Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Great American Adventure: Part Three

New York: Conquering the Concrete Jungle

Day One:

Your heart pounds a little faster once you first step into New York. It feels like you're moving to the beat of the city that never sleeps. It's so amazing and magical; you can't believe you're actually here. New York baby, I have arrived!

Well, that is I arrived after a series of navigation mishaps which caused us to reach much later than expected. Navigation on the US trip is being fully handled by the brother, and it is apparently clear that he is no better than I am at directions. Guess bad orienteering runs in the blood. 

So we only got in at at around 7pm, and checked into our rented apartment on west 56th Street, between 8th and 9th avenue. 

A very rare personal picture. That's momsy and pops and the sister in the background, just to show you how comfortable the apartment was. 

Our apartment was much bigger than what I'd expected. Because we were staying in Manhattan, I thought we'd be living in a shoebox where we'd be jostling for space all the time. But nope, we had a living room and kitchen, a master bedroom and another smaller bedroom, with plenty of room for all five of us. 

We were pretty excited to go exploring, so we were soon out the door and walking towards the direction of Times Square!

Ended up at this place called TSQ for dinner. It had a pretty good view of the all the lights and signs in Times Square, which was the selling point for us!

The interior was really pretty, with gold and black baroque wallpaper and black chandeliers, but it was far too dark for a good picture to be taken. So we settled into a comfortable leather booth, and the sister and I decided we were in the perfect place to order a cocktail. 

Side note here, I have the alcohol tolerance of a...oh who am I kidding I have no alcohol tolerance. My entire face and body turns red from a few sips of shandy. So a few sips of the Cosmopolitan was enough to leave my head pounding for the next hour. 

I should know better. Bad Jules, bad. I did get a kick out of saying I was drunk in New York City though.  

This was how dark the place was, that photo-taking was impossible. 

Mom, sis and I split a rack of ribs and a pasta, which wasn't bad at all. It was much better than could've been expected from eating at a location right beside a tourist hotspot. 

After that, it was time to head up the Rockefeller Centre! We were initially supposed to do both observation desk of the Rockefeller and Empire State, but it was too late by that time, so we could only do one. Since both essentially offered the same view, but the Rockefeller would have a shorter line, and we could view the Empire State, it seemed an easy choice. 

Hello Empire State, all lit up in blue!

What can I say, it was just buildings and city lights as far as the eye can see. Very pretty, but I guess observation decks have never been my cup of tea. I always thought buildings look better from the ground, because they all look the same from above. I've never gotten the "yay I'm on the top of the world!" feeling on observation decks; probably because I'm terrified of heights.

Surprisingly though, I think such places are very romantic for a city date. Where you and your loved one watch the hustle and bustle of city life from your slow-paced love bubble, sigh. I think the Empire State has the better reputation for a proposal/reconciliation hotspot though, with so many movies glorifying it as such. 

We called it a night after that, because by then it was past midnight, with a long day ahead the next day!

Day Two:

Good morning Upper East Siders!

Had a cranberry muffin and a fruit smoothie for breakfast, and both were gooood! Definitely a perky start to the day, which as you'll see, I definitely needed. 

Yesterday, my brother dropped his phone and the screen cracked, so he headed out early to get it fixed, leaving behind instructions for the rest of us on how to get to a dim sum place for lunch. 

Now to get there, we had to take the subway for the first time.  

The New York City Subway is an experience all it's own. The subway is dark, dirty, smelly, and really rundown. I would dare say it's even worse than the Malaysia KTM system that I abhor so much. There are also numerous lines, and they're scattered about all parts of town. You'd need to spend a long time looking at a map before you can figure out how you're gonna get anywhere. 

And even after that, you'd have to figure out how to get on your train. There's no clear signage on the platform, and trains going in the same direction will stop at opposite sides of the platform, which do not have signs on them saying where they're headed. For an outsider, the system is really overwhelming and intimidating. 

You meet all kinds of people too. There are doomsday preachers and all sorts of musicians on the platforms, and even a man that started randomly playing some sort of string instrument on the train. 

So here's the Golden Unicorn Restaurant (insert eyeroll at typical American name for Chinese restaurants) that we ate at. 

It turned out to take us 3 hours to reach here. The brother of course gave us inaccurate directions, so we ended up walking the whole of lower Manhattan in a vain effort to find a restaurant that wasn't there, simply because he told us it was on Broadway Street instead of East Broadway Street. Please take a second to imagine how grumpy and hot we were feeling those fruitless hours of walking around in confusion. 

To add insult to the injury, when we finally got there, the dim sum didn't turn out to be so great. It wasn't bad, but I can easily get much better dim sum back home in Malaysia. 

And guys! The day gets worse!

It had started drizzling while we walked to lunch, and it kept intermittently drizzling when we walked to take the subway (ugh), and then walked another 30 minutes to the edge of the island. 

We boarded a cruiseboat from Circle Line City Cruises to take a Liberty Cruise that would let us pass by the Statue of Liberty. When we boarded, the rain had already stopped for a while, so we excitedly aimed for a good spot at the side of the open deck. 

And it's really no surprise what happened next. 

Before the boat even pushed off, the rain picked up again. But it wasn't drizzling this time, it was a full on thunderstorm, that refused to let up the whole hourlong cruise. 

So noone could pose in front of Lady Liberty, and everyone was pretty grumpy and upset about it. Unsurprisingly, the rain lifted significantly once we docked, allowing us to have little trouble getting back to the apartment. I guess Lady Luck really wasn't smiling down upon Lady Liberty that day; maybe they had had a bitch fight. 

But no getting lost and bad weather could possibly prevent me from getting excited about our night plans! We were in New York after all, and who could possibly leave here without experiencing Broadway? 

We went to see Wicked!

And guys, it was amazing!! I love musicals, and I can't imagine it being possible to dislike them. I mean, it's singing and dancing and storytelling all in one! All things that I love to do!

The storyline was pretty good. I'd gone in thinking it was just a love story, but it turned out to encompass much, much more. I won't spoil anything, but I love that it showed us how there are always two sides to a story, and that we may be forcefed entrenched lies about how events transpired, to fulfil someone else's selfish agenda. Kind of like the Malaysian History we learn in public school. 

Happy, excited faces!

We were really blown away by the calibre of talent the cast had! The singing was incredible and never out of pitch, even though I noted one miniscule out-of-breath note, and the chemistry between the characters was completely believable! 

Two years ago, I had desperately wanted to experience my first musical, so the family headed to Singapore's Marina Bay Sands to catch The Lion King. And I was really disappointed with everything. There was nothing lifechanging about that half-assed performance, there was an apparent lack of props, and the acting of the travelling cast was uninspired. 

No such mediocrity with New York broadway! After this, I will never, never watch broadway outside of New York or London ever again. If its not the main cast, trust me guys, it's never worth your money. 

I went back that night with my soul fed. That night more than made up for the crappy day!

Day Three:

Today's events are pretty picture-heavy. We were signed up for a Food on Foot tour! So for the first half of the day, we would be guided around New York to try apparently some of the best cheap foods around. My brother had already been on the same tour once before and really enjoyed it, so with that endorsement we were all pretty excited!

We were to meet the tour guide at Grand Central Station. I couldn't figure out how to take a picture to do the lobby justice. It was just really beautiful and romantically built, with high marble ceilings and large chandeliers with orange lighting. I love this type of architecture!

So it was subway time again (yuck) to our meeting point. And after a relatively short series of walking around in circles, we finally found our group, with the tour guide Corey!

This animated and energetic guy would become one of the best tour guides I'd ever experienced. 

We had a short briefing beforehand, where Corey explained basic safety rules and told us we were to head over to East Village to experience food there. The brother was pretty impressed because his previous tour was on the Middle West, so I guess Corey likes to keep things interesting. 

The group had about 30 people. At first glance, everyone was a white person, so I thought we would be the only non-locals, but as it turned out in the introduction bit, over half of them were European, even though our Asian faces still stuck out like a sore thumb. We were encouraged to mingle with everyone, and I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a lot of them were very friendly. 

All right, now onto the food! We were scheduled for 4 food stops and 2 sweet stops. The tour was approximately 3 and a half hours, and we were told to share portions to make sure we could finish the whole tour, instead of becoming to stuffed partway. 

First stop out the subway was at Vanessa's Dumplings, for of course, dumplings! 

Now once we heard the first stop was Chinese food, my sister and I immediately exchanged a look. I mean, Malaysian food and dim sum on the trip had already turned out to be disappointing. We've had great dumplings back home before, and it was unlikely these would be on par or could top that. 

We had two kinds of pork dumplings, one with chives and one without. 

And it was not bad! Not the best we've eaten and I thought the skin was too thick, but I guess it did taste like an authentic Chinese pork dumpling, so it wasn't a bad start. 

Rating: 3/5

Next stop, pizza at Artichoke

Under Corey's recommendations, we got  a slice of the crab pizza (left) and the signature artichoke pizza (right). 

The first thought that came to mind when seeing the portion size, was that there was no way we could finish that. But after the first bite, we were beyond grateful for such a large portion, or else it'd be impossible to share. 

This was literally the best damn pizza I've ever had in my life, and I'm salivating now just thinking about it. The crust was crisp and crunchy but not overly so, and the cheese and other toppings just melted in your mouth and made love to your taste buds. Everything was so juicy and rich and bursting with flavour!

I preferred the crab one, which is not always available so we were lucky to get it. There was a liberal spreading of actual crab meat tossed with some mindblowing spice combination, that made every bite just oh so good. The artichoke one was amazing too though!

I'll miss this pizza so bad once I get home. It will be so impossible to stomach other mediocre pizza after this!

Rating: 5/5 

Third stop at This Little Piggy Had Roast Beef. How adorable is that name! 

This was a really small joint, which I believe was a converted garage. The entire interior was decorated with drawn on dollar bills, which I guess are from hundreds of satisfied customers. The bills snaked all over the walls and ceiling and front door. 

This place had the most interesting decor out of all the others, just because of all the dollar bills. Though as an Asian I cringe to think of how much money was wasted just for this. 

So the thing everyone was supposed to try was a pastrami on rye sandwich. 

Umm, it was a good sandwich, no doubt, but it just stayed a mere sandwich because I think they intentionally kept it really homey. The coleslaw and mustard sucked, but it helped with reducing the strong beef flavour. The pastrami itself was really juicy and tender though, but wasn't enough to make this stop particularly memorable. 

Rating: 3.5/5

Fourth stop was a sweet stop at Butter Lane for cupcakes! Yay sugar! 

We could choose our base from either vanilla, chocolate, or banana. Then we could choose our own frostings from over 10 options, but the choices were more traditional flavours instead of wacky. 

We got four to share, which seems like a lot, but they were pretty small. Clockwise from top left: banana with French chocolate, vanilla with strawberry, chocolate with maple pecan, and banana with sea salt caramel. 

The reason there is two bananas with chocolate is because the sister and I clashed when choosing the chocolate topping. I love sea salt caramel, and they managed to make that topping really well, but I'm not a fan of how it paired with the banana base. I think chocolate with sea salt caramel would have been the bombdiggity!

The rest were good too, though I didn't like the strawberry topping because it tasted too artificial. Overall, cakes were soft and fluffy, and the frosting smooth and creamy. The cupcakes were only 4 for $10 (before taxes), which made them a nice value for money. If I lived in these parts, I would definitely be a regular here!

Rating: 4/5

Last food stop was a hotdog joint at Crif Dogs

Two of the tables here were actually pinball machines, and we managed to get one! How creative is that! But I was pretty disappointed to find out the coin slots were blocked, so we couldn't play while eating.

We were recommended to try the Tsunami hot dog, which had the sausage wrapped in bacon and topped with pineapples and green onions, as well as their homemade corn dogs. I've never had a corn dog, though I've seen people in movies enjoying them countless times. Apparently they're just hotdogs coated in flour and then deep fried, but Corey insists these are good here. 

Ok, maybe it's just me, but I hated the food after one bite of each, and refused to eat any more. 

The bacon around the hotdog was so salty it cancelled out all other sensations. The corndog tasted only of dough, and honestly was pretty disgusting to eat. I don't think anyone really liked it, and I suspect this dump may have paid its way into the tour. 

Rating: 1/5

Last stop on the food tour was Veniero for more dessert! 

At this point, we were pretty stuffed, so we just got some cannolis, which is what the bakery is supposedly famous for, and I split a blueberry tart with the sister because there were so many tarts on display I couldn't resist. 

The tart was very yummy, with the custard base being light and not overly sweet, and the blueberries fresh and tart. The cannolis on the other hand were really bad. There was an overwhelmingly powerful taste of cinnamon, and not much taste from anything else. It was not exactly the best way to end the food tour. 

Rating: 2.5/5

And that concludes my virgin attempt of being a food blogger. Overall, I think the food tour was a great experience. And if I seem harsh, it's only because I'm rarely impressed, so I'm trying to be as honest as possible. 

So anyway, for Food on Foot, you get to be guided around town by a local who explains the sights and recommends you his favourite foods, you get to make new friends from all over the world, and you get a satisfied tummy at the end of it all. I really enjoyed the experience, would highly recommend everyone to do this short 3 hour+ tour, because its damn well worth it!

Ok so during the food tour, the wind and rain had been picking up, with the temperature steadily dropping. I'm abnormally sensitive to cold temperatures, so I was literally shivering the whole time we were outside walking. A guy from Wisconsin was nice enough to let me wear his windbreaker, but after the tour ended I was back to shivering unprotected. 

So we shivered along to the next location, the Museum of Modern Art. I know I've said I'm not a big fan of abstract art, but I wanted to check out some pieces by the big guns like Van Gogh and Picasso.

MoMA was mad crowded when we went! Probably because admission was free and everyone wanted shelter from the rain. So from the beginning it wasn't a pleasant viewing experience, because you were literally being crowded and shoved along by the thousands of people there, and it was just so annoying. 

But the biggest annoyance was what people recognised as "art" nowadays. Lots of pieces were all crap; merely canvases covered with a few lines, random squiggles, or in at least 20 cases a single block color covering the whole canvas. It was just so ridiculous that we wrote off the whole 6 storey building within an hour, because there was no way I would recognise that shit as art. 

I even took a picture of the famous Andy Warhol soup cans. If you read my previous post, you'd know I strongly oppose taking pictures of paintings out of respect for the medium. Well, no respect needs be given to MoMA turd. 

Because we left so early, we had quite a bit of spare time, so we shopped a little around the area, and even braved the winds and rain 20 minutes to head up to Bloomingdales. Everything was on sale for Memorial Day weekend! Yay!

After killing a few hours and spending some money, we headed to Brooklyn for dinner. At this point, the rainy weather was so cold that the subway, that had seemed so disgusting earlier, now became something of a haven because of its warmth. After a few rides, the subway honestly doesn't seem that unpleasant anymore anyway. 

Dinner was at Katz's, some apparently famous Jewish food place. We had pastrami (again), knoblewurst, and brisket. This place was highly recommended by Corey and the brother, but to me it seemed like a tourist trap. 

I did not enjoy the food at all. It was just a mound of salty meat on bread, and nothing else. There was homemade mustard provided, but a squirt of mustard isn't enough to cushion the overwhelming amount of meat. This place does not deserve its hype! 

Not the best last meal to have in New York, but it is what it is. After shivering even more back to the apartment, we checked and discovered the temperature outside had dropped to 7 degrees Celcius!! And we were outside in just our cotton shirts and jeans!

We were ill-equipped and completely unprepared to handle fluctuating temperatures. Just the previous day the weather had been a balmy 27-ish, so it was so crazy unexpected that the temperature would drop so steeply! So much for "the US is going through summer, it'll be just like home!" that other people fed me with. (Just kidding, I know my friends meant well!)

The next day, we had a flight at 9.50am to catch, so it was byebye to NYC!

Honestly, I think New York is a pretty interesting place to visit. It's at first so intimidating and unwelcoming, but I think once you get attuned to the beat of the city after a few days, because it does groove to its own beat, then you'll truly be able to enjoy all the city has to offer. 

New York has character. There's nothing glamorous about the city as I had previously envisioned, but you get big streets lined with gorgeous skyscraper buildings such as 42nd street, then you head out to Brooklyn and see graffitied rundown bits of town, and each part is an attraction all it's own. There's just so much to see and shop and eat out here!

The people in New York though, are exactly like what we hear. Not that they doll up while walking in the streets like the movies (remember I said NYC isn't glamorous!), but they really are unfriendly and always in a hurry and somehow come across as having fake personalities. They're the most welcoming bunch, but half of New York is made up of immigrants, so there were no outstanding racism issues either. 

I'll be back one day for more, New York! Until then, on to the next adventure; next stop: LAS VEGAS! If you will, please imagine that name in bold red letters rimmed with bright lights, because that's exactly how I'm picturing it in my head. 

See you in Sin City!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Great American Adventure: Part Two

Washington: Capitol City Capers

Ok, this is the second time this post is written, because the Blogger app has no effing auto-save feature. This means that I woke up at 3.30am for nothing, and a whole night's work was just wasted. Spent a lot of time crying and have sworn more time than I have in the last five years combined. 

So bits of this post will be more or less descriptive than originally intended. I just really wanted to get this post up as soon as possible while the memories are relatively fresh. 

Behold my bloody dedication. You are welcome. 

Day One:

After being picked up by my father and brother from the airport, the first order of business was heading to the hotel, Hotel Harrington, for a much needed shower to wash off all the airport/airplane gunk. After that it was around 11am, so we went looking for brunch, and ended up at  Ollie's Trolley, a burger joint right around the corner.  

Sis and I split a bacon and cheese burger, which was surprisingly good! Although I did prefer their crab cakes, which my brother had. Not a bad first impression for food in the USA. 

So after that quick brunch, it was time for some sightseeing! First off, we headed to the National Museum of Natural History, which I was really excited about, because I was expecting to see exhibits shown in Night At The Museum!

There's little Rex. With me still in my glasses and wearing my sister's clothes, because my luggage hadn't yet been delivered to the hotel. 

But that was the only character from the movie we found! Which was pretty disappointing because it was nothing like how Ben Stiller showed us. 

There was no Teddy Roosevelt, no Sacagewea, no capuchin monkey, no miniature cowboys and indians, and no giant squid. Just a lot of things on Geology and Biodiversity, which I suppose is what natural history should be all about, but wasn't interesting enough to catch my fancy. 

Afterwards, we headed to the Smithsonian Museum of Art, conveniently located nearby, as all the Smithsonian museums are. Went there because brother is now a self-professed art lover, after taking a compulsory Art History paper for his course. 

Photographs were not permitted in certain parts of the museum, but even where they were, I didn't wanna take any pictures anyway, because I found it somehow disrespectful to take pictures of paintings, and it could not compare to viewing the artwork up close. I have no similar reservations for taking pictures of sculptures though. 

Now I'm not an art freak, but I do admire how some people long ago put years of their life into painting a single canvas. I have no use for abstract paintings, because I have a sneaking suspicion that those people simply cannot paint well, but were either important enough or had good enough PR, that everyone was desperate to suck up to them and pretend they were amazing pieces. 

I love artworks about people. Never portraits, but of people interacting by gesturing or talking, or of a distressed or laughing subject. You know, pieces that emote human emotion; and I take pleasure in guessing what their stories are and what emotions they want to convey. 

You pick up clues from things in the background, such as color and shadow, but I try not to read too deeply into other objects. Brother says dogs are supposed to symbolise loyalty and obedience, while cats are supposed to symbolise cunning and distrust. I say, maybe the artist just had a personal preference of house pet, and we shouldn't think everything had hidden meaning. 

Scenaries are nice to look at too, but you can only take so much of paintings of sea and sky and flora (barely saw any on fauna), before they all blend to become a fuzzy blur. Which actually happens to every painting after a while. At this point it was 4+pm local time, and all my adrenaline had left me and I was close to toppling over from sheer exhaustion from all my travelling. I ended up flopping down on every couch they have in each room to appreciate larger sized paintings, as we moved through the museum. 

At any rate, the museum was huge, spanning four blocks, and it closed at 5.30pm so there was no way we could see it all, so we cut out for an early dinner. 

Brother took us to Merzi, which was a fast food Indian joint, where I split a naan bowl with the sister, topped with beef, chickpeas, veggies, spicy masala, and yogurt chutney. 

And damn was this gooooood! The pulled beef was juicy and the sauces were rich, so every bite was a party in my mouth. It admittedly photographs horribly though, but don't let that fool you! Probably the best damn fast food I've ever tasted!

After that, we headed back to the hotel, where I immediately fell into a three hour nap, then reluctantly got up to wash my face and change, before having a blissful, much-needed eight hours of sleep. 

Day Two:

Parents and the brother had some matter to take care of at the US Consulate, so that left the sister and I to entertain ourselves for a few hours. After munching on some toast and omelette from their leftover breakfast, we decided to head out and explore on our own for a bit to enjoy Washington architecture. 

Washington is beautiful. 

It's where all the state department buildings are located, such as the Federal Trade Commission or Deparment of Justice or the Federal of National Archives above. The Capitol city is full of imposing ivory stone buildings with carved panels and Grecian columns. The effect is very regal and stately, which cements the impression of the US being one of the world's most powerful countries. 

We walked around for half an hour, before the sister got too worried we would get lost, so we did a u-turn then went browsing in the 3 storey Forever 21 store near the hotel. Didn't end up getting anything, because soon after we had to meet up with the rest of the family, and it was off for more sightseeing!

We walked to the White House, but you could only glimpse a section of it from far away from the gate, because (obviously) it was not open to visitors. After that, it was onto what I was looking forward to seeing most in the whole of Washington: the statue of Abraham Lincoln!

But first, we passed by the Constitution Gardens, and this pair of ducks were swimming close enough to touch, which kept tipping forward into the water, and it looked so funny we spent a good 10 minutes just laughing at them. The building in the distance is the Washington monument, that's unfortunately under maintenance until sometime next year. 

"Bottom's up!" 

(Bonus points if you got the Aristocats reference!)

And there we go. The Lincoln Memorial. The landmark shown in so many movies that it was pretty awesome to see it in person. According to postcards, it looks much better at night when the monument is all lit up, but this was pretty cool too. 

What else can you say? It's a huge marble statue of Abe on a huge marble chair, and its located in yet another stone building with Grecian arches. Lets move on. 

Lunch was at the Malaysia Kopitiam on M Street, because my brother thought my mother would enjoy it. We had mee siam, assam laksa, mee mamak goreng, nasi lemak, and char koay teow; which I ranked in that order of tastiness. Make no mistake, the place was expensive, and tasted nothing close to the Malaysian food I know and love. 

There was barely any spiciness to the dishes, seemingly replaced by a liberal use of sugar. The end effect becomes hugely unappetising. I sincerely hope no American is turned off Malaysian food by this place. 

Alrighty then, we then headed off to another Smithsonian, this time the Smithsonian Museum of Air and Space, because I thought it would be the most interesting museum of all, out of those we haven't visited. Because there's nothing to do here but visit monuments and museums.  

This is my sister and I (yes she's younger but taller), with the famous red airplane once flown by Amelia Earhart, though obviously not the one she went missing in. 

The museum was pretty cool because we were told it displayed actual artifacts. Which means we saw among others, the actual Apollo spacecraft and got to touch an actual moonrock. That was the 'space' part; for the 'air' bit, there were many missiles over two storeys high, and of course various planes used in different occasions. 

Once I was told they carried fighter jets, I was insanely excited. I have a soft spot for weapons of mass destruction, like jets and tanks and missiles. There is just something about that kind of dangerous raw power that's so exhilarating to look at, and imagine what it must have been like to shoot one of those things. 

...I worry for myself sometimes too. 

But to my immense disappointment, they removed all the guns from the fighter planes, so that exhibit immediately lost its charm. Overall though, I did really enjoy this museum, as it was a refreshing change from the other two museums which we visited. Maybe because I skipped past most reading exhibits and only focused on interesting artifacts. I did not need to know that astronauts drink their (recycled) pee and poop in a revolving faecal chair though. 

After that, we went back to the hotel to recover for a bit, then it was dinner time!

A thin-crust and deep-dish pizza at Pi. You know, because pizzas are generally circular, and the wifi password was the first 7 digits of the Pi formula teehee. I love silly wordplay things like that. 

It was my first time ever having a deep-dish pizza, and based on this alone I wouldn't think of getting it again. It kind of tasted like eating a big glob of pasta sauce on pizza dough. 

Both pizzas were sub-par. It just was cheese and a few herbs, without much flavour from the sausage/chicken toppings we ordered. I have tasted much better pizza back home. 

So I guess we just didn't have any good luck with food today. Sad face. 

Day Three:

Well today was the day I just happened to wake up at 3.30am and decided I was energised enough, having slept at 10+ the previous night. So I decided to blog, but halfway through wanted to double check the name of a location, and well you know the rest. 

So I wasn't in a good mood when everyone finally started waking up at about 7. I was also really hungry from all that emotion, and demanded to be fed. I decided that we would eat at Lincoln Waffle House, because my sister and I had passed by the place on our walkabout on day two, and I thought it looked good. 

We split a banana pancake with sausage and egg. Yes, that patty-like thing is actually called "sausage" in America. Weird huh. 

The food was disappointing though. The pancake tasted funny, although the banana slices did help save it, the sausage was too salty, and the eggs were pretty tasteless. Good thing my bad mood was long gone by then, because this meal would not have helped it. 

This is the house where Lincoln died, opposite Ford's theatre. Which was right beside our breakfast place, and a stone's throw from our hotel. Didn't go inside, because you needed to pay an entrance fee, and at any rate it was too early for it to be open. 

After breakfast, it was time to hit the road in our rented car, to the destination of New York! I was beyond excited, because I mean how many songs and movies have preached to us about New York being the greatest city in the world? I couldn't wait to walk on those streets and experience life in the Big Apple. 

But first, a short stopover at the Washington National Cathedral on the edge of town. 

My apologies here. It was really sunny so I couldn't see that I didn't catch the whole building. I guess you can tell that it's really, really big?

Was a little too secular for my taste though. The church was bustling with Americana, such as a statue of George Washington, state flags, and plaques in every nook and cranny of the cathedral that were dedicated to some person's memory. I dunno, I guess in a Roman Catholic's opinion, I don't think that cathedral felt like a house of God. I didn't have a moving experience at all, and the place felt more like some place purposely tailored for tourism. 

The high altar. Made from carved wood. I'd have preferred marble or stone though. 

Obviously, I wasn't particularly thrilled with this stop, but it didn't matter, because we were soon on the move again! This time, to our next stop along the way, Philadelphia, for a quick lunch and to visit the Liberty Bell

We had Philly's signature dish, the Philly's cheesesteak at Grande Olde Cheesesteak. I was really surprised when it turned out the "steak" wasn't a slab of meat, but was instead regular bits of meat covered in melted cheese and stuck in a hotdog bun. 

And guys, this really, really, sucked. As in if this really is what Philly's cheesesteak should taste like, then noone should ever be subjected to eating that piece of crap. The cheese tasted as artificial as string cheese and the meat was oily and tasteless. It was just a huge letdown. 

Philly continued to be a letdown, when the queue to view the liberty bell turned out to be at least 30 minutes long, and the weather felt far too hot to bother. At any rate, we managed to catch a quick glimpse at the bell on our tippytoes, and saw it was enclosed in a large perspex case, where we couldn't ring it or touch it. So we decided it wasn't worth the effort.  

Went over to the Reading Union Square to have some Bassetts Ice Cream before we left. I had chocolate chip cookie dough, one of my favourite indulgences ever. 

But honestly, the ice cream was just average. Nothing amazing like how my brother promised Philly ice cream would be. 

So I guess all in all, Philly didn't excite us one bit. I honestly don't think I'll ever come back here. 

Thoughts on America so far?

Philly sucked, but Washington felt like a dream to explore because of all the intricate architecture. It was big and clean, and noone seemed to mind that we were Asians. I really loved being there, even though it does get a little boring after a bit. 

On the highway, it was so unusual to see almost everyone keeping to the speed limit, and you hardly see cars zooming by at all. Malaysians have a lot to learn from this, myself included. Also, every time you passed a state line you'd see a different speed limit and gas price, which was quite unexpected. 

America has been a great adventure so far, and its only just beginning! Next stop, bright lights and city sights; New York, here I come!

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Great American Adventure: Part One

The Longest Haul Ever

"Coffee, tea, orange juice, Miss?" The steward politely proffers. 

"Coffee please. Thanks." I smile as he places it on the food tray in front of me.  

It takes a full minute for me to process that I don't really want that bloody coffee. Or the tuna club sandwich he had been passing around 10 minutes before. I don't want the caffeine boost, nor am I hungry for more food. 

It's just because I was eating ice cream that he'd been passing around 5 minutes earlier, and coffee seemed a better match than the mineral water I'd asked for 4 minutes and 50 seconds ago, and he said he'd be back with the drinks cart soon, then I guess I got a little excited with my options. 

Perhaps I should start from the beginning. 

I'm on a plane, if you couldn't already tell. I'm on a plane that will (assuming it doesn't crash, because I have a morbid imagination about such things), take me in six hours from KLIA to Narita airport in Tokyo, where after about a two-hour transit, I'll depart on a nine hour flight to LAX.

And then once I've landed, assuming two hours are used to clear US Customs (where again, I'm morbidly imagining to be manhandled into a dark interrogation room where they ask me WHERE ARE U HIDING THE BOMB/DRUGS), I'll have another six hours to kill before my next domestic flight to Washington, which also includes an hour long stopover at Charlotte. 

It's going to be a looooong 36 hours. The longest time I've ever spent travelling in my life. 

And I'm doing it all solo. Because the rest of the family left 4 days ahead so they could make it for my brother's convocation. But with my finals only having finished last friday (which is why I haven't had any time to write), this was the first flight to LAX I could get, so I'm missing the convocation altogether and am going to be picked up by the family at around 9am at the Washington airport after my series of exhausting long haul flights, and am expected to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and excited to spend the rest of the day touring city monuments. 

Which I will be, but in a blurry, jetlagged sort of way. 

Ah who am I kidding. It's the freaking US of A! With all the American culture we embrace, who wouldn't be excited beyond words to see Hollywood and Beverly Hills and New York and the Grand Canyon and Las Vegas??

Oh yes, we're headed to all those places, though not in that order because the itinerary was daddy's job. The key point is, we're going to be there for only a week and a half, and I honestly have no idea how he has planned for us to do the most express tour of America the world has ever seen. 

But that's excitement for another day. Right now, I still have to slog through these damn flights. 

So anyway, I've decided to document my consecutive flight experiences, because I want to preserve the memories, and also because I have nothing else to do. 

Let's get started! 

KLIA to Narita Airport (6 hours 45 minutes)

For a first timer travelling alone, I was much more relaxed about it than I thought I was going to be. After checking in, I had around 40 minutes to kill before the boarding gate opened. And I strolled literally the whole airport before finding a secluded area with leather sofas, with only one other person there. I happily settled in and whatsapped some friends until I had to go, then I just went through the typical airport procedures, got on the correct flight (another morbid fear) and well here I am. 

I've been pretty blessed so far. I got an aisle seat, and my window neighbour is a forty-something lady who just wanted to do stuff on her laptop for her business meeting in Tokyo. Which is perfect, because I wanted to sit with someone not smelly, sick, chatty, or who would encroach my personal space. I also didn't wanna sit to a good looking guy that would make me feel flustered, or a good looking girl that would make me feel intimidated. 

Okay. The plane took off at 10.50am, Malaysian time. I kept occupied by reading the newspaper and watching half of Broken City before lunch. I couldn't really enjoy the movie because it involved a lot of dark scenes and mumbled conversation, and the screen and headphones provided weren't exactly equipped for those. 

And then lunch. It was a choice of either fish and rice or beef and potatoes. It was pretty much a no brainer and I asked for fish and rice, because I always opt for safe choices with airline food, but I got the last one, and the elderly man sitting across my aisle didn't take beef, so again it was a no-brainer to give up my choice. 

The beef wasn't bad. But I only ate half the main course because it also came with a bread roll, shrimp salad and cha soba which I ate first, and they were actually pretty good. Guess I've been flying AirAsia for far too long. 

After lunch, I watched What's Your Number, a typical Anna Faris chick flick that I've actually already seen twice but I wanted to see Chris Evans half-naked again. Then I read a few chapters of my book before my eyes felt too strained (slept only 4 hours last night), so I decided to close my eyes and try to nap. 

But I'd only gotten to relax for about 15 mins before an air steward tapped me on my shoulder asking me if I wanted a sandwich, which I groggily accepted. 

So we're back here again. And while I was typing this out, we've crossed into Japan airspace. We'll be landing soon, and the air stewardess has just told me to switch off my phone. 

So far, so good. Still holding strong, and hoping that my next flight neighbour will be this ideal too. 

Transit at Narita Airport (1 hour 45 minutes)

I've befriended the old man that was sitting across the aisle, when we walked to the transit gate together. He's off to California for his granddaughter's 10th birthday. I asked him what he got her, and he said he's just going to give her a big angpau. 

My kind of grandparent. Seemed really nice.

I lost him at the security check though, because he was (understandably) really slow, and I didn't wanna wait around, so I went ahead. 

Found a power socket at a secluded spot, so am sitting here charging my phone while waiting for the gate to open. Ate less than half my tuna sandwich, because I was hungry, but the sandwich wasn't good and I'll probably gonna be served food again in 2 hours. 

I suppose I'll tell my family and friends I'm still alive now. 


Well the wifi doesn't work and I'm not getting any phone service. So I guess I just have to telepathically tell them I'm safe. 

I'm actually a little tired already. I think it's because I've been sitting beside a wall of windows for an hour and it's night time outside, so it's making me a little mellow. 

Thought of reading my book, but my bag is organised in some precise Tetris format to fit all my things, and it's just too much work to mess it up for 20 minutes of reading time, so write I shall. 

If anyone's curious, I'm carrying a medium Longchamp bag, the same one everyone including your grandmother and your maid has. I've been using it for at least 3 years, because I'm the type that uses the same bag everywhere I go and never bother replacing it. I prefer splurging on shoes. 

So what's in my bag?

Big things include an A4 file, a 600 page book, a Polaroid camera, a cardigan, a new pack of Simple face wipes (25 pieces, makes it bulky), and my charger attached to my US adaptor. 

I can't finish listing the small things because my bag is a huge black hole, but it includes 3 Revlon lip butters, 1 Dior lipgloss, lip balm, face powder, facial tissue, wet tissue, earphones, money pouch, etc etc. 

Which fills my bag to near its full capacity. Which makes it pretty heavy, but holds everything I would dream of needing for the all the long haul flights. 

Narita Airport to LAX (9 hours 25 minutes)

Well I'm back in my aisle seat, now next to a blonde American a few years older than me, and I'm pretty sure she'll ignore me the whole flight unless she needs to pee. My elderly friend is still across me and we did friendly banter for a bit. 

But behind him is this REALLY adorable scruffy-looking guy. I mean which girl doesn't love stubble on a good looking man? Ok it makes kissing unpleasant, but all I'm doing is looking at the guy. Wouldn't even consider flirting with my current 'aunty' look (glasses, loose top, jeans, crocs - but not the signature crocs design; those are DISGUSTING), because there's zero point in looking cute when travelling for 36 hours. 

Dinner was much less pleasant than lunch earlier. They ran out of fish again, so they gave me the beef dish, which looked pretty unappetising. So I asked if anything else was available, and they ave me the vegetarian option, which I happily accepted. 

Turns out their idea of vegetarian food is to toss some mushrooms, carrots, and cabbage in an onion caramelisation and throw it on a bed of rice. It was also almost 10pm Malaysian time and I didn't have any appetite. So I just ate some soba (which wasn't as nice as the earlier cha soba) and as much of the caramelisation I could take without throwing up. And that was dinner. 

I watched Chicago, with more than half of it being when the lights had went out, which made things pretty strenuous for my eyes (which I'm trying to let heal since torturing them for the past few exam weeks). But it was worth the squinting; the movie was freaking amazing!

Yes, it's a movie about murderers that get away scot-free and about fame and deceit, but it's also I think the best damn musical-turned-movie I've ever seen. So much sequins and jazz and glamour! Even though I've seen that part of the movie on youtube a dozen times, I still was grinning like an idiot and wanting to scream out loud when the Cell Block Tango scene came on. 

It's 11.35pm Malaysian time. Im pretty tired, considering I've been squinting at a small tv screen for the past hour amidst complete darkness. And I'm doing it again with my iPhone now. 

I guess I'll give it a rest. More of the same tomorrow!


Bloody hell. I can't sleep. It's been an hour, but my brain refuses to rest and my eyes don't really wanna stay closed. It's absolutely ridiculous. I can fall asleep during a 30 min car ride, but can't sleep after (at this point) 9 flight hours, non-inclusive of the 2 hour layover. 

I'm considering reading my book, but the reading light is so bright I'd wake up five other people. So it's listen to music on your headphones time! My eyes aren't in good enough shape to catch another movie, which is such a shame. 

I'm surprisingly ok with the space I'm given though. Somehow I'm short enough to be able to put both feet on the seat and curl up into the fetal position, so it doesn't feel too uncomfortable. Yay Asian size!


It's the last hour of the flight now. I had a restless 3 hour nap where I repeatedly woke up and kept tossing and turning around. Well, as much as one can in an airplane seat. Finally felt too claustrophobic and went to the toilet just so I could get a good stretch. 

Mini updates: Made friends with a steward who also served the earlier flight to Narita. Found out the cute guy was Japanese and promptly lost interest. And I was right about the American ignoring my existence unless she needs to use the toilet, which suits me just fine. 

Ok here's the thing. They served us lunch, practically 6 hours after they served us dinner. Typically even my dinner and breakfast has at least a 12 hour gap. How is anyone expected to have any form of appetite on these flights?

Took the chicken and potatoes meal, and the gravy tasted suspiciously like the same one I earlier had with the vegetarian option. Finished the chicken, ate the salad with sesame dressing, and ditched everything else. Food on the flight to LAX vastly dipped in quality compared to the one to Narita, even though it was the exact same plane. 

Also, I have no idea how to fill in these damned immigration forms that were just handed out. I've never had to fill in one of these myself before, because usually my dad fills his in first and hands it over for the rest to blindly copy. 

On top of that, the US immigration form requires so much bloody information, of which I do not have. Like my address while staying there and a phone number I'm reachable at. Since I don't know any of our hotel addresses, I just filled in all my brother's info, even though I'm not even headed to his place. 

Am in the midst of concocting my story should I be hauled for questioning by Imigration personnel. My excuse will be that my dad is picking me up from the Washington airport, and that's practically almost all I know about the whole trip. But they are free to call my brother's number and he'll explain everything. Yes it's boring and uncreative, but I'm sleep-deprived and it's probably a good idea to just tell the truth. 

It's now 4.45am Malaysian time, but 1.45pm in LA. The sky outside is super bright and sunny, and I can certainly feel and almost see the question marks coming from my body clock. 

LAX (8 hours to next flight)

First impression: the Tom Bradley international terminal, is pretty much the exact same rundown state as Malaysia's own LCCT, which was a letdown. The immigration personnel however looked like movie characters. There were the really good looking fit types, to the huge potbellied mustachioed types, and everything in between. 

But the magical feeling died off soon after I realised I would literally have to wait for an hour to clear immigrations. Each person took anywhere from 5-15 minutes to clear, and it was so exhausting to see the queue going nowhere fast. 

My line had 2 personnel, and I was gunning for the one that looked like a cousin of Bruce Willis, because it wouldn't be that bad to be manhandled by him if my landing card was rejected; but instead I got the Asian lookalike that turned out to be Mexican. He was really nice though. Asked me more about what I studied than why I was going to the US. 

Then after 15 minutes of brisk walking three terminals away to check in for my next flight (which took 30 minutes and the inefficiency was not unlike typical AirAsia ground staff), it was back again to Tom Bradley to kill some time in the Relax Lounge. As of now, I've been travelling for over a day, with less than 3 hours of sleep. 


Wifi! Finally! Oh Internet how I've missed you sorely, lets never part again. 

Do not regret paying USD10 per hour to chill at the Relax Lounge just for the wifi access. Light refreshments are available, so I had a pastry, a muffin, and a coffee, which are supposed to tide me over for about 15 hours until I land in Washington, because its an overnight flight so I won't be getting any food. I'm hoping to finally get some sorely needed shut-eye on the plane, because I feel beyond exhausted now.


I have never been in a cubicle that lets people outside see exactly what you are doing. The doors have an inch-wide gap on each side, and are 20 inches off the floor. So when I walked in, I wasn't expecting to be able to see a woman stand up from the toilet bowl with her panties at mid-thigh. Talk about culture shock!

Seriously, what the hell? I get the need for security when you're on every terrorist's hit list, but not installing proper toilet doors for foreign tourists at your international airport terminals? How's that supposed to help you when women can't pee in peace?


Americans in LAX: a first impression. 

1. Are either unfriendly or extremely racist. I felt immediately invisible while there. There was zero smiles or nods or any form of acknowledgement. 

When an American lady sat next to me on the airport shuttle, and by chance her eye caught mine, and I smiled and said hi because that's what anyone would do, but she just started talking to her friend while facing me, as if I didn't exist!

Even the TSA staff that had earlier been joking around with other passengers, looked like they'd just sucked on a lemon when I handed them my passport. 


In Malaysia, everyone checks in for their flight 2 hours early, and is at the boarding gate within minutes when it opens. If you're late, it's your own damn fault and you should feel ashamed and try your best to convince airport staff to let you jump queue, all the while being apologetic and embarrassed. 

But as for Americans! The TSA Security Check line was ridiculously long, and I know this because so many Americans were complaining about it, and it took over 30 minutes to clear the security check before the boarding gates. During those 30 minutes, at least 20 Americans complained to the staff that they were going to miss their flights and they neede to be let through. 

And they were immediately let through! No apologies about being late, no feelings of embarrassment, just flashing their boarding passes and saying they couldn't afford to queue up. 

The Malaysian in me couldn't take it! Cutting queues is a HUGE no-no, and I don't think anyone keeps quiet when more than 1 person jumps a long queue. It was as if they didn't need to bother coming early, because they could conveniently use that excuse to get ahead in line!

3. Ok something positive. The airport announcements are really personable and actually involve humour. I'm so used to robotic, droning voices that this is a real pleasant change. 

Overall, America has not been the most welcoming country. But I suppose I can't really use grumpy people in airports as fair comparison. 

BONUS: 1 hour flight delay!

US Airways is notorious for delays. I've heard the horror stories. But I still wasn't prepared to realise I might miss my connecting flight to Washington and have to spend another few hours in the airport. 

While thinking about how screwed I was, I was befriended by my fellow screwed passenger sitting beside me outside the boarding gate. He was a close to middle-aged American, and was nice enough to offer to check the availability of other flights. Chit-chatted for a bit, dude turned out to be a fun conversationalist, which helped improve my general impression towards Americans. 

Public service announcement here: just one person being friendly and caring can literally turn someone's crappy/inadequate feelings into positive/happy thoughts. It's really true! So don't skimp on love for thy neighbour!

LAX to Charlotte, North Carolina (4 hours 20 minutes)

Nice dude was a first class passenger, so after the plane was finally ready for takeoff we separated, and I had renewed faith in the kindness of Americans. 

Which would turn out to be extremely short-lived.

I had a centre seat, between a big American woman and a tall Middle Eastern. Both encroached into my personal space and refused to let me near the armrests, and the woman was sick and had horrible breath. 

But the worst part was the Turkish/Armenian guy! He had no sense of personal boundaries whatever, so his leg was literally stretched across my floorspace and under the seat in front of me. Even when I bumped against him, he refused to move at all! 

It would mark one of my most uncomfortable flights ever. The lights were off the whole flight because we were expected to sleep through it. I was out for 2 hours out of sheer exhaustion, but when I woke up, the woman was snoring and again both arm rests were taken, and it was just such an unpleasant and I was so uncomfortable I started counting the minutes to disembark. 

Then there was the pressing worry of missing my connection. We were scheduled to land at 7.10am, and my connection departs at 7.29am. I had to run, there was no doubt, but chances were extremely high that I might miss it if the slightest delay occurs. 

So anyway, when the aircraft landed and the captain called for those who had connecting flights to head out first, Middle Eastern guy was literally pressing against me, trying to force me out into an already crowded aisle, the bloody pisser. Nothing sexual; if there was lower body contact I would've yelled at him, but it was extremely uncomfortable and even another American lady saw and told him to just be patient and quit pushing. 

Guess for every asshole a nice person also has to exist to balance things out. 

So the second I'm outside the aircraft, I start running. Took me about 5 minutes to get to the end of the other terminal, and thankfully was able to make the flight. Within minutes of getting on, the flight departed. Praise God!

 Charlotte to Washington Dallas (1 hour 15 minutes)

Finally. Finally finally finally I'm on the last stretch! The relief of not missing this flight is beyond words, even though I know there is no way my check-in baggage could've made it on the plane, which means more waiting at the next airport. 

I'm seated in the centre of 2 middle-aged, bespectacled, dressed-for-work men. They take up the armrests too, but I'm not bothered since I want to write, and they don't have a leg shoved up against me. 

I like to imagine they're in some sort of pissing contest to out-business the other, because they were both intently reading the paper when I arrived.

First point goes to Left Guy, because he's wearing a long-sleeved blue shirt, which is far more businesslike than Right Guy whose wearing a red short-sleeved shirt. Both wearing trousers and leather shoes, so no fault there. 

Second point goes to Red Guy though, because he took a black coffee while Blue Guy took one with cream. Red Guy was also handed the third point because Blue Guy took a banana out of his overhead baggage and ate it after coffee. 

Blue Guy evens it out with the fourth point by reading sheaves of paper with post-it notes and account details all over, while Red Guy has just finished his newspaper and is taking a siesta. 

I'll get back to you on further developments as they occur. 

...I'm aware of how extremely weird I am, but I do play such imaginary games with myself on a regular basis. Please don't judge me. 

My exhaustion now is near equal to that during the exam weeks, but I think I'll be able to pull through a day of sightseeing later, simply because I'm freaking excited to see USA beyond their freaking crappy airports and freaking annoying passengers. Even when I'm walking outside I feel the motions of being on a plane. 

The pissing contest win goes to Blue Guy! He's looking at slide printouts with the headings "Proposals" and "Strategy", while Red Guy has only been reading the Sports section. 

So anyway, the flight lands, and I'm finally done with airports and planes! 


Definitely, this was not an experience I'll be wishing to relive anytime soon. But it didn't turn out too bad though, because when you travel alone you notice so much more and you get to meet people you never would if you stay completely withing your comfort zone. 

Also, you'd never think it coming from a background of near-idolising American culture, but I would vote MAS and KLIA over US Airways and all the airports combined. I can honestly vouch that our hospitality and airport facilities beat America hands down. And I will no longer be surprised when first world country citizens praise our humble little KLIA. 

You'd also be surprised with the super lax security. My brother and father came to meet me in the baggage claim area, instead of me having to look for them in the arrival hall. My check in baggage did not get onto the flight as expected, but it's ok as we've arranged for it to be sent to the hotel when it arrives. 

My top 5 tips for long haul travelling, based on my personal experience. 

1. Lip balm is your best friend. 

2. Your next best friend is facial wipes, because its much more convenient than having to splash about with your regular face wash. Also, if possible pack a sample of moisturiser. My skin wasn't uncomfortable at all throughout all the flights, which says a lot because I was wearing face powder almost the whole time but didn't break out. 

3. Stay hydrated. Guess this one goes without saying. 

4. Update your playlist and bring your earphones, and/or bring a book. They block out loud conversation and babies crying. Don't even think about relying on in-flight entertainment, because more likely than not there won't be anything to watch. 

5. Be a good neighbour. Don't be a bloody asshole that encroaches someone else's chair space or floor space. 

Also, don't fight it if you're jetlagged with time zone changes. I went through four, and it was a bloody nightmare. Just try to take a quick nap if possible, because it does wonders when you feel like dropping dead. 

That's pretty much all I have to say about the hectic flights. I know it was ridiculously long, but well I was hopelessly bored. 

Thanks for reading! Now I'm off to enjoy the Land of the Free!!

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