last night i rediscovered an old packing technique from travel days past: using large ziploc bags to organize all my stuff: a t-shirt bag, an underwear bag, a socks bag, even a bag for extraneous cables. i probably overpacked, but most of it was clothes, so my bag looked heavier than it actually was. virgin america allows one piece of free luggage anyway so i was just going to ship it in cargo. i woke up at 5:30 to make myself some oatmeal for breakfast before leaving the house at 6:00 for the 8:45 flight. it was cold and raining but i had my umbrella and a yellow rain cover for my backpack. there was already a crowd at the subway station on this dreary monday morning as a made my way to the airport. there was no line at the virgin america security checkpoint. by the time i made it to my gate, the rain had transitioned into snow.

since there's no food service on the plane, i bought an ice tea from the food kiosk. the waiting area seemed a little cramped, and the bathrooms - although large - had just a single urinal and a single toilet. since this was a new airline, i figured the flight attendants would be young as well but they were the usual middle aged and up crew. the young woman behind the desk making announcements on the PA system was more of who i had in mind, uttering quips like "group A - for awesome! - you can now board the plane!" that seemed to get a few chuckle from the otherwise weary crowd.

we didn't take off until an hour later, not before our plane could be properly de-iced. trucks surrounded the aircraft, raising extendable platforms from which ground crew sprayed the plane first with a day-glo orange wash that got rid of the ice, followed by a day-glo green chemical rinse that's supposed to prevent ice from reforming on the wings.

i had a window seat, with an empty middle seat in between. the interior of the cabin was very swanky, more like a hipster lounge than the inside of an airplane, with magenta and purple mood lighting. each seat had a touchable LCD screen where passengers can either watch tv, order a movie or a show, play games, listen to music (even create a playlist), check the flight status on a google map, chat with other passengers via instant message, or even order food. there was even wifi access for $12 (for the duration of the flight) but i didn't try it so i'm not sure about the connection speed. if there was a way for me to fly virgin whenever i needed to go somewhere, i would.

because of the snow delay back in boston, instead of arriving in san francisco at 1:00 we got there at 2:00. thanks to the helpful "riding the BART" video i watched on my in-flight television, i knew exactly where to go after i picked up my luggage, riding the free airtrain to the nearby BART station. the BART is to san francisco what the commuter rail is to boston. buying a BART ticket is a weird process of deleting and subtracting values before finally printing out the magnetic-strip card. it costs $5.35 one way to get from the airport to the san francisco civic center (i bought a round-trip fare just to save time). a train was already waiting when i got to the platform.

once i got to the civic center, i left the BART station to take a ride on the MUNI (pronounced MUU-ni [like municipial], not MOO-ni), which is san francisco's public bus and subway system. rides cost $1.50 but you get a reusable ticket good for free transfers that last 2-4 hours depending on where you catch your ride. i took the MUNI subway to the castro stop and walked a few blocks to jesse's place. in all it took about 45 minutes to get from the airport into the city.

by then it was almost 3:00 but actually more like 6:00 since i was still on east coast time. i hadn't eaten since the oatmeal this morning so i was hungry to say the least. after getting a tour of jesse's place (i couldn't believe her backyard, where there were actual green plants, a lot of them), i grabbed my camera bag and headed downtown, looking for food. i got off at montgomery station, with chinatown as my destination, but i didn't look at the map before i left so i got a bit lost. an asian man asked me in broken english, "do you know where chinatown is?" i involuntarily responded back in chinese, told him i was trying to find the same place. i ended up asking some hipster girl on the street, who told me to just keep on walking, "you'll see it, you'll see it for sure!" as promised, soon chinese stores started to show up. i left my chinese friend to go explore on my own.

the last time i was in san francisco was the summer of 1993, about 16 years ago. i was in the city on a day tour with some china airline stewardesses (long story), staying with relatives in san jose, on my way to taiwan to study chinese for a few months. i saw a lot of things but they all went by so fast, i felt like i didn't really get a good sense of san francisco. in some sense, this is really my first time here. i think i might've visited chinatown but i can't remember any details. as one of the larger chinatowns in the united states if not the world, i had high hopes. what i saw was quite different, the place is basically a tourist trap. stores after stores of souvenir shops, and almost all the restaurants were awful americanized chinese food. i looked forever for a place to eat, but finally settled on a thai restaurant. i had the duck red curry, which was good, but i was so hungry at that point, anything would've been delicious.

no longer hungry, i went about exploring more of san francisco chinatown. if there was some hidden place that was better, i didn't see it. maybe a little cleaner than the chinatowns i know back on the east coast, but grimy nonetheless. i was surprised to find a red light district bordering this chinatown, sort of like the combat zone of the old boston chinatown before gentrification drove away all the sex shops and peep shows. i was waiting for sunset, hoping to get some cool twilight photos of chinatown with the glittering shop lights, but as the hour wore on, there was less and less people around and stores began to close one after another. on a weekday night, apparently chinatown closes down early.

giving up on my nighttime photography, i started to make my way back to jesse's place, a short MUNI ride back to castro.

jesse hadn't eaten yet and i'm always game for more food, so we took the 24 bus north up to the intersection of bush and divisadero street for some sushi at godzila [sic]. we ordered 4 plates of sushi along with some warm sake. the trip back (bus time of arrival courtesy of some cool iphone app) was punctuated by a driver who attacked the san francisco hills with a vengeance and a family of foul-mouthed stoners sitting along with us at the back of the bus. i slept on the couch in the living room, beneath a circle of blue hebrew holiday lights.