We love hearing from our resourceful readers about how they enjoy all that the East Bay has to offer. Today we’re chatting with busy Berkeley parent and business owner James Na, father to three kids, ages two- to eight-years old. Here are some of James’ East Bay favorites including playgrounds, tutors, spicy food, and an unexpected love for emergency preparedness.
Where is home in the East Bay?
We live in Good Ol’ Berkeley at the edge of downtown. I moved here from Plano, Texas in 2003 and met my wife at 24 Hour fitness (She was a customer and I was in sales).
Favorite East Bay spots with kids during quarantine and normal times?
In more normal times, we love to visit BAMFA, Kids Gym Berkeley, Totland, local parks all across Berkeley, hiking, and go tent camping.
Camping is something our family loves doing, and HipCamp helps us search and reserve secluded locations.
With Shelter in Place, we’ve kept it really close to home. We are lucky to have the fire department behind our house. It is always fun for the kids to see our “neighbors” climb the ladder fire truck. Additionally, one of our neighbors performs a mini-concert once a month to break the monotony (I can’t tell you where or when, because we enjoy keeping it small. Sorry!).
Favorite East Bay parks and outdoor activities?
Some of our favorite parks, in no particular order: Live Oak Park, Codornices Park, and Dorothy Bolte Park. You can find us throwing a frisbee, baseball, football, or kicking soccer balls around at one of these parks if my kids aren’t busy with a concrete slide. We also love to hike through various paths using Alltrails.com to plan our routes. I also recommend using physical maps when possible to improve basic geography skills. We may start geocaching because it combines treasure hunting with hiking.
Any favorite classes or kid programs? Online versions during the pandemic?
Varsity Tutors has been a lifesaver!!! They host several free classes and online events, but they also have subscription programs. My kids have learned how to play chess online through lichess.org, a safe platform for all ages with multiple entertaining chess modes.
A word of warning to all you parents: kids are brilliant, and when they realize that there are other online games, it becomes impossible to block them all.
Favorite places for carry-out dinner around town?
I know where to get the best meals and I love to cook. I started and still own Company Cater, a corporate luncheon delivery business, for over ten years. Like many other small businesses during this pandemic, we lost nearly 90% of our orders. We have shifted our usual operations and are grateful to be able to support hospital workers since March.
I am proud to work with local restaurants that I consider staples in our community. Here is a shortlist of some of my favorites (who also happen to be our vendors):
- Plearn Thai 1923 University, Berkeley
- Platano Salvadoran Cuisine, 2042 University, Berkeley
- Steve’s Korean BBQ 2521 Durant, Berkeley
- Sumo Sushi 977 San Pablo Avenue, Albany
- Ark Chinese Restaurant (Hand-pulled noodles) 1405 Park Street, Alameda
- Tortilleria El Molino Mexican Food, 1500 Monument Blvd., Suite F1, Concord
I love spicy food, so be sure to adjust for your preference, or you might not be happy with my recommendations. Being less busy at work has allowed our family to become more creative and cook at home more…for example, have you ever made a Szcheuan Konnyaku dish before?
Favorite pandemic purchases for the kids?
Our favorite new-to-us items were free from neighbors. For example, we were fortunate with a neighbor on Nextdoor to find a free broken recumbent stationary bike, which we could fix, and now use daily. Other purchases, gifts, or community freebies include games like Operation, Battleship, Jenga, and Monopoly, all of which brought our family closer. The best investment I have to say is a standing punching bag; since our family practices Muay Thai, it allows us to work up a massive sweat and vent frustrations in a healthy manner.
Favorite screen-time for the kids during pandemic times?
Thinking about my kids on screens makes me cringe, but it has been unavoidable. Screen time in our home is mostly subscription services like Hulu, Netflix, and Tubi. Japanese anime is probably our number one family favorite and we keep going back to Naruto, OnePiece, Gundam, and Miyazaki films.
Anything else at all you’d like to share?
One of the unique aspects of this pandemic is that my wife Khandaa and I get to teach our little ones more in-depth about Chinese and Mongolian culture, language, and heritage. We are all doing our best to make the most of what we have. One of the biggest traits that I’ve had to teach my little ones is patience; try teaching that to three kids between two to eight years old!
I’ve also found that it’s important to have a hobby and or interest. I recently came across the Berkeley Community Emergency Response team (CERT). We have started creating important emergency preparedness skills and disaster plans that we had avoided for so long. Do you remember when I mentioned earlier about those maps, camping, and trails? Those are all great ways to practice your skills! If you cannot get out to go camping in the wilderness, you can try it first in your backyard or secured patio.
Thanks so much James!