Monday, December 31, 2007

DAY 28 - Random NYC #2 - 28 Dec

Another late morning resulted in a hurried dash to central park. I got to the Wollman rink and proceeded to devour the leftovers of last night's Korean and an apple still from San Fran. Central Park itself was quite bare as it was winter, but it's vastness is breathtaking. Beyond the literary walk and some ponds and nice architecture I found myself in the random bushes called the rambles. Think Blair Witch project and that's what it was like, very serial killer movieish. In a guide book I read it actually warns against walking through it's area at night. I wonder why, it felt pretty creepy even in daylight. I was so excited to see an area marked on the map as the Shakespeare gardens, cause been the uber Shakespeare fan I am, but once I got there it was a tiny patch of dirt with plaques hailing quotes from Twelfth Night and the like. Note to self...come in summer next time.

I got as far as the Jackie Onassis Reservoir which felt bigger on the map, but it was still pretty damn big. One thing I hated about central park was that since it was winter was that they turned off all the water bubblers, presumably so the pipes don't freeze and crack, omfg, if I was running in central park I'd be totally pissed off.

One thing about America and to a degree the northern hemisphere are squirrels. Everytime I see one, I squeal in delight and now my camera is just full of squirrel pictures and there are many a squirrel in Central Park. Possums don't even come close in novelty and cuteness.

I head back down to 9th Ave Pizzeria for lunch, it came as recommended on but frankly it was pretty average. The food was relatively cheap so I didn't really mind. Then I made my way down to 44th and found the much famed Actors Studio started by Lee Strasberg and made such greats as Al Pacino. It wasn't greatly exciting though, I'd though they might have had pamphlets but they probably don't even need the extra publicity.

9 Avenue through the 40s is the area known as Hell's Kitchen, a district known for its links to the theatre and the arts, it's close to the Broadway theatres and many famous actors made their homes here since rent was cheap. Now the area has been much gentrified but the remnants of the old district still survive, the ubiquitous delis, small restaurants, laundromats and greengrocers. It has the largest collection of essentials which I have seen around mid-town and although 9th avenue is a bit old and dingy compared to say 6th or 5th, it really embodies a great cultural atmosphere.

Megan's flight still hadn't arrived so I thought I might go check out Bryant Park which I knew from my research had a free ice rink during the winter. Consulting my map I realised it was actually behind the NY public library I went to yesterday. How did I miss an entire park? I definitely need my eyesight checked when I get back. Seeing the ice rink made me think about the ice skates in the sports store i encountered yesterday before I got to Grand Central Terminal. So on a whim I thought I'd go seek it out, since they sold cheap thermals. So around i walk, 41st, 5th ave, nothing, i got another 3 blocks the other direction nothing. Ask 3 cops and 1 security you know a sport store around here?...No. Nothing...1 hour later, 5 circles of around 4 blocks each I finally find it, adjacent to Grand Central terminal and a block away from where I started. And indeed it was a sports called Modells. Perhaps people would understand if I actually asked for Modells...*collapses from exhaustion*

So I'm browsing skates at Modells, $50 with 20% off, so $40 for a pair of Bauer Supreme Elites, or CCM hockey skates and Bauer Vapours for $57, Bauer vapours are like AUS$300, I squealed then realised the last 3 pairs are all not my size. I debated heaps long, and ended up purchasing the $40 CCM ones, + skate guards, bag and my thermals, it was like $80. I didn't even think about the fact that I'll have to lug around ice skates through half the world, I just wanted to skate.

So I hurriedly got back to Bryant park to drop my newly bought skates to be sharpened, upon taking them out of the box, I realised...shit, only one skate had laces. I asked the sharpener dude he's like sorry can't help you. So I run the 4 blocks back to Modells, take some laces out of another box and run back to my hostel since it had been an hour since Megan called to say her flight had landed. I get to my hostel drenched in sweat, look up the address of the hotel we're meant to be staying at the made my way downtown. I'm so glad everything is so insanely close and runnable and subwayable in New York.

I met up with Megan's clan and ended up having a very unsatisfactory dinner of Viet food cooked by Japanese people.

DAY 27 - randomly walking NYC - 27th Dec

I woke up late cause couldn't sleep, got woken up during the night by a very loud street and people coming back to the hostel very late, but that's what you get when you share a room with 8 people. The hostel was situated in mid-town, very handy with only a 2 block walk to times square, i guess which is the centre of NYC.

The day was very wet and quite cold. The rain was misty and light but just didn't stop. I didn't really have a plan for the day so I just started walking. I walked up 8th avenue through the entire theatre district all the way up to Carnegie hall, which was a tad ugly on the inside. I'm sure it's all pretty on the inside but I couldn't manage to get tickets to the last concert for the year and the only on in the period I'm in NYC.

I headed down to 8th Ave and 38th St to have lunch at the village 38, which was cheap and very filling. I kept walking along 38th through the garment district which was full of material stores with my personal favourite, Spandex World. The NY Public library was just up ahead and they are currently having an exhibition on Beat writer and pioneer Jack Kerouac. I just wish I was more well read and actually knew some beat literature. Anyhoo, the library is quite awesome, very classic design.

About 2 blocks from the library was the Grand Central Terminal, so much has been said about it but personally I was a tad disappointed. It just didn't seem as grand as I thought it would be. But it was still pretty cool.

Another few blocks up was the Rockefeller centre It's a huge collection of buildings, stores, with an ice rink and a huge Christmas tree to top it off. Pedestrian traffic here is insane. I thought Shanghai would be the only city to have that kind of pedestrian traffic, but like whoa. It was a human sea, elbow to elbow and you had to bump people out of the way to get anywhere. I absolutely loved it, just being around so many people.

Back from Rockefeller, I went through 37th street which was literally diamond alley, lined to the hilt with jewellery stores and diamond dealers. It was like a piece of Dubai stuck in the middle of Manhattan.

Times square at night is possibly brighter than it is at daytime. There is an aura of bright white light which emanates from the square it's visible many streets down. I walked into the 2 level M & Ms store, marvelled at it's level of commercial crassness and use the 2nd level windows to take pictures of the humongous Rambo billboard which was up. I seriously love this city.

I went down to 32nd St for dinner at a Korean (buffet by the pound, presumably they have a buffet, you pick your food and they weigh it $6.49/lb). I quickly realised that 32nd st was Korea town. Manhattan is funny in away, everything, every culture is condensed down to one street or a series of streets. Every avenue also has it's own flavour and culture. It's a society of amalgamation, a cultural hot pot of goodies around the world.

The streets are also covered with these steel doors on the pavement, you think they're just grills but in fact they lead to the cellar of every street store and all the deliveries are made down this front hatch every morning and every night. In crowded and competitive environments humanity invents ways of meeting its needs and economy.

I guess that's why I've totally fallen in love with this city so quickly. It doesn't bother me at all that the streets are dank, the subways filthy and funky smells come from everywhere. But it's seriously global, it's smart, hip and very cool. I'd like to think of myself as somewhat a global citizen and since I got here I've realised I've developed a NYC swagger. The minute I stepped out onto the streets, I felt like this could be home. It's FANTASTIC and London watch out cause New York could become my next fav city.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

DAY 26 - BAY AREA TO NEW YORK - 26th Dec

So again I got up at some ridiculously early hour to get to my flight at San Jose. My aunt drove me to the airport and dropped me off at Terminal A, turns out that United Airlines was actually at Terminal C. So I had to track down a bus whilst my aunt went and parked her car. Got to the terminal and the lines were gigantic, after spending 10min in the self check-in with the line going absolutely nowhere, i decided to spend 2 bucks at the curbside check-in where the line was only about 4 people long.

Bade farewell to my aunt and headed through security who insisted on checking my bag, cause fuck knows what was in it. The guy ended up taking out a glad-lock bag with my stapler and locks etc. Ended up putting the bag through the xray again and was satisfied that my stapler wasn't some kind of weapon. Seriously, the more I travel in this country, the more pissed I'm getting at its airports. Is it possible to have some form of decent customer service rather than treating every passenger like some form of potential threat. It's no wonder that tourism has gone down here. Why would people bother if the experience is so unpleasant.

Anyhoo, I get to the gate with about 10min before boarding started. So I dump my stuff on a seat and crash for a bit. I get on the plan and we're in the air and then I realise...FUCK my scarf is not around my neck, and if it's not around my neck it's very unlikely to be in my bag either.

I get to Chicago O'Hare Airport and go through my bag. Nothing. It's my favourite and ONLY scarf, mum got for me a couple of years back. And it was a nice khaki green which kind of went with all the clothing I had. Especially my new Burton Jacket and Timberland boots...ARRRGH.

So then I check the departures board after having a moments of silence for my scarf which is probably indentured by the TSA in San Jose. What do I find? My flight to New York, Scheduled for 3:50pm departure...delayed till 5:25pm....FUCK!!!!

So even though my plan of getting an earlier flight to New York would have left me some time to enjoy the big apple before I go to bed tonight, it has been thwarted by hideous flight delays. So now I've spent $50 on accommodation for tonight when the entire day has been either spent on a plane or in an airport.

Chicago O'Hare would also like to charge me $7 to use their wireless network...FUCK this...ARRRGH. Instead I'll try and finish all my journal entries whilst listening to the Cheungmeister to keep me sane and relatively happy.


Okay so then the plane gets to gate B18 at 4:55...we are then told...sorry the plane can't go out now because it's due for a mechanical and we don't have a crew, we'll make a final decision at 9pm when we hopefully find a crew, but currently please feel free to head to the customer service desk and ask to go on standby for the next available flights to New York La Guardia. So everyone's like Oh. FUCK!!!!, thanks for telling us NOW.

So i'm in the line at the service desk with about 20 people in front of me, and 50 people behind me and the chick yells to everyone. Okay, I've got every flight booked from today and tomorrow, I'll put you guys all on standby but your chances are slim. Seriously? United Airlines you suck!!!

I get on standby on the 6:00pm flight I head to the gate and listen to the names being called. I swear it was like something out of the Amazing Race. So anyway, we get to the end and I see the chick who was behind me in the line get her name called WTF? Someone else told me later than standby doesn't rely on first come, first serve, but more on how much you paid for the ticket, obviously I didn't pay enough.

So the 6:00pm flight leaves, supposedly with all of my flight's luggage too, so the plane actually has room from all the luggage from another flight but not for any of the passengers. And to add insult, my suitcase will end up in NY before I do. I check with the service desk again and yep my flight UA 688 has now been officially cancelled, yay.

So I wait, I talk to random people, I wait, I sleep whilst my standby status rolled over to the next flight. I just wanted out of Chicago. At least I was by myself and wasn't dragging around a kid or something, this other woman had a toddler, that would have sucked. Luckily I got onto the 8:45pm flight, which was the last flight to La Guardia out of Chicago that day. I get to NY at around 12:00, and by the time I get my taxi and hit my hostel it was 1am. I just spent the entire day on planes and at airports.

So my 1 hour layover at Chicago turned into 6. Lessons learnt for the day:

1. Never ever transfer through Chicago O'Hare even if you have to cut off your right leg.
2. Never ever fly United, or if you have to, expect lots of delays and cancellations.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


ahaha so I'm still horribly behind. What I've decided is that I won't post pics along with the post until i full catch up. Because that's what takes the most time, so the blog will just have to suffer through the fugliness. Check out the photos on picasaweb if you have the time, there are more on picasaweb than the ones I put on facebook.

I think the meeting with jacky cheung still hasn't worn off, I made a very impulsive purchase of ice skates today, like wtf? i guess i wanted to do a lot of skating around the world. but they were 40 bucks, so i guess it's okay, my poor credit card though.

new york is fab, more on that later, and of course a huge post vegas jacky thing is still to come, and perhaps some retrospective stuff on the rest of northern california, e.g. alcatraz etc. Blogging whilst travelling is intense, i dunno how people manage to do it properly.

till later, toodles

DAY 20 - Monterey

Monterey is a seaside town 2 hours south of the Bay Area. There is famous nature park drive called the 17 mile scenic drive which offers some spectacular views of the pacific ocean, million dollar houses, golf courses and wind swept cypress trees. This is where the very rich reside. 2 acres of pacific front property will set you back around a steep 19 million. However the area does provide a photographer's dream.

Seals and various bird species laze around the marine park but you also find valley girl types in mini skirts wandering around the cypress bushes in their skank uggs. Not even the beauty of baby seals can make up for that sight.

pics here

DAY 19 - Napa Valley & UC Berkley - 19th Dec

I far from being a wine connisuer, I hardly drink the stuff. But in one day at Napa I somehow turned into a wine appreciator who kind knew what she was talking about. Ha, I gotta thank my parents for taking me on that winery tour in the Hunter Valley that year. Anyway, Napa is a part of a very large winery county in Northern California. It is absolutely huge, we only managed to perhaps cover 1/10 of the area that day. It was overcast but the misty created such a beautiful atmosphere. Wine regions are always beautiful no matter what, and Napa is no exception.

The real shitty thing is that tasting costs money. We got some free passes from the tourist centre, but I'm so used to the free for all tasking available at the Hunter Valley. So when I see people pay $25 to taste like 8 wines, I think it's an absolute ripoff. That been said, I had an absolute blast getting tipsy at Aturri's, partly cause I didn't each much breakfast.

After going lobster red, we'd thought we'd picnic at Atturri's with our previously acquired KFC. Fried chicken, mashed potatoes and coleslaw to dilute some fine wine. Heaven.

Met a bunch of nice people at St Clement's later in the day. I really feel sorry for my cousins cause they're 19 and drinking age is stupidly 21 in this country so there were thoroughly bored, whilst I was having an absolute ball cracking jokes, getting drunk and pretending I understood wine and the like.

Coming back from Napa, we took a stop at University of California, Berkley, where both my cousins are studying undergrad medicine. Very smart boys most of them. Surprisingly I actually liked the Berkley campus more than Stanford. It doesn't purport to be what it's not, aka some historical institution. Outside of the main campus the town is also very nice and has a real college atmosphere. Taking a squiz at their library made me realise just how inadequate UTS is in the world league of Unis. We're like a primary school compared to the likes of Berkley. However, you have to share rooms like school camp. The dorms are all like 3 to a room. And that would kinda suck. I like my privacy too much.

pics here

DAY 18 - Downtown San Francisco part II - 18th Dec

Another day in downtown San Fran, I took the BART again, and it was pissing down with rain. I hung around the union square shops for a bit and then went around Yebuena gardens, which were indeed very grey and very wet and cold. I thought about going to museum of modern art which was right next to the gardens but realised would have to take off most of the layers i was wearing and I really couldn't be bothered.

So I made my way to the Powell st cable cars and took a cable car to Lombard street, a bogan aussie family sits next too god, does the aussie accent really sound that bogan? Rain starts pissing down the minute I get off the car on
Lombard street. It's still grey and wet, but i decided to walk down and up anyway. The street supposedly holds the record for being the crookedest road in the world. It's just really a series of zigzags down a hill. Perhaps it's prettier in summer when all the flowers lining the road bloom.

So it pisses down some more and I caught the next cable car to fisherman's wharf. Relieved myself at the restroom in the Del Monte Cannery. Brilliantly hidden public restroom in san fran that I know about due to the fact that the restroom at Starbucks the other day was out and I was directed to this one by the starbucks guy. Oh yeah and it is a working cannery. I don't know what they can but it's probably fish.

I walked out and it was all sunny, wtf? san fran is becoming more like sydney everyday. I hung around the wharf a bit, checked out Hyde Pier which had moored boats you can tour.

Decided weather was good enough to visit the wave organ. But was famished so hopped into In & Out Burger. Last time I had In & Out (A Californian tradition since the burger chain only exists in this state) I didn't get a chance to try the burger, this time I had the works, a burger, fries and a strawberry shake. The shake is still the most awesome shake ever. Right amount of creaminess and not too cold and not overly sweet. The fries are fresh but are not double fried which means they lose their crunchiness very quickly which is disappointing. So by the end of your meal you end up with some very limp fries. The burger although very fresh still felt a bit greasy and the entire slice of raw onion they put in played with the flavour a little too much. I like my onions grilled thanks. But overall a very satisfactory and filling lunch for $6.17. Did I also mention that I was served by Derrell, whose identical twin brother, younger by 22min Terrell was serving the 2nd counter? Only in America.

I hiked (san fran offers a lot of urban hiking) to the bus stop to get a bus to the Palace of Art, a huge grecian column thingymajigmy in the middle of San Fran, built in 1915 for some fair. It's great, it's beautiful but it really doesn't have any other purpose than just sitting there and looking pretty.

Took a detour around Marina park, absolutely stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Beach was full of people and dogs. Took my time getting to the Wave Organ which was at the end of a piece of random land jutting out from the Marina. It was wet going but once I got there, the wave organ was thoroughly disappointing as it was too small and hardly made a sound. Perhaps the tides were too low, however I found something else to occupy my time. Standing there it felt like being in the middle of the ocean. Golden Gate to the east, Alcatraz to the west, Marin County to the North and Downtown San Fran in the South. I was standing in the middle of beauty. A few other people were standing just like me, deep in there own thoughts, in awe of what man and nature have created in this city.

I took the bus back to fisherman's wharf and the light was waning and the seediness of the area became more and more evident. So I hopped on a streetcar down the Embarcadero and caught the BART home in time for my cousins birthday dinner.

pics here

DAY 17 - Stanford, Muir Woods and Sausalito - 17th Dec

What do I think of Stanford? Not much really. The campus is massive just like every single thing in this country. The main buildings are nice but the prevalent feeling is the same type of shallowness which engulfs this entire country. Oh yeah and did I mention that the Law building is massively ugly just like every other law building in the world. You think Architects hate lawyers? Anyhoo, Stanford is like UNSW with oodles more money. It's wannabe sandstone but it still doesn't quite reach it. Take Oxford for example, it doesn't have a majestic boulevard leading up to it...but it's quaint and history seeps through every brick.

Then we drove right through the city over the Golden Gate bridge to Muir Woods to see redwood trees. The road down to the woods was insane. Winding and unfenced, even though we were in the right lane, it was still hella scary. My aunt was driving a Toyota 7-seater family van with front wheels which needed some serious realigning. On the way up I almost crapped my pants cause, 2 inches to the right and we would have ended 30 meters down into the woods. My aunt looked at the trees and remarked, don't worry those will stop us a bit.

Muir woods itself was cold and wet but fantastic, I only wish it was more sunny there was nearly as much light as I'd like. Thus all the pictures are a bit dull and feel like an episode of the x files. We took a bit of a different road on the way back and passed a house downhill between the woods and the beach. It was so brilliantly peaceful, it be really cool to have a holiday house like that, just away from humanity.

At dusk we headed down to Sausalito right near the Golden Gate. It's a very quaint seaside tourist town with lots of solo commercial gallery stores. Really nice, but I only walked a bit in fading light, but it was really relaxed

Then we drove back home down through san fran once more and used the San Mateo bridge, its so insanely long it took like 15min driving across it. It crosses one of the widest sections of the san fran bay between Hayward and San Mateo. Google tells me that it's about 8 miles long, that's a 10.8km long bridge, insane.

I spent most of the day with a map in hand directing my Aunt across the San Francisco Bay Area. It was fun yet totally frightening everytime she was on the phone, thinking or distracted, she stopped in a middle of a freeway or makes a wrong turn. But I've discovered that I'm a person who is quite good at navigation, I belong on the Amazing Race.

pictures here

DAY 16 - Downtown San Francisco - 16th Dec

No pictures today because I stupidly left my SD card in my SD card reader, but Megan and Tracey might have some.

I took the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) Which is like a carpeted metro train. Slightly old now but very one time, as opposed to Sydney trains Unluckily I also ran smack bang into an Oakland Raiders fan. Therefore I shared the carriage with multitudes of rabid Raiders fans and what turned out to be the slowest BART train in history. But and old man tried to give me his seat which was really nice but I was like, uh no thanks, usually i'd be giving up my seat for you. The US is weird, if you're female, men will give you a seat no matter how old they are.

I got out at the Montgomery St station, which is in the financial district. Finally my first proper high rise downtown in 3 weeks or so. I took a turn on Grant Ave into Chinatown. It's a very narrow street filled with kitsch souvenier shops. I purchased some cheap postcards which were cool. San Fran shirts were selling for about 2 bucks each, which begged me to make those bad 2 dollar, 2 dollar jokes.

On every cross street I was amazed at the hilliness of San Fran. This city is like an entire rollercoaster ride, steep dips and steep inclines. It's crazy. I turned onto stockton street which has become the main shopping street for chinese people in San Fran. And boy was it like China. Markets, fruits, veges, meat and lots and lots of Chinese people. The pavement was hard to get through and a couple of times I felt like yelling, move it or lose grandma to the tiny old women in front of me who seem to think it's totally fine stop right in the middle of the pavement and have a 5 hour conversation.

I met up with megan's clan and unsuprisingly had Viet for lunch. We were then driven to the Golden Gate bridge. A monolithic feat of construction, it's narrower than I thought but it's beauty is unparalleled. The huge expanse of the pacific on the west, the expanse of the bay on the east, downtown to the south and the north, the hills of Marin County. We ended up walking 1/3 of the bridge before people decided it was too cold to continue. We then decided we wanted to go ride cable cars and thus got dropped off near Fisherman's Wharf.

With my trusty map in two I directed everyone to the Powell Mason line, we bought $11 all you can ride tickets (considering 1 way is already $5, this was probably a good idea). The cable car is an interesting concept, rickety yet sturdy, it's the rollercoaster carriage working on the rails of San Fran. At the end of the line we ended in the crowded and brightly lit shopping district of Union Square, we then boarded the other line, Powell Hyde, which was much more hilly (if that is even possible) and the views were brilliant.

Went to get Starbucks near the Del Monte Cannery for hot chocolate, then I bid goodbye to Megan and family till New York. I walking around the cannery a bit I decided to get back on the cable car to Union Square. Halfway up Hyde street we had to stop because there was a traffic accident up ahead. Unable to get off or go anywhere we just waited. I guess that's the problem with cable cars, it has to share the same road as normal cars, so if anything gets on the rail it stops. On the cable car I had to stand next to drunk Chinese-Russian gangster and his Russian beauty queen girlfriend. Humanity is the same all around the world.

Ended up having a very unpleasant Burger King dinner at Union Square before heading back on the BART. San Fran is awesome, burger king is however not.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


I'm behind on updates (what a surprise, 3 days to be exact)

I actually have everything written down in point form on my laptop but I just haven't had the time or energy to put anything up. I'm thinking about taking my laptop to vegas so I can finish an entire block for san fran in my downtime between concerts. But lord knows I'll find something else to do.

Like go bowling.

supposedly my hotel has a 70 lane wtf?

but it's okay, i'm still alive, except insidious cough is back again and my spleen will soon be over the hills of San Francisco

Monday, December 17, 2007

DAY 15 - San Jose, Ice Hockey and Ice Skating - 15th Dec

My aunt took me around Fremont this morning, showed me the park etc, my cousin's high schools, then I got dropped off at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, for the San Jose Sharks ice hockey match.

Fans walking to the HP Pavilion, the Pavilion itself and the pregame show

OMFG was it fantastic. I've been waiting to see a live hockey match for YEARS, ever since I first saw the Mighty Ducks and became absolutely obsessed with ice hockey. It was San Jose Sharks vs Dallas Stars, the first 2 periods were fantastic with some great goals and great fights, but San Jose totally lost all momentum and energy in the last period and ultimately lost which sucked.

Megan, Tracey and their 2 cousins Michelle and Frankie (Hey, ho) came as well. Frankie is only 13 but can pass for at least 16, and is the only 13 year old I've seen who's taller than my brother. We ate expensive subs made by Viets after the game. I've since discovered that San Jose is very much Viettown and much of North California is Asianfied, more so than Southern California.

frankie, me and michelle outside the Pavillion, frankie is 13, michelle is 12, go figure the height difference. Sights of San Jose

We were meant to go skate at the downtown outside ice rink afterwards. However there was a 25min wait to get on the slushy small piece of crap they called a rink for an overpriced $14. So instead Frankie called his dad to pick us up and go to the local rink. Got to the local rink, and after picking up my jaw off the floor (cause I realised they had 3 rinks in the one complex, with one dedicated solely to hockey) we found out that the public session didn't start until 7:30pm. It was a saturday and no public session till then? stupid. Anyhoo, I resisted the urge to by skates and Sharks merchandise, but it was still only 5:30 so we decided to crash back at Frankie's (hey ho) house till it was time.

At Frankie's house, the one Megan and family are staying at, we got fed, like in any Asian family and killed time on Guitar Hero, which was boring yet strangely addictive.

Time to skate? yeeehaawww

Coolest thing about US rinks? They actually hire out proper hockey OMFG...HEAVEN. I carved up the rink but I was disappointed with the amount of people (there were heaps) and the actual lack of awesome skaters. I think I might have actually encountered better skaters at Macquarie. But then again this is California.

It was Michelle's first time on the ice and by the end of the session she was doing awesome.

And what more is there to love? The last 30min the direction was changed so your skates got less of a wear and tear on one side and you can develop your weaker leg. I had no idea exactly how weak my right leg was until I was forced to do right crossovers. But omfg, I can almost stop in the other direction now. I wish Aussie skate rinks did this, my skates would be balanced and I can turn right and not only left like an anti-zoolander.

Overall, awesome, awesome day.

DAY 14 - LA to San Jose to Fremont - 14th Dec

  • got up very early - 4:30am
  • left very late, almost 6am
  • got to the airport at 6:30am
  • tried the self service check-in, screen said Megan's dad couldn't check in
  • lined up at manual check-in
  • made it through with about 5 min to spare.

US airport security is insane, shoes, belt, everything off. If you have water in your bag, you can't touch your bag, you have to let someone with blue gloves ask you if you have anything sharp in your bag first and then take it out for you. If you take your passport pack etc off and put it through the x-ray then forget to take your boarding pass out, you will have some security guard on your ass check it for you. I was smart enough to not take water but alas I wasn't smart enough to take off my belt.

This is a 45min domestic flight from LA to San Jose. Seriously.

Aunt was late due to issues with fedex and work. So I went to megan's relatives house, we had lunch then played basketball in the backyard with an unfenced pool and spa. I nearly stepped into the pool a couple of times and managed to break a pot. But man did I miss basketball. I'm in the land of basketball and that's the first time I've played since I got here.

Aunt picked me up and had a tour of Fremont. Went to Costco again and was made to try all the taste testing thingies. I felt pretty sick. Got to Aunts house and had a pretty laid back evening. It was awesome that they have a piano. Now all I need is a printer and I can break out some Jacky Cheung sheet music, yah!.

Anyhoo, I was stuck with 9 year old cousin since Aunt went out to work at night. He "accidently" dialed 911, and then hung up. 911 then dialed back and my very confused and scared cousin handed me the phone. I went,

Me: hello?
911: Is there an emergency in that household?
Me: um wtf, no
911: Well someone must have dialed 911 from your household, because that's how I got the address.
911: Was the child playing with the phone?
Me: OMFG, I'm so sorry.
911: Please tell the child not to play with the phone because we will send a unit out.
Me: I'm really sorry, I'll tell him off now, there's no emergency, I'm so sorry.

Then I asked my cousin to please not scare the living daylights out of me ever again.

Fun times

Friday, December 14, 2007

DAY 13 - LA - Santa Monica - 13th Dec

Last day in LA before I fly to San Jose and meet up with my aunt in the San Francisco bay area. Spent the morning shopping at Norstrum Rack. Bought a pair of CK corduroy pants and Polo Jeans jumper. Not as cheap as I'd like but they were quite nice.

Megan's aunt (one of many, I just got their names down pat and now I'm leaving) took us to Santa Monica. It was a bit dirty and a bit smelly, but we were all glad about been at the beach. The chili cheese fries were kinda scary but the sunset was extremely pretty. And there's something about the beach, you just can't help taking weird wanky artistic album covers.

Looking forward to San Francisco. LA has been great, and although my first impressions weren't glowing I think I'm beginning to like this city more and more. Except for the traffic. Peak hour here is nuts, 12 lanes of chock-a-block automobiles. I think Arnie really needs to invest in some public transport infrastructure for this city.

Speaking about things been big in this country, because everything is. Even the seagullls here are majorly obese. Megan tried chasing 2 but they ran away from her...ahahahha

Thursday, December 13, 2007

DAY 12 - LA & Walking - 12th Dec

Late start, got up at 10am and watched some ER, had a ham sandwich and then Since there was no one to drive us anywhere today and another day of Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency was a little too much to bear, we decided to walk to the nearest Shopping Centre (aka Mall). We checked up google maps and it was 4 miles (6.4km). We thought, oh well might as well work off all the crap we've eaten.

Walking in LA is weird because no one walks in this city. Therefore we got stared at a lot. 3 bogan asian females walking around the suburbia of LA with their jumpers tied their waists because they horribly misjudged the sunniness of the walk. Hispanics sat on roadside corners near petrol stations and leared at our insanity. We crossed bridged over manmade creek-bed thingys like in Grease and Terminator 2.

So we got to the mall and guess what? It was a Westfield. AHAHAHA halfway across the world and Frank Lowy has made it like home. Except of Myer however you get Macy's, and H & M. But we did find a Target, although it sold more than just clothes and electronics, it also had cereal and frozen goods. WTF??? when did Target ever have frozen goods?

Even the food court at Westfield is the same. Chinese, Sushi, Korean, Gelato, fusion Italian, etc etc. Except EVERY and I mean EVERY shop was manned by hispanics and had hispanics cooking the food. I don't know but I'm not entirely comfortable with Chinese food been cooked and served by Mexicans from a franchise Chinese food outlet called Panda Express. There's just something wrong with that. I settled for a foccacia which was quite awesome but possibly full of hydronated trans fats like everything else in this country.

Megan's very old cousin invited us out to dinner at the Cheesecake Factory with his very secret (hot) girlfriend and daughter. The portions at this place are HUGE, I couldn't even finish my $14.95 chicken fettuccini. People who know me, know that I'm a big eater and if I can't even finish something, it was be bloody big. Megan hardly made a dent in her angel hair spaghetti with chicken and mushrooms. Tracey almost died working her way through her salmon salad. For dessert we had 2 slices of cheesecake between 6 people and still left stuff on the plate. America is crazy. And the entire time we were been obnoxious Aussie bogans and there were like OMFG they're so cute, they are so full of energy, and take pictures of everything and laugh at everything and have really cute accents.. But I swear they didn't understand half of what we said and had no idea where we are coming from.

Lesson of the day. Australia is a really really worldly country. We are hyperaware of world geography, politics, languages and accents. Of course this could just be the fact that we're educated and smart. hehe.

DAY 11 - LA & lots of TV - 11th Dec

Didn't do much today. We watched lots of ER in the morning, John Stamos is hot and I totally don't know which season it was but Neela needs to get together with John Stamos cause they're sooooo cute together.

We also watched way too much, and by that I mean so much like 4 hours worth of the Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency show. It's so trashy it's completely fabulous. The woman is a true contradiction, she validates anorexia and botox yet has enough morals to reject 15 year old models like WTF?? but really my mind has been completely and utterly disturbed by her and her show. And the most frustrating thing is that last week when we went down to downtown LA, where were in the same building that her office is in, except of course we didn't know then.

US tv is interesting, if you're rich and lucky enough to get complete cable aka like 700 channels or something, you can spend the entire day watching TV. Because there is just so much on. Trash, movies, more trash and the golden stuff. Endless repeats of Full House, family matters, and of course there's BBCAmerica which is the BBC + ads, wonderful. Funny thing is I haven't managed to catch one primetime show here, perhaps they're on hiatus but other than the random bit of Grey's Anatomy I caught last week I haven't seen anything else. I've ended up watching the Amazing Race on Youtube.

We also went shopping a lot. Discount centres like Marshall's which is where all the department stores dump the crap they can't sell. Last week I got an awesome Burton snowboarding jacket for $50 (originally $190) and in Australia it would have been $300 or something. But the problem with these stores is that there is so much crap you have sift through before you find anything good. So it becomes a highly tiring and time consuming effort. You exchange time for discounts.

from the forthcoming series of photos - LJ in silly hats

Clothes in America are cheap, but only if you know the intricacies of every rewards system, discount outlets, and sale timetables. I'm lucky enough that Megan's aunts know everything otherwise clothes are the same price as Australia. The one major difference is that discount outlets are as ubiquitous as Target and Kmart in Australia and it's kinda both a little hillbilly and cool at the same time. Although if you were a guy and purchased all your clothes from these stores you'd come out a skatey hispanic homie wearing DC shirt, Volcom hoodie, Nike trackie dacks, and Puma shoes.

Ended up at Taco Bell for dinner and it was a very interesting experience. For 5 people the total was about $17. It's insane, and the drink cups they give you for the combos are the size of those jumbo cokes you get at Hoyts if you're looking for a sugar overdose. And you know what? it's free refills too. Although I can't say I'm too much a fan of the pseudo Mexican gunk that comes out of there.

Again tracey's head as a measurement device, this time against a taco bell cup

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

DAY 9 & 10 - Las Vegas - 9-10th Dec

We got woken up at 6am and piled into an 8 seater Chevrolet, dragging behind pillows, backpacks and newly bought ski jackets. It was freezing it was dark and we were delirious from the lack of sleep. Packed like sardines into the last row of seats we proceeded to sleep until daylight flooded the car...and then continued to sleep some more.

I woke up somewhere after the we passed the outskirts of LA. The first thing I realised was the striking landscape. Barren, yet mountainous, covered in power transformers stretching lines to far flung towns and 3 lane dual carriage-ways snaking their way across the plains. It was beautiful and the first time I realised, hey I'm in the USA. There is no bush, no eucalyptus, instead the replacements were cactii and lots of it, at times stretching as far as the eye can see.

Snow capped mountain ranges dot both sides of the highway. A rare sight in Australia unless you actually find yourself in the snowy mountains, but here they are ubiquitous, yet again, tall, but utterly barren, like the heavens cast them down as protectors of the dry arid landscape.

The highways in the US are also very different, large, multilaned mostly dual carriages. However the most remarkable aspect is the straightness. Like ruled lines they stretch into the horizon. Our 4-5 hour trip to vegas felt like a standard 3 hour trip to Canberra. Minimal stops were made which obviously contravened the whole "Stop, Revive, Survive" campaign back home, but the comfort of the roads reduced the fatigue remarkably. I can't imagine the 6 hour trip to Perisher being as easy.

I think the next time I come to the US I'll make an extra effort to really explore it's landscape. I didn't get to see the Grand Canyon this time, but that's a definite for the next trip. America's culture takes it's cue from it's landscape, at times arid, barren and f but always big and the vastness is immense. It's a wonder why this country can foster so much in the elite of human endeavour yet still lag behind in social welfare. It's not a country for the faint hearted, and undoubtedly it is the place where people chase their dreams.

On the way to Vegas at our last pit stop I had my first taste of American Maccas. 1 double cheeseburger for 1 dollar. Sounded good at the time but boy did it do a lot of damage to my stomach.

Las Vegas itself is everything that I expected to be, shallow and fake with a dash of kitsch, vast amounts of seediness in the daylight and neon coolness in the night. But through television and movies you still can't comprehend the true immensity of the casinos. Yet although the facades are themed differently from each other, castles, pyramids, pirate ships, an entire Roman Forum, inside they are almost carbon copies bar the intracacies of the decorations. In fact most of them have a similar floor plane. Casino here, lobby there, theatre there. Some felt slightly more swish than others but overall Vegas exist for the sole reason of the public throwing their money at rich moguls and the government tax department. And boy do they.

We checked into the Monte Carlo which was directly opposite the much famed MGM casino complex on Las Vegas Blvd (also know as the strip). We had a lacklustre buffet lunch at the hotel. I managed to stay away from all the seafood, but still somehow it didn't sit right in my stomach. I've learnt that buffets never really do.

Megan's parents were interested in seeing Mamma Mia so we took the tram (like yeah there's a monorail linking 3 casinos) to Mandalay Bay to purchase tickets for that nights performance. Before we got to the tram on the large advertising screens we spied that the Spice Girls would be performing at the Mandalay that night as well. Tracey expressed her disgust whilst Megan and I deliberated whether we should give into our trashiness or not.

At the box office Mamma Mia tickets were $50 and the only Spice Girls tickets left were $110 and so thinking about are already much shrunk bank accounts, we decided to forego the Spicey Girls (as Megan's aunt referred to them as) and settled for a night of ABBA (which are equally as trashy and annoying.

Little did we know our mistake, but more of that later. We went on a rough walk down the strip, Megan's dad was accosted by many migrant workers handing out cards for ladies who will get to your room within 20min (guaranteed I suppose) funny how they only give cards to the men on the street. Wouldn't you feel discriminated if you were a lesbian?

We got to the Bellagio (featured in the Oceans 11 series of movies) and stayed for the 5min fountain show at the front. This casino has an entire man-made lake out front. Then we made our way through the joint walkway to Caesar's Palace, which was built like a Roman forum, it was insane. This was the hotel which signed Celine Dion for 3 years and BUILT, yes BUILT her a theatre in the shape of the Colosseum and actually called it that. Okay so many Celine Dion jokes were made whilst Megan's other aunt inquired about tickets to one of her 5 last ever shows. Walking away from the box office I squealed when I spied a certain poster.

Maybe it was the long car trip, the fatigue or just the lack of pizzazz in the Vegas production but my god Mamma Mia sucked to the heavens. I'll disregard the Australian character who couldn't hold an Australian accent for more than 2 words at a time and then reverted back to a cross between a New York/southern accent whenever he could. But overall there was a serious lack of something in the production. The set was gorgeous and hydraulics of the stage were fantastic but I wished the cast and the audience ingested some amphetimines or something before it all started. The jokes were flat, there were no wogs even though the entire thing was set on the Greek Islands. 15min in I was asking for death and asking Megan if we could skip over to the Spice Girls and scalp some much needed tickets. At intermission I was considering running out and obtaining the most potent cocktail I could get because I seriously needed some alcohol to survive. Thankfully the 2nd half was a lot better and the 3 song ABBA tribute encore after the show left me on a happy note at least. I guess ever trip has a regretful step, this might be my one, picking a (surprisingly sucky) ABBA musical over the Spice Girls.

Hungry and tired we headed back to the Monte Carlo for a night of fast food and bad TV, I had $10 italian and Megan got jipped with a $10 subway footlong. At about 2am one of Megan's aunts came back from the casino for a much-needed 30min nap before skipping back. This lady actually waddled to a casino whilst we were on a toilet stop 1hr from Vegas itself. We only saw her in the car both days. Funny stuff.

This morning we woke up, took way too long to get ready and checked out of the Monte Carlo. Packing my things back into the car, I checked my wrist for the time but realising I didn't have my watch I freaked out and made everyone go back and get another room key and go up and search. But in the end the watch was in my black day pack, yeah stupid me.

Ended up at a Vietnamese restaurant for lunch and then off, back to LA we went. We all waved goodbye to Vegas on the freeway, except for me who will see it again in 1.5 weeks for Jacky Cheung... Oh YEAH!!!!

Surprisingly I find Vegas kinda alright, because it doesn't purport to be more than it is. A kitsch, fake and money hungry town in the middle of the desert. In all the furor of traveling I didn't even get a chance to gamble. Maybe I'll finally get to that important step in 1.5 weeks. HA!