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Name Your Restaurant!

It’s been just over a year since I’ve been back in San Diego.  I have to admit, I am still getting familiar with the lay of the land.  Just tonight, someone asked me about my favorite sushi place.  Rightly so… you would think that after spending five years in Japan that I would have staked out every sushi restaurant in the hood!  But the reality is… I’m still finding my way around my lovely hometown.

When I returned, I told myself I would treat San Diego like a new foreign city…that I would take the time to explore and discover and find my favorite spots. While I am discovering new places all the time, I recognize that San Diego is a pretty large city and at that a town I haven’t lived in since I was 19 years old. San Diego has changed a lot since then!

What’s funny to me is that all my memories of San Diego are childhood/young-adult memories. I’m a great tour guide for anyone who has never been here because hot spots like the zoo, Sea World and the Hotel Del Coronado never go out of style.  But my favorite dive bar or sushi place, a hot spot for Sunday brunch or the best craft beers? I’m at a loss.

So help me feel at home, dear friends. What places do I need to discover?  Where do you like to like to dine? What San Diego hot spots do I need to check out? Please leave your comments below or post on my Facebook Page On The Bright Side.

Thanks so much!

Lessons from 35,000 Feet

The last month or so has provided a lot of travel opportunities for me.  Most have been on business, but I did get to squeeze a weekend in there for myself.  Traveling in SE Asia has its good points and bad points.  Let’s start with the good…In less than an hour I can be in either Vientiane or Luang Prabang, Laos.  In two hours, I’m in Bangkok.  In just fours hours I can make it as far as Hong Kong or even Japan.  Living in this part of the world where a bunch of countries are mushed together has its benefits.  It’s one of the reasons I traveled through SE Asia last year.  It’s super easy to get from one place to the next.  And while there are some general similarities between Asian countries, an hour flight takes you to an entirely different culture.  And I love that.

The bad part about this area of the world is that it is still behind more developed areas.  Let’s take Vietnam for example…The Hanoi airport would be better off if they leveled the damn thing and put up tents.  The building is old, the airline employees are not all that nice and the waiting areas are tired-looking and uncomfortable.  Before you even get your boarding pass, you deal with people blatantly cutting in line, people who are standing so close behind you you can feel their breath on your neck (or smell their breath when they cough, as was the case on one travel occasion) and agents who appear that can’t be bothered to do their job.  Never mind the ridiculous number of delays the airline experiences and the lack of communication with passengers.

I’ve likened Vietnam Airlines to being one chicken short of a local bus.  It is probably the worst airline I’ve traveled with – ever.  Not only for the lack of professionalism of the attendants – falling asleep in the jumper seat as the plane is preparing for take-off should not be acceptable in my book – but also for the condition of the planes.  On one of my last fights to Saigon, I noticed that the hardware, like plastic coverings on some of the seat fixtures, were missing on several rows.  I’m still shocked by how many people on board have probably never flown before.  They have no idea that their ticket holds a seat number.  Many people sit where they want and get bumped a few times until an attendant explains where their seat is located.  Others walk aimlessly through the cabin and don’t know how to find their seat number, never mind figuring out if their seat is an aisle or window.  I quite nearly punched a guy who kept pushing me when the row of people in front of me making their way through the plane stopped and he yelled, “Move!”

Vietnam Airlines also has a very strange way of seating people.  If a flight is not full, they will clump people together in groups and leave several rows completely empty.  As of lately, I’ve been involuntarily seated in the exit rows on most of my flights.  I actually don’t like the exit rows.  You are not allowed to put your items underneath the seat, and call me crazy, but I’m not willing to put all my belongings out of sight.  The seat doesn’t go back, either.  I’m not 6’5″ and I don’t think I look particularly helpful or someone who stays calm in an emergency.  I have a feeling that in some training course, the reservation staff were told, “The foreigners like the exit rows.”  And so now I am getting in the habit of asking to NOT be seated in emergency rows.

It’s kind of funny that everyday I’m learning something new about this country and about working in SE Asia. Everyday poses some challenge.  I just never expected that I would learn so much while sitting in a plane so high in the sky!


On the Bright Side,


San Diego Treasures

All joking aside, today was a good day! I opened up my business bank account, and while downtown, decided to explore around a bit.

I drove up and down the streets, just let myself wonder from section to section, East Village to Little Italy and on over to the streets neighboring Balboa Park.

I love old houses.  I love houses which have a lot of character.  In San Diego, there are some wonderful Mission style homes and Victorian splendors.  I thought I would share photos of just a couple I found.

One of the fun things about being back in San Diego is that it’s like a new city to me. And as I would in any new place, I like to explore my surroundings.  I look forward to sharing many more discoveries!



Hollywood Day

Before Mette came to California, I put together a full itinerary with links to websites, photos and descriptions so she could begin to look forward to her “Shanna Tour.”  I did much the same thing when my Japanese friends visited in August of 2007.  I like to do these kinds of things.  It does make for long days and not so much relaxation, but I suspect that most people would want to get as much out of the experience as possible and see as much as they can see while they are here.

San Diego is a much more enjoyable place to tour someone around.  Traffic is kinder, there are more attractions and frankly, San Diego is a much more beautiful city than Los Angeles.  But one thing LA has over San Diego – Hollywood.  That can be good and bad.  But when you have a guest in town, Hollywood is a big draw!

I planned for today to be our Hollywood day.  We started off with a VIP tour of Warner Bros. Studios.  When my J-peeps were here a few years ago, we toured Paramount studios. Both are quite similar and you see and learn just about as much.  Not sure the WB deserves a “VIP” status.  I would expect a bit more VIP service, like being able to say hello to Zachary Levi as we pass the Chuck soundstage.  But I’ll let it slide this time. ;p

After the WB tour, I tool Mette to Bob’s Big Boy for an old-fashioned hamburger.  These kinds of diners are not sprinkled throughout San Diego as much as they are Los Angeles.  And I hadn’t eaten a Bob’s Big Boy hamburger for at least a decade.  It was delicious! (Which reminds me that I have yet to go to InNOut Burger…what’s wrong with me?)

After lunch, we took the 405 to Sunset Boulevard and made the long drive on the famous road all the way to Western.  We turned again at Franklin so that we could pass by the Scientology Celebrity Centre and then go up Beachwood for the best view of the Hollywood sign.  We then went down Highland and into the parking structure so we could walk Hollywood Blvd and visit Mann’s Chinese Theater.  We took a good look at all the hand and footprints and several stars on the Walk of Fame.  We did a little shopping at the H&M there (worst H&M I’ve been in by the way) and made our way back to the hotel.

After a rest and some decisions, we headed to the Third Street Promenade. We went for another Mexican feast at La Sandia, before we caught The Black Swan at the AMC.  My goodness was that a fantastic movie.  I knew/met Darren during my AFI days.  I was completely impressed with this film.  I loved the story, the performance, the editing, the filmmaking…just superb.  I hope Darren receives the Oscar this year.  It is well deserved.

And that’s a wrap!


Whale Watching

Today, was definitely not the sunniest day in San Diego.  Mette and I woke up early as we had to make it to the marina and catch a boat. We went whale watching today! I think the excitement of the activity makes up for the lack of sunshine! ;p

As we drove into the harbor area, we could see the marine layer sitting over the water.  However, that layer never burned off as it normally does in America’s Finest City (tired of me saying that yet?).  Needless to say, neither of us were quite prepared for the chilly wind and cold air at sea!  Mette had to borrow my mom’s jacket and I just layered up what I had, as my big jackets are still in my boxes (which just happened to arrive, all in tact and in good condition, today).

Mette was very excited at the prospect of going whale watching.  It’s been years since I’ve been and I knew the timing was good, so I was excited too!  On our way out to sea, we saw a lot of naval ships coming and going.  Later we learned that the high traffic of these ships, and the sonar they use, cause for a distinct absence of dolphins and porpoise.  Truly, we did not see even ONE dolphin all day.  For those of you who have been whale watching, you know this is not normal. I was concerned and a bit bummed out for this fact.

We did get lucky, though, and caught up with not just one, but three California Gray Whales making their way to Baja.  The captain suspected that we had found two females and a juvenile. They were really playful and curious, and they were very close to shore, no more than two miles out.  We kept up with them, as the captain found them to be entertaining and there is never a guarantee that we would so easily find another group or solo traveler.  Plus, these three provided lots of photo opportunities and were simply amazing to watch!

Have you been whale watching this season?  When was the last time?  You should go!  What a humbling experience!

Mette and I had a farewell dinner with my parents tonight.  We grilled steaks for the occasion. Yum!  Tomorrow we are off to la la land after visits to Old Town, La Jolla and Del Mar. Let’s hope for better weather!


Welcome Mette!

I recently mentioned how it was such a pleasure at Christmas time to bake all those cookies (and eat them) and prepare the Christmas lasagna. I miss being in the kitchen and cooking!  It’s not like I had an inability to cook in Vietnam, but frankly, I didn’t have the time and never had much confidence in the products available at the street markets.  Since I had a meal allowance, it was much easier to eat at the Press Club and had my main meals there.

My Danish friend Mette arrived from Vietnam last night, and I wanted to have her wake up in the Bright house to the smell of brewing coffee and freshly baked brownies and cookies.  These items would be considered a luxury in Vietnam and I wanted to make sure to start her vacation in comfy mode.  Plus, it was a good excuse to bake up a storm and enjoy some of my morning in the kitchen!

It’s Mette’s first time to California and so I have a San Diego/Los Angeles tour planned out for her this week.  Today was rest and relaxation, an introduction to American football (which Mette says she never needs to watch again) and a shopping trip to Target (a good initiation into Americana).  Target helped her get a few basic items which are hard to find in Vietnam, as well as fun stuff like plastic tumblers and teeth whitening strips!

The Golden Globes were on tonight, and so we enjoyed watching the stars parade in their formal attire while we ate a variety of chips and dips and drank wine.  Heaven!  Pure heaven!

Time to get some sleep and prepare for the World Famous San Diego Zoo tomorrow!  I haven’t been to the zoo in years!  Hooray!





Bun Ook Pan Saa II

I love festivals.  I think you all know this by now, especially if you’ve been following ON THE BRIGHT SIDE since the days I wrote from Japan.  My first festival was the Fuji festival, where I first lived in Japan.  One of the last festivals I watched in Japan was the Fire Festival in Fujieda (Rokusha Shrine Fire Festival).  My favorite of all in Japan, though, was probably the Fukuroi Fireworks.  Two hours of non stop fire works, young and old, men and women dressed in yukata…that was a very special night.

Last year, I happened to be in Laos during a special holiday called Bun Ook Pan Saa or end of the Buddhist lent.  I enjoyed seeing hundreds of candles floating down the Mekong River, locals dancing in front of their homes and shops, and everyone lighting sparklers, fireworks and little whizzers and things which pop.  I knew last year that I had to comeback.

This year, I was excited to enjoy all aspects of the festival.  Pete and I planted our bums on the balcony of Tam Nak Lao restaurant, ordered Beer Lao and far too many dishes and waited for the procession of floats to come down the street.  This is a parade and a festival in one – bonus!  All sorts of people walked down the street along side those carrying the floats made of colored paper mache, and little bottles serving as lanterns all held together with a bamboo frame (bamboo, paper and fire together – totally safe!).  The floats are taken to the main temple and then to the pier where they are launched into the water, even escorted by a team of people in a long boat.

The floats are all made by the monks in the temples and they are just beautiful.  I’m not so good at night photography, so my photo doesn’t capture these so well, but I hope you get the idea!

What was so fun is that there are fireworks for sale everywhere you go. And everyone is lighting and shooting them off.  Pete and I turned into 12 year olds and bought a butt load of poppers, cherry bombs and all sorts of other goodies.  The large firework we bought, we ended up lighting in one of the temples.  You see, the monks, after all their hard work to make the floats, decorate the temples and after a 3 month lent…well, they can’t really celebrate like everyone else.  They are not allowed to participate.  And most of them are teenagers and young men and you can see that it’s just killing them to not go out of the temple grounds.  We were at the same temple where I met Bo and Kit in August, and I was able to find Bo and chat with him again before we lit the big firework.  It was nice to see him again and he was glad for the visit.

We ended up hanging out with some locals…it was nice to bring our little candle to the pier among the crowds and have some little kid swim it out to a point where the current would pick it up. (We paid him in fireworks, which was completely agreeable by him!)

I just loved it.  I loved the chaos, the beauty, the colors, the fireworks, the music and dancing….it was a real celebration and I am glad I made a point to enjoy it.


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