Do you know the way to San Jose?

»  mark    12 Sep 2008 @ 23:37    

That tune (Carpenters version) has been stuck in my head for the past few days as I visited San Jose for the first time. I was fortunate to be able to attend the 32nd International Unicode Conference. Unicode is a standard for representing language sets from many of the world’s active languages as well as some historic ones no longer in day-to-day use. The standards are, in my opinion, what hold the world wide web together internationally.

Some of the other discussions at the conference:

  • internationalization (making programs usable for multiple cultures)
  • localization (making programs work well for specific cultures)
  • bi-di language display (right-to-left scripts sometimes mixed with left-to-right words)
  • mojibake (garbage characters that sometimes show up when text is not encoded properly)
  • regional time, date, number, and other locale-specific formatting

Fun, fun! I’ll bet you are all so jealous. :) But beyond the conference, I was really impressed with San Jose, itself. It is the 10th largest city in the United States, but I never felt like I was in a really huge city. Maybe living in Seoul has changed me. I found it to be quite accessible; easy to get around.

When I travel to new places, I love to just walk around and try to get off the “beaten path”, to see what life is like for ordinary people. One thing that immediately caught my attention was the strength of the Vietnamese community. On public transit, all signs are in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese. I quickly discovered why, as not 3 blocks from my hotel there were 2 Vietnamese grocery stores, a Vietnamese restaurant, a Vietnamese sandwich shop, and various other stores and retailers with decidedly Vietnamese names. I had no idea.

The day I left, I ventured into the Vietnamese grocery store half a block from my hotel to look around. What a smell! This little shop crammed with goods everywhere you looked brought back such memories of street markets in Korea. It’s tough to describe smells, but maybe you can imagine the combination smell of fresh seafood, a butcher shop, fermenting vegetables, and wet city cement. If not, then you’ll just have to visit to see what I mean.

And of course I had to find the nearest Trader Joe’s since it has been talked up by so many people we know from California. That was interesting. Kind of like Wild Oats er… Whole Foods in the sense that they carry a lot of whole-grain, organic, and other nutritious stuff. I was not disappointed and obtained a hefty bag of jams, grains, tortillas, cookies, and other goodies. I don’t recommend trying to take such items through airport security in carry-on luggage, though. Don’t ask. :)

One thing I never got used to in San Jose (at least downtown) was the close proximity of the airport. Because the city kind of expanded around the airport, I had the distinct impression while downtown that an airplane was going to land on one of the buildings or the streets. It was a little unnerving at times. Here’s a picture of an airplane just clearing Adobe headquarters.

While at the conference, I quickly made friends with a Muslim man, Seyed, from Brunei who was also observing Ramadan. We talked a lot about his family and how they observe this ritual in his home country. The second night I was there, Seyed and I set out in search of the local mosque, the San Jose Islamic Center about a mile away from where we were staying. Seyed wanted to end the day properly with prayers at dusk and I was curious if the mosques in California look like those I had seen in Central Asia.

From the outside, the Center looks like a small church. The photo in the album below is not this center but an old cathedral in the same neighborhood. I chose to wait outside to show respect for this sacred spot and quietly attended to my own prayers. It was a beautiful evening with a cool breeze and the sound of the 40-50 foot palms swaying in front of the Islamic Center. Very peaceful.

If anything, this trip helped me rediscover how much I enjoy diversity in culture, religion, and customs. I’m continually impressed by the wide variety of ways people search for happiness, meaning, and betterment.

Here are some more photos of downtown San Jose. Sorry for the awful picture quality. The little camera lens attached to my work phone just doesn’t compare to Olya’s Nikon. :)

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