Valuable Bits in Travel

The best thing about travelling for me is the sense of freedom to roam both physically and mentally. Stroll, shop, wander. Observe, note and question. 

One of my favourite things to do is to collect bits of wisdom I see and hear. On this trip, I have quite the variety; from cafe tabletops to napkins to random things being typed by strangers using an old typewriter on demo. 

Some of my favourites:

@ Sur La Table, Portland OR

@Oblation Papers & Press, Portland OR

@ State Capitol Giftshop, WA

@Cipher Escape, Morrisville NC

@The Alamo, San Antonio TX

@Frog Cafe, Taipei City


Keeping hearts warm in cold Seattle & Portland

Columbia River, near Vista House

We heard from our Uber driver that a 2-bedroom apartment rents out for US$3500 per month in downtown Seattle. Prices have escalated since the tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, Google, Expedia started moving in/back a couple of years ago. Amazon alone is creating 60,000 jobs in Seattle over a year. That is an impressive number for someone who used to dig into archives for numbers like these to put on speeches for Chairmen and MDs. 
So Seattle is getting expensive. The city reflects that too with big brands, nice buildings and well-heeled clientele. That is generally a good sign indicating that the city is headed towards bigger and better things. But it also means that there will be people left behind. Along Pine Street, just slightly off the city centre, the homeless dot the area. I was rather surprised when approached by a young Caucasian couple – looking learned and all – asking for money to buy food because they hadn’t eaten in the past 24hours. Something might have happened to them but I found the approach strange. Maybe people are kinder here and are pre-disposed to help cases like these. They would have a harder time in Singapore – warm weather, colder people.  

They are very accepting of different kinds of people here too. Or at least what I have observed, in Portland particularly. The LGBT community is front, centre and integrated. It’s not as if an area has been sectioned out for them like in many cities and I sensed freedom for them here. Portland is smallish in terms of city-likeness; if NYC is a 10 and Orlando is a 3 then Portland would be a 6. Seattle would be an 8.

Opposite the Public Mrkt Center in Seattle

The markets we find here in the US are always enjoyable. Walking out and around in the open is not ideal in the frigid cold (-1 deg C) but to be able to watch and hear people go about their business, with white fogs emerging from their mouths every time they utter something, is oddly reassuring.  

Of course we couldn’t miss Pike Fish Co. The crew gamely performed their fish throwing routine when SJ requested for it. They must do this a lot and brought smiles to the faces of people gawking. They told us that they were invited to Singapore by the Ministry of Manpower a decade back presumably to share their business model and such. They are after all a famous case study. And the crew cheekily mentioned that they visited Orchard Towers for some ‘nightlife’. Not your usual tourist destination, they said. They are a fun bunch. 

I’d like to go back there someday just to take stock of changes, if not the coffee, preferably not when they are having a cold snap. As both cities evolve, I hope they won’t lose their ability to be kind and embrace everyone. 

Favourite Places, 10: Philadelphia


I love open spaces. Even more if deliberately so. Particularly if decorated. Like the Benjamin Franklin Freeway decorated on either side by flags. Better still if I can associate with something familiar, like the SG flag. Ya, we hunted it down. 🙂

Bulit around the 1920s, the design of the Freeway ending at the Art Museum was emulated after the Champs-Elysees’ ending at the Arc de Triomphe, bringing “a slice of Paris into Philadelphia”. I’ve always found it amusing to see the fascination people have with Europe in the past because it reminds me so much of the present, and I wonder if this phenomena will continue in the future. If there was a need to prove that art transcends time and place, this could be one.

At the other end of the Freeway is the Philadelphia City Hall. The bronze statue of Philly’s founder William Penn stands at the top of its City Hall (white building at the end), and I suppose the city has him to thank for short buildings because, in his honour, none could be built taller than where the statue stood. This held true till about 1987.

We visited the Independence Hall, of course. As the stories unfolded, I felt my goosebumps rise and tingle – their patriotism was expressed and love for their country so clearly emoted that even as a non-citizen, I felt a swell of pride, a renewed respect for their forefathers. This patriotism and love, also, transcended time.

The moral, it seemed: Having wisdom and the perseverance will lead you to the ship, a genuine heart will give wind to your sail.

Being a good orator surely helped.

Favourite Places, 8: Sanibel Island, Florida

Seashells! So many that they form a mini-breakwater at one part of the beach. The island  ‘s unique east-west orientation makes it a prime catchment for treasures the ocean waves along the Gulf of Mexico wash ashore, and is renowned for its shelling beaches.

SJ fished out this live whelk fairly easily while wading, hunched, along the shallow parts of the water. The hunch is also known to be the Sanibel Stoop – the posture visitors adopt when they hunt for pretty shells on the pristine white beaches. 🙂 From afar, it did look like there were misshapened flamingoes pecking about.

We returned the whelk back to where it belonged after the photo-op, deeper where it is safe.

Post 99. Sanibel

21st Carolina Renaissance Festival Fun!

Modelled after a 16th century European marketplace, the 20-acre park offers food and entertainment complete with knights, fairies, pirates, jugglers, jousting, falconry, dancing and the general circus. The annual event is held over two months or so in the weekends, and seems to be the one of the largest such fair in the US.

It’s like walking into another world. The mood is set the moment you walk through the gates by a jolly fellow draped over the balustrade on the second floor, yelling for you to whip out your tickets and just get your butts through the gates – in the fancy costume you stashed at the back of your wardrobe that finally got to see the light of day.

Visions, real and otherwise, of Robin Hood, Three Musketeers, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Alice in Wonderland, Narnia, X-Men, Avengers, Skullduggery Pleasant Steam Punk flashed past as we made our way deeper and deeper into the forest. You get my drift.

We didn’t go in costume though. If there is a next time, we will. 🙂

Processed with Moldiv

Processed with Moldiv

Processed with Moldiv

Processed with Moldiv

New York City in 6 hours

It was raining cats and dogs in New York City last Monday. Traffic was crazy, and it took us 4.5 hours in total to get from JFK – Penn Station – JFK by bus. We were there because we wanted to meet up with friends and so took the opportunity to do a stopover on our flight back home. Why didn’t we take the train? Well, the Airtran from the terminals to Jamaica Station broke down. Though there was a way to connect to get on the LIRR to Penn Station, we thought it would be easiest to take the direct bus. We have never been so wrong.

But I always learn a few things when I pass NYC – stopover, transit or visiting.  Good or not so good, the experience was always worth the trip.

1. Home via JFK. We expected to collect our bags when we landed in JFK like before – even in transit because security was so tight. Everything needed to be taken out, checked and rechecked. I do appreciate the effort but it was very painful for all involved. Extremely time consuming too. With winter coats. Arrgghh. But not this time. Our large luggage bags were arranged to be sent all the way through to Singapore – we were lucky to meet a very nice JetBlue check-in counter lady who helped us do that, and we are still very thankful for that.

2. Guy at the Luggage Store. We didn’t have our large bags but we still had our cabin ones. There was no way we were going to lug them out into the busy city in the pouring raining because, other than the 10kg and stuffed roller bag, we had delicate stuff (Pepperidge Farm BBQ chips. Crush them and I’d have eat them with a spoon. No way!). It cost just USD10 to store them so we did. The guy in charge asked for a passport to verify and register the bags, and asked us to vote for whose it should be. SJ voted for himself. And the guy said with a smile, “Just so you know, you can’t do that if you are running for President. For future reference.” LoL!

3. No unpleasant encounters at JFK customs. That is because we didn’t have to get through one coming out from a domestic flight. There is one particular lady there who has the ability to give fainthearted travellers nightmares. I see her whenever I am there (and it is not even often). She has the disposition of a school discipline mistress with lungs of steel, and mouth of an extremely irate customer not going to get her money back on a faulty buy. If you don’t move along fast enough, you will get yelled at. If she has to tell you twice to go to an available window, you are deadmeat.

4. You just have to wait it out. When we got our bus tickets to the city, we had to get in line for the bus that should come by at noon. We had 15mins till noon, so we walked to the lines at leisure and joined the queue. We waited. And waited. And Waited. 40mins past noon, and still there was no bus in sight. People went up to ask, and were asked to wait some more. So we did. Sullenly.

5. Washroom in Old Navy. Nature called when we arrived at Penn Station 2 hours later.  The pitter and patter of the rain against the bus windows really didn’t help one bit!!! Old Navy along 32nd street (if I m not wrong) was my saviour. But there was a lady in the queue ahead of me. The person in the one washroom was taking her time, even when the lady in front of me knocked on the door to tell inside to hurry up. Guess knocking lady couldn’t wait and went to the Gents next door down. And Inside lady decided to come out then, and glared at me thinking I was the one who chased her out. I didn’t do it but I felt guilty all the same…what if she had an emergency she had to attend to in there? I know I have had to. But if she didn’t come out then, I would have one right there.

6. Penn Station. Busy, busy place. Commuters mostly, but also a few regulars who hang around the station. One of them strolled over in front of us at the top of the escalator going down, and asked me to buy him a meal. I have never been asked for one before, and I didn’t know how to react. Partway between my surprise and unintelligible mutter, the escalator reached its destination and he walked away. I didn’t know if I felt bad or a little taken aback that something worse might have happened. Both maybe. But I am thankful that it was a non-event.

7. Grace Street in Koreatown. SJ’s friends brought us here. Wow. Nice cafe. Their Ho-Dduk, a Korean doughnut filled with a warm gooey mixture of cinnamon, walnut and brown sugar, is even nicer. I have never seen that the times I visited Korea. The cafe was very conducive for meet-ups and we spent the hour or so chatting with really fun, warm and sincere friends. Pity it went by so quick. We ought to do that again sometime!


No place like D.C.

Washington DC is very elegant, very learned, very serious. Full of museums, monuments, government agencies and politicians. Somehow, the word ‘boring’ comes a-flashing, but no, it’s a far cry from that. We got quite a kick out of visiting the different places in DC. To use our 9-year old niece’s words, it was awesome!

So we walked along the national mall that stretched for over a mile from Capitol Building to the Washington Monument. Also popped into the Air and Space Museum, which is quite a sight to behold. There are real NASA things in there like parts of the Apollo spacecraft, a scaled model of the Hubble telescope, a mock up spacecraft you can walk into. Failure is not an option. Heh. We were like kids in a toy store.

We did the Lincoln Memorial – very inspiring, Korean War Memorial, and passed a lot of others via the hop-on/hop-off bus (US$35pp for 24hrs), which is a timesaver and a lifesaver in the cold. We also had a glimpse of the White House…from ye olde kitchen garden, straining to see between the wrought iron grilles! Felt like a stalker.

We sat at the top most of the time, despite the cold, to see better and take photographs. There were a number of low-hanging tree branches and other knickknacks that provided us with literally in-your-face fun on our way to the neighbourhood of Georgetown in particular. Georgetown has a town centre with long rows of pretty shops, bustling too I might add. Schlepped a Ben n Jerry’s too – c-c-co-oldd.

Hotel Liaison at Capitol Hills was where we made camp. It’s a short walk from Union Station, which was where we took a train to NYC for our flight back.  There are shops and eateries in the Station, and a Barnes & Noble where I got the easel cover for my new Nook tablet!! Heh.

[First published: 30 Dec 2011]