Postmark Here

Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


3 Comments

94117, San Francisco

San Francisco's Holiday Wreath

Dear ——–,

As if one Thanksgiving dinner weren’t enough, we had two this past weekend. But all of it was good eating. On Thursday, Geoff and Steven got us an invitation to Becky and Dave’s Russian Hill apartment with a glittery view of Coit Tower. Becky and I discussed life after journalism as she served silky cheese from Cowgirl Creamery and roasted pears and cranberries on a cookie sheet. We started Saturday with lip-smacking pastries from Tartine and then got to cooking. Bryan and I decided to make truffle mac and cheese with parmesan and gruyere. We also wrapped basil leaves and prosciutto around dates. A swarm of other friends tended the turkey, braised brussel sprouts, mashed potatoes and tossed salad. We laughed a lot, drained several bottles of wine, and worked off maybe 1% of the calories by playing Wii at the end of the night. When we left, we were feeling thankful for good friends, good cheer and a good holiday.


3 Comments

90712, Lakewood

Cake pops to welcome Saif to L.A.

Dear ——–,

More than a year after they got married in Turkey, Kimi finally welcomed her husband Saif to Los Angeles. The two of them met in Baghdad as they worked together in the L.A. Times bureau. Somehow, Saif’s brother got approved for a visa first and has been living with Kimi since March. (Kimi wrote a great story about the situation, which I told her could be a sitcom if it didn’t have such an undercurrent of sadness.) Friends hosted a party in Lakewood for Saif with mint juleps and a spread of tasty treats including the red, white and blue cake pops that Kimi made. Arriving in the U.S. with no sports loyalties, Saif got assaulted throughout the night by various guys trying to convince him to become a Yankees or UCLA fan. He recognized me from one of the videos Kimi sent in June. “Michael Jackson,” he exclaimed, remembering that I had mourned the Gloved One’s death. I asked Saif how he liked L.A. so far.”Great food, great weather, friendly people and Kimi is here,” he said. “What could be better?”


2 Comments

90027, Los Feliz

Umami Burger = Yum-ami Burger!

Dear ——–,

We were waiting all day for dinner at Umami Burger. Bryan suggested we meet up with his friend Hans there. The Los Feliz location used to house one branch of the tony tapas place Cobras & Matadors. I wondered whether its replacement with a burger joint — even if an upscale one — was a sign of the times. Still, I’m always up for a tasty burger. I knew it was going to be good when the neon sign at the front of the store said “how fun” because the c in “chow fun” was dark. I ordered the house burger; Bryan ordered the truffle burger; Hans ordered the “manly burger” (which had beer-cheddar cheese, onion strings and bacon lardons!). We also got a side of triple-cooked fries. All hail the fifth taste, umami, also known as savoriness, meatiness, or the reason MSG is so frickin delicious! The burger flavor was deep and satisfying; there wasn’t too much bread. I burned my tongue on the first fry, but, after waiting a minute or two, I savored their perfect balance of outside crispness and inside mush. No wonder the place was packed.


Leave a comment

92310, Goldstone

The 26-meter research and development antenna at the Venus site

Dear ——–,

You know you’re in the middle of nowhere when the next exit off the freeway is “Ghost Town Road.” I went on a field trip today to Goldstone, where massive antenna that are part of the Deep Space Network talk to and receive signals from spacecraft in outer space. The site was in the middle of the Fort Irwin Army training site, which is in the Mojave Desert. We passed some tanks, a model Iraqi village, and a couple of burros on our way to the massive 70-meter “Mars” antenna. This antenna got its name from its first mission, tracking Mariner 4, which returned the first pictures of the Mars surface. When we visited, this antenna was tracking Voyager 1. It was crazy to think that the spacecraft was 10 billion miles away from us and sending back a signal at one billion-billionth of a watt. Sometimes rain or sudden high winds can affect the quality of the reception, but luckily there’s not much weather out there.


3 Comments

92108, San Diego

eagles2

Eagles fans, getting our hearts broken

Dear ——–,

My co-worker D.C. told me I couldn’t call myself an Eagles fan if I didn’t see the Birds play live. So today Bryan and I drove down to Qualcomm Stadium to see them play the Chargers. I wish it had turned out better; I could almost taste the comeback. But, man, was I happy to see a whole corner of the stadium rippling dark green. I can’t believe how many people were walking by in McNabb, Westbrook, Jackson and Cunningham (!)  jerseys. While Charger fans weren’t as hostile to visitors as Raider Nation — the guy next to me even said, “Nice catch!” when Jason Avant reeled one in with one hand — we did see a couple of fights. Some hard-looking homies who were drinking beer in our no-alcohol family section taunted a six-year-old Eagles fan until he started crying. The kid’s dad got angry and said he would see those guys at the exit. The homies started pounding their fists in their hands. As we left the stadium, we were glad to see the family had hustled out.


Leave a comment

90717, Lomita

vampire2

Vampire Weekend rocks the VFW

Dear ——–,

This show probably lowered the average age of visitors to the Veterans of Foreign Wars post in Lomita by a good 30 years. I don’t know why Vampire Weekend chose to play this venue — or a wine bar in Visalia for that matter –but it was really cool to see them in a cozy setting that reminded me of a high school mixer. A girl was selling t-shirts and posters under a bingo board. The PA system was playing oldies (e.g. “Build Me Up Buttercup”) before the show. We guessed that very few of the more than 200 people cradling cans of Corona and singing along to “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” had been to this small town in the South Bay before. In fact, Vampire Weekend’s lead singer even said something like, “I’ve never been to Lomita before.” I had — though I don’t remember why. This town’s strange salty, loamy smell stuck in my memory. My friend Scott had the very unusual distinction of actually having visited this VFW post before. In the late 80s, he came for a baseball card show and remembered balking at the price of a Mark McGwire card.


Leave a comment

SAT 2SP, Enceladus

Enceladusplume

Raw, unprocessed image of famous plume crowning Enceladus

Dear ——–,

Yes, I made up the postcode. We’re in the Saturn neighborhood, looking at Enceladus, the planet’s second moon, which has mysterious jets at its South Pole. This icy moon is the reason I was a little MIA for the last two weeks. The Cassini spacecraft, which is one of the projects I work on, was taking its deepest plunge yet through the heart of the plume. Thankfully, the encounter went off without a hitch and scientists are digging through the details. (I helped a scientist blog about it.) I love that scientists know that there are water vapor, organic molecules and salt in the plume and that it emanates from fissures dubbed the Tiger Stripes. I mean, I can practically taste the spray. The fun part is figuring out how the jets are generated. There are suspicions there is an ocean under the icy crust and a heat source. If so, Enceladus would have the right conditions for life. Not my kind of life, though. I’m a wuss about cold and it’s -305 degrees Fahrenheit at the warm spot on the South Pole!