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46-days in North America September 6 – October 21, 2014

Posted by on September 12, 2014

San Francisco & Vancouver September 6 – 13, 2014

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On my way to Yellowknife, Canada for aurora viewing, I made a stop-over in San Francisco in order to visit the Yosemite National Park. I had a nice time with Daisy, an old friend from my New York days and took a 3 day-2 night camping tour to the Park.

September 6, Saturday: Hong Kong (GMT+8) – San Francisco (GMT -7 – Daylight saving time)

L1000084I left Hong Kong at 2pm, crossed the International Date Line and arrived in San Francisco (SF) before noon the same day. As I could not sleep, I watched four films and had two full meals during the 12-hour flight. I took a shuttle for US$17 and arrived at Daisy’s door step in the Sunset District before 2pm.

Daisy has a nice and spacious house and I had a whole flat on the ground floor to myself. Daisy drove me to the house of Lingling her daughter who lives nearby. Daisy and Lingling’s family visited me in London almost eight years ago. Her daughters (Michelle and Lorraine) have grown so much that I can hardly recognise them. Michelle is now going to university in Chicago!

I had a leisure afternoon with the family.  Lorraine led the way to a hilltop nearby for a panoramic view of the Sunset District. After an early dinner, I went to bed and slept like a log as soon as my head hit the pillow.

September 7, Sunday: Angel Island, Tiburon and Chinatown


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We left home before 8am to take the ‘N’ train to the Powell Station and boarded the 9:20am ferry to Angel Island. There are numerous hiking trails on the island.

The weather was perfect: nice and sunny with a gentle breeze. Instead of taking a shuttle bus (US$5) to the Immigration Station, a National Historic Landmark, we had a leisure 30-minute walk.

Male Dormitory

Male Dormitory

Female Dormitory

Female Dormitory

Our guide told us about the history of SF and the discovery of gold in 1848. The gold rush and subsequent railway construction brought in thousands of workers and their families from Asia. This station processed approximately one million of Asian immigrants from 1910 to 1945. Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, many Chinese immigrants spent years on the island, waiting for entry. Some Russian immigrants 1917 including Tolstoy’s daughter also arrived after the October Revolution.

Our guide also detailed the stories about ‘paper father’ (a child coming from China with a paper authenticated by a notary claiming to be the child of a man) and ‘photograph husband’ (a Japanese woman had to go through marriage ceremony holding a photograph of her future husband before getting the permission to land as a legal immigrant).

We took the 12:20pm ferry to Tiburon, a picturesque and sunny island opposite Angel Island. Many of the houses in the oldest part
of the island are built with wood, painted in pastel colours and decorated with manicured patios or gardens. Those along the waterfront have superb views of SF Bay.  We found a nice café by the pier and had a lovely brunch a café by the water. After a leisure stroll before taking the 3pm ferry back to SF.

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Union Square

Union Square

The best way to appreciate SF’s beauty and bohemia life style is to stroll around aimlessly. After a quick look at the packed and touristy Ferry Pier 39 and Fishman Wharf, I found my way to Lombard Street which is world famous for its ‘Crooked Street’, SF’s iconic landmark. It is now manicured with colourful flowers and packed with tourists! On my first visit in 1980, I fell in love with the streetscape, the houses in fading pastel colours and the bohemia feeling. Today, I find the place pretty but without soul.

Daisy took me to a Chinese restaurant in Chinatown which is famous for pepper and salt crab. We had to walk for half an hour before arriving at Kearny Street. The walk is most enjoyable: the district is still filled with small old-styled bistros, cafés and Italian restaurants. We had a large fresh crab weighing over a kilo for US$50.

It’s time to go home. We took the ‘N’ train back to her house on 24th Avenue. I had an early night again as I had to get up early.

September 8-10, Monday-Wednesday: Yosemite National Park

Located in Central Sierra Nevada of California, Yosemite National Park, a World Heritage Site, is 314km from SF. Central to the development of the national park idea, the Park is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, Giant Sequoia groves and biological diversity. Its iconic landmarks are El Capitan (2307m) and Half Dome (2693m). With an area of 302,687 ha and some 1300km-long hiking trails, it is one of the most visited national parks in the country attracting over 3.5 million visitors a year.

Day 1– Daisy who was afraid that I might get lost, insisted in accompanying me to the meeting point next to Hilton Hotel. At 8am, I met Shane, our guide cum driver, and 12 fellow passengers. Our 14-seater van and trailer set off at 8:15am.

L1000108We crossed the SF-Oakland Bridge and the Central Valley of California before reaching the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The dry and golden scenery in the Central Valley is impressive. According to Shane, some 20% of the agricultural produce from the country comes from here. California is now suffering a most severe drought: some fruit trees have been fell or are dying. We passed a windmill belt where thousands of windmills generate a quarter of power supply for SF. The roads to and inside the Park are good and well-maintained.

We finally had the first glimpse of the Park at the Tunnel View look-out point. The panoramic view of El Capitan, Half Dome and numerous soaring peaks is impressive. Unfortunately the smoke generated from wild forest fires had affected visibility.

The second stop was the Mariposa Groves known for its Giant Sequoias, descendants of an ancient line of trees can live for over 2,000 years. Their trunks can live up to 8m thick and they dwarf even the largest pine trees. We had a nice walk at the lower grove for over an hour.

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The final stop was our campsite at the Cedar Lodge along the El Portal Rd. The campground with toilets and hot showers was fairly full.

L1000334Shane showed us how to set up the tent before taking us for a swim in the nearby Merced River. The water is fairly cold but not icy. I got out after a quick dip and went to an indoor heated pool for a soak before dinner. He prepared burrito with chicken and beans for dinner. We helped to cut the vegetables and cleaned up after dinner.

Tonight was the eve of the Chinese Moon Festival (15th day of the 8th month in the lunar calendar). The moon was round and bright. I shared a tent with a young lady from Chicago. As I was tired, I was the first one to go to sleep around 9pm.

Day 2 (Moon or Mid-Autumn Festival) – I seldom sleep soundly while camping. I was fully awaken by traffic noises around 5am. We had breakfast at 7am and set off at 8am. We had plenty of food: bagels, bread, muffins, cream cheese, chocolate spread, peanut butter, jam and cereal for breakfast and ham, turkey, beef, salami, cheese, bread, vegetables, fruits and snacks for lunch.

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I had a wonderful day. Shane drove along the Big Oak Flat Rd and Tioga Road before making a photo stop at Olmsted Point. We had a panoramic view of several mountain ranges and pointed peaks including Clouds Rest (3025m). After passing the Tenaya Lake, we finally reached the Saddlebag Lake.


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We began our hike around 10:30am and walked over an hour and a half before reaching a turquoise glacier lake above the tree line. We were the only group hiking in this part of the park. Views of the peaks looming behind the glaciers, ponds and lakes, running streams and mountains in brown, copper and grey colours are most beautiful.

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It was sunny and hot. I joined the young people to jump into the lake! I found the water is icy but not freezing. Unfortunately, I had rash after the swim. Taking a different trail on the opposite side of the Saddlebag Lake, we arrived at the car park at 4:30pm.

Shane arranged the group to eat in the restaurant at Cedar Lodge at 6:45pm. As my stomach was not churning, I decided to skip dinner.

At 8:45pm, Shane drove us to the meadow between El Capitan and the Cathedral Rocks to watch the full moon.  I was surprised to find three climbers with shining headlights on this vertical massive rock. (A climber may take three days to climb 900m to reach the top of the cliff)

L1000309Around 9:15pm, I saw the full moon rising behind a ridge. It began to light up the meadow and the valley. Unfortunately, the battery of my automatic camera was low and I did not manage to take a decent photo of the full moon on this special occasion.

I was back at my tent before 10:30pm. Despite my tiredness, I could not sleep. Another sleepless night!

Day 3– We had a leisure day in the Yosemite Valley before returning to  SF at 3:30pm. We began at the Glacier Point (2199m) which affords a commanding view of the valley including the Half Dome, the Royal Arches and the Yosemite Falls. Instead of taking the 4-mile downhill trail to the valley, I followed Shane to see the Sentinel Dome (2476m) which affords equally impressive views of El Capitan and the whole valley.


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Dry Yosemite Falls L1000404

Shane dropped us off at the Yosemite Lodge before noon. It was too hot to do much (the temperature might be over 38ᴼC).  I only took a short walk to see the Yosemite Falls which was dry.  While I was having my sandwich near the falls, I was bitten by a Yellow Jacket (a wasp) which had hidden inside the sandwich and bitten me inside my mouth! It was scary to watch my lips swelling from inside. Within an hour, my lips and lower jaw were swollen, hot and numb! When Shane saw me, he could not believe what had happened. He told me to take two tablets immediately and one more an hour later. I got so drowsy that I slept most of the way back to SF.Shane kindly dropped me off at Powell Station at 8:30pm. I took the ‘N’ train back to the Sunset District. Daisy was horrified by my swollen red face. I also could not recognise myself in the mirror. Daisy who is a doctor has a good stock of medicine at home. I took one more tablet before going to bed.

September 11, Thursday: San Francisco

The medication worked: my face was not as swollen as before. Daisy’s neighbours, Kitty and Stephen, who were planning to drive to Berkeley, invited us to join.

We had lovely weather. The highlight of the day was the tasting of soufflé pancakes at Bette’s Ocean View. We had three pancakes and a club sandwich between four of us.


Bette’s Ocean View: Pancakes

A mosaic staircase, Sunset District

A mosaic staircase, Sunset District

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Before returning to the Sunset District, I went to see Union Square and dropped by the Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office. In the evening, I had a most delicious Thai dinner near Daisy’s house with Daisy, Lingling and Lorraine.

September 12, Friday: San Francisco, USA – Vancouver, Canada

In order to catch my flight at 8am, Daisy arranged a private car to take me to the airport at 5:45am (US$35). I arrived in Vancouver before 10am. I stayed with Kong and his wife Josephine at Smithe Mews close to the Arena. Josephine had prepared congee and vegetables and we had a delicious light lunch at home.

In the afternoon, Kong and I had afternoon tea in a lovely café in a park while Josephine had a dental appointment. Then they showed me the way to the Queen Elisabeth Park which occupies a former quarry site.  After they left for an early dinner with their friends, I spent some time in this lovely leafy park before walking to the Gloucester Café on Cambie Street. This restaurant features cooking of Hong Kong style and I had a hearty dinner with Shelly, Christine and Katherine.

September 13, Saturday: Vancouver

Both my 89-year-old uncle and his wife are now staying in an elderly home in Richmond. My cousin took me to see them in the morning before she went to work. They are healthy but no longer recognise me. The elderly home is modern, spacious and clean. My cousin visits her parents every day after work: they are lucky to have such a filial daughter.

I had a nice dim sum lunch with Josephine and Kong in Richmond.  Leslie, Paulina’s husband then drove us to visit Paulina’s resting place in Surrey. We met Genie, Paulina’s daughter who is now a beauty. I am glad that she has done well in her examination and is planning to take up nursing as a career. There are plenty of apples in their garden. Josephine and I were rejoiced to pick and eat fresh apples!

Genie loves Japanese food and we went to Richmond for a sushi dinner. We had eight sushi rolls, ten pieces of sashimi, a bowl of udon (Japanese noodle) and a small portion of grill salmon for about C$150. It is not too expensive but the quality of food is average. Josephine knows another small eatery on Cambie St. which sashimi and sushi are cheaper and far better.

I was glad to have an early dinner. As I had an early flight to catch, I went to bed before 11pm.

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