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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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93546, Mammoth Lakes

Our burrito savior on the mountain

Dear ——–,

At the beginning of the season, Mammoth announced that “foodcats” would be roaming the mountain. We had seen neither hide nor hair of them until last Sunday. As we got off the Roller Coaster lift, we saw one parked near the entrance of the Wall Street Trail. We’d found the mythical beast! And not a moment too soon, since we were getting cranky with hunger. Shiao-Wen kept skiing but Bryan and I ordered a breakfast burrito (egg, beans, cheese) and a beef burrito and settled into plastic lounge chairs in the snow. The burritos were kind of small and nothing special, but they hit the spot. (Most burritos are too big for me anyway!) Plus, we didn’t have to deal with the crazy cafeteria lines at the lodges. The tricky thing is it’s not clear if the cat is always parked there, or if they move around. Mammoth’s facebook and twitter don’t tell you in a reliable way where the food cats are going to be. We could tell others were just as surprised as we were to see the foodcats since there were at least five other people snapping pictures with their cameraphones.

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93529, June Lake

Bright and sunny June Mountain

Dear ——–,

This last trip showed a totally different side of Mammoth. The sun was blazing in a cloudless sky; the snow was groomed and hard-packed; the top was open. Shiao-Wen was a good sport and agreed to go with us to the lift lines at opening time, 8:30 a.m. Given the 40-degree temperature predictions, we were worried the snow would turn to slush in the afternoon. We were also worried about the crowds. Starting around 10 a.m., the mountain turned into a leftover sandwich swarming with ants. Bryan had to stop on two successive runs to pick up skis that had snapped off fallen skiers. By 11 a.m., we went back to the car and drove to June Mountain, about 30 minutes north. That turned out to be a brilliant idea because at June, we hardly had to wait in lift lines and we shared each trail only with maybe 3 or 4 others. The trails are shorter, but there’s a good variety of blues and blacks. It did give us pause when we passed a snowboarder who said, “Oh man, it’s so hard to snowboard drunk,” but at least we had enough space to avoid him and his friend.


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93546, Mammoth Lakes

Snow fell nearly the entire time we were in Mammoth

Dear ——–,

We made it to Mammoth without chains, in maybe the only window of clear weather the entire weekend around New Year’s. All the restaurants were running $70+ New Year’s Eve specials, so we decided to hit Vons and make a pasta dinner in our Edelweiss Lodge room with Tad and Tammy. The slopes were surprisingly empty the next morning. It could’ve been hangovers … or the snow, which fell in a thick blanket all of Saturday. We avoided snow vertigo by sticking close to the trees and reveled in the soft powdered sugar. It was about 10 degrees cooler than the last time we came, when the wet snow made for what the locals call Sierra Cement. We tried to make it to “early ups” on Sunday, when the mountain opens at 7:30 a.m. for season pass holders. We weren’t able to get onto the lift until 8:31 a.m., but that was still the earliest we’d ever gotten on a lift. The skiing was so good on Sunday — when a slightly lighter snow fell — that we couldn’t give up until around 2. Was it worth it? It took over 11 hours to get home. Well, we’ve already started planning our next trip. This time, hopefully, we’ll be at Mammoth when the top is actually open.


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90041, Eagle Rock

This is about Christmas spirit, so here's a Christmas tree from Longwood Gardens

Dear ——–,

As soon as we arrived back in Los Angeles, we started packing for our ski trip to Mammoth. Mewwwww. What was that? The sound was coming from the heating vent. “I think there’s a cat in our basement,” I told Bryan. Down there, he found Pepper, a cat we’d seen roaming the neighborhood before. (We’d previously called the owners because we thought Pepper was lost. Oh no, we were told, Pepper just gets to roam at will. Don’t get me started on “outdoor cats.”) Bryan didn’t see any windows or doors open. Instead of being mean or desperate, Pepper was strangely friendly, rolling on his back so Bryan could stroke his belly. He called the owner, who said Pepper had been missing for six days. Pepper must have slipped into the basement when I was doing laundry on a rainy Christmas day! How did I miss that? It didn’t seem in keeping with the Christmas spirit, but the owners said they were going to have to return the other cat they’d adopted because they thought a coyote had eaten Pepper. I hope they didn’t follow through. I am a little afraid now to explore the nether reaches of our basement. A cat can’t be down there for six days without pooping, can it?


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19147, Philadelphia

Frying up the steaks at Jim's

Dear ——–,

Bryan had a hankering for cheese steaks so he text-message-polled his Philly friends and they told us to go to Jim’s. The line was out the door and around the corner at the South Street location. We had a long time to contemplate cheese whiz vs. provolone and whether we wanted onions, peppers and mushrooms. One of the fryers was heckling the crowd, which seemed endearingly East Coast. Then, he started talking to my mom: “Where you from?” “New Jersey.” “No, where are you really from?” That question usually makes me groan, but my mom shot back, “Africa.” I ordered a birch beer to drink while eating half my dad’s order (provolone + steak + mushrooms) and half Bryan’s order (a purist provolone + steak). Bryan was in cheese steak heaven, but, to be honest, I thought it was just OK. I wasn’t disappointed, but maybe I’d built it up too much. After lunch, we headed out to Longwood Gardens, where my dad really wanted to see the nighttime Christmas light display. The grounds were beautifully decorated, but everything we wanted to see required shuffling in excruciatingly long lines. There were some gorgeous lady’s slipper orchids and roses, but the nearness of other people put us on edge after a while. If you’re going to go, I’d recommend getting there early. When we left around 6:30, there were still long lines of people making their way in.


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08055, Medford

Snow blanketing my parents' backyard

Dear ——–,

We went back to New Jersey for Christmas, leaving on a Christmas-night red eye since that was the cheapest thing to do.* We arrived in Philadelphia just before the snow started to fall, which turned out to be lucky since it made roads all over the northeast very treacherous. We napped during the thickest part of the storm, leisurely leafed through the newspaper when we got up and spent the rest of the evening watching football on TV. The snow didn’t seem so bad to us, but I guess it was that we had nowhere to go. We spent the next morning with the snowblower, which, let me tell you, has to be one of the most back-saving inventions ever made. After digging out the driveway, we went looking for deals at the Cherry Hill Mall. The place had been remodeled since I’d last been there and it spooked me a little not to know my way around. Whenever I go back to visit my parents, it feels a little like learning how to ride a bike all over again. I have to ask for a reminder of how to get to Route 70 and where the supermarket is. I have to relearn the house alarm code. It’s gotten to the point where going to visit my parents doesn’t feel like going home anymore.

*I know it’s been a while since I’ve written a postcard. I blame travel during the holidays and the backlog of work to do. I’ll be playing catch up in the next few posts.