Monday, August 31, 2009

Lovely Day for a Guinness...

For my first bank holiday weekend in the U.K., Keenan and I went to Dublin for a short city break trip in the Irish capital. The flight to Dublin on Ryan Air was a disaster. We, including another American lawyer and a Japanese banker, were refused travel because we didn’t have a “visa stamp” from the Ryan Air check-in desk. Instead of checking our passports and boarding passes at the gate, they demanded that we return to the check-in queue for a stupid “visa stamp,” which was nothing more than an office style RECEIVED stamp. Since we were in the departure hall, we had to wait and be escorted out to the arrivals hall by a security agent. So what happens? Well, we missed our flight and had to pay a fee to get on the next flight because we didn’t have our “visa stamp.” I’m sorry, the last time I checked U.S. citizens do not require a visa to enter the Republic of Ireland –- WTH? Long story short. This was basically a Ryan Air scam on non-EEA passport holders, making everything as difficult and inconvenient as possible for us. This whole experience was beyond infuriating! Lesson learned: I will never fly with Ryan Air again…
Despite the mishap with Ryan Air, we had a fantastic time exploring the eclectic streets of Dublin; retracing the footsteps of Dublin’s most notable literary figures including Samuel Beckett, James Joyce, and Bram Stoker to name a few; and tasting Guinness -- its infamous stout beer. I think Keenan would concur that Guinness taste so much better in Ireland than anywhere else in the world! We consumed far too many pints for our own good!

Dublin is a very walkable city with a majority of its main attractions located south of the River Liffey. After dropping our bags off at our hotel on O’Connell Street, we made a beeline to Temple Bar, an area promoted as “Dublin’s Cultural Quarter,” but I like to think of it as “Dublin’s Quarter for Stag and Hen Parties,” as we saw multiple drunken stag/hen debaucheries throughout the night, and puddles of vomit all along the cobble streets of Temple Bar. While it is still very touristy by day, the pubs are far more manageable, all playing traditional Celtic music.

After a pint at the Auld Dubliner, we spent the afternoon on a walking tour of Dublin’s architectural delights starting from Dame Street to Dublin Castle, then Christ Church Cathedral circa 1030 and St. Patrick’s Cathedral circa 1172, then walking east towards St. Stephen’s Green, then to Dublin’s main pedestrian shopping street – Grafton Street and ending the walking tour at Trinity College. As Ireland was part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for over a century from 1801 to 1912, it is no surprise that the architecture resembles that of England, particularly the Georgian style architecture that dominated much of the 1800s. Overall, Dublin reminds me of the quintessential East Coast College.

After our 3-hour walking tour, we were ready for another Guinness (surprise, surprise!), so we headed over to a pub recommended by my new colleague called Hairy Lemon. We got lost trying to find this local pub that we practically walked up and down every parallel and perpendicular street west of Grafton Street. In our quest to find the pub, I spotted my GIS professor from the periphery of my eye – what are the odds of that? Instead of saying hi, I grabbed Keenan’s arm and started walking fast in the opposite direction! LOL! Later in the evening, we had a nice meal at Dunne & Crecenzi, an Italian restaurant run by a husband-wife team, and then headed back to Temple Bar for a nightcap at another bar/pub recommended by my colleague; this time it was a microbrewery called Porterhouse.

The next day we spent a leisurely morning over a cuppa of Irish coffee (that’s coffee with Bailey liquor), walked around Trinity College, and then had lunch of traditional Irish food (read: heavy!). We needed to walk off our lunch, and started making our way west of town to the Guinness Storehouse, which is now celebrating “250 remarkable years.” I’ll be honest, we were not interested in the tour; we just wanted our pint(s) of Guinness on the top floor overlooking Dublin. You get one complimentary pint of Guinness with your ticket, but luckily there was a cash bar at the 5th floor restaurant with equally good views of Dublin.
If you’re looking to get out of London for a few days, drink lots of Guinness, or looking for a place for a stag/hen party, look no further – go to Dublin. We made our way back to the airport to catch our evening flight back to London, and this time, we did not forget our Ryan Air Visa Stamp…
More photos here:
Dublin, Ireland

Monday, August 24, 2009

Around London's West End Theatre District

"Let us change the subject...for the last time"- Hirst, No Man's Land by Harold Pinter

"There's man all over for you, blaming on his boots the faults of his feet" - Vladimir, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

"Therefore, since brevity is the soul of wit, And tediousness the limbs and outward flourishes, I will be brief." - Polonius, Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Aside from utilizing London as a great hub to jump off and travel around Europe and beyond, I’ve also made it a priority to take advantage of the rich theatre and performing arts scene. In my opinion, and from what I’ve experienced, London’s West End theatre district and the quality and quantity of performances are second to none.

I have been able to attend three plays; No Man’s Land by Harold Pinter, Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett and most recently on Saturday, Hamlet by William Shakespeare. I chose these plays based on my interest and familiarity in the story and the quality of the production and cast. Each performance boasted legendary stage directors as well as high profile celebrities who had made brief breaks from cinema to perform on the esteemed London stage. In some cases, in particular with Michael Gambon, Sir Ian McKellan, and Patrick Stewart, there were legendary stage actors returning to the London theatre.

NO MAN'S LAND by Harold Pinter

No Man’s Land – December, Duke of York’s Theatre, West End; Directed by Rupert Goold, starring Michael Gambon (also known as Dumbledore in the Harry Potter flicks)

Set in the reception of a mansion in London's elite Hampstead Heath neighborhood, the play tells the story of an old, formerly distinguished poet who has fallen into a state of alcoholism and madness. Occurring in one night, most of the drunken dialogue is between Hirst, our protagonist, and Spooner, a person who we presume to be a stranger whom Hirst had met in a pub, but who also appears at times to have been an old friend or acquaintance. The cast is rounded out by Foster and Briggs, an amanuensis and man servant respectively who maintain an ambiguous type of relationship.


Waiting for Godot – July, Royal Haymarket Theatre, West End; Directed by Sean Mathias, starring Sir Ian McKellan (Magneto in the X-Men flicks, Gandalf in The Lord of The Rings trilogy, and Leigh Teabing in the DaVinci Code), Patrick Stewart (Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Professor Xavier in the X-Men flicks)

For people who are familiar with existentialism, this play needs no introduction and I will not exhaust myself by attempting to explain my own interpretation of this highly layered, confusing, but intelligent work of art. It would take too much time and would probably bore most readers (as my book reviews, which I have now stopped posting, probably did earlier this year). McKellan and Stewart were made to don the roles of Gogo and Didi together on stage and I haven't seen a performance to date where the players performed with so much swagger and enjoyment.

HAMLET by William Shakesphere

Hamlet – August, Wyndham's Theatre, West End; Directed by Michael Grandage, Artistic Direction/Consultation by Kenneth Branagh, starring Jude Law (requires no introduction) and a huge array of other notable London stage actors with numerous television and film appearances.

Besides the brilliant, albeit a little "emo", portrayal of Prince Hamlet by Jude Law and the fantastic stage setting and production, it was a bit surreal to be sitting four rows behind Robert Downey Jr. and his wife (guessing he was in town because of the filming in London of the upcoming Sherlock Holmes film co-starring Jude Law as Dr. Watson).

After the show Lily and I switched into paparazzi mode, waiting by his car in front of Wyndham's Theatre along with the rest of the crowds of celebrity-spotters and paparazzo. She was able to snatch an autograph from him and I snapped a couple of pretty decent close-ups of him being assailed by the crowds. Next we rushed to the back entrance of the theatre and waited for Jude Law to make his exit. As this was the closing night of the performance he stuck around for a while signing autographs and Lily was once again able to sneak her way through the crowds to get our ticket signed. Again, I snapped a couple of decent close-ups seen here on this post.

I'm going to continue to keep an eye out for great shows, but there are just too many to keep track of and I know I will miss an opportunity at some point. While you can always try to get "day of" tickets (a small number of seats that are held and then opened to the general public the day of the show), if you want to secure a great seat, or a seat at all, BOOK EARLY! To put it into perspective, when Hamlet went on sale in January 2009, the closing night in August sold out online within hours. I ended up buying them on (UK equivalent to craigslist) at a premium.

Some good websites to stay plugged into the scene are: and

We will be moving on to other styles of production for a bit when we see Puccini's Turandot performed by the English National Opera in November. Stay tuned...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Walking Tour: Trinity Buoy Wharf to Greenwich

I started a new job on Monday – yes, my days as ‘lady of leisure’ is officially over. That said, being a working lady makes me appreciate the weekend so much more! So Keenan and I took full advantage of the weekend, starting with Dinner for Six Strangers Thursday evening organized by the UC-UK alumni association. Our host, also a 2004 Berkeley alumna now a graduate student at Princeton on gap year in London, invited six strangers over to her flat near Brick Lane for yummy Vietnamese food. We miss Vietnamese food, so much that we made our way up to Hoxton/Shoreditch for a hot bowl of pho at Song Que on Kingsland Road a few weekends ago. It was a great evening reminiscing on wonderful memories of our days at Berkeley, Davis, UCLA, and UCSB.

Inspired from Thursday night’s dinner, we invited our Fulham friends over for lunch on Saturday at our flat. While we have hosted many out-of-town guests (the below post will attest to that), we never had dinner guests or London friends over at our place, which is such a shame since I really enjoying cooking. The other ethnic cuisine we miss here in London is Mexican food. It is certainly gaining popularity over the last few years, as evident with new several Mexican restaurants popping up around town. We needed a Mexican fix, so I made chicken enchiladas for lunch. It was good fun and we look forward to more dinner guests in the coming months!

This afternoon, my planner friend organized an architectural tour of Container City in Trinity Buoy Wharf. The history of the Docklands is quite interesting – I won’t get into details, but the Docklands was one of England’s most prosperous ports, but the area was completely destroyed by successive bombings during World War II. As the name implies, Container City are highly versatile yet affordable accommodation for a range of uses including live-work, artist studios, recording studio, and so forth. And the best part, Container City is built from recycled shipping containers stacked in a ziggurat fashion. The Trinity Buoy Wharf affords some amazing views of O2 and Canary Wharf. Really interesting architectural tour!

Later in the afternoon, we went across the River Thames to leafy Greenwich. I couldn’t ask for a better day to hang out in Greenwich; the weather was amazing! We hiked up to the Royal Observatory where the prime meridian divides the western and eastern hemisphere. From the Royal Observatory is also an excellent vantage point of Canary Wharf and the National Maritime Museum. All in all, it was a great weekend with great company of Californian expats and their British partners. =)

Friday, August 07, 2009

An Ode to Visitors!

We have had around 20 different people stay with us since December 2008, here’s an ode to you!

1. There are those who make the journey to Londontown,
2. And we’ve been happy to have them stay with us in Clapham Old Town.
3. Some have insisted on visiting in the winter,
4. When the weather is truly quite bitter.
5. Others have waited and traveled in the spring,
6. When the weather does not punch as much of a sting.

7. The lucky ones who make it during the summer,
8. Are surprised to see the city is so much sunnier!
9. And who will come to visit us in the fall?
10. Well we hope no one at all!
11. Most visitors jet off to Prague, Brussels, Barcelona, Paris, or Rome,
12. But after going almost broke, they’re all ready to go home.

13. Some visitors arrive bearing California gifts,
14. While some visitors insist on always using the lifts.
15. One visitor in particular is obsessed with designer shoes,
16. Most others are merely satisfied with a healthy dose of booze.
17. We have had visitors who come without anything planned,
18. And I know that others worry that they are now officially banned.

19. There are even those who, no matter what, always seem to get lost,
20. While I know that most are probably still recovering from the cost.
21. Some of our visitors always slept well past noon,
22. Other friends were sprawled all over the living room
23. There were visitors who, with bad luck, didn’t get into certain Mayfair clubs
24. But tragedy was averted when we drank heavily at the Clapham pubs.

25. Rumor has it there was a visitor who drank too much and tried to start a fight,
26. A lot of our visitors were usually rushing to catch some sort of a flight.
27. Some visitors apparently come only to shop,
28. And other visitors who get really into the Brit Pop.
29. We had one visitor get really sick on the loo,
30. But I guess with him, that isn’t anything particularly new.

31. We had certain visitors who always seemed to complain
32. Don’t worry, we won’t name your names
33. Some of our visitors never seemed to get passed the jet lag,
34. Others visitors just brought one too many bags!
35. Some enjoyed staying out into the early hours of the morning
36. But no matter what, I’m sure nobody found their time here boring.

37. Some visitors were extreme ultra-planners
38. But we have to say, for the most part, all showed good taste and manners.
39. We’re happy that everyone got a taste of the London lifestyle
40. But if you’re thinking of coming back soon…Please wait a while!
41. Seriously though, if you think that you might…
42. Let us know. We’re always happy to grab another pint!

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On London Underground Etiquette

This is another long overdue post. While I love London, appreciate the efficiency and frequency of the London Underground, and get along with Londoners generally, I have a few things I want to get off my chest regarding basic etiquette on the tube. I think 95 percent of people in London follow the rules of etiquette and observe basic human decency, but it's the other 5 percent that are causing problems and ruining it for the rest of us. This is my message to them.

When you're on the tube during commute hours and you're a woman, please show the same courtesy as men regarding their backpacks and briefcases. Women's purses these days have become as large if not larger than a lot of men's briefcases and backpacks, so please, when you're packed in the tube like a sardine, remove the overly gigantic purse from your shoulder and hold it between your legs like we do. It's bad enough in the mornings without having your expensive designer bag jammed into my back.

To the guy with the free London Lite on the tube during commute hours...Do you really need to read about Sienna Miller's whereabouts last weekend if it means shoving your sweaty newspaper in the face of the guy in front of you? Put it down like everyone else. The tube isn't a luxury, it's a necessity. If I could physically pull off the acrobatic task of reading on the tube without interfering with someone else’s personal space, I would.

Young people...Give up your seat for the elderly and the disabled. I see you with your head down, eyes averted as the old guy with the crutches is thrown about the train like a rag doll.

Why do certain people run up the escalator in the morning? I'm already walking as fast as I can on the left hand side of the escalator. If you're that late for any reason at all, you should have taken an earlier tube. If you're doing it for exercise, find an alternative method that's less annoying to the general public. Just because you feel the need to run up the escalator, doesn't mean other people need to.

Please, when you hear the "beeping" of the closing doors, do not run towards the train like a scurrying rat, position yourself so as to trap your bag between the closing doors in order to cause a jam so that the operator is forced to reopen the doors so that you can get on this particular train. In all likelihood, you've just delayed the train you're forcing yourself on as well as the one behind you that would have arrived if you had only waited one extra minute.

When the train is packed, and it stops at a station you're not getting off at, but you happen to be blocking the doors, please step out of the train and let people off. Do not simply put your head down, grasp your arms around your torso and wince as people are forced to bump and knock their way past you simply because you're too lazy and feel too entitled to step off the train.

The above goes for those people who are always so anxious to force themselves onto an already jammed train even though they're preventing people from exiting the train themselves.

We all have to live with signal failures, minor and major delays, people pulling emergency alarms, and those who occasionally "get themselves stuck under the trains". If you can make all of our commuting lives a little easier by following my advice then maybe going to and from work won't be as bad as it has to be.