From the Forest to Hollywood

Yosemite has one of those names that sound super stupid rolling off my Singaporean tongue. (Initial pronunciations included Yo-say-mite and Yo-say-me-ti  but I’m gonna go with how my Californian friends say it, which is Yo-seh-merti.)


Besides being a source of great embarrassment for me, it is also a place of immense vastness. Alan wanted to head down to the Mariposa Grove to see the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel, the latter with its center hollowed out so that cars can drive through a living, breathing sequoia tree. But from where we were, it was still 90 minutes away by car.

(We had driven from San Francisco to Highway 120, making detours to see Google + Stanford. By the time we set off for Yosemite proper, it was 4pm. Although technically only 3 hours’ drive away, winding roads and minimal street lights made the journey a slow and slightly dangerous one at night.)

Instead, we got to see the largest waterfall in North America, Yosemite Falls. I don’t think it’s particularly impressive, but it’s always nice to add superlatives under your belt. Just your typical, kiasu (scared to lose) Singaporean at work.


We came across an online review of the Falls, someone who raved about how easy the hike was in comparison to the final reward. There were certainly a lot of people present, both young and old, and it was hard to get a proper picture of the falls without having some slightly sweaty person in it. Small price to pay for a relatively easy hike, I guess. We did spot one couple who got a prime view of the falls by clamoring over some rocks and lying, face-up, on a huge one. How smart!


Other than our 90-minutes leisurely stroll, we pretty much relied on a car the whole time round, getting to famous spots like Tunnel View. Essentially you emerge from the recess that is the tunnel…


… and take in your supposedly majestic surroundings. It was pretty, yes. But it was also crowded and that kind of takes away from the intimacy of nature.


Same went for any road that had a good view of El Capitan (“The Captain,” in Spanish), the flat-faced, granite monolith that’s popular among rock-climbers.


Glacier Point was a little less intense, but the viewing platforms were still FULL with photographers hoping to catch some mystical, magic moment when the sun hit the Dome and other geological formations I am not as inclined to appreciate.


This is as best as I could capture without having some guy’s ginormous telezoom lens intruding on my frame :p


All in all, my favorite parts about Yosemite were the quieter ones away from the throng. In a parallel universe, I would be super athletic (as would the rest of my family) and we’d be hiking and seeing the less tainted, unspoiled parts of Mother Nature. But considering that we didn’t even have to break a sweat… I guess I shouldn’t really complain.


In fact, we did find an unsullied spot by a river and it was a good place to watch the world go by for a while! Something about moving water does that to you.


We soon left the soothing reserves of Yosemite for the glamorous, corrupted world of Los Angeles. But first, a quick detour to the Wild Wild West (or what felt like it).

Alan managed to google this gem of a place, Bravo Farms, after my mom requested a place that offered wine and nuts (???) tastings. As it turns out, we tried neither nuts nor wine, but we did help ourselves to a whole bunch of cheese samples.


Besides a grocery store (of wines and cheeses and fine fruits) in the middle of nowhere, Bravo Farms also had a treehouse (which Alan and I went into), random games and, well, animals. Got to feed very greedy goats for a quarter each. Also had the best fresh strawberry lemonade I’ve had in my life. So far.


When we reached LA, there was still time to take my family around, so it was off to Grauman’s Chinese Theatre (actually it’s been renamed to TCL Chinese Theatre but I don’t think that has as much gravitas), which my parents appreciated having just watched Iron Man 3.


We were accosted by cosplaying Johnny Depps, realistic Wolverines and men asking us if we were from China and shoving DVDs into our hands. Managed to avoid most of them by keeping our heads low — to look at the Hollywood Walk and handprints!


But the highlight of our LA trip was the Warner Bros studio backlot tour. It can be a little dry if you don’t know the TV shows WB produces, and our guide kept showing us sets from Pretty Little Liars, which I’ve never watched an episode of.


But we did get to see the actual sets of Two and a Half Men and Big Bang Theory, though the latter’s props were covered up. And the Friends’ Central Perk set! And real Batman car props!



Also learned that with just a bunch of houses and buildings (some of them false fronts, and some of them actual buildings which become the working offices of these TV shows), a film or TV show set in just about any major city can take place! Oh, and fake subway (it can barely fit 2-3 people, according to our guide):


It was during this tour that we found out there were extra tickets to… Conan! Thereby helping me to cross another one off my senior bucket list. Though Conan seemed a little awkward and his jokes a little flat (I think he was off; we watched another episode two days later and he was hilarious), it was still exhilarating to be in an actual studio (and who knows, maybe we appeared on TV for a split second, heh!). His guests that day were some Satanic-sounding metal band, that woman from 24 and Ken Jeong from the Hangover trilogy / Communiy. Have you ever met a celebrity who’s simultaneously annoying and endearing? That’s Ken Jeong.

Speaking of talk show hosts… I’ve been trying to get tickets to Ellen Degeneres’ show FOREVER, and to no avail. So apart from feeling a teensy weeny bit unfulfilled with my American education, I shall make do with a stalkerific photo of her office + car + minion.


Parents fetched Alan and me (rest of fam decided to continue their favorite activity: outlet mall shopping) from Warner Bros and we sped off to Santa Monica Pier. Watched the waves crash onto the beach and the jetty… In spite of the seeming turmoil it was extremely restful.

And the next day… Parents + grandma flew off! Thus concluding an at times trying but ultimately fruitful (and much needed) family bonding trip.


Current update: in the “Paris of Siberia” right now, or Irkutsk, and tomorrow we’ll be off to Olkhon Island. It’s a 6-hours drive away but then we’ll be able to see for ourselves Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake. If all other sources of water were to suddenly evaporate tonight, Lake Baikal could continue to quench the world’s thirst for another forty years! Ah-may-zing.

Also we are now an hour ahead of Singapore, which kind of blows my mind. And has also made me realize that I’m a little physically tired of travelling. But no, not mentally! (Though I think I am very much done with Russian churches for the next three years.)


  • Glad you are enjoying California! It is one of the most beautiful states in the United States! Keep up the great blogging! Travis Caulfield

  • Michelle says:

    YOU WENT TO THE FRIENDS SET ahhhh so jelly! How much was your tour? I’m going to LA next weekend so now I’m considering it…

    • Rachel says:

      Hmmmmm it can be a little dry if you don’t watch the WB shows! Quite cool if you want to know the not-so-magical secrets to tv-making though. And if you’re going try to get tix to Ellen or Conan — I think that makes the trip worthwhile. Heard that if you want something a little more entertaining you should try the Universal Studios tour, where they package it as a semi-ride.

  • wanderoneday says:

    Impressive views of Yosemite – but I’m not surprised there were so many tourists. I went to Yosemite when I was about 7 years old, so I don’t remember all that much. But I do recall going to Yellowstone and Mount Rushmore in 1993, and again in 2000. The difference in terms of tourist volume was insane! The first time around, everything was very rustic, casual, etc. The second time, they had spruced up all the visitor areas and handled a TON more foot (and car) traffic.

    That said, it’s good that it is so accessible even to people who don’t like hiking.

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