Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Helsinki to Tallinn, August 23

We had an early morning with a rushed-but-tasty hotel breakfast in order to catch the short ferry from Finland to Estonia.  The ferry didn't have "seats" as such, but we sort of squatted at an out-of-the-way bar table and dozed through most of the trip.  We happened to be perched midway between a large bar where a horn-heavy band was playing dance music, and a smaller bar where a soulful guitar-wielding Finn was singing songs like "Hotel California" ... phonetically.  Maybe the weirdest dreams of my life.

Then, Tallinn.  We were staying in the Old Town, which is one of the best-preserved old towns in Europe with some buildings and fortifications dating from the 13th century.  Everywhere we went in Tallinn, I felt like we'd stepped into a fantasy novel or a fairy tale.  Pictures are probably best:

We had lunch at Kompressor, a divey "pancake" place, but the pancakes were much more like hefty (delicious) crepes.  We enjoyed a walking tour with our guide Mari, had dinner at a local spot, and then some after-dinner drinks at a bar called Clazz.

By this point in the trip, speculation about the upcoming Big Reveal was starting to heat up.  I should explain: on this trip, for the first few days no one was allowed to reveal where they were from, where they'd gone to school, what they'd studied, and (if traveling in a couple) which member of the couple was the Northwestern student.  We'd all gotten to know each other by this point, and people were having a lot of fun guessing each others' life stories.

After dinner and drinks, we returned to our basic-but-serviceable hostel in the heart of Old Town for a good night's sleep.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Helsinki, August 22 - Suomenlinna

We spent the first part of the day on Suomenlinna ("castle of Finland") (no actual castle), which was originally built as a Swedish fort.  Suomenlinna has a history as rich as Finland's -- see the wikipedia link above.

Many of the original fortifications are in place, and others have been faithfully restored.  Today, a few hundred Finns also live on the island year-round, commuting to mainland Helsinki by short ferry ride or (in case of emergency) under-sea tunnel.  We enjoyed strolling the island.  We also had a nice chat with an older Latvian-American couple on a long trip themselves.  Chuckling, they encouraged us to spend a lot of money in Riga once we got there.

Suomenlinna's drydock was particularly impressive, and was considered very large at the time of consturction.  Be sure to stare at the first picture for a second to get the perspective right; that is NOT a small boat!

After returning from Suomenlinna, Lauren and I stopped at local vegetarian restaurant Zucchini, where we got a bit of a break from the meat+potatoes fare.  We napped and wandered through the rest of the afternoon, before joining the rest of the KWEST group for a Belgian dinner (and a few Chimays) at Belge, and then some partying at the local Butterfly Bar.  Lauren and I had less party stamina than many of her new classmates, but everyone had a great time.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Helsinki, August 21 - Arrival, bus/boat tours

Lauren and I were thrilled to join the KWEST Baltics trip this year.  KWEST is a Kellogg business school program where students entering the first year of their MBAs split into groups of 25, and bond over exotic vistas and new foods during a week abroad.  Along the way, there's usually some service component, lots of sightseeing, and lots of partying.  A good time all around.

We'll be posting our notes from the trip over the next few days.  Pictures from the whole trip are already posted.

We flew direct from Chicago to Stockholm, then had a 2-hour layover in Stockholm where one of our new trip buddies immediately fell in love with every Swedish woman.  A short flight to Helsinki, and our trip was begun in earnest.  The pine trees outside the airport were a great first sight.

Many unfortunate souls (like me) hadn't slept during the overnight plane flight, and so energy was a bit low as we checked into the Hotel Arthur...

In a noble attempt to combat jetlag, the trip leaders had planned an immediate bus tour for our first day in Helsinki.  We alternated between dozing and sightseeing, but enjoyed cool stops at a church built into solid rock...

...and at the Sibelius monument, honoring Jean Sibelius, a composer whose work is central to the Finnish national identity.

After the bus tour, we had a bit of time before our next activity (boat tour), during which we wandered through the breathtaking senate square before meeting up with the group back at the mermaid statue.

I'll be honest: I slept through most of the boat tour.  I must have snapped a few photos while sleeping, though?

We finally lurched our way to a hearty dinner of meatballs and hash at a restaurant called Zetor, and then it was time for a long, hard sleep.

I had just enough awareness of my surroundings during this groggy day to reach one firm conclusion: I'd move to Helsinki in a heartbeat!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Meeting the President

Last night, Will and I went to the Aragon ballroom to see President Obama speak.  Neither of us had ever seen a sitting president before.  There were about 1000 people in the room, and so we were able to get pretty close.

Obama was charismatic, handsome, energetic, real.  Exactly what you hoped he would be.  Sometimes the speech was trite, but I was sufficiently excited that I am probably going to change my Facebook and Google profile picture to something referencing "I'm In," his new campaign 2012 slogan.

I loved how diverse and energetic the crowd was.  We don't see a whole lot of diversity together, celebrating, being one community in Chicago all that often, so this was a special night.

You can read the news story of the event here.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Studying for Tax Exam, but Still a Great Birthday

Today during our study group, we went over the practice exam - and Carrol brought cupcakes for my birthday!

I have the world's best study group.

Finally Spring!

After a long, hard winter, spring has finally come to Chicago!  And the orchid from Eugenie and Vishal has survived (hurray!) and is blooming again:

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Memphis - A Pilgrimage of Sorts

When I was a college freshman, I wrote a paper on the American pilgrimage to Graceland.  It was basically a lark. I wrote it because I was a little prat, and I wanted to respect and mock my teacher at the same time.

This weekend, I made my own pilgrimage to Memphis, wife in tow. I suppose justice has been served.

This has been the most tumultuous year of my life. My father’s illness first struck in February of 2010.  Lauren and I married and honeymooned in July. August marked our move to Chicago, a move away from ten years of friendships and a comfortable life in California. Our only breaks from the biting Chicago winter were trips to Tampa -- trips to be with my father, who died this January.

During the course of this year, I twice bought tickets to see Band of Horses. They’re a rock band. Their music did not change my life. I just like them.

Long story short, I had to sell my tickets to both shows at the last minute (see two paragraphs up). At the time, I had bigger things on my mind, and so it didn’t really sting all that much to miss the concerts.

Then a few weeks ago, I was sitting in a coffeeshop, trading emails with my friend Emily, listening to Band of Horses on my headphones, and reflecting on the year. And for a moment, things crystallized in a way that was very simple and very unusual for me: “This has been a hell of a year. I really like this music. ... I should go see this band.”

Lauren was supportive, as always.

So! This weekend, we caught a Saturday morning flight to Memphis, enjoyed a ridiculous plate full of ribs at the Blues City Cafe for lunch....

...marveled at the neverending stream of Elvis references (favorite example: Elvis on men’s room signs)...

...had dinner and drinks at the excellent Rum Boogie Cafe (where we must return with Lauren’s dad, Robin, someday)...

...went to the concert (Band of Horses was opening for Kings of Leon, another great band)...

...treated ourselves to breakfast the next morning at the Blue Plate Cafe (“best collard greens I’ve had in my life,” reports Lauren)...

...and boarded a Sunday afternoon plane back to Chicago.

Memphis seems lovely. We’d love to return for a normal visit some other time. Beale Street seemed like some weird combination of Bourbon St., Disneyworld, and Dollywood, but I’m glad we walked it, and I’d like to walk it again. So many things in Memphis revolve around music; we could spend a week soaking in the local music scene and not make a dent, I’m sure. I’d like to sneak off to the Gibson guitar factory tour. And the civil rights museum is supposed to be fantastic.

And, well...


I think that I would like to see Graceland someday.

You know, I looped the Paul Simon song the entire time I was researching and writing that paper. And I spent sixteen hours on that paper, easy. Sixteen hours born from irony, but steeped in the words of honest pilgrims, all. Sixteen hours with a good man singing plaintively in my ear: "For reasons I cannot explain, there's some part of me wants to see Graceland."

Somewhere in the course of it, his words became mine. By the end, I wanted an honest pilgrimage of my own.


A pilgrim can be many things, but he is always incomplete. He’s missing something, and it’s important, and it’s important enough to leave home for.

By contrast, my life has been - and still is - incredibly blessed and full. But for the first time this year, I had some urge to leave home.


Dad would have loved Memphis. He would have rattled off historical trivia about every streetcorner we walked by. That’s just who he was.

He would have chuckled at the Elvis paraphernalia but probably taken a tacky doodad home. That’s who he was, too.

He would have been a big help with the plate of ribs. He would have known the names written on those guitars.

He would have been glad that I’d taken the time to go. I’m glad, too.

I hope you all get a chance to visit Graceland, wherever yours may be.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A hui hou Kailua

Kailua beach with the Mokulua's in the background.  A beautiful day walking the Lanikai loop with dad.  I will be back in December!  I miss Hawaii already.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Drive Around the Island

Here's a pic of Morning Brew in Kailua, the cafe where I park for a couple hours every morning (usually between 6:30 AM and 8:30 AM, before they get crowded):

I usually take one of the tables on the right side of the picture - it's the second floor loft area looking out over the rest of the coffee shop.  To the left of the picture are big glass windows looking out over a school yard.  It's perfect!

On Thursday, Kung Kung and I met Dad at the Manoa Marketplace to eat at O-Bok, a Korean BBQ joint:

Really good quality meats and of course kim chee - so yummy!

That night was St. Patrick's, so Gram made some slow-cooker corned beef:

Picture is not great, but what can you do.  With lots of mustard it was amazing.

Friday we went to Hakkei, my favorite Japanese restaurant in Hawaii, and the only competitor to Sushi Tomi in Mountain View.  Hakkei specializes in a hot pot, and your goodies are boiling inside:

Fresh, homemade tofu is in the bottom left of this picture.  It is creamy and silky -- no words to describe it, and totally different from store-bought tofu.

Saturday we went to Waikele where Dad found a backpack with Will's name on it:

But I told Dad that Will is very picky about his backpack, even if it was a cute one.

Today we drove around the island with Kung Kung.  We stopped for lunch at Kua 'Aina Burger:

And for me the highlight of the trip was probably the view from Laie Point:

Another beautiful day in Hawaii!