Seventh Anniversary in Bangkok

Would you believe that it has been seven years since I moved to Bangkok? Sure enough, Halloween marks the anniversary of my one-way THAI Airways flight from New York to Bangkok (a nonstop long since discontinued), and 2005 was the departure date. Now I look at New York, cleaning up from severe flooding, from an ironically dry Bangkok.

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It is hard to believe that so much time has passed but at the same time (and I know it is a cliche) it seems like the time has flown by. I was having lunch yesterday with another expat, a Chinese one, who commented that most foreigners living here don’t last that long. Then he told me about another guy, an American, who has been here for something like fifty years. Maybe he was trying to tell me that seven years really isn’t so long! 

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In either case, Halloween marks a milestone and Tawn and I are at a point in our relationship where a decisive majority of our time together has been spent living in Bangkok. I’m sure this has had some effect on it, although I would have to think a lot harder to identify what that effect is. Topic for a future blog post.

In other news, we are scheduled to fly to Shanghai for five nights starting Saturday. The Chinese embassy has approved Tawn’s visa but, strangely, has rejected mine citing lack of proof of financial means to travel. Say what? I suspect they are just yanking my chain because I’m an American. Have sent the travel agency back with a raft of documentation proving that I will not under up on the Communist Party dole while traveling there.

 

Taking Light Rail to SeaTac Airport

When it came time for my return flight from Seattle to San Francisco, I thought it might be interesting to try public transit to the airport. I was staying with a friend on Capitol Hill, just northeast of downtown, and a short bus ride to the Central Link light rail that runs to Seattle Tacoma International Airport, about ten miles south of the city.

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The first step of the journey involved taking a seven-minute bus ride down the hill to the Westlake station at Fourth and Pine Streets. The bus stop was just a block from my friend’s house and a handy free iPhone app called OneBusAway (developed by the University of Washington) let me know exactly when the next bus was coming, minimizing my waiting time. The ride ended up being free because one of the other waiting passengers had accidentally been given two transfers on his connecting bus, so he gave one to me. Normally, it would be a $2.25 ride.

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The Westlake station will be the northern current terminus of the light rail line until 2016 and announcements on the bus made it easy to tell which stop to alight at. Going down two flights of escalators, I found a small ticketing lobby with easy to use self-service ticketing machines. The machines take both cash and cards. “Orca” is the name of the multi-modal fare card in the Seattle area. It stands for “One Regional Card for All” and is, of course, the proper name of the killer whales found in nearby Puget Sound – clever.

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From the ticketing lobby I descended another level to the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. This 1.3-mile tunnel opened in 1990 and provides a convenient, congestion-free path for buses and light rail trains through the heart of Seattle while also providing passengers protection from the elements while waiting. It seems to be a useful piece of infrastructure.

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My adult ticket – $2.75 one-way to the airport. Travel time to the aiport from downtown is 36 minutes, not much longer than what a trip by car would be, without the worries of traffic – and in Seattle, there is usually traffic.

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Signage in the station was clear – different bus lines stop in different sections of the platform – and there were staff members present to answer questions. Frequency of the light rail runs from every 7.5 to every 15 minutes, depending on the time of day. I had less than a five-minute wait before my train arrived.

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Many passengers boarded at this first station, including several who were clearly going to the airport. Average weekday ridership for the 15.6-mile route is about 25,500, growing at a steady but modest pace.

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The two-car trains have a capacity of 74 seated and 126 standing passengers, although it would be hard to imagine that many people standing in this train, especially with the number of people bringing luggage aboard. With the airport as an important destination, there is a surprisingly small amount of storage space for luggage.

Leaving Westlake station, the line passes nine stations at a pretty quick rate, stopping at a station every two or three minutes. The final two stations, though, are much further out with nine minutes between the tenth and eleventh stations. This is a long distance for light rail to run with no stops and as far as I can tell, the route includes no provisions for in-fill stations to be added. 

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Two minutes afer leaving the second-to-last station, you pull into the SeaTac Airport station. This neatly organized station has a view of the north end of the airport terminal and signage directing you to the airport is clear. Unfortunately, it is an open-air station and I imagine that it gets very unpleasant waiting for a train in the winter. It looks, though, like the usually have an outbound train waiting in the station so passengers do not have to stand out in the elements for long.

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A view of the airport light rail station, which is built northeast of the parking garage and is connected via a pedestrian bridge and walkway that is partially protected from the elements. Sound Transit, the light rail operator, says it is a four-minute walk to the airport terminal. That would be a brisk four minutes, especially if you have luggage, and would only get you to the northernmost corner of the terminal. For most people, especially those not flying Alaska Airlines, ten to fifteen minutes would be a better estimate.

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View of the hometown airline, Alaska Airlines, from the light rail station.

I’m a fan of public transit and am glad that one more city in America has made its airport more accessible via transit. The Central Link light rail is convenient to use, reasonably comfortable (of course it was unseasonably pleasant weather when I rode it), and offers a good return on money for time. If you live anywhere near downtown (or along the light rail route), it is a compelling alternative to a taxi or private car. Of course, not everyone in Seattle lives near the light rail, which is always the challenge of public transit. Still, my overall impression of the Seattle light rail is a positive one.

 

Riding Amtrak’s Coast Starlight

While in the United States, I had to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles for a work event. Deciding to try something new, I booked a seat on the Coast Starlight, the Seattle to Los Angeles train operated by Amtrak. 

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While I’m an aviation buff at heart, travel by train also interests me. I have used Amtrak several times on the Capital Corridor route, which runs from Sacramento to San Jose, and when I was very young my family traveled from Denver to Salt Lake City on the California Zephyr service. That’s the extent of my travel by train in the United States and I’ve longed for years to try Amtrak for a long-distance trip. 

The Amtrak website was easy to use and I was able to book San Francisco to Santa Barbara one-way for only $50. The only downside was that the journey would take more than nine hours, door-to-door. Compare that to my experience on Taiwan’s high speed rail last year, covering a similar length journey in less than two hours!

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The first segment of my Amtrak trip started with a ride on San Francisco’s MUNI rail system, from the Church Street station to Embarcadero. At about 6:30 am, the train was not too crowded and there was room for me and my roll-aboard bag. 

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Amtrak doesn’t have a rail station in San Francisco, operating all its trains from the Emeryville and Oakland stations on the east side of the bay. They do provide bus service from several points in San Francisco, though, connecting to those stations. Above, the historic Ferry Building at the foot of Market Street.

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The Amtrak website identified the one San Francisco bus stop that allowed for checked baggage as being at the Ferry Building. As you can see in the picture above, the Amtrak office (left) is not connected to the Ferry Building (right). Thankfully, I went to the Ferry Building the day before to make sure I knew where the Amtrak office was – a search that took about fifteen minutes.

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The inside of the Amtrak office is pretty plain, although reasonably clean. The staff was friendly and helpful, checking my bag all the way to Santa Barbara and explaining that I had about twenty minutes until the bus arrived if I wanted to walk to the Ferry Building for coffee.

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Gorgeous sunrise behind the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. One of the things I miss about living in San Francisco is the waterfront, which is one of the nicest features of the city.

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Right on time, the Amtrak bus arrived. The staff loaded checked bags onto the bus and the driver took half of our boarding passes (the same as on airplanes) for the San Francisco to Oakland portion of the trip. In the background you can see the Financial District.

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Only about ten passengers made the journey on the bus and the Ferry Building was its final stop in the city before heading to Oakland. We departed at 7:15, on schedule.

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View of San Francisco, with the famous Transamerica Pyramid and Coit Tower. Bye, bye San Francisco! See you in a few days. The drive to Oakland took only about 25 minutes, although 40 was scheduled. At this time of the morning, the bus was traveling against the prevailing traffic, as evidenced by the long lines at the toll plaza on the westbound end of the bridge.

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We arrived at the Oakland station, which is in Jack London Square. The station itself looks pretty new although it has a classic railway station aesthetic. While we waited for the train, which was scheduled to arrive about 8:00, a couple of Capital Corridor trains stopped on their way to San Jose.

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Our train arrived on time, leaving about twenty minutes for a crew change and for cleaning crews to service the train. I checked in with a conductor, who tore my boarding pass and then assigned me a seat. I asked to a window seat on the righthand side so I would face the ocean later in the day. We departed on time at 8:25.

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A view from my coach class seat. While the name is the same as on airplanes, you would recognize this more as a first class seat. The seating is two-by-two with wide seats and generous legroom. Later in the trip, I had a seat mate and the only complaint is that there is no armrest between the two seats. For strangers traveling next to each other, the American sense of personal space is lost.

The conductor came through the train and put a seat assignment card over each seat. This way you could get up and move around, comfortable in the knowledge that your seat would still be free when you returned. Initially, I was apprehensive about leaving my bag unattended, but eventually decided that since we make so few stops, I would have a chance to spot anything that was missing before arriving at the next stop and inform a conductor. Yes, a little paranoid.

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Our progress down to San Jose was very slow, with the train crawling along at just a few miles an hour. Here, a view of the salt evaporation ponds near Hayward. They were harvesting the salt before the autumn rains arrived and the view reminded me of those I’ve seen in Samut Songkhram province here in Thailand.

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In Santa Clara, we passed the construction site for the San Francisco 49ers’ new stadium. It seems that even though they will play 40-some miles south of the city, they will maintain their name. Shouldn’t it be the Silicon Valley 49ers? 

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Once we left San Jose, I went to the lounge car to take in the view and buy a bite of breakfast. This “oatmeal kit” (which came with a cup of hot water and a container of milk) and an orange juice cost me only $5. The list of ingredients on the oatmeal package was shocking, though. Dried oats and a pinch of salt would seem to be enough, but they have all sorts of other things including dried apples and a cinnamon-sugar packet.

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The lounge car features tables and then sofa-type seats and swivel seats that face the windows. I should have spent more time here since the views are quite nice and the atmosphere is brighter than in the coach cars, but some of the passengers seemed to be escapees from the Greyhound bus.

Sorry, that isn’t really fair to characterize people who travel on Greyhound in a negative light. What I should say is that there were several people traveling by themselves who were sitting in the lounge car, muttering to themselves (I checked – no bluetooth earpieces), and drinking beer at way too early in the morning.

Instead of staying in the lounge car, I returned to my coach seat and took out my iPad. The coach seats include a handy electrical plug in the wall below the windows, so it is easy to use electronic gadgets without fear of running out of battery.

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View out the back of the train. There were many areas where we would slow to a crawl and several more times when we came to a complete stop to wait for a freight train to pass us. Amtrak doesn’t own its own tracks so they have a lower priority than the trains belonging to whatever railroad owns any particular stretch of tracks.

According to the conductor, the fastest speed the train can go is 79 miles per hour (127 kph) and that is for a limited section of track. Compare this to the Taiwan high speed rail, which runs a top speed of 186 miles per hour (300 kph), and you have a pretty severe indictment of America’s railway infrastructure. Adding a second set of rails and upgrading tracks so more of the distance is rated for 79 miles per hour, would increase the average speed on the route from approximately 35 miles per hour to something more respectable.

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Passing through the Salinas Valley, all around were reminders that agriculture remains and important part of California’s economy.

The conductor took reservations for lunch, which is served in the dining car. Reservations, which are in 15-minute increments, are taken to ensure that everyone who wants to eat, has an opportunity to do so. The dining car looks similar to the lounge car, with tables that seat four diners. If you are traveling in a group of less than four, you can expect to be seated with strangers.

I was looking forward to this, as it seems that part of the adventure of train travel is to meet new people and have conversations with your fellow travelers. In this case, the three other solo travelers at my lunch table were resistant to my charms and every attempt at casual conversation was met with monosyllabic responses. As we ate in silence, everyone stared in a different direction to avoid eye contact. I could imagine the lines from our eyes looking like spotlights swooping across the sky but never connecting. 

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The food on the train (southbound menu here) was uninspiring, although better than what you might get on an airplane. For $11.75, I had the “marketplace special” which this day was meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It was served with a sad looking salad, dinner roll, and coffee, tea, or milk. The texture was rubbery, although the mushroom sauce helped a bit. Not wanting to spend any longer than necessary with my unsociable dining companions, I skipped dessert and headed back to my seat. 

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Heading into San Luis Obispo, we descended Cuesta Grade, losing 1,000 feet of elevation in just 11 miles. Here we see the train rounding one of two horseshoe curves, in which the front and rear of the train get a good look at each other. A few minutes later we passed the California Men’s Colony, a state penitentiary whose famous guests have included Dr. Timothy Leary and Ike Turner.

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We arrived a few minutes early into San Luis Obispo and ended with almost thirty minutes at the station. I took the opportunity to get out and stretch my legs, climbing the pedestrian bridge to get some shots of the train.

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Smokers taking one of very few smoking breaks between Oakland and Los Angeles. There was a small portion of the city just across from the station, but no coffee shop – something I would have welcomed. Just a few minutes after departing San Luis Obispo, we stopped for more than twenty minutes to wait for traffic to pass, another example of the delays that seem incredible to me.

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Not long after we started moving again, we took a turn for the coast and caught our first view of the Pacific Ocean. For the next 100 miles, the track follows the coast line passing Vandenberg Air Force Base and Point Conception.

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Beautiful view, turned slightly golden because of the window’s polarizing, of the Pacific Coast. At many stretches, we could view the oil derricks offshore in the Ellwood Oil Field. Interestingly, this was the site of one of only two attacks on the continental United States during World War II. In February 1942, Captain Nishino Kozo surfaced his submarine in the Santa Barbara Channel and fired 17 rounds from his 140mm deck gun towards the oil field. He inflicted little damage in the Bombardment of Ellwood but the attack and resulting hysteria were used to justify the internment of Japanese-American citizens, which began a week later.

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The train passes just a few dozen feet above the beach, a beautiful sight that made me thankful I had requested a seat on this side of the train.

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I arrived at the Santa Barbara station pretty much on time at about 6:00, nine-and-a-half hours after departing Oakland. My bag was delivered a few minutes later and my journey came to an end.

Overall, the trip was comfortable and easy enough, although it is hard to justify spending so much time unless you are on vacation. Even with the hassles of modern-day air travel, I could have arrived in less than a third of the time for probably only about twice the price. If I was traveling with someone else, the train might be more enjoyable and I would some day like to take my nieces on the Denver to Salt Lake City trip that I took as a child. Until then, I think all of my travel in the US will be by air.

 

Friends and Xangans and Xangan Friends

In the past few weeks, I’ve had the opportunity to meet several Xangan friends. In addition to meeting Jason (Wangium) for dinner at Nopalito in San Francisco, I met with Andy (ungrandvoyage) in Mountain View, and Kenny (kenpcho – not really active anymore) in Cosa Mesa. I’ve known all of them for some time and had met them before.

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While in Los Angeles, I also had to opportunity to have brunch with Gary (currypuffy – to my right) and Jimmy (Rm2046 – to my left), along with their friends William and Chris. Wonderful brunch at 3 Square Cafe in Venice Beach and I appreciate them making the time to see me. Sadly, Jimmy has been AWOL from Xanga for two years.

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After several years of knowing and just missing each other on my travels to the Bay Area, Kevin (Devilgaysianboi) and I finally had the chance to meet while I was in Southern California. He’s every bit as nice as he comes across on his blog. 

There are still plenty of Xangans I haven’t yet me whom I hope I’ll someday meet. These include, but are not limited to, the two Megs (Passionflwr86 and TheCheshireGrins), Val (murisopsis), Sheldon (brooklyn2028), Vivek (Dezinerdreams), Ben (bengozen), Alex (Roadlesstaken), Aaron (kunhuo42) and of course Matt (the appropriately-handled ElusiveWords). Well, I still have my whole life ahead of me, right?

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Of course, the trip wasn’t all Xangans. I also met with my high school friends (including their children and nephews, some of whom are pictured above). It was the seven-year-old (in the Groucho Marx glasses) who spurred me to finally cave in and buy a smart phone. During dim sum, the children were playing with their parents’ smart phones. Joaquin asked if he could borrow my phone. I fished out my inexpensive, old Nokia candy-bar phone. He looked at it for a moment, looked at me, and then said, “No, Uncle Chris, your real phone!”

I went to the Apple store that afternoon.

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This US trip was also the visit of babies, several of whom have been born in the last six months and all of whom I was pleased to spend time with. None of them starting a Xanga account yet, but at the rate that young people are adapting to technology, I expect they should be ready to blog by kindergartern. 

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No sooner had I returned to Bangkok than another pair of Xangans (well, former Xangans – how long can you be away before we give up hope that you will blog again?) came for a visit. Aaron (toypetfishes – the middle of the picture), who was the one who introduced me to Xanga more than seven years ago, and Tae (sagicaprio – between me and Aaron), shown here at brunch along with Tawn and our mutual friend Louis.

I’m amazed how many people from Xanga I’ve had the chance to meet in real life – 32, based on a quick count from my friends and subscribers list. That doesn’t include about a dozen relatives or friends I already knew who post (or used to post) on Xanga. Pretty successful for a social networking site, no?

 

Dining in SF: Nopalito

While in San Francisco, I met up with fellow Xangan Jason to try Nopalito, a Mexican restaurant that made it into the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top 100 Restaurants listing earlier this year. The genesis of Nopalito reportedly came from the staff meals prepared by chefs Jose Ramos and Gonzalo Guzman at owner Laurence Jossel’s nearby California-Medierranean restaurant, Nopa. The conceit is that in a city chock-full of taquerias and inexpensive burrito shops, Nopalito delivers Mexican food with an unusually high level of attention to detail and quality.

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Located in the Western Addition, close to the Golden Gate Park panhandle, Nopalito buzzed on the weekday evening when Jason and I visited. While the restaurant was busy, we were able to score two seats at the counter overlooking the kitchen with no wait.

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The restaurant’s interior has an unfussy, minimalist decoration that is warm and inviting. Tables are close together but the volume doesn’t reach unbearable levels. The staff, including the cooks, are friendly and engaging.

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Within moments of being seated, our server had placed a dish of spicy fried corn in front of us, given us menus, and brought water. The menu follows the “small plates” style that has become de rigueur in the San Francisco dining scene, with selections that were inexpensive (about $4.50 to $16) and easy to share. We glanced at surrounding tables and across the kitchen to identify dishes that looked interesting and quickly settled on five.

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For refreshment, we ordered a bottle of the house-made sangria. With white wine, Chartreuse, lime, orange liqueur, and thyme, this aromatic sangria was a refreshing departure from the usual red wine version to which I’m accustomed.

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Our first dish was ceviche verde de pescado y calamare – fresh fish and squid marinated in a sauce of lime, tomatillo, jalapeno, and cilantro, served with avocado and freshly fried tortilla chips. Ceviche, which relies on the acid of the dressing to cook the seafood, is a favorite of mine and every element of this version was super-fresh. My only complaint was that the verde sauce was so thick that it overwhelmed – masked, even – the flavor of the seafood. There was no denying the quality of the ingredients, though. They were exceptional.

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The next dish was tamal de amarillo con calabaza – a tamale of home-ground masa with butternut squash, pasilla chilies, and Oaxacan cheese, with a mole made with dried chilies, tomatillos, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, and spices. This was a standout dish with intricate flavors and none of the greasiness I often associate with tamales.

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We were seated right next to the counter where dishes were expedited, so continued to be tempted by all the things we hadn’t ordered. The cook on the left chatted with us several times, answering my questions about the various ingredients. You could sense that everyone working at Nopalito takes pride in the food they serve.

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The empanada con deshebrada de res – fried masa pastry with grass-fed beef, tomato, jalapeno, cabbage, avocado, queso fresco, and salsa frita de guajillo. Empanadas, fried meat-filled pastries, can be a pleasant, if sometimes heavy, treat. This version avoided all oiliness and was light and flaky. The filling was tender but the seasoning was underwhelming. There was no doubt it was expertly prepared, but the technique didn’t compensate for the bland flavor.

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The next dish visually exceeded my expectations, so much so that when it arrived, I thought we had mistakenly received someone else’s order. The quesadilla roja con chicharron, a crispy pork belly quesadilla, featured a mulato chile-corn tortilla, and salsa made from the cascabel chilies, which have a nutty flavor. Being a fan of pork belly, I was eagerly anticipating this dish. The tortilla had an enticing crunch but the pork and salsa were again underwhelming. Like the empanada, I was left wondering who had turned down the volume on the use of seasonings.

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Our final dish was an impulsive order based on what we saw coming out of the kitchen. The carnitas, pork braised in orange, bay leaf, milk, cinnamon, and beer, are served in a brown paper wrapper with a side of cabbage salad and tomatillo salsa. The pork had loads of flavor, but was a bit stringy and tough to chew, almost as if it needed to be cooked a while longer. The accompanying tortillas, which we watched being made not five meters away, were so good I wanted to swear off the store-bought version forever more. 

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With the bill (and the box of leftover carnitas for Jason to take home) we received a pair of Mexican cookies, a sweet way to end the meal. Looking back at everything we ate, it is abundantly clear that chefs Ramos and Guzman bring a level of sophistication and mastery to Mexican cooking that I’ve never seen before in the Bay Area. Quality and attention to detail are apparent in each dish.

When it comes to the question of flavor, though, some dishes were more successful and others were less so. That said, I look forward to making a return visit to Nopalito to experience more of their cooking and their staff’s hospitality, and to see whether the depth of flavor is perhaps hiding elsewhere on the menu. 

 

Boeing Everett Factory and Museum of Flight

While in Seattle, I spent a few days with my friend Jack. He’s a fellow aviation enthusiast so we made the requisite “pilgrimage” to two Seattle-area aviation hotspots: the Boeing widebody factory in Everett and the Museum of Flight at the original Boeing site at King County Airport.

 

Boeing Factory Tour

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The city of Everett lies about 35 miles north of Seattle. Since the late 1960s, Boeing has produced and delivered well over 3,000 widebody aircraft from this factory, which features the largest building in the world, measured by volume. The building is so large that 911 regulation NBA basketball courts would fit inside.

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Currently, the factory produces Boeing’s 747, 767, 777, and new 787 aircraft. Viewed above is the delivery flight line, where final systems checks are conducted before the test flights. The near row of aircraft are the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, with some Boeing 747-8 freighters in the back.

The factory tour allows up-close views of the different production hangars, where you can see the jets assembled in what can only be described as an example of how manufacturing technology has evolved over the years. Unfortunately, video and still photography (along with all electronic devices) is not allowed on the tour, so I’ve had to borrow some pictures from the internet to illustrate. I’ve noted all borrowed images.

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The first stop in the tour is the production facility for the oldest of the aircraft, the Boeing 747. The first flight of the original version of the 747 was in February 1969. The design has continued to be advanced over the decades and the current version, the Boeing 747-8 Intercontinental is larger, longer, faster, and much more fuel efficient than the original version.

The manufacturing process has in many ways remained the same. Almost all components of the aircraft are actually built by Boeing there at the Everett factory. Sheets of aluminum are attached to spars and stringers and each section of the plane – nose cone, tail, wings, fuselage barrels – are rivetted together, piece by piece. It takes four month from start to finish for each part to be made and eventually married together.

With the introduction of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, Boeing revolutionized the production process. The Everett factory is now the final assembly point for the airplane, with all of the component pieces being produced at other facilities (by bother Boeing and contractors) around the globe.

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These component pieces are large – lengthy sections of the fuselage, entire wings, etc. In order to transport them from factories in Italy, Japan, and Wichita to the final assembly facilities in Everett, WA and North Charleston, SC, Boeing commissioned four modified B747-400 aircraft, known as Dreamlifters. These ungainly looking aircraft significantly reduce shipping time.

We were fortunate to see a Dreamlifter arrive a few minutes after parking at the tour center. I captured the landing on video, above.

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To remove the components from the Dreamlifter, the tail section swings open. A giant tractor with a head-sized ball bearing is placed under the tail to hold the weight of the tail, preventing damage to the door hinges. It is an impressive feat of engineering!

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Once all the components are delivered, they are fastened together in a process that currently takes about seven days. That rate will increase as Boeing become more familiar with the assembly process, but is quite an improvement over the four months it takes to build a B747-8 from scratch.

Needless to say, the factory tour was impressive. Even though it was Sunday, a relatively slow production day, I could have easily spent much more than the allotted 90 minutes standing there, watching the assembly process.

 

Future of Flight Aviation Center

The tour begins and ends on the other side of Paine Field at the Future of Flight Aviation Center. Compared to the Museum of Flight in Seattle, which we visited later in the day, the Future of Flight is relatively modest. Still, it provides several displays to help you learn more about aerodynamics and the airplane production process.

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Posing in front of the nose section of a former Eastern Airlines Boeing 727 with a cockpit section of a Boeing 737 in the background.

 

Boeing Field and Museum of Flight

Finishing with the factory tour just about lunchtime, Jack and I decided to drive back to Seattle and visit the Museum of Flight. Located at Boeing Field, officially known as King County International Airport, the Museum of Flight has an extensive display of restored aircraft and many interactive exhibits. It also features the original Boeing factory, a red wooden barn dating from 1909.

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A view of the main display gallery, which features a restored Douglas DC-3 in Alaska Airlines colors, a Lear Fan 2100 with its unique Y-shaped tail and push-propeller, and a Lockheed M-21 Blackbird spy plane.

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A reproduction Boeing Model 40B, the aircraft that enabled Boeing to win the transcontinental US Mail contract. The plane was able to carry twice the load of its competitors.

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A Douglas A-4F Skyhawk II, a combat aircraft from the mid-1950s that was so light and nimble, it continued to be used for 35 years. This particular aircraft flew with the Blue Angels, the US Navy’s aerobatic team. This plane made a special impression on me because in my childhood, I had the opportunity to see the Blue Angels perform several times and this was the type of airplane they used at the time.

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A restored Stearman C-3B, a rugged biplane from the 1920s that was used to grow America’s commercial air mail network. This one is painted in Western Air Express colors.

The Museum of Flight also features an outdoor display area across the street from the main museum galleries. There, you can walk around (and in some cases, through) many of the most successful commercial aircraft.

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Immediately at the entrance to the outdoor gallery is the Concorde, a limited-edition commercial supersonic jet that shuttled the rich and famous across the Atlantic Ocean for almost three decades at twice the speed of sound. This particular jet is on loan from British Airways and it flew the final commercial Concorde flight.

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The plane is on static display and you can walk through its cabin and peer into the cockpit. Here is a view from the front passenger door, looking to the needle-like nose, which was dropped about 10 degrees when the plane of was on the ground, so the pilots could see the taxiway in front of them.

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Inside, you get a sense of how cramped the Concorde was. The interior height was only 6 feet, 5 inches and the two-by-two seating was no more spacious than current premium economy seats. That said, flight time across the Atlantic was only three-and-a-half hours, so you arrived at your destination much more quickly than on a conventional airplane.

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The museum also has the first “Air Force One” – a Boeing VC-135B, the military variant of the Boeing 707. This particular aircraft was delivered when Eisenhower was president and was replaced just three years later by a more advanced version.

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The aircraft is also open for walk-through tours, giving you a sense of how the presidents and other VIPs traveled when conducting government business.

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Compared with the current fleet used to fly the president, variants of the widebody B747, this older Air Force One looks very small. Above, you can see staff seating with the presidential conference room in the background. 

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Behind the cockpit and front galley is a communication station which enabled the president to communicate securely from his airborne White House.

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The cockpit of the Boeing VC-137B, which looks primitive with all its dials and gauges, when compared to today’s “glass” cockpits with their screens and video monitors.

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The museum also has the first flight-worthy Boeing 747. Named the City of Everett in honor of its birthplace, this Boeing 747-121 served as a testbed for Boeing over the years and is sometimes open for display. Unfortunately, the day of our visit, it was closed.

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The final item of interest was a Lockheed 1049G Super Constellation. This piston-engined aircraft was one of the most graceful airplanes ever designed and the “G” version first flew in 1954. By that time, it was clear that airlines were moving in the direction of jet planes and the Constellation was one of the last piston-engine planes. This particular plane was delivered to Trans-Canada Air Lines.

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View of Mount Rainier in the hazy distance from a control tower exhibit in the museum. You can listen to the radio broadcast from the Boeing Field control tower and watch airplanes (mostly general aviation) land and take off.

It was a full day of aviation geekiness, probably more than most people could handle but, in my view, a day well spent.

 

Over San Francisco

While flying from Seattle to San Francisco, we approached over the west side of the city, giving me a great view on this almost cloudless day.

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Golden Gate Bridge with the Marin Headlands to the left and the Presidio to the right.

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Downtown with Treasure Island, the Bay Bridge, and Alameda on the top side of the picture.