Neighbor Drama in the Building

“U home?” is the text I receive from my neighbor as I walk into my building.

I find my neighbor on the stairs, “Shhhh” and points up the stairway, “There’s some guy laying in front of our apartments”. I have no idea what he’s talking about but my curiosity peaks and instincts kick in. As I’m climbing the stairs like a ninja, I take out my knife from my bag. My neighbor and I get right in front of my apartment and witness an older man on his knees trying to open my neighbor’s apartment.

In my stern voice I ask the man, “Ahem. What are you doing?” Completely confused, the man lifts his head and looks in our direction, “I don’t know”. My neighbor and I exchange glances and I’m slowly opening my knife with my right hand. I tell him he needs to leave and he responds by telling me he lives there. A few more words are exchanged and my neighbor and I convince the man that he’s on the wrong floor. He slowly gets up and walks away. Once he’s out of our sight, my neighbor confirms, “He DOES live here. I’ve seen him a few times before.” Wonderful. We have a druggie living in our building. Just wonderful.

Magical Dive with Reef Experience in Cairns Australia

I’m incredibly afraid of deep water. I’m terribly claustrophobic. I hate seeing fish swim anywhere near me. To give you an idea of how much it bothers me, I refuse to go in aquariums – especially if I have to walk through a water tank tunnel. Now that you know that, perhaps you’ll understand why this post is very near and dear to me. Snorkel Cairns A day before leaving on a completely spontaneous trip to Cairns, Australia, I made the conscious decision that I would knock two items off my bucket list –  visiting the Great Barrier Reef and scuba diving. I contacted travstar.com to help plan my excursions in Cairns and the agent recommended that I book my introductory dive with Reef Experience. After my plans were booked, I socialized my travel plans with friends and they cautioned that I should have booked with ProDive because of their reputation and safety ratings. Seeing that this was my first dive and experience in the deep waters, I was worried that I picked the wrong company.

The Anxious Start
While I was walking from the bus drop off, I was concerned about the light rain and worried that it would affect my diving experience. Arriving to the dock, a friendly crew member gave me a consent form, rattled off some basic guidelines and inquired if I had any dietary restrictions. I found it pretty impressive that they started the trip with personalized questions. Embarking the boat, I was greeted by another friendly crew member who calmed my concerns of rainy weather and informed that the reef would probably be sunny with a chance of an overcast. It was  an assembly line embarking the boat – I picked up a snorkeling mask, fins and wet suit (which was optional). Entering the main cabin of the boat, I was immediately overwhelmed. There were tons of people and crew members were scattered all around. As the boat started, one of the crew members, Stacy, announced an orientation of things to expect, a run down of the day’s agenda and lots of safety information. It was a long hour ride to the reef (it might have even been closer to two hours) –  the water was rough and uncomfortably choppy. Although I’ve been on boats before, I didn’t expect to be affected by the rough water. Although the boat offered seasick and ginger pills, more than half of the passengers looked like they were going to hurl. Each and every one of the crew members were incredibly understandable and offered assistance to help alleviate the uncomfortable situation. Upon arriving to the first site, one of the dive instructors, Garreth, gave an orientation to diving passengers. (Not all passengers signed up to dive. It was primarily a snorkeling excursion.) Since there were only a few diving instructors, they grouped the ‘introductory divers’ into small groups of three to four people. I was assigned to one of the last groups. They suggested for us to snorkel until our groups were called. I put on my wetsuit, fins and got on the side of the boat to get into the water. I took a look at the deep water while the choppy waves were crashing against me and I got up and walked back into the boat. I was scared shitless.

Shit got real.
After a lot of self-convincing and an internal pep talk, I made myself walk to the side of the boat to prepare for my first deep water snorkel. I figured that I would have to get used to the deep water before I did my first introductory dive. I jumped into the water and was halfway between the boat and the snorkeling area when I came to a stop. I completely freaked out. I’m not sure if it was my inner demons tugging at my conscious or if it was the realization that I was in the middle of the ocean or if it was the difficulty of me trying to breathe with the snorkel mask but I started to turn in circles. During my panic, I made eye contact with one of the crew members on the boat and he gave me the signal, “Are you ok?” I shook my head, took out my snorkel and yelled that I wanted to go back in. He yelled to me, “Go a little further, you’re really close to the reef. You can come in but you came out here for a reason. Go see the reef.” I definitely needed that. I nodded, took a deep breath and focused on conquering my fears. I swam a bit further and saw some of the most magnificent things that I’ve only seen in pictures and on T.V.  The waving plants distracted me for about ten minutes before a wave hit me and reminded me that I was in the ocean. Yup, I freaked out again. I immediately went back to the boat and sat down around the bar to catch my breath.

A helping hand.
The chef onboard named Damo (Damien) asked me how it went and I told him that I was too scared to stay in the water. He introduced me to a young lady sitting across the bar from me and shared that she was scared of sharks and wouldn’t go in the water. Ironically I told her that she should go in and check out the reef. I explained to her my fears and shared my experience. Damo volunteered to take us out after he finished preparing lunch. After ten minutes, Damo took the young lady and I out to the side of the boat and we all hung onto a life saver float while he guided us to the reef. Damo’s patience and kindness was unreal. He guided us around the reef and after some time, he told us that he had to go back in. The young lady was so comfortable, she told us that she wanted to stay in the water.

The dive.
Feeling a little more confident in the water and excited to conquer my fears, I went back into   Dive Cairnsthe boat to get ready for my dive. I sat on another plank waiting to get dressed in scuba gear. I was in a group with two gentlemen and our scuba instructor, Stacy. She took each one of us down the water. She checked our comfort levels, made sure we knew the different drills and signals and when she felt that we were all ready to go further, we were supposed to follow her. Again, I don’t know if it was the fact that I thought my mask wasn’t working or if I couldn’t breath correctly or if it was the big fish that were swimming close to the boat, I freaked out. I grabbed Stacy’s arm and gave her the signal “I’m not ok”. She immediately knew I was freaking out so in a non-verbal way, she told me to calm down and breathe slowly. I did this for  a bit and when she saw that I was ok, she asked with hand signals, “you ok?” and I replied, “yeah, I’m ok”. She linked her arm with mine and we took off. The diving experience was something I can’t even express in words. I was scared, excited, exhilarated, anxious and curious – all at the same time. It was surreal being surrounded by water and gorgeous sea life. I found Nemo and his family along with a crocodile longtom fish (I thought it was a barracuda). After about half an hour Stacy guided me up and I was above water again.

Easy peasy.
The boat provided lunch and to my surprise, it was actually good! The menu consisted of four different types of salads, chicken curry, sausage links and a bread roll. Again, I was pleasantly surprised they had gluten-free options for me. After lunch the boat took us to another site to snorkel. It was my understanding that the site was further away and offered more sea life to see. I asked Damo to guide me along again and this time we had another scared gentleman join the float. We went around for 20 minutes before I went back on the boat.

Worth every bit
This experience will always leave a lasting impression on me. Not just the dive, but everyone who contributed to helping ease my fears. I’d say they helped me conquer it – but I can’t honestly say that I’ve been cured of deep water or claustrophobia. I’m a bit more comfortable in the water so in ways, I know it’s helped. I know to instructors like Stacy this is just part of their job and it’s something they do naturally and instinctively but to me, Stacy and Damo played an imperative role in overcoming my fears and for that, I will be forever grateful. I encourage anyone who is interested in experiencing the Great Barrier Reef to take it with Reef Experience. The boat is always kept clean and their provided lunch is really good. More importantly, their crew members are knowledgable, professional, accommodating and insanely fun.  After a full day on the boat with Reef Experience, I can honestly say I’m 100% satisfied that I chose them to share my life changing experience.

Some Things Just Never Get Old – Simple Pleasures

Do you ever find yourself smiling to yourself? I do. Within the last few weeks I’ve noticed – No matter how often things happen, some things just never get old. Here’s my short list of Simple Pleasures.

  1. Hugs. Who doesn’t love a hug? I came across this video awhile ago and I still watch it from time to time. I absolutely love the message.
  2. Thoughtful strangers. I was on my way to meet a friend at a bar in a dodgy neighborhood. When we arrived at the destination the taxi driver offered, “Do you want me to walk you in? Or do you want to call your friend to meet you at the door? I have a sister your age and I just want to make sure you’ll be ok.”
  3. Snail mail. Call me old fashioned, but I love receiving mail. Knowing that someone picked out a card/ stationary and took the time to write a note is simply… touching.
  4. Random songs. We all have playlists and we know what songs they contain. Perhaps it’s my appreciation for music or just appreciation for complete randomness but I get a small tingle when I randomly hear a song I like.
  5. Breezes. In San Francisco we get more than our fair share of wind and fog. Lately though, we’ve been lucky with really nice weather. During one of my morning strolls, I couldn’t help but smile a little when I felt a cool, crisp breeze. It was a reminder of cold days ahead with fireplaces and hot drinks.
  6. Just in time. I can’t put my finger on that feeling I get when I catch something ‘just in time’. When I’ve caught something that was about to fall, put in my breakfast order right before they change it to lunch or step into a retail store right before they close – it’s as if I got away with something I shouldn’t have.
  7. Smiles. I woke up to a smile the other morning. Nothing that day could have ruined the giddy feeling of pure happiness.
  8. Saying hello. It’s too often we get lost in technology. When I say technology I mean: emails, text messages, blogs, FaceBook, etc. I always appreciate phone calls from my family and friends.
  9. Witnessing randomness. I was in the backseat of a taxi, aimlessly looking out the right window and gazing at people walking on the sidewalk. I saw a young man running from the opposite direction. He caught my eye because he had a bouquet of long stemmed yellow roses. Seconds later at the stop light, I noticed a woman walking with a confused look and a smirk. She was holding a single, long stemmed yellow rose.
  10. Hearing ‘I love you’. Growing up, my family was not taught to express ourselves. It was only recently we started to give hugs. Each day that I talk to my parents or brothers, I am so thankful that we appreciate one another and sincerely end our calls with “I love you”.

What’s your Simple Pleasure?

Austin City Limits 2013 Dancing in the Rain

ACL Sign2013 is the first year I had the opportunity to experience ACL – Austin City Limits. ACL is a three day music festival in Austin, Texas. This was the first year to have the same acts perform on back to back weekends, and the lineup was amazing! I’m a bit biased to the lineup only because I’m a huge 80′s music fan and their headliners included Depeche Mode and The Cure.

ACL is by far my favorite outdoor music festival. I still have a handful of other music festivals to experience but this one made a lasting impression on me. It’s probably one of the most relaxed and hassle-free festival I’ve experienced. I stayed at Hilton (Courtyard) in downtown Austin. Friday, the first day of the festival, my buddy and I took a petty cab from our hotel to Zilker Park. It only cost each of us $15 USD. It was a great deal because the driver dropped us off right by the entrance gates.  There was a short line through security and they were incredibly lenient. They didn’t pick through every pocket in my backpack nor did they investigate the pockets in my shorts.

ACL Waldo

The park was laid out like other music festivals. There were port-a-potties, food trucks, water filling stations and beer stands. ACL only offered beer and wine… which I thought was a bummer. However, I found out that those with VIP tickets had access to tents with full bar alcohol. With every music festival, there’s always a handful of characters that show up… some in costume. Check out the Waldo we found – we were supposed to feed him beer.

Before going to the festival on Saturday, my friends and I wandered to an area that had Deep Eddy vodka. They had these cute girls made up like ‘pin up girls’ serving cocktails… for free! The vodka was pretty damn good. My friends and I got liquored up and enjoyed the remaining acts on Saturday. The last act we heard was The Cure. They played a variety of popular songs from their classic and new selection. During  their last song, Boys Don’t Cry, the rain came down. It was actually pouring. (How fitting, huh?) My friends and I scrambled to gather our things and once it was all wrapped up, we continued to enjoy the concert. At a couple of points in the song, we all danced in the rain. The rain came down so hard, the city of Austin actually broadcasted a ‘flash flood warning’. It continued to storm throughout the night and they were forced to cancel Sunday’s shows because of the flooded park grounds.

Despite the cancelled show, the rain made the entire weekend much more memorable. It’s not everyday I can say I danced in the rain while listening to a live legendary band with my friends.

Carnival Cruise was not Smooth Sailings

I’m sending the letter below to Carnival Cruise lines. I’m really disappointed with their lack of effort to accommodate their guests. Read more to hear the details.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To Whom it May Concern;

The purpose of this letter is to provide feedback from my recent 12 day cruise in the Mediterranean. I cruised with the beautiful Carnival Breeze with an itinerary to visit Monaco, Livorno, Rome, Naples, Civitavecchia, Dubrovnik, Venice and Messina.

The Good
I was immediately impressed with the ship. Decorated with bright vivid colors, creative interior designs and clean state rooms, the ship was aesthetically appealing. The entertainment areas (Ovation theatre, Limelight room, etc) were brilliantly decorated to provide an atmosphere separate from the ship. I would guess this probably helped with the risk of guests getting cabin fever. The variety of food choices was a pleasant surprise.

The best part of the ship was the outstanding customer service from the crew. Interacting with as many crew members possible was a complete honor. There’s a distinct difference between typical ‘good’ customer service and ‘exceptional’ customer service. I witnessed exceptional customer service from the crew. Everyone had the ability to connect with the guests and showed their sincere willingness to help. They were not acting polite, they genuinely wanted to help. I immediately fell in love with Aleksandra (casino bar waitress) because of her congenial personality and welcoming demeanor. Talking to Adrian, Mark and Devon (from the gift shop) made it hard to walk away without any merchandise. They were knowledgeable about the products and answered my questions with thorough answers. On top of it all, they were not pushy salesmen in any way. When I visited the library, Neichulu always had a smile. When I asked to grab a book or a board game she never made me feel like it was a burden. Instead, she seemed pleased because she was able to help. In the casino, both Alin and Mihai were incredibly accommodating. They always ensured the guests were having a good time. All of the crew members on the Carnival Breeze are absolutely amazing.

The Bad
First and foremost, why do you offer a cruise during these dates (Oct 25 – Nov 6)? Not only is there a high risk of not reaching the advertised ports of call, but the weather itself was dangerous. The weather caused the boat to rock…. a lot. I found it hard to believe that a boat the size of the Carnival Breeze (1,004 feet long) moved as much as it did. Understanding that Mother Nature is not one to be contained or controlled, there are other aspects that a professional crew should be able to handle. Aspects such as smart navigation and safe arrival. The itinerary for our original cruise changed dramatically from the itinerary we signed up for. The original itinerary listed two “Days at Sea”. At the end of our trip, we had more “Days at Sea” than days at the ports. It went from two to six! The reason we chose Carnival was because of the alluring ports of call. The upsetting news of not stopping in Venice was announced the night before we were supposed to dock. This was absolutely absurd because we all knew at least 2 days prior that Venice was flooding. I question why the Captain didn’t redirect our route earlier.

The Ugly
I am terribly disappointed with the decisions the Captain made with the itinerary but more importantly, I am disgusted with the way management handled the weather situation. Because notices were given last minute, we had to scramble with excursions (separate from the Carnival excursions). Given that Carnival offered  a dedicated room to help with passengers to change travel arrangements, it was a nuisance to stand in the long line. Concurrent with the dates of our cruise, Hurricane Sandy hit New York. Again, there was a special room dedicated to “allow” passengers to make contact with loved ones in New York but the line was at least an hour long. With the upset of missing ports and unfortunate disaster, why did management not allow free wi-fi on the ship? I can’t imagine it would cost Carnival money for the access. One of the many announcements from the Cruise Director, Jamie, went something like this: “Due to bad weather we will not be able to dock into Venice. We know this is disappointing news but think about those who are in the storms in New York. Don’t forget, we have half off bingo tomorrow.” The message was not only inappropriate but also insulting. The Captain’s inept ability to navigate the ship had absolutely nothing to do with the disaster in the East Coast. Management lacked complete compassion. Another huge fail was the person in charge of the activities onboard. Almost every available activity was a way to nickel and dime the passengers. Rather than charging passengers for pictures that were already being printed – Why not provide passengers with a complimentary photo? The activities were repetitive and catered to a small minority onboard. The only comedy show worth attending was Steve White. There was an activity for the KidsCamp from 8pm – midnight. Yet there were no activities planned for teenagers or adults past 11pm.

My parents are regular Carnival cruisers (gold level), while my brother and I experienced our first Carnival cruise. Would I cruise again? Absolutely. With Carnival? Doubtful. If it wasn’t for the awesome crew members on Carnival Breeze, I would say this boat trip was a complete bust.

Caught – Panty in hand

How many of you guys go to laundromats? Here in San Francisco, it’s pretty common. An in-unit washer and dryer is a luxury. I’m still having a hard time living without one… and I’ve been living without one for at least a year now. There’s this cute laundromat a couple of blocks away from my place. The prices for each wash and dry cycle is comparable to the rest of the laundromats here in the city. I typically don’t ever run into any problems…. there’s plenty of industrial washers and dryers and the hours of operation are decent. Today I decided to knock out my laundry chores before celebrating St. Patty’s Day. I leave 2 loads of laundry in the wash and I leave with my dog to the park. Between the two loads, I have one washer filled with linens (towels, bedsheets, etc) and the other washer with my clothes. Nearly 30 minutes later I return to the laundromat to pull out my wash and throw them into the dryer. I’m shocked to find a creep in front of my washer. The door is ajar and he’s picking through my laundry one by one, throwing them into a basket. I notice the other empty washers around me and I stand there long enough to watch him pull out my panties and examine them. In a stern voice, “Excuse me. Why the hell are you touching my shit?” He immediately drops my panties into the basket and says, “Um… errr.. I was just putting your clothes into this basket. I wanted to use the washer.” I point to the other empty machines, “Really? You couldn’t use an empty one? Get out of my way.” I guess these are the things that people deal with living in San Francisco….. What would you have done?

Bossa Nova can bite me

It’s Valentine’s night, not just a regular Tuesday night. Any decent establishment should know to properly staff their employees to handle a high volume night. Well. I went to Bossa Nova for a friend’s birthday and endured one of the worst customer service experiences. We had a large party of about a dozen people. The booth had enough seats to accommodate all of us and when I arrived, the place settings were already set. The waitress took our drink order and leisurely came by to service the stragglers who came in late. When we finally ordered our food, we had the option of either ordering straight off their regular menu or from the prix fixe menu. With our large group, two people ordered off the prix fixe and everyone else ordered enough tapas to feed our army of guests. About 45 minutes later, the food started to pour out. With no rhyme or reason, the server came by and started to drop off food plates. I asked, “What are you bringing out?” His smart ass replies, “I’m bringing what you ordered.” No shit asshole. Clearly I can see that. With at least 6 plates simultaneously coming out, he should have had the common courtesy to tell us what was on each plate. I told him, “We don’t remember what we ordered. Can you tell us which dishes are part of the prix fixe menu?” He responds, “Look, I’m just the server. I bring out the food. You can ask your waitress.” What.a.fucking.moron. I desperately looked for his hat and cymbals, like typical performing monkeys have – But no such luck. I wondered if I gave him a penny he’d sing and dance. Two hours into the meal, we asked for the check. After waiting 45 minutes for requested silverware (since there wasn’t enough place settings) and still waiting for the check, I stood up and looked for the waitress (which was no where to be found). One of the servers came and I asked, “Could we please have 2 boxes to go and the check. Now.” She looked at me as if I was going to laugh. “We’ve been waiting for 45 minutes for the check. I really need to go.” She replies, “I’m asking for your patience tonight because we’re really busy…. And we made special arrangements to accommodate your large party on Valentine’s night.” Then she walks off. I completely understand restaurants being busy on Valentine’s night – but people in the hospitality industry should know AND expect a packed house on nights like these. Definitely not our fault for the manager’s lack of common sense to properly staff their employees. If serving a reservation that was made 2 weeks ago “accommodating a large group”, I’d hate to see what they do with their normal business. While checking the status of our waitress sorting the bill, I asked a bus boy, “Who is your manager tonight?” He responded, “We don’t have one tonight.” What kind of business are they running? I’ve dined at Bossa Nova a few times in the past and had regular service. Nothing over the top, but nothing as terrible as tonight. I wonder if they’re under new management. Whatever the case – The food is pretty good, the place is cute but the service sucks ass. Keep that in mind if you ever go – Make sure you have at least 3 hours to spare for shitty service.

Neighbor Saga Reincarnated

Ok, maybe a little dramatic on my end but I’ve had a string of bad news this past week. The straw? Early Saturday morning I noticed a crate on my sidewalk…. then I noticed my downstairs neighbor messing with it. I immediately asked him, “Are you moving?” He responds, “Yeah….” I nearly freaked out. I went into panic mode asking him a string of questions. For those who are curious, he’s moving back to where he lived previously (in another state). Sure, I might be over reacting… but if you had a nasty neighbor like I had before, you would probably react the same. The young man downstairs has been an angel compared to the devil bitch who used to live there. Here’s hoping that my Neighbor Saga doesn’t get reincarnated to another story.

Bootleg Bar… a Hidden Gem in Potts Point

During my stay in Sydney, I had dinner with a friend at Bootleg Bar and Italian Food in Potts Point. The establishment was tiny. Passing through the front door, we walked past the bar on the left and intimate booths on the right. Not too many steps further, we got to the “dining room area” which was basically a few table tops that were aligned in front of a long bench against the wall. The lighting was dark and the music playing was old school hip-hop (think Wu Tang and Tribe Called Quest). I immediately fell in love with the place. In addition to the table menus, I noticed hand-written specials on the chalkboard on the wall opposite of the bench. Lucky for us, the bottles of wine were half off that night! When the waiter approached our table, I noticed that not only was he good looking, he was knowledgeable of the food menu and incredibly kind. The atmosphere of the Bootleg is trendy and non-pretentious – a perfect mix. As we leisurely enjoyed our wine and dinner, the waiter kept perfect pace with the service and didn’t skip a beat with filling our water (once our wine was done). I would recommend Bootleg Bar for a casual dinner or an intimate date. The food was good (we both ordered the prawn linguine special), the wine went down nicely and the service was outstanding.

Chef Watching at Chefs Gallery

Hand made noodles. Yum. On a Saturday, I had the chance to try Chefs Gallery. This Chinese restaurant is not the typical run-down Chinese restaurant. Located by Townhall in Sydney’s CBD (Central Business District), is this impressively clean, modernly furnished Chinese restaurant.  The interior is decorated with cubed tables and chairs, but it was the wide window of men working with raw noodles that caught my eye. Similar to many sushi restaurants where you can sit at the bar and watch the chefs prepare raw fish, they have the same concept – but rather than looking at raw fish, you see boilers, steamers, tables of flour and chefs using their whole upper bodies to stretch out the flour to create perfectly shaped noodles. For our meal, we looked through their hard-bound menu with beautiful pictures of dumplings, noodles and an assortment of food. We ordered a number of dishes and everything that came out was magnificent. Every dish had its own distinct taste and satisfied my palette. The service was odd. They had waiters and runners, but were all dressed alike and it was after mistakenly ordering through a runner, we soon found out the difference. Overall, the service was good. They were relatively attentive with our water glasses and they picked up our empty plates in a timely manner. I would definitely visit Chefs Gallery again. Not for their service, because it was average, but for their distinctive handmade noodles.