No memory card in Santa Monica   Leave a comment

So I finally got my telephoto lens.  It’s heavy.  I happily put it in the camera bag, went out with my son, then–

No memory card.  Left it in the Mac.

Life has come down to resorting to an iPhone.  Well, it never hurts to experiment.  Besides, perhaps the pics will load faster since they are smaller.  Just forget IQ (image quality).

We have to do the obligatory Santa Monica Pier, of course.  Everything there makes me puke, but Dad insists he has been on too many times and sent me on this thing with Pancake.

Honestly, I was so scared he would fall out and become a real pancake.  I am usually not acrophobic but just don’t like ferris wheel.  Besides, he was squirming happily inside the “cup”.


Pretty good impression.


It took a lot of persuasion to get him in this thing.  
I wish he would be gutsy enough to screw himself in deeper(hmmm, that sounded a little…) and hold onto the rim.  Perhaps the canon would still shoot.


Onto Santa Monica Place–the first time I was here after the “renovation” I was impressed.  Today we found the Market opened a week ago and despite astronomical price, it’s a wonderful addition to the food deck.  Besides, you get 3 hr free parking and are free to run down to the beach,right to Promenade.  On this Memorial Friday the streets are packed with people.

You see, the price list = an icee $3.50, scoop of ice cream (well, gelato) $3.50, a plate of cheese and salami $12, a chocolate chip cookie $3, on and on.  At the chocolate shop the girl is busy dipping strawberries and madeleines in the chocolate fountain.  I drool over the madeleines, but $2.50 each.  Pancake has no concern for price though.  He has seen colorful macaroons on the Mac (ha) because some idiot decided to put an add on MSN so my hotmail page often shows these macaroons.  He doesn’t even know what they are but had to buy some.  $1.80 for one macaroon.  Thank God they did not have rainbow colors.  

all chocolate dipped


Posted June 1, 2011 by turtlemeng in Uncategorized

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Hong Kong and uninvited model   Leave a comment

Yes I actually hauled my tripod to HK.  When my friend Yi saw it in Taiwan, she was like “you are nuts”.  She is right since I have a pretty cheap thus heavy tripod.  But what choice did I have ?  I wanted to take a shot at HK’s famous harbor view. 

It really looked crazy in action since I had to set up the tripod, put it on autotimer all because I am too cheap and broke to buy a wireless trigger, run to pose for the picture, then when I checked it I invariably found the picture to be out of focus.  Of course, when you cannot focus on the model because the model is actually the photographer, it’s a bit tough.  So I tried to focus on someone else at the same field of depth, lock the focus, “recompose” (i.e., move to the person’s side), then hurry to step in that rough rectangular place. 

So I took probably 2 dozen photos and deleted the bad ones.  I guess besides looking nuts, I also looked like some serious photographer, so people kept coming up to ask me to take photos for them.  I took the “dummy” point-and-shoot and faithfully captured 2 smiling women.  One look and I was about to cry.  The typical point-and-shoot picture, of course, has the 2 big heads lit up by the flash and the background is all dark.  The woman looked and said “nice picture!”

“Uh, actually, I highly recommend you get something like I have, it’s really not that expensive and heavy(well, not counting the tripod), and you can adjust the shutter speed for a view like this….” I showed them my photo on the LCD.  For all my labor and time, I think it’s not a sin to brag 5 seconds.  Now they looked a little dismayed seeing what a real night scene can look like. 

As I continued my queer smiling-into-my-own-camera routine, I heard giggles behind me. Knowing the exposure was about 1 sec, I could not move and figured it was just another passer-by. When I looked at the pic though, I realized why the passer-by’s friends were laughing. I stared at him scornfully and told him not to move next time with such a long exposure.==>

<==People were selling these photos for 10 HKD.












 HK is such a bustling place, earlier in the afternoon I found a bride and her friend doing her own photos and make-up. She looked so deft.

I decided to try the light-track trick.  However, the vehicles would not cooperate.  They either stopped or turned the other direction.  I waited a long time at the intersection and figured photographers have a tough life.  More people walked by with a chuckle but at least they didn’t jump in the street to pose this time. 

After couple of blisters, I finally sat down for some cheap snack. 幸福。

Posted May 22, 2011 by turtlemeng in Uncategorized

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Shanghai bits (2)-靜安別墅 and nostalgic toys   Leave a comment

Today I was reading National Geographic’s Chinese Traveler issue and started dreaming about Patagonia.  JianAnApt is also featured in the magazine (and 1000 other similar tour guides apparently). 

The shop they recommend is 小雞啄米 with 2 photos.  Ha, I took my own pics too.  “Chicken loves rice” is this cute little wooden toy where you pull the string from below, and the chicks start pecking on drawn rice kernels in the middle.  I swear I never saw this when I grew up in Taiwan.

The next toy is “noisy pig”, I could not even figure out what it was.  The lady came and started spinning the little bamboo pig on the end of cord, and it started making a whistle noise.  Wow. 


The shop is so colorful.  It makes you smile.  Besides, no rip-offs.  I think the price is very reasonable. 










I then crashed into a tea parlor, where a bunch of people are having a meeting in the main room, but the “tea instructor” invited me to free tea.  I spent 2 hrs chatting with him about everything happening in China.  It was depressing to hear him tell the story where he went to help an elderly that fell, and then was accused of having caused the fall, and eventually paid 500 RMB (all he had) to “settle”.

Posted May 17, 2011 by turtlemeng in Uncategorized

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Shanghai bits (1)–静安别墅   Leave a comment

I really have no idea what this place is called in English.  Come to think of it, I don’t know what the other 2 famous Shikumen spots,新天地 and 田子坊 are called either.  They all consist of old “stone gate” houses and narrow alleys, but quite different from one another.

The advantage of this one, let’s call it JianAnApt, is that I can walk to it in 5 min from my apt.

The first time I went in was to look for an alteration place, and I did find one.

But besides alteration places, there are a lot more…

If you are thirsty, there’s a great place for authentic HK style milk tea. The 老板 even weighs how much condensed milk he adds on a scale. Probably a former chemist.



Posted May 16, 2011 by turtlemeng in Uncategorized

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Food on a ship (Celebrity Century)   Leave a comment

Some people go to a cruise just to eat.

It’s not a bad deal.  The last minute promotion price was $600 a person, that’s 5 nights of room and food, and it comes with a balcony.  Fellow cruisers told me the sorry room without a view (called “interior room”) cost $450.  I am sure it can get cheaper.

For this price, you get 24 hr buffet, room service, and 5 nights of sit-down dinner in the restaurant.  Plus there’s a “spa-cafe” that offers healthy selections; I found a lot more people at the buffet though, each body taking up 1 1/2 to 2 seats.  No wonder.

Hmmmm, English breakfast.  Not promising.  The bloody queer thing is…bangers?  Sausages are called BANGERS?  That’s a tad graphic.  Stations provide same foods for 5 days but people still crowd in.  Perhaps it’s more relaxing without the set tables.  Since rumor says in the morning they have Chinese porridge, I took one morning to check it out.

This turned out to be rather a pathetic item.  I got some plain porridge with tofu from the delightful Asian Delights section.  All I can say is I have to write a formal letter to the company stating that cooking edible Asian dishes should not be that formidable.  The Pad Thai I tried on my first day for lunch had a flavor no where near recognizable. Fare in the restaurant is more approachable.  However, I would try to ask for “flexible seating” next time.  Having to sit next to the same family for 5 nights runs conversation VERY dry.  The couple has two young kids, which is good, but the 7-yr-old drives me nuts.  On the menu the left side is SAME everyday.  The right side changes daily.  I would say the food is decent, but not fancy.  Did not bother taking a photo.

Posted March 27, 2011 by turtlemeng in Uncategorized

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The rookie photographer startles the postman   Leave a comment

So it all started when I saw “digital photography” (at least it doesn’t say “for dummies”) at Costco.  You know, the evil thing about Costco, I mean, the good thing about Costco and my evil side, is that anything and everything is returnable.  So I bought the book and planned to read it and return it.

Costco struck back with a vengeance.  I began to realize the book is useless with my antique digital camera, apparently appropriately named “point-and-shoot”.  I cannot change shutter speed, aperture, and 20 other fancy paremeters on this camera.  So I had to buy a REAL digital camera, a dSLR i.e. digital-single-lens-reflex camera, from Costco.  I told myself I can return it later, maybe, although then the entire process becomes completely idiotic.  After consulting the hopeless photography fanatic friend Yi, I figured a $350 camera would not kill anyone, although it did kill my budget for this month.

So I decided to apply what I had read to some hands-on exercises.  Pulled Pancake’s chair out and started shooting anything across the street.  Actually, anything moving.  I am practicing changing shutter speed.  The amazing discovery I made from this exercise is that a car moves faster than a kid, and a kid moves faster than his grandma.  I have to make the shutter speed really fast to freeze a car.  In fact, perhaps San Marino police department can hire me to measure car speed in our residential zone.  I tried “panning”, which is when you move your camera so the moving car appears stationary, and the background is blurred to give a sense of motion.

The frustrating thing is, very few cars come down our block.  I tried to catch them but always heard it coming from the wrong side.  Also I wondered if some driver would jump out and yank on my throat to hand over the film (oh, disc).  As I was concentrating on my task, the mailman came and almost stepped on me.  He handed me the bundle of junk mail plus Nordstrom catalogue. 

If you are wondering how I can take a picture of myself holding the camera, I took it with the old sad camera on the even more unbelivably sad tripod courtesy of Liz.  Long story.  Gotta buy a real tripod.

Posted March 14, 2011 by turtlemeng in Uncategorized

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I survive in Shanghai–getting a driver’s license   Leave a comment

Today is Valentine’s Day–well, here in China, not yet back home in States.  Since I have no rose, no chocolate, no diamond, and ate instant noodle for dinner by myself, I reckon it’s the perfect time to FINALLY spend my time writing a blog post.  EXCITING!!!

Today I got my driver’s license.  It had been a long, tedious process, but not as bad as some other times, such as when I put my son up for “adoption by a local resident”(his aunt, my sister-in-law)–on paper only, but might as well be real–so he can travel back and forth with far fewer visa problems.

I digressed.  OK, basically what I had been doing was driving in Shanghai with an international license from my friendly local Alhambra AAA office.  The problem is, you can see in this little $20 booklet clearly that China does not recognize this document.  Therefore, I had been instructed by my husband (the other criminal) to always carry $200 RMB in case of getting caught by the cops.

What driving is like in Shanghai is an entirely different story that I can write 7 posts about.  The interesting thing about cops is that they are EVERYWHERE, but they never do anything.  I gradually learned to ignore them and not see the image of the burly bear who gave me a $300 ticket back home.  However, “you are illegal~~~” is not a good feeling.  At first, husband said only local residents can get driver’s license.  But what is the price of listening to men?  When I called, I was told a “temporary residency permit” is sufficient.   Anyways, this permit is interesting because I had to call the local police station and talk to my friendly Officer Lee, who is apparently very familiar with our family by now because we call him with dumb questions.  He issued the document and my first step is done. 

I then ventured to the CHINA DMV, by way of subway, walking, then bus, I paid $40 RMB and sat down for the photo.

“You can’t wear white.”

“Huh?  What’s wrong with white?”

“We don’t allow it.  It does not show on the white background.  Here, wear this.”

I was handed a size 12 brown shirt.  After the photo was taken, I looked at it, and wondered if it was closer to a prisoner-in-uniform or field-worker-from-countryside.  Pic was pasted and I received a physical exam, which basically makes sure you can see, hear, and have arms and legs with same length.  The measuring device also shrank me an inch and I vowed to do more yoga to stretch out.

When I finally hit the counter to register for the written exam, I was rejected.

“Where’s your driver’s license from your country?”

“Huh?  It’s in the States.  But they told me just to bring the international driver’s license.”

I was handed a document that clearly stated the ORIGINAL driver’s license has to be brought in.  I tried a little begging/whining/playing innocence knowing it was completely futile.

So, that was last October.  After 4 months, I am back with a…California license.  The Physical Exam is valid for 1 year, thank God, so I now go in thinking they would let me take the exam.

“Your driver’s license needs to be tranlsated.”

“Huh?  Translated…but I have this international license…”

“Read this.”

OK, international license is a piece of crap.  Besides, mine had actually already expired in Jan.  The license needs to be translated by OFFICIAL TRANSLATION AGENCY.  I call.  $50 RMB.  Rip-off, I want to go steal their stupid stamp.  In 2 degree weather I take more bus, subway, walking, bus, find the dingy agency, and get the glorious piece of paper that states my California license is a license from California.

Back, at least for some reason (right after Chinese New Year Holiday) I thought it would be crazy busy but there is no one on this day.  I finally can register for the exam, and after some pleading I get it scheduled in 5 days.

Now I get to do the only thing I am good at in this life, take a written exam.  You get 100 problems and 90 is the passing grade.  The problem is there are actually 900 problems they can pick from.

From the online introduction I guess it also comes in English, French and Spanish.  I would not bother with the English version since any difference between this and what I already know about driving would just be more confusing.  I have to pretend I am driving on Mars.

Some problems are completely outrageous, and most are laughable, but I don’t have time to take this twice, so I start crunching numbers like “DUI–6 points, drunk driving–12 points.  Injured someone–3 to 7 years sentence, killed someone–7 years and above”.

Man, talk about meaninglessness.  I actually learned a a few things, such as what those crazy inverted triangles on the road mean (a pedestrian crossing is coming up).  The traffic cop’s gestures are impossible and I brutally memorize them.

The allowed test time is 45 minutes.  After about 9 minutes, I am done.  After another 9 minutes of forcing myself to check because I REALLY DON’T WANT TO COME BACK, I hit the “submit” button on the computer.  “Congratulations, your score was 100.”  Sigh, medical school remnant skill persists.

At least I got a better picture taken since I could not find the old pics. 

Posted February 14, 2011 by turtlemeng in Uncategorized

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