Sunday, December 28, 2003

Southern California and Las Vegas trip report

As my aunts Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang are visiting from Taiwan, Dad decided to take all of us on a road trip down south. The trip was one week long; our party left on the 23rd and just got back about an hour ago. The places we visited included Anaheim, Las Vegas and several national parks; while my parents and I had been to most of them before, that didn't make our vacation any less exciting. You can read more about it in my report below. :-)

Day 1

Before starting out, my parents first had to pick up an SUV at the local car rental agency. I imagine it'd be rather hard to fit the five of us and all of our luggage into a sedan. They took the SUV back to our house, and it was time for a long drive to Anaheim. There weren't many attractions along the way other than the big Casa de Fruta store in Hollister. The store had lots of snacks that looked delicious, and I bought a bag of potato chips to share with everyone. Yum!

The five of us had dinner at a restaurant in Bakersfield later in the evening. I was somewhat worried at first because Bakersfield was one of the sites of the recent flu outbreak and that somebody had died there as a result, but much to our relief, none of us got sick or anything.

Our group arrived in Anaheim a couple of hours later. All of us were pretty tired at this point, so we called it a day after checking into the hotel.

Day 2

It goes without saying that no trip to Southern California is complete without a visit to Disneyland. But as my parents and I had been there before, I wanted to go somewhere new. Therefore, the three of us decided on a side trip to Joshua Tree National Park after dropping Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang off at the Happiest Place on Earth.

Joshua Tree National Park was much farther than we had anticipated. As its name suggests, the main feature of the park were the strange-looking Joshua trees; the desert was full of them as far as the eye could see. The place wasn't very interesting otherwise - and it was also extremely windy - so we didn't spend too much time there before turning back.

The rain began as soon as we left the park. It was actually pouring so hard that the road become completely wet within minutes. To complicate matters, all the cars were driving very fast; my mother couldn't catch up to them even at over 80 mph. I couldn't help but worry about our safety during the entire drive; this was certainly the scariest part of the trip. The three of us eventually arrived back in Anaheim safe and sound after a harrowing two hours. Come to think of it, I would rather have gone to Disneyland instead.

Speaking of which, my parents still needed to pick up Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang. The three of us made our way to the Happiest Parking Lot on Earth and took my aunts back to our hotel for the night.

Day 3

The morning began with some good news: Dad checked my e-mail and found out I had been accepted into SJSU. The decisions generally don't come until don't come until March or April, so this was like an early Christmas present. At the very least, it meant my college education was guaranteed.

Continuing on, our main stop of the day was Universal Studios Hollywood. I had been here with my parents before as well, but we felt it would be too mean to leave my aunts on their own again. The attractions had mostly remained the same, although there were some new ones as well.

Our theme park experience began with a little mishap at the Mummy Returns: Chamber of Doom attraction. I was reliving my childhood fantasy of being a badass action hero by pretending to knock out what I thought were prop monsters popping out of the walls. Unbeknownst to me, they were real cast members, one of whom I almost punched squarely in the face. Needless to say, he wasn't too pleased about it. Oops!

The five of us later went on the famous Studio Tour that took visitors to various film sets. The tour had not changed much from when my parents and I went to Universal Studios Hollywood a little less than eight years ago, but that didn't make it any less exciting. Our group also checked out many other attractions; the Terminator show and the Back to the Future ride were among my favorites. The only downside was that some of the lines were very long.

While my parents and I generally prefers national parks over amusement parks, we still had a great time at Universal Studios Hollywood. I'd say it was actually the best part of the trip.

Day 4

It was then time to head to Las Vegas. The drive to Sin City wasn't quite as long as the one to Anaheim, but we still arrived fairly late because of the traffic. Nevertheless, there was more than enough time to take my aunts on a tour of the Strip. Our hotel for the night was Stratosphere Las Vegas.

Day 5

Our party explored Las Vegas for a bit more before heading to Barstow, with the first stop along the way being Pahrump. One cool thing about this town is that it had several large fireworks stores. I visited the Phantom Fireworks storeroom, and it was hard to believe how much stuff there was. We didn't buy any fireworks as the nearest place to legally light them was on the other side of Las Vegas, but it was nonetheless a memorable experience.

I purchased some more potato chips at one of the convenience stores to share while my parents bought some prune juice at Walgreens to treat Wei-Jen's constipation. For those who don't know, prune juice is a great natural remedy when one is unable to answer nature's call. This was something we had been looking for since the start of the trip, and it was a relief (no pun intended) when we finally found some.

Our next destination was Death Valley National Park. I wanted to visit Ubehebe Crater, something we didn't get to do during our trip to the Southwest in 2000. Unfortunately, the crater was still too far this time, and we decided it wasn't worth the extra drive. I certainly hope we'll be able to go there on a future trip.

Wei-Jen started feeling ill as we were leaving Death Valley later in the evening. Dad was afraid she had altitude sickness, but it soon became clear that she had to go to the bathroom really badly. The laxative properties of the prune juice were apparently starting to take effect. Let's just say we had to make several "emergency stops" in Death Valley in the middle of the night. *whistles innocently*

Other than that, our party arrived at our hotel in Barstow without any problems.

Day 6

Our day began with another long drive, this time to Sequoia National Park. Most of the park was covered by snow, so we didn't get to do much other than stop for pictures. That said, the natural scenery was still quite enjoyable. The bad news was that I slipped on the ice and hurt my butt outside one of the visitor centers. Shit happens.

Dad wanted to visit the adjacent Kings Canyon National Park, but the road between the parks was closed for the winter. It was also getting late, so we decided to head to our hotel in Oakhurst. This was actually the same hotel my parents and I stayed at on our trip to Yosemite in February.

Day 7

Our final major stop of the trip was Yosemite National Park. Like Sequoia, Yosemite was also mostly covered by snow. On the other hand, the five of us had a nice brunch in one of the picnic areas. It was also pretty fun to visit Yosemite Village and the stores there.

Mom noticed some wolves trudging through the snow at one point. This was a rare sight, so we stopped for pictures. But as soon as my aunts rolled down the window for a better look, I started freaking out because I was afraid the animals would jump in and attack us. However, the wolves didn't even bat an eye as they passed our car. Perhaps I'm too paranoid. In any case, I felt like an asshole for yelling at my aunts like that.

One of our family traditions to eat at the Kowloon seafood restaurant in San Mateo whenever we came back from the mountains. But things weren't the same as they used to be: the restaurant had been renamed, all the menus have changed and everything was more expensive in general. The five of us still decided to eat here, but the food turned out to be mediocre. It seems the restaurant had changed owners, and that the new ones just didn't have the same expertise. We figured this would be the last time we would eat at Kowloon. It was sad to see such a great tradition come to an end.

Conclusions

Even though most of the places we visited weren't new to us, the trip was still had a lot of fun. The fact that we had company made it even more so. It's not very often that we get to travel with other people. Speaking of which, the best part of the trip was Universal Studios; my parents and I don't frequently go to theme parks, so this was pretty nice for a change.

Our original itinerary included Grand Canyon National Park. However, my aunts were opposed to the idea as they felt bad about us having to spend so much more money on the trip. It was ultimately decided that we would skip Grand Canyon, especially considering that my parents and I had been there before. This did shorten our trip by about two days, but it also reduced the cost by several hundred dollars. I certainly appreciate my aunts being so considerate.

All in all, everyone greatly enjoyed this vacation. I look forward to taking Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang on other trips in the future.

Currently playing: The Incredible Machine 3

Friday, December 19, 2003

my last Christmas break of high school

Today was the last day of classes. It's hard to believe I only have one more semester left of high school. In any case, Christmas break is going to be awesome!

One thing to note is that the LAHS community recently voted to move the finals to the week before the break. This was something I've always supported; the idea that we had to study during the holidays never stuck well with me. Thank goodness for common sense. The change also means students now have less time to prepare for the exams, but I guess we can't have our cake and eat it too.

Currently playing: The Incredible Machine

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

a little choir party

So the LAHS choir classes had a get-together during lunch today. It's apparently a tradition of the LAHS choral department to have an after-party following a major concert. Mr. Shaull put on some Christmas music, and some people even got up to dance. There was also no shortage of food. It's certainly a great way to celebrate a successful event.

The gathering was fairly short because of the school's schedule, but it was still lots of fun. In my opinion, it almost makes up for the recent holiday dance I had to miss out on. :-)

The finals are starting tomorrow for us seniors, so I guess I better get back to studying. Wish me luck!

Currently listening to: "White Christmas" by Irving Berlin

Saturday, December 13, 2003

my first choral performance!

I just got back from my first choral performance. The concert took place at the Los Altos United Methodist Church. The event was part of the Chorale curriculum, but it involved the entire LAHS choral department. It was overall a very enjoyable experience.

The LAHS choral department consists of five choirs: Chorale, Varsity Men's Glee, Girls 21, Concert Choir and the Main Street Singers. There's also Choral Union, which is all the choirs combined. Each of the choirs sang various Christmas songs, after which Choral Union assembled for Joseph Haydn's Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo.

Chorale is the least advanced choir, so we didn't have to spend too much time on stage before joining with the other choirs for Haydn's mass. I was very nervous at first, but it wasn't long before I started feeling comfortable. But then again, it's not like I had to sing solo or anything. Haha.

Because my aunts Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang are visiting from Taiwan, my mother invited them to the concert as well. It made me very proud that they would come. Dad couldn't attend as he's currently on another business trip, but I'm sure he was there in spirit. I would certainly have asked Mom to record the concert for him, except neither of us remembered where we put our old mini camcorder.

The tickets for the concert were $7 per person, and all of the proceeds go to the LAHS choral department. The downside is that we singers don't get a cut of the profits. But the money isn't such a big deal; everyone had a great time performing, and that's pretty rewarding in itself. :-)

Currently listening to singing: "Rise Up, Shepherd and Follow"

Friday, December 12, 2003

had to miss out on another dance :-(

The week ended on a sour note as I had to miss out on the "Holiday in the Sun" dance tonight. I had been looking forward to it for several months, so this was rather disappointing. Sounds familiar, doesn't it?

The reason I didn't attend this one was because of the recent flu outbreak. Mom advised me not to go as germs spread easily in crowded places. She had a good point; it just wasn't worth the risk of getting sick as my health is far more important than a school dance. The change of plans didn't come as a complete surprise because I was prepared for the possibility this time; after all, my mother has always taught to expect the unexpected. But I'm not going to lie: having to miss out on a dance sucks no matter how you look at it.

The sad thing is that the back-to-school dance in August might be the last dance I'll ever attend at LAHS. While there are three more this school year - winter formal, Sadies and prom - I'm not planning to attend those because the formal ones are much more expensive, not to mention that it'd be weird to go to them without a date. Mom assures me there will also be dances in college, but I guess I'll know for sure when the time comes.

On the bright side, I don't have a bunch of homework that would take up my entire weekend this time. The other good news is that my aunts Wei-Jen and Wei-Fang are coming to visit us from Taiwan tomorrow, and Dad plans to take all of us on a road trip to the Southwest U.S. during Christmas vacation. So at least there's something to look forward to. :-)

In other news...

I'll be performing in a choral concert for the first time tomorrow night. I'm somewhat nervous about it, but also very excited at the same time. Wish me luck!

Currently playing: Chasm: The Rift