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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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92802, Disneyland

Ferris wheel at Disney California Adventure

Dear ——–,

Bryan and I hadn’t been to Disneyland in over 10 years. Back then, there was no California Adventure and Tom Sawyer’s Island hadn’t yet been turned into a Pirate(of the Caribbean)’s Lair. Dave and Teishi got us in on Friday. I don’t know how other people experience Disneyland, but Dave and Teishi know their way around! They had a stack of fast passes so we waited in line no more than 15 minutes for rides like the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain. Our wait at Splash Mountain was so short I barely had time to wolf down a caramel apple. Dave also knew to pull on a vine that made a funny noise at the Indiana Jones ride. When they took off for a dinner with friends, we watched the Captain Eo Tribute and headed over to California Adventure. We waited for more than 30 minutes for Tower of Terror, but that was the best ride we went on, by far. (Random fact: we used to live near the “faux French Normandy” building that inspired the ride.) The ride pauses to give you a postcard-perfect view of the city below and then you plummet into the dark.

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92310, Goldstone

The 70-meter-wide Mars antenna, shortly after sunrise

Dear ——–,

I had to be at the Goldstone Deep Space Network complex by 6:30 a.m. on Wednesday, so I got up at 3:30. It felt god-awful to be getting up when some significant portion of L.A. was just drunkenly stumbling into bed. On the freeway, I noticed considerably more cars at 5 a.m. compared to 4 a.m. The only consolation was seeing a ponderous yellow harvest moon setting in the west over the Mojave Desert as the sun rose in the east. By the time I arrived at the 70-meter-wide Mars antenna site, the edges of the antenna were beginning to bask in that golden California light. This visit, I actually climbed up to the apex of the giant antenna. It wasn’t for the faint of heart — the metal that makes up the dish is actually perforated with tiny holes and you can see the ground beneath your feet, some 100 feet below. I also crawled to the edge of the antenna, peered over and quickly crawled back. A stiff breeze blew as birds perched on the antenna and chirped. I could almost make out the strains of Peer Gynt playing on a perfect desert morning.


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92128, San Diego

Dear ——–,

Last weekend, we planned a little getaway to the Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego. Bryan got us the “All Play, No Pay” package, where we had the choice of free 50-minute massages, golf rounds or dinners with our room. He figured out that massages were the best deal and I have to say the one I got was probably among the best I’ve ever had. Spa treatments also came with access to the saline pool. So I spent a lazy couple of hours floating in the water and reading Thread of the Silkworm under the cabana. Since we had two days there, Bryan also squeezed in a round on the PGA-level golf course, where he got par on a couple of holes. (I drove him around on the golf cart and ate snack mix.) We didn’t think we could also afford dinner at the award-winning El Bizcocho, but we still had a really nice meal at the Veranda. A lavender citrus mojito started it off right.


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80202, Denver

Welcome to the Frontier!

Dear ——–,

After a long day in training, Preston and I decided to meet up for dinner. He suggested Ted’s Montana Grill, for the bison pot roast. I felt a little weird looking at the large curly bison head adorning the wall. I was in the middle of watching Ken Burns’ National Parks series and the last segment I saw talked about Teddy Roosevelt rushing to get out West because he wanted to shoot one of the beasts before they disappeared from the frontier forever. A park ranger described the breath of bison in Yellowstone crystallizing out of the winter air and forming beards on their chins. And here I was, about 100 years later, about to order a slice. (The restaurant was unfortunately out of bison pot roast, so I got bison meatloaf instead. The verdict: tasty.) The good thing, I guess, was we managed somehow to pull back from the brink of destroying the quintessential symbolic of American wildness. Bison live on, even if in a somewhat circumscribed form, leaving link between the original frontier and our modern life today. Maybe it’s not too late for America to redeem itself from other mistakes as well.


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90038, Los Angeles

Brazilian acaraje (black-eyed pea fritters with slaw)

Dear ——–,

For my birthday, Bryan took me to Street. (I know, I couldn’t help wanting to go again.) Bryan spotted Danny DeVito a few tables away and it took his celebrity sighting to make me realize that Lily Tomlin was sitting a foot away from Bryan at the next table. The whole thing was surreal because I’ve known since I was little that I share a birthday with Lily Tomlin — I saw it printed on so many calendars or birthday listings. I can never remember any of the others. The funniest part of the evening happened when Bryan left to go to the bathroom. One of her friends — a woman in her 60s with a curly asymmetrical hairdo — leaned over to Lily and said, “Are you on Facebook?” Lily said she had poked around, but hadn’t signed her self up for an account. “You should get a fan page,” her friend said. “Oh, someone made one for you!” She showed Lily the page on an iPad. It was full of people saying, “Happy birthday!” I’ll say it, too: Happy birthday, Lily — it was nice celebrating with you.