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Friday, November 30, 2007

Closing of library@orchard

Locking the doors at 9pm
You can call a rose by any other name, and it will still smell the same. So it was with the library@orchard. After only eight years, it was closing -- or in its own words -- "moving on". As part of its final day festivities, the National Library Board threw a farewell party for staff, patrons and well-wishers. I attended as a well-wisher.

Dinner was provided, and if there's one thing the government does well, it's providing good food. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived, most of it had been wiped out already. If there's one thing Singaporeans do well, it's eating. I consoled myself with a heaping of fried rice and pieces of teriyaki chicken.

Registration table
While eating, I walked around the library... yes, with food in hand. It felt liberating and a tad criminal to be eating in the library so blatantly. But it was allowed, and I wasn't going to argue with that.

I'd been to this particular branch less than 10 times in all. But it's my first time there that stands out. That was the time I learned that the library carried comics! And not just the Garfield or Far Side type, but actual DC/Marvel Superman/Batman/X-Men comics! That was mind blowing to me. From young, I had been taught by authorities that comics were detrimental to the learning mind. And now, comics were in the library, the repository of knowledge.

Band performance
It was getting difficult to walk and eat and manoeuvre around the other guests, so I just hung out at the Cafe Galilee area to watch the goings-on. Entertainment for the night was provided by two bands. I don't remember their names, but they sang the same kind of slow numbers that are suitable for hotel bars. It quite fit the mood of the evening, and also made everyone feel relaxed.

While mingling, I recognised a senior Media Development Authority executive. I nearly wanted to go up to him and sing, "Yes yes, y'all, we don't stop."

Masters of Ceremony
Things kicked off at 8pm with a music video produced by a friend. It was apparently inspired by my Firefox commercial, but I thought that it was only remotely inspired. The "kicker" was missing, resulting in just a feel-good montage of images.

By the way, it was interesting to me how this friend, who claimed that she hated the limelight, was thrust into prominence this evening. Not only did she make an appearance in her own video, she was also called upon to do an interview on-the-spot (to fill a gap in the proceedings). Oh yeah, and then she had to pull the rest of us into her limelight too.

There was also a prize presentation. Apparently, members of the public had been quizzed about library@orchard. Third prize: two iPod shuffles. Second prize: PlayStation Portable Slim. First prize: iPod nano. Who says the government ain't hip? I honestly expected something like book vouchers.

Dr Varaprasad, Chief Executive of National Library Board, delivering his speech
On another note, it felt weird and uncomfortable -- to me, anyway -- about how the MCs and Dr Prasad (chief executive of the National Library Board) were raving about the impact of blogging and "citizen bloggers" in chronicling the last days of the library. They went on and on as if blogging was the Second Coming and bloggers were the new "elites". It's not that I didn't enjoy the recognition. Rather, it was that they were rubbing it into the noses of non-bloggers that blogging was the wave of the future and "screw you" if you don't ride it. Like I said, it sounded elitist.

Two things that were cringe-worthy: people laughing hysterically at small jokes/asides by senior civil servants, and senior civil servants needing to be escorted to and from the podium. Oh, and one more thing: the loud, obnoxious music to fill the silent transitions.

I don't know who picked the music, but I'd blame RiTZ Events Asia for all of the technical screw-ups of the evening. During a band's performance, the microphone for the guitar suddenly stopped working. Then, during the music video, the music could barely be heard till about a minute into it. Finally, the video tribute to the bloggers (yes, there really was a video and it was bad!) wouldn't play, forcing the above-mentioned interview with my friend. RiTZ Events Asia, you suck!

Oh yeah, that blogger tribute video. Okay, it was a nice touch. But I generally lose interest in videos that rely on titling for 90% of the film. Video/film is a visual/audio medium. Why force your viewers to read??? Ever heard of "dialogue" or "voice over"? I'd rather read a PowerPoint presentation... actually, no, I wouldn't.

Library management leaving their mark
The library management was later invited to leave their messages and handprints. I suppose the display will be on show somewhere till the new libraries open up. I didn't get a chance to read the messages myself, but based on the few that were read out, they were the usual, politically correct, feel-good, warm and fuzzy lines.

The night's festivities ended with the final locking up of the library. There was the familiar "library is closing" tone and everyone was ushered out. Then, as photographers snapped away, the library staff locked the doors. Everyone clapped and cheered. And gave three cheers. I looked on amused. People were cheering over the end of a library? That sounded taboo in a society like Singapore's. As if people were happy to be losing a sanctuary of wisdom and research. It certainly didn't make sense to me.

I didn't stay long after that. Another friend had already left. He had waited nearly an hour for his photo, which had been taken by an official photographer, to be printed. Obviously, the Canon Selphy printers were never meant for mass printing. And points lost to the person who thought it'd be a good idea to use a consumer printer for an event like this. Never underestimate the impatience of middle aged women who want a photo that they will gawk over for three days before chucking it in the middle of an album that will remain as a dust collector.

--

Sunday, November 25, 2007

U.S. holiday - Chicago to Singapore

Taxi arrived promptly at 3:30am. Said my goodbyes to Tim, who was sleeping on couch downstairs. Taxi ride was less than half an hour, shorter than expected, but cost more than $30. Gave driver all of my change, think the tips was less than he expected, but I had nothing smaller.

Early at airport, no counter open yet, but a few passengers already waiting in line. Waited outside the queue. Then counters opened and I joined the queue. Everything was self-service. When it came to my turn, realised that I was in the domestic travel queue. Went over to the international travel. Also self-service, counter agent checked my passport, then tagged my bag and took it.

Security checks were slightly slow, just starting for the day, but nothing out of the ordinary happened. Bought a T-shirt for dad from a shop. Went to the waiting area and fell asleep. Woke up five minutes before boarding, put on jacket because cold air was blowing in from gate. Moment of panic when I couldn't find my boarding pass. Luckily, elderly couple sitting opposite me pointed it out to me, it had fallen when I had put on the jacket. Whew!

Slept on four-hour flight to Los Angeles. Bought breakfast from McDonald's, Sausage McMuffin with egg meal. Had to wait four hours for next flight to Hong Kong. Fell asleep again. Woke up when another passenger sat a few seats down, but kept shaking the seats. Moved to another seat and waited till it was time to board.

Don't remember much of flight to Hong Kong since I was sleeping or stoning most of the time. Plane wasn't full, so there was empty seat between other passenger and me, so we could stretch a bit. When I went to the restroom, found some lucky passengers behind had the whole row per person!

Arrived in Hong Kong, had to go through security checks, forgot to take phone out of my pocket, so got beeped and was pulled aside for extra checks. Nearly had to explain the metal implants in my back, but I think security personnel didn't understand me, so just waved me on. Rest of wait at Hong Kong was uneventful. Took the chance to find the free computers again and checked email. Then hung around at waiting area, trying to identify the Singaporeans.

Boarding procedure was complicated, no clear instructions, and gate person looked flustered, like he was feeling stressed. Finally boarded the plane, no delays, whew! Found myself sitting next to two mainland Chinese women. Another row of mainland women in front. When they had to fill in immigration cards, they asked me for help. I taught the two next to me, but just filled in the cards for the women in front to save the hassle.

For five years traveling between Singapore and USA, I never had to help anyone with immigration cards. On this holiday, it happened on both to and from trips!

Arrived in Singapore, cleared customs easily, pleased to meet a smiling immigrations official. Bought bottle of wine from Duty Free Shop, then went to wait for baggage. Took a while, worried that it got lost somewhere, but eventually showed up.

25-plus-hour flight over. And I was on the way home!

--

Thursday, November 22, 2007

U.S. holiday - Chicago day 2

Thanksgiving!

Left home at 9:30am for dinner shopping. Snowing already, first time at Thanksgiving in Chicago. Of course, Tim and Terina "blamed" me for it! First to Whole Foods. Streets were deserted, to be expected for holiday. Picked up most of the foods: capsicum, cheese, flour, wine, beer, etc.

Then went to Chinatown. The "only" place still open on Thanksgiving, haha. Had to park two blocks away. Wanted to buy mussels, thinking they would be more freshly available there, but could only find clams, so bought those. Then went to a restaurant to buy roasted whole duck and chicken as substitute for turkey.

Next was to another restaurant to buy lunch for home. While waiting for food, we watched cooks in kitchen to see how they prepared food. Quite fascinating, haha.

Snow was coming down hard now, and windy too. Went back to Whole Foods to buy ice cream and chicken meat. Returned home at 12pm, ate lunch while watching "Match Point", which Terina had borrowed from her colleague.

Went up to my room to pack, then came down to ask about getting to the airport. Tim admitted that he'd be in no condition to drive. Looked up Google to find a cab company, made arrangements with Yellow Taxi for pick-up at 3:30am. Operator sounded like a sour puss, maybe because she was working on a holiday.

Helped Terina slice and dice apples for her apple pie. Tim said that he didn't want help, and I know better than to insist. Their friend, Nick, arrived soon with his Wii. Shing and Belinda arrived about an hour later with portable stove. Sarah came with sambal prawn and cheesecake, and Jason arrived just a while later.

Aileen came with drinks and chicken broth for the hotpot. Sonia and Allan arrived at 6pm with food for the hotpot. With everyone here, dishes were brought out to the hall, where a few people were already playing on the Wii.

We ate and talked and watched "Norbit", which someone had brought, and "The Incredibles", which was on TV. I talked to a few people, including Sarah. Mee-Kyoung arrived at 8pm with a Korean dish which had taken longer than expected to prepare. Dessert was brought out later, consisting of apple pie, brownies, cheesecake and Godiva chocolates.

Played with Wii after eating. Some people started talking about Black Friday sales and who would wake up for it. Aileen shared a story about her flight to India that consisted of two emergencies and a long transit layover at Amsterdam.

People soon started leaving around 10:30pm. By 11:30pm, only Mee-Kyoung and Nick were left. Played till 1am, then Nick left.

--

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

U.S. holiday - Chicago day 1

Shopping day! Started at 11am after eating last night's leftovers. Heavy drizzle turning into rain. Cold and windy. Walked to Polk station, no $1 bills, station doesn't provide change. Bought a cup of hot chocolate from the Dunkin' Donuts in the station for change and to warm up. Overheard a cop ask someone there, who was in the station to escape the cold, to leave because no stragglers are allowed.

Took train to Lake/State, supposed to switch to Red line, didn't realise that I had to go underground, so got on the Orange line wrongly. Got off three stops later along Wabash Ave and walked up to Michigan Ave. Rain got heavier.

Looked for Macy's thinking it was there. Found Nordstrom and Levi's instead, made mental note of their locations. Found Appl Store, use a computer to check Google Map and found Macy's at State Street. Also took the chance to check my email. And -- finally! -- figured out how to use Cover Flow on iPhone/iPod touch - need to hold device vertically! D'oh!

Hung around for a while, then bought two iPhones. Salesperson warned that I need to sign up with AT&T and it's illegal to hack. Also asked for ID to check name on credit card, first time ever that's happened.

Left Apple Sore, rain was even heavier. Walked back to State Street to Macy's. Looked for ToyWatch but couldn't find it. Bought a handbag for sis. Looked for jeans but none fit.

2pm already. Went down to the food court for light lunch of vegetable soup. Then walked to the chocolates section and bought two boxes, one for Thanksgiving party, the other for MIS classmates.

Went back outside, rain was even heavier now, but not as cold. Went back to Michigan Avenue to look for Levi's. Found Nordstrom first, enquired about ToyWatch, found out that they had no stock till next week. (Too bad, Kelly!) Left and finally found Levi's. Tried on a few pair of jeans, finally bought two. Food price and comfortable.

Done shopping, decided to get milk for breakfast. Found Walgreens and bought a bottle there. While walking to station, figured that I might as well buy something to eat for breakfast too, remembered seeing another Walgreens at Wabash.

Saw Fye instead, went in to warm up for a while, save "Superman: Doomsday" DVD on sale, so bought it. Came back out, saw 7-Eleven across the street, so went there since it was getting late. Bought two croissants.

Then took train back to Tim's house. Tim fetched Terina back, then left at 6:45pm to walk about 10 minutes to dinner at an Italian restaurant. Ordered a plate of pasta and we shared a bottle of merlot. Good times.

Walked back to apartment amid freezing weather. With nothing to do that night, we watched "Superman: Doomsday", but I fell asleep at the end. After show had ended, I crawled up to Tim's roommate's room to sleep properly at 11pm.

--

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

U.S. holiday - Washington D.C. to Chicago

Woke up at 6:30am, packed up and checked out at 7:30am. Thought that I needed half hour to get to Union Station. Turns out that I only needed 10 minutes to walk to the Metro station, then another 10 minutes train ride to Union Station. Shorter walking time probably because now I was walking downhill instead of up. Also overestimated Metro ride.

Had breakfast at McDonald's at station - pancakes, sausage and tea. Waited till 8:30am to board. Altogether, train ride was about three hours. Slept most of the way, waking up at each stop to see if any passengers needed the empty seat next to me. Unlike journey to Washington D.C., this was a full train. I managed to get an empty seat next to me for two hours of my journey, then another passenger sat there.

Train ride was smooth, but still arrived late at New York's Penn Station at 12:10pm. Drizzling outside, but stopped soon. Waited around for a while, then when got bored, took a taxi to La Guardia airport. US$31 + $4 tips. In the taxi, read passenger's bill of rights, e.g. taxi will not speed, taxi will not make any unnecessary honking, etc. Interesting!

Arrived early at airport. Queued up to check in, overheard some other passengers commenting about being late for their planes because of delays elsewhere, hoped it wouldn't happen to me too. Then I saw the self-service kiosk area, which was empty, so left the queue and went there. Self-service was easy, just enter e-ticket number, then go to a counter to tag my luggage, then bring my luggage to the staff who loaded it to the conveyor belt. Was a bit worried when handing my luggage over, because it was locked with non-approved lock, hope the staff wouldn't break it for security checks.

Plane was delayed till 4:45pm, more than two hours away. Wandered around airport, played with a Palm Centro, not impressed with it. SMS-ed Tim to let him know of delay. Bought a box of chocolates for office and magnet for home. Then had lunch at food court, bought a burger from Brooklyn National Deli.

Waited till 3:45pm, then went to waiting area. Found out that plane was delayed till 5pm. Walked around terminal for a while, but with nothing to do, finally just sat on the floor below the flight information monitors. Took the time to people watch, noting how many women were wearing boots.

Due to my location, lots of people milling around to check their flight information. One idiot woman was eating potato chips and dusting her fingers above me. Stupid, dirty Americans.

Checked monitor again, flight delayed to 5:15pm! Finally allowed to board at 5pm. Lousy stewardess served me water when I asked for orange juice, but I was so tired from waiting that I didn't bother to ask for a change. Slept the rest of the flight, two hours and 10 minutes.

Back in O'Hare airport. Collected luggage, lock wasn't broken, yay! Went to subway station, about 10-minute walk, but it's underground, so no need to go outside, where it was drizzling. Saw an option to buy a multi-day pass, made a quick mental calculation and figured my trips wouldn't justify the cost.

Tim SMS-ed me to say that he would meet me at Racine station, instead of me going to his house. Along the way, I SMS-ed him to let him know where the train was, so he could time himself to meet me at the station. Racine station is one of those in the middle of the I-90 highway. Cold and wet. Dragged my suitcase out, saw Tim waiting by the side of the road. He helped me load up my luggage, I said hi to Teri inside, then we went to dinner.

Dinner at Greektown. Chatted about my trip so far and plans for Thanksgiving. Had flaming cheese for starters, then a cheese/pasta dish for dinner. Went back to Tim's house after that, his housemates were still in, so I'd need to sleep on the sofa. Pulled out sofa bed, but it was in no condition to be used, so I would just use the couch.

Tim gave tour of his three-storey house, big for what he was paying! (Later learned that it's due to close proximity to University of Illinois - Chicago.) Bathed, watched TV, James Bond "Live and Let Die". Met his housemates when they returned later. Went to bed with fingers numb from dragging suitcase.

--

Monday, November 19, 2007

U.S. holiday - Washington D.C.

Woke up at 7:30am, washed up, changed, packed bag so as not to leave anything lying around, then went for breakfast. Bought $2 breakfast ticket from counter, then went to kitchen/dining area on second floor. Gave ticket to a older-middle-aged African American woman who looked "burned out" from her job. Kept repeating to everyone to "take everything that you need, because it'll cost ya another $2 to take any more food later". I helped myself to a bagel, a bowl of unsweetened corn flakes, fruit cocktail, a glass of orange juice and a cup of tea. One Caucasian guy (from somewhere in Europe) tried to return to the food area to take more, but was shooed out by the lady.

Left for Old Post Office at 9am. Arrived earlier than expected, so waited inside away from the cold till 9:45am. Then went out to find the orange D.C. Party Shuttle Tour bus waiting outside. Boarded and met Dion, the tour guide, and Miller, the driver. Dion mentioned that he had been to Singapore while serving with the Marines. Mentioned Clarke Quay and Clifford Pier.

Tour started at 10am. 14 of us in total: a family of four, an old couple with their grandson, two Filipino women, a Swedish woman, and three college-aged American girls.

First stop: Capitol. Got off to take pictures in front of lawn. Dion felt that it was more worth it to tour the Capitol than White House, also because no permission from State Representative/embassy is required.

Then drove to Jefferson Memorial. Along the way, Dion pointed out some key federal buildings. He also kept going on and on about how he felt that Jefferson was the smartest American ever, which was nothing to belittle considering all of his academic and professional achievements. Cherry blossoms outside the memorial were a gift from Japan, because a First Lady (forgot whom) enjoyed seeing them.

While going to Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Dion mentioned how the bed of the Potomac River was dredged up to fill in the swampland to become what is now the National Mall and the surrounding areas.

FDR had actually asked for a small memorial, the size of his desk. He got it: it's placed outside the National Archives. But for all that he had done, in addition to being the only President to serve four terms, the country built a larger memorial for him. There were three different kinds of water flowing through it, to symbolise his involvement in water projects before becoming President. Memorial consists of four "rooms", one for each term. Walls include some of his memorable speeches.

Next stop was Korean War Memorial. Consists of 19 statues of soldiers trekking through a "padi" field (made of some small shrubs). Their blank gazes are supposed to reflect the emptiness of war. Reflecting wall behind them resulted in 38 soldiers, signifying 38th Parallel. One wall included the line: "Freedom is not free".

While driving to Lincoln Memorial, Dion pointed out a worksite, which is the future memorial for Martin Luther King, Jr. It is in line with Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, to indicate the three greatest speakers of each century. He later mentioned another symbolism in the city: Capitol, Jefferson Memorial, Lincoln Memorial and White House form a cross, with Washington Monument in centre.

At Lincoln Memorial, saw the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech. Inside memorial, saw huge plaques bearing two of Lincoln's most memorable speeches.

After that, went to Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Designed by a college student. Two wings of the "V" memorial point to Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial, pointing to previous wars. Dion pointed out how to read the names on the wall. Saw some flowers and gifts left at the wall, even from school children. Saw statues of three 19-year-old soldiers, indicating average age of Vietnam soldier. Also saw statue of four nurses, as tribute to women who served in the war.

World War 2 Memorial was next stop, purposely placed between Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial to symbolise the three deadliest wars of each century, in terms of lives lost.

We were then driven to Pentagon City for lunch at 1pm. I ate a baked potato from a stall at food court, then browsed some of the stores. Took note to return later, if I had time. Quite convenient too since subway station was just outside.

Next stop was Air Force Memorial Foundation. It's on a hill, so had great view of the city.

After that, went to Iwo Jima Memorial for the Marines. Along the way, passed by Arlington Cemetery. It's scheduled to run out of space within the next 20 years or so. It belonged to Washington's descendant, but she lost it during Civil War because she supported Confederates. Union buried their dead there, considered disrespectful towards Washington. After Civil War, it was turned into national cemetery.

We were then taken on half-hour ride through "embassy row", where almost all of the embassies are located. Those with gates belong to "nosy" countries. Then went to Lafayette Park, where people are allowed to demonstrate freely. Current protest was against nuclear weapons, which had been going on for years. As long as a person is at the site, police can't remove it.

Walked through the park to outside of White House. Took requisite pictures. That marked end of the tour at 3pm. Returned to Old Post Office. I then went to National Portrait Gallery, since that had exhibits that were closest to American history. Didn't keep bag in locker because I had to pay, only after I was reminded by security guard, then realised that the quarter was refundable. Spent most of my time looking at American origins and a large exhibition on U.S. Presidents.

Left at 5pm to return to Pentagon City. Browsed at Border's, thinking of buying PostSecret book, but in the end I decided not to. Went back to Fashion Centre for dinner, ate Popeye's fried chicken at food court. Then bought two iPhones from Apple Store above.

Thought of watching a movie at E Street Cinema, but next movie was at 9:35pm, decided not to since I felt tired. Returned to hostel, found that two previous roommates had left, another two roommates had moved in. Packed, bathed, then slept at 11pm.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

U.S. holiday - New York to Washington D.C.

Alarm kept ringing but I kept ignoring it. Only realised how late I was when I heard my cousin's room door open. Realised that it was 5:45pm! Rushed through wash up and changed and packed. Luckily, I had already packed most of my stuff the night before. Left the house at about 6am, record time.

Arrived at Penn Station with 15 minutes to spare. Said goodbye to cousin, then went into station. Gate was still not open. Bought two doughnuts and hot chocolate from Dunkin' Donuts, then went back to concourse to wait for train. Finally boarded on the dot at 6:45am. Carriage was about half full, so had two seats to myself. Train ride was smooth. Finished eating and drinking, then went to sleep for rest of 3-hour journey.

At Washington D.C.'s Union Station, followed the directions to Metro subway, paid $2+ for one-way ticket of four stops to Metro Center. Then walked four blocks north to Hosteling International. Actually quite tiring to drag suitcase that far, because I was going uphill. City was dead quiet, forgot that it's Sunday.

Checked in at hostel and realised that I could only collect keycard at 2pm. Browsed through maps and directories on attractions, figuring out what to do for the rest of day. Surfed the Net at $6 per hour, spent two hours on it. Called my cousin and made tentative arrangements to meet for dinner that night. Napped for remaining half an hour, but got woken up by an old guy who was snoring.

Picked up keycard at 2pm, settled into room, found out that I was assigned the lower bunk bed, fine by me, easier to move around. Stuff suitcase in locker then went out.

Went to Old Post Office, had a late lunch at 3pm of chilli hot dog and orange juice. Listened to a live performer while eating lunch. Finished up quickly, then went to National Mall, took pictures of Capitol and Washington Monument.

Stopped by Smithsonian Castle. Learned that "Smithsonian" actually refers to the network of museums and research centres, not just one building. Wanted to see National Museum of History, but it was closed for renovations.

Went back to National Mall, then walked up to Washington Monument. Tickets for free tours to top of monument were all given out, but figured it was no big loss. Saw Lincoln Memorial in the distance, reminded of scene from "Forrest Gump", decided to check it out. Walked downhill, came upon World War 2 Memorial. Was surprised to find out that it had just been open only about three years ago. Took some pictures, then went to Reflecting Pool, took pictures of Lincoln Memorial from afar.

Sky was getting dark, so went to National Archives. New exhibit: Education of Presidents, breezed through it to get to permanent exhibition upstairs. Took pictures of the Declaration of Independence, saw other documents. Amused by a video on presidential sound bites, e.g. George Bush Sr. talking about him hating broccoli, FDR stating that his opponents were now criticising his pet dog, etc.

Was really getting into the exhibits, but security guard chased visitors out at 5:30pm, 45 minutes after I had gone in. All other museums were also closed at that time. Returned to Old Post Office thinking that it was still open. With nothing to do, called my cousin to arrange for dinner. He wasn't sure of where I was, so I went to Hotel Harrington and gave him the exact address. While waiting there, bought a magnet from a gift shop there. Then walked out to E Street Cinema, considered stopping by to relax one night.

Got message from cousin to meet at District Chophouse, 509 7th Street. Had dinner with him, his wife and mother-in-law. Ordered a New York steak, came with baked potato and salad, but could only finish two-thirds of the steak and half the potato. We chatted about life in Singapore and Washington D.C. and what else I could do in the city, if I had time.

Still an early night, so drove around the federal buildings, saw the World Bank building where my cousin worked, then was driven back to the hostel. They were surprised to find it so close to the city.

Went to bathe, but was let down by weak water pressure from shower, left half of body exposed to cold while washing the other. Returned to room, listened to other two roommates from University of Illinois - Urbana-Champaign talk about differences between Korean and Chinese languages. Went to sleep around 10pm.

--

Goodbye New York, hello D.C.!

I'm at Hostelling International at Washington D.C., having just taken the train in from New York. Waiting till 2pm to collect my room key (it's 10:40am now, yikes!).

Wow, I really needed more than my two days at New York! There was really so much to see and do. But things should be better in D.C.

Will update more after I return home.

--

Saturday, November 17, 2007

U.S. holiday - New York day 2

Woke up at 9:30am but didn't leave house till 11am. My cousin drove us to the city, went in search of a parking place, finally found one after 10 minutes of searching. Went to Raffaele's for brunch. I ordered pancakes with chocolate chips, which came with chopped fruits, and mimosa (orange and champagne drink) and English Breakfast tea. First time having pancakes with chocolate chips, quite a good combination, chocolate chips melt in the mouth. We talked about Singapore, what Singaporeans do for fun there, work, church.

We left at 12:45pm on our own separate ways. I entered the subway station like normal, but ended up waiting there for more than 10 minutes. Supposed to take the #1 train, saw two of them pass by on express track, realised that it wasn't going to stop at this station. Finally got on #3 to Chambers, then switched to free bus shuttle to South Ferry because the rest of the stations were under renovation.

Waited at White Hall terminal for 2pm ferry to Staten Island. Ferry ride took about half hour each way, but it's run by the city and free because it'd cost too much to count fares. Snapped pictures of New York City, Statue of Liberty and Staten Island. Lots of pigeons and seagulls flying near the coast of both terminals.

When we arrived at Staten Island, about three-quarters of the passengers, including me, subsequently cross over to the departure lounge. Only a handful were actually using the ferry to travel between Manhattan and Staten Island, rest were there to see Statue of Liberty.

Returned to Whitehall terminal at 3:45pm, took #5 train to 86th Street. Walked 10 minutes to Jewish Museum. Saw Central Park next door, decided to take advantage of remaining sunlight to take in the view. Walked through Engineers Gate to Jackie Kennedy Onassis Reservoir to take pictures and catch a breather.

Cross the road to Jewish Museum. It's free on Saturdays, didn't need to use my New York Pass. Whizzed through art gallery, then went to permanent exhibition on Jewish history and culture. Didn't feel very interested in it, so left after about an hour. Had trouble collecting my coat because I hadn't taken the tag, had been mixed up with the tag for my bag. I thought one tag for both items. Finally got coat back after identifying it to supervisor. Stupid impersonal system, push and go.

Took #6 train to 28th Street, went to Museum of Sex. Sky was already dark at 6pm. Free entry with New York Pass. First section: fetishes (BDSM, furries, roleplay, etc.) Second section: sex in films (pornography, sex scenes, fetishes in film, celebrity homemade videos, etc.) Third section: historical artifacts (posters, sex toys, notes).

Took #5 train to 38th Street, went to Macy's. Redeemed 11% discount card with New York Pass, woman asked for passport, didn't realise it's for foreigners only. Went to look for Toy Watch for colleague, couldn't find the one that she wanted. Browsed selection of belts, bought a Fossil jeans belt. $2 discount!

Took #N train back to 42nd Street, then took bus from Port Authority Bus Terminal back home. Missed destination by one stop, so had to walk back. Cousin had already bought dinner, ate it while watching "Forrest Gump". Bathed then packed for next day's departure.

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Friday, November 16, 2007

U.S. holiday - New York day 1

Woke up at 9am, washed up, bathed for too long because hot water ran out! Checked work and personal email. Mum called after I had messaged her last night. Left home at 11am. Good thing I brought jacket, it was cold and windy, felt like less than 5 degrees Celsius. Took bus 158 to Port Authority Bus Terminal, US$3.40 fare.

Had craving for pancakes, went to look for International House of Pancakes, supposed to have a branch in New York but couldn't find it. Stopped at AT&T shop, played a bit with iPhone. Enquired about prepaid SIM card, it's US$50! Decided not to buy.

Was already in neighbourhood, so went to Penn Station to collect Amtrak tickets for Washington D.C. train. Came back out, needed to eat because I hadn't had breakfast, 12:30pm already. Didn't know what else to do, so returned to Port Authority Bus Terminal, had a Manhattan burger (burger with bacon and some sweet-and-sour sauce like mayonnaise) with fries and canned lemonade.

Walked to Coach USA through Times Square. Aha! Marveled at all of the advertising. Collected Downtown Loop tour tickets and New York Pass at Coach USA. Place was surprisingly empty. Returned to Times Square just in time to board next tour bus. Sat upstairs in spite of the cold because of better view.

Tour started around 2pm. Along the way, tour guide pointed out some sights, but we're going so fast that I missed most of them or couldn't find them. Guide focussed mostly on trivia about shopping and celebrities, not what I had expected. Took pics along the way, but in the end stopped doing so because it was too cold and I couldn't remember what I was taking. So just sat back and listened. Had planned to visit Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building, but changed my mind because of security check delays.

Sky got dark and weather got colder, also traffic was even more busy due to rush hour, so I went to lower deck where it was wawrmer. Finished tour at almost 6pm, tour guide said that it's normal because ticket sellers etc. have never sat on the tour, so they think it's only 2 hours long. Also saw police drill -- police cars wait at a spot, then time themselves to get to another spot in rush hour. Drill was instituted after 9/11. Wanted to take pics but police cars had left by the time I got camera ready.

Took subway to 5th Ave/59th Street (US$2 single ride) to Apple Store at 5th Avenue. Took pic outside. Store inside was crowded and warm. Updated Facebook status on iPhone. Asked how to buy it, was told to join a very long line, decided not to.

Took subway back to Port Authority Bus Terminal to return home. Fell asleep on bus and overshot by a distance. Called cousin, he came to fetch me partway. Had dinner, watched 2 episodes of "Coupling", then Food Channel on Thanksgiving food, then "Justice League Unlimited", then second half of "That Thing You Do". Planned next day's activities, then went to sleep.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

U.S. holiday - Singapore to New York

Left home at 4:15am, but at Keppel Road, realied I'd forgotten my red jacket. Lost half an hour returning to get it, but still managed to reach the airpot with time to spare. Changi Airport pre-check-in screening seemed quite lax, security girl seemed like it was her first day on the job. Check-in itself was smooth. Had breakfast at Polar Cafe, then I entered the departure area.

Slept for most of the 6:50am flight to Hong Kong. First time in Hong Kong, airport design looked nice, but the city looked smoggy from afar. Great view of departing flights.

Next was 12-hour flight to Los Angeles at 10:20am. Sat next to an old Vietnamese couple. Tried to help the wife with her forms but she didn't know much English. Finally, got help from a Vietnamese-speaking stewardess towards the end of the flight. Slept through the first few hours, waking up for refreshments. Caught snippets of "Ugly Betty", "CSI:Miami" and "Everybody Hates Chris". Tried to sleep more, but in the end watched last hour-and-half of "Evan Almighty", then "Licensed to Wed" and "Transformers".

There was a medical emergency on the plane, don't know what it was. Passenger in front was a nurse, so she went to help. Later, a male passenger took her seat, think he was the companion of the affected passenger. Tried to overhear what was wrong but couldn't get it.

Landed 20 minutes early at Los Angeles, medical emergency passenger left first, but rest of us had to wait on board for Customs to open for the day. Finally disembarked at 8:40am. Customs was smooth, but airport looks very archaic, airport in need of major renovation, like a maze of tunnels. Had to be directed to next departure area because signs suddenly stopped directing.

Waiting hour hour in line to clear security, counted two iPhones among 50 people. Airport security seemed like just a procedure, no real reason. At least I didn't get singled out for extra checks.

Walked around airport, hoping to find a phone shop to buy a SIM card but none available.

Next plane was delayed by an hour due to "aircraft repair". Passengers in the waiting area weren't notified till 15 minutes before scheduled departure, idiot airport personnel. Worried about missing next flight to New York, even with reduced 1.5-hour buffer.

Departed Los Angeles at 1:10pm, slept through it all, arrived at Chicago at 7pm. Rushed to baggage claim area, waited and waited but didn't see my bag. Worried about losing it and missing next flight. Approached baggage kiosk personnel, turns out that they had removed my bag from the belt and placed with other bags. Idiots! Curse and swear!

8pm already! Rushed to train from Terminal 3 to Terminal 1. Went to American Airlines counter, wanted to self check-in but terminals need 40 minutes pre-departure buffer. Worried, hoping can still check in at counter. Aha! Flight delayed by 1 hour! Joy!

Security check, then browsed for phone shop, still none. Called my cousin from pay phone but kept getting "incorrect number" message, so paid for Internet kiosk to email him about the delay. Left Chicago at 10:10pm, arrived at New York's La Guardia airport at 1am.

Collected bag, waited for pre-arranged transport. Thought the driver was waiting inside arrival hall, but cousin called my handphone to say he was outside. 20-minute drive to my cousin's house. Washed up, watched a bit of TV, then went to sleep around 2am.

32-hour travel time!

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Gone to the U.S.

Statue of Liberty
I'll be leaving soon for my U.S. holiday. A week-and-half on the other side of the world. Whee!

One thing I know for sure that I won't be doing: watching Broadway musicals. Not because I don't want to (which is true), but because of an ongoing strike.

See you on the flip side!

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