Monday, 17 December 2012

Travel - NEW YORK 2012

While the people of Tanah Melayu were screaming "Hey Jebat~!" half way across the globe a great city is already in its momentum of growth and skyscrapers sprouts upwards to challenge the skies. It is where the yellow cab filled streets flows like a network of intertwining rivers in the base of a grid like canyon. Oh stop the babbling part. I’m going to write about New York; the Big Apple.

The first hurdle that I must push through was the super long haul flight to the other side of the globe. Although this is not my first time crossing multiple time zones, this is my first one crossing 12 time zones in a single flight.

Pictures lalala...
The Cathay Pacific Boeing B777-300ER Dreamliner will fly from Kuala Lumpur International Airport to JFK International Airport via Hong Kong in the duration of roughly a day. Yup, 24 hours sitting stiff on board the flight. The Cathay Pacific on board service was okay and the seat was soft and comfortable as it is a relatively new aircraft. The interiors are designed to look modern and even the lights was dimmed slowly before turning off, which was new for the comfort of our eyes. They also provided a personal wide screen format touch screen for each seat. The only thing that annoyed me was the low quality headsets they provided, it did nothing to seal out the loud engine noise. I end up using my own headset to enjoy the on board entertainment. 

Hello stewardess.

Flying long distances is a challenge some would say. Enduring the long hours of flight with the loud engines blaring constantly in your ears are not the major big problems of long haul flights but what if the flight is a bumpy ride that goes on for hours? You can imagine the feeling. There were a time in the flight that turbulence prevented the cabin crew from serving food for hours; luckily no air pockets and sudden drops except from the bumpy ride. Oh just ignore the shaky flight, just try to sleep…

Hello Hong Kong, we meet yet again.

For this flight from Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong the flight was rather empty, I can move around with ample space, I can even lie down on four seats if I wanted to. But the contrary happened when I transferred into a separate flight from Hong Kong to New York, the super long haul route. The flight was so full; I got separated from my group, sitting beside strangers.

Le full flight. Oh my. You gotta wait your turn to use the toilet.
I got the window seat so things are going to be just fine, it’s only for like 20 hours of flight. We didn’t remain as strangers for long though. I met Omicron and Jenny, both 16 year old high schoolers from Shanghai. In the midst of the conversation, I asked him his purpose of travel to the United States and he said he was going to stay in Boston for an exchange student programme. Then I asked him where will he stay and where he will spend time and go to school there. He simply replied he will be staying in Harvard Summer House for a month and also spending time studying there. Wow, he must be a genius or a very studious kind of kid, ASIANS! But technically I’m Asian too so…

Oh look at those ice...


Some say I do look like a Chinese boy. I laughed it off most of the time but this time it got serious! I was watching The Hunger Games on the personal screen, Omicron and Jenny was also watching something. Then the stewardess came and asked if we would like to have some drinks. I clearly said "plain water" with a slight tinge of British accent picked up from my English teacher back in my school days. With the blaring engine noise, the stewardess picked it up as "ping guo zher" or something like that. So she gave me a glass of apple juice. How cool is that! Okay me sitting beside kids from China, and plus with my single-eyelid Asian face and maybe lightly tanned yellow skin, I do look like a Chinese do I? 

This is how the meal tray looks like for Cathay Pacific's Economy Class Muslim Meal. Not so glamorous eik? As long as it is food, I'm contented...
That's the city of Kagoshima, located at the southern part of Japan.
After a day above ground crossing China, Japan, the Pacific Ocean, Canada and finally USA with somewhat regular turbulence here and there, we landed safely in JFK. The feeling of stepping on solid ground was just awesome.

Finally! I am here! New York!
Strolling along the streets of New York felt like walking along the base of a canyon with all these tall buildings around. To really enjoy the cityscape you must either go up a rooftop or see the city from a distance. Since the tallest rooftop opened to the public got demolished in the 9/11 attacks, now the main spot for a bird-eye's view of the city left is the Empire State Building. 


Shoot! Could have been a very cool shot if the pinnacle of the Empire State Building is in the frame. Look even a 16mm wide angle couldn't get it in frame look how tall it is.
Great buildings are built in turbulent times. Just like the Petronas Twin Towers that was built through the 1997 Asian financial crisis, the Empire State Building was built during the Great Depression in the 1940s after the Second World War. The art-deco style of the 1940s is well preserved in the design of the façade and lobby. Although some believed the 9/11 attacks were just a sick act by some unnamed nonexistent groups of people to legalize war for oil in the Middle East, it left a real deep scar in most New Yorkers. To go up the Empire State Building, everybody must go through a security checkpoint just like the ones we go through at the airport. After a high speed elevator ride up to the top, nearly up top because I have to climb the stairs to get to the last six floors up to the observatory. Once you’re up, the majestic view of the city is yours to see.

Looking south from Empire State Building.
From the observatory looking south, the new One World Trade Centre still in construction stands tall in the crowd of tall buildings in the Financial District. Looking north, there's a nice view of the Central Park. New York City from up top is a mixture of the old and the new from classic stone clad steel towers to glass coated façade of modern eco-friendly towers. The city is really a time machine. Being a famous photo spot for tourists and photographers, everybody was busy taking pictures. It is a common sight to see tourists wrapping their necks with DSLR straps like mufflers in winter and some pro photographers busy snapping away pictures of the view. Any photography fan out there knows that New York is famous for its black and white street photography. Since there are so many people living per unit square mile, you can see a multitude of behaviours on the streets. I figured out the purpose of turning coloured photos to black and white; to eliminate disturbances from the magnitude of colours of the dirty streets in the background. From there I started to appreciate how clean Kuala Lumpur is.

Justa walking around.

Although billboard war is a common sight in Korea, in Times Square it was taken to a whole new level.  Every billboard must be bigger and brighter from the next. It is actually a part of the grid-like network of roads in New York City but the area is permanently closed for traffic to make way for a pedestrian street. Some of you might still remember a very famous black and white photo shot in Times Square of a sailor kissing a nurse back in 1945 when the Japanese surrendered, marking the end of World War 2. Just like the old days, the place is still a crowd magnet. The crowd never ceases from sunrise to sunset since there are so many things to see and too many shops line the area. Too bad I couldn’t stay for too long to see the night scene there. 

Times Square. Too bad I couldn't watch the night scene here. Coulda been awesome.
I really admire their patriotism. Almost everywhere you can see the Stars and Stripes, the USA flag flown almost everywhere as a symbol of honouring the country together with the national anthem which is usually sung in every important event including sports. Nobody wants to replace the flag and make a rap song out of the national anthem yet? I guess you sensed my sarcasm there. 


Halal food! Bless these hardworking american muslims.
The interesting thing about street food in New York is the Halal food carts! They are almost everywhere now. The food vendors are selling Halal food from New York style hotdogs to Asian cuisine. I still remember the Indonesian man who sold Halal hotdogs and snacks in a food cart that was so excited to meet us. 

While we are still in the topic of food, one does not simply leave New York without tasting the New York style pizza. I had a bite of a New York style cheese pizza from an Italian pizza joint just opposite of the Empire State Building. While in Malaysia almost all pizzas are thick and soft like bread but the New York pizza was large, thin and crunchy. If it was thinner it might be just be like crackers. For the topping, the Italian cheese tasted so right on the crunchy pizza crust. 

Look at those pizzas! This is a pizzeria just across the street from the Empire State Building.
It is common to see some people who are not very happy when they can’t get food that suits their tongue. Not sure if they couldn’t stand local food or not even want to try it in the short one week stay but there will be a Chinatown for any big city in the USA. Go south of Manhattan to Chinatown and there are a lot of restaurants serving Asian food, even Malaysian food. The financial centre of Manhattan is also down south, where the World Trade Center and Wall Street are located. By the way, I spent my nights in New York City at Newark, New Jersey. It is quite a distance from Manhattan but I don’t know why my travel advisor booked this hotel for me. I remember waking up in the morning watching the news; a taxi driver was shot dead just a few blocks away from my location a few hours ago. Welcome to New York City much.
Our travel agent booked a hotel located many miles away from the city. Travel agent go home you're drunk. 

Looking at the bright side of things, well at least I got a feel of the New York Subway and train system.


Next stop is Washington DC; a city as old as the country itself. Although USA’s capital was Philadelphia during independence in 1776, George Washington later changed it to a new site a few miles southeast. Since the day the city was founded, the city’s layout was already planned carefully. Now the rows of majestic buildings in the National Mall attract lots of people to delve deeper in the American post independence history.  As I learn more about its history, it gave me a lot of new insights about America; from the hope of freedom to the freemasonry involved in the founding process of the country. One of the most shocking revelations to me was the White House; it turns out to be so small, maybe about three to four stories tall and not as big as I usually imagined it would be! 

On our way to Washington DC we stopped by somewhere in Philadelphia. This is the Independence Hall.
With a pervy smile I said "My arm is in your gate, u mad Secret Services?"
Another interesting monument that can be linked directly into the history books is the Washington Monument.  Although made entirely out of stone bricks, the stone bricks at the bottom are darker than the ones at the top. The difference it the shading of the marble can be seen half way up the obelisk showing where construction was halted because of the Civil War. It used to be the tallest structure in the world on its completion, only to be outdone a few years later by the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Other attractions can be found in the National Mall includes the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson’s memorial and the Smithsonian Museum. It is just a boring museum so I just had lunch at the museum and left. Just a few blocks away from the museum are headquarters of many government departments; one of them was the Edgar J Hoover Building, the famous FBI headquarters. Lucky we have Putrajaya to match this extremely well planned city.

Nooby shot of Abraham Lincoln.
A nooby shot of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. Bored stiff here.
Jefferson Memorial. A huge marble palace, a cool place to spend some time in the shade haha!
Someone is very happy doing some midnight groceries after a tiring day at the National Mall of DC.
Niagara Falls

During my previous visit to Los Angeles and Las Vegas four years ago I didn’t have the chance to visit , the Grand Canyon the best natural wonder of the west coast. So this time it is a must to visit another natural wonder of North America, the Niagara Falls. But it is a long way north so we took some highway and some short-cuts through the countryside. I found that the path on the interstate highway through the state of Pennsylvania offered a lot of insight to the American lifestyle. The countryside and farms were just like how we see in the movies. As usual highways wound through thick forests, pristine rivers and mountains, the view was just majestic.

Look it is Clark Kent's farm!
Stock up some Hershey's chocolates on the way to Niagara.
Look, its the Niagara Falls!
Located at the international border of USA and Canada, the falls are actually three separate waterfalls that flow from Lake Erie into Lake Ontario. The main waterfall, the Canadian Horseshoe falls was just amazing as it is the waterfall with the highest flow rate of any waterfall in the world. The waterfall is just so large; the spray from the waterfall can be seen from miles away. Since this is summer, most people wouldn’t mind to get a little wet. I hopped on a Maid of the Mist boat ride that took us very close to the base of the waterfall into the mist and the violent waters. Don’t worry I didn’t get myself soaked on the boat as we were given some raincoats to keep ourselves dry. Technically most of them, my head and feet got wet from the spray. 

Look at my arc reactor.. Oh no that is my nooby DSLR lens and the background is Niagara Falls, covered in the mist.
Yup. Free fresh water shower. Oh this is the American Falls.
Like I mentioned earlier just across the river is Canada, some joked about smuggling ourselves across the border to Canada. Well it is just a river cross away; yeah, a river with crazy rapids in it. Good luck with that.

Hi there Canada! Soon Canada... You will be in my list...
Next we drop by Boston on our way back to New York City for a brief visit of the Harvard University and MIT; the place where great minds meet. Just visiting the place makes me feel smarter already… It was in the middle of the summer break so there are not many people around the campus. I was browsing through one of the buildings and I can see there are groups of kids discussing about Newton’s laws of motion. Probably this is one of the groups of the exchange student programme that the kid that sat beside me last flight talked about. I couldn’t find him though.

I don't know what it is but it looked fancy so why not take a shot.
Yes.. That is my nooby DSLR with the nooby lens sitting in a cafe in Harvard.
Boston is also famous for its lobster and maybe why not I try it out. Not much of a fancy foodie, most of the time I prefer quantity rather than quality. With all that heavy shielding on it, the flesh inside simply tasted just like shrimp! It is just a big shrimp; what’s with the hype?

Sorry lobsters, I still love my New York style pizzas more.
This is Boston!
Back in New York for a second try before going home.
After spending more than a week in USA, it’s time to hop on the long haul flight back home.  The interesting part was, instead of the normal Pacific Ocean crossing this flight went north to Canada, and somewhere above the Artic Sea, Greenland, Russia and China.

Polar Flight! From New York, passing through Greenland, and straight to Hong Kong.
I was lucky the sky is clear enough to see the land below me. Seeing the massive ice shelves floating on the freezing ocean and the great view of the fjords near Svalbard gave this trip its grand finale. 

Super large ice shelves floating near Greenland.
After transit stop at Hong Kong I headed back to Kuala Lumpur. This sunset is somewhere above the South China Sea.
With the end of the flight I safely landed in Hong Kong and arrived in Kuala Lumpur just in time for the fasting month Ramadhan. 

Travelling is more than just a holiday, it’s about learning and experiencing new stuff about the world with a new perspective away from the narrow constrictions of the typical point of view.  It is our lack of understanding of each other that leads our lives away from unity.  When we understand more about each other, we can concentrate on stopping the spread of hostility and start practicing the values of humanity.

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