Day 6: The Cloisters and The Met

In my hour of need
I truly am indeed,
Alone again, naturally

Alone Again (Naturally) - Diana Krall feat. Michael Bublé

Day 6 was like my last day in New York. The plan was to go to The Metropolitan Museum of Art which includes The Cloisters, which is located pretty far. Both The Met and The Cloisters opens at 10 am, but since The Met is nearer to my hotel, I decided to start the day by going to the Cloister first. Ticket bought at The Cloisters includes a same day admission to The Met. Ticket bought at The Met includes a same week admission to The Cloisters. I was also thinking that going to The Cloisters first would also help me get away from the queue at The Met which I read could be quite long. So do plan accordingly if you want to go. The word bought is a rather misleading thing actually because the price set is a suggested price. So you can pay lower, however it's kinda embarrassing I suppose telling the staff at the counter, can I just give $5 for example? Well I guess there are people who don't have much, I do hope the staff there wouldn't be so judgey on these cases. I don't know why they choose to put a suggested price, but I do hope the reason is so that art is accessible for all. Anyway, so I knew the train to take. I was even confident enough to take the express train to cut some travelling time. Arriving at the 190th Street station, I wasn't sure which exit to take, so I just chose one. When I got out of it, I was totally confused. There's this black lady who just read me straightaway and asked if was looking for The Cloisters. I said yes. She then told me to go back the way I came and then go left and took the other exit. As I did that, I was trying to figure out if there was any sign and if I missed it. So it turned out there was a sign but I missed it because the sign was pretty much hidden and it's not like there's a lot of signs. I might be dumb that I miss out the signs or couldn't figure it out, but seriously I think New York needs more signs.

So I got out the correct exit and what happened next was totally my fault. 2 choices, left or right. I should have done more research, I should have just taken the time to figure out the map in my phone, but I didn't. A lot of my mistakes I think were because I just didn't have the patience and take time to really figure out the map in my phone :( So that day, I chose to go to the left. I walked and walked and perhaps I'm just a stubborn person, it took me a few blocks to realize this couldn't be right. My mistake was confirmed when I finally took time to check a bus stop and see the direction of the bus which supposedly could take me there. The route posted in the bus stop wasn't that easy for me to understand by the way, but I did figure it out. So I had to walk back. I think that was like already half an hour or more of walking being wasted on being lost. It was truly so testing on the morale. I just felt so sad, I chose to do The Cloisters first to make use of my time in the most effective way and yet I did a really stupid mistake that already made me really tired by that time. I was thinking that goes the bagel I ate that morning, all the calories from that were already burnt.

To get to The Cloisters by walking, you have to go through Fort Tryon Park. It's a really beautiful park and when I was there there were a lot of flowers blooming without many people. However I couldn't really enjoy the park because I was just already so tired from walking and morale was low and I got really anxious if I was going the right direction. The park has these little paths as many parks do and you never know if the path would lead you to the correct place, what with my luck with direction. I really really didn't have much confidence that time. Unfortunately, all I had is me and hence the song I chose for this post. I was so demoralized that at one point I thought I was lost again. There were some signs pointing to The Cloisters but they seemed to contradict each other. Luckily though I did find it. Thank God!

The Cloisters houses a lot of religious artifacts, like sculptures of Jesus, angels, and so on. It has some tapestries too. The tapestries have unicorn in them. The one about the unicorn being hunted and captured is kinda sad to see. It also has this square garden enclosed by colonnades in its four sides. The fountain at the middle was pretty simple. I like the shadows the columns made.

There is another of this square open area, it's smaller but I really like the colonnades here, because the columns are in interesting designs, like some of them are wavy. Very cool. It doesn't have a lot of plants here. There's another very simple fountain. Overall it feels simplistic with off white columns and just the sunlight. It feels very zen here :)

It also has a garden outside in which the gardener grows a little vegetables and some herbs. The Cloisters is really a nice place to spend some time with, it's surrounded by greenery that it feels like a whole different place, like you're not in a city with a lot of sky crappers. There were some tourists but it wasn't crowded, so it's a relaxing place. I was still not that relaxing for me though since as usual I get perturbed easily and that time and energy being wasted from being lost really brought me down. Also unfortunately I couldn't spend much time, I had to really get going to The Met. Initially I thought I should take the bus because I just wanted to sit down all the way and just let my mind wonder. However I think I just missed the bus and with the time being tight, I decided to just take the subway again. Getting out of the subway, I had to walk across Central Park to The Met. By this time, I was pretty tired and hungry and the walk took much longer than I expected. It's already passed noon and I was thinking what's the plan of attack here. The museum would close at 5 something, I wouldn't have enough time to explore everything, I have to choose. So I started thinking about this. Arriving at The Met, I saw the sign of its opening hour and when I saw on Friday, it closes at 9 pm, I was like so relieved and felt like God really took care of me. Yes, I was lost, but he didn't let me down. I was really so happy, so thankful.

When I got in, there were many people, but I had my sticker ticket, so I didn't have to queue. I could choose to go to the left or right and I chose to go to the right to the Egyptian section. There were many artifacts and seeing those, I was thinking between this, The Louvre, and The Vatican Museum, I have seen a lot of these ancient artifacts managed to be kept and preserved for humanity. A thought came that I am very lucky to have had the opportunity, very very lucky indeed. The most interesting thing about this section is the Temple of Dendur area, it's this area with floor to ceiling windows so there's a lot of light coming in and there are remains of the temple. Very cool. Other than that, the Egyptian area has the usual mummy section, I wondered if there's a body inside it, but most probably not.

After this, I went to the American wing which is actually a really really cool place because it's my first time seeing what constitute American art. There were a lot of furnitures and rooms arranged with different theme and furnitures, very very interesting. I was so hungry and I decided to just eat at the cafe here. I would like to have a more proper lunch, but I thought I wouldn't have the energy to go all the way to another wing to eat. My lunch was nice though, I had corn chowder and a banana because it thought just the soup wouldn't be enough. By the way, being in America, I just lost all interest in having a sandwich. I hate coarse hard bread and its taste so I always avoided the sandwich options. Anyway, the corn chowder was really really nice and I chose crackers rather than bread, cause yeah I really really don't like hard bread. After that I explored more, I saw the armory section, some weapons (guns, swords, shields, etc), some sculptures, all are very interesting like this one which I couldn't remember from which section.

There are a few objects which I have seen elsewhere. I remember there's a smaller marble sculpture of The Nile God whose bigger version I have seen at The Vatican Museum. There's a sculpture of Hercules slaying Medusa which I realize come in different versions and housed in different places. Another was also a lion on the wall which I also saw in The Louvre. I have really good memories. I think one of the things that surprised me was when I saw Rodin's The Thinker. I thought there's only one of this sculpture and it's in Paris (which I haven't seen), it turned out there's a few and there's one in The Met. It's not very big, but it was cool to see that. I will be using the word cool and interesting a lot in this post. I wish I have better vocabulary but really that's all I have and feel. Of course there's a lot of interesting paintings, like these from Florine Stettheimer.

One gallery that attracts a lot of visitors is of course the one with the famous paintings in the second floor, the likes of Monet, Van Gogh, Cézanne, Matisse, Degas, Renoir, and such. Some paintings I could recognize straightaway who the painter was, but some have very similar style that I got it wrong, for example there's a painting that I thought was Cézanne's, but turns out to be not his. I really have so much to learn. There are so many beautiful paintings and I felt really happy and privileged to be able to see a lot of works from these famous artists. Here is a collection from Degas of what if I remember correctly are his experimentation before creating the very cute Little Dancer of Fourteen Years sculpture.

There was some area which were cordoned off, I guess because the staff needs to rotate between watching a room and another room. One such areas that I remember I believe hold collection from Rembrandt. I didn't stick around and wait to see if access would be opened up because I was getting really tired and I thought I should explore other wings. It's not tiring just for me who had walked a lot that day, I could see many of the visitors were like showing signs of being tired as well from walking around. I wonder if there's any secret from the staff who have to stand up all day watching people. I wonder if they get a break every few hours and how long the break is. So anyway, I tried my best to explore all the rooms, after all there are so many interesting things. For example, I wanted to see what they have in Asian Art. Well there's a costume exhibition in some parts of the Asian wing. The theme was China and it also attracted a lot of people. The reason I was interested in the Asian Art wing is because I wanted to know if they have some stuff from Indonesia and what they were. I saw a Buddha Head and I wondered if it's from Borobudur. This one below is from the Arab lands section which has a lot of Islamic objects kinda thing.

The museum closed at 9 pm that day, but I was just really running out of energy to walk, so there were some that I had to let go, I didn't enter them at all. I didn't go to the musical instruments section because I didn't have much interest, but it could be really interesting. One wing which I felt rather sorry for not giving much time is the American wing at level 2. This one has more paintings as compared to the furniture at level 1, so it should be interesting to see and learn more about American painters which I don't have any knowledge about. For pictures from The Met, please go here. It took me some time to google image the artworks. So hope you get to learn something too :)

I left just before 7 pm I think. The reason why I wanted to leave was also because I still have Central Park to explore and I wanted to have some daylight when I did that. This time around, I really paid attention to the map I had and made sure I passed all the landmarks I needed or wanted to see. First was the obelisk, then the Alice in Wonderland sculptures. From here on the way to Bethesda Terrace, I saw the Hans Christian Andersen sculpture and The Falconer. I'm pretty sure there are so many sculptures in this park that I haven't seen. Near Bethesda Terrace there's an area where there's a live band playing, but I didn't check it out. One of the interesting thing I saw in Bethesda Terrace was there were a few Chinese who make money by giving massages and they were quite busy. As always, the resourceful Chinese will find a way to make money.

My last stop was to the Strawberry Fields which I kinda missed on my first visit. Saw the imagine mosaic and didn't realize it's so close to the street. So finally that one is ticked off. By the way in Central Park, there are a lot of benches with a plaque and on it there's some writings. It's so sweet, a lot as remembrance for someone who died, some have beautiful poems or writings on it. The theme is mostly about love and I love them a lot. Just googled this and turned out it cost 10,000 USD to have a bench, so that is one expensive gift.

So that was the last thing I did in New York. To avoid being lost again, I walked at the pavement by the side of the street rather than going into the park again. Went to Shake Shack again and claimed my milk shake. They had a lot of options, but I ended up choosing peanut butter one. Maybe because I kinda had it around half an hour after I got it (when I got to the hotel I did some things first before eating), it ended up to be not so thick and I was quite surprised with it. There was an option to make it malted, but I didn't know what that meant so I didn't choose that. It's an okay milkshake, not out of the world heavenly. Now that I write this, I kinda miss Shake Shack, so many things I'm curious about and wanted to try. The 2 times I was there, I chose the same burger, the single shack burger. That day I was actually tempted to try the shake stack which has an addition of a mushroom burger, but knowing American portion, I thought it would be out of my league. I opted for fries instead and even those I ended up couldn't finish.

The next day, I had to leave New York from San Francisco. For pictures from Manhattan, you can go here. As mentioned in the last post, I got sad thinking about it because I have gotten used to the place. The one word I use when people asked me how New York is, is intimidating. Saying that, you must understand that one's perception of a thing or a place is more often than not is not about the thing or place itself but more about one's culture, background, or where one is from. I spend close to half of my life now in Singapore and Singapore is so clean, safe, and bright and I always believe that this convenience has soften me a lot. A Jakartan would perhaps not find New York to be intimidating because living in Jakarta requires one to be tougher than living in Singapore and I believe it's a good thing that way. I do feel kinda sad when I think the easy life in Singapore has made me so soft :( Being in New York, everything is just so so overwhelming for my senses. Entering the subway station for me is always something that requires me to be more alert. The subway station doesn't give a sense of safety and security. One time I saw 2 police officers there, I guess just watching how things go. I guess it could be quite boring for them, they were leaning on the wall. It's good they're there, but going down into the dark station, it's just not a place I actually enjoy to be in. One time I saw a rat in the track, very cliche New York? Then obviously the city is not as clean as Singapore. One time I saw a lady spit on the floor of the subway station and no, she didn't look homeless, she looked like a normal lady and I wonder why would you do that? Seriously! Of all the boroughs, I only experienced Manhattan and a bit of Brooklyn. I have a feeling than Manhattan might be dirtier than Brooklyn. Walking the street of Manhattan, very often one sees stacks of trash plastic bags. Once in french class, I wrote that I wanted to live in New York. Being there, my enthusiasm was dampen a bit and I wondered if I could do it and love it. The sentiment did get much better as I was leaving and after visiting San Francisco. The great thing about New York is all the art and culture. It would be such a blessing to be surrounded by all that and also they have wonderful parks, so it's great. The difficult thing was just being there and getting used with the streets and subways, again it's perhaps more difficult for me because I'm so used to with how everything is nice in Singapore. I reckon it'll take me some months to get used to the subways, by that time perhaps I would also get used to American meal portion :)

:) eKa @ 11:35:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 5: Washington, D.C.

Plans and schemes
Thoughts and dreams
Who cares what they mean
When they work, they're amazing things

Spiders and Flies - Mercury Rev

Day 5, I took a day trip to Washington, D.C.. It was a long day. Took around 4 hours to get to Washington, D.C. and that's like 8 hours on the drive alone both ways. As I was informed this, I wondered why I or anyone would choose to do this? I guess because we're just curious about the capital city of America? We had a stop halfway for breakfast and the stop was great and I tried Cinnabon and I love it! The place was combined together with Auntie Anne's and it made me wonder why there's no Cinnabon in Singapore.

First stop was the National Mall where we visited the Vietnam War Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, and then the Korean War Memorial. The Vietnam War Memorial was quite simple, it's this black wall where there is a list of names of the people who died or went missing during the war. There's a symbol of a diamond next to those who died. Those who are missing have the cross symbols and when they're confirmed dead, a diamond symbol is added. Some people thought the wall was too simple that a statue was added. It's a statue of 3 soldiers, a white soldier, black soldier, and a latino soldier.

The Lincoln memorial had a lot of visitors. Well there's a lot of students on a field trip. Inside the temple, I didn't expect it to be somewhat dark considering the bright sun outside. The sunlight couldn't really penetrate through. On both sides of the wall to his left and right, there is his speeches inscribed.

Lincoln himself is of course overlooking the reflecting pool and the Washington Memorial obelisk. One of the thing I have really wanted to do was to be here during the cherry blossom blooming season, unfortunately they bloom in early April and I couldn't make it at that time so that day all the trees have turned green. DC itself was pretty hot that day.

After that, it was the Korean War Memorial where there are these statues of different soldiers in different poses like they're trekking through the jungle. They are life like and it really made you think about what the soldiers had to go through.

Next was the drive to go to the White House. We saw the National Mall more in the drive and I saw a glimpse of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial. I would have liked to be able to stop and see it up close, unfortunately we couldn't. So the White House, it is not actually very big, hence it's called a house not a palace. There were a lot of tourists and I saw the snipers on the roof. The secret service have been in the news recently because of breaches and so I was very curious about how much security there are.

Our guide told us we would see the longest demonstrator in the world. She's very old and she has a little tent where she lives. It's crazy but it's also admirable to have that much level of conviction and commitment? It could also be because her mind is trapped? Like she doesn't know anything else to do other than this? Reading that wiki link, she has been doing this longer than I have been alive. It's crazy.

Then we went to Madame Tussauds Washington D.C. where they have a complete sets of all the US presidents. Thomas Jefferson was really tall. So are the Obamas. It's a good learning place for the Americans. After the presidential section, there's the celebrity section. J.Lo is not very tall. I actually don't have much interest on Madame Tussauds anymore. I guess after my visit in Hong Kong, I feel like I've seen it and it doesn't interest me much anymore.

After that it was off to the National Air and Space Museum. It's part of Smithsonian Institution and turns out all Smithsonian museums is free. There were a lot of people. My first order of business was lunch. I had chicken with mash potato and corn bread and I thought it was nice, I forget where it's from though. We didn't have much time, so I didn't really explore all. I was thinking that it's filling the missing pieces from the trip to Museum Angkut in East Java earlier this year because that museum didn't have aeronautical exhibits. There were a lot of planes. There's also the space mission exhibits and Amelia Earhart's plane.

Lastly before we called it a day, we went to Capitol building. Unfortunately the dome is under renovation so we couldn't get a good picture. Then it was the ride home. I started to take pictures of the houses around just because I wondered what kind of house Douglas Stamper lives in :P though it seems he lives in an apartment building in House of Cards.

We arrived pretty late in New York that day. For pictures of the trip to DC you can go here here. When I walked back to the hotel, I had to pass AMNH. The side which I had to walk pass is the Rose Center for Earth and Space and the round Hayden sphere was lighted up, beautiful blue. Felt a bit sad seeing that because I was thinking that my vacation was ending. Of course as my cousin reminded me, I still had some days to go, San Fransisco to go to. It's just still sad though, because it's just when I was getting used to New York, I had to go.

:) eKa @ 9:53:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 4: Ellis Island, MoMA, Top of the Rock

Only blue or black days,
Electing strange perfections in any stranger I choose

Someone New - Hozier

Day 4 was quite a full day now that I have to write about it. The morning was spent seeing the Statue of Liberty and going to Ellis island. Well, when you're in America, I think the question people would likely to ask is, did you see the Statue of Liberty? So it's like a must do. There are many ways to see it. From la Gioia, I found out she and her friends just took the free Staten island ferry. For me, I kinda wanted something more from the visit other than just taking a picture of it as proof that yes you've been there. So on googling, I found out about the hard hat tour in Ellis island. It seemed very interesting what with the installation art by the french artist JR. So that was the plan, I booked it through the statue cruises website. This is basically a ferry service which allows you to stop at Liberty island and Ellis island. They have different packages. There's a package which allows you to get up to the crown of the Statue of Liberty but this one is like booked months in advanced. The last time I checked, it was like fully booked for the next 3 months. So if you're interested in climbing some stairs, do plan way ahead. I have no interest in this. Then there's a package which will gain you entry into the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty. There's a museum there I think. I chose the package for the hard hat tour. All the packages allow you to stop both at Liberty and Ellis island. With my package, I could walk the ground to get a nearer look of the Statue of Liberty. If you want to get into the pedestal or the crown as well as doing the hard hat tour, I think right now you have to double book. They are pretty weird for not combining the different packages or letting people choose what they want.

Anyway, I booked the 10:30 slot for the hard hat tour. As mentioned in the previous post, that morning on the way to the subway, I stopped to take a picture of the Banksy graffiti which I found the night before, picture of which you can see in my twitter feed or later when I've uploaded it in flickr. I think the subway ride was okay, didn't recall any difficulty, except when we're approaching the South Ferry station. As I was sitting there, I did see a notice that for the stop in South Ferry station, the door will only open for car 1 to 5. The problem is I don't know which car I was in, I looked for signs but couldn't find any. The conductor was giving that same announcement again on the stop before South Ferry, so since I didn't know where I was, to be safe I just got out and moved to the front. This was also triggered by some people who I saw was doing the same thing. Arriving in South Ferry, I wasn't sure which way to go, luckily I wasn't the only tourists and there were some staff outside the station who perhaps could see our combined confused look and they told us the direction to the ferry dock. It was a gray morning with a drizzle, slightly cold, and I was thinking on the day where I dressed light and no hoodie, of course the weather had to be crummy.

When I arrived, the ferry that would give me more time just departed it seemed. I was rather slow that morning. You had to go through airport style security check before getting on the ferry. I had read a lot about how the queue would be very long and so on. It wasn't so when I was there, I guess it's depending on the period. I'm not sure about the ticketing though, there didn't seem to be a queue when I was there, but it could still mean that the tickets were sold out. Anyway, in the ferry, I decided to just stand on the second level since I thought with my light clothing I would get too cold on the open top upper deck. Since I missed the earlier ferry, I didn't have time to stop at Liberty island. So I didn't get off the boat. Did I feel I miss it? A little bit. A thought did come to my head that if I really wanted to, I could get on the Jersey direction ferry later on after I finish at Ellis island to stop at Liberty island. I didn't though because I was pressed for time. So anyway, yeah I just took pictures of the Statue of Liberty from the ferry, didn't get off, and went straight to Ellis island.

I arrived just in time Ellis island for the hard hat tour. Just in case you're too lazy to click that link, Ellis island was an island used to process immigrants coming by ships from Europe long long time ago. The rich people got their medical check and were processed on the ships and then they're off on their way in New York. The common / poor people had to disembark in Ellis island where they went through medical check and then processed as immigrants. If they're successful, they could then go off on their way. If no, it's back to the ships to take them back to where they came from. Now imagine, I took like 20-hour flight to get from Singapore to New York and if I were to be turned back in immigration, that would suck so bad. Imagine these people who may have taken days on their journey, taking everything that they had from their old homes for the hope to be settled in America, imagine how heartbreaking it is to be turned back after such a long journey. I guess there are many people experiencing that same story these days, there are so many stories about migrants on boats. Anyway, Ellis island was pretty organized that many American could trace their parents or grandparents arriving here. The hard hat tour that I chose is a tour that explores the hospital complex. This is an old building and is not open for the public, so the only way you can access it is by taking the tour provided by the park ranger. It's seriously old with crumbling things after so many years and also disaster like hurricane Sandy, hence why we're all required to wear the hard hat and closed shoes. We looked more like some people inspecting a construction site :)

Our guide was Andrew whose dad hailed from Italy and was processed there. He said his dad took 6 hours to clear the process. He already had a job waiting for him, so that was a straightforward process. If you looked sick or if you didn't have a job or a sponsor, things could get very complicated. The ticket that the people bought from Europe to go to America include a free ticket back if they were denied entry and there were cases like this. There was an appeal process and since these people came from different parts of Europe, there were many translators to help them plead their case. So we toured the hospital complex and it was very interesting. There were also many volunteers here at that time to help with the language issue. Some things were still there like the machine they used to wash clothes and sinks and tubs in some of the rooms. I saw the morgue which has these steps for medical students to sit. This is because the immigrants may come with diseases unknown in America at that time, so the bodies were used to teach students. Then there were rooms used to hold people with tuberculosis. I remember there were 2 sinks there designed in a way so that the disease could not be transmitted to outsiders. Andrew talked about some of the diseases these people had, the treatment for many of them was horrifying. We ended at the compound used to house the doctor's family. It was seriously very interesting and the building design itself was pretty nice, I particularly like the corridor with view of the garden. The JR's installation art are these photos from the days Ellis island was used to process immigrants being blown up and pasted on the walls and they helped you imagine what it was like back then. Really really clever.

After that guided tour, I was hungry. Ate a cake, then I explored the Ellis Island museum. There's a free audio guide, but I didn't take it. Being in Ellis island with the history of so many people arriving there recorded for their generations to come made me think how sad it is that there's no such thing in Indonesia. For example, I would like to know how my grandparents ended up in Indonesia or in Bangka for that matter. Anyway then I realized it's already getting quite late and since I had many things planned, I decided to just go back without stopping at Liberty island again. On the ferry back was the first and only time I heard Indonesian spoken during my trip. It was faint and I wasn't quite sure, but it was indeed Indonesian spoken by these 2 young adults who didn't look like tourists, well at least the guy didn't seem like a tourist. I didn't say hi and I wonder on seeing me if they thought I'm Indonesian. I've been thought as a Singaporean during the Philadelphia trip (whaaat?!?!), then in Brooklyn Botanical Garden a Chinese dad asked me to take a photo of him and his son (I think) in Chinese. I replied with the chinese word, keyi. So weird, when you get out of Asia, people just think you are Chinese even though here I am often thought to be not Chinese. Anyway, pictures from the Ellis island trip can be found here.

Arriving back in Battery park, I successfully followed my map to first find the charging bull. There were many tourists taking picture with it. It was very hard to get a picture of the bull without anyone. Then I went to the 9/11 memorial. There were signs that say something like it's not a tourist attraction and visitors should be respectful and such, but just like the Sistine Chapel, people were just happily taking pictures without much reflection going on. I felt pretty sad there seeing all the names, especially when it's a name of a woman and the line with her unborn child added after it. I glanced through the names trying to see if I can find an Indonesian name, but because I didn't read one by one, I couldn't find any. There were some flowers left on some of the names. I imagine it must be still very painful for the family and friends of the victims. It must hurt so much.

After that seeing that it's already quite late, I decided to get going. On the train, I think it happened that day though it perhaps could be another day. I think it happened that day and on that particular ride that I took to go uptown. There was suddenly this noise and it turned out it was this young guy preaching about Jesus. I have to embarrasingly admit that I kinda smirked hearing this. It was this young black guy who's quite handsome actually, like a young Will Smith perhaps? I got to sit down and I wondered why a young guy like him would be doing this, something that would get people, people like me to roll our eyes. I think someone asked him how Jesus changed his life. Then he talked about how before he was a drug dealer and he's in a so much better place now because of Jesus. I think seeing the 2 older black ladies sitting in front of me nodding and saying words of encouragement like amen kinda changed my mind a bit. Then his friend, a black girl, also talked about how Jesus changed her life, before her life and self worth revolved around having boys, but now she looked like a really nice young lady. Then they asked all who knew the song to sing Amazing Grace in which I ended up kinda mouthing along. Then when they prayed, I actually said amen at the end. Then suddenly the girl came to me, to all of us actually, but when she came to me it was just so sudden, she asked if I wanted a prayer. I said no. She told me her name is Julie by the way. To be honest, a prayer would be great, but at that time I think any prayer for me would end up with me crying, so I said no. Then Julie asked other people. A white mother said yes, a prayer for her young son. The son looked uncomfortable throughout. I wondered what he thought, maybe he thought it's so weird or if people think he's such a naughty boy that her mom asked for a prayer from strangers in the subway. Anyways, the group exited the train not long after. In that short ride, I changed my mind from smirking to thinking that yes it's perhaps weird for them to do so, but I think they are doing a good thing. Someone could be so depressed in that train, in need of a hug or prayer, on a verge of doing something really bad like taking drugs again or committing suicide, but when they meet these people, maybe that one encounter could change their lives. So yes, there could be people like me whose first impression is perhaps to roll our eyes, but maybe like me whose opinion was changed in that short train ride, there are others who would come to appreciate the good works that they're trying to do, to let people know that there's hope. If someone needs God or just someone to have faith on their behalf that everything will be alright, these people would be there to help give those. Bottomline, as strange as it may sound coming from me, I'm supportive of these people preaching on the train. They're very brave to do so when there are so many cynical people like me. The odds of them reading this is like zero, but just in case this happens to reach them, I guess I just want to say God bless and it may feel like it doesn't make a difference a lot of times, but there could be people who feel so thankful that you guys were in the train on their worst day :)

So anyway had lunch in Times Square area but didn't explore it because I wanted to go to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and it was getting really late. I think I arrived there after 02:30 pm and the museum closes at 05:30 pm, so I really didn't have much time. There wasn't really a queue when I was there and luckily MoMA isn't so big and I think I explored all the rooms. Didn't manage to go to the Björk exhibition because it's full and it's not accepting any more people. It's alright since I'm not a fan. MoMA has its installation arts thing which is always very hard for me to fathom, but it also has nice paintings.

One for the first room I entered was this room filled with Jacob Lawrence's works. It was really really cool and I'm glad I got to know him. The paintings were not very big, but they told a story and below each of the painting there's some text. If they are compiled, they can form a book which I think kids and adults alike would enjoy. Since I didn't have much time, I didn't read all the texts, but I really really like his works. Then I saw a lot of Picasso. In this trip I seriously saw a lot of Picasso's than all of my previous trips combined. He's a really really talented person, his paintings are so wide ranging in style and he did sculpture too. This is his painting called The Kitchen.

Other works I saw, saw 2 Salvador Dalí's paintings which turned out to not be very big. I'm not a fan of his weird paintings. Saw a painting by Frida Kahlo because her painting is so identifiable. Interestingly there's a mirror next to the painting. I think she made the frame. I also saw some Gustav Klimt's, Gauguin's, and Van Gogh's works. Some of these works are so distinct in their styles that I could identify them without looking at the card. That made me feel good about myself, but then with the so many other artists that I don't know I feel that I have soooooo much more to learn. It feels like a blessing to be able to see the famous splatter of Jackson Pollock or to see a Takashi Murakami's work or to see this Claude Monet's triptych of the water lilies pond which is so big. Looking at this, you have to wonder how he was able to envision it and paint it.

Before I left, I went to the garden section. It's not very big, but it has pretty nice sculptures. Overall, it's a very interesting experience in MoMA and since it's not humongous, it made for a nice visit. Too bad I didn't have a lot of time, so I was pretty much rushing through it. For pictures, you can go here. One more thing, museums in America sometimes have this weird rule in which you cannot bring a backpack, like the case here in MoMA and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. That's quite an inconvenience, so just remember to bring a non backpack bag as I did when I went to these 2 museums. Alright to be fair, I believe this is the same rule in Uffizi in Florence and Basilica di San Marco in Venice, but both places don't allow photography either so I was quite okay with it. I did remember it made for a surprisingly nice visit for me because I felt light without anything to carry. It's just when photography is allowed and when our camera is rather big, we just need a bigger bag and a backpack is very convenient and when you already have guards checking the bags and in the rooms to make sure we don't get too close to an object or touch them or knock them over, I'm not sure why the need for such restriction. I can understand if it's for really big bags, but I thought a normal backpack should be acceptable. Okay enough complaining.

Next, I had a booking for Top of the Rock which is the observation floor at Rockefeller building. The New York thing to do is of course getting up to the Empire State Building, but I read the queue is always long and since this one could be booked in advanced online, I chose Rockefeller building instead. Managed to find it without much difficulty. The thing is when I booked it I didn't remember that Survivor was shown on Wednesday and I wanted to watch it so that meant I kinda had to rush this visit so that I could get back in time. I was wondering if I could enter earlier than my time slot, but after exploring the nearby area, in the end I entered roughly at my time slot. There's a few different levels to see the views and I like the most upper one. It's outdoor and we had a blue sky that afternoon and I was thinking how beautiful that day was, especially considering the gray drizzly morning. On the north, north east side you could see the expanse of Central Park. With the blue sky it was so beautiful.

The sun was making the Hudson river kinda glittered and it was really nice. On the other side, you see Midtown Manhattan. I think the Chrysler building is actually much nicer than the Empire State building, however from Top of the Rock the Chrysler building is blocked by another building, so you couldn't get a full view. There is this unobstructed view of the Empire State buildings though and it was nice.

Another notable thing I saw was actually not the view, there's this group of family who huddled up together and just hugged, I think they lost a family member and perhaps the person wanted to be there or something like that so they were there to remember that person. It was quite moving. I saw some of them crying, but since it was obviously very personal for them, I didn't try to eavesdrop. So anyway, I think I only spent like half an hour or so and then I decided to go back. By the way, the lift to take you up and down has this short light and sound presentation thing on the ceiling, it's short because the lift is very fast.

On getting back, God darn it, I made the mistake of taking the express train, again! Just when I thought I got all this subway thing figured out, I still managed to make a mistake :( Luckily I arrived just in time for Survivor. Still I wasn't that focused in watching because I was watching it while doing other things. Kinda funny when I think about how last year in the New Zealand trip, I was happy to be able to get to my room in time to watch the latest episode of Survivor and this year it's the same thing too. It never changes, since I was little I am obsessed with TV. Yes, I am that insane. Okay, that's about it peeps, day 4.

:) eKa @ 10:47:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 3: Brooklyn + The King and I

You don’t have to be scared babe
You don’t need a plan of what you want to do

Listen To The Man - George Ezra

One of the reason I chose the dates of my travel was that I know that Brooklyn Botanical Garden has a lot of cherry blossoms and I wanted to be there when they all bloom. So after googling the period it bloomed last year, I choose early May for my travel. I was pretty anxious about it, like what if they all have bloomed when I arrive or they wouldn't bloom yet by the time I leave. Luckily the timing was pretty perfect this time for me. Brooklyn Botanical Garden has many different types of cherry blossoms. By the time I arrived, there's a few which had reached post peak bloom, so I didn't see those. However I was in perfect time to see the Kwanzan cherry which was the species that they have the most and which form this beautiful rows of pretty pink flowers.

It was a Tuesday and I made my way to Brooklyn. I think I didn't find any difficulty on getting there except for the time when I sat at the station wondering if the train I wanted was going to arrive, then realizing I should just take the one train that kept on coming after letting it pass a few times. At least I didn't make a major mistake. So I arrived and the garden was just by the exit of the subway station. Then I found a lovely surprise. It's free on a Tuesday!!! I was like, wait what?!?! It was quite early and not many people were there yet. I was so happy upon finding out it's free. I saw there's a couple taking their pre-wedding picture, I guess people were really making use of this free Tuesday. The trees with the white and red flowers below are crabapple trees. I learned new thing here :)

The cherry esplanade has rows of kwanzan cherry trees and all were blooming in full. It's really beautiful walking under them. In the morning, there weren't that many people yet, but later in the day, there were so many people enjoying the flowers. I should have enjoyed them more that morning when there was less people, I just didn't expect that there would be more crowd. It might be surprising, but I had difficulty getting good pictures of the flowers and so I had to really work on the exposure setting in my camera to get decent pictures. I was finally forced to use all the fancy setting my camera has :P

Anyway, so I proceeded to explore the garden more. In the japanese pond garden areas, there were different types of cherry blossom trees. Luckily some still had some flowers. The pond also has a torii in it, making the whole thing feel very Japanese.

The garden also has a conservatory which houses different kind of plants from different region like the tropics and the desert and also a bonsai section. There were a lot of school kids on a field trip. Outside the conservatory there were beautiful tulips in different colours and patterns.

The garden is very very nice. There's a small castle looking structure made of woods and a lot of toddlers trying to climb it when I was there. It took me some time to realize the adults with them may not be their parents but their nannies. So those kids might be very rich. Before I left, I spent more time taking pictures of the cherry blossoms. Anyway initial plan for that day was actually to go to TKTS Brooklyn and see if I could get a nice discounted price for a Broadway musical for the Wednesday matinee, but since I was still struggling with sleepiness and I was already going to watch the musical The King and I later that night, I thought I should just end the day early and see if I could take a nap before the evening musical. First I decided to go to Brooklyn Bridge. Doing it just because la Gioia said that she crossed the bridge on her visit last year and I thought I should do the same. Stupid stupid me. First, I was quite lost in finding the way to start walking on the bridge. Then it was actually such a hot day, so it was really tiring traversing the bridge. The view was okay I suppose. On the left in the distance you could see the statue of Liberty and on the right you could see the Manhattan Bridge. There were some people jogging. You always see people jogging in New York at any time of the day. I don't know why they would jog in the middle of the day, like don't they work? Okay perhaps they work shift. For Asians, I guess it's just weird to be jogging on such a hot day. Well perhaps since they had such a bad winter, they're like really appreciating the hot sun. Saw some locks left by lovers at the bridge which I thought to be such a silly thing to do.

Before I went back to my room, I decided to explore a bit of Central Park. So I stopped there and decided to walk through it to get to my hotel. It's very big and during my stay, I've only explored half of it. I haven't explored the north side. I would really want to rent a bicycle and do this next time if I'm lucky enough to go to New York again. Tried to find the strawberry fields but I think I walked passed it instead of through it. Once I reached Belvedere Castle, I decided to call it the day.

Went to Shake Shack first before I went back. The queue was manageable. Got the cheese burger and the staff asked if I would like to donate $2 and get a voucher to claim a free shake on my next visit. I hesitated but in the end I agreed. I thought Shake Shack being so near, I think I could find the time to visit it again. So had that for an early dinner. Tried to take a nap, but I couldn't. Then I made my way to Lincoln Center where The King and I was staged. I actually would rather watch a matinee because I didn't feel like going out alone at night, but when I was googling for what shows there are in Broadway for some reasons I didn't find out about this. I felt so happy finding out about this because when I was googling, I couldn't decide which musicals I wanted to watch so this one was like fate that it was there for me. I know the story, I watched the movie with Yul Brynner as the king when I was young, back when Indonesian TV or should I say RCTI wasn't lame and actually put up good programmes. I loved it a lot back then and I had very fond memories of it. So finding this was like, OH MY GOD!!! I was ecstatic. Too bad I only found out I think the day after it opened and by that time the tickets were selling out for a lot of days. I think I was really lucky to be able to get a ticket on a Tuesday (May 5) with the other days near it being sold out. Literally my ticket was the last seat on the last row of the orchestra level. I am still very thankful to God for giving me this, it's like fate or a very nice blessing from God. It was also a good thing that it's on a Tuesday because on other nights the show starts at 8 pm, while on Tuesday it starts at 7 pm. Telecharge nicely sent a reminder email about this. Another lucky thing is that it's at Lincoln Center which was only 2 stations away from my hotel. I asked myself if I would be scared walking alone at night after travelling 2 stations away in Singapore and the answer is absolutely not, so I thought I should not be so harsh with New York and think it would be just fine. Anyway, arrived in Lincoln Center and I followed the direction from the exit and I actually got lost. Stupid me, I was actually quite early and I seriously wondered if I would actually be late because of this. The thing was I followed the signs instead of going up to street level and the signs totally screwed me up. Somehow I finally reached street level. I was getting worried, but I made it on time, thank God! By the way, the Juilliard School is actually in the same compound.

The musical is staged at the Vivian Beaumont Theater and an adjective I would use to describe it is that it's snug. It's not very big and it makes me wonder if all theatres in Broadway is this size. It's smaller than the theatre at Marina Bay Sands Singapore for example. By the way, ticket price is comparable to the price in Singapore. All this also makes me wonder about the economy of Broadway. So many shows, musicals and plays, I'm sure it employs a lot of people, which makes me think that there are so many artists in New York and the people are so cultured because they have access to so many great museums and all these art performances. How does the economy work, surely it's expensive to stage a musical so how much money do they actually make and how much money can a performer earn and how do they survive? I wonder if there's a documentary about this. Anyway, so my seat even though it's in the orchestra level, it's not all that nice, my view was blocked sometime. So the person sitting at the mezzanine / balcony level could actually have better views. The stage was in T form and it gets really close to the audience so that's great. Of all the musicals I have watched in Singapore, none gave a view this close or should I say this intimate to the audience. I was very excited about seeing Ken Watanabe playing the king and I guess so were the many Japanese who were there. I'm also thankful to God that I wasn't overly sleepy and didn't doze off. I love it a lot. Ken Watanabe's english pronunciation wasn't perfect and at times wasn't clear for me, but he's a good actor and he can really sing. His role was comedic at times and I can't help thinking it's his Japanese theatre training in the works. Everyone was great and the children were so cute. Again, I wonder how these kids could be doing this, are they not in normal school? A lot of Asians in the cast which most probably is great for them because of how their look I'm not sure it is easy to get roles in a Broadway shows for them. I kinda forget if the story is exactly the same as in the old movie, but I thought the conclusion was a bit to easy. There were some tragedies but I thought it's kinda glossed over. It was still really really wonderful though, seriously. Happiness, that's what I felt watching this. I felt so happy to be there, to be doing the trip. It was an awesome wonderful experience and it's also like telling me how awesomely wonderful this trip would be for me :) During intermission, I saw the 2 Japanese ladies from the Philadelphia trip the day before. I waved at them and they're so cute, one of them said she's so happy to be seeing me again. We got to talking and I am thankful God also gave me people to have conversation with.

On my way walk back to the hotel, I saw a Banksy graffiti and I literally stopped, looked to my left and right and was like, what, wait a minute is that a Banksy? It's a Banksy!!! but of course I had no one there to share the experience with. I stopped there for a while and just stared at it. It's so strange to be only noticing it then, at night in the dark, when I have walked the same street twice that day when there's daylight. It's like fate? It's also fate because I found it, someone who actually know what it is. Other people who doesn't know who Banksy ii may not realize what they're seeing. The next day when I walked the street again, I made sure to look out for it and took picture of it. There's a glass protecting it now. I think it's the building management who installed it not the city. It's interesting isn't it, if you're famous, your graffiti gets protected. If you're not famous, no matter how nice the work is, no one would take such a steps, people may actually paint over it to cover it up. I wonder if Banksy starts doing graffiti in Singapore, what the Singapore government will do about it. Anyway, that's about it, the day spent in Brooklyn. You can see the pictures here. I also put up the AMNH album here. Initially I wanted to combine all the photos from the museums all together, but then I realized it would just be too big, so there you go. I'll try to write the next day soon :)

:) eKa @ 10:35:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 2: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Must be me that's rushing by
Time just lingers on the wind
Bristlin' through my open fears
I wonder what it's going to bring
Above the clouds, what's to be found
I have to wonder, will I be around

Above The Clouds Lyrics - Paul Weller

Day 2 was spent taking a day tour to Philadelphia. I chose this because it promised visiting an Amish country and for me that is super interesting. The trip departed at 7 am and the bus has 3 guides, for the spanish speaking group, italian speaking group, and the english / german speaking group. To get out of New York, we have to go through Lincoln tunnel which connects Manhattan to New Jersey. The guide was pointing out the heavy morning traffic. I found it insane that you have to pay $14 to get through the tunnel to get from New Jersey to New York. One would ask, why drive then, which is perhaps what's on everyone's mind as well. The guide pointed out the bus only lane. These buses bring commuters from New Jersey to work. They all formed a line and that reminded me of the busway lane in Jakarta. That morning traffic was pretty heavy but I think people living in Jakarta will think of it as nothing special.

When we arrived at Philadelphia, first stop was to see Liberty Bell. If you ask me if I knew what Liberty Bell is before this trip, I would say no, even though I kinda have a recollection that it appeared in Nicholas Cage's movie, National Treasure. Well Liberty Bell is a bell with a crack on it, so it's not actually a very well made bell. It's made in England. It's called the Liberty Bell because, well I kinda forgot why, so read that wiki link. I think it's because it was rung during one important event relating to the independence of America and that's why it got its name Liberty Bell. Because of its crack, right now it's not on the tower anymore and it's being put on display. There's a picture of the Dalai Lama taking a picture with it. It's not a very big bell and the crack is very pronounced. You had to go through a security check to enter the place, with security officers checking your bag and asked to lift your coat and such. They should have just gotten the machines to do all this. Then there's the ranger who will just talk about the bell to all the people visiting. All the rangers in this historical places we visited are so passionate about this that it's so great to see them being so proud about their country history. Anyway the ranger was giving detailed explanation especially because there's a young american girl there. I think it is really important that new generations know the history of their country and it is hard considering it's getting so far away from when historical events took place. I wonder if kids in Indonesia learn the history of Indonesian heroes and wars the way I did when I was a child. If not, it's a real shame.

Next was to visit Independence Hall accross the street. I learnt some American history that day on the trip and it was very interesting, for example: in the early day Philadelphia was the capital city of America. I also now know that the second president of America is John Adams. Much has been said about how it was a peaceful transfer of power from George Washington to John Adams. It may feel normal these days, but in those days there's normally blood shed and struggle of power to get a new leader. So anyway, in the independence hall, again there's security check. First, we saw some artifacts, like the inkstand used by the founding fathers to sign the declaration of independence. Then we went for a tour of the Congress Hall. I think this is only accessible by a timed tour where the park ranger would give explanation of the each of the rooms. The first floor was the house chamber and in the second floor there's the senate chamber. My American politic knowledge is too little to explain what the differences between these. What to be noted are this building and the chambers are not very big because America in its early day wasn't as big as it is now.

Then went to Elfreth's Alley which is this alley with old houses which has been restored to what it was during revolutionary days. The houses were very cute and colourful. There are people actually living there. I guess they're used to people walking up and down their alley. The english guide wasn't very hardworking here, she just waited at the end of the alley. When I saw the Italian guide brought her group to an alley between 2 houses which leads to a small courtyard, I followed them and others followed too. I listened to the guide explanation for a while, like how there's a wall enclosing the courtyard, its purpose is for protection. She also mentioned it's the same thing in Wall Street New York, how it got its name was because there used to be walls there too. That's one benefit of being able to understand other languages when I travel, I can always listen in to guides of a different language :P

Then we made a stop to Betsy Ross' house which is now a museum which I didn't enter. Betsy Ross was the person who made the American flag, first version, because obviously America has gained more states since its independence. There's a fountain in the house with many cats sculpture on it. Maybe she liked cats a lot. Then it's a drive to the Rocky Steps, which is these steps to reach Philadelphia Museum of Art which appeared in the movie Rocky, which I haven't seen. In my defense because I wasn't born yet when the movie was out. A lot of people ran up the steps, but I just walked. There's a fountain in front of the museum and from the top, the view of the square and the city beyond it was pretty nice.

After that, it's a drive to the Amish country in Lancaster. I like how the landscape changes to open space with green farms. What do I know about the Amish before coming here? Well I heard they don't pay tax. They live simply and very old fashioned way following Christian teaching and don't partake in the modern world. I know they dress simply too. Basically I know so little of them. Turns out they use electricity, it's just not from the general power grid, so you wouldn't see wires running through their houses. They generate their own electricity. Perhaps the weirdest thing that came to my head is that they use money too. I don't know why I thought they wouldn't. We passed by a school and it's so cute seeing little Amish kids in their Amish clothing. I know they're not tourist attraction and this fascination of mine on seeing them is not something that I like to have too, but truly I was so fascinated on seeing that.

First stop was this buggy ride with an Amish gentleman. The Amish don't drive, so they use carriage and horses, though I did see an Amish farmer and his son on a tractor. So again, they pick and choose which technology to adopt. I guess as long as it's really necessary and not interfering with their lives and relation to God. We passed by a farm which I was told are peaches. Then we stopped by a house where an Amish girl sold us snacks. There were pretzels and cookies. I didn't plan to buy anything, but upon knowing that a bag of 3 cookies cost $2, I bought a bag. Those 3 cookies almost cost the same as the one cookie I bought for breakfast earlier that morning, though I have to admit my morning cookie did taste much better, though the Amish cookies weren't bad either and imagining that they came from the milk that they milked themselves gave a new sense of appreciation. I'm actually very curious about the Amish life, I have so many questions, but the stupid shy me didn't ask those questions to the farmer. So now so many still left unanswered :( stupid me. I did speak a bit of Italian with the Italian group who happened to be in the same buggy as us. They're from Ravenna, the same city the Italian tourists I met in Turkey. What are the odds if they know each other? This also makes me wonder if people from this city just really like to travel.

After that it was a stop in this little place where there were some shops selling interesting stuff. It was around 2 pm, so very late lunch. I had soup and strawberry rhubarb pie which again I couldn't finish. I did something kinda rude, well I don't know if it's rude. One of the Australian lady (I think she's Australian) asked if I wanted to sit at her table with some other people and I said no. I don't know, I just wanted to be alone and didn't mind it. Anyway, after that with nothing much to do, I entered each of the shop. First was this art shop that sells beautiful paintings. Some of it was of winter scene like in classic Christmas cards, the kind that make you go warm and fuzzy about winter and Christmas in America when you see them. I really like all the paintings in here.

There was a store that sells Amish jams and it was just so amazing with so many different variety and they're not so expensive, like less than $3 for a bottle. I didn't get any because I didn't think it was practical because I'm travelling. Then there was also a store that sells Amish butter and cheese and also olive oil. There was also a teddy bear store ran by an Amish girl or perhaps a Mennonite girl. See another curious thing, what's the difference between Amish and Mennonite. I actually only heard this term Mennonite on this trip. Anyway, so I just went into the shop one by one to pass time. Then I decided to see what my Japanese could do and tried to speak Japanese to the 2 Japanese ladies in the group, but they preferred to answer me in English. Might as well since I'm really not confident with my Japanese. One of them is doing American Literature research and has been living in New York for some time and her friend just came for a visit for a week, a gift from her husband. They're pretty nice and friendly as Japanese do. So that's about it. We went back and I was quite glad that we didn't arrive so late. For pictures from the trip, you can go here. I'm not loving the new Flickr layout :(

:) eKa @ 10:43:00 PM • 0 comments

Day 0/1: New York!

The city's bustle cannot, no it cannot destroy, the dreams of a girl and boy.
We'll turn Manhattan into an isle of joy.

Manhattan - Dinah Washington

Hello guys, I'm back. Since in the last post before I left I started off with a quotation, I think I will start each of the post detailing the trip with some lyrics from the songs that fill the playlist for this trip. I actually wonder if I should write about this trip in details like I used to for all the previous trips. I'm thinking if it would be like me showing off and who on earth cares and reads these things right, but then I think let's just take it as an exercise in writing. I have been writing less in this blog and I didn't write in the journal everyday in this trip, because most of the time I'm too lazy and tired, and when I did write they were brief and not in detail. So I think now that I kinda have the time, I should push myself and write. I think writing skill and being able to put thoughts out coherently is very important, so let's do this, brace yourself for some very long posts, which I will try to post as soon as I can.

The trip began on a Saturday morning. I booked a taxi in advanced for 04:15 am. Arrived at Changi. There were security officers taking our details before checking in, like our passport number and residential status in Singapore, so that's something different. On checking in, the charming malay guy at the counter greeted me with, Pagi!, and I ended up speaking in Indonesian a bit. It kinda made me feel better about this trip. Then I had breakfast, the last Singaporean thing I did, 2 eggs, toasts, and tea. Is what I had for breakfast not necessary to mention?

Moving on, first flight was to Tokyo Narita. The plane went much faster and it took just over 6.5 hours. Had to go through a security check again in Narita. I found this to be odd. Tried to text mom but my phone seemed to have difficulty settling to a new country so it failed. I forget how long I had to wait for the next flight, might be more than 1 hour, but it didn't feel too long. The flight to New York JFK also arrived faster but it dashed all my hope to get to my hotel faster because the immigration queue in JFK was insane. I think it took me like 40 minutes, perhaps more, to clear immigration. There were actually quite a few counters opening up, but there were just too many people. I was thinking how to fix this situation, maybe they could try to schedule the flights coming in better? I don't know. Round and round we traversed the queue. My queue was for people with visa like mine (who went through the manual application) and for people who are using the online ESTA visa for the first time. We had to get finger printed again and that made me worried, but luckily there's no issue at all. I guess in my case, the machine just needed to check if my fingerprint matches what they have in their database. As for the people with ESTA for the first time, I guess the system may be collecting all their fingerprints. The officer at the counter had a frown in his face which I'd like to think because he's horrified to see the horde of people coming and he's thinking of his exit plan in case all these people turn into zombies. He didn't ask me for the purpose of my visit and didn't say, "Welcome to America", when he handed me back my passport. This made me wonder how on earth this Singaporean guy I know got turned back in the immigration, like seriously he got off the plane and had to figure out how to get back to Singapore immediately because he was denied entry. We were given a form to fill, in which I said my purpose of visit is for leisure / vacation. I guess if you put business there, perhaps there can be complication.

Immigration took so long that our luggages were not even in the wheel anymore. They were already taken down by the staff. Found my bag and joined the long queue for the taxi. Decided to take the taxi instead of the shuttle service because the shuttle service has very bad reviews and I just wanted to get to my hotel as soon as possible and preferably when there's still daylight. Got into the taxi and I thought the taxi was not very spacious and I wonder how bigger size Americans deal with this. I was feeling queasy at the taxi and was so happy to get to the hotel. The room wasn't as good as I wanted it to be and as usual this kinda thing easily brought my mood down. I had to take care of business however, which is the first thing I always do upon settling in a new place, find water. I already googled the nearest supermarket and proceeded to walk there. It wasn't that near, the blocks are big in New York. In retrospect, I could have just gotten water in the deli across from the hotel. Anyway I got my water and wasn't feeling so hungry, so I just showered, flipped through the tv, and easily fell asleep.

Next day was day 1 in New York. The plan was to go to check out the High Line in the morning and went to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNNH) which was so very near to my hotel. The OCD me had googled everything I could think of and I know which train to take and which station to take it from, so I set out to the subway. Needed to pass this little park to get to the subway, saw a gorgeous kwanzan cherry tree which was blooming beautifully. The little park has a little area where you can let dogs run lose. I thought it was quite a neat idea. Anyway, got to the station and managed to use the machine and get the metro card all by myself, I was so proud of myself :P Then off to the platform for the downtown direction. I decided to check out the meeting place for the day tours I booked first because it's along the way. Found it easy enough without much problem (surprisingly), then I went to have breakfast. Meal portion is America is so big that when they came, I always think it's not humanly possible to finish those, which of course is wrong of me because American human can finish those meals. I would have loved pancakes but seeing the portion, I decided on bagel and hot chocolate, which I had difficulty finishing. I think my body was still all weirded out because of the long journey.

After that it's back to the subway. Got to the correct stop but then I got confused about where to go. I decided to stop at the bus stop and looked at the map in my phone and decided on the direction I should go which was generally the correct direction, but since I kept on not finding the place, I turned back and this happened several times, me turning back and forth different blocks. It was very silly. At one point, I thought if I should just give up, but God damn it, I just could not give up. I was thinking all of this would be so much easier and less painful on me if I could just give up, but I just can't, I don't know why, I cannot explain it. I don't know how long this went on, maybe 30-40 mins of walking in different directions. If you think about it, that's a lot of walking. In the end, I was at this junction waiting for the light to cross when an older couple, I think Australian, asked me if I know where the high line is. I told them I was looking for exactly the same thing and I don't know where we are. The dad, thank God for him, then asked another group who just arrived at the same junction as us. The man in that group happened to be better in map and direction and brought us all there. It's amusing no, I was lost, someone asked me for direction and I couldn't help them, and we're all ended up being rescued by other travellers. Maybe there's a reason for all this. I don't know, point is we arrived. We arrived at one end of The High Line, which is this elevated park on unused railway tracks.

It's very interesting and a real good use of the tracks. Not all the tracks is there anymore and I tried to walk on one of the plank no matter how silly it made me look. I saw someone did it and it looked fun. It's quite a long and nice walk. There are different flowering plants and since it's spring, there were some trees with nice little purple flowers. Since it's quite new, the trees are not very tall yet. I like it best when there are trees at both sides and they're tall enough to kinda create a covered walkway and it's like a different world walking through it. When there are not many trees, you can see many buildings around. Some of them are very close, like you can see inside the windows of some of these buildings and I wonder if the people living there stop hanging out near their windows because they would be seen by so many people. I for sure will close my windows if I live in one of those buildings. There are also some really nice art works in some of the buildings, like this one which is so cool.

So I walked until I reached the other end and got down to street level. At this other end, there are many restaurants around and they're filled with people being that it's a Sunday. I decided to just go straight to AMNNH. First I needed to find the subway station. Followed the map in my phone and it was a long walk, I may have gotten lost again, for sure there was one time I was walking towards the wrong street that I had to backtrack. Eventually I got to the station but darn it, I took the wrong train. New York subway is very complicated for me and I have studied this before I went to New York, but I still got it wrong. I took an express train which didn't stop at my stop, so I had to backtrack. In my defense, it wasn't clear for me if the train was an express one or not. Now I think I know that if the train is coming in the middle platform, one must be wary that it's an express train.

Anyway, I eventually made it to AMNH and I entered through the planetarium instead of the front entrance. There wasn't much of a queue here, I don't know if it's more crowded in the main entrance. I decided to get the ticket which included all the special exhibitions at $35. I don't know if I saw everything there is to see in AMNH. I think I did but maybe I didn't because I couldn't relate what I saw with what's in Night at the Museum. The museum itself is very interesting and has a wide array of things you can learn from. There's the animal dioramas, exhibitions on gems and minerals, culture and civilization artifacts, dinosaurs, many different things.

I went to all the special exhibitions, but there were 3 that I thought was really great. The ticketing staff actually assigned a timing to enter the special exhibitions but it turned out I could enter outside my assigned timing. The staff in the butterfly exhibition said it's alright because it's kinda slow. The butterfly enclosure was not very big, but it's awesome because there were many different kinds of butterflies. The enclosure was rather hot which made me wonder if butterflies could only strive in hotter temperature. There were friendly staff who I think would really like you to ask questions, but I didn't. I was really enjoying myself looking at the different butterflies. So this was one of the special exhibition which I thought was great.

The next one was the tiny giant 3D movie. It was about a chipmunk in a forest collecting acorn for winter and a grasshopper mouse in the desert. They were so cute and the movie is great actually, however I had a bad attack of sleepiness, maybe it's jet lag. I just got so sleepy, yawning one after another that it was a struggle to stay awake. I contemplated pinching myself, but I didn't want to leave marks, then I remembered that I had some chewy mint so I took them one after another, but it was still so hard to stay awake. At this point I realize how dangerous it is to fall asleep. One it would be so so embarrassing, two bad people could just take all my belonging while I sleep. Bottom line, I couldn't really enjoy the movie fully. I was just hoping for it to be over quickly so that I can get out.

When it was done, I was still sleepy, but I still had another exhibition to go through, the Dark Universe movie at the planetarium. The walking around helped to ease the sleepiness a bit, but I was still so tired. The Dark Universe movie was pretty awesome because it's shown in a a theatre where the screen is in a dome shape above you. The room got very dark, pitch black, and you look up to see the presentation. It was very cool and beautiful. There's also a sensation of motion even though you didn't move. It made me feel somewhat uneasy. I was surprised that there was a baby and it didn't cry even though it was so dark and the movie could be pretty intense at times. I couldn't remember anything about the presentation because it's way beyond my knowledge, but one thing did stick. Towards the end, the narrator said that some scientist theorized that the universe is infinitely large. For me something like that would be beyond our comprehension and that makes me think of God. Sometime science and God doesn't mix, like if I try to rationalize God, my head literally will start to ache. So I think God is just something to be taken with faith. The universe is infinitely large, are we supposed to understand it, where it begins, where it ends. Perhaps it's just something to be accepted that there are some things we will never be able to understand, just like God. I don't know if I am making any sense.

Anyways, after that, I headed back to the hotel. Was thinking of getting Shake Shack for dinner, but it had lines exceeding its front door, so I opted to walk some blocks instead to get pizza. I only got a slice but man that slice was so big. I think it took me more than 15 mins to finish it and by the end I was really struggling to finish it that I contemplated if I should just stop. Again, I didn't quit and I finished it :) It was a good pizza actually, but again I think my body was still in a weird state and it affected my appetite. I was so tired that I was dozzing off as soon as I hit the bed that I had to set an alarm to wake me up to watch Mad Men. Mad Men in itself could be sleep inducing sometime that I decided not to watch the whole thing. I had to wake up early anyway because the next day was a day trip to Philadelphia. That story will be for the next post. As for pictures, I'm still trying to sort them out, so I'll post the links later on. So that's it, day 0 and 1, New York City :)

:) eKa @ 10:09:00 PM • 0 comments

The Expedition Alone

It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days. An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, ...

Hello guys, those are the first few lines from the book, The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, which I am really enjoying so far. Before we get into it, let's backtrack a bit. I finished reading, Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. As expected there were times when I didn't understand the french. What's sad was that those times happened more than I expected. One is the issue of there's just words I don't know, for example I didn't know the french word for thorn. Then the book also uses passe simple which is a tense like passato remoto in italian, which we (by that I mean me) didn't put much effort drilling into my head. I think I was even absent during the class when passe simple was introduced. This is a tense to describe things that happened so long ago in the past, hence the remote part of in passato remoto. The french called it passe simple, but I find there's nothing simple about it. You're already struggling to remember all the conjugations to explain things that happened yesterday and the people that be thought you need to learn more to describe things that happened years ago, sigh. So anyway, I ended up going online after reading a chapter to read the chapter again in english. This was helpful when the chapter was rather hard for me and was also helpful for me to get the meaning of certain words. The story was very meaningful and also very sad. For a children book, it's kinda very dark, but now I wonder if it's because I'm an adult I find it dark, maybe a child will see the ending as a positive one? I don't know. Looking forward to watch the french animated movie which seems to have another story weaved into it.

So now I am reading The Remains of the Day which as far as I can tell right now, it's about a butler. Life with butlers and such makes me think of Downton Abbey, funnily enough I couldn't picture someone like Mr. Carson being the butler in The Remains of the Day. He just sounds different. Those lines in the beginning of this post is the thought of this butler. As I read those, I was again thinking how sometime me choosing and reading a book is like fate. Those first lines felt like it's speaking to me, like an encouragement, a sign that we'll be alright. You see, the trip this year / my birthday present for myself / my escape from real world / my what sadly now feels like more like a task to complete rather than something I am truly excited about is a trip to New York and San Francisco. Yes, high five all around. That last sentiment about this feels like a task and not something I am truly excited about sounds rather ungrateful. Well I think it stems from the fact that I am doing this alone and that bring sadness and fear and then there's the whole planning and logistic thing which never gets easier. I was packing my luggage last weekend and it took me like one hour plus and I was so tired and I wondered if it has always taken that long. I have a list, but still putting all them together took time and was tiring.

I have a lot of fear about this trip. When I went home this Chinese New Year, my dad said I shouldn't go anywhere far this year because this year is not very good for the dog sign. So me not doing what he says is a bit of a concern for me, if karma is gonna get me. I also have some fear about going to the United States of America:
  1. I'm afraid I'm gonna get mugged and something terribly bad is going to happen to me.
  2. I'm afraid I'm going to get shot in a random shooting by some deranged person with a gun :(
  3. I'm afraid I'm going to get killed for being in a place where there's a terrorist attack.
Number 1 perhaps can happen anywhere, though not really actually. The possibility it's happening in Singapore, Japan, or New Zealand for example is pretty much 0. Number 2 and 3 are highly possible in America :( Then there's also the fear of being in a plane crash and such. It is illogical really how we still get in a car without fear when there are so many more traffic accidents happening everyday and yet when a few plane crashes happened, we'll get so frightened :( I really hope nothing bad will happen to me because that would be heartbreaking for my parents especially when they already said don't go. Mom is as usual has apprehension about me going alone, but when I have made the decision, she's always in a praying mode and tells me to pray, be careful, and be alert. I did ask someone to go with me on this trip and I was declined with a nah (literally!). Well, at least I did try to ask people. Then I contemplated if I should ask other people, but not matter how scared I was, in the end I decided not to because there's a 70% chance I would be rejected again and that sucks and I'm also not sure if I want to be around anyone. It's like I'd rather be alone than be with boring people and I do want a room for myself. This is all weird I know. You would think that when you're so lonely you would welcome any kind of company, apparently I am still that choosy. Also, why can't I be the one getting asked? Why do I have to be the one asking people and no one asks me. It is really sad I know that I never get asked to do stuff, so I am thankful to the people who from time to time will remember that they haven't seen me in a while and ask me out, namely la Gioia and the once in a blue moon Gascoigne. Anyway, I have to admit the benefit of having someone in a trip, having someone to share the room with you cut down your cost like half and at this time when I think I have gone WAY over budget, it does feel good if there's someone to help me cut cost. Some people would say having a companion will also help you in the planning, but from past experiences with 3 different people, I still was the one doing all the planning, so I haven't seen this benefit. I am still thankful for those people though, without whom I wouldn't be able to do some of the things I did.

I'm not sure why I am pretty anxious right now about being over budget. Did I have an unrealistic expectation about the things that I wanted to do? I would only know the extent of the damage after the trip is over, but hopefully it'll be alright. DBS blocked my credit card one Friday evening as I was booking stuff. The booking frenzy was triggered with me finding out that the musical The King and I is staging at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center and Ken Watanabe will be playing the king. I had been googling Broadway musicals for some days before and couldn't really find anything that struck my fancy, but when I found out about The King and I, I just had to. If only I had found out sooner maybe I would have gotten better seats, but I think I was lucky enough to be getting seat at all because it was selling out. So when I bought that ticket, I thought there's no point waiting anymore, let's just book everything we need and after my day tour purchases, I got the text that the card was blocked. I am grateful that DBS is protective of me, but it's such a hassle especially because the same credit card had been used many times before at the same site. The good thing though the number to call that they provide is manned by a real human 24 hours a day and they're very nice and prompt in addressing my concerns. I ended up telling the staff my travel plan in addition to activating my card for overseas use just to make sure I don't get blocked when I'm out of the country.

Everything seems to be coming together. They did fall into their places quite at the last minute, at times when I thought it's not gonna happen, but they're happening so I'm starting to feel positive and think that God is really helping me out. I hope I'll be alright there and come back in one piece. There's things that make me nervous when I think about it, but I need to stop stressing myself out so I have to stop thinking about it. By the way let's talk about visa application which ended up to be one of the easiest process ever. To apply for a US visa for the unfortunate people who have to do this like me, you have to fill an online form and upload your photo and have that photo in hard copy in a particular measurement. The online form apparently would have more questions if you are male. I was quite worried about having to answer when I entered and finished schools, like come on, I graduated university 12 years ago, damn I am so old!. I couldn't remember my exact date of graduation and entering NUS, how on earth I would remember when I entered and finished high school and junior high school. Thankfully since I'm a girl, I didn't get this question. Anyway, then you have to pay the fee at a Standard Chartered Bank which when I did it was at S$ 234. Then you schedule an interview and when I was applying the next available appointment was like more than 1 week away. Being the OCD me, I prayed and checked the website over and over and managed to get an earlier slot when I saw that it suddenly opened up. Then you go to the embassy at the appointed hour and take a number. You'll be called to a counter where they took the photo you brought and the appointment confirmation letter. I was asked about my residency status in Singapore but they didn't ask to see any proof. Then you wait to be fingerprinted. As expected it wasn't all smooth for me even though it wasn't as bad as the traumatic experience in the French embassy and wasn't as bad as that time in the Indonesian embassy. Seriously I would be so happy if someone invent a contactless fingerprinting device. Anyways then we wait for the call to another counter where the staff would ask you questions.

I happened to be sitting waiting in front of the 2 counters so I got to hear some of the questions being asked, particularly by the staff on the left counter because she was louder. The 2 counters were manned by Chinese American and the left one conducted one of the questioning all in Chinese so I think both of them can speak Chinese. Questions varied from people to people and it seemed all the people before me had reasons other than vacation. A few people were asked to show their CV which caught these people by surprise including me. I've applied visa to different places and having a CV was never the requirement. By the way, the weird and strange thing about applying a US visa is that they don't have a list of documents you must have. They have a list of recommended documents to bring to prove our strong tie to our country or the country we live in, but these are not mandatory. Hence I didn't even bother to come up with the 1 piece of paper which I loathe the most when I have to apply for visa. The main important thing for them it seems is that we fill the online form truthfully, but honestly are there anyone going to answer yes to questions like whether or not they're coming to the USA to engage in prostitution, money laundering, etc. I think that perhaps from the online submission they would have a face recognition software to see if the photo we uploaded raise some alarm or if our name is suspicious (or at least I do hope they have this check), but I feel the whole approach is like, well we'll take your word for it. The check did not seem very strong. Another example, they asked my residency status in Singapore and how long I have been here, but they didn't ask to show any identification, which makes me wonder if the Singapore government shares information of their residents to the embassy, like by running our passport number they would already have information on who we are. If that's the case that kinda sucks because I think our consent should be asked.

Anyway, so there I was eavesdropping on the lady on the left who would approve visa by saying, "I'm happy to approve your visa", which must have sounded so sweet to all the successful applicants. The people she interviewed had many different stories and she could be very specific on her questioning. To a newly married guy whose wife is currently stationed in America for work, she asked, so what's the plan, are you going to continue being separated? To the lady who apparently spent some months before living with her uncle in the US as a tourist, she asked, what did you do, just stayed at home everyday and watched tv? The most difficult one was to this Chinese researcher who didn't speak english fluently, she asked him to explain what his research what and asked some details, that was quite painful to hear. Overall I think she only denied one person, the lady that she interviewed in Chinese. As for me, I got the lady on the right. She asked me a few questions like how long I have been here, if I would be travelling alone, where I had been before. I was preparing to show my old passport at that question because my new one is practically blank, but she didn't ask for it, so again it's like, I'll take your word for it. She did ask if I was alone on those trips, in which I said yes, but then I realized it sounded so sad and so I added, on some of it, some of it was with friend, which was true. After that and the only thing she asked from me was to show my bank account statement and that was it, visa approved. So then I learn, it seems how much money you have still matters more than your extensive travel history. It seems all is very straightforward and easy if you have no family staying in the US and your purpose of travel is vacation. Before applying I have read so many blog posts of other people's experience, it seems that there are a few who were not asked to show a single document. So that and also based on my experience, applying a US visa is the easiest process I've experienced. As mentioned above, I'm just glad that I didn't have to show that one letter that I hate the most. The fee may seem rather high, but the visa is a multiple entry one for 5 years. If you compare this with schengen visa which ask you to get a travel insurance too, their visa could end up costing the most. There is a lot of anxiety about applying for US visa, I guess it's because of the interview part which makes people nervous, but I would gladly do this than getting all the different documents, but yes it is also very odd that they don't see the need to inspect all the documents to verify you are what you say you are. Okay, one last thing I find amusing is in that visa room, there's a picture of President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State John Kerry. As an Indonesian, it's odd there's another picture up there, but I guess he's there because he's kinda the boss of the foreign offices.

Alright so that's the story. Leaving Saturday morning, whih means I have to leave for Changi before sunrise, arrrghh!. Will be back late night on the 14th, so it could also be on the 15th if there's a delay. Since everything is falling into their places, I'm not so nervous about it if I don't think about it and I think I kinda manage to not think about it so much. I hope everything will be alright. I thank God for making everything work up so well to this point, hope He'll be with me too (as He always did on previous travels and everyday in my life) and everything will be alright :) I'm still off Facebook, the count is 1 month plus now since I logged in after my birthday to see the messages put on my wall. I reckon I will tweet a lot instead which doesn't help the fact that I would still be like showing off all the nice things I see, but I have so few followers and I don't think they go to twitter much. We'll see how it goes.

:) eKa @ 9:00:00 PM • 0 comments