On the road Down Under

sydney

Kangaroo

This year is an exciting one. I’ve spent Easter in Australia. Unlike my previous couple of trips, I’ll not be traveling alone, my girlfriend Lilian will be accompanying me on my trip Down Under!

My trip started with a 5 hr 40min plane ride from Toronto to San Francisico. In sunny California, I wait 6 hours before boarding the one and only flight tonight heading to Auckland at 8:30pm PST.   Initially, I was prepared for a flight from hell but it turned out to be only a 12 hr flight. The highlight of the flight was the safety video,  which usually puts me to sleep but this safety video was actually entertaining. Since the launch of The Hobbit, Air NewZealand’s latest tagline is The airline to middle-earth. They adopted the LOTR theme in their safety video, it started with Queen Galadriel introducing the importance of knowing the safety procedures, then we see guest appearance from the grandsons of JRR Tolkien as Hobbits, Sir Peter Jackson, and of course Gollum.

AIr New Zealand

After traveling for 29 hours, I finally arrived in Sydney!!!  Transportation here is relatively convenient and prices are reasonable. For my 8 day stay, I purchased a weekly multi pass for zone one, which costs $44 AUD and gives you unlimited travel within CBD including train, lightrail, and ferries. To get from and to the airport (domestic and international), you need to get a gateway pass that costs $15.90 AUD one way and $24 AUD for return within a week. Within 30mins, I arrived at the Oaks Goldbrough hotel around 10:30am on Pyrmont street. I was so looking forward to a hot shower and a cat nap. To my disappointment, they did not have any room available for early check-in. So I took a walk along Prymont street where I ended up at the Star- a casino, restaurant,and club complex.

Even only being in the city for less than 3 hours, I already fell in love with Sydney. The weather perfect- sunny and dry, just the perfect weather to lounge at a sidewalk cafe to do some people watching. I especially enjoy strolling down their streets lined with quaint little victorian houses.
Prymont street

The Darling

The streets were rather quiet this morning, with a few office workers lingering on the street after their coffee break.
For dinner tonight, I ventured into the Chinatown across Paddy market. It was busy, even on a tuesday night.  I saw a lot of business people getting back from work and like me are looking for a place to grab a bite.  The Chinatown here is like little Hong Kong. There are so many Hong-Kongers and mainlanders roaming the street. The male are all dressed in formal dress shirts and fitting dress pants with matching leather shoes.  While the women are all dressed in fitted one-piece dresses accessorized with the staple LV or Gucci purse.  At the end of the night, I settled for Malaysian food at The Malay Village.  This place had people lining out the door since 7pm.  One of the vocal point of this restaurant is their roti-chef who makes a show out of making roti from dough.  I ordered a Hawaiian roti, which is roti filled with ham, cheese and pinapple.  It was meant to be eaten with 3 sauces- sweet-n-sour plum source, spiked tamarine sauce, and a chili sauce.  The meal was delicious and it was resonably priced at $13AUD.

kangaroo-icon

My mind refused to shut off-it’s 3am and I couldn’t fall back to sleep. At 6:30am, I gave up and decided to hit the gym. By 8:30am, I was dressed and ready to join the thousands of workforce of Sydney. Rush hour in this city reminded me of the rush hour in Hong Kong island.  The working class is definitely more dressed up here than in Toronto. No offence to Torontonians, we’ve got style, it’s just that our style is more laid back. Ladies here are dressed in their one-piece dresses or tight pencil skirts with 4″ heels.

Weather today was bright, sunny and humid, just the way I like it.  I got into the office right around 9am, the office is on the 23rd floor with a view of the Harbor bridge.  I lucked out today, the Marketing team had a farewell lunch for a colleague at the nearby Australia hotel. They had ordered various delicacies like crocodile pizza.  Crocodile meat tasted much like chicken but much leaner.  Food was amamzing and company was great.

Australia hotel

Following lunch, they had a birthday celebration for March babies.  Instead of getting cupcakes like we do in the Toronto office, they had full-on cakes.  This month, they had 5 full size cakes- chocolate mouse, carrot cake, fruit cake, strawberry shortcake, and caramel cake.  The day couldn’t have been better.

In the evening, I decided to make a trip to Circular Quay to check out the Opera House and The Rocks.  The weather was nice and sunny today, with temperature reaching way above 30 degrees Celsius.  I didn’t really have any expectations when I decided to visit Sydney cove.  When the train pulled into the station, I was stunned and awed at the first sight of the grand Opera House alongside the Harbor bridge.  With the sunset as the backdrop, the structures looked surreal.

Sydney Opera House

Sydney harbour bridge

Sydney Opera house

Throughout my walk, I must’ve seen over a hundred of runners, jogging around the harbor.  Many carried weights on their backs.  Seriously, I feel so out of shape looking at them.  I will later learn Sydneians tops the most active and health conscious.

kangaroo

Lil arrives today! I was starting to feel a little lonely in this big urban hub.  Her plane arrived at 7:20am in the morning.  I decided to stayed at the hotel to greet her before leaving for work.  At 9:30am, there was a knock on my hotel room door.  She looked lovely in a laced white top.  I met her at the door, gave her a great big hug and told her how wonderful it is to see her.  We stayed in the room to chat for a bit before I headed to work around 12:30pm.  Since it was the day before Easter weekend, people at the office were handing out Easter eggs going and Lindt chocolate bunnies.  I got out of the office around 5pm, in time to catch the crazy rush hour as everyone is trying to get out of the city for the long weekend.

Our original plan was to take a night tour around Sydney cove.  To our surprise, we got into the middle of what seemed like a rain & wind storm.  A few minutes after getting off the train, we were hit by horizontal rains from all directions.  Our summer dresses flew as our umbrellas flipped.  The rain drove us back to our hotel .

We ended the night with dinner at Cyren,  a grill and seafood house at Darling Harbor.  I ordered a petite steak with mash potato and my new favourite drink- Pear cider.  The steak was juicy, the meat was so tender it practically melted in my mouth.  The mash potato was sprinkled with deep fried onion- yum.  The restaurants in the Darling Harbour is very plasticized (my new favourite word) as expected.  Prices are higher as expected for a tourist area.  I was told the local steak is a must-try.  For my dinner at Cyren- the bill came up up to $45 AUD including 10% tip.

kangaroo

I woke up around 3am again this morning but this time I was able to fall back to sleep till 8:30am.  Our original plan was to make this our beach day at the Manly beach.  Unfortunately, we woke up to cloudy skies loaded with rain clouds.

To stick to our travel budget, we brought some basic groceries to make breakfast and lunch.   As with everything, groceries were expensive in the city.  A bunch of 4 bananas cost me $4 AUD and 2 lbs of grapes cost me $5 AUD. To get a loaf of whole-grain bread, you should expect to spend about $4 AUD or more.

beach

To get to Manly beach we took the 12pm ferry from Circular Quay.  Taking the ferry was pretty frequent, it came every 30min.  But don’t expect the ferry to be a quick ride, it took us 45 minutes to get to Manly.  When researching for this trip, I noticed there is a big discussion about whether Manly or Bondi is the better beach. The beach at Manly is bigger than Bondi and the waves seems bigger at Manly.  At Manly Wharf, you find amazing cafes like the Max Brenner, which offers, in my opinion, the best and richest hot chocolate.

After our ferry ride from Manly to Circular Quay, we took another ferry to Watsons Bay.  This ferry ride was a lot quicker than the previous one.  We got to Watsons Bay just in time to catch the sunset.  We arrived to see a garden surrounded by rows of million dollar homes that looked exactly like the ones you see in magazines.

Watsons bay

On the island we got a glimpse of New South Whales stunning coastline.  We couldn’t leave the island without trying Doyle’s fish and chips.  It didn’t disappoint.  The fish was fried in a light beer batter,both the chips and fish were chewy and juicy. Instead of getting a tartar sauce, we got a sweet, thick chilli plum sauce.  It was “interesting”…

To end the day, we made a visit to Kings Cross- the red light district of Sydney.  The street of Darlinghurst was filled with adult shops, strip clubs, and small pubs.  We also found quite a few hostels peppered between the adult entertainment. With rent being so high within the city ($1200 AUD/monthly), being on the outskirts makes sense for low cost accommodation.

day-5

Today we set off to visit the famous Bondi beach.  It was a glorious day, just perfect for a walk along the coast.  The first thing we wanted to do is to head off to a local cafe for a cup of hot coffee under the sun.

coffee

We looked out at the crystal ocean, with its aqua blue water.  Unlike yesterday, the air is still, the sky was clear and the sun was shinning brightly. At the beach, we saw groups of surfers waiting in the ocean for the next break, from a distance, they looked like a school of fish hanging out in the ocean.

Bondai beach

Bondai beach

Bondai2

Our plan for the rest of the morning was to take a 1hr leisure walk to the Bronte beach.  20min into our walk, a jogger running in the opposite direction pointed to the sky and said “Jesus!”  Despite being a Christian, my initial thought was, he must be nuts. But then when I looked up, I saw a plane making the following message in the sky:

Hillsong

The plan for the evening was to explore Sydney’s nightlife.  When we starting planning the night, we realize how seriously Sydneysiders are about work/life balance.  Some restaurants were closed and areas like Wooloomooloo and Surrey Hills turned into ghost towns for the entire long weekend from friday to monday.  The only things opened were in touristy spots like Sydney cove, Darling Harbor and of course Chinatown.

We ended up at the Opera House this evening and had dinner at the Opera kitchen.  I ordered the king salmon with a side of fennel salad accessorized with figs and walnut, the salad was a surprisingly tastey combination. On our search for a bar with live music, we came across the Opera bar. The singer and the band were both amazing so we decided to stay. We partied the night away to covers of pop songs, dancing under the stary sky with the Harbor bridge to the right and the Opera House just above us.  Surreal.

Opera house at night

kangaroo

On this Easter sunday, I attended the Hillsong Easter service at the Sydney entertainment centre.  Given the fame of this mega church, I wasn’t too surprised to see well over 1000 people at the theatre.  It was a grand production, equipped with professional audio systems and stage full of worship leaders.  Today’s message was based from the book of Ezra- turning glory in ruins to glorious ruins.  It’s an analogy to Jesus, as God’s glory, dying on the cross (ruin) and how that turned into our salvation.

For lunch, we went for some good’ol Chinese food at a Chinese restaurant recommended by Anthony Bordain-the Golden Century seafood restaurant. Then we shopped at Paddy’s market- a flea market full of tourists looking for UGG counterfeits, expensive knock-off purses and souvenirs of all sorts.  Standard of living here is so high that even counterfeits sold in flea markets are more expensive than other countries.

Queen Victoria Building

For our next stop, we headed to Queen Victoria Building.  But for this Easter long weekend, 80% of the shops were closed.  Lil was a little disappointed but I found it quite pleasant to explore the old victorian buildings without the shopping crowd.  Our next stop was Surrey hill, an area just south west of CBD. But it turned out just as quiet as QVB. There were barely anyone on the streets. Still Lilian loved the area.  It was close to the city yet far enough to offer a quaint small town feeling.

Sydney Westfield

Kangaroo

Woke up bright and early at 6:45am to catch our bus tour to Blue Mountain and area.  At the Star Central bus terminal, we were greeted by John the driver.  He looks to be in his mid 40s, 5″4, he seemed to have a brown, Mohawk hair style that looked like it was a wig. Here drivers don’t just drive, he was also our guide.

Blue mountain

Our first stop today is a lookout at the scenic rock formation called The three sisters.  Then we headed off to Scenic world where we get a chance to experience the scenery and visit the mining town of Katoomba within the Blue mountain area via their 3 rides- the Railway, the Cableway, and the gondola.

waterfall

Tree

Blue mountain got it’s name from the eucalyptus trees.  The leaves from the trees react with the air giving it a tint of blue when viewed from a distance.  The best part of the Scenic world has to be the train ride.  It was said to be the world’s steepest incline train ride.

Our final stop was the Featherdale animal park just outside of Sydney.  Here we got to see a lot of the Australian native animals including- the kangaroo, koala bear, baby woombats, dingos, crocodiles, pelican, emu, and Tasmanian devil.

pelican

Question: can you tell which ones aren’t real?
Answer: Here I am, a foolish overly excited tourist snapping away at fake pelican. None of them are real. :(

kangaroo

woombat

He’s not dead, just sleeping.

woombat

Our driver/guide’s favourite topic is real estate.  He explained houses near Leichthan and surrounding area just outside of Sydney cost $400K for a 2 bedroom detached home.  The condos near the Olympic park, which is at least a 30min subway ride from CBD, costs $600K for a 3 bedroom suite.

 

melbourne

 

 

kangaroo

For the next part of our trip, we’re heading to Melbourne- cultural capital of Australia!!  The building in this city is amazing- Victorian building, accent trams, and tucked away laneway with hidden gems.

 

 

Flinders station

Flinders station

Forum building

The Forum

Flinders street

Flinders street

Melbourne

Unfortunately, soon after I arrived, I fell ill due to the ever changing weather.  After sleeping for 11 hours, the cold & flu symptoms subsided quite a bit this morning.  My body still ached but I feel a lot more energetic.

Today we are going on our tour to the Great Oceans road- the main reason why I traveled 20K Miles, across the Atlantic Ocean to Down Under.  We met the rest of our tour group at Federation Square- half of which are young chinese students.  To our surprise, this turned out to be a 12 hours day.  Today is a chilly day with morning temperature at 8 degrees. We drove an hour to Tourquay- the head quarter of Rip Curl and Quiksilver.  The sky was blanketed with think grey clouds.  Temperature near the coastline plummeted with the strong winds.  We got to Tourquay around 9am.  The town was still sleeping with only a few stores and bakery opened.

Then we headed off to the resort town of Angleseas with a population of less than 3000.  We stopped at Apollo Bay for lunch.  At 1pm we started heading off to the Twelve Apostles.  The sky was still clouded and windy.  Still the coastline was stunning.  The grey sky actually heightened the experience by adding power to the waves and changing the water to a light turquoise color.

To absorb the scene, I just stood on the boardwalk listening to the roaring ocean below.  In year 2000, 3 of the “apostles” had collapsed, leaving behind only 8. Our next stop is Lord Ard Gorge- the location of a tragic shipwrech leaving 52 dead and only 2 survivors.

Next, we headed to Port Campbell- a quaint little town to home of many hostels.  Our final stop is the London bridge.  Parts of the bridge had fallen in 1990, trapping 2 visitors, one male and one female. It was said the two striked a relationship after the ordeal.

Dinner at Southgate next to South bank.  Restaurant called Bear Brass(http://bearbrass.com.au/menu.html).  There I had my first taste of pork belly, their Berkshire pork belly ($17 CAD).  The top was baked to perfection, crisp, crunchy served with a touch of vinaigrette that helps to offset the heavy dish.

NYC 2011

apple

Flying solo in NYC

I recently accepted a new role at another company. As it turns out, I actually had the Friday off before starting the new job on Monday. So I decided to make full use of my long weekend and booked a last minute, solo trip to THE BIG APPLE.

Toronto – LaGuardia airport – Liberty Island – Ellis Island – Broadway

4:30am My alarm goes off. Before I knew it, a little bell rang in my brain and the adrenaline kicked in. NYC here I come!!

5:30am I arrive at Terminal 3. To my surprise, there was already at a line up at the American Airline check-in counter. The last time I flew to the states was probably when I was 7. Luckily, I got there 2 hours before boarding time. Regardless, I was not prepared for the ridiculously long and slow security screening process.  If it took me 40min to get through security during the slow season, I cannot imagine what it would be like to travel during holiday times.

7:30am A flight attendant announces over the intercom that they’ve overbooked the flight. She asked if anyone is willing to give up their seat for the next flight, in return they get $300 in flight voucher.  Flight voucher?! Even in my sleepy state, I thought to myself, after waiting in line for the 2 hours it would take more than $300 AA flight voucher for me to wait another hour for the next flight.

9:30am I arrived in NYC!!! It was a cold rainy morning and they parked the plane at the wrong gate so we had to haul our luggages up the stairs to get to the arrival terminal.

11:30am  Traffic in NYC is like driving through the chaos in Egypt,except instead of getting 3 wheelers, you get Maserati and taxi cabs. Neither pedestrian nor cars followed the traffic lights. This explains for the deployment of NYPD cops to direct traffic in busy intersections. I sure hope they pay them well because it certainly requires guts to be standing in the middle of these aggressive New Yorkers.

11:45am Checked into my hotel on Wall Street and got ready to head out to my first destination- The Liberty Island and Ellis Island. Just as I walked out of the hotel lobby, the sun rays poked through the rain clouds. Before heading to ferry at Battery Park, I must first stroll through Wall Street!!

Almost all the major streets in NYC are lined with high rise on both side of the streets. It’s quite a landscape.

Street of NYC

A building near the Fulton subway station in NYC’s financial district.

Wall street

Wall street

Wall Street

I just want to show you how TD Bank COMPLETELY inundated the city of NYC.  Around Times Square I see their branches more often than I see Starbucks!! With this many branches, I think they might actually lived up to their value proposition: America’s Most Convenient Bank.

TD bank

Here’s a reminiscence of the golden days in America- The mighty Charging bull. It is said to be the symbol of the once aggressive financial optimism and prosperity.

Bull on Wall Street

This is the Trinity Church which was first constructed in 1697. The Queen of England once stepped foot in this church.

Trinity Churcht

12:20pm Arrived at the TKTS ticket booth at Seaport. If anyone is looking for discounted tickets to Broadway musical, I highly recommend the Seaport TKTS office over the Times Square location. I didnt have to wait in line at all for same night ticket to see Avenue Q.

Theater Development Fund Broadway ticket booth|TKTS

12:40pm Back at the hotel. From my observation, the working crowd on Wall street dress and act very much like people on Bay Street. Among the many in their tailored suits, you see quite a few casual dressers with their colorful golf shirts and khaki pants. On my way back I brought a sandwich from a convenient store. I had no expectation as I was only looking to fill my stomach for the long day ahead. To my surprise, the roasted pepper, mozzarella, chicken sandwich was deeeeeeeeeeelicious!

1:20pm I was suppose to head out at 1pm but I couldnt peel my eyes off the TV. They were showing some of the raw footage of the 9.0 earthquake that devastated Japan earlier this morning. I couldn’t believe how much damage the earthquake brought to the country.

1:45pm I arrived at Battery Park. The wind had picked up and it was getting a little chilly now that I’m closer to the water.

Battery park

2:00pm I strongly recommend purchasing the CityPASS for all first-timers to NYC. For $79 I got tickets to The Mets, MOMA, The Empire State Building observation deck, Rockafella center observation deck, The American Museum of Natural History, and ferry tickets to the Liberty Island and Ellis Island.

With the pass in hand, I skipped the ticket line and went straight to the security check. Luckily, March isnt their peak season, I got through security check in 5 minutes and hopped on the ferry.

As I waited for the ferry to start, I stared out to the harbor from the top open deck. Suddenly, a bunch of seagulls came flapping right above our heads, they then decided to fly up to us, probably hoping we would throw them some food. These creatures were so aggressive, they flew so close I can almost touch them if i reach out.

seagull

new york city

statue of liberty

Lower Manhattan

Manhattan

Manhattan

2:15pm The ferry arrived at the Liberty Island. I strolled off the ferry and felt a sudden wave of excitement, possibly from the warm sunlight and the clear sky. The operator from the ferry announced that the last ferry from Liberty island to Ellis island leaves in exactly 20minutes. Immediately, I headed to the souvenir shop to rent an audio guide. I figured since I know very little about the history, the best way to experience the statue is to hear its story from the experts.

Fun Facts

  • The statue was build in 1886
  • She stands 300ft tall
  • She was a gift from the people of France. It was said to commemorate the abolition of slavery
  • Designed by the French sculpture, Frédéric Bartholdi
  • She is made of 300 sheets of copper which are all 3/32″ thick.
  • The statue is referred by many as the Mother of Exile and an iconic symbol of freedom
  • Inside, the statue is completely hollow. The French engineer Gustave Eiffel, who also built the Eiffel Tower, built the interior wooden structure using the same theory he used to build the Eiffel tower.

The American dream

America

Statue of Liberty

statue of liberty

statue of liberty

Statue of liberty

Trying out my photography skills. What do you think?

statue of liberty

Since it’s my first time to NYC, I had to take a picture of myself for memory’s sake.

2:45pm The ferry docks at Ellis Island.

Fun Facts

  • Known as the Isle of hope- for some, it’s the entrance point to attaining the American dream
  • Known as the Isle of tears- for many, it’s the end of their dreams
  • 12 million immigrants enter through this island, most of them poor
  • The Von Trapp family entered America through this island

Ellis island

Ellis island

Step by step of the entry process

1. 1st and 2nd class passengers were let into the country with minimal delay. While 3rd class passengers were ferried to Ellis island for medical and legal inspections.

2. Once the immigrants landed, they were directed into the main hall by the baggage handlers who don’t speak their languages. Once inside the building, they were asked to walk up a flight of stairs. Once they reach the top, they would see a row of doctors, all holding their clipboards, starring at them emotionless, and wrote furiously into their writing pad. The doctors were looking for those who looked out of breathe, these people were then directed for further health examination. These doctors rarely take age and pregnancy into consideration.

Registry room

3. The Registry Room

Ellis island

This is the room where thousands of immigrants were asked to wait until they were called by an inspector.

The registry room

Here doctors were given 6 seconds to examine each immigrant. Immigrants are not told what the criterion and what might cause them deny entry into the country. Often those with Trachoma would not be allowed through.

Those who were ill were marked with chalk marking as an indication for further examination.

4. Legal inspection

The purpose of the inspection was to ensure the immigrant in question had not violated any of the immigration laws. The officer also needed to confirm the immigrant being questioned is the one who brought the ticket.  All these procedures were carried out by American officers who only spoke English.

In my opinion, it was rather insulting and ridiculous that the immigrants were being asked in English when they do not know the language. There were translators on staff however, the translators likely did not know all the languages spoken by the many immigrants. Worst yet, immigrants were expected to read English. From the interviews with past immigrants, I learned that there were the rare translators who lend out their helping hands. These kind-hearted translators would change the answers to help immigrants pass the inspection.

Those that were deemed “suspicious” by the officers were detained for hearing with the Board of Special Inquiry.

Ellis island

For immigrants who did not pass the inspections…

They were held at the Detention center. Often held behind cells with metal bars and metal framed bunk beds, with hundreds of others of the same fate. However, the worst was not the living condition, rather it was boredom. There were often no communication after they were sent to the center. They were locked away, with nothing to do, left alone to their own fears and uncertainties. The center was often crowded with shortage of beds. As a result, children and elders were sometime forced to sleep outside on benches.

A total of 3500 people died on Ellis Island

After thought: I came to visit the Liberty Island and Ellis Island, expecting to see the origin of the American dream. Little did I know, I’d leave with the story of how many paid a dear price yet never reach the dream.

Statue of liberty

4:00pm I pulled my turtleneck around my face as I stepped off the ferry. I was SUPPOSE to head right back to the hotel, shower and get ready to head out, grab dinner and catch Avenue Q. But how could I resist the discounted clothing stores?? I made a quick stop at Daffy and picked up a cute blouse and picture frame. =)

5:15pm After a quick browse on Yelp.com, I picked Maria Pia for dinner tonight.

6:45pm I stepped into the little, cozy Italian restaurant tucked in the corner of 51st St and 319 West. I should’ve taken up the hostess’ offer to seat me at the bar. Instead I was seated next to a guy and her friend. I was minding my own business and busy sorting out what to do tomorrow, when I hear the guy say: “I can never move away from Manhattan…just can’t eat alone. It’s just too boring.” It never really bothered me to travel alone. But at that moment, I realized it really wouldn’t hurt to make some local friends and get some tips on how to better experience the city. Sitting at the bar, I could’ve socialize with the bartender.

Anyways, back to the food. For dinner, I ordered an ice tea and their fresh pasta- Seafood Tagliatele.  It was SO good. I totally forgot about the guy’s comment. The freshly made, black pasta had such a chewy texture, cooked just right. The tomato sauce was not too tangy, the tomato pulp tasted SO good with the mussel.

8:00pm Avenue Q.

Avenue Q is a satire that used Sesame-street-look-alike puppets to illustrate moral shortfalls that society have fully embraced and even deemed okay. It touched on topics such as: it’s okay to be racist; it’s okay to find comfort or even satisfaction in others’ misfortune; since life is temporary it’s okay to be dissatisfied with life;and it’s okay that the Internet is all about porn.

The show was a definite eye-opener that made me question my own behavior and moral standards. As I grew older and became more “realistic”, I feel keeping to the Biblical moral standards were absurd and impossible.  Therefore, I told myself I shouldn’t be so hard on myself and just accept myself for who I am. At some point along my life, I forgot to try and found comfort in “fitting-in”. I’m glad I saw this show, it turned out to be much more than just entertainment.



Rockafella center – Times Square – The Mets – Union Square – Empire State Building

7:00am The alarm clock started beeping and I snoozed it.

8:15am I finally dragged my sleepy body out of the bed and got ready for a busy day.

8:45am The sun has risen but it was a cloudy and windy day. I was lucky I decided to bring along some turtlenecks. I visited the cafe next to the hotel and brought a soggy muesli that was leftover from yesterday. It was better than nothing.

9:15am It took longer than I expected to get to 5th Avenue because they had closed the Fulton subway station for renovation over the entire weekend. This is probably why tourists are recommended to stay closer to the city center.

The subway was quiet this early Saturday morning.

Subway car

Wall str

radio city

10:00am Here I was waiting in the lobby for the elevator to the 67th floor where the observation deck. With my Citypass, I waited in line for about 30minutes.

Chandelier in the elevator lobby.

chandelier

Inside the elevator, they had a projection on the roof that showed a short clip of the dangerous labor work that went into making this building. At the top, there was a short video which showed the famous image of workers sharing lunch, sitting on a single metal beam in mid air.

top of the rock

top of the rock

The skating rink in front of the Rockafella center

rockafella center

World of flags

flags

11:00am I headed back down the subway to reach Times Square. Originally, I planned to satisfy my stomach before roaming around Times Square. To my surprise, the BXL Belgian Cafe did not open until 11:30am. The cafe is located in the theater district which is only 10min walk away from the heart of the Big Apple.

I had to do the touristy thing

Times Square

Times Square

I’ve never felt so excited walking into a retail store. I LOVE the M&M flagship store!!!!!!!

M&M flagship store

I love the smug on this M&M’s face. =)

M&M flagship store

M&M flagship store

M&M flagship store

11:30am Brunch at BXL Belgian Cafe

This cafe was highly recommended by Yelp.com. From the front, it looks just like a local British pub, which is probably why I kept walking past it and thinking that can’t be the brunch spot. Once I walked in, I noticed the walls were covered with pictures of famous football players and football memorabilia. The restaurant owners were two young European man, both tall and lanky, with dark short curly hair.

I ordered an Egg Florentine with fresh orange juice. My favorite was the hash brown bits with caramelized onions and red peppers.

12:10pm Central Park

NYC subway map

I took the B line north from Rockafella Center station to 81st station. To get to the station near The Mets, I would have to make a huge detour to get on the 4, 5, or 6 lines so I decided to ride the subway to 81st station and walk across Central Park to The Mets. I mean, how can I say I’ve been to NYC when if I hadn’t visited the Central Park??

The weather today was not the greatest, it was hovering around 10 degrees Celsius and cloudy. Nonetheless, that didn’t deter families and the young active bunch from jogging through the park.

Central park
Central park

Words of wisdom and memories found on the benches in Central Park.

Central park

Central park

Central park

Central park

Central park

The Upper East Side

I walked from the subway station to the museum, as I looked around I noticed the grand entrances to some of the apartment buildings located alongside the 5th Avenue,especially the ones close to the Central Park. They had canopied entrance, red carpet, and uniform concierge. Then I noticed the cute poodles, dressed in LV gear designed for canines.

One thing stayed the same throughout NYC, from the ghetto to the ritzy side of town, you see jay-walkers alongside anxious cabbies.

Just being in the city for 2 days and already I’ve seen dozens of talented street musicians. Here is a 4 man acapella group performing right outside the museum.

New York

1:30pm The Metropolitan Museum
Egyptian Art:
Egypt art
Egypt art

Egypt art
Egypt art

Egypt art

European art

The Metropolitan museum

Aboriginal art

The Metropolitan museum

The Metropolitan museum

Modern art

The Metropolitan museum

5:20pm FAO Schwarz Toy store – 5th Avenue

Before heading out to dinner, I had to make a stop at the world renowned toy store to check out their giant dance-on piano keyboard and candy section. It was quite a site but perhaps its my age, I wasn’t that impressed by the stuffed toys or their never-ending Barbie collection.

Giant toy soldier made from Jelly Beans!!
FAO Schwarz

The store signature stuff toy collection
FAO Schwarz

Ahahahah, Harriet I took this picture for you!!! (DISCLAIMER: I’m not hinting that Harriet is ugly, it’s an inside joke!!)
Seriously though, as a marketer I wonder how they market these Uglydolls. I just can’t imagine parents going home and saying: “Hey little David! Guess what, I got you an UGLY!!!” I would like to be there to witness the child’s reaction.
Uglydolls

Actually, the Uglydoll collection started with a love story. Check out the story behind Uglydolls.

Ugly town

The Apple store right outside the FAO Schwarz store.

Louis Vuitton demonstrates fashion can have a cute side.

LV frog
Louis Vuitton

LV rooster

LV crab

LV owl

Not sure about this one???

7:00pm Union Station- Max Brenner

After being on my feet for the past 4+ hours, I was ready to take a seat some where to rest my poor feet. I wanted to visit the Max Brenner store to check out their famous coco goodies. However, there were so many people waiting to be seated at the Max Brenner restaurant, I couldn’t even get into the store.  Boo…..

Just when I was about to hop on the subway to get to Momofuku, I saw a gathering in the square across the subway station. Buddhist prayers blasted from the microphones. I was intrigued but at the same time my bladder was calling for a relieve. So I went into the nearby Whole Foods store. The lineup to the ladies washroom snaked around the cafeteria on the second floor. As I stood in line, I noticed that a majority of the ladies in line were Tibetan, I could tell because they were all wearing the traditional Tibetan dress with the multicolor strips and they were mingling with each other in Tibetan. I asked one of the ladies in front of me about the gathering outside.

Me:”Do you know what the gathering outside is about?”
Tibetan lady: “Today is the 52nd anniversary of the uprising in Tibet. Actually, this is a remembrance of the annual women uprising.”
Me: “Oh, I see.”
Tibetan lady: “Where are you from?”
Me: “I’m from Toronto.”
Tibetan lady: “No, I mean originally.”
Me: “Oh, Hong Kong.” (I intentionally left out the part that HK is part of China.)
Tibetan lady: “China,right?”

I felt myself tensing up and nodded my head. The Tibetan lady just smiled and turned around to continue her conversation with her friends.

I couldn’t shake off the curiosity so I crossed the street to join the crowd. As I got closer, I noticed that a lot of them were in their early 20s or 30s. The young men joined the ladies in this gathering. Soon after I got there, the prayers stopped and the shouting began. A young girl led the group, in unison they shouted:

“Tibet belongs to Tibetan!”
“Stop the killing in Tibet!”
“China lies, Tibetans die!”
“Shame on Chinese government!”
“China, out of Tibet now!”

Every single word was expressed with emotion. I wasn’t sure what to feel. I looked around wondering if they can tell that I’m Chinese. Having been brought up in Canada, one of the most multicultural countries in the world, I rarely think about my ethnicity. It’s not that I don’t associate myself as Chinese, it’s just that being among people from all corners of the world, ethnicity becomes trivial information in my day to day life. But at that moment, standing among the Tibetan group, feeling their hatred for what the Chinese Government did to their community, my ethnicity as Chinese suddenly took up importance.

I have once dated a guy who was half  Tibetan. I met his family and understand how close knitted the Tibetan community is. However, in Toronto we rarely have such emotional gathering. As I stood there, I wondered about the purpose of such gathering.  To bring awareness to inequality in Tibet? To vent out anger? To gather more supporters for the cause?

Tibet

Tibet

Tibet

8:00pm Momofuku noodle bar

I called earlier to make a reservation and was told that they only accept walk-in reservations 2 hours in advance. Given their strict reservation policy, the place must be good.

By the time I got there, they already have a bunch of people waiting to be seated. If you are ever to eat alone, the best place to come is a Japanese noodle bar. Reason being, most of the seats are by the bar. Also, due to the limited table and the fast turnover, people are used to sharing a table. I walked up to one of the hostess, told her I was alone, immediately I was taken to a seat by the bar. Some of the bigger parties had to wait 6-7 tables which could take up to 1 hr.

I love restaurants that limit their menu to what they do best. This not only help ensure they serve you the best, it also helps cut down the amount of decision making. Without thinking twice, I ordered their House special ramen.

To my surprise, all but one of the chefs are Caucasian. The owner is a slim, Japanese man, no older than 35, wearing a funky white t-shirt and retro, black rim glasses. He took charge of the kitchen, shouting instructions to the chefs once he receives the orders from the waitresses. As I waited for my ramen, I noticed that 90% of the customers are Caucasian. New Yorkers definitely love their Japanese food. Why do I say this? None of them showed any discomfort being crammed into the small wooden stools, sitting back to back and shoulder to shoulder alongside strangers, all slurping the steaming ramen noodles. On top of that, most of them mastered the use of chopsticks. This is evidence of a truly multicultural city.

OH EM GEEE! The ramen is delish!!!!

Momofuku


 

Brooklyn Tabernacle – Toronto

 

 

6:30am My alarm goes off. I planned to catch the 9:00am service at Brooklyn Tabernacle so I can make it in time for my afternoon flight. There are so many worshipers going to this church, they recommended getting there an hour in advance.

A Christian friend in Toronto recommended that I visit the Brooklyn Tabernacle. The church is known for its choir which is made up of people from all walks of life, most have not gone to any professional music training. Prior to arriving in NYC, I went onto YouTube and looked up their performances. The choir is not like any I’ve seen before, they have 200+ people from various ethnicity. Together their singing can move anyone.

8:15am To get to Brooklyn Tabernacle, I needed to take the subway line 4 or 5 to get to Borough Hall station. I’ve only heard of Brooklyn and stories of the rough neighborhood from my ex-boyfriend. Despite that I wasn’t anxious about going to Brooklyn by myself, considering I’m going there early in the morning. However, I did come across a problem- I didn’t know how to walk to the church from the station. Eventually, I found my way by following a couple, the husband was holding a Bible bag, I figured they have to be going to church and there can’t be that many churches around the area. Soon I caught up with the couple and asked if they knew where the Brooklyn Tabernacle is.

Me: “Good morning, do you happen to be going to the Brooklyn Tabernacle?”
Husband: “Yes, do you know where it is?”
Me: (Blank expression) “Err, no. Seeing your Bible bag, I was hoping you’d know.”
Husband: (laughs) “I guess we’ll just have to find another person with a Bible and ask them.”

We did just that and within 5 minutes we arrived at the church. It looked nothing like a church from the outside. Rather it reminded me of a Broadway theater. The ushers at the door directed us to go upstairs as the downstairs seating were already full. It was only 8:20am.

Brooklyn tabernacle

When I sat down the choir was still practicing for the service. It was nice to just sit and not do anything for a while. My body was still recovering from all that walking yesterday and my mind was still half asleep. I don’t remember my feet feeling this sore since the hike in Nepal.

Minutes before 9am, people started filing in. To my surprise, the entire hall was packed with people 15 minutes into the service. There must’ve been over 1000 people!! This church is truly blessed to have this many worshipers, not to mention they are expecting 2 more fully packed services. What was more amazing is this church is located in Brooklyn, I was surprise to see so many Brooklyners coming to church.

The choir lived up to all my expectations and more. I was especially moved towards the end of the service, Pastor Cymbala asked the congregation to join the choir in singing. It felt exactly as the author of Revelation describes:

“Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand.”

First, I felt goosebumps from the singing that echoed throughout hall. Then tears started streaming down my cheeks. I can’t explain why I got so emotional and why my whole body shuddered. The lady next to me must have noticed it. Just when the service ended, she stood up, introduced herself, and told me she can give me a tour around the church building. Her generosity made me feel very welcome. It was unfortunate, I had to rush off to catch my flight back home. As I was about to make my exit, she tells me that she’s coming to Toronto to visit her brother in July. This has to be God’s plan!!

Afterthought

Whenever I tell my friends and family about my trip, I get a sense that they think it was an impulsive decision. A former New Yorker tells me that I was lucky to come back unharmed. She said that she lived in NYC for 5 years and throughout her stay she continuously experienced harassment on the subway. I haven’t told many but I too was harassed on the subway but luckily I was not harmed. If you ask me whether or not I regretted this trip, my answer is no. The timing was perfect. The weather was clear and cool and I managed to escape the crowd at most of the tourist locations. I wouldn’t have been able to travel to so many places had I traveled in a group. More importantly, I don’t know if I would’ve experienced what I experienced at the Brooklyn Tabernacle had I not gone on this trip. How often do we hear thousands of voices singing under one roof?

Novel: The blue notebook by James A. Levine

The blue notebook| James Levine

I couldn’t help hearing little Batuk’s voice in my head even after I finished the audio version of The blue notebook. The book has officially changed a part of me. This book is about a child prostitute in the infamous Street of Cages in Mumbai, India.

As one blogger accurately puts it:
The subject matter is difficult, but Batuk is an unforgettable character. Through the gift of literacy she manages to rise above her circumstances and hold onto hope for the future. Her imagination sets her free even as she is exploited, beaten, sold, belittled and raped.

Even though this is a fictional story, the author was able to accurately portray the sickening side of human nature.  Through Levine’s words, I now truly understand why the Bible tells us we need hope from Christ-who is love. As a human being, I now realize I too, like the child exploiting men, am capable of indescribable evil.

Which is worst? To be born in a poverty stricken community, situated on a barren land, where everyone there lacked clean water, proper shelter, food, and education. All they have is a close knitted community where there’s mutual respect and love. Or would you prefer to be born into a broken family, living in one of the biggest metropolitan cities in the world, where everyone looks after themselves and themselves only.  You lacked clean water, proper shelter, food, and education not because you cannot afford it but because someone intentionally took these necessities from you, so you can focus on earning fortune for those in control.

To me true misfortune are those inflicted by man.

When I first started reading the book, I felt an overwhelming sense of pity for the helpless children. Soon I realize, the characters in the book are real, and that their “savage” world can easily become a reality where I am.

Suddenly I remember the quote:
Desperate times calls for desperate measure.

Human beings are like jello, given enough pressure from our environment, we will change and mold into a different being to avoid being broken. With this realization, I now better understand the importance of hope.  No amount of humanitarian work can bring light to a person being suppressed by evil.  Our hope lies not in our hands but in a being far supreme than us. That being is God and He is love. His love is free from material gains, lust, fear, obligation, insecurity,and pride.

To get a glimpse of the lives of those stuck in the Streets of Cages, check out an excerpt on Levine’s personal experience.

Eason’s DUO concert

Tonight I reconnected with my Canto side!! I went to see the much anticipated Eason DUO concert at the Hershey Centre in Mississauga. Firstly, when I arrived at the location I was overwhelmed by large crowd of Chinese teenagers. Then I got quite confused when the workers started handing out bags of yellow “balloon-bars”.

Balloons

When the concert started I realize these” bars”, like neon sticks, marks the culture of Asian concerts. When Eason came out, all I heard was a rhythmic drumming of the “bars” and a sea of “yellow bars”. Instead of clapping, you simply smack those “bars” together to form a drumming effect.

Eason-Duo-fan

Eason came out wearing a suit which resembles the Joker from Batman Return. His hair resembles certain body hair. But together, the look went very well with the overall theme of his songs. He started the concert with some new ballets but later he sang his older ballets, which brought back my highschool memories. Best yet, as part of his band, he brought Jun (恭碩良) and a girl from @17. I didn’t recognize Jun with his facial hair, a Pandora hat, and black-rimmed glasses. When he started to sing, I fell in love with him all over again. His vocal talent and beautiful lyrics blew my mind away. To top this act off, Eason started strumming at the chorus.

Eason-Duo-screen

Throughout the concert, Eason proved himself to be an amazing singer, passionate performer, talented musician, person of standards, and a natural charmer. Many times during the concert, he connected with the audience by speaking directly to them. Against the security’s wish, he would move close to shake their hands. During his 3 hours performance, it felt like the stage was his home, his performance seemed so natural. It seemed like melody just flew out from his mouth without much effort.

I must say, compared to the western concerts, Asian performers have a tendency to sport really funky outfits. Eason’s second outfit was a jacket turned inside-out, strapped to his pack along with what looked like a waist band, along with his wavy undercut hair that was tied in a pony tail. His next outfit was an Adidas black and white jumper, with a skeleton outlined at the front, and a tuxedo tail at the back. His final outfit was a neon yellow classical Adidas tracksuit with matching track pants.

Eason is one of those performers who don’t really need a fancy stage nor backup dancer. His presence alone is enough to sustain a memorable performance.