Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Angel Island

The fog-shrouded Golden Gate Bridge on the way to Angel Island

Having friends who were athletes in high school has its disadvantages: you are at constant risk of filling your weekends with physical activities that displace important priorities such as taking a nap or watching televised sports. The risk increases if such activity is proposed in the presence of one’s adolescent child, because guilt enters into the calculus. If the parent were to decline the invitation, there is guilt over passing up an opportunity to bond with the child and guilt over setting a poor example of physical (un)fitness. And so it was that I assented to the Angel Island bike trip last Saturday morning.

Four adults and four teenagers assembled in a Foster City parking lot at 8 o’clock. After loading up a truck and a van with bicycles and backpacks, we drove north to San Francisco’s Pier 41, where we boarded the ferry to Angel Island.

The ferry landing at Ayala Cove

Angel Island, like its Bay companions Alcatraz and Treasure Island, used to thrum with military, immigration, prisons, and other state-sponsored activity, but is now a park frequented by picnickers and bicyclists. Angel Island is accessible only by ferry (adult roundtrip-$13; under 13-$7.50), which in civilized fashion serves hot food and age-appropriate beverages. After we ventured topside to take in the view, blasts of cold air drove us below to warm ourselves with coffee, hot chocolate, and pretzels.

At the landing we trudged uphill with our bikes to the paved road that circles the island. We stopped at several of the State Park’s noteworthy historical attractions: Fort McDowell, through which thousands of draftees passed during World War II, and the immigration station, which became the point of enforcement for the Exclusion Acts that limited Chinese immigration. Newcomers from Asia may feel unwelcome in certain circles today, but their trials are nothing compared to the opprobrium visited over a century ago upon the Chinese laborers, many of whom died digging the railroad tunnels and inland California waterways. Reviewing their history in the Visitor’s Center, I felt gratitude both to them and to the GI’s who were shipped out to the killing fields of Bastogne and Gaudalcanal.

There wasn't much privacy in my father's Army.

The monument by the immigration station

Despite the steep hills, my poor stamina, and worn brakes that slipped on the gravel, we completed the trip without incident and boarded the return ferry just before 1 o'clock.

The ferry stopped at Alcatraz on the way back to San Francisco.

We were greeted by clear skies when we walked off the ferry; the wharf was teeming with tourists and the Giants were challenging the hated Dodgers in a late-season pennant race at nearby SBC Park. There were a couple of anxious moments when the truck wouldn’t start (loose battery cable) and a car door slammed the former high-school athlete’s finger (ice stabilized the swelling), and we wended our way through the traffic and arrived in Foster City by 4 p.m., all present and accounted for.

Last week I received a brochure from a real estate developer who is selling new condominiums by SBC Park. The price for a 1,200-1,400 square-foot condo, depending on the view of the Bay, costs between $1.1 million and $2.1 million. But his views aren’t as good as they are from Angel Island and are a trifle more expensive than the $13 ferry ticket, so I won’t be taking him up on his offer, even if it does include a parking space. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

Priceless view

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Pedagogical Peregrination

On Sunday we packed the van with his clothes, computer, and other Very Important Stuff and headed south. Destination: the campus apartments at UC-San Diego, where our sophomore will rest his weary head between the classes which he will attend, study hard for, and pass with flying colors.

Parenting, like second marriages, is the triumph of hope over experience. Disappointment is our constant companion, and we become more practiced than political spinmeisters in the weaving of fanciful tales to explain our offspring’s behaviors. When something good does happen, for example when they win a scholastic award or get accepted to a decent college, we thank our lucky stars and cross our fingers that the run will continue. For those who lament that their child isn’t old Ivy material, we know parents who would trade places in a heartbeat. These folks are watching carefully for the first signs of substance abuse, not the fat acceptance envelopes.

We averaged 75 mph on Interstate 5 and arrived in San Diego 7 ½ hours after we left, a record time. It was still daylight after we deposited our bags at the hotel, so we had time to survey his future digs. They were spacious: four sophomores share a furnished two-bedroom one-bath apartment, complete with living room, dining nook, and kitchen. At an average cost of under $900 per student per month, including the meal plan, the UCSD room-and-board is a good value.

The refrigerator, although filled, is bereft of nutritional substances.

After only a day the bedroom already has that lived-in
look. Note the study aid propped up on the left.

Although I saw opulence, the sophomore’s mother saw only hardship. The next day we stopped at Trader Joe’s, Sav-on Drugs, Linen n’Things, and Costco to load the larder for the annis arduous ahead. Our van groaned under its burden, foreshadowing the sounds we would emit as we sherpa’ed the provisions upstairs. Together we broke bread---more precisely, a pizza---for the last time, hugged, and bade him goodbye.

Our reluctance to leave delayed our departure to 4:30 p.m., which meant that we had to fight the traffic into and out of LA during the ironically named "rush hour". On the previous return trip to the Bay Area I hadn’t had much luck on Interstate 5, which cuts through the heart of Orange County, so I tried the western route, the 405, which goes past the airport and rejoins Highway 5 north of LA. We were able to use the carpool lane, which improved our time only slightly because it was filled with cheaters undeterred by the $271 fine.As we sat in the traffic I thought about how a lot of wrong choices in my life were more than compensated by the one big correct decision to point my old VW north after I was done with school nearly 30 years ago.

We ate dinner at this In-n-out Burger off Highway 5
around 9 p.m. The parking lot had only two cars--
the emptiest In-n-out I had ever seen.

We pulled into our driveway at 1 a.m. Summer was over. © 2004 Stephen Yuen
Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.
--Isaac Watts

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Get Back, Honky Cat

Morning has broken, like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken, like the first bird
Praise for the singing, praise for the morning
Praise for the springing fresh from the word

Sweet the rain's new fall, sunlit from heaven
Like the first dewfall, on the first grass
Praise for the sweetness of the wet garden
Sprung in completeness where his feet pass

Mine is the sunlight, mine is the morning
Born of the one light, Eden saw play
Praise with elation, praise every morning
God's recreation of the new day

Above are the lyrics to one of the most well-known and beloved Christian songs written in the second half of the 20th century. I have a difficult time comprehending that its composer is an Islamic terrorist sympathizer.

Cat Stevens wrote “Morning has Broken” before he became Yusuf Islam, supporter of Hamas and Khomeini’s death sentence against Salman Rushdie. The hymn isn’t the treacly pap found in much of today’s “spiritually uplifting” music, nor does it browbeat the listener with theology. In very few words it communicates the joy felt by the disciples on Easter morn and the promise of mankind's return to the garden. Allusions to Christ (“where his feet pass”, “fresh from the word”), the rebirth of spring, and, above all, praise to God, one of the most admirable and least controversial acts of worship, bespeak a gentle Christian sensibility that is not often present in the novitiate.

Yusuf Islam was sent back to the UK today after he boarded a flight to the United States. I hope that Cat Stevens can find his way home.

The Bay at mid-morning.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

The 700 Club

After a busy week in the office I headed to SBC Park last night to watch the Giants beat the Padres. But the big event was Barry Bonds' 700th career home run. This one, unlike one of his typical blasts to right field into the water, narrowly cleared the fence in left field. The crowd hesitated briefly, then rose to its feet as realization of his deed crystallized. We applauded as the fireworks exploded.

I was there when it happened---another story with which to bore the boys at the nursing home a few years from now.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Thoughts on the Campaign

Why do military personnel overwhelmingly support Republicans? If the Democratic Party is less likely to involve the armed forces in actions that could get someone killed or injured, why don’t more servicemen and their families vote for Democrats? Another occasion to think about what “self-interest” means and whether it’s as important as economists say in determining people’s actions.

Some people say that the floundering Kerry campaign has been too nice, and that the “gloves are coming off” in September and October. (Calling President Bush a Nazi/Hitler/baby-killer/moron/coward is nice?) I don’t think being too nice has been Kerry’s problem, but if the fault lies with the candidate or his positions that would be too painful for some to contemplate.

If it looks like Bush is heading for a significant win, look out for:

Accommodating allies: other countries may step up their cooperation in the war on terror (more troops and aid to Afghanistan and Iraq) and initiate friendlier economic policies (lower oil prices, support for the dollar) to curry favor with a President who will be around for four more years.

A less trashy campaign: the adults who run the Democratic Party will put a lid on the most extreme elements of the anti-Bush crowd. CBS’ attempt to raise questions about Bush’s service in the National Guard and Kitty Kelley’s claim that Bush used cocaine late in life have backfired against Kerry. There’s a negative halo effect as more and more people are tuning out all criticism of Bush by the mainstream media (MSM). If Bush’s coattails and overreaching by the opposition pull in the 60 Senators necessary to override filibusters on Bush’s judicial nominees, that outcome will be worse for liberal causes than losing the Presidency. My bet is that wiser heads will cool it, choosing to fight another day in 2006 and 2008.

How could Senator Kerry have better connected with people?

1) When you come from a privileged background, make fun of yourself. Self-deprecating humor creates empathy with the audience; it worked for the original JFK four decades ago and even smoothed the edges of Vice President [Darth] Cheney at the Republican convention.

2) If you want to communicate effectively with conservative Christians, you don’t necessarily have to preach chapter and verse. (Anyway, if it's done too blatantly that would rightly be viewed as pandering.) In order to show you are familiar with and respect the culture, you can sprinkle your speech with Biblical references, as in this old refrain that Senator Kerry may have sung in college and may be singing again on November 3rd:
We're poor little lambs who have lost our way
Baa! Baa! Baa!
We're little black sheep who have gone astray
Baa! Baa! Baa!
© 2004 Stephen Yuen

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

My Bowl Overfloweth

The cell phone rang as I was driving home last night.

“Dad, where’s the plunger for the toilet?” That’s a question I didn’t need to hear.

Just hang on. I’ll be home in five minutes.

I’m greeted in the driveway by the two boys, large wet spots on their clothing. “Dad, it’s worse than you think.” More words that I didn’t need to hear. I can think—and imagine—a lot.

Which toilet is it? “Upstairs”.

I grab the plumber’s helper from the garage and walk into the family room. Water is dripping through the ceiling fixture to a large circle on the carpet, where one of them had the presence of mind to place a garbage can. I hurry upstairs to the bathroom, where the water is an inch deep.

I’ll spare the gentle sensibilities of readers by refraining from a detailed description of what happened next. Suffice it to say that over the next two hours I wielded a mop, bucket, plumber’s helper, plumber’s snake, ladder, bathroom cleaner, sponges, and paper towels. Nevertheless, I was grateful for two things:

1) The spouse and mother had chosen last night to attend a play in San Francisco. Spouse and mother does not take kindly to dirt on the carpet, and this event was the equivalent of a mudslide. Fixing the immediate problem would have been exponentially more difficult if there were the usual “high-intensity interpersonal communications” occurring in the background.
2) The summer heat wave that had produced uncomfortable sleepless nights now was an ally. The water evaporated quickly on the bathroom linoleum, but the carpet was still moist this morning.

I could tell from the changed placement of the Clorox and other cleansers that additional work was performed after I went to bed at midnight (if you ask by whom, you don’t have teenaged boys). Everyone was sleeping peaceably when I left for work this morning, so all’s well.

Tonight’s lesson: the location and operation of water shut-off valves. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

P.S. to Mom and Dad: Happy Anniversary!

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Memories of Hanauma Bay

After Rachel Carson awoke us to the wonders of the oceans and before Boeing passenger jets transformed the face of Hawaii, my grandfather would pack his fishing gear and my bamboo pole in the trunk of his black Plymouth and trundle off to Hanauma (ha-NOW-ma) Bay in southeastern Oahu.

Many thousands of years ago the sea broke through the walls of the extinct crater. The first to arrive were fish; later came the iridescent coral and tidewater denizens, the sea urchins, sea stars, and sea cucumbers; finally came man, who dredged the black volcanic rock and added sand. The bay became the favored vacation spot of kings and queens.

My grandfather parked in the dirt clearing at the top of the crater, and, laden with buckets and bait, we began the descent down the steep path to the white crescent below. Tourists were not plentiful then; the central Honolulu beaches, Waikiki and Ala Moana, wider and friendlier, were more convenient to the hotels. When we reached the bottom, I switched to my black-and-white Keds and gingerly walked along the slippery ledges to our favorite spot left of Hanauma’s mouth.

Grandfather helped me affix a piece of shrimp or cuttlefish to the hook. I always felt great anticipation when the baited hook first plunged into the cold, clear water; the previous outing’s disappointments were shunted aside in memory, and maybe today would bring success. It was rare that I caught anything, but hope springs eternal in the young angler’s breast.

Grandfather cast his line far into the ocean, reeling it in slowly. The shifting currents would push our lines under the rocks. The moment’s exhilaration when I felt the tug quickly turned to disappointment. I tried to work the hook free and often failed. The line would finally break, and I would thread the line through another hook, painstakingly tying a knot and pulling it tight with my teeth.

When we caught fish we would store them, still living, in a bucket of ocean water. After hours of baiting, casting, and losing hooks, I would put the pole down and watch the trapped creatures, which were much larger and more vigorous than my pet guppies. When we exhausted our bait, grandfather emptied the bucket on a large flat rock. If I was lucky enough to have caught a fish, we usually returned it to the ocean because it was too small to eat. After the larger fish gasped their last, grandfather gutted, cleaned, and scaled them, wrapping the remains in newspaper. We trudged back to the beach over the wet rocks; my weariness increased the odds of slipping. After a long day the climb with our gear to the car was the hardest part, and I would doze off during the ride home.

Since 1967 Hanauma Bay has been closed to fishing, and visitors are prohibited from walking onto the rocks where grandfather and I used to fish. Today it is a major tourist attraction, complete with paved parking, a five-dollar admission fee, and a visitor’s center.

Although my grandfather has been gone over 30 years, I could see him in my mind’s eye when I swam at Hanauma Bay two weeks ago. He grinned through his yellowing teeth, his panama hat jauntily askew, proudly holding the big gray fish that grandmother would steam that night. I miss him and the little boy who accompanied him, their images fading in the spray of the breaking waves. © 2004 Stephen Yuen

We used to fish where the waves break near the top of the photo.