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We stumbled upon this beautiful winery during a family Napa trip. It’s a little bit out of the way, but so stunning. More arty and contemporary than most places in the area, and oh yeah you’re basically on top of the world.

(how wonderful is this red farmhouse?)

In other news, it’s the first day of my last semester as an undergrad.

We made llama mini-burgers for CC Winter Cotillion (potluck edition):

Llama patties freshly sourced from Savenor’s

Speedy: < 10 minutes to cook on a stove-top

Optional: Garnish with a flourish of fluff! (materials: pipe cleaners, pom poms, cotton balls)

Our llama stable waiting patiently for their turns

ta-da!

I confirm that llamas are as tasty as they are cute.

ps – an innovative way to make circular cheese 🙂

“The Ringling Bros Elephant Parade will begin tonight between 6:30 and 7:00 pm starting at the train stop at Mass Ave and Vassar and continuing down Mass Ave toward Memorial, turning left on Memorial, then continue on Land Blvd and ending at the TD Banknorth Garden.”

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I participated in MIT’s aditl project (capture a typical day in photographs) yesterday. I thought I might wake up early to get some nice sunrise-over-the-charles shots from my window.

What actually happened was that I woke up 30 minutes late for my 11:30AM class and decided not to go. You can’t get more realistic than that.

A few shots:

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what i see in the morning. bleary eyed, in bed, 5 minutes longer.

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out the door

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kinda gloom

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i run into jason on my way to stata, who kindly provides me with the notes i missed from that morning class

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lunch date with cecily @ sebastians!

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there is so. much. construction. on campus

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chaplin, film class

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grabbing a book from hayden

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delivery

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planning meeting for senior toast

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a lonely berry

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on my way to pm recitation

Sometimes, I really do love it here and never want to leave (this place, or this stage?).

ifc at dusk

No tripod. Which becomes immediately apparent if you zoom in…

Back from Hong Kong–I have a lot of pictures to get through (though, still not as many as I would have liked from this summer).

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ugly coffee dome…discounted with the purchase of coffee!

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(no nasties!)

mornings can be so full of small delights..

Our flight to the Philippines was supposed to be a 24-hour whirlwind of Boston –> Chicago –> Tokyo –> Manila, but this is what we saw upon afternoon landing in Tokyo:

runway crash

The unfortunate runway accident meant our flight was canceled until tentatively the next day, forcing us to rearrange a rather jam-packed itinerary of meetings and workshops in Manila. To make the best of it, we decided to take the bus into the city instead of staying at an airport hotel. The trip from Narita into Tokyo ended up being surprisingly far — approximately 90 minutes by bus.

We ended up booking a room at the fancy-yet-pompously-westernized Westin Tokyo, near Ebisu Garden Palace. (I would suggest checking out Hotel Nikko in SF if you are looking for a beautiful Japanese-style hotel) Ebisu is a nice but sleepy little neighborhood, so my first impressions of Tokyo were slightly underwhelming (where were the bustling avenues, esoteric street fashions, and Judge Bobs that I endearingly associated with Japan over the summer? )  .

Our resident documentary filmmaker Nicole left us to have dinner with a friend, so Leo, Zack + I got a restaurant recommendation from the concierge and set off for a late dinner. We never ended up finding the recommended place, but instead decided to pop into this rather authentic looking restaurant that turned out to be a worthy selection–the food was so-so, but boy what a festive atmosphere! We were seated next to this gigantic 30 + party of Japanese businesspeople chilling out together after work.  The room would occasionally break out into synchronized clapping patterns and rounds of congratulatory “hoy!s” as we ate. I don’t think I have ever seen an American business unit be so carefree and lovey together. Perhaps the corporate world here is too focused on short-term career goals and conservative propriety to develop these kinds of boisterous, sake-filled business relationships en masse.

jolly corporate function!

jolly corporate function!

After dinner, Zack and I tried to maximize our 16 hours in Japan by exploring the city at night. An ice-bar that we had hoped to visit was closed for reconstruction (they give you a parka while you drink in an igloo-like environment!), so we once again asked our adorable concierge to go off the record and recommend some truly hip places that he himself would go to.  We took the subway into bustly Shibuya district with a very vague idea of what we were looking for, and just walked around aimlessly down main streets and side streets. It was nice–Tokyo is a city that really shows off at night. I was surprised by the number of people coming home from work on the subway at 11PM—the subway station felt like the same sea of suits you would see at Government Center around 7PM.

tokyo street at night

tokyo street at night

We wandered through a neighborhood of affordable love motels…

a bargain for love

a bargain for love

great room selections!

great room selections!

classy

classy

…and after some cryptic instructions to go down the street and take a “left-right”, found the place our concierge directed us to– a dungeon-themed bar ( called “The Lockup” ).  Excepting the japanese hipsters milling outside, the entrance to this place was an eery descent into dark passages and spooky noises. Very haunted-house-esque, I think I screamed a few times, haha. The bar was just closing as we got there (it was a Monday night), so we moved on. It does seem like a cool place to hang out though–will definitely have to come back the next time I’m in Tokyo.

we thought the concierge said "rock-up"..

we thought the concierge said "rock-up"..

dungeon style booths

dungeon style booths

thoughtfully neon

thoughtfully neon

I was in dire need of some sake by this point. Fortunately we were able to pick up a wasted American expat named Cedric, who took us to his favorite place, the Gaspanic! for drinks. It was quite empty (again, Monday night…), and unfortunately seemed to cater to a more touristy crowd. We shared the space with some Euro-looking hipsters and a sketchy boy canoodling with his girlfriend. Overall, recommended if you have a longing for clubs blasting Chris Brown + Akon, not recommended if you are looking for good sake or to feel like you are partying in Japan.

a SUPER cup of sake

a SUPER cup of sake

Cedric, keeping his LA roots alive

Cedric, keeping his LA roots alive

We then took a cab to Roppongi Hills / Mori Tower to try and get a better view of the city, but everything had long been closed. Even so, I really appreciated the calmness of the urban space and the solitude of being there afterhours–I’m beginning to think that 3AM sightseeing is the best way to get an intimate feel for any place.

Afterwards, an amused cabdriver took us to the well-guarded Imperial Palace for a nighttime jaunt around the moats, and we called it a night at 5AM, just in time for our 6AM wake up call.

Overall, a wonderful introduction to Tokyo + the country of Japan, though I am wistful that we missed the cherry blossoms. Next time!

The Summer Palace (Yihe Yuan) was slowly constructed and reconstructed over many centuries, but it is best known as the summer retreat of Empress Dowager Cixi. It’s amazing that a sanctuary like this exists in the heart of Beijing–I felt immediately transported to a different time and place. Kind of like the Central Park experience, except taken to a whole new level. It’s very tempting to get lost within the park’s many temples, pavilions, bridges, and walkways–looking at the map, we were only able to get through 1/10 of the Palace. My mother used to spend her summers in Beijing as a child exploring the Palace everyday. She still knows her way around by heart, and it was nice to imagine her as a 8-year old, bouncing over the same stone steps that we now revisit together as a family.

Tower of the Essence of the Buddha

Tower of the Essence of the Buddha

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Lion sculpture on Bridge

summer paddle boats, now sequestered by ice

summer paddle boats, now sequestered by ice

Seventeen Arch Bridge, from a distance

Seventeen Arch Bridge, from a distance

On the bridge

On the bridge

Seventeen Arch Bridge, another view.

Seventeen Arch Bridge, another view.

Water brush calligraphy

Water brush calligraphy

Long Corridor

Long Corridor

Next time, I would like to go to the less visited YuanMing Yuan. It’s the counterpart to the Summer Palace (Now called the Old Summer Palace) that was built in Western style architecture, and was largely destroyed during the Second Opium War in the 19th Century.  It was never rebuilt however, and now serves as a reminder to the Chinese as what the West once did to China. Apparently, lots of Chinese history classes go there on field trips.

I finally realize why family normally skips going to China over winter break. It’s just too cold! Beijing is colder than Boston in the winter, and with much less heating in public places (people in the US who think they are doing a ton to save energy by using revolving doors and taking the stairs have no idea what other countries accept as the norm. How about never even turning the heat on?). However, after watching Matt Lauer parade around Beijing all summer, we just couldn’t resist a trip to the Olympic Village tourist trap.

the bird's nest

the bird's nest

awkward guard, guarding... we didn't know what. the stadium was smaller than it looked on tv

awkward guard, guarding... we didn't know what. the stadium was smaller than it looked on tv

Water Cube

Water Cube

it was warm and toasty inside, so we lingered.

it was warm and toasty inside, so we lingered.

oh, phelps.

oh, phelps.

the sculptures in the surrounding village were some of the most beautiful parts

the sculptures in the surrounding village were some of the most beautiful parts

coming back for a nightview -- china has a minor obsession with lighting up buildings at night in funky colors

coming back for a nightview -- china has a minor obsession with lighting up buildings at night in funky colors

I think I was too cold to enjoy this when I took it. Save yourself and don't come to Beijing in the winter.

I think I was too cold to enjoy this when I took it. Save yourself and don't come to Beijing in the winter.

There were lots of street sellers milling around the courtyards, hawking outdated olympic memoribilia or offering to take “expert” pictures for tourists for 5 yuan.  Don’t they realize that everyone has their own digital cameras now?  It made me sad that they had to brave the elements every day to offer fairly redundant services like this.  Here’s to having warm, indoor jobs, no matter how mundane.

Up next? Summer Palace. Oh, the irony.