Blog

Short blog posts, journal entries, and random thoughts. Topics include a mix of personal and the world at large. 

The RV life of San Francisco

In the surrounding area near the university where I work are a few long boulevards where usually students park their cars. In recent years, a tiny armada of RVs have popped up, establishing semi-permanent residence on those same streets, only moving during days of street cleaning on a particular side. Personally I take the bus to work so I’m not antagonistic towards these RVs folks taking up precious parking space with their overly lengthy vehicles; though I’m slightly curious what students have to say about these people setting up de-facto homes on the side of the road.

That said, I’m definitely not amongst the camp of people wishing these RV campers to go away and find home in appropriate trailer lots, rather than squatting on public streets. I’m innately familiar with how batshit insane housing costs are in the San Francisco Bay Area; if I didn’t live at home with my parents (thank god for being Asian so this isn’t frowned upon culturally), there’d be no freaking possibility I can reasonably afford to rent a quaint place, much less buying a house here. The people in the RVs face the same difficulties, and these essentially mobile homes costing magnitudes less are their only option to continue on living and working in the city.

The present housing situation is such that either you have to already own a home for years ago, or make enough (read: a lot) money to comfortable rent or buy. The rest of us have to get by some way somehow.

Honestly, as long as these people in the RVs are not disturbing the public or making a mess (and I haven’t noticed or read anything that they were), I don’t see any issues with them setting up shop on these long boulevards. These behemoths can’t fit in a typical residential street parking space anyways, so the RVs are relatively separated and contained. It is all a bit unsightly? Yes, but the situation in San Francisco is that desperate. Sadly, the city is clamping down on these so called vagrants: most long streets with ample length already have signage forbidding large vehicle parking from midnight to 6 AM. I’m afraid the two near our university will see the same fate sooner or later.

And it would indeed be a tragedy; this entire housing situation is. San Francisco is turning into Monte Carlo, a place for the rich and already have. Starting a family here with a middle-class income is at the moment not a reality. I remain positive for the future, though that’s likely just stubbornness in holding on to the slim hope that I will be able to remain living in the city I grew up in for decades to come.

Sunset glow.

Going backwards on technology

It’s interesting how we get used to certain new features in cars, and when that gets taken away, it’s a bit jarring and uncomfortable. Case in point, plenty of new cars have this feature called ‘keyless go’, in which the key remains forever in the driver’s pocket, and utilizing sensors and buttons, doors can be locked and unlocked, and the engine can be turned on with the push of a button. It’s all very clever in allowing freedom from fumbling with keys, and you get super used to simply opening the door and pushing the engine start button.

My first exposure to the keyless go technology was rather reluctantly. It was a few years back during my search for a Mazda MX-5, and due to less fortunate financial capabilities compared to the present, I was cornered into finding the most striped-out, poverty-spec example possible. The new ND generation of the Miata have only just been released, so not many cars were actually yet on dealership lots. After some searching, I was able locate a base sample that was actually en route to the dealer, but there was a problem: the car had the keyless go option fitted, for the princely price of $150 dollars.

Which is to say it was cheap enough for me to overlook it. I’m sure the likes of Porsche charges many times more for that same feature in their cars. So my Miata ended up with keyless go, and indeed it was pleasant and convenient to not have to ever take out the key to operate the car. The only way it could’ve been better would be if the car also locked itself once it detects I’m a certain distance away from it; seems like a natural extension of that particular feature set.

Anyways, fast-forward to this January when I bought the 911 GT3, a six-figure car of 2015 vintage that doesn’t have keyless go; I’m not sure it was even an option available on the GT3 trim. You can imagine the confusion of my muscle memory the first few times driving it: I’d approach the car with the key still in my pocket, expecting to able to simply press a button on the door handle to open, only to be jolted out of rhythm with the realization that I do in fact need the physical key. It’s like returning to using paper maps after years of benefiting from the convenience of Google Maps.

Complicating things further is the fact other cars in our family all have keyless go, so often times operating the GT3 feels like a throwback to an arcane era. Of course, I’d forget about that as soon as I turn the engine over and that atmospheric flat-six starts making its melodious noise.

Physical key.

The early morning drives

Living in a dense city full of cars and traffic, it’s mighty difficult to find space to truly stretch the legs of my beloved sports car. Even the mountain roads gets congested on the weekends; due to hikers, revelers of nature, and people trying to get to the Pacific Ocean. It only takes one not so cooperative driver refusing to pull over for your obviously faster car to ruin what is suppose to be a joyful drive (there always is one). Of course, I can be a dick about it and pass them crossing the double yellow line, but I’m the type to follow rules of the road absolutely, and also I don’t want to reinforce the stereotype of the asshole (junior) supercar owner.

A good strategy to avoid the crowd and traffic is to get up super early and drive the same mountain roads whilst everyone else is still soundly asleep. It’s an especially serene time as well, perfect opportunity for a bit of meditation and reflecting. Driving on city streets and highways with nary another car on the road, backdropped with the subtle haze of glow from the approaching sun dancing with the darkness of the receding night, is something immensely therapeutic. I’d get up before dawn, so that by the time I’m finished with a few hours of driving, I’m greeted with the day’s sunrise (weather permitting, naturally; can’t be sure with San Francisco’s notorious fog).

Well, at least that was what I did with my previous cars. Due to unique circumstances with the 911 GT3, its let’s call it permanent location is not inside the house (we don’t have a garage, sadly). Rather, the GT3 is parked some distance away at a different location, necessitating a 20 minute drive to access. Therefore, to perform an early morning blast on the mountains, I have to add at least 20 minutes on top of the already ungodly hour I’d need to wake up. In my twenties perhaps this would be doable (as if I could afford a Porsche in my twenties), but nowadays with me paying close attention to the quality of sleep, it’s not an enticing proposition.

Just one of the many idiosyncratic realities of owning an expensive car in a crowded urban city.

Grimy nights.

Don't dream it's over

This past weekend I enjoyed some lazy time doing nothing substantial by watching Initial D Fifth Stage. I’d realized that while I’ve seen the first four stages of the anime multiple times, I’ve yet to rewatch the fifth series since it first aired all the way back in 2014(!). As one of the three major seminal products in inspiring my passion for cars - the other two being Gran Turismo video game and Top Gear television program, I figured it was a good time as any for a revisit.

Every time I watch Initial D I am overwhelmed with a desire to just get in the car and drive. Good thing my current car is parked quite bit away from where I live, because to be under the influence of mountain road drift battles and effervescent Eurobeat music while piloting the Porsche would not be the best mixture for a good outcome. I’d begin to think myself as the master of the mountain roads and go way beyond the limits of safety; definitely don’t want to end up like this guy.

Anyways, as I was half way through the anime marathon, my mind couldn’t help itself and wandered to the future some hours later when I’d have finished watching the entirety of Fifth Stage. I then started feeling sad that this current happiness of rewatching a beloved anime will soon be over and I’d be back to the harsh reality of having to prepare for work the next day. Indeed, why am I upset about it being over when I’m still in the middle of it? If doing something relaxing and fun is going to make me feel bad afterwards, then what’s the point?

This experience isn’t new: I can remember being at concerts and feeling upset midway through that this moment of bliss will soon be over.

This tendency of mine to feel sad about happy things ending is definitely not healthy. I’d get detached from the present and unable to immerse fully in what is suppose to be joyous activities. Furthermore, I don’t think it’s productive to allow my base state of happiness or feeling to be affected by things I do, whether it be something leisurely like watching television, or something burdensome like the weekday work. The constant up and down would be disastrous for my mental well-being, when all I really want is peace.

Emotion is good and welcomed, but not when it comes at the expense of being in the moment, and feeling melancholic about something happy that will be over in a few hours. As I’ve said many times, things like this is a constant work in progress.

My brother’s in Oregon.

I met the first owner of my GT3!

A bit of a surprise treat this past weekend: I met the very first owner of my 911 GT3.  

It was a surprise because the chance meeting was completely unsolicited, and the car meet I attended on Saturday wasn’t even a Porsche-specific event. While cars costing into the six-figures aren’t exactly common, a plain GT3 is not in the realm of limited-edition Ferraris, where a car’s provenance is immensely important and therefore previous owners are well documented. Porsches produces thousands of 911s each year, so I held zero expectations of being able to meet the first owner of my particular GT3.

It’s a small world indeed.

I knew something was strange when I saw a dude taking a keen look at my GT3 when there was more interesting metal parked in the same lot (a GT3 of the RS variety, for instance). After ascertaining that it was me who owns the car, the guy followed up with a few questions pertaining to the GT3’s origins, and it matched up with what he had speculated: this was the very car he used to own. He had bought it from a Colorado dealership back in April of 2015, and after 8,000 or so miles the GT3 was then sold to a local dealership, putting that money towards a McLaren 570S

There’s a second owner of my GT3 sandwiched between me and the guy I met on Saturday, and after this serendipity I have some hopes of meeting that person as well. It turns out the Porsche enthusiast community in Northern California is rather small.

A normal person reading this may think it ridiculous that there’s people like me who gets excited about meeting the previous owners of our cars; I get it, but a 911 GT3 is not an ordinary car. It was quite informative and special to chat with the first owner on why he configured the car as he did: picking Sapphire Blue Metallic to stand out in a sea of white and silver colored 911s, and forgoing the option for lightweight buckets because it would’ve delayed delivery for six months (one sympathizes). Super geeky details made interesting because the ordering process for a GT3 - or any 911 for that matter - is intricate and specialized. As the third owner, I never got to experience that process, so it was fun to hear the original owner tell his story.

I received some constructive information, too: the GT3 upon delivery was flat-bedded to a shop for paint protection film, so the paint underneath ought to be absolutely pristine. After the film application, the entire car – including the wheels – received ceramic coating; great news for me because I can stop waxing the car during my wash routine. Lastly, the first owner confirmed he took the car to the track regularly, which doesn’t bother me at all because first that’s what the GT3 is developed for, and secondly these cars are paradoxically more prone to break when it doesn’t get driven hard.

911 GT3s are driver’s car in the truest sense, and I’m glad my car have received the proper amounts of exercise since it’s left Zuffenhausen. Meeting the original owner and learning about his chapter with car gave me more confidence and admiration for my GT3, and I’m grateful for this happy coincidence.

The green lizard was a popular attraction.

Showering the old fashion way

This past weekend the water boiler in our rented home failed, and with the call to the maintenance emergency line going unanswered for some reason, we were without hot water for two solid days. Everything went on as normal, except for one situation: showers.

Perhaps it would’ve been fine in a city with much warmer climes, but San Francisco’s signature chill means that taking a cold water shower is a near impossibility. I mean, I certainly wasn’t up for it; not because I can’t handle the cold, but to get a proper clean and open the pores, hot water is a requirement.

So for those two days with the water boiler out of commission, it became a throwback to my early childhood in China. Our apartment back then did not have water boiling amenity at all: to draw hot water for our showers, we literally had to boil it on the kitchen stove. Once up to temperature, it gets mixed with cold water straight from the faucet and into a bucket, and then we showered by pouring the water over ourselves with a ladle.

Primitive stuff compared to what we are used to now, but it was no less effective. I was remind of that when I had to perform the same procedure this past weekend. The clean was the same, yet I’ve only managed to use around two gallons worth of water. There’s no doubt I use exponentially more water showering the “modern” way, because honestly who doesn’t linger the extra bit longer under the stream - it’s so comfortable and relaxing.

Maybe in our efforts to save the planet, I should return to showering the (asian) old fashion way. Certainly it won’t be a big deal should the water boiler go out again in the future. A working stove and kettle is all i need.

It’s a cool, cool Summer.

718 Cayman GT4: atmospheric 4.0-litre!

Photo credit: Porsche

It would appear that natural-aspiration is not quite dead just yet.

Porsche a few days ago announced a new generation of the Cayman GT4 and Boxster Spyder, the top, most sporting models of their respective range. The biggest revelation from the news is the return of the atmospheric motor to the 718 chassis. Not only that, it’s also a return of the flat-six engine to the Cayman/Boxster twin, with this generation of cars having switched entirely to the much-maligned turbocharged flat-four.

Too bad it’ll cost you six figures to get back the good stuff.

Nevertheless, in this day and age of turbocharged this and electrified that, any new sports car that’s still got an atmospheric beating heart is worth celebrating. The day may arrive when the Porsche GT product line will only feature turbocharged engines and or hybrid drivetrain, but for the time being the unencumbered sounds of natural-aspiration remains ever so sweet. Porsche flat-sixes that revs to the sky is precisely why I bought a 911 GT3.  

A not insignificant amount of enthusiasts was hoping Porsche would simply transplant the 4.0-litre unit serving duty in the GT3 and GT3RS into the new GT4 and Spyder, though it was always a bit of a fool’s wish. It’s difficult to see how Porsche could’ve done it without hugely inflating the already hefty purchase price, and more importantly, not encroach on the GT3’s performance capabilities. It seems the Cayman will forever be neutered in service of the 911 big brother.

Indeed, this new 4.0-litre flat-six engine is not of the vaunted 4.0-liter badged 911s of prior: it’s a heavily reworked motor based on the turbocharged 3.0-litre currently serving duty in the 911. The enlarged engine, sans turbochargers, makes 420 horsepower and will spin to an 8,000 rpm redline; all very exciting stats in a vacuum, but compared to the supremely characterful, motorsport-derived 4.0-litre in the 911 GT3, an engine that goes to 9,000rpm, it’s honestly a bit pedestrian.

Relativity is a funny thing.

So I’m sure there’s some disappointment going around, though we should really detach and look at the overall picture: the atmospheric flat-six is back in the 718 chassis – arguably the purest sports car platform Porsche produces. Yes, it’s a great shame one must spend top money to avoid the charmless turbo four; though for a company that will charge you hundreds just to get the seatbelts in a different color, it’s fairly on brand, isn’t it?

An even more delicious prospect: placing this new 4.0-litre engine of the GT4 in a variant of the 992, perhaps a 911 T. That would give me something to ponder about in relation to my GT3…