The blindingly bright sun shines as we zoom down the freeway, out of the airport and into the world. It feels like we're traveling at light speed, but a quick glance at the speedometer indicates that my brother is actually traveling about 50mph as he points out cities along our way, orienting us in the hodgepodge that makes up San Francisco, Emeryville, Berkeley, and Oakland.
It's hard to pay attention to Lian's chatter, however, because all around us there are enormous billboards and garish signs advertising Best Buy! Coke Zero! Angry Birds! Calvin Klein! Pirates of the Caribbean! KFC! —we're in America now, and it's sort of overwhelming.
Soon, we're speeding out of congested San Francisco, into quieter Oakland and the Fruitvale district where my brother lives. After getting unpacked and settled at his home (a sunny, historic house filled with antiques, surrounded by gardens, a chicken coop, and bee hives), we head out once more, this time for lunch at Lian's favorite taco truck.
Sitting at a picnic table in the shade, it's sort of difficult to believe that just yesterday (which is really still today, since we've traveled 8 hours back in time) we were in chilly Korea trying kim chi with Jesse. Now, just a few hours later, we're here in Oakland, surrounded by Spanish speakers, eating spicy fish tacos, and drinking cinnamony horchata with my brother.
After hanging out normally, like the last two years were just a dream, we head back to Lian's house. He has to get back to work, so we're left alone in a bright sunny guestroom to relax. We try to answer a deluge of emails and make some progress on our journal, but instead succumb to our severe jet-lag.
Leaden eyelids sink unstoppably downwards, and we pass out for a long, deep sleep. By the time we wake up, three hours have passed, Lian is home again. It's time for dinner!
The smells emanating from Zachary's pizza in Berkeley are irresistible. We make our way inside, find a table, and then three tall glasses of free ice water are placed before us with a welcome and a smile. So far, there are three things I love about America: ice water, customer service, and deep dish pizza oozing with cheese.
Dinner is followed by a visit to one of Berkeley's many gelato shops. We slip into Tara's Organic just as it's closing for the night, sampling little globs of the Italian delight on plastic spoons. Ranging from Chinese Five Spice to lemongrass to ginger-caramel, the flavors are all impeccably and deliciously crafted.
The bay laurel gelato absolutely blows my taste buds into oblivion. Real bay leaves (right from the bay!) taste phenomenally sweet and fragrant, a far cry from the leathery bottled counterparts sold in the spice section of the grocery store. I feel like I've spent my entire life ignorant to the true flavor of real bay leaves!
Next comes a drive around Oakland's Lake Merritt by night, peaceful and still, with just a few joggers huffing and puffing their way around the shimmering body of water. While Lian tells us about the reasonably-priced apartments around here, we're left reeling about what is considered "cheap" in this part of the world.
Finally, we head over to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park, hearing stories from my brother (a union organizer) about the oppressed port workers, and how they are fighting for cleaner working conditions, better wages, and the right to unionize. By night, the port is peaceful, beautifully lit up against the dark sky. Tall Star Wars-like cranes stand sentinel along the bay, next to containers stacked like colorful legos which have arrived from ships around the world.
We're not actually supposed to be out here, in the park at midnight, so we're officially trespassing. Lian wants us to see the view, so we make our way out to the observation point, all the while keeping an eye out for security. We make it to the observation point successfully without getting intercepted.
Moments after we're ready to head home, a security officer arrives in a golf cart, zooming over to assess the situation. He tells us the park is closed, and we say, "ohhhh we had no idea" and he sends us on our way. Before beginning the trek out to our car, Tyler asks the officer if we can get a ride back to the parking lot.
The guy smiles broadly and says "sure!", so Tyler begins climbing aboard. In response, the man glares at us as though we've just landed from Mars. "I was kidding" he says, "I can't actually give you a ride!" We chuckle at his horrified expression, and then he drives off, leaving us to walk back on our own. And so, we do, taking our own sweet time.
Exhausted and happy, we drive home, ready to sink into bed for our first night back in the USA.