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Crazy Rich

2018 August 31
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I saw Crazy Rich Asians at the movie theater last week and came away inspired and proud.

I’m an adult now and all these years, I had never seen anything like it. Asian main characters on the American big screen. It’s the first Hollywood studio movie in 25 years to have an all-Asian cast. I loved being able to relate to many of the movie’s cultural values.

It’s hard to put into words how impactful this movie is. This feels like a big coming out party, even bigger than how Fresh Off The Boat felt for Asians on TV. Asians no longer just play the bit parts in movies and shows, but we can star.

Even though America is known as the land of opportunity, where you can supposedly become anything you want, I think society and perceptions play a big role in limiting how far minorities can go. As part of the “model minority,” I’ve grown up thinking my place is probably somewhere that I will work hard with my head down. It’s hard to break away from stereotypes and truly believe in yourself when everything you see and hear says differently.

Representation is important. It’s not something I thought of much before, growing up in the Bay Area. Living in Wisconsin was a shock and the thing I missed the most was diversity. Not just being around diverse people, but diversity of restaurants, diversity of languages, and diversity of culture.

I still remember my first time traveling back to San Francisco, arriving at my gate during my layover, seeing people of all different colors, and feeling at home.

I’m glad that Asian representation is slowly making progress. Hopefully Crazy Rich Asians will open the door for many more movies and roles like it.

 

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Tulum, Mexico

2018 July 27
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Just got back from a quick four days in Tulum, Mexico!

Upon landing, we first went to pick up a rental car. One of the things I was debating when booking the trip was whether it made sense to rent a car.

You can read all about the many different scams and risks of driving in Mexico, but we decided to go for it since we would be driving about two hours from Cancun to Tulum and it would give us more freedom for day trips to surrounding areas.

Well, aside from one sketchy gas station interaction, having the rental car was really useful to conveniently get around, though many travelers use bikes in Tulum as well.

In the city, our home base was the Tulum Pueblo area. Here, we found our favorite taco spot: Antojitos La Chiapaneca. There’s nothing quite like walking over to the neighborhood taco joint and grabbing a plate of spit roasted tacos al pastor (pork) cut right off the rotating meat stick. Cheap and delicious.

We also got a chance to check out the Tulum Beach area, which was a short drive away and had a lot of hip restaurants and boutique shops along the beach. This is where all of those Tulum-inspired instagram posts are taken, which was kinda cool but overall we preferred other parts of Tulum.

Though we did have an amazing dinner and mezcal drinks at Gitano, a restaurant with a hip jungle feel and a disco ball spinning above palm fronds. We ordered a whole fish cooked in their wood burning oven that was great.

On one of our days, we visited the famed Tulum Ruins, an old Mayan walled city set above sea cliffs.  The back drop was beautiful. After hiking around the ruins, we did a little snorkeling nearby and though there weren’t a lot of fish, we did see a couple giant barracuda and a handful of huge stingrays! It was awesome swimming right above as a stingray floated by directly beneath us.

Unfortunately all of the beaches were covered in unsightly and smelly seaweed during our trip… apparently this comes and goes depending on environmental conditions.

On another day, we visited Gran Cenote. Cenotes are natural water pools formed when limestone bedrock collapses to expose groundwater underneath. There are a bunch of these in Tulum, which sits on top of the world’s largest interconnected underwater cave system.

At Gran Cenote, we swam through a limestone cave opening where a bunch of bats constantly buzzed by our heads. That was really cool to me, though some people didn’t enjoy that experience as much haha. We also snorkeled and it was eerie to see the limestone formations underwater and where it dropped off into complete darkness.

On our last full day, we took a day trip to the little town of Bacalar, which was about two and a half hours outside of Tulum, near the border to Belize. There, we went on a boat tour of Laguna de Bacalar, also known as the 7 Colors Lagoon.

The name comes from the water, which was crystal clear and  absolutely gorgeous with different shades of turquoise and blue everywhere you looked. During the boat ride, we also saw a pirate’s channel, an abandoned restaurant, a few cenotes, and a large bed of stromatolites. It was a relaxing way to cap off the trip.

On our way to the airport to leave Mexico, we made a quick pit stop in Playa del Carmen, which felt way more touristy than Tulum. Was not a huge fan of it, but the beach looked nice and there was a bunch of pretty cool art.

Adios for now, Tulum! I’ll be dreaming about those tacos for a long time…

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Bao

2018 July 13
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by Stanley Quan

Though I was excited to watch the Incredibles 2 movie this past weekend, I was even more excited to see  the Bao short ahead of it.

There had been a lot of commotion on Twitter about it and couldn’t wait to watch it for myself. And at the core of it, I was so excited because I anticipated that Bao was going to be about me.

If you’re unaware, it’s a story about a dumpling and a mother. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it (go see it!), but I was blown away.

It was incredibly moving and made me look back on my upbringing as an ABC (American born Chinese). Both of my parents immigrated to the United States and when I was growing up, I often felt like I was being pulled in two different directions by two different cultures.

There was a part of me (at home) that was taught to be traditional Chinese, and then there was another part of me (at school and outside) that tried painfully hard to fit in as American.

I know it must have been hard on my mother as well. I’m sure she wanted me to fit in with all the other kids, but also felt strongly about passing on the Chinese way of life. So I was caught in the middle.

As I was watching Bao, I saw myself and my mom on the movie screen. It brought me back to my childhood and the push and pull of everything – the arguments, fights, understanding, and ultimate love that come with growing up between cultures. Not too long ago, I was Bao.

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Costa Rica Pura Vida: Manuel Antonio and San Jose

2018 June 1
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After three days in Arenal, we spent the second half of our Costa Rica week in Manuel Antonio!

The little hotel we stayed out was right next to the Manuel Antonio National Park gates, and we spent a day on a guided tour there. Our guide was great and helped point out all the animals in the trees as well as let us see them up close on his monoscope that he lugged around with us. Though it was kind of funny that I spotted the first animal on the hike, a basilisk lizard that was crawling all over a tree eating a breakfast of termites.

I’ve always been fascinated by animals and plants. I just think it’s really cool to observe them in nature and learn how the living world all interacts within ecosystems. In an alternate reality, I would trekking through jungles as an animal researcher.

For me, this hike was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. We were lucky enough to see three sloths (both two-toed and three-toed species), including a mother holding a baby, and one super up close. We also saw squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, white-faced capuchins, blue morpho butterflies, agoutis, birds, iguanas, bats, spiders, snakes, and a ton of small bright red-clawed crabs.

At the end of the hike, we relaxed on the beach Playa Espadilla Sur, which was where scenes from the movie Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed. The beach was absolutely stunning and it was great to cool off in the waves, though we had to chase off a few gangs of raccoons and monkeys that tried to steal food from our bags.

To finish off that day, we grabbed some beers at El Avion, a pub built out of an old US cargo plane that was abandoned there during the 1980s Iran-Contra Affair. It’s not every day, you get to have a drink in a cockpit.

Cafe Milagro was another nice cafe/bar with some great local beers and live music to wind down the night to.

Another morning, we took a boat tour of the mangroves, which was really cool as well. We weaved our way through the mangrove canals and saw more wildlife on our way to an opening to the ocean.

There was a group of bats perched camouflaging under a large tree trunk, and a sleeping boa constrictor curled up in other branches. Some monkeys even crawled through some mangroves right up to our boat. We ended the boat trip with a nice local lunch and tamarind lemonade, which was delicious and refreshing for a hot day.

On that note, I really enjoyed the food in Costa Rica! Though a lot of it was corn-based and there was always rice and beans for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner,  we had a lot of good fish by the beaches and quite a few casadas too. A casada is the typical Costa Rican dish that includes salad, rice and beans, a protein (grilled steak, chicken, pork, or fish), and plantains. We ate it at a bunch of sodas (small restaurants) and every place did it a little differently.

After a fun few days in Manuel Antonio, we finished off our trip with a day in San Jose. Though a lot of places were closed because it was a Sunday, we still got a chance explore a couple of cool, hip neighborhoods in the up and coming city.

Barrio Amon had some really colorful graffiti art and Barrio Escalante was lined with trendy bars and restaurants. Because it was set in a pretty suburb-y area, it reminded me a lot of Rainey Street in Austin, Texas.

All in all, Costa Rica was a blast. It was a great mix of everything: hiking, animals, hot springs, adventure sports, and beaches. Will definitely be back again! Pura Vida!

 

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Costa Rica, Pura Vida: Arenal

2018 May 22
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I recently returned from a weeklong vacation in Costa Rica.

It was sort of a last-minute decision to go, but I was really excited for it because I had never been to a rainforest area before. That landscape has been on my list for a while and it finally happened!

As our flight was preparing to land, the flight attendant announced: “Welcome to Costa Rica, Pura Vida!” If you don’t know, Pura Vida simply translates to “pure life” and is the Costa Rican way of life. From reading up on the country ahead of time, I was looking forward to the no worries, no stress, relaxing and easygoing lifestyle. Seemed like my kind of place.

During our week there, we decided to mostly split our time between Arenal and Manuel Antonio.

The first destination was Arenal, home to a giant volcano and lush forests all around it. Here, we did a bit of everything.

We soaked in some natural hot springs heated by the volcanic geothermal activity. I don’t know exactly what minerals were in that water, but my skin felt great afterwards.Another day, we went on a tour to learn about coffee and chocolate, two of Costa Rica’s most famous food exports.

Later on, we hiked around Arenal Observatory, where we saw a bunch of cool birds, plants, and a few monkeys. During the hike, we climbed up a 100-foot tower and peered over the vast canopy. It was a little windy and shaky getting up those steps, but it was worth it for the stunning view.

As part of the hike, we also walked across a couple hanging bridges. Walking past all the ferns and exotic plants, I felt like I was in Jurassic Park. Minus the mosquitoes, I could hike through that jungle for days. Bug spray was our friend.

Last but not least, we ziplined through the rainforest! Some of the lines took us in between trees and some of them took us above canopies. It was quite the thrill and the views, man, THE VIEWS. At the end, we capped it off with a giant 250-foot Tarzan swing. This goes right up there below skydiving as the most exhilarating things I’ve ever done.

After three days, we headed off to our next destination in Manuel Antonio. This was actually the first time I’ve ever rented a car internationally and I must admit it was a little nerve wracking.

From having to negotiate the car rental contract to not knowing local driving behavior, there was a lot to figure out. Fortunately, I did research ahead of time and was also able to use trusty Google Maps to navigate.

Except for one detour route through a short stretch of super rocky, hilly, and poorly-maintained roads, driving was pretty pleasant actually. It was really convenient to have a car and the roads we ended up taking winded through some incredibly interesting and beautiful scenery.

On the way from Arenal to Manuel Antonio, we stopped for a bite to eat in Jaco, a sleepy-during-the-day and party-during-the-night beach town, and walked across a bridge over the crocodile-filled Rio Tarcoles.

A five-hour drive later, we were in Manuel Antonio! Part 2 of the Costa Rica trip to come.

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