Islands in the making

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While canoeing along the southern end of the Everglades this past March, I came across many little islands in the making. These islets, often in the form of one or two lonely red mangrove trees, struck me as a symbol of hope.

Despite the vast sea stretching endlessly before them, floating seed pods willed themselves into a sandbank somewhere, harnessing the powers of great tidal shifts, forming themselves a new home. In the spirit of exploration and even of the persistence of life against all odds, these lone trees turned themselves into lone islands … And where lone islands form, other life is sure to follow.

High in the treetops of narrow inlets and the tiny, well-rooted trees all around us, birds would perch and, sometimes even nest, forming silhouettes against the colors of a sky transitioning into darkness. How glorious that in five, ten or twenty years time, I may be parking my canoe on the banks of one of these “lone tree islets,” now independent islands in their own rights, and spending a night under the stars.

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Spring: More than a feeling

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How amazing that, hovering right over our heads on the side of a busy street, spring is making magic? For all the glorious architectural creations of bygone generations and other beautiful manmade wonders, I still think the blooming of a flower is the most amazing thing.

Snapped the photo above after taking a walking tour of my neighborhood with SF City Guides. I’ve lived in Noe Valley for less than a year, but I’ve been coming to visit for almost a decade and figured it was time to learn about the truth behind its many charms.

You can see more photos from my tour on Flickr.

Once again, I am part of a gentrifying sweep, moving an old working-class neighborhood with an appealing low skyline into the ranks of the less affordable. This reminds me of my old Brooklyn neighborhood, Cobble Hill; so do all the cute boutiques, eateries and baby strollers.

But … It was great to have my eyes opened to all the architectural details they would normally gloss over. And now I can proudly distinguish a Stick House from a Queen Anne or an Edwardian. One sad note is that Nelly Street was once Orient Street, but they changed the name during World War II. People are silly, aren’t they? But whoever Nelly was, I am sure she was happy to get her own street.

Tours by SF City Guides are free and happening all the time, all around the city (schedule). And you can catch the latest buzz about lovely Noe Valley on this fun local blog, noevalleysf.blogspot.com.

In the garden of Gnome

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OK, I guess one would be hard-pressed to call my back staircase a garden. But we must make do with what we have. And though the view is only of my neighbor’s adjacent building, this is San Francisco after all, having a bench seat for one and a pocket of sunshine just off my kitchen is truly a joy.

When it’s not raining and storming like today, I sit and have my morning coffee with Gnome. We stare blissfully at our pots of succulents and herbs, as if they were the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

We have great plans for our little space, which we plan to fill until we all but crowd ourselves out. We’ll have hanging plants and boxed plants and plants mounted on the walls in burlap sacks …

But for now, nous somme content. And that is the whole point of this little “garden” after all.

Reach out and touch some sun.

Remembering Mr. Korematsu

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On Sun., Jan. 30, family, friends and fans of the late Fred Korematsu, filled UC Berekely’s 705-seat Wheeler auditorium. The sold-out program, which featured Rev. Jesse Jackson as the keynote speaker, was in honor of the first ever Fred T. Korematsu Day, a California holiday acknowledging one Japanese American’s continued fight for civil rights. Signed into law last September, the day harbors a mission of education: The events leading to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II must never be repeated again for any group of Americans of any creed or of any culture.

It was an honor to cover the event (see article), and especially compelling as a UC Berkeley Asian American Studies grad. I learned about the Korematsu vs. the United States (1944) case my freshman year of college. It was during an introduction to Asian American studies class, a course that opened my eyes to a history I never knew I had.

Many more courses would follow, as I lapped up the art, theory, literature and struggles of the Asian American story, one that stretched back as early as the Western railroads and Hawaiian plantations and continued through the present with radical civil rights activists and immigration reform. I hadn’t known that Asian Americans could write novels, much less make history. And I felt, suddenly, like I could truly be whoever I wanted to be …

Four (and a half) years later, I sat in the same Wheeler auditorium with dozens of other Ethnic Studies program grads. We had caps and tassles on our heads and yellow Third World Liberation Front bands on our arms. We were then remembering another struggle, that of the the 1965 Civil Rights movement, and protesting the potential scaling back of the beloved programs those struggles had won. The message was similar: Remember the past. It will help you make a better future.

While my English department graduation was more grand in scale — with more than 400 students tossing beach balls as thousands of audience members looked down from the Greek Theatre’s seats above — my Asian American Studies graduation was far more personal. To me it represented both my identity as an Asian American/Korean Amerian/Hapa American and the new relationship I had with my country — one that was honest and inclusive and one that I felt I should fight for.

Here are some photos I snapped for the event, which I covered for the Nichi Bei Weekly.

A screenshot of Fred Korematsu as a young man. A screening "Of Civil Wrongs and Rights: The Fred Korematsu Story," a documentary by Eric Paul Fournier, was shown after the ceremony.

Left to Right: Korematsu family members — son Ken Korematsu, daughter Karen Korematsu and wife Kathryn Korematsu — join hands with Rev. Jesse Jackson, California assembly member Warren Furutani, Korematsu Institute Director Ling Liu and news anchor Sydnie Kohara on on stage at UC Berkeley's Wheeler auditorium.

Emcee Sydnie Kohara, an anchor for CBS 5 Eyewitness News, stands in front of a screenshot of Fred Korematsu who wearing the Medal of Freedom, presented to him by President Clinton. Kohara, a Louisiana native, said she did not learn about the Korematsu case until after college, when she moved to California.

Jesse Jackson stands in front of a slide of him with Fred Korematsu. Jackson said he would never forget meeting Korematsu, who he described as a modest man with “quiet, unflinching courage."

You can watch video clips of Mr. Korematsu and learn more about his history and legacy at Korematsu Institute’s Web site. Also, visit the Asian Law Caucus to learn more about current civil rights issues affecting Asian Americans, as well as Americans of all ethnicities.

It’s sealed: Welcome, New Year

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It’s become an annual pilgrimage, the mating of the elephant seals. For the second year in a row, my dear friend Tony and I have followed a guide around the dunes of Ano Nuevo State Park and marveled at the sights and sounds of these wild, cumbersome and bizarrely shaped creatures.

I am enamored of any mammal that can plumb the depths of the sea. (Jealous might be a better word for it.) I can only go to a hundred forty or so feet, and these days I rarely go near that deep.

These Northern Elephant seals spend all but a few months of the year far out in the ocean, never sleeping, and diving hour after hour from the surface of the waves to beyond the reach of the light. Down, down, down they go, thousands of feet, to feast in the darkness below, the depths to which you or I could never go .. At once a nightmare and a dream.

A Northern Elephant seal sunbathes solo on the beach.