, I think I will also have to write a post on the best Iphone camera app.  The picture above was taken with the Iphone and I’m still looking for a great app that can zoom appropriately.  There is no way I am going to start wearing a camera around my neck and it’s either a camera phone or no picture at all.

Saturday Night Stroll in San Francisco

Around 4:00pm on Saturday I got the urge that often whispers to me but is mostly repressed by planned functions on the weekends. It seems that all too often these determined activities eat up Friday and Saturday night and before one realizes what has happened we are back at work on Monday. It is not that these activities are un-amusing but they can often become a blur and flurry of activity that does not let the mind roam or the possibility of exploring blindly.

Last night I had nothing in particular planned yet my mind cried out “It’s Saturday! Don’t waste it in front of the computer when you are living in San Francisco!” This cry finally overwhelmed my computer addict defenses and before I knew it I was climbing to the top of Nob Hill. My mind kept pressuring me to come up with some sort of plan and some activity. The feeling was that I should do something which would maximize enjoyment to be had on a Saturday night.

The first instinct is to summon forth the wife and go to a restaurant and then perhaps some drinking establishment. The laughter and raucous emanating from these places entices me to come join the fun but I have been there countless times and the “fun-ness” has suffered serious diminishing returns in the past year. It is further hampered that I deem “fun” less the getting drunk, and more-so the meeting of new people. Yet, people tend to stick to themselves much more than in Saigon therefore I have to put forth more of an effort. By the time I logically worked through this predicament the prospect of going out seemed much less enjoyable and the excitement of exploration won out.

Therefore, I ducked into Grace Cathedral at the top of Nob Hill for a dose of history as well as to quiet the mind a little. The church was very dark so instead of inspecting the murals I sat down and had some quiet time. Quiet time seemed more like a pause in time as very little thinking actually took place. It is almost as if my brain has become incapable of deep thought due to the massive amount of stimulus I receive on a minute by minute basis. If I’m not working through the endless stream of work problems, then I’m seeking entertainment on the internet. If I’m away from my computer I’m entertaining myself with my Iphone. It is the rare occasion when I can just sit and be with my thoughts and not have bright lights and loud noises forcing their way into my cranium.

Having achieved a modicum of peace in a 30 minute span it was time to set out again. As I exited the cathedral I looked to my right at the great Masonic temple across from the church. Very little is actually known about the Masons (and I’ve read many books) and I wondered how they could draw the funds to finance such a massive structure in the most expensive area of the city. I also wondered about the deep undercurrent and struggles (if any) between the institution of the Church and the Masons. Why were these buildings across from each other and what did that symbolize?

On the high end of the top left of the temple there are four sculptures of clean-cut men which are laid directly into the face of the marble. They wear short polo shirts, pressed pants and have clean, neat haircuts. Three of them are facing the man who is second on the left and is the only one looking straight ahead. Their hands are also curiously set upon their thighs which leaves the lasting question in my mind as to what this might symbolize. Then, in pure Divinci Code style I racked my brains to see if I might be able to determine what the other symbols might mean but came up completely empty. Templars? All seeing Eyes? Archaic national symbols? I came up with nothing.

So, it was down Jones street to one of my favorite lookouts which offers a spectacular view of the city and is not well known. Looking around I found several mansions which must cost millions of dollars and I wondered who actually would live in these places and what would they do? As every inch of San Francisco is covered in development of some sort or other it is not easy to tell that a certain house or another must be a mansion. One has to be specifically looking to spot the larger houses and pay attention to the details. In one house there was a Chinese style gate and up the stairs two great lions on either side. In the middle of the lions was a statue of perhaps a great Chinese emperor or perhaps god?

Knowing that I would come to no conclusion I looked down the hill towards North Beach.

North Beach at 5:30pm is brilliant with the neon lights and activity. Yet, from the hilltop it was very peaceful and serene. Watching the patrons (who looked like little ants) go to and fro I settled my gaze upon a small bar called O”Reilly’s” which is on Green Street very close to Fugazi Theatre which is the home of Beach Blanket Babylon. I could see the patrons sitting out on the sidewalk tables but my vision was not quite good enough to see them actually drinking. I wondered to myself what their conversations were, where they locals or tourists, or perhaps a few were even on a date? It is an interesting feeling to be looking down upon this revelry and the entire city from the peace and quiet from a small hill park on a Saturday night. The mind again sets off badgering me to make some plans, grab a comrade and go to that bar way down there on Green Street, order a pint and join in the fun.

But no, tonight was for exploration and I negotiated a settlement with the mind that I would go down there to see what was going on but would keep up with the exploration. As I approached the street I could see that a line had formed outside of Fugazi Theatre. These people were going to experience Beach Blanket Babylon perhaps for the first time and it made me glad for them. However, as I had not noticed before I quickly began to think of the deceased as right across the street (on which side I was walking) there is actually a funeral parlor. I saw many Asian families coming out and as I looked in the door I could see the names of the deceased which directed people to the appropriate parlor. Each name was in Chinese which got me to thinking that Asian people often live quite long and these were probably the Grandmothers and Grandfathers of these people streaming out.

However, as I looked to my right side I had come upon O’Reilly’s bar. What a contrast to having some people enjoying life very fully on one side of the street while quite another aspect of life (and death) was happening on the opposite side. Where these people who were downing their pints really enjoying life or perhaps diverting their attention from it by drink? Some perhaps, could have been on a date and were at the hight of enjoyment while lubricating their inhibitions and drowning their shyness. On the other hand I supposed there could be quite a few lonely people in there as well who just have a need to be around people and are hoping to meet someone new? Or perhaps there were just groups of friends out on the town trying to have some enjoyment?

I suppose these thoughts do not normally occur when at or near a bar but putting a funeral home on the other side of the street certainly does encourage it as I can attest. As for me, my mind again decided to badger me to go in and enjoy a pint!

“But why would I,” I protested, “I’m alone and on a mission of exploration!”
“Perhaps a beer would enhance the exploration,” my mind implored!

“But if I did, then I would mostly likely have to pee and I still have some miles to go. Exploration becomes much less fun when the bladder is pushing against my lower innards,” I reasoned.

Eventually the thought of having to pee and not being able to won the argument and I continued on the journey.

However, I have been to the North Beach many, many times but this time was determined to discover something new. I first went to Saints Peter and Paul church where there is a nice park in the front. Now, San Francisco is full of interesting and offbeat people, one of which I discovered sitting on a park bench. He had the aura of a Harley enthusiast yet this w
as complicated by his jean jacket with cut off sleeves but none more-so then the entire back being covered by a portrait of Tinkerbell. Now what would possess a man to wear such a jacket I do not know. Tinkerbell is quite lovely but being a 40 year old man this seems as a logical non-sequitur and my mind could not come to grips with it.

Scanning the grounds I thought to take a seat at a bench but the presence of too many folks that did not seem of right mind, I thought I would have no peace and continued back to Columbus Street. Now I know Columbus Street quite well and have frequented many of the restaurants and watering holes there. This time however, I veered off onto Green Street heading East which is opposite of the formerly mentioned O’Reilly’s and funeral home. I had not been back in this area much and it seemed very lively.

At first I came to the Grant and Green bar with open air windows and drunken 20 something guys with backward caps, lowbrow conversation, sports on the t.v. and one young gentleman decided to spring out the open air window. It perhaps was fortunate that it was early in the evening and he was not completely hammered or a sprained ankle could have occurred. I took half a second to scan these groups of guys but did not linger so as not to draw attention. Basically, getting slammed was on the menu as well as conversation which if one lingered too long then brain cells would have been lost. I also noticed a complete absence of women. Some would call this a complete meat market and any lady unfortunate enough to wander in might have more attention then she would like to endure. Now, drinking with the buddies can be quite fun but I’ve never understood why they would want to spend the entire night this way. Unless of course if they were gay which is not uncommon in San Francisco but the Castro district would surely be more of an appropriate venue. For me, the conversation better be damn interesting of I would lose interest very quickly.

Yet, as I proceeded further I noticed a separate room which had BEER PONG! Now, my interest level had shot up to near boiling but what is it that they were drinking? None of the cups seemed filled to the brim with the sweet yellowish liquid known to the plebites as beer. Again, there was an absence of women but the thrill of Competition,, with the reward of success or even failure resulted in Drinking!! My competitive nature flared up as I was certain I could be king of the beer pong tables as years of darts had honed by accuracy but with only guys to impress the victory would seem empty. Furthermore, if they were drinking straight alcohol then the following Sunday (today) would be rather unpleasant and thus I continued my journey.

I continued down Columbus street and came to “Jazz at Pearls” which is a well known joint and always has a crowd. I glanced inside and saw a table evenly split with two guys and two girls. I thought that these two gentleman certainly knew how to maximize Saturday night enjoyment, had a touch of class and were sure to have a better time than those Neanderthals at the previous bar.

I then crossed the street to have a look at Vesuvio’s which is a place we have frequented often. Yet, it contained nothing curious so I continued down Grant street right into the heart of Chinatown. I first came to the Wells Fargo Bank which still had the lights on but the doors locked. Inside were some Asian women who had their desks situated right by the window and were typing away on their keyboards. I thought it might be difficult to get any work done when they are on display right by the window and could be disturbed by the inebriated pouring forth from the previously mentioned bars. My second thought was they should stop working and come out and enjoy the glorious Saturday night which was full of activity all around them! But, not wanting to linger nor disturb them from pressing the keys on their keyboards I continued down the street.

I came to my favorite tea shop and from across the street saw Kenny giving his tea tastings and lessons. Now Kenny does this everyday all day long. He must be a tea master and an encyclopedia of tea. I was certain that his customers were learning something valuable and I had half a mind to drop in and try some tea for myself. Yet, the thought of having to pee and even more-so the caffeine keeping me awake at night determined another tea tasting adventure was not suitable at that point in time.

The final trial came when I passed Li Po bar which is right in the heart of China Town. I had never really thought much about this place as the seediness simply emanates from it and I my presence would simply shout “New Guy – Possible Tourist” for the entire bar to hear. It also looked quite empty which would exacerbate my newcomer aura.

As I reached Bush street which is my home neighborhood it also seemed quite lively but not to the dizzying heights of the North Beach. I almost wished for an instant that I lived in the North Beach but then again such activity must be tiring after a while. So I turned to go up the hill while subtly glancing at the passers by wondering what they might have in store for the evening. As I was halfway up the hill I noticed a 40 something guy with short gray and curly hair. He wore a black leather jacket and seemed well to do enough, but unpretentious. As I am constantly aware of my surroundings I perceived he made a sudden turn into one of the businesses on my left and rang the doorbell. The establishment was none other than a “Massage/Spa/Jacuzzi” place aka brothel. I had never, ever seen a “John” go into one of these places before and felt particularly amused with myself to discover that they – in fact – do exist! It was almost as exciting as if I had discovered a leprechaun or unicorn! I was pretty sure how that guy was going to be spending his Saturday night and thought it wise of him to go early, rather than later in the evening and then rebuked myself for letting such a gross thought enter my mind.

I finally came back to the apartment and as it was still quite early in the night my mind tried to convince me to shine myself up and perhaps go participate in the nightlife. Yet, another side whispered “no, you’ve done it all before.” So in the end I was astonished to hear myself saying in unenthusiastic tones to my wife “You want to go out.” Her response was “Now?!!” My sarcastic side perked up its ornery head and I almost replied “No, I mean tomorrow morning at about 8:30am.” Yet, wisdom and my gentle nature prevailed and I responded “jya, dou suru?” “Nanimo shinai?”

And in the end “Nanimo shinai” won the evening and I ended up reading “Grimm’s Fairy Tales.” Who knew that Snow White was actually called Snowdrop and that the prince did not even kiss her! I wonder if snowdrop knows how to play beer pong?
It was a nice Saturday night stroll.

Adieu to 2009

As the year comes to a close I find myself reflecting on 2009 and considering what the beginning of 2010 means. I’ve been reading my friends updates on FB and most seem to be very glad to have this year come to an end and are looking forward to what the new year will being.

For me, 2009 has been a rather uneventful year even though the media is calling it the worst year of the decade. The economy did not do so well which forced changes in the lives of many. However, my life has changed pretty dramatically throughout the decade so I really do not find 2009 much different from 2008 or even 2007 for that matter.

In reading the news, the main question seems to be “What will 2010 bring?” I much rather prefer to think of it in terms of what I will do and wish to accomplish in the new year much rather than how outside forces will affect me. In other words, I will not let 2010 push me around but instead prefer to have plans in place so I can react as I wish instead of simply accepting what is handed to me.

So what are my plans for 2010? Well, for the first part at least I will simply continue doing what I did in 2009. We’ll still be in San Francisco and I’ll still be working to drive revenue while assisting my customers with their goals and initiatives. If the economy continues to worsen and cuts at the company were to come I still find myself extremely mobile and able to depart. In this case we would most likely head back to Japan where the economy is no better but I am not afraid of rolling the dice one more time to see what comes of it. Further, I would be much more inclined to settle down there (buy a house) than I would be in extremely expensive San Francisco.

Yet, the probability of this at the moment is very small so the real plan is to just wait and see what cards are dealt and how things progress. In some ways, it is very advantageous to keep mobile but on the other hand I keep getting older and apartment life cannot last forever. For the moment however, it will suffice and we will continue enjoying SF and making new discoveries.

I often wonder about those that really want to forget 2009 and think the change of the year will bring anything different. Sure, 2009 was terrible and the economy affected so many. Yet, it is times like this that the book “Who Moved My Cheese,” really becomes important. The trouble seems to be that the cheese is scarce around the country and is no longer just a matter of being able to relocate as it is simply finding the cheese. For many, they really do not want to adapt and prefer to stay in the same place and keep the same lifestyle. I feel lucky that I have experience in disrupting set habits / routines for completely new ones and have no fear of change. I feel that if one is not able to adapt and change their habits then a simple change of year really changes nothing and it is a change in attitude and behaviors that would make one year really different from the next.

It may be that it is simply human behavior to want security and to establish routines. In doing so we know what to expect and do not have to deal with the unknown. I even find myself sometimes fearing a major change and it is in times like these that I know I have to readjust my thinking. One of the main problems is the simulator we use in our heads that is most often never correct. In imagining what a change in location/career might bring, our minds try to play out the scenario and if it would be a good move or not. Yet, I have found that these simulations are almost never correct.

Therefore, when I make a big change I simply have to remind myself to stop thinking about it and just do it. No amount of mental simulation will make the experience better or worse, it will simply unfold as it is supposed to be. Then I find that keeping the right attitude will make the experience positive and positive experiences will automatically manifest themselves. There is really something to be said for mentally determining how we want an experience to be. If we are always thinking negatively then the experience will be negative and the opposite of being positive will actually make the experience positive.

I guess it really gets a bit philosophical in that some experiences can seem really bad but isn’t the real determinate in the mind? Would ti be better to control one’s own mind instead of letting outside events set the agenda for our own mental state? For me, this is my logic when living in another country and the experience being so profound I really do find that I must make the experience instead of it making me.

So, with 2010 coming in just a few hours I really do not see it as a new time frame that will determine what will happen to me, but instead how I will shape this year according to what I want to achieve instead of the other way around.

At this point I wish I had some profound plan of action but it would seem I do not. The first part of the year is “wait and see,” remain mobile, and react to the hand dealt to me.
So, tonight we’ll probably just go out to a close corner bar and I’ll use my Iphone “Pocket Cocktails” to randomly select a drink or two. We’ll say hello to the usual bar fellows and then most likely return home to open up a bottle of St. Francis and watch Netflix while listening to all the drunk people outside.

Goodbye 2009, you were uneventful but stable. 2010, I start dealing with you around the beginning of April once I know your temperament.