Wednesday, July 15: This morning at 6:30 a.m., I leave my humble abode in Nanning, China, locking the keys inside. I feel a little strange leaving the place I’ve lived for the last year, knowing I will never see it again. Outside, a car arranged by the university is waiting to drive me to the airport. I get to the airport by about 7:30 and check in without incident at Shenzhen Airlines for my 9:40 flight.
Planes departing from Chinese airports are almost always late, but I don’t worry because I have a 3-hour and 20 minute layover in Beijing and I will check in to Air Canada at the same terminal where I arrive. Today, when I have a nice long layover, my plane surprisingly leaves Nanning on time. When I arrive in Beijing at 12:45 p.m., I pick up my bags from the baggage claim and make my way to Air Canada, where I must check my bags back in for the international flight. There is a long, slow-moving line at Air Canada, so I get a little antsy as the time seems to be going by rather quickly.
Then I hit the line for Customs/Immigration in International Departures. The lines are snaking queues with hundreds of people in them, and they’re barely moving. I stand in that line for well over an hour! By then I’m starting to get worried I will miss my plane in Beijing! After I finally make it through and send my bags and tennis shoes and every possession through security, I have about a half hour before we board.
When I arrive at the gate, I have time to sit for about 5 minutes before we start boarding at 3:35 p.m. I get in the line for Group 5, which is already about 30 people long. We board and are ready to take off on time; however, air traffic control tells the pilot we will have a 30-minute delay, which worries me as I only have a 1 1/2 hour layover in Vancouver.
I realize too late that I’m booked into a middle seat. They can’t change me to an aisle seat because the flight is fully booked. Misery! I sit between two Chinese boys, one of whom speaks both fluent English and Chinese. He’s from Los Angeles, but has spent his school years studying in China. He is going to stay with his parents in Los Angeles for a month before attending Berkeley in the fall. He’s a very bright 18-year-old kid who plans to do a double major in mechanical engineering and economics. He chats with me a long time about his plans and I’m very impressed. When he talks to the boy on the other side of me, they speak over me in Chinese. He says, “I hope you don’t mind us talking over you.” I say, half-jokingly, “I don’t mind but I’d rather you switch seats with me!” After several hours, he luckily takes me up on my request and gives me his aisle seat, which I’m very happy about, although even that is uncomfortable on a 10-hour and 20-minute flight.
When we arrive in Vancouver at noon, the Chinese boy and I take off together toward our flight bound to L.A. We come to a bottleneck where about 25 people are standing in a slow-moving line. First, an Air Canada attendant asks us to identify our bags on a TV screen. One of my bags is visible on the screen, but the other isn’t, so she tells me to go sit into a room until I can verify both my bags. I tell her we have a very short connection, but she doesn’t seem phased. The Chinese boy has to wait to identify his bags as well. When we finish, we are finally able to get into the slow-moving line, which has gotten longer while we’ve been held up. I tell one of the officials from the airline that we have a very short connection, but she says, “There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s U.S. Customs and I have nothing to do with that!” The line is moving slowly and the boy, who is about 3 people behind me, and I are commiserating about how we’re never going to make our flight. Suddenly he starts to go to the front of the line and I follow him. He says, “I called my mother and she told me not to talk to the officials. She says I should depend on the kindness of strangers.” He goes to the front of the line with his bag, and I (who can’t stand people who cut in line, and would never do it myself under ordinary circumstances), follow him. We beg the people at the front of the line to let us in so we won’t miss our flight. Luckily, they kindly allow us to pass, although the poor people behind them have no say in the matter.
When I get to U.S. Customs the officer asks me where I’m staying, and where I live. I tell him and then mention that we have a very short connection. He says, in that way that people in positions such as these like to flex their power, “You can’t rush me, lady. I will take as long as I need to take.” I say, “Fine!” Then he asks a few more questions and releases me. I won’t mention the name I call him to the Chinese boy when I’m out of earshot.
At that point we see our gate #83 is at the far end of a long hall, and over the loudspeaker, I hear my name among a list of names for “last call.” I panic: “That’s us! We need to run!” The boy and I go tearing through the airport, and barely manage to board the plane. The airline stewardesses close the door behind us and we take off as scheduled at 1:00 p.m.
I make it to LA right on time, by 4:00 p.m. My sister Stephanie is waiting to pick me up right after I pick up my bags, and we head directly to dinner at a cozy sushi place. We celebrate by drinking hot sake followed by cold Sapporo. I am happy to be with my sister on American soil after one of the longest days of my life. It’s still Wednesday, July 15 when I arrive in LA around 4:00 p.m., having left China at 6:30 a.m. that same morning. 🙂
During our dinner, and after a few sips of Sapporo and sake, Steph asks what I’d like to do next. I say I’d love to find my way to Morocco or Ecuador. She says, “Oh. I wouldn’t want you to go to Morocco. I wouldn’t want you to lose your head or anything like that.” I say, “Well, yes, I really would prefer not to lose my head. Of course. I don’t think it would be in my best interest.” For some reason, maybe it’s the sake and Sapporo, but we find this hilarious and have quite a laugh over this ridiculous conversation. 🙂
Thursday, July 16: We have quite a lazy day today, eating a healthy breakfast and lunch together, running out to Trader Joe’s, and watching movies and TV series. Stephanie gets me interested in the Danish political series Borgen, and we watch a coupe of episodes. After meeting her good friend Yvonne for more sushi, sake and Sapporo at another favorite sushi restaurant, we watch the TheSecond Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which I’ve been dying to see. In my opinion, it isn’t nearly as good as the first one. 🙂
I really needed a day of rest!
Friday, July 17: This morning, my sister drives us to Oxnard where we’re to catch an Island Packers boat to Anacapa Island, one of the islands in the Channel Islands National Park. Yes, my British friends, we have our own Channel Islands here in the U.S. 🙂
We arrive in plenty of time for our 10:00 a.m. departure. When we left Steph’s house in Reseda, it was warm and sunny, but here on the coast it’s cloudy and very cool. I’m worried I’m going to be freezing on the boat. I have no jackets or sweaters as I sent all of those home from China in boxes, thinking it would be hot and desert-like in L.A.
We board the boat with about 50 other people and take off through the marina and into the channel.
Luckily the seas are calm this morning, as Steph is worried she will get seasick. I’m lucky that I don’t often get seasick; I’ve been on many boats in rough seas where people all around me are getting sick into plastic bags but I am just fine.
We pass a big oil rig.
According to Wikipedia, the Channel Islands of California are a chain of eight islands off the coast of southern California in the Pacific Ocean. Five of these islands are part of Channel Islands National Park. The Islands were first colonized by the Chumash and Tongva Native Americans 13,000 years ago, who were then displaced by European settlers who used the islands for fishing and agriculture. The U.S. military uses the islands as training grounds, weapons test sites, and as a strategic defensive location (Wikipedia: Channel Islands of California).
Below is my sister on the boat bound for Anacapa Island.
We see a lot of dolphins playfully following in the wake of the boat, but I don’t seem to have luck capturing any of them in photos.
Anacapa Island’s name is derived from the Chumash Native American Indian name Anypakh, meaning deception or mirage. The three islets of Anacapa look almost like a mirage in the morning fog. These islets (appropriately named East, Middle, and West Anacapa Islands) stretch out over five miles and are inaccessible from each other except by boat. They are about a quarter-mile wide and have a total land area of about one square mile (700 acres) (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
As we approach the island, we can see the lighthouse and 40-foot-high Arch Rock, a symbol of Anacapa and Channel Islands National Park.
Our boat pulls up at a dock built into the side of a cliff and after disembarking, we must climb up several hundred steps to reach the top.
We are greeted immediately by some of the thousands of seagulls on the island.
According to the National Park Service, thousands of seabirds use Anacapa as a nesting area because of the relative lack of predators on the island. While the steep cliffs of West Anacapa are home to the largest breeding colony of endangered California brown pelicans, all the islets of Anacapa host the largest breeding colony of western gulls in the world. Western gulls begin their nesting efforts at the end of April, sometimes making their shallow nests just inches from island trails. Fluffy chicks hatch in May and June and fly away from the nest in July (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
It’s a surreal experience walking through the squawking seagulls and their almost-full-grown grey fledglings. It’s incredibly noisy and pungent, especially in certain areas. I feel like we’re the aliens here in a bird world. Alfred Hitchcock’s movie “The Birds” comes to mind.
The mission revival style buildings on the island are part of the 1932 light station. They include the lighthouse, fog signal building, one of four original keeper’s quarters, a water tank building, and several other service buildings. One of the buildings is now the East Anacapa Visitor Center, which houses some informative exhibits, including the original lead-crystal Fresnel lens, which served as a beacon to ships until an automated light replaced it in 1990 (National Park Service: Anacapa Island).
We accompany a park guide on part of the two-mile figure-eight trail system to learn about the island’s native vegetation, wildlife, and cultural history. Apparently, the plants look drab and lifeless in summer but come alive with color in the winter. Vibrant red paintbrush, island morning-glory, and pale buckwheat add touches of color to the island’s palette.
More plant life
Steph and I leave the ranger-led hike and venture out on the trail to Cathedral Cove.
Looking down on Cathedral Cove, we can see the kelp forests and sea lions on the beach and the rocks below.
We backtrack along the same trail where we pass by the ranger and her followers.
The strange tree sunflower, or coreopsis, blossoms in winter with bright yellow bouquets. You can see the dormant giant coreopsis below, topped with seagulls.
Stephanie and I stop at a picnic area near the figure-8 crossover on the trail and eat our Trader Joe’s lunch of lentil wraps and cherries. There are no services on the island, so everyone must bring their own food and water.
At the far western end of East Anacapa Island, we stand in the breeze at Inspiration Point, where we can see the other two islets stretching out into the Pacific. Waves have eroded the volcanic island, creating towering sea cliffs and sea caves, where California sea lions droop themselves over rocks, sunning themselves.
We’re glad that the fog has lifted and the sun has come out, but then we find it gets hot rather quickly. We’re both surprised that there are no trees on the island.
We continue walking back to the east, where we can see the old lighthouse. The lighthouse blares its foghorn every 20 seconds or so. The ranger has told us that we’re blocked from getting in near the lighthouse because its loud foghorn can hurt our eardrums.
When I decide to take a 360 degree video of the island, my sister throws in a little surprise at the end. I think the seagulls are rubbing off on her 🙂
We head back to the docking area to wait for the boat.
We board the boat at 3:30 p.m. and are back on our way back to Oxnard by 3:45.
Before we leave the island, we go by boat around the eastern end where we get a better view of Arch Rock.
The rocky shores are perfect resting and breeding areas for California sea lions and harbor seals. We can see them lounging on the rocks, but the light is so bad on this side of the island that I can’t get any decent pictures.
Finally we return to the marina in Oxnard. It has been a lovely yet strange and surreal day.
We end our day with beers and dinner at an outdoor cafe overlooking the marina. Steph gets a blackened snapper sandwich and I have Mahi Mahi tacos with mango salsa. I am so happy to be eating American food again! 🙂
We drive back to Reseda, about an hour’s drive, and relax in the evening, watching several more episodes of Borgen.
Saturday, July 18: The highlight of today is the cheese platter a la Stephanie. I love cheese, and I’ve missed it dearly while in China. This one has cherries, cheeses, chutney, watercress, smoked oysters, Japanese cucumbers and healthy crackers. It’s one of the highlights of American cuisine. 🙂
Saturday, January 18: The last time I saw my little sister Stephanie must have been at my mother’s funeral 12 years ago. Stephanie has lived in Los Angeles for longer than that, and despite my best intentions, I’ve never made it to California until early this January. It really is pathetic that we live on opposite coasts of the same country and never visit each other.
To see full-sized images, click on any of the pictures in the gallery below.
Steph with Babe
Steph with Babe
Steph’s illustrations in her studio
Steph’s drawing table
Stephanie has always amazed me. She’s insanely creative, energetic, and has a great sense of humor. She can draw, paint, write, and do most anything that is inside or outside the box. She used to work for Redbook, and later for Shape magazine, as Art Director. Most recently she worked for Fit Pregnancy and Natural Health, magazines owned by American Media. Now she’s taking some time to build her freelance business and pursue the non-corporate life of her dreams. She really inspired me on this visit as we are both now trying to carve out lives for ourselves that are more fulfilling than the ones we’ve been living.
Stephanie writes of herself on her website KONSUMERISM.RUN.AMOK: the most random of desires: I’m a Creative Director, illustrator and obsessive collector. I’m usually on the trail of something I have a sudden passion for, whether it be vintage books, tin toys, Danish modern furniture, cool plants, certain enticing vegetables, crazy looking bunnies, classic film DVDs, old jazz records, bicycles… the list goes on (and on). Everything is design. And I have an extra special kinship for old things. Mid-century makes my heart quicken. This is a place to share my latest finds and passions. Relax, put on a scratchy bop LP and meander with me through the artifacts of the last couple of centuries. I have tons more on my Pinterest than I’ll ever have time to post here, so be sure and visit.
Stephanie is an avid collector, with an array of mid-century modern furniture, vintage bicycles, toys, books and movie posters filling her house. Black & white family photographs adorn her walls and toy wind-up birds sit on shelves waiting to cock-a-doodle-doo. The whole ambiance of her house evokes our childhood, and the era of our parents and grandparents. On her living room wall hangs a photo of our brother Rob, Steph and me (with an especially bad haircut) in a New York diner, from her days in the city. In her backyard, she has an aviary full of birds, especially finches, and a chicken coop where three chickens, rounded up by Horatio the rooster, lay eggs for her breakfast. She has orange trees and a pond, and rusty vintage lawn chairs like the ones my grandmother used to have. She has two friendly dogs, Babe and Buster, several cats who curl up by the heater and like to mark their territory on the guest bed, and rabbits who enjoy gnawing on electric cords.
the chickens who lay eggs for breakfast
Horatio the rooster
a healthy kitchen
We spend our time together on this visit reminiscing about our childhood, laughing, eating sushi accompanied by Sapporo and warm saké, watching The Invisible Woman at Sundance Sunset Cinema in West Hollywood, exploring the boardwalk & walk-streets of Venice, and watching Downton Abbey and the Golden Globes. We eat shrimp dumplings and calamari at P.F. Chang’s. We talk of art and our goals and we encourage each other in our dreams. I loved spending time with my long-lost sibling.
Or, maybe it’s me who’s been long-lost.
me with Babe and Buster in Steph’s guest room
shrimp dumplings at P.F. Chang
Steph and me at P.F. Changs on our last night
In case you missed the homage to my visit that Stephanie drew in her journal, here it is, one more time.
Sunday, January 12: After leaving Rosie’s house, I head to my sister’s house in Reseda, only about a half-hour drive. I want to spend my last night with her, since we lost our first night together because of my missed flight connection in Denver on my way to L.A. I had packed my schedule so tightly that I didn’t have nearly the time I wanted to spend with her.
We try to go back to our favorite sushi restaurant, but sadly we find it closed on this Sunday night. Instead we go to P.F. Chang’s China Bistro, where we share a fabulous meal of appetizers along with some beers.
Crispy Green Beans
Salt & Pepper Calamari
We have such a fun night together, as always. Stephanie used to work as the art director for Shape magazine, and most recently Fit Pregnancy magazine, but she lost her job recently due to a downsizing. She’s excited about forging a new life for herself, outside of the corporate world. She’s so talented, she won’t have any problem making her dreams come true. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and I even start to believe I can live the creative life as well. My talents are so limited compared to hers, but at this point in January, I have hope that I can publish my book, do some travel writing and travel photography, and carve out a life for myself that will make me happy.
We go back to her house to watch the second episode of Downton Abbey and then go to sleep so I can get an early start to the airport tomorrow.
Monday, January 13: This morning, I take off early for the airport, taking some pictures of Stephanie’s house and her old Studebaker before I leave.
Here’s the lovely Bob Hope Airport. Waiting.
First stop, San Francisco International Airport.
And looking out the window at a piece of the American landscape.
I posted this before, but here is my sister’s rendition of my trip to California.
Sunday, January 12: After our excursion to the lively Sunday market, Rosie, her husband, and her personal trainer Monty take me to Malibu. We park the car in a parking lot beside Malibu Seafood and hike the 2.5 mile loop around Corral Canyon.
According to hikespeak.com: corral canyon loop in the santa monica mountains, the 1,000-acre Corral Canyon State Park protects a span of the Santa Monica Mountains between Dan Blocker Beach and Malibu Creek State Park. This is the only canyon on the Los Angeles County side of the range that remains undeveloped from the ridge top down to the Pacific Coast Highway, allowing the 2.5-mile loop through the park to plunge hikers in to a world of natural scenery and vegetation.
The trail climbs to 525 feet at the north end of the loop. The trail then makes a U-turn heading-south to what is labeled on the map as an overlook. There is a nice view up and down the coast from this shelf on the ridge, 1.5-miles from the bottom of the loop.
After our hike, we’re famished, so we sit outside on the patio of Malibu Seafood and eat some delicious fish tacos.
I have a lovely day with Rosie and her husband, but now I plan to spend my last evening in California with my sister. So we return to Rosie’s house, where I pack up my stuff and drive to Stephanie’s house in Reseda, back to where I started this trip. 🙂
Sunday, January 12: This morning, Rosie has a day planned for us in Malibu, but first we stop at a Sunday market. If I weren’t flying home tomorrow morning, I would indulge in a buying extravaganza at this lively market.
After our stop at the market, we head to Corral Canyon for a hike.
Saturday, January 11: This morning, Rosie and I are going to the Poets and Writers LIVE! event in Los Angeles, but before we do, we take a nice walk around the Toluca Lake neighborhood. Being in LA, it’s hard to believe it’s January. Back home in Virginia we’ve had below freezing temperatures and snowfall after snowfall, and here in sunny LA, it feels like a spring day.
We drive to the Poets and Writers Event, which, much to my surprise, is just around the corner from Abbott Kinney Boulevard, the main drag that my sister Stephanie and I explored when I was in Los Angeles at the beginning of my trip.
Poets & Writers magazine was started in 1970 to help writers. Editor-in-chief Kevin Larimer introduces the event, the first of many face-to-face events that Poets & Writers will sponsor around the country. The event is organized into four sessions of 1 1/4 hours each.
In session one, Larimer discusses why we want to publish: 1) for validation and 2) so people can read our work. As authors, he suggests, we should buy books and literary magazines, thus supporting the community we want to be a part of. He advises that an agent is helpful to writers when sorting through complicated publishing contracts, as he/she can give legal advice.
In session two, a number of speakers discuss how to build community in the Los Angeles area. This is the least interesting talk to me, since I don’t live in LA and can’t take advantage of the myriad opportunities. The general consensus: “Creativity flourishes in community.” Suggestions for building community include surveying the neighborhood you’re in and encourage whoever wants to participate. Align what you’re doing with your own needs as a writer, because the needs of the organizer should be met as much as the needs of participants.
Opportunities to connect abound: 1) Find an art buddy to check in with to see whether you’re writing or not; 2) Make writing dates, where you get together with another writer in the same room to write; 3) Have writing practice groups where you practice meditation and then do a “fevered writing;” 4) Join writing groups where you get feedback within a set of guidelines. This gives you a way to know how your work is “landing;” 5) Put together readings with other people; 6) Approach a publisher with a common-themed group project.
Other advice: 1) Find your own niche and 2) to inspire your own writing, get out of your element.
If you decide to form a writing workshop, try to discuss the works in a positive way: 1) What meaning did you get from that? 2) What did you notice in a piece of work? 3) Invite people to ask questions about form, content, what if? Guidelines in a writing workshop should apply to everyone. Someone should be chosen to facilitate in a smooth manner, using humor to transition. Try to be communicative and transparent. The workshop facilitator should be consistent about times and run a tight shift.
Sound advice: As a writer, the best thing you can do is to read aloud your work.
In session three, a panel of writers have an interesting discussion about writing, and answer questions from the audience. Ron Carlson, American novelist and short story writer, most recently wrote Return to Oakpine. He talks about his life as a short story writer. Poet Harryette Mullen, who wrote Sleeping with the Dictionary, shares her story about being a poet. Novelist Charles Yu, author of How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, discusses his style of writing and why he loves the craft. Meghan Daum, an American author, essayist, and journalist (L.A. Times columnist) who wrote My Misspent Youth, The Quality of Life Report and Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House says she became a writer because she literally couldn’t do anything else. She had no other talents. I doubt that’s true, but it makes for some funny stories.
The panel discusses writing in different mediums: crayons, chalk, or play dough — to spark creativity. Draw pictures. Think of five things and draw one, write a caption, add five more lines. Play Sculptionary or Lego-nary. Always try to trick your mind into opening up. Just sit in a chair, stop whining, and do it.
In the final session, author Dani Shapiro reads from her book Still Write. I always love it when I hear authors speak about how, no matter how many times they’ve been published, they still feel dread and self-doubt when they sit down to write. That’s how I feel, of course, so to know that published authors feel that way gives me some small bit of encouragement.
Dani writes a blog about the creative process: Dani Shapiro. She wants her book Still Write to be a companion to fellow writers, similar to Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life or Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary. It’s about beginnings, middles, ends, and the puzzle-like pieces of writing. She challenges writers to write about the things they do that they’d be mortified by if anyone knew about them.
After one of our breaks, I come back to my seat to find a Chinese man sitting next to me, in what had been an empty seat. He hands me a card: Da Chen. His latest published novel is My Last Empress.
He asks if I’m a writer.
I hem and haw. “Yes, I’ve written a novel.”
“What is the title?” he asks.
“I don’t have a title yet.”
“Oh. Do you have a business card?”
“No, sorry, I don’t.” I fidget uncomfortably, feeling embarrassed by my lack of confidence and professionalism.
He turns away, having lost interest. I feel disheartened that I blew an opportunity to talk with someone who might be in a position to help me get my novel published. Live and learn, the hard way.
I am thrilled that Rosie heard about this event and that we signed up for it before it was sold out. It was so inspirational! During the time I started writing my novel in 2002, I used to go all the time to listen to authors give readings in bookstores, and I found them inspirational. They prodded me to finish the first draft of my book.
For the next several months, my goal is to get my novel done. To give the book a title. And to make up business cards for future encounters with other writers!
After the event, Rosie and I drive around the corner and stop in at The Brig for cocktails. The picture below was taken the week before when I was here with my sister. By the time we arrive here tonight, it’s dark.
We stand around drinking wine and chatting with other writers who attended the event. It’s all very lively and authorial. I feel a bit of a thrill by the whole thing. 🙂
There seems to be no food served at The Brig, so we walk out the front door and pick up some very decadent food at a food truck.
After everyone disperses, Rosie and I take a leisurely stroll up and down Abbott Kinney Boulevard, enjoying some nighttime window-shopping. If you want to see the daytime view, you can check out window-shopping on abbott kinney boulevard.
TGS Tortoise General Store
Across from Pork Belly’s Sandwich Shop
The Juicy Leaf
Topo Ranch LLC
A fun and inspirational day all around! To learn more about Poets & Writers, check out this link: Poets & Writers.