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Highlights from my first 8 months in the San Francisco Bay Area: June 2014-Feb 2015

Posted by on March 3, 2015

Given I’ve not updated this blog the entire time since I’ve lived in Oakland, California, and my last post was about the comedy scene in Malaysia, I thought I’d write up a broad entry to discuss what I’m up to here, and some of the highlights of my experiences.

Moving Stress

Before I go into the highlights of the last 8 months, and the joys of living in the Bay Area, I think it’s important to talk about the normal stress and impact of an international move. Moving from Malaysia to California was my second international move, and with it came a higher stress load than our first move.

This time around, I had two children over the age of three, rather than one child under the age of two. There was a 15 hour time difference, rather than zero. We bought a house that had been foreclosed on, and damage done to it was immense. We’re still in the process of fixing it up, as we can afford to. But, perhaps the most impact came from feeling like I’d only just found my footing with friends in Malaysia, after five years of being in the country. I was terrified it would take me just as long to make new friends here. Little over a month after the move, I was impacted by a disagreement with one of my closest friends, who was — at the time — my main support network, despite living 15 hours in the future. The fallout from that, coupled with the news of Robin Williams’ death, sent me into a depression spiral, which I then had to figure out how to recover from.

I’m not going to go into a huge amount of detail about what that entailed, but I will discuss it briefly because a) I believe mental health stigma needs to be reduced by being open about such things and b) it really shows how far I’ve come in a short space of time.

The road to recovery started when I realised my suicidal thoughts were impacting me too much. I was scared, and ended up calling the psychiatry department with our health provider to make an appointment. Before the fallout with my friend, I’d gone cold turkey on the anti-depressants I was on in Malaysia (which is probably one of the likely reasons I did not behave in the most appropriate ways toward them) because I thought, “Eh, I’m actually doing pretty well, I don’t need them any more” and also because I knew Valdoxan is not available in the US. Clearly it had been poor judgement on my part, and I needed help. They saw me immediately, and I ended up in an intensive therapy program for two weeks. I went on new medication, which took a little while to get the dose right on, but once it worked, I managed to build myself back up, and become a more effective communicator.

Since then, I’ve had my medication reduced, completely coming off two of the drugs I’d been prescribed, so that now I only have to worry about taking the mildest one that seemed to have the best impact on making sure I got enough sleep. Lack of restful sleep certainly contributed to my depression, and I don’t want to go back to that.

But the main thing I credit to being able to recover from depression was becoming involved in improv. I’ve been taking classes and getting pretty involved in the community. It’s been great for meeting people and making friends. So much so that my social anxiety is now pretty non-existent. I’m still a little shy at times, but the anxiety is gone. And this is a great segue to the next section.

Improv and Stand-up Comedy

My first exposure to improv in San Francisco was seeing a free show at the main library, where a couple of local ensembles performed. My favourite of the two was a group called YUM!, which I later discovered is one of the Performing Improv Ensembles at Leela, which I will talk about soon.

Subsequently, in September, the San Francisco Improv Festival happened. I contacted an improviser friend in Hawaii to find out who I should go see, and was able to attend two brilliant shows. The first was with Greasy Lake, followed by Messing with a Friend, and the second was Jet Eveleth and Scott Adsit (Adsit, if you don’t know, voiced Baymax in Big Hero 6). I would have liked to stay for the final show, but I thought if I did, I would likely miss the last BART back to Oakland. So I didn’t stick around to talk to anyone. I was still feeling rather shy.

Improv has been something I have wanted to get into for a while, but there was little to no opportunity for me to pursue that in Malaysia. When I took my first couple of workshops in Australia in 2001 and 2005, I was still pretty shy, anxious, and timid about the whole thing (after all, I was only 17 and 21 then). Though I had fun, it was a bit nerve-wracking. I didn’t think it was something I would be able to do on stage, though I enjoyed watching improv. It wasn’t until I met my aforementioned friend in Hawaii, R Kevin Garcia Doyle of Oil in the Alley and On the Spot, that I found an increasing desire to get more improv experience. I first travelled to Honolulu in 2010, where I was fortunate enough to get to shoot a music video with him and his Oil in the Alley partner Sean TC O’Malley. When I returned to Honolulu to shoot another music video with them in 2012, R Kevin told me about a workshop that was being hosted by a visiting LA improviser, which I got to attend. Seeing people struggle in one of the activities led to me being the last to try it, so nervous I was going to suck. Instead, I found a natural rhythm, and found myself really wanting more. But in two years that followed, living in Malaysia, there was only one workshop/audition held. During this workshop, despite nervousness, I forced myself to volunteer quickly, because I wanted to be selected to perform with the group. I wanted to show how keen I was. As far as I know, they never got around to selecting people from the audition to take it further.

Final meeting of my Improv I class at Leela

Final meeting of my Improv I class at Leela

So once I’d worked on my mental health as much as I could in therapy/medication, that I could get out of the house and not want to cry every day, I knew it was time to throw myself into improv. Within the next couple of weeks after the improv festival, I started a class on managing anxiety, and went to my first drop-in class with Leela. As with the improv festival shows, Leela had been recommended to me R Kevin, because he knew Jill Eickmann, one of the founders and teachers at Leela. I signed up online, not knowing who the the teachers would be, and when I posted about it on Facebook, tagging R Kevin, I was online-introduced to Jill, and learned she would be teaching that class. When we finally met, I felt very welcomed, and had a lot of fun. I took the class again the following week, and then signed up for Leela’s Improv I – Let’s Play class, which Jill was also teaching, because I wanted a more in depth class. I wanted to get to learn with the same people each week.

The managing anxiety class was good and all, but I definitely credit improv, and my attitude going into it (“If I want to perform on stage, then I need to be willing to just jump in and do it. Don’t even think about it.”) as the biggest thing to fix my social anxiety. Since regularly going to classes with Leela, and their shows, and other events organised by Leela alumni, I haven’t felt an ounce of social anxiety. Perhaps I’d have felt differently had I gone to another improv school, but I don’t know. What I can say is that the welcoming and accepting attitude at Leela has been incredibly beneficial. One of their mottos is “surrender to truth,” and as such, I feel like I can be myself, and completely honest about my life and experiences, more than I have anywhere else.

I have now completed Improv II – Authentic Relationships, which was taught by Wylie Herman (who voiced a character in the second Walking Dead game, which is a pretty cool claim to fame). Wylie was an excellent instructor, and the class had a strong focus on two character scenes/relationships. I felt like I did really well in the class, thanks to his tips. And I plan to start Improv III – Commitment to Craft with Doug Kassel as soon as I can. In order to be eligible to audition for one of Leela’s improv ensembles (which are held every three months), you need to have completed their first three level classes. Getting selected to perform with them is my current goal, and I want to do it as soon as I can.

Leela instructors Marcus Sams and Jill Eickmann as Shades of Grey

Leela instructors Marcus Sams and Jill Eickmann as Shades of Grey

With Leela, in January, I had the opportunity to perform at a couple of improv jams. The first was an open jam, which anyone could attend and participate in, and the second was one I was lucky enough to be selected for, to perform with some of Leela’s teachers, and other students. Though I was more nervous performing in front of a paying audience than I have been in classes, I still had an absolute ball, and was happy to receive positive feedback from people afterwards about how they enjoyed my choices on stage. It gives me great hopes for my future as an improv performer. I also regularly attend Leela’s weekly Saturday shows, to watch for enjoyment as well as learn while watching. I’ve seen all of their current performing improv ensembles: Sketchy Alley, Keyser Spartacus, That One Troupe, and YUM! I recently also got to see two of Leela’s instructors, Jill Eickmann and Marcus Sams, perform as their duo Shades of Grey, and it was just inspiring seeing them develop their characters, story, and their space object work.

Though most of the improv I’ve seen here has been from the local scene, I also managed to catch Puppet Up! with Brian Henson and other puppeteers, and that was, simply, amazing. It was cool seeing them all pick up puppets from the side of the stage and improvise with them, live. We got to see both how the puppeteers do their thing, and then the puppet show on screen. I loved it!

The puppets of Puppet Up!

The puppets of Puppet Up!

Though I regularly performed stand-up comedy in my final months in Malaysia (an average of about once a month or so), I have not yet taken to the stand-up stage in the Bay Area. I have, however, been to see fair number of stand-up comedians, some of whom have been pretty big names that I’d probably never have had the opportunity to see had I stayed in Malaysia, and others who had performed in Malaysia, but I didn’t happen to see there.

Jerry Seinfeld banner at Paramount Theatre

Jerry Seinfeld banner at Paramount Theatre

The first couple of major stand-up comedians I saw were in Oakland at the Paramount Theatre, where I was lucky enough to see both Chris Tucker (Rush Hour) and Jerry Seinfeld, in their own solo shows. Though I was seated pretty far away, because I didn’t want to pay the most expensive ticket prices, they were both incredible to get to see live. I then had the opportunity to go to both of San Francisco’s big comedy clubs, where I saw Emo Philips at Punchline, and John Leguizamo (Romeo + Juliet, Moulin Rouge) at Cobb’s. More recently, I got to see Australian comedian Tim Minchin at the Nourse, and experience surprise and delight at how well the mostly-US audience knew his songs. Seeing the popularity of a comedian who was born and raised in my home state, and who I haven’t been that familiar with (though I did have the opportunity to see improvise a song live at the Melbourne Comedy Festival a few years ago) was exhilarating. Also at the Nourse, I got to see Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani perform to a primarily Middle Eastern immigrant audience as part of his “I’m Not a Terrorist but I’ve Played One on TV” book tour. The book was included in the ticket price, and I started reading it before the show, then got to have it signed afterwards.

Selfie with Margaret Cho, when she was busking for the homeless

Selfie with Margaret Cho, when she was busking for the homeless

I’ve had multiple opportunities to see Margaret Cho now, which has been fantastic. The first time was a 7 minute set at the annual event Comedy Day, which is a 5 hour free comedy show at Golden Gate Park featuring many comedians from all over the place. Later in 2014, inspired by a friend who told her, “Don’t mourn Robin, be Robin” (referring to Robin Williams), Cho spent a month busking in various parts of San Francisco to raise money, clothes, food, and toiletries for the homeless. I went along to one of the events to donate clothes, shoes, and toiletries, and chipped in $5 to get a selfie with her too. I watched her sing, and see some local comedians perform stand-up. Finally, I got to see her perform a full show in February at SF Sketchfest, the San Francisco Comedy Festival.

Speaking of Sketchfest, Margaret Cho was not the only show I saw. Some of the things I went to were films, so I’ll talk about those in a later section, but for now I’ll tell you about the other shows I saw.

Janeane Garofalo

Janeane Garofalo

The first Sketchfest show I attended was an improv showcase, which I went to see to support Leela’s Armando Company, in which some of my improv teachers perform. There was also a couple of duos, one from Canada, and one from LA. I also got to see the Tribute to Weird Al Yankovic, which he was present at for a discussion and Q&A, as well as coming on stage singing “Like a Surgeon” with the video clip on screen, and ending the show with a sing-a-long to Yoda. Over the final two nights at Sketchfest, I saw Set List, which is improvised stand-up, and I’d wanted to see for quite some time, but I selected the performance I did because one of my favourite Australian comedians, Wil Anderson, was on the bill. I saw him again the following night at a stand-up showcase hosted by Janeane Garofalo. Seeing her has got to be the biggest highlight from the whole festival for me, particularly because I was sitting front row centre, and she picked me out as someone who looked “young,” who likely wouldn’t remember the 80s (in fact, she thought I hadn’t even been born yet), and then got down off stage and talked to the audience while standing right next to me, and her hand on her shoulder for part of it. Needless to say, I was pretty star-struck. I even got to meet her briefly after the show.

Of course, I haven’t limited my stand-up comedy watching to the most well known around the world. I’ve been to numerous shows in the Bay Area, from open mic nights, to showcases, and variety nights to a comedy rap battle. Some of the names I can remember off the top of my head as enjoying include:

Selfie with JR De Guzman

Selfie with JR De Guzman


* Alicia Dattner, whose solo show “The Oy of Sex” was hilarious at the Exit Theatre;
* Yayne Abeba, who was in my Improv I class, and I got to see in a Chinese theatre because she performed there and it was on my way home after seeing John Leguizamo at Cobb’s, and I’ve also seen as a guest monologist for Leela’s Armando Company twice — she’s a great storyteller;
* Sammy Obeid, who I’ve seen a few times now (first at a variety/burlesque show “Tourettes Without Regrets” and most recently opening for Maz Jobrani), is great with his math jokes;
* Kabir Singh, who I first saw in a showcase of South Asian comedians;
* JR De Guzman, who I actually met in Malaysia last year, but now that he’s back in Sacramento, I had the opportunity to see him again.

The Filmmaking Community

Me with my turquoise hair

Me with my turquoise hair

Through Marcus Sams, one of the teachers at Leela, I applied and was asked to be a featured extra on the feature film Lost in the Sun (Marcus is also an associate producer and actor for the film). I was asked right at the crux of my latest hair colouring adventure, so when the film does come out, I’ll be easily spotted with turquoise hair! So far, the scenes I’ve been part of have been in a bar, but according to the director, I’m likely to be invited back to be an extra one last time. There was another day of shooting we were meant to be at a beach and on a rooftop, but that day got postponed due to weather.

I’ve been asked by people why I decided to apply to be an extra on this film, seeing as it’s unpaid and such. My main reason for volunteering was because I thought it would be fun, and I’ve been enjoying getting out and meeting new people. Whilst there, I learned more about it actually being a good opportunity to network with the local film community, and in general being on set can help you learn the appropriate terminology with working in film. Though I have Graduate Diploma in Media Production, I didn’t necessarily follow all the correct procedures and terminology when I shot my short film, Journey, so I’m already a step above where I was just by watching the shoot for Lost in the Sun.

On location shoot for Lost in the Sun

On location shoot for Lost in the Sun

The director/screenwriter, Dave Moutray, is also very approachable, and welcoming of new people into the film scene in San Francisco. He, along with Marcus Sams, organised a film mixer, inviting all us extras to network with the film community. I hadn’t really been thinking about getting back into filmmaking since it had been so hard for me to network with people in Malaysia, and I didn’t think I could find people as enthusiastic as I can be about my projects. But the atmosphere in San Francisco makes me think I might have more of a chance to pursue it further again.

Though I didn’t talk to as many people I didn’t already know at the film mixer as what I tend to do when I go to improv, I still met some pretty interesting people. I met a cinematographer from India who seemed interested in working with me on some shorts, which is fantastic because I went there thinking, “If I find a cinematographer to work with, I might actually be able to shoot some better films.” I haven’t worked with a cinematographer since Journey, but he was brilliant, and I miss having someone like that to shoot with. I also met an African American screenwriter, who is probably the person I talked to most while I was there. We connected on numerous topics, but my favourite was discussing diversity in film — which shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you who know how passionate I can get about discussing diversity in the media.

See, I believe it’s important for people to make a more conscious effort to seek out artistic works (films/TV/books/theatre/stand-up comedy/etc) by and about minorities. I feel like this is the best way to learn about and accept/appreciate other cultures. We can find a lot of common ground, as well as better understand the differences. I also believe that the best people to produce the content about these “minorities” (which may not actually be the minority, if they’re produced, for example, in a non-Western country) are the people who can speak from their actual experience. This doesn’t mean I think other people can’t produce content that features such people (I’d be a hypocrite if I did), but that at the moment the people working in the highest places in the media are predominantly white men, and that seems to severely limit the diversity in voices that get the highest coverage.

It was these points I discussed with the screenwriter at the film mixer. But, being strongly opinionated on this topic doesn’t mean I’m not open to new ideas about how we can improve interest/access to such works. This screenwriter I spoke with opened up for me the idea that he thinks minority films, and I believe he was referring to African American ones in particular, since they’re the ones he was most familiar with, should also be more inclusive and inviting of other races, which would hopefully in turn encourage predominantly white films to be more inclusive of other races, too. This thought hadn’t even occurred to me before, perhaps because I’m open to watching films that do not have a single white person in them, or have them portrayed in a negative light. I really enjoyed hearing a new perspective on this subject, and if this is the kind of person who is involved in the film scene in the Bay Area, then I really look forward to future film mixers.

About a week and a half after the film mixer, I went to a screenwriting class with Dave Moutray, which was good because it focused more on feature films rather than shorts (which is what I was trained in), and ended up inspiring me to the extent that by the time I got home, I had more than an idea – I had a full premise and basics about the two lead characters nutted out in a notebook. I hope eventually I’ll have time to work on the idea even further.

Film, Theatre, Actors, and Musicians

Cary Elwes book signing

Cary Elwes book signing

I mentioned earlier that I saw a couple of films at SF Sketchfest, on top of the improv and stand-up. The first was a quote-along screening of The Princess Bride, with a Q&A with Cary Elwes (Westley in the film) at the end. Elwes was there in part to talk about his experiences on set, to promote his book, As You Wish, which is his memoir from the film shoot. I went primarily because I adored him in Robin Hood Men in Tights, and so when they announced he would be signing copies of his book after the screening, I couldn’t resist buying a copy so I could get his autograph.

The other film was a documentary about comedians, Misery Loves Comedy, directed by Kevin Pollak (the star of The Usual Suspects). When I bought my ticket, it was because I’d have the opportunity to see Pollak, as well as Janeane Garofalo (in a different setting from her stand-up), and also because as someone who has performed stand-up comedy, and been interested in that form of entertainment for more than half my life, I thought it would be interesting to watch a documentary on the subject. When I checked the line-up of guests the week of the event, I noticed that they’d since added director Kevin Smith (Dogma, Chasing Amy, Clerks) as moderator. As a fan of many of his films (Chasing Amy is my favourite), I was even more excited to have the opportunity to see him talk. I enjoyed the film, hearing all the voices that were quoted, but I think it’s definitely made for a niche audience. If you’re not super interested in comedy as an art form, you’re probably less likely to enjoy it.

Dana Gould, Janeane Garofalo, and Kevin Smith at the Q&A of Misery Loves Comedy

Dana Gould, Janeane Garofalo, and Kevin Smith at the Q&A of Misery Loves Comedy

I’ve also been to regular movie screenings. It’d be too much to talk about all of them, but I wanted to particularly point out Selma. I coincidentally happened into the theatre during the Martin Luther King Jr long weekend, without it clicking for me what the date was. I didn’t really know anything about the film, except that it was a biopic about him. Not having grown up in the US, I don’t know a huge amount about American history, and likely even less about African American history, so going to see the film seemed to be the perfect opportunity for me to learn something. Not only did I learn about that period of the civil rights movement in America, but I felt that it was an excellently produced film, and it literally moved me to tears. Such a powerful feature.

Coming up soon is CAAMFest, a film festival presented by the Center for Asian American Media. I’ve got a few tickets to see things there, and I’m really looking forward to it.

I’m not usually a regular theatre goer, but I have been to a few shows here. The first was a one-woman show called “Traveling While Black,” written and performed by Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe. I found out about it because Facebook recommended the event page to me, and being someone who is fond of both travel, and listening to voices/perspectives that are very different from my own, I jumped at the opportunity to get tickets. It was a very moving performance, and I especially loved hearing about her experiences of travelling through Africa. Whilst I don’t think I could fully appreciate what it was like for her if I were to recreate the journey, because I’m not black, her words made me feel like we were right there with her. I would love to see more from her.

When a Canadian friend of mine, who I hadn’t seen in more than 7 years, ended up in San Francisco for a weekend, I met up with him and his girlfriend for lunch, and they invited me to join them to see a production of David Mamet’s The Anarchist. While some of the script was a little hard to follow, I thought the acting by Velina Brown and Tamar Cohn was incredible. I feel like I’m regularly blown away by the talent in this city.

Most recently, I went to see Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, starring Angela Lansbury. This was a birthday present from family back in Australia, which I’m hugely grateful for because I don’t know that we could’ve afforded to see it otherwise. I didn’t know anything about the play, but my mum and I used to watch “Murder She Wrote” together when I was young, and so I was really excited at having the opportunity to see Lansbury live. My husband, Jeremy, was more excited to see Simon Jones (“Blackadder,” “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy,” Brazil, Twelves Monkeys) in the cast. The whole production was amazing. I loved the script, the direction, the production design, the acting – all of it.

Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill at Night of the Doctor

Matt Smith, Karen Gillan, and Arthur Darvill at Night of the Doctor

Though I’m usually the one between my husband and me who finds out about celebrity appearances first (because I tend to be more interested in seeing my favourites than he is), Jeremy was the one who notified me about the “Night of the Doctor” event in Fort Mason, which was held in conjunction with a “The Walking Dead” convention (I’m still not sure how that is meant to be linked with “Doctor Who”). Though we didn’t attend the convention itself, it was great to go along and see Matt Smith (The Eleventh Doctor), Karen Gillan (Amy Pond) and Arthur Darvill (Rory Williams-Pond). It was quite an experience to hear them sing “Bohemian Rhapsody” together, and talk about their experiences on the set of “Doctor Who.” I also enjoyed hearing the adorable questions from the youngest children who asked them.

Like theatre, I’m not one who usually goes out to enjoy live music. However, when I found out slack-key guitarist Makana from Hawaii was performing in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist getting a ticket. I believe I’ve previously posted about him on my blog, because I supported his crowdfunding campaign a few years ago, having been familiar with him for his song “We Are the Many,” which he sang continuously as a form of protest in front of Obama and other dignitaries in Hawaii.

Writing and Publishing

Though I have been too busy with other things to have much time for writing and publishing since the move, they are still important aspects of my life. I’ve been to the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco a few times, first for an anthology book launch, and then for their monthly erotic reading circle, which I’d been enthusiastically invited to after writing a quick erotic story on a napkin that was read out by Jen Cross at the book launch. Most recently, I read an excerpt from Adrift, which they seemed to enjoy.

Selfie with Jo Wu

Selfie with Jo Wu

My most recent publication, Amok: An Anthology of Asia-Pacific Speculative Fiction was shortlisted as best anthology in the Aurealis Awards, which are awards for the best speculative fiction from Australians (though not all the stories are from Australian writers, it was eligible for the awards because I’m Australian, and I was the editor). Speaking of Amok, one of my writers in the book, Jo Wu, also lives in the Bay Area, so I was fortunate to have the opportunity to meet her. I also got to meet Setsu Uzume, who is a fellow writer in the Happily Never After anthology, in which I was published last year.

After putting out a submission call for fiction, non-fiction, and poetry featuring non-traditional relationships, I received a total of 157 submissions across the board for my next anthology, Marked by Scorn. I’m working through the submissions now, and plan to publish the book later this year.

I also wrote a short memoir piece called “Moments,” which was accepted for publication, and hope to share more about that soon. The book will be published by the same people who published my favourite book that I read last year, so that’s pretty exciting for me!

Diversity

Since moving here, I read somewhere that Oakland is the most racially diverse city in the entire US. I wonder if this is partly due to the gentrification of San Francisco, but in general, I think I have been lucky to not really encounter wholly white communities here. One of the things I feared most about moving here is that I thought it would take my kids away from the rich cultural differences they could experience in Malaysia. My eldest was in a school where he was the only white kid in his class, and I thought that was a great way for him to gain greater respect and a richer understanding of other cultures that I never got growing up. I was afraid he’d end up in a predominantly white school. But this hasn’t been the case. He is, again, the only white kid in his class, and he hasn’t had any issues with that at all.

But the Bay Area isn’t just diverse racially. There seems to be people here from every background imaginable. I’ve met people that I may never have had the opportunity to meet if I wasn’t in a place where it seems to be people are not only tolerated, but accepted for exactly who they are. I’m sure there is still plenty of intolerance here, too. I’ve read pieces about how the tech industry is pushing aside some of the “different” cultures. But it’s still a great place for me to come across the kinds of diverse voices I want to hear from.

Food

Mexican food is probably my all time favourite food, so moving to California gives me endless opportunities to go out and eat their food. We live in a predominantly Latino part of Oakland, too, so we’ve got a large number of locations within walking distance. I particularly love the food trucks they have here. It’s the closest you can get to having street food like in other countries. Taco trucks probably have the biggest market share, but I’ve seen others, and even “off-the-grid” food truck festivals, with a great variety of cuisines. One of my favourite things that I tried from a food truck was a Mexican/Indian fusion paneer curry burrito. It was delicious! And it inspired me to make an Italian/Indian fusion curry lasagne, which was also superb.

My boys enjoying their satay and roti canai at Chilli Padi

My boys enjoying their satay and roti canai at Chilli Padi

However, I do miss Malaysian food, and that’s much harder to find here than other Asian cuisines (Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Indian are all easily found). So when we randomly discovered Lime Tree, a Malaysian restaurant in San Francisco, Jeremy and I had to stop in and try it. I loved their murtabak, though it wasn’t exactly as it is in Malaysia, and their Thai iced tea was spot on (though it is a predominantly Malaysian, they do have some other South East Asian offerings). After posting about this restaurant on Facebook, we learned about a closer one in Oakland called Chilli Padi. We took the kids along with us this time, because we thought they might like to have Malaysian food again, too. Chilli Padi gave us mixed feelings about their food. Jeremy ordered a dish that ended up being something that isn’t close to anything we’d ever had in Malaysia. The teh tarik wasn’t sweet enough, and I speculated that they didn’t use sweetened condensed milk to make it. But the char kway teow, roti canai, satay, and chicken rice seemed pretty spot on.

For Valentine’s Day, Jeremy and I held up out long-running tradition of going to an Indian restaurant for dinner. This was our 9th Valentine’s together, and the 9th time we did this. Jeremy took me to Monterey for the day/overnight, and booked the restaurant especially, so it was nice to have him organise that for us. And the food was great, too.

Home and Garden

Since this is the first time we’ve owned landed property, as opposed to an apartment/unit/living in a condo, there has been opportunity to really take advantage of that. We have a nice sized backyard, and once we had some landscapers clear away the weeds and trees that needed to go away, I set about creating my own planter boxes so I could grow some of our own food. I don’t know the first thing about gardening. I still don’t really know what I’m doing. But somehow I managed to build the boxes, put appropriate soil in them, plant seeds, and end up with a lot of food growing.

My snow peas, broccoli, and celery

My snow peas, broccoli, and celery

My thriving plants (that are not necessarily ready for harvest yet) include brown onions, tomato, carrots, snow peas, broccoli, celery, potatoes (which were just shoved in the ground after they grew roots in the cupboard, and now have beautiful looking leaves), peppermint, and parsley. I ended up with only one spinach plant, and the oregano and thyme finally seem to be getting bigger after the winter. My early squash seedlings died due to being eaten by bugs, but somehow two more have started to come up now, and they’ve made it further than the previous ones. I also recently bought some strawberry plants, and re-planted spinach, spring onion, watermelon, and cantaloupe seeds. Despite the fact I still don’t really know what I’m doing, I love seeing how well they’re doing, and using my own freshly picked parsley for the first time was such a thrill.

I mentioned earlier that this house we bought had been badly damaged prior to our purchase. This has required a huge investment on our part, to fix it up. And, whilst there’s still a lot of work to go, we are well over halfway there. I mean, the fact we actually have proper doors throughout the house now is one of the greatest things we’ve accomplished. We were using the back door to enter and leave the house for a good four and a half months before we were able to replace the boards at the front with doors that could open. Even some of the interior doors weren’t installed for just as long (the house only came with one interior door; the rest had been stolen). We had to install almost all new lighting, various light switches, appliances, and so on. We got new blinds for a couple of rooms, and designed the walk-in closet space. A lot of the handy work has been done ourselves – painting, patching up broken granite counters, adding grout where it had never been finished, screwing door knobs and hinges… it’s been a lot of hard work, but it’s been totally worth it. We probably wouldn’t have been able to afford such a nice house, with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, in Oakland, if it hadn’t required so much work. But I love our place. It feels like home.

Sight-seeing

My boys in a redwood tree in Muir Woods

My boys in a redwood tree in Muir Woods

Though I’ve been primarily been keeping busy in the Bay Area with all of the above, we have done a few museum and sight-seeing trips. These include to Muir Woods when friends were in town, the Walt Disney Museum, the Exploratorium, Oakland Museum of California, the Cartoon Art Museum, Fisherman’s Wharf for our youngest’s fourth birthday, and Fairy Land. Then there was, of course, the trip my husband and I took to Monterey for Valentine’s Day.

In December, we had to leave the country temporarily so we could extend the boys’ visas in their new passports. Because of this, we organised a week trip to Cancun, Mexico. We had a great time there, but I’m hoping to write about that in a separate blog post.

In Summary

Though the intercontinental move caused a lot of initial stress, and an increase in the severity of my depression and anxiety, if I hadn’t gone through the worst parts, if I hadn’t lost my primary source of friendship support, I might never have pushed myself so hard to find my place in the San Francisco Bay Area. I’m now in love with the city, and really feel properly at home for the first time in a long time. I have less desire to leave even to explore more of the world, because there’s always something going on here that I want to do. I don’t think I’ll ever want to move again. I’m so glad my husband was offered a job at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and they brought us out here. I’d never have found my home without him.

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    Dominica has a strong interest in exploring diversity in media, seeing people subverting corporate control of creativity through crowdfunding and indie publishing, and spending as much time as she can travelling the world and discovering culture. This is what she most regularly blogs about. In her spare time, Dominica is primarily focused on long-form improv theatre, and writing and publishing speculative fiction. You can find links to some of her free and published stories and screenplays on her writing page, or check out her pirate time-travel novel Adrift. Though born and raised in Australia to American parents, Dominica lived in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, between 2008-2014, until she moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. She also has a background in web programming, filmmaking, and stand-up comedy. For more information, check out her about page, or any of the specific pages about her various creative pursuits in the links at the top of the page.

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