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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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IV40 8DX, Dornie

Eilean Donan castle in the Scottish Highlands

Eilean Donan castle in the Scottish Highlands

Dear ——–,

We reached the Highlands Tuesday, passing hills covered in downy grass and moss, threaded with innumerable streams. Scotland has more water than it knows what to do with. It’s as if Mother Nature left the faucet on. (We also passed the lake with my favorite name: Loch Lochy.) On the drive, I got to thinking about the symmetry of nature. The red-orange color of some of the grasses and ferns matches the hair of many Scots. The thick clouds obscuring the peaks of mountains resembled the wool of sheep grazing in the valleys. In the early afternoon, we reached the impressive, severe Eilean Donan Castle. Apparently, one of its inhabitants in the 14th century was warmed by the sight of 50 severed heads decorating its walls. That was a sign of discipline. The castle was badly damaged in the 1700s and remained exposed to the elements until around 1930, when the McRae-Gilstrap family restored it. Given its brutal history, I think I would have preferred to see it in ruins.

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G3 6RQ, Glasgow


Mackintosh's architectural masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art

Mackintosh's architectural masterpiece, the Glasgow School of Art

Dear ——–,

We were as grumpy as the weather in Glasgow. Driving here drove us mad. We missed nearly every turn because the street signs were small or nonexistent. We went around in circles because random streets were closed for construction or turned into pedestrian-only walkways. We were only happy when we got out of the car. We were thankful to spend a few hours wandering around the Charles Rennie Mackintosh-designed Glasgow School of Art. On a tour led by an art student, we got to see the lovely dark-wood paneled library, airy meeting rooms and the heating/”air-conditioning” system that used to draw air over ice to cool rooms. I love Mackintosh’s devotion to grids and his embrace of organic forms against them. He had a sense of humor, too; he appeared to have decorated one of the fireplaces with the shape of his own mustache. We were still and content again in the evening, when we had dinner at Arisaig, a contemporary Scottish restaurant. We savored  a robust Aberdeen steak and crannachan, a really creamy traditional dessert that was probably as healthy as eating butter straight.


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EH1 2NG, Edinburgh


Walking groggily through the old part of Edinburgh

Walking groggily through the old part of Edinburgh

Dear ——–,

We arrived in Edinburgh after 11 hours in the air (five of it with Scarlett Johansson, who was on the flight from L.A. to Newark). Mostly we’re happy it’s not raining. While it wasn’t ever exactly sunny today, we were happy that we could wander the city at will. First, we walked up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle, a fortress built on an old volcano that’s been built and sieged since 600 A.D. The most interesting part was the jail, which housed prisoners captured by the British navy during the Revolutionary War. I’d always thought of the Revolutionary War being fought on ground in the U.S. and never before wondered what happened to those caught at sea. These men carved their names and the shapes of their ships into the wooden doors of their cells. Apparently, they also chiseled stamps out of their mutton bones to manufacture counterfeit currency. After wandering up and down many random streets, we checked into our modern-but-cozy bed and breakfast, 94DR. I can’t wait to lie down flat for the first time in 28 hours.


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90017, Downtown Los Angeles

Cocktails at Bottega Louie

Two aviations, a mojito and a gin and tonic with cucumbers at Bottega Louie

Dear ——–,

Bottega Louie had a bartender who actually knew how to make an aviation, a graceful, pre-Prohibition cocktail made of gin, creme de violette, Maraschino (cherry) liqueur and lemon juice. It was Leah’s idea to order the cocktail, but it tasted so good Bryan ordered one, too. I had heard good things about Bottega Louie, a marble-tiled, Louis XIV-ish modern bistro, and last night it lived up to those expectations. Leah, Neal, Bryan and I shared everything family-style, starting with fried strips of portobella with a basil aioli dip and crispy arrancini (risotto balls) flecked with smoky prosciutto. We proceeded to a thin-crust pizza with meatballs, corn tossed with chard and bacon and a lemony chicken carcioffi with tender artichoke hearts. We finished with a flat apple tart, which had a delicate, croissant-like crust. Everything tasted so good I kept wishing there was more of each dish. But in such an old-fashioned-Hollywood kind of setting, I knew I should practice restraint. I ogled the macaroons on my way out, but kept my hands in my pockets.


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90027, Griffith Park

Metric opening for Phoenix

Metric, opening for Phoenix

Dear ——–,

Last night, at the Greek Theatre, I felt infused with unburdened, unqualified joy for the first time in a long time. I was outside, under the stars, surrounded by thousands of other rapturous people, feeling the pounding drums of the French band Phoenix rattling my organs. And this was all I had to do at that moment. I had heard some Phoenix songs before, but I was surprised by how they grabbed you live. There is a lot of space to fill at the Greek and Phoenix TOOK OVER. (I credit the drummer; when they went through a wanky, psychedelic section without drums, I got a little bored.) Initially, we bought tickets because we wanted to see the opener, my current favorite band Metric. They put on a decent show, but my favorite part of their set was when they said they believe in the “friendly fuck you” and dedicated their song “Gimme Sympathy” to all those people who don’t want to have a boss. That’s pretty much all of L.A.


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90041, Eagle Rock

The most delicious Korean-Mexican food truck and its followers

The most delicious Korean-Mexican food truck and its followers

Dear ——–,

The Kogi truck, the current it-truck for foodies, recently hit Eagle Rock again with its zesty Korean-Mexican flavors. The line was much shorter this time, possibly because smoke from the wildfire was still in the air. (The success of Kogi has spawned a fleet of food truck imitators that sell everything from organic hotdogs to cupcakes.) We stood in front of Hal’s Pet Shop for about 30 minutes. One guy was reading photocopied scientific articles to pass the time. The woman in front of us snapped a picture of her husband next to the truck, explaining, “We’re going to send this to our son to show him dad is cool.” We ordered like greedy little goblins and got nine tacos, a perennial favorite with succulent barbecued meat topped with a spicy cabbage slaw that reminds me of the cabbage mix on top of pupusas, plus a Blackjack Quesadilla. (All this cost around $25). This was our first time tasting that quesadilla, which features black pork belly smothered in jack cheese, with a tart salsa verde. It was the most expensive thing on the menu, but worth it.


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90012, Chinatown

Chinese nine-man volleyball tournament

Chinese nine-man volleyball tournament

Dear ——-,

This weekend, hundreds of guys scrambled across the sizzling blacktop playing the distinctive nine-man style of volleyball traditionally popular in Chinatowns across the country. The court is wider, the net is lower and players can pretty much do anything to get the ball to the other side. When I took a break playing in the traditional six-woman games in the North American Chinese Invitational Volleyball Tournament to watch the men, I thought the matches were unpredictable and exciting. I love that the game traces its American roots to Chinese laundry workers in the 1930s and that one of its purposes now is to bring young suburban Chinese Americans into the heart of Chinatown. (It worked on me!) While I had a great time playing in the tournament, I did feel a little weird about the rules that two-thirds of the players on the court must be of “100% Chinese” descent and the other players must be Asian. Can they make rules like that?