New York: A Dash of Dashi

Friend J, N, and I went to the Japan Society to learn the secrets of making dashi.
N asked the presenter where to buy high quality bonito for making dashi. Turns out that the secret supplier is Amazon.
They gave us sample of three types of dashi: kelp, bonito, and mushroom. Only the bonito one tasted like anything to me. Some salt would have been nice.
The Japan Society seemed pretty nice. They offer Japanese classes there too!

Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao (Flushing)

Friend J (not pictured) took us to Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao in Flushing, it was pretty good!
The titular Xiao Long Bao.
Shanghai Pan Fried Noodles.
Mapo tofu.
Scallion pancake with sliced beef. This one was really amazing!
Sweet soy milk. I really liked it, although N and friend J didn’t seem to agree. I’d come back just for this.
Lotus leaf sticky rice. Unfortunately it seems like the restaurant forgot we ordered this one, and when we asked about it they rushed it out while it was still frozen. But we took it back and had it for breakfast later. Still pretty good.

NYC+Boston Trip

N and I had an exciting trip to New York and Boston just recently. I flew in from the Bay Area and N took the train from Pittsburgh. Friend J very generously let us stay at his place in New York (thanks Friend J!).

I’ll try to post pictures about the places we visited over the next few {insert unit of time here}.

To start, here’s some photos from SFO.

I flew JetBlue this time around and got to see the international terminal at SFO. Turns out there a newly opened (in 2019) food court area with a sampling of hot SF restaurant destinations.
Kamin is a spin off of Kin Khao, a popular Thai place in SF (1802 reviews, 4 stars, wow). I was going to eat here, but unfortunately they closed while I was being indecisive about ordering.
Instead I got a pork bowl from Tacos Cala (a spin-off of Cala), which was pretty good!
There’s also a Tartine here (I’m sure you spotted it in the first picture). And the line is a lot shorter than in the Mission District.
Wow, look at those affordable prices. Only $8.29 for a matcha latte! (but don’t forget the oat milk)

Pittsburgh ahoy

As many of you know, I will be attending grad school for statistics in Pittsburgh. I arrived about a week ago and have since gotten all set up in my apartment!

I’ll give you a nice tour 🙂

Entryway with a walk-in closet on the left. Unfortunately, the light doesn’t have an on switch, so it’s pretty dark in there.
Dark 🙁
But convenient built-in shelves!
The main living area.
My office setup, from left to right: desk lamp, mobile desk containing office supplies, upright organizers (from the free pile at the university!) for mail and notebooks, backpack.
Kitchen with janky stove. It’s gas and has pilot lights lit all the time, so it’s about 90° in there, I measured.
Cutting board and stockpot from Goodwill!
Hallway off of the main room. To the right is the bedroom, to the left is a closet, and straight ahead is the bathroom. The apartment is on the corner of the building, so I get two walls of windows!
I sleep in here to distance myself from the very warm kitchen.
Made my mattress the other day. I had unstuffed it for easier shipping.
It’s a lot more comfortable than the makeshift sleeping pad I was using.
Previous bed: winter coat, duvet, with jacket as a blanket. Later layers included sheets, blankets, and towels.
The second closet, also with very nice built-in storage, containing all my clothes.
Bathroom! This room gets the best breeze, so when it was quite warm a few days ago, I would lounge in the bathtub and look out the window.

Pittsburgh is very appealing so far. My neighborhood is very walkable, has lots of fancy old houses, and has lots of buses. Plus the food coop, Goodwill, and Whole Foods are nearby 🙂

New hat

I lost my hat on the train back from LA a few months ago. 🙁

In my defense, I don’t usually lose things. I was distracted by another train passenger being disruptive. He had had the police called on him for “acting threateningly” towards an Amtrak employee. I was eager to disembark.

Me in my old hat (source).

The new hat is distinctly less cool, and cost $8, twice as much as the old one. At least it has a wider brim!

I look like a gardener now. Picture is from an ocean-side hike in spring.

Furniture-moving trip

I recently took a trip to LA to pick up desk-bed parts. It was a success!

My original plan was to have a friend drive the furniture up for me, but I couldn’t find a willing driver (and car rentals got complicated). Instead, I used uShip! uShip is an online bid-based marketplace for shipping items (especially large, unpackable, awkwardly-shaped items, like motorcycles and furniture).

When shipping something through uShip, you start by making a “shipment” on the website. You enter details about the items (size, weight, number), where you’re going from/to, and when you need the items by. uShip automatically generates an expected price based on the information, so you have an idea of what you’re going to pay. Once you publicly list the shipment (at least 2 weeks before the intended move, please!), movers start bidding on it. You can accept any bid at any time, at which point you should contact the mover directly to iron out pickup/dropoff details.

Pros:

  • uShip provides a money-back guarantee, where you don’t pay the mover until you get your items. uShip holds the money until then. If anything goes wrong with the move, you can contact uShip for help.
  • The auction-based format of uShip helps get you a lower price, both because of mover-mover competition and because movers can combine shipments to the same destination.
  • I didn’t have to drive anywhere.
  • I didn’t have to pack anything (unlike using Fedex, e.g.). The movers provided all of the padding material (nothing disposable!) and loaded all of the items.
  • Items can be delivered to someone else, so I didn’t need to be at both ends of the shipment.

Cons

  • I paid $320 to the movers ($25 fee to uShip), $130 more than uShip originally predicted (and J accidentally tipped 40% upon delivery…). I do think that it was a good value, considering that I didn’t have to drive and a new bunk bed of questionable quality costs around $900.
  • It was scary to use uShip for the first time D:

My experience was excellent, although it heavily depends on which mover you use (reviews are provided on the website). The movers I worked with were very organized and fast! The furniture was delivered the same day as pickup. The movers even helped carry it up to a second floor apartment. I would use uShip again, and would generally recommend it if you are moving a small number of items (i.e. not a whole house of furniture).

Bunk-bed and desk parts, half-shelf, dresser, and a stand mixer (in the suitcase) to be moved.

 

Smaller-than-expected van, although big enough to hold a motorcycle!

By the way, I took Megabus to LA ($37), and BoltBus back ($23). I did not take any overnight buses, due to the last miserable experience. The bus rides were fine by day, since I didn’t need to sleep. They were much cheaper than flights (would’ve been $150 each way), and cheaper and faster than the train (would’ve been $80 each way, since the cheapest tier of ticket was sold out). A friend in the area housed and fed me 🙂

Trip to alma mater in LA

The weekend after going to Sacramento (so about 3 months ago now), J and I visited our undergraduate institution outside of Los Angeles, ’cause our old dorm was having its big annual party! Woo!

We took an overnight BoltBus to get from San Jose (Diridon Station) to LA (Union Station). It was cheap at $25/person, but I would never do it again.

Pros:

  • It was overnight, so that we didn’t waste a day on traveling. Amtrak only has a daytime train between LA and the Bay Area.
  • Going overnight also decreases the chances of running into traffic.
  • It was cheap (half the cost of Amtrak, half to 1/8 the cost of a flight).
  • Lower emissions than a plane.
  • The stop in San Jose was relatively easy for us to get to.
  • There was a bathroom on board!

Cons:

  • It was overnight, so we needed to sleep to have a good next day.
  • The seats are uncomfortable and cramped -> it was hard to sleep.
  • The bus driver talked inappropriately loudly for the time of night. Pretty sure he was the only one fully awake.
  • Intermittent stops were accompanied by bright lights and loud announcements, thus disturbing our sleep.

Yeah… Only take an overnight bus if you’re a heavy sleeper and don’t mind cramped chairs. We were super tired when we got to LA. We made a multitude of plans to find a nice place to nap, but never actually succeeded in any of them 🙁 Overall, Amtrak is a nicer experience.

We stayed with the lovely T for the duration of our trip. Thanks!

We visited Grist & Toll, an urban flour mill located in Pasadena. Who knows how long it’s been there! I’ve been missing out for years D:

The front of the mill. It looks pretty desolate. We initially thought we were in the wrong place because of the industrial vibe the complex gave off. Notice the big garage door for delivery trucks. By the way, that’s a date palm shadow.

Grist & Toll specializes in heirloom and locally-grown varieties of wheat and other grains (einkorn, oats, barley, rye, teff, and sesame, I think).
Cornmeal, too. There was a big quilt hung up in the store. You can see it here against the wall. Of course I asked about it! It turns out the owners know someone with a quilt collection, so the store gets a rotating selection of historical quilts. This particular one was from the late 1800s; the cashier even read us a blurb on it!

J and I got one bag of bread flour (and one as a gift for our host, T!) and one bag of general purpose flour grown by Mai Nyugen, a farmer who tries to be super environmentally friendly. For example, most (all?) of her field work is done using horses(!) and she doesn’t irrigate. Of course, the flour is super expensive (~$35/5 lbs flour).

We had dinner at the acclaimed Chengdu Taste, supposedly the best Szechuan restaurant outside of Szechuan Province, China. Unfortunately, we accidentally went with some friends who don’t particularly like spicy food… I think there was a miscommunication somewhere.

Double-fried green beans.
Cumin beef.
Mapo tofu.

And we went to the dorm party!!

And a few straggler happenings:

The dorm now has fancy recycling bins from Terracycle! Okay, I don’t think anyone is using them, but the intent is good. I may take my dental care waste back there to recycle it.

Recycling paid for by Colgate! This is a form of extended producer responsibility that would help build the cost of disposal into the price of a product.

The communal projector is falling apart.

Seriously, I think it’s weight is being supported by copious amounts of duct tape.

The university recently switched to different dorm furniture, casting off the old (which was much beloved!). When we were visiting, I scrounged around for bunk-bed parts. I got enough for 1 bunk bed (so spots for 2 beds, or a bed and a desk) and 1 table, plus extras for future repairs. Now I just have to figure out how to get them to the Bay Area!! I’m hoping USHIP works out.

Overnight bus with beds!

Air travel is fast, but frustrating (I dislike the security checks + lack of leg room) and is particularly bad for the environment when traveling short distances. Because of this, I like to take alternative modes of transportation when possible. The train is nice 🙂 but can be slow and doesn’t offer a lot of different departure times; traditional long-distance buses (Megabus, Greyhound, BoltBus) can be just as cramped as planes.

However, there is an alternative! Cabin (previously SleepBus) is a bus service between LA and San Francisco that has beds on board, much like the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. The trip is about 7 hours overnight, just about the perfect length for this kind of venture. One-way tickets are $85-$120, so 4-5 times more expensive than other buses and 2 times more expensive than Amtrak for the same trip. Flight costs vary a lot (I just saw $29-$200), but are comparable on average or at the last minute.

I’m eager to try out this service! Until Amtrak has an overnight trip between the Bay Area and LA, this sounds like a great option.