flying solo in 2011

This is probably my most image-heavy post ever in my history of blogging. I can’t remember if I have ever posted anything else with as many pictures as this… though by standards of the online community, this isn’t much. But by my standards it is a record. I would rather write than post pictures simply because it takes less effort to write than to crop my pictures, choose which ones to post and then upload them here. It is a little tedious and I am very lazy, even if I know everyone prefers visuals. But tonight I don’t feel like ‘talking’ as much.

Twelve months in a year, fourteen cities including home, which I am sure you can spot from the pictures. It is that obvious.

Je suis fatigué.

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Times Square

One of the other places that I enjoyed and was totally in awe of. Maybe it’s just that easy to impress me or I’m just really too easy to get bowled over by all things colourful and lively.

There have been many versions of Times Square all around, from the one in Shanghai to Hong Kong and where else? But nothing beats this, even if they all share the same name but the feeling is so different. Ok again I’m getting starry-eyed thinking about my long vacation and dreaming of going on yet another long vacation. I can’t stand all these withdrawal symptoms when I return but yet I still wish to have a holiday that is long enough for me to forget everything else. Contradictory much? We all are.

I remembered how I said one too many times that I love cities and the bright lights. Long ago, I had this friend who said that a city that was too quiet seems sad. She meant that cities are meant to be busy and bustling with activity, so on days when it’s quiet and peaceful it just feels all kinds of forlorn. I don’t really share the sentiment because I revel in enjoying the peace of our very own Raffles Place on weekends when it is devoid of office crowds, but I like to be there sometimes, perhaps more as a bystander and onlooker rather than part of it. Recently, I was back at Raffles Place for lunch with a friend and noticed how much I feel out of it, and how out of place I was and how I was glad to not be part of that rush hour crowd fretting over where to have lunch at that wasn’t too thronged with people.

But back to Times Square… I guess what attracted me was all that buzz and lights and noise all around. Perhaps it’s overwhelmingly exciting for that moment, and I don’t think I could ever be soaked up in that for the entire day because I’d probably be driven nuts. But seeing all that interplay of sounds and lights somehow remind of me Tokyo, and you can easily see what are the traits that draw me to a place. It could just be that I’m so afraid of lonesomeness that subconsciously I get drawn to places that are always busy so that I can lose myself in anonymity within a crowd. In a city, it is not difficult at all to get lost and still blend in perfectly, because there are just too many lonely souls out there, one faceless body morphing into the next.

It was enough for me to just stand in the midst of it all and take in everything at that instant, seeing tourists snapping photos this way and that, New Yorkers rushing about as usual, shoppers weaving in and out of the myriad of stores that line the busy streets peppered with the ubiquitous yellow cab, large billboards of the musicals blinking in bright neon lights, advertisements…

If you, like me, love visiting cities, this would be one of the places that you’d not want to miss. I doubt I’d be able to visit as often as I’d have liked, since this place, as compared to Tokyo, is three times the journey from Singapore to Japan, and that is becoming too long a trip for me to make these days.

Have a great week ahead, two weeks to the Chinese Lunar New Year!

Halloween Parade NYC 2011

It was more than two months ago, yes but it was a rather interesting parade I saw.

I have never really been in the Halloween mood or for that matter attended any Halloween parties. Usually in Singapore the clubs will just be jammed packed with party-goers in all sorts of Halloween or weird outfits. But since I was in NYC when it was Halloween, J suggested that we check out the parade. October 31 was on a Monday but that didn’t dampen the mood for these Halloween folks at all because when we reached Sixth Avenue at about 8pm or thereabouts, it was mad crowded.

There were lots of people dressed for the occasion even though we weren’t but it was all still a lot of fun walking up the street and trying to identify who’s who. It didn’t get too crazy too since the NYPD deployed a lot of officers to maintain order about the city, but I guess the mess and trash created in the one night of parade will be a hell of a clean-up the day after. Anyhow, it was nice cooling weather to be out on the streets catching the parade in good fun, so here are some of the photos that I managed, though they are of rather poor quality. You can check out more pictures from its official website here.

Just check out the crowd thronging the streets, and it’s a Monday night!

He’s from some vampire movie right? Although I don’t think I’ve watched that show…

The pretty masks attracted us to take a picture of this couple, photo-bombed by that… what do you call him, soul-catcher?

We were really amused by this guy, and he was the crowd favourite, judging by the people who were waiting to take pictures with him and of him. Someone shouted “I’ve been flashed by the flasher!” and yes you did, literally. Haha.

And the Mad Hatter! Sadly, it’s not the ‘real’ Mad Hatter aka JD.

We walked about the crowd trying to spot and photograph some interesting costumes but these were just about the only ones I managed because there were too many people and sometimes I just wasn’t able to squeeze in line to snap a picture. It was a great experience though, and fun laughing at how ingenious some of the costumes were. The parade was supposed to end at about 1030pm but we didn’t really stick around till then because after a while of walking in the throngs of people we got tired and decided to head back to the apartment. Along the way we spotted the poodle lady, dressed like her pooch!

Happy belated Halloween 2011!

museum-hopping

I don’t consider myself an arts or even museum buff. But when I travel, it seems like museums are a common place that I’d visit, usually when I’m travelling with friends. However, having said that, there are some places where I have not visited a single museum, e.g. Hong Kong, Taipei, Malaysia, etc. Mostly, the ones I’ve been to are in Europe because somehow the museusm there are among the must-visit places. Who can resist going to the Louvre in Paris even if just to admire the building and the inverted glass pyramid outside? I was there just once and the grounds of the grand dame were so massive I spent about 4 hours and covered only a miniscule section, catching a travelling exhibit of some of Da Vinci’s works and of course, the famed Mona Lisa, which kind of disappointed me because I’d expected it to be larger. It’s still mysterious in its own way but when the size of the portrait is reduced it seems too that the grandeur of it is pared down accordingly as well. Or it is just because I am superficial like that.

So in New York, even when I did not do one of the must-do things like watch a Broadway musical, I visited some museusm, three in total. I missed the Museum of Natural History, which was supposed to be really good but we didn’t have enough time for a fourth museum and like I mentioned in some of my previous posts we didn’t want a harried itinerary. Keeping it relaxing and simple was our key to this vacation.

We went to the Met on a Sunday, the day after that freak snowfall day where temperatures dipped greatly and it snowed/rained the entire day. The sun came out again and it was indeed a glorious day, even if it was still rather cold but the sunshine made up for it. If only we could enjoy the sunshine equally here in Singapore…

Being a Sunday, the Met was brimming with people, tourists and I suspect, locals as well. Perhaps I have never noticed before since I typically holiday during the warmer months (for some odd reasons perhaps to make use of the longer daylight hours), but these museums all come with coat-check counters, so you can leave your bulky winter clothing and paraphernalia with them and tour the museum in ease without having to lug so much around.

We were advised by friends to purchase the New York City Pass, which costs USD79 per person, and it covers complimentary entry to 4 museums. The one we missed was the Natural History museum, but if you are planning to hit all these 4, I’d say USD79 to pay for it is extremely worthwhile because with this you can skip the queue! It also includes other things, one of which is a ticket up to the Empire State Building, and some other ferry rides (which I cannot remember). The city pass can be bought over the counter at the museums (which we did at the Met), so you don’t have to make another separate trip to a tourist information counter for it. 🙂

Nice sunlight filtering through into the museum.

This was an interesting exhibit in the museum, which was made of reflective stones so that when light falls onto them, from different angles you can see different colours as you walk about it. We were shown this during a short free tour that we took of the museum. Since the Met is also an extremely large museum, we decided to join a tour that took us on the highlights of the place according to the guide who brought us around of course. There are various tours available to cater to different interests; ours took about an hour after which we continued to walk about on our own for another hour or so, visiting the various galleries with paintings by famed artists that I wanted to see, then left when we felt that we had about enough.

This was an interesting sculpture that was shown to us too, Ugolino and His Sons. There is a rather sad story behind this statue which depicts Ugolino imprisoned with his two sons and two grandsons, where they were left to starve. From what the guide said and also what I read briefly online, there was some doubt surrounding whether he consumed the flesh of his children when they starved to death but all in all the expressions on their faces looked rather disturbing.

Now this was a much nicer view to behold. Looking at this picture now makes me miss being on vacation. Ah… all that withdrawal symptoms never seem to abate.

On a separate day, we decided to pop into the Museum of Modern Art, more popularly known as MoMa. It’s a much smaller museum as compared to the Metropolitan Museum, and here they also have things that piqued my interest. I’m not really keen on seeing too many artefacts or sculptures or abstract stuff; usually what draws me to museums are galleries, which MoMa has, different from the Tate Modern in London which after a while, I realised wasn’t really for me.

I liked this part of the glass-windowed wall that looks out to the city of brown buildings, with a rare yard of sparse greenery next to it, and the facing building with similar glass walls is I think an office. Looks like a pretty cool place to be working in, but maybe not when it’s summer. Hehe.

Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” hung in one of its galleries, and recently I saw another version of this at the travelling Musee d’Orsay exhibit at our National Museum. Love the colours used here, the darkish blue of the sky with yellow spots that I would presume are the stars but look more like suns to me.

Another of his works also displayed in the MoMa is “The Olive Trees”, but this didn’t get as much attention from visitors as the former.

The MoMa was considerably crowded for a weekday late morning when we went, but with the City pass, again we got to skip the queue and went straight into the museum after checking our coats. One thing about the coat check counters was that they tend to be a little slow sometimes, and the people at the counters don’t seem too enthusiastic about their work. I know work is never really enjoyable but if you work in the service line, I guess it’s fundamental that you like to smile at people, whether you like it or not.

“Repose” by Picasso, another painting that drew me to it.

The MoMa also had a coupled of Monet’s Water Lilies and they were rather large drawings. More like panels, since they took up an entire wall. Although I just said I think paintings look nicer when they are bigger but bigger isn’t always better because honestly (art critics will probably blanche to hear me say this but hey I’m no connoisseur) I can’t really appreciate the Water Lilies.

We spent about an hour plus at the MoMa before heading out again into the streets. What I love about museums here are that they are all located right smack in town, so you don’t have to spend too much time commuting to/fro the museums.

The last one that we visited was the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, with its very unique shape designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Indoors, this circular part is actually a spiral ramp wherein the centre of it could be displayed exhibits. On our first visit the ramp was closed as they were in the midst of putting up a new display that began on November 4, 2011. So that was the day we returned, and boy was the queue long! But we skipped it of course.

The museum is even smaller as compared to the MoMa, but while they have an exhibit in the centre of the spiralling ramp, they also have other galleries with permanent collections, which I didn’t really see. I was only interested in this display.

These were actually works of Maurizio Cattelan, and I won’t pretend to know who he is or what he did. But I just marvelled at the way his various works were displayed in such an interesting manner, suspended by cables and harnesses to create such an epic installation. As I walked upwards on the ramp, I could get a closer glimpse of each of the hung exhibits, and some of them were rather odd-looking and disturbing. I guess that’s the thing with artists, they express themselves through their works and it’s not always a bed of roses so what emerges in art forms can also be with dark and unsettling results.

Overall, I felt that these were three really great museums and I was glad that we managed to pay them a visit. Perhaps if I were to visit New York again, I’ll return to check out what’s new at the Guggenheim, and I’ll also be sure to visit the Natural History museum then!

stepping foot into the big apple

I am going to sound like a broken record but I really can’t get over being in love with New York. Or at least the New York city of fall that I got a glimpse of over those short 8/9 days that I was there.

We booked ourselves on the Super Shuttle that picked us up from the apartment in San Francisco that took us to SFO airport where we waited a while for the Virgin flight that would take us cross- country to JFK. I cannot recall now the exact duration of the flight but it was probably about 5 to 6 hours. We tried catching some sleep on the red-eye, which is usually rather tough for me but being in the small plane with only a center aisle, I was glad my 2 fellow passengers seated on the inside did not for once decide to want to get out for a toilet break. I don’t think I did either, I just tried to sleep and before I knew it I was there.

It was a lovely sunny morning over at JFK when we disembarked from the plane, but it was only after we collected our baggage and was waited outside near the taxi line for the Golden Horse transport that we booked that I felt the cold. Bad. I didn’t expect it to be that cold in New York because the last we checked it really wasn’t supposed to be that cold, and we had even verified it with friends whom we were going to bunk in with. But with the way weather is these days you really can’t be sure anymore. I only had a trench coat that was probably ok for temperatures in the mid-10s but it was 2 degrees that morning. So with the wind blowing I almost died outside JFK. Layering, in this case, didn’t help.

The ride wasn’t exactly comfortable because the car had a funky smell in it, maybe stale cigarettes? But since it was a Friday morning when we arrived, we got stuck in morning peak traffic on one of the bridges that connected to Manhattan. I can’t recall which bridge it was, if I’m not wrong it should be Brooklyn since that is the one closest to the friends’ apartment on Wall Street. They stayed in a really nice apartment in one of the newer apartment blocks in Wall Street area and we got a room to ourselves! Yay to friends who live abroad and are kind enough to offer us free accommodation! So after taking a much-needed shower to freshen up and rid ourselves of the stale cabin air, SJ took us out for a walk around in the neighbourhood.

It was probably close to lunch by the time we were ready to head out so we decided to eat first and this was our first stop. Luke’s Lobster on William Street.

It’s easily one of the best lobster/crab rolls that I have ever had. Ok, not that I have had many of these before but it was simply divine. The bread was warm and soft and the insides coated with a thin layer of butter that made it extremely fragrant (a little like how garlic bread is like), and the crab roll was just to-die-for. Oddly, I preferred the crab to the lobster even though the crab pieces were smaller in comparison to the lobster. I liked the way the crab/lobster were seasoned, abounding with peppery goodness yet not engulfing the original taste of the seafood. We ordered a clam chowder as well that wasn’t too thick or overflowing with the strong odour that some clam chowders have but I didn’t take too much of it since the roll itself was more than enough for me.

After lunch we made a stop at Fika Espresso nearby for a caffeine boost that we badly needed, but I’ll share the photos that I took on a different day, in another post. My friends had the mocha/latte but I took a regular brew. I think with coffees, I really prefer the espresso-based type because I still cannot really appreciate brew coffee. They all taste pretty much the same to me, typically bitter and more acidic since I always have it black with sugar without the milk.

This was near Battery Park and it’s in one of these buildings that he works. The day was still nice and clear although I was still feeling all kinds of cold in the skimpy trench coat that was all I had.

Couldn’t resist a picture of the yellow cabs! In the far background is the ongoing construction at Ground Zero. We walked along Battery Place and up West Street, taking in the sights and sounds and also passing buildings and landmarks… until we got nearer to Ground Zero and saw where all the people were. Initially while we were walking about it was actually fairly quiet but closer to where WTC was we started seeing lots of tourists and probably locals too. We passed Liberty Square where the Occupy Wall Street protest was going on. It was really just a gathering of people in a very small area, many tents set up in the square with the NYPD around its perimeter. That was a day with still considerably fine weather, but it got cold on Friday night and when we woke on Saturday it was snowing so I couldn’t imagine how miserable the OWS protestors must have felt out in the cold.

We actually walked for a couple of hours then returned to the apartment for a bit of rest, I think. Much of what happened that day might have already escaped me because I was so stoned from the lack of sleep. But we went to the top of the apartment building and there was a pretty awesome view of Wall Street, even if its just a lot of buildings. I don’t get claustrophobia from seeing a lot of buildings like these maybe because the sky is still visible and where we are able to look far ahead I think it’s still good.

Rested for a while before we headed out to SoHo to meet up with A for dinner! We made a stop first at Uniqlo on Broadway because it was so cold that I decided that I should just get a down jacket since they are the ones who make and sell good down coats are prices that are affordable to common folk like me. Apparently many people have the same idea as I did because it was thronged with shoppers, which resulted in irate shop assistants who have to deal with the unexpected surge in shopper volume due to the impending cold the next day. So I bought myself a long down coat for which I was glad I did because I don’t think I’d be sitting here blogging about NYC if I were to have to survive those days with the Zara trench I brought.

Just writing about the place is already making me miss it so much. Pardon me but when you have experienced one of the best cities in the world and enjoyed the big part of it since I was on vacation anyhow, it is really tough to not go on and on about it. 🙂

day by day

Perhaps we were lucky. We got to experience various different types of weather while we were in New York City over the duration of about 8 days. Thankfully on most days the weather was fine, and although it was generally cold the sun was out pretty much of the time so we didn’t feel gloomy. There were only a couple of days when it was a little cloudy, and one extremely cold Saturday, the day just after we arrive from San Francisco, when we woke up in the morning to see snow falling heavily. It was probably something more like sleet but at some points it was rather light and we told ourselves that it was snowing.

There may be people who would balk to see something like this; a dense concrete jungle that will threaten to smother and stifle. But to me, this was an awesome view. Maybe I don’t feel that sense of suffocation because being on vacation, I had all the time in the world to breathe and take in the sights, do everything at my own pace and not have to rush. I ended up spending more than a week in New York but really I don’t think I did that much if you ask me. That’s me. I can spend my time weaving through the crowds, taking occasional coffee breaks to rest my legs and feet and just watch people and things. Time just passes like that.

It was a very sunny day and generally clear that from where we were, we could actually see Wall Street in front at the waterfront. , with the very obvious parting of the buildings which was Fifth Avenue. On one day, I took the subway up to the 59th avenue and from there I walked up and down Fifth Avenue a few times until I got to Union Square on the 14th street. I spent about a total of 10 hours walking I think.

Even though it was so sunny that the glare was rather unbearable, the winds were extremely strong and piercingly cold, that with a long, down jacket pulled close and with the hood of the coat protecting my head, I still felt my entire face and fingers going numb from the cold. And guess what, as the wind blew, I couldn’t even walk against it because it was too strong. Imagine me with the kind of bulk and being held back by the wind, that’s how powerful the winds were.

I really miss New York, and definitely one day I want to go back there. Let’s go there together shall we? 🙂

learning to breathe again…

Taken in Central Park on a day with amazing weather. It was cool and yet with wonderful sunlight. Actually it got a little warm walking through the park, but with the foliage afforded by the trees overhead as we walked, it gradually got better.

Today was a crappy day. Received a not-so-good piece of news in the morning, and then somehow things just keep happening. It’s like, bad things never happen singly. I would like to think that similarly, good things don’t happen in isolation. Yesterday was a rather good day for me, and today it just went downhill. Is that what is called… the ‘ups and downs’ of life? I am still learning, how to just breathe and take things in my stride, do what I can do and not have to worry about anything else.