My Room

I fortuitously rented an apartment in San Francisco in 2010. This was probably the best thing I ever did. It is a wonderful place.


The house is divided into 4 apartments. Ours is bottom left. My room is the one with open curtains .

There are four bedrooms, a big kitchen, bathroom, and an outside porch that houses the washing machine, the dryer and James’ workshop. From my room I look right out onto the Panhandle.

The Panhandle has the oldest trees in San Francisco, they are big and beautiful.


Panhandle just in front of the house. Jimi Hendrix once played  a free concert right here.

Anyway, the room has not had a good clean for 8 years or so and I determine to repaint it. I buy a can of paint that has eggshell written on it. The slightly off white beigey color of my imagined eggshell is the shade I am looking for.


It turns out that the paint is Artic white in hue and eggshell only in the texture of the of the final finish.

This is no good as it makes the room surgical and the wonderful white door surrounds, window surrounds and associated beading are lost.  I finish painting the whole room thinking that this will make a good undercoat for the next attempt.

I go to the paint shop on Divisadero and scrutinize the color charts minutely. I find a shade that corresponds to my dream color of muted sand and tramp home with the paint.


The paint turns out to be bright yellow.

Anyway, I paint the whole room again and it actually looks good. However I cannot sleep at night. I toss and turn and groan through nightmares of the landlady throwing us out of the apartment because I have broken the contract by painting the room, which indeed we are not strictly allowed to do. The chrome yellow would be seen immediately, no way can I keep it a secret, so it has to go.


Third repainting of the room in 2 weeks. James helps. We restore it to the original color.

This time James chooses the color at the paint shop. He is an artist, he understands pigment.


The bay window, looking out on park, still has original sash windows.

So I paint the room 3 times in 2 weeks.


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Hard Road

James has to get back to work so we set off early for San Francisco.


In russet mantle clad

This time we are going to take a very difficult track up to Mengel’s Pass, then back down towards Panamint Valley, stopping off at the ranch where Charlie Manson and his ‘family’ were finally arrested.


James nails it.


Bing bang bosh

It is at times a very scary drive as there are big boulders, deep pits, strange cambers, steep hills going up and equally steep hills going down.


Crash bang wallop


We finally make it to Mengel’s Pass


It is very windy on the summit

The trip down to Panamint Valley is equally nail biting.


Photo does not capture the steepness nor the depth of the holes.


Charles Manson was here

We then have an equally difficult drive over the Slate Range on the appropriately named Slate Range Trail, which eventually dumps us near Trona. From there to Bakersfield,  then we hammer up 5 to get home around 8:00.

What a trip! Thank you Tacoma, you earned your off road spurs.

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But Now I am Cabined, Cribbed, Confined

We go over to the cabin the next morning and the people have shipped out so it is ours.


Cabin from behind


From in front, later in the day.

The cabin has become much more civilized since I first stayed here.

Better furniture, camp beds, lots of food, solar panel driven electric light and sound system, even a jar full of grass. I don’t like this, preferring the more frontier atmosphere of yesteryear. That said, Geologist Cabin is still the best place in the world.




Way in


The sink

James climbs Striped Butte!


Bravo James!

I look for birds.


Too lazy to look up what these are.



Idyllic day.


We find a Mule skull!




Last sun on Striped Butte.

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Powdering Our Noses

Gassed up, we drive down through Death Valley heading down to Sweet Water Canyon where we will head off into the Badlands. The scenery is majestic.


Where is your sting?


Indiana Jones hat

The big crunch comes at the turn off into Sweet Water Valley, the fractured trail up to the Geologist’s Cabin, because the gate is closed and locked. I know this place from old. There is a wash just beyond the gate, which in rainy weather is uncrossable and so cuts the road.

We drive around the gate and down to the wash, as we thought, it is totally crossable.


You must be kidding

So, here we start the real stuff, as we batter the Tacoma up the rocky, sandy, desert trail, which is sprinkled with abandoned mines.


James is very good at this kind of thing.


This is a talc mine. James did not know what Talcum powder was. When did Talc disappear?

We continue up the mountain without accident, as wild mules, ancestors abandoned by prospectors, er a long time ago, detachedly look on.



Anyway, we finally get to the cabin after some 600 miles of travel only to find it is occupied by other travelers. It is a bit like Scott arriving at the South Pole only to find that Amundsen is already there.


Are we downhearted? No!

Oh well, we head off into the desert to camp. I tell you, if you like camping then Butte Valley has to be one of the best places – amazing views, perfect sites and that sort of thing.


Our campsite.


View from camp

Perfect camping.


We start cooking


Tri tip and roast potatoes


James carves ju ju doll


Happiness and joy

We sleep out, looking up at an astounding sky packed with stars. At 3:00 it starts to rain, so we scamper into the flat bed of the truck and slumber on in the freshest of air.

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Valley Boys

So, James and I head out to Death Valley. The goal is to stay in the exceptional  Geologist’s Cabin.

Tacoma loaded, we blast over to Sacramento and then take 50 over the Sierras. Up through the pines into the snow with a deep blue sky above, we go.


Over the Sierras

Down the other side to hit 395 and then cruise all the way down the other side of the Sierras. It is a beautiful  day and we have huge snow covered mountains to the right and desert to the left. One of the great drives.

We try to drive up to Bodie but the main access road is closed because of snow but I know a back way and we drive around back trials, gleeful at having beaten the man until, well on the way up, the road is blocked by impassable concrete blocks. Rats!


Hard to think that the road is blocked by snow. I mean we are wearing Tshirts.

However we take at tramp around Mono Lake, which is amazing.


James at Mono Lake.


Mono Lake 

We have no plan other than drive down towards Death Valley until we get fed up. It is getting dark and we are getting vaguely fed up as we gallop into Big Pine. The town looked quiet, indeed  strangely quiet. We stop at a motel and ask if they have a room. It takes us a surprisingly long time to notice the candle burning on the counter. They cannot rent us a room because there is no electricity.

Strange experience a U.S. town with no power – McDonalds with no golden arches, no street lights, all gas stations closed, everything closed.

We have no option but to keep driving. It is pitch black as we roar up the 40 miles to Panamint Springs, there is no light anywhere. There is a total blackout over this part of California.  We  finally see lights ahead. It is Panamint Springs, a gas station, restaurant and camp site on the edge of Death Valley.  Their power comes from generators. We camp.


Dawn at Panamint Springs

Up and off but we do not buy gas as it is much cheaper 40 miles away in Stovepipe Wells down in the valley. Beautiful drive into Death Valley descending from 6000ft to sea level with massive vistas at least the size of  Belgium. Regretfully, there is no power in Stovepipe Springs and so no gas. Fundamental rule of desert adventure is to set off into the backcountry with as much gas as possible so we turn around and head back to Panamint Springs.


Glug, glug, glug at Panamint.

Hmmm, strange start.

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Two Countries

There is tremendous pleasure derived from living in Japan and in the USA, but this does come at a bureaucratic price. I have been in California for over a week and the mainstay of my activities is ensuring that all my documentation is in order.

I go to the Social Security office to see if the money I paid in when I worked at Stanford plus the 16 years I have been paying US tax gives me any kind of pension or Medicare.

The answer is no, by the way. The experience however is salutary. I am there half an hour before it opens amid a crowd of people with needs greater than mine.


There but for fortune.

I have to file my US taxes and I track down a wonderful Russian lady, Elena, who says she is happy to do it for me. She is lots of fun and seems in no way daunted by the complexities of US tax on a Japanese salary. I have to fill in lots of forms.

I have to have my car smogged. California has very strict emission controls and before you change car ownership or anything like that the car has to pass a smog test. The Tacoma fails! Not because of dirty emission syndrome but because the removal of the battery last weekend zeroes out some internal record lost deep in the electronic wilderness of the car. I have to drive it for a couple of hundred miles to reset this thing. I do not understand.


I also get the brakes checked.

San Francisco has excellent public transport and I have to get a bus pass know as Clipper. More forms.

Another smog test – she passes. I am now armed to go to the DMV to have the title changed to my name. It was under Ben’s name for a reason I cannot remember.

Visiting the DMV is not fun, especially the Fell street office, which although very close to the house, is the busiest in San Francisco.


I fortify myself with natural beauty.  This is just outside the DMV and the statue is of  President McKinley, whose parents were born in Kintyre.

I wait in line outside for 2 hours



Luckily it is a beautiful day.


I wait inside for another hour.

When I finally get to speak to the man, he tells me that I have filled in the wrong forms. I should have filled in Family Transfer forms. For a moment I think he is going to tell me to go back and start again, but no, he grins and helps me through the whole procedure. Thank you DMV man.

I have also had to do a lot of banking adjustments.

As I say being legal, running apartments and cars in two countries comes at a price.

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Gaudeamus Igitur, Juvenes Dum Sumus

Last Saturday was the first Graduation Ceremony at OIST and it capped my contribution to the university. It was a moving event for me. I came to OIST in January 2011 and there was not much here; a couple of hundred employees, little administrative set up, no rules or regulations,  no students, no accreditation as a university, no communication strategy etc etc; but  huge ambition and energy.

7 years later, we have an extraordinary campus that is expanding rapidly, are recognized as one of the world’s leading research universities , on Saturday we graduated our first class of students.  Yay!

I has been a rare privilege to have been able to contribute. Thank you Japan, thank you Okinawa, thank you all my amazing colleagues at OIST.


Steve Chu


Graduate stuff


Lots of selfie fun

Read Sophie’s excellent story.

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