From SFO, With Love

It was Friday, the 24th of August, when I landed in San Francisco.

I hadn’t been expecting much except to relax. Truthfully, I was anxious to get back to Chicago as quickly as possible. I had and still have, a lot of work to do. Ironically, when “relaxing” is a goal, it becomes that much more difficult to obtain.

I had heard a lot about San Francisco from startup enthusiasts in Chicago. Vageesh, one of my Demo Day partners during Code Academy, said that everyone in San Francisco knew about startups. Even baristas at Starbucks, he said, would ask you what your startup’s exit strategy is. I still can’t tell if he was joking. But regardless of my intention to relax, I did encounter a lot of startup employees.

That night, after dropping our stuff off and meeting the family, I went to a party thrown by a fellow University of Illinois (at Urbana-Champaign) alum, Mo Kudeki. Mo is now employed by Twitter as the Verification Fairy, but by night, well, she’s still the Verification Fairy, but she throws awesome parties.

I wandered in and started up a conversation. At some point, I asked, “So, a lot of people here work at startups?” The response was to point out employees from Zynga, Twitter, Yelp, Pulse, and meanwhile, the party had only just begun. We all bar hopped down Haight and ended up at Bhargav’s apartment, another one of my friends from UIUC, who ended up calling the cab company for me. I felt a bit weak for leaving early, but it was 4am Chicago time. I think it was excusable.

In one night, I’d already encountered 5 startups.

My family and I had come to San Francisco in order to visit my grandfather’s older brother in the hospital. He hadn’t been doing well during our last visit, and he’d only gotten worse. Now, he was bed-ridden and unable to speak. He looked like he was in pain. I felt helpless, barely able to tell whether he could even acknowledge our presence. If there was anything he could have wanted, I would have done it. If he had a favorite Chinese song, I would have learned it and sung it. Anything. As it was, our visitation didn’t last long.

Much of the rest of the trip was spent being fed enormous amounts of food by relatives I hadn’t seen in four years – the last time I had come out to San Francisco for a wedding. I think the highlight of the food was the Burmese Buddhist fundraiser we attended. My parents and grandparents grew up in Burma, a South East Asian country mostly known for its Democratic leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Aung San Suu Kyi, and her struggles in the country. Still, compared to China, Japan, and even Korea, Burma is relatively obscure in the Midwest. While I’ve grown up eating Burmese soups, curries, and noodle dishes at family gatherings, it’s impossible to find elsewhere in Chicago. At the Burmese Buddhist fundraiser, however, there were delicious Burmese dishes everywhere you looked. There were dishes I hadn’t even known about – cakes, different kinds of “thok,” or tossed salads, noodles, curries, and drinks. I quickly filled up sampling just about everything.

I also really enjoyed just hanging out with my uncle Kenny. For years, I think I was a little afraid of him. He has an intensity about him, and he is very direct about his opinion. Perhaps it’s because it was just my parents and my sister and I staying over, instead of all my cousins and relatives, but I was able to understand him better and relax. We went to parks, hiked, and did touristy things. I had a lot of fun.

Finally, my sister and I also went off on our own to visit Mo at Twitter, and another UIUC alum, Simo, at Square, for lunch on Tuesday and Wednesday. Both companies have cafeterias with a large selection of healthy foods freely available during lunch times.

Sidenote: I think you could totally trick me into working (on anything) if you promised to feed me. Any employer could get 8 hours of work out of me every day – 8am to 12pm and 1pm to 5pm – as long as you promised me food. I’m not sure how that would play out with an open food bar, though. I might eat myself to death.

Both companies were also very open in their layout and had rooftop spaces to eat. Twitter, at about three times the size of Square, took up more space. Twitter’s rooftop had a garden, a fake lawn, and couches. Thankfully, the weather on both days was clear and sunny, an unusual sight in foggy San Francisco.

While we ate at the company cafeteria at Twitter with Mo, we caught some food trucks with Simo before heading up. I wish we had known about San Francisco’s food trucks earlier. There was such a variety of foods being served in such a small alley. The plethora of smells and choices made my mouth water.

After Square, we said goodbye to Simo and headed back to the apartment to take our stuff to the airport. We took a long flight Eastbound to Chicago, soaring into the shadow of the earth as it swept to the West with the sunset. I am writing this on the way to Seattle after departing the very next morning out of O’Hare. Volunteering at the Penny-Arcade Expo and many other adventures in Seattle await me.


PS, SeaTAC, Seattle’s airport, is confusing as fuck.

  • Woah! Long-time lurker here, tempted out of silence by the coincidence of you visiting my hometown. For some reason I have this prevalent conviction that all the bloggers I follow are from a distant, far away magical planet so your temporary proximity is a pleasant surprise. I can’t help with navigating SeaTac, but I’m pretty handy with eatery suggestions and other bits of Seattle knowledge!

    • The food choices here are dizzying! I’ve been thinking of going for seafood. What are your suggestions? Don’t get much fresh seafood in Chicago.
      »–sent via gingerbread–>

      • Oh man, you found the weakness in my Seattleite armor already — I’m not much of a seafood person. I love the seafood bar at Salty’s (by Alki Beach in West Seattle), but you have to be really into seafood/really hungry to justify the buffet’s price tag. For something closer to downtown, I like Etta’s on Western Ave.

        Can’t mention seafood without naming my favorite sushi places! If you don’t mind the travel up north a bit, Musashi’s (Wallingford neighborhood) has an amazing chirashi bowl, though you really can’t go wrong with anything from them. Closer to downtown, Maneki (International District) is great for traditional Japanese food + sushi. Finally, Wasabi Bistro (Belltown) has a great happy hour and more ‘Japanese fusion’ style rolls.

        • Yes! I was actually thinking of sushi, but kept it more general just in case. I’ll definitely eat sushi while I’m here. Thanks for the recommendations!

          »–sent via gingerbread–>

          • You’re very welcome — enjoy the Seattle adventures + PAX!