Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Great American Adventure: Part Five

(Note: I've now realised that the pictures in my previous posts were extremely blurry, which I guess is a result of drafting all my blog posts in offline mode. I've re-uploaded all of them to original iPhone 4 quality, which isn't high res but still better than before. Happy reading!)

Los Angeles: Ain't no City of Angels!

Day One:

I'll just start out with saying day one was a bust, as we wasted the entire day travelling. From Vegas, we took a bus at 11+am, which was scheduled to only reach our stop in Downtown LA after 4.45pm.

The bus was noisy and smelly and so were the passengers. It was just so unpleasant and felt like it was taking forever. I mean everyone hates taking the bus, so having to take a crap bus for 5 hours was pure torture. To add insult to the injury, where we were dropped off was practically deserted, and it was too far to walk there with our many luggage bags.

And let me tell you, the streets of LA are scary. I'm talking completely deserted pavements because absolutely noone ever walks anywhere, except crazy people that look like hobos and flashers. A lot of times in LA, we were the only folks on the streets, and every single time I feared for my life. Things were just that scary, and I'm not exaggerating at all when I say noone else is ever seen walking, so you already stick out, and in addition to being an Asian family, we were freaking moving targets. 

So anyway, after waiting for the longest and scariest 20 minutes ever on a street corner, the taxi we called finally showed up. Our hotel was The Ramada, located on the edge of Korea Street. You'd be surprised at how many buildings with Korean signboards we saw all throughout LA!

After settling in, we decided we would check out the standard of LA's Korea town. So we hopped over to Seoul Garden, which was literally right beside our hotel, for a Korean dinner. We had chicken and beef steamboat, BBQ beef, and jap chae, which is clearly yet again another example of daddy's tendency to over-order, because just look at the giant portions!

But the food was really good! I've never tried any of the Malaysian branches so I can't compare, but this branch was fully run by Koreans who don't speak good English, which is enough to convince me of authenticity!

The time after dinner was spent trying to figure out how to spend time the next day, which we had no plans for. The initial idea was to go to Universal Studios, but in the end everyone decided we'd rather do some sightseeing than waste time in queues at a theme park during summer break. To which I am really grateful, because cowardly me is a huge wet blanket at theme parks; I don't mind going and sitting out half the time, but I can't stand the inevitable disappointment/annoyance of my companions who attempt to get me to join them on more exhilarating rides.

Day Two:

First order of business was to rent a car for the day. And hey yo, we got (were swindled into getting) a Chrysler 300!

How sexy is that baby! It was such a badass (nigga) car, that made you think of driving with the windows down and blasting old skool hip hop beats. 

I absolutely loved it! Guess there's a part in all of us that loves Need for Speed.

Breakfast was another dim sum meal at Golden Dragon Seafood Restaurant (another absolutely creatively-named American Chinese restaurant).

Food was all right I guess. It was really cheap, so I suppose it was worth the money. I have now come to the conclusion that you really shouldn't bother having Asian food in America, because it will not be satisfying at all. Eat like the Americans do, eat a cheeseburger!

First tourist stop of the day: the Getty Center! It's on top of a hill, so you actually have to take a tram from the carpark to reach the museum, which I thought was pretty cool.

This would turn out to be my absolute FAVOURITE museum we visited throughout our whole trip! The collection of artwork on display is supposedly founder J. Paul Getty's personal amassed collection, and I was pretty impressed with his taste. Every piece had its own story to tell, and I was particularly moved by the Christian-themed paintings from previous centuries.

The artwork was all amazing, and the museum also had other artifacts, such as old books and exhibitions of old interior design in foreign mansions.

This was one of the many bible stories books on display from long long ago, and I was just so impressed with the workmanship at the time! Shiny gold leaf edges looked much prettier in real life!

I was probably supposed to be more focused on the full sets of furniture displays they had instead. But settees and abattoirs can't hold a candle to a gorgeous ornate golden mantelpiece clock! Like seriously, I was obsessed with that thing and just stood there staring at it for the longest time. 

I want something like that for my future house too! Better than those noisy yokes that annoy you at the beginning of every hour.

The Getty Center has a gorgeous panoramic view of the LA valley! They had a full wall of windows and even a seating area to enjoy this view! 

From one of the wings, we managed to snap a picture of the centre court, which is just a gigantic courtyard with lotsa tables and chairs, and also one of the other wings on the left. 

There were four wings in total, and at least two floors of displays per wing. Suffice to say there was a lot of things to see! 

A bird's eye view of the outdoor garden. All gorgeous and lush and trimmed to perfection! Spot the not-so-hidden Mickey!

The Getty Center, if you can't already tell, is in itself a really beautiful place, and it's so huge that you never feel claustrophobic because of accessibility to all its wide open spaces. Add to that the most interesting collection of artwork I've ever seen, as well as its spectacular views, and it becomes no wonder that this place is #1 on TripAdvisor. I absolutely enjoyed my visit, and I cannot stress how much I loved this museum!

After spending a good amount of hours immersing ourselves in culture, it was time to feed our tummies at the Farmers Market! It's supposedly a historic location, but don't be alarmed if you don't see any farm produce being sold at all! 

Instead, the place was mostly food stalls, peppered with some souvenir shops. Think of it as one big food court. 

After looking at everything the market had to offer, the sister and I decided to get a crêpe with fruits from The French Crépe Company, because it looked extremely promising and it had a lot of customers. 

I didn't end up liking it though. The fruits and crêpe did not taste nice together at all. However, the brother got a beef stroganoff crêpe, and I really enjoyed that one! Guess crêpes should be eaten with savoury fillings for maximum enjoyment!

Spotted about 20 different types of candy apples! Was so tempted to get a caramel apple for the first time, but apparently it's just a gimmicky thing because its merely a regular apple coated with a layer of caramel? Pity though because it looks so mouthwatering!

Also saw a crazy variety of giant cookies, about 20cm in diameter! Now obviously these proved irresistible, so we got a few kinds to try, and they were delicious! My favourite one was the red velvet soft cookie with white chocolate chips, which is the most sugar rush-inducing thing ever!

For dinner, we hopped over the The Cheesecake Factory at The Grove! The Grove is an outdoor-concept shopping mall, right beside the Farmer's Market, which was really pleasant to window shop at because the weather was lovely and cool in the evening. The Cheesecake Factory is a huge chain restaurant in America that I've always wanted to try, because who doesn't love cheesecake?

They have a really wide variety of food, but we decided to ditch the usual ribs/hamburger/pasta, and go for Mexican food in true Downtown LA spirit! In the picture above, from left, we had eggrolls, tacos, and chicken quesadillas. It was a much lighter dinner than our regular fare, which was greatly welcomed, and the food was also really tasty! In particular, I loved the guacamole dip, which puts my normal Chilli's guacamole to high shame. 

And of course, who comes to The Cheesecake Factory and leaves without eating cheesecake? We had the "Ultimate Red Velvet Cake Cheesecake" and the "Chris' Outrageous Cheesecake". 

We initially hadn't wanted the red velvet, but the brother insisted it was a must-try, so we did, and we turned out really liking it! Could've done without the cream on top though, because there was plenty of cream cheese already sandwiched between the cake layers. 

The "outrageous" cake which we'd been looking more forward to ended up being the downer. It supposedly had contained brownies and chocolate chips, but all we got was an overwhelming coconut taste. The whole cake basically tasted like a Bounty bar in cake form. Which is all fine and dandy if you like Bounty bars (I don't), but it just wasn't cheesecake.

Nonetheless, there were still over 20 other cheesecakes to try, and maybe we'll have better luck on our next visit. I really did enjoy dinner, and this place did live up to all expectations!

The sun had obviously set after dinner, and The Grove was all lit up with pretty twinkling fairy lights!

There was even a fountain show! Obviously on a much smaller scale compared to The Bellagio, but I ended up actually liking this one better!

The Bellagio's was very grand, and focused on showing elegance and power to classical music. The Grove on the other hand, had a playful, cheeky and more engaging fountain show to "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang. You know, the song everyone knows that goes "Celebrate good times, come on!"

Overall, the Farmers Market/The Grove duo was also really fun to explore, and definitely not to be missed by LA tourists!

The last stop of the day was the Griffith Observatory, where you could supposedly use this tank-sized telescope to see sky and space. Unfortunately though, it closes at 10pm, and we had reached close to 10pm, when visitors were seen being ushered out of the building. 

But even if it was closed, the observatory was still on a hill, and offered us amazing night views of LA! I don't know how well you can tell from the picture above, but LA buildings are extremely segregated, which I thought was really impressive. Towards the left were sparse lights from residential homes, towards the right were all lit up buildings in the commercial district, and only in the middle-ish could you see skyscrapers in the financial district!

You can see the famous giant Hollywood sign from the observatory. Curiously though, it wasn't lit up at night, so there was no photo-op, which was kinda disappointing. 

Anyway at this point, we were cold and tired, so it was back to the hotel for some yearned-for shuteye. 

Day Three:

For today, we had signed up for an LA tour with So we boarded a Rastabus, which is a van filled with all kinds of hippie slogans and posters, pretended we were Jamaican weed smokers, and headed off to explore LA! 

First stop: the Malibu Sport Fishing Pier!

...Which is quite literally, a pier. A big wooden platform over the ocean, that some people were (sport) fishing on. There weren't even any big waves to see, because apparently there's this concrete wall built on the ocean bed which prevents strong waves from reaching anywhere close.

And it smelt like a fish market. Like seriously, I have no idea why we had to stop here for 15 minutes. 

I suppose you manage to get a faraway view of all the beachfront property. Which by the way, according to our guide, costs upwards of 10 million dollars each! Lots of celebrity owned homes, because obviously noone else could afford it.

But the pier itself was nothing memorable at all. And when we re-boarded the Rastabus, our tour guide said that was "one out of two of my favourite locations", which I hope is sufficient to give you a sense of foreboding about how thrilling the tour would turn out to be.

We were later driven slowly around Beverly Hills, with our tour guide pointing out houses that celebrities supposedly live in, from Brangelina to Matt Damon to Whoopi Goldberg.

Ok, I don't know how fun this was supposed to be. Literally, we were looking at a whole bunch of walls and foliage, and sprawling mansion after sprawling mansion. They were all beautiful houses, but not too different from beautiful houses we saw at Washington. Also, I'm pretty sure the actors do not stay there full time, if at all, so I'm sorry if I'm not particularly susceptible to breathless excitement from discovering a celebrity home.

I was pretty happy to finally be done with the silly celebrity homes "tour", and we were off for a brief stop at of course, Rodeo Drive!

Now Rodeo Drive is gorgeous to stroll through and window shop, but I was far too intimidated to attempt walking into any store. Not that I could afford to purchase things in those stores with names I couldn't pronounce anyway! It's not a large place, and you can be done with window shopping within 20 minutes. 

I would totally challenge someone to dress up, put on a posh accent, and just stride into stores like they own the place. Totally wanna see how sales assistants fawn over customers in such high end stores!

After that short stopover, we were taken to the Farmers Market for lunch. And I know we've already been here, but we had somehow managed to miss one of the rows, which included this adorable dog bakery!

Check out the actual baked goods made specially for dogs! They look exactly like regular baked goods!

Too bad I couldn't buy one back for my furry pal back home. But he eats everything anyway so he couldn't be a good connoisseur of taste. 

We then realised we hadn't had fish and chips (but onion rings are better) yet! How could we not have our most typical Western fare the first time we visit a Western country?

So we did, along with some clam chowder. It was decent food for its price, but honestly, with our experience I wouldn't go to the farmers market expecting a good hot meal.

Another familiar face after lunch: we were again brought to the Griffith Observatory. So we were able to enjoy both day and night views!

And of course, the obligatory picture of the Hollywood sign. It's pretty far away though, so it doesn't look very impressive in pictures that aren't zoomed in, which doesn't really bode well for people attempting to take pictures with it. 

But fret not, you still get a pretty city view! Not to mention, you get a lovely hilltop breeze that makes the hot LA summer a lot easier to bear. 

Other than seeing the Hollywood sign though, I don't think there's anything worth a daytime visit, and its far more interesting at night. The building itself is filled with all sorts of displays on earth and space, but all of them are dreadfully boring. 

Up next was the Hollywood Walk of Fame! After all, you haven't visited LA if you haven't been to Hollywood Boulevard!

Ok this place was insane. There were scores of foreign tourists, scam artists trying to give you a free cd, people in costumes trying to get you to take a picture with them (then pay up), and of course souvenir store touts that kept yelling about their discounts. 

Anyway, the walk of fame is obviously super long, and we didn't go out of our way trying to finish walking through it, but we still managed to spot many familiar names, like Michael Jackson, Bruce Lee, and even Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Shrek. Seriously, how did animated fictional characters manage to get a star?

But this was my absolute favourite. Muhammad Ali apparently paid extra to have his star mounted at the entrance of the Dolby Theatre, instead of placed on the ground, because he didn't like the idea of his name being stepped on by everyone. And I thought that was the most brilliant idea ever! To think that it came from a guy that took so many hits to the head! I mean, after the first fifty stars, you don't even bother checking who you're stepping on anymore. 

Along the walk of fame was also the Grauman Chinese Theatre, where things were much more exclusive. It was a fairly small courtyard filled with celebrity handprints and shoeprints.

And looky what I found! A huge slab dedicated to the three main characters in Harry Potter! I mean, I loved the books but hated the dreary movies, but it was still so exciting! Interestingly, Daniel Radcliffe had the smallest hands of the lot, which was pretty funny.

Ongoing filming of a gladiator with Adidas footwear! 

Surprisingly, there were quite a few cameramen around, just filming tourists walking around and crossing the street. I might be on screen for a split second one day and not even know it! 

So anyway, that concludes our LA tour. We actually were meant to end at the next stop, the Santa Monica pier, which I was really looking forward to, but the parents decided they didn't want to waste an hour getting back from Santa Monica when we were much closer to Downtown LA here, so that was a bummer. 

Dinner was at Unique Thai Restaurant, this nondescript place at a shophouse block opposite the hotel, which I was actually really sceptical about going to because it looked so shady. 

But the place turned out to be run by an actual Thai woman, and the food was actually pretty decent, and I ended up really enjoying my last meal in America.

LA a tourist trap. The people seem menacing and plasticky, which I guess suits a state famously populated by scores of plasticky celebrities. I just didn't feel particularly safe or comfortable here, I couldn't get past all the deserted sidewalks, and this is probably last on my list of American states visited. After being done with the Getty Center, I honestly don't think any other points of interest are worth revisiting. 

And with that, I conclude my great American adventure. Now time to bear with the 14 hour flight back home!

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