Sunday, 31 July 2011

Singapore in style

As the Chinese New Year fireworks concluded, it suddenly begun to rain heavily.  Everyone ran back inside the Marina Bay Sands Casino.  I decided to be brave, fight the rain and get this shot.  I love it!

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

The 'other' city view...

It's not every day HDR turns out as well as you planned, this time it was exactly as I hoped.  The evening was a little cold, but it didn't stop the photography session I had planned with my dad.  What I loved about this evening was that we tried for something different.  It can get boring seeing the same view taken from the same locations in the city, without much creativity.  I hope more photographers spend their time hunting for unique locations, instead of taking the easy option.  I don't know... Do you think it was worth it?

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Snake Charmer...

You're probably tired of the average quality of some of the previous blog photos, but then again they were taken on an iphone.  I'm still impressed with many outcomes...  Nonetheless, here is one that is hopefully more aesthetically-pleasing...  This photo is a story in itself, but it'll have to wait until I post my Singapore travel blog soon (from a trip earlier on in the year).  I hope you enjoy this photo as much as I enjoyed taking it.  I tried not to meet his gaze so this is as candid as it gets!  All I can say is that, - as the title gives away - he was a snake charmer.  You hear all about them in films and books but it's something out-of-this-world to experience this (i guess you could call it a 'performance') in person.  And let me assure you, the snakes were quite frightening :D

Sunday, 24 July 2011

My NY challenge...

After spending several days in New York, I can safely say I’ve experienced at least 1 millionth of what the city has to offer.  That’s no exaggeration, there are people living here for 40 + years and they barely know their own city.  You can’t blame them, as it’s gigantic!  Many new impressions have formed and I’m glad to say my first impressions remain accurate, yet have been molded to a certain extent (all in positive ways).   

New York is not impossible, and that’s something I strongly believe.  Not everyone here is a tourist and that’s why locals find it difficult to spend time ‘exploring’ the city unlike we adrenaline-pumped tourists do so casually.  Once you work here, all that matters are deadlines.  It’s not important which subway you caught and at what time.  As long as you arrive to work on time, you’re still ‘in the game’.  One morning, I woke early (*read: 4:30/5:00am*), took a quick shower and dressed promptly.  I tried my best not to wake my roommate, but the shower made incredible noises, loud enough to wake the entire college up…  Nonetheless, I returned to my room and grabbed my belongings.  I promised myself today would be the most adventurous day of all, and I decided to explore NY independently; Not that I dislike roaming around with others but I wanted to speed walk through the whole city and didn’t want to tire people out.  I walk fast, but I still think Glenn holds the record!  I’m sure my buddies know what I mean… :)  Now’s probably a good time to mention that I couldn’t be happier with the entire group of ‘Dreamers’.  From what I can see, everyone gels together perfectly, and the unique aspect of each group member contributes to this trip in ways that are unexplainable.  Both of my roommates have been great, real legends.  Glenn and Cassie have been energetic and really determined to pace through the day while allowing enough time for us to all to spend sightseeing.
Ok, so my adventure continues…  I walk out of my room and am about to close the door until I realise I forgot my room keys and ID card.  This is a big NO-NO, as it means you’re trapped.  The security at this college is ridiculous (in a good way) but if you forget your ID, there is no way they’re going to let you in.  Thankfully, my door didn’t lock so I rushed back in to grab my ID and keys.  Phew!

So I leave the college and begin to roam the streets.  It’s exactly 6:00 am; I feel a great sense of achievement.  Starting early is fantastic as it gives you more to do throughout your day.  I start from 27th and my goal is to reach 110th on foot.  Seems ridiculous perhaps, but you’ve got to keep reading to find out if I was successful or whether I gave up. 

The streets are empty (for NY standards) but when compared to Melbourne, it’s already buzzing.  Metro trains can be heard as they approach a sharp turn near our college.  As I walk over the grills, I feel the heat of the subway and am greeted with the upward breeze (a ‘hot’ breeze...).  Remembering my goal, I decide not to even consider taking the metro (which is very tempting as they are on many corners).  Walking through central park from one end to the other is all that is in mind, and I’m happy I said NO to the subway.  To get there, I realise I need to walk through Times Square.  As I approach the beginning of the entertainment district, I am amazed at how quiet it is compared to the evening buzz.  Cleaners are on the street and delivery trucks are scattered; that’s reality.  Some sleep while others are wide-awake preparing the city for another glorious day.  Something I admire about New York is the determination to keep the streets clean.  It’s difficult and you’ll see plenty of rubbish, but the sheer fact they ‘try’ to keep the city tidy is what impresses me.  It’s not an easy task I can assure you…  As I turn the next corner, I see a small crowd beginning to gather on a corner.  I usually prefer not to explore such strange events but curiosity got the better of me this morning.  I cross the street and I see TV camera crews and a mini studio set up.  Not something I initially  thought it to be…  As I walk in closer to see what all the noise is about, I soon discover it’s a live audience for the Good Morning America Show.  I wanted to keep walking, and pursue my goal.  In the end, I told myself it’s not every day you get to experience something like this.  I stayed on and waited.  We were told 15mins at first but 15mins somehow became almost a two-hour wait.  One valuable lesson I’ve learnt:  never believe TV camera crews and producers.  They are shifty :)  To keep the crowd entertained, cardboard was handed out to encourage the audience to write messages.  I decided I may as well.  American flag-decorated cardboard hats were also distributed as well as small flags.  If there’s one thing about Americans, it’s their overwhelming sense of Patriotism.  It’s an unyielding trait and it permeates the entire nation.  If I had an Australian flag with me, I wouldn’t dare bring it out :D  However, there was a group of Australians who really made us proud by waving their cardboard sign upside-down whilst on air.  Oh boy, at that very moment, I did everything to avoid any association with our country.  I immediately assumed an American identity and for a moment I was proud.  Although we Aussies live down-under, it doesn’t mean we ought to hang our signs upside down on American TV (*read: super shamefully*).  You might argue that it was done especially because of the fact we live down-under.  After observing their behaviour for some time, I was convinced it was a mistake.  Even the others around me looked in dismay and had that urge to run to them, hit them over the head with their sign and finally rearrange it.  Somehow, they never managed to notice.  This is no tale, see the photo below for proof :D 

When the hype was over, it was time to revisit my initial plans.  I didn’t care that I messed them up, that’s what travelling is all about.  Sure, a rough idea of what you want to do is important, but it’s occasions such as these that remind you what travelling is all about.  Walking away void of regret, I decided to jump up onto the red steps at Times Square and take in the view.  At this hour, it was magnificent!  People had already started to flood in and Times Square once again became alive with boundless passion.  As I stood up on the steps, I did a silly thing.  I spun around performing many more 360’s than I should have.  You should have seen me walking down the steps… haha  Thankfully no-one I knew did (at least I think…).  I’m really hoping there is no video to prove my dizziness.  It was fun though, watching the World spin around you. 

Ok, so I thought I’ve been going on much too long without breakfast.  I walked around Times Square, hunting for a café.  Unfortunately, not as many as I had hoped for and most were closed.  Hence, McDonalds was the only option.

 I know, I know…  It’s unhealthy but so what!  It’s the convenience.  That’s why America isn’t rating too well on the health scale.  Don’t blame the citizens.  Rather, blame the choices.  McDonalds is everyone, many are open 24hrs and their selection is FANTASTIC!  Again, FANTASTIC!  Quite honestly, not everything is unhealthy.  Their regular options are often healthier than Australia’s ‘healthy options menu’.  Somehow, I don’t understand what is stopping Australia in adopting their menu.  There is so much to choose from that McDonalds has become more of a Café rather than a junk food outlet (as we all like to think of it).  I ordered breakfast wraps.  They were fantastic as they have the most unusual flavours, but I decided to stick with some of the more regular options.  In one of the photos the there is a mango smoothie which is rich and delicious (taken at a prior breakfast).  They even had a carry-home bag for their beverages - tell me that's not cool?   I also ordered a Frappuccino, which no other store is able to replicate.  I’m serious guys! Starbucks sucks and so does Dunkin Donuts (with certain beverages).  I tried many cafes and esteemed brands and makers of Frapps and McDonalds wins in my books.  Another thing that you’ll notice in America is that condiments are a must!  Sauces are plenteous and they are often thrown into you bag almost as if they’re some sort of good luck charm.  Some stores are greedier than others, but most will give you a decent dosage.  Not that you’re expected to consume them all, but they’re…. just there I guess…  

After finishing my delicious brekky, I felt energetic once again.  I was confident I could walk Central park from one end to the other.  But could I really?  That is something you’ll have to find out in my next post.     

Thursday, 14 July 2011

“New York! New York!”

I have great expectations of New York, so I hope the city lives up to them.  Family members, friends, acquaintances as well as movies and television series are all to blame for these ‘images’ of this wonderful city.

Our bus ride this morning from Boston to New York, left me with mixed emotions.  As much as I couldn’t wait to get New York, Boston didn’t want me to leave either.  We had a connection, and I’m already missing it!  Boston fit me like a glove.  Honestly, I don’t know what to expect from NY, yet I know I’ve been patiently awaiting our friendship.   After 5 hours of bus travels, the bus walls vibrated as our group cheered.  We saw the NY skyline in the distance, and we warned the city that we were approaching...  We made our way through the Manhattan tunnel, seriously pumped!  Some were singing, some were playing music which features New York; it was a time of great celebration, I’m sure you understand. 

We arrived at our college accommodation (FIT), which was not exactly ‘crash hot’ facility wise, yet the location was brilliant.  After all, we were advised of this many weeks ago.  We unpacked our bags, threw our belongings everywhere (as if we were at home) and set out to explore the city.  The race was on, and many had already left the dorm, disappearing into the great concrete jungle.  It didn’t take long until we were consumed by the sights, smells and tastes of NY.  Everything seemed surreal, but dodging the speeding cars gave us a reality check and we soon realised:  we really were here…  Many tried their hardest to blend in like locals, but fellow NY citizens very quickly ‘figured us out’.  The store owners, stall traders and metro assistants are very gifted at picking out tourists.  We didn’t need to open our mouths, nor did we have to take out our cameras.  Unlike locals who don’t look ‘up’, we were amazed by the architecture and the sheer size of the city.  This is one of the secrets that gives tourists away…

I was already impressed.  It was early afternoon and the city was buzzing.  I couldn’t wait till evening, when life apparently ‘begins’.   To satisfy our hunger and quench our thirst, we visited a pizza store on a corner near Penn Station.  We ordered two large pizza slices.  We learnt our lesson when we could not physically digest such portions, contrary to what our eyes told us.  We knew the slices were HUGE, but we mistook them as being ‘manageable’.  How wrong we were…  Here, Snapple ICED TEA is popular.  I quickly learnt why.  There were many flavours but in the end I decided it was a day for a peach-flavoured Snapple.  I didn’t regret my decision.  Shortly after our pizza corner stop we snuck back to our dorm and finally re-arranged our belongings.  We prepared for the night that was creeping upon us very quickly!

Our first pit stop with the group was at Ground Zero – the location of the September 11 attacks on the skyscrapers.  It was certainly emotional, yet probably not as much as it could have been several years ago, when the region was empty and the ground was scattered with rubble.  At present, serious development is taking place.  Nonetheless, the tragedy is great and is still sharply felt by many, hence the sheer amount of tourists as well as locals visiting the site.  What grabbed my attention most – though I guess you could almost say shocked me – was that fact that the area was not large.  How two enormous skyscrapers were built there continues to astound me.  You’ve got to come, only then will you be able to appreciate my point.  Glenn (our supervising lecturer) initially decided that it’d be best to leave us alone at this emotional site.  However, there was no way we could continue without a brief introduction of just how significant this catastrophe was and how it continues to strike fear in the heart of fellow Americans as well as residents of the International.  

After circling Ground Zero, we were left with free time for the rest of the day.  We were able to shop, but our group was adventurous.  Hence, the majority of us decided to visit the Brooklyn Bridge as well as walk along it.  It was certainly a fantastic idea, and I’m glad I tagged along.  It took us some time to walk the entirety of it, but the view was spectacular.  Those who chose to walk from one end to the other were left with an overwhelming sense of achievement!  It is a marvelous structure, and the walking path is in the middle of the bridge, very friendly to both pedestrians and cyclists.

As evening approached, we further explored the city.  Sure, we were tired and our feet were seriously hurting, yet we persisted.  Visiting Grand Central Terminal was not in our initial plans.  But who said plans are important?  Exploring is best with little planning and preparation.  Some can argue against this, but from my experience, it’s more exciting and you leave with a greater sense of awe, achievement and satisfaction.  After we seemed impressed enough with the wonderful station (*note to photography and architecture students*), we yet again decided to disregard maps and instead walk out and just explore what was on offer.  It didn’t take us long to find Times Square due to its proximity to the Grand Central terminal.  Once we arrived, a stream of satisfaction filled us, and we ran and jumped around, thinking of how to take it all in.  It’s impossible I shortly learnt, and it would take a few days to see it in greater detail.  Times Square is as impressive as it is depicted, and perhaps exceeded my expectations (quite rare I know haha :P ).  Plenty of vendors were out, but we didn’t really feel like pretzels or hot dogs.  We were much to busy exploring this wonderful district of entertainment. 

My first impressions of New York overly exceeded my expectations of this well-renowned city.  Some are scared of its size; others are scared of its people.  I found neither something to be worried about…  Sure, many homeless people loiter at the streets, the drains let off funky stenches, and it can seem difficult to navigate at first, but I’ll leave you with one piece of advice:

One step at a time…

Until next time readers :D

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Boston: A city of Hope...

I am a strong believer of first impressions, yet at times it’s important to acknowledge that they can be completely reversed, suggesting that your initial evaluation was incorrect or you saw things via an isolated paradigm.  This is not the case with Boston.  My initial impression of Boston was: a city of hope.  It really appeared to me as a shining light, demonstrating that all classes, races and personalities can intertwine to make a city a wonderful place to live.  Obviously, not every city can boast of such diversity, thus Boston has left a lasting impression on me.

From day one, I was very surprised at how friendly people are.  I came predisposed to the idea that Americans are arrogant, overly proud, rude and inconsiderate.  At least in Boston, this is NOT the vibe I received.  It was the complete opposite.  If someone gets in your way they apologise, if you thank them, they always (I mean ALWAYS) return the sentiment.  Strange?  Not really.  Perhaps we’ve been brought up with the idea that a ‘how are you?’ does not really suggest you want someone to give you a full answer, rather it remains a conversation ‘gap-filler’. 

The next of my ramblings relates to the Public transport system.  There is no doubt Boston is ahead of cities such as Melbourne.  By being ‘ahead’, this does not imply technologically.  Their trams, trains and buses may be old, but they sure know what it means to be on time and their network of transport is extremely logical and efficient (at least to a certain degree…) – we still had trouble understanding inbound VS outbound services, but it’s only a matter of time.  Sure, their trains may be old, noisy (we cover our ears at the deafening sound of each turn in the tunnel), and difficult to keep balance on.  However, this is all irrelevant.  As longs as you get from A-B in a timely manner, why bother complaining about the ‘look’ of a train.  Here in Boston, the Public transport Authority is realistic and aimed at serving the needs of citizens.  In Melbourne, oh let’s forget it…  We know our transport sucks, despite the fact it has great potential…  Critical?  Nope!  Just very impressed with the fact that you can navigate within a city, and spend more time on other activities.  You feel safe, you know where you’re going (well, we tourists do need to work on our knowledge of lines) but in due time, citizens seem very pleased with the work of the MBTA (transport system).  In one of our visits to the Transit Police, we were shown the preparedness of the team in case of any terrorist attack, self-harm or pure stupidity.  You may frown at the ‘terrorist’ notion but you’ve got to be here to understand.  They’re not ‘paranoid’, but rather prepared.

The culture is something that is worth a very big mention.  I loved it from the first day, and I feel sad that I will be leaving Boston in a few hours.  People seem to work together, people dress as they please, there are more police but they hassle you less.  It all just…. works!  There is no thinking twice about calling someone black or white, we have only been predisposed to believing that such ‘name calling’ is inappropriate.  It’s different here, it’s seems ingrained in the culture, nobody takes it as racism (contrary to popular thought).  There are buskers, there are singers, they are all allowed to perform all over town, whether it be down in the subway, up on a bridge or in the downtown district.  They express their thoughts, feelings and personalities in their work.  Sure, earning money is important for them and no one doubts that.  It’s just that when they busk, they really put their heart into it, no matter how disappointing their performance turns out to be.  Some artists are humble, others are proud, it just allows them to connect and communicate with the community around them.    

Dunkin Donuts is a craze, and so is Starbucks.  There are more of them on each street corner than McDonalds believe it or not.  Their food is reasonably priced; their food is served with smile.  That’s what makes it worthwhile!  Tipping is another thing that seems to scare the tourists.  This is not because they do not want to tip, but rather because they don’t know how.  We are brought up in a culture that does not require tips, even in higher-class restaurants.  Here, they depend on tips; it just takes time to discover how much it takes for you to ‘make their day’. 

Boston is a city where you never need to think twice.  If you know it’s right, don’t hesitate as things are there to be explored and shared.  Us tourists seem quite tense at first, but after a few days this city becomes your best friend.  If you respect Boston, it equally respects you.  Talking to random people on the street is no easy feat for tourists.  It can be quite a challenge but you really appreciate it once you break into conversation.  They hold Australia in high esteem (something I honestly didn’t believe).  Some thought we were French or Canadian but smiled when they found out we live with the Koalas and Kangaroos Down-under.

The most moving experience on this leg of the trip was this one on-going encounter.  Rising very early in the morning to buy hot chocolate, I was watched very carefully as I entered the shop.  It was quite an uncomfortable gaze, yet there was a smile hidden beneath this man.  I turned away, but continually acknowledged his presence without turning my head in his direction.  After ordering my hot chocolate, I saw something moving in the corner of my eye.  It was quite awkward; I didn’t know how to respond.  He outstretched his arm, patiently waiting for me to return the gesture of a handshake.   I struggled at first, as he seemed quite a strange man to be around.  His eyes looked in opposite directions, and he sniggered.  Of course I met his gesture, and I was surprised how inviting and friendly his grip was, yet I soon realised it had a ‘dual purpose’.  I had very little on me, but what grabbed me was just how grateful he was.  Sure, many such people live in Boston and walk around collecting money for substances. 

I saw him several times during the last week, each time different locations.  I can’t be certain he recognised me, but I sure did.  It wasn’t until tonight that I saw him for the one last time.  A friend and I went out for a beverage at McDonalds and for some strange reason I was not surprised to see him again.  Some may call him a ‘local’, others yell out ‘he’s just a homeless guy’ but to me he was purely a citizen of Boston.  What really hit me was when he leaned over the counter and ordered what appeared to be a meal.  I instantly felt goose-bumps as I watched him count his small change.  This was the biggest sense of pain I felt on this trip.  I tried not to show it, but can’t deny I felt it.  He left the store with a soft-serve cone, but it was his smile that encouraged me most.  He achieved his snack, and that was it.  He knows tomorrow will yet another tough day, but what’s remains important is what he achieved today.  Often, we spend so much time hoping and planning for ‘tomorrow’ that we forget about ‘today’.  We fail to recognise the experiences and friendships we form along the way.  From what I could see, he still lives hoping to discover the American Dream.  It’s precisely hope that builds him, protects him and provides him with the motivation to get up each day and have the guts to extend his hand and beg.         

Why the story?  Because it touched me.  You can visit buildings, dine at fine restaurants, visit cinemas, stare are the marvellous cityscape of Boston from the 50th floor of the Prudential, but if you don’t know and interact with the people, you can’t appreciate the true culture of the city. 

In one of my first journal entries for the trip, I titled it ‘sights, sounds, smells and tastes’.  It took me a week to see that I was ‘way off’.  If anything, it’ll always be the people… 

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