Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Louvre and Versailles



“Mona Lisa Mona Lisa, men have named you
You're so like the lady with the mystic smile
Is it only 'cause you're lonely, they have blamed you
For that Mona Lisa strangeness in your smile?

Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?

Do you smile to tempt a lover, Mona Lisa?
Or is this your way to hide a broken heart?
Many dreams have been brought to your doorstep
They just lie there and they die there
Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa?
Or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art?”
-Nat King Cole

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Museum Disaster

Everyone says to buy a Paris Museum Pass when visiting but what's the point of the pass if it's impossible to get in anywhere?

Monday, December 29, 2008

The City of Lights

Traveling for us is a disease. There was a time when I wanted to come to Paris with a lover. The truth is that I’ve had enough lovers but have never been to Paris. It is time to correct that and Rose is the perfect partner.

When we emerged from the underground subway the grand Opera house appeared before us with a gigantic beautiful crow on top! I walked a around and took many photos. Rose has already seen the inside so we split up for a bit while I wait for my turn. 20 minutes after I first started to wait I realized that the line is at least another hour long and I just don’t have the time to spare. Rather annoyed I thought what is an opera house for if one can’t hear music in it? I guess the same can be said about churches and millions of its visitors. But really, the line to the Opera house was just out of the world! How many of these people have actually been to an opera or listen to classical music? If they were all as excited about the music then we wouldn’t have to worry about the fact that classical music is dead!

We met up with Rose’s friend and got the keys. It was very nice of him to offer to drop us off at the Sacre Coeur despite the slow moving traffic. The view from the top is breathtaking. Having seen the basilica in movies and photos, it seems even more magical at night.

But nothing compares with the panoramic view from the Arc de Triumph. Here all roads lead to Paris. The Champ Elyssee is lined with trees lit up in blinking silver lights. This is the city of lights. Our eyes feasted while our stomach groaned. While walking down the most famous street in Paris, we can’t help but to noticed that we have not eaten for 16 hours! If this diet doesn’t shave few pounds off I really don’t know what would!

Paris is everything they said it was and more. You can’t come here and not fall in love.

Another busy day and exhausting night. Time to retired to bed and start all over again in few hours!



"Well the sun’s going down
With its deep amber light
Embracing the town as we fall into night
To the silvery sound as the birds fly away
Getting ready for love
Getting out of the day

It is the city of night
It is the city if night
Leave the worries of day behind
And dream a new dream tonight

All the lands are a glow
All the lids painted red
And you wish you could take
That last thing you said
Well the night is a drum
Singing songs of delight
But when dawn comes along
Love is lost in the light

But in the city of night
Oh, in the city of night
Leave the troubles of day behind
And dream a new dream tonight"
- Pink Martini

Sunday, December 28, 2008

In Search of Horta - Balustrades Heaven

Traveling is cheap when you don’t have to eat or shop. It also helps when transportation is free but today Rose and I paid our nominal 4 euros for a one-day pass to be shared between the two of us. We loaded up at the free breakfast just before 10am. I had two bowels of corn flakes, a hard-boiled egg, a cup of coffee, a cup of milk, a cup of orange juice and a piece of wheat bread with three slices of ham and cheese. With big sights and little budgets who knows when our next meal will be!

Dreadful of heading out into the cold we coiled back into our bed to study few maps and guides we have gathered yesterday. By now Rose’s fascination with Art Nouveau is starting to edge its way to me. As I finished typing yesterday’s blog Rose mapped out our new route for the day. Tired of walking in the cold we decided to take the tram for a change. We left the hotel just after 1pm and started to look for the 81, which we never found and eventually settled for 4.

There are lots of things to see in this compact city but Rose is set to see the best of Victor Horta and Art Nouveau. Because according to her architect friend, Roland, this is where it all started. So the hunt led us to the Horta stop on the tram station, which now hosts few leftover things from a torn down Horta building. The young traveler map described the Horta underground station as such:

“Nobody would tear down a Gaudi building in Barcelona, but in Brussels something like this happened quite often. Imagine! In 1965, in spite of protest from 700 international architects, Brussels destroyed its most spectacular Art Nouveau building by victor Horta: the Volkshuis/Maison du Peuple. The elegant metal structure of the building was carefully taken apart bit by bit, to build it up again somewhere else. This never happened, and the pieces ended up everywhere all over the country in strange places, like here in the metro Station Horta.”

Emerging from the underground station we suddenly appeared in the Saint-Gilles neighborhood, which is famous for, yes you’ve guessed it, Art Nouveau!!!

As said in the tour guide: “some of the most significant Art Nouveau buildings in the city are located in Saint-Gilles. Many facades are decorated with wrought-ironwork, stained-glass windows, sgraffiti and ornamental woodwork, boosting the attractiveness of the house and the social standing of the house-owners. Architects including Ernest Blerot, Paul Hamesse, Armand van Waesberghe and Paul Hankar embarked on a frenzy of creativity as they competed for clients.”

Within steps from the station we started to see the decorative iron works on the sides of narrow buildings that is typical of the trend that only lasted 5 years. Rose was enthralled by everything in sight. This is not the district to miss if you’re a fan of balustrades, like Rose. We must have seen dozens of fancy balcony railings and no two are ever the same. It’s amazing that people went into such details. But the highlight of them all is by far the Victor Horta Museum inside of a house that was once resided by the artist himself. The waiting line outside seemed even longer in the cold but we were not to be discouraged. Having been wondering around with this Hortamania all afternoon on the itinerary 4 of the walking tour, I was determined to see something nice here!

The Victor Horta building looked interesting enough from the outside with vine-like iron beams and balconies, once inside I finally understood the magnetism of Art Nouveau. It was like nothing I have ever seen before maybe except in certain drawings that evoked similar feelings. The whole house had an earthy glow from tones like green, yellow, orange, crimson, burgundy and auburn. Everything complemented each other in perfect harmony, from stained glass to wood to metal to stones, inlayed hardwood floor framed by a thin cooper border which is then surrounded by intricate ceramic mosaic. From elaborate chandeliers and three-floor high stairway to intricate handles and keyholes, nothing is too small to be neglected. I’ve associated metals with cold and coarseness but for the first time I see it in an organic light, curving and turning in smooth contour resembling plants and certain eroticism. Hick, the whole Art Nouveau thing feels kinky like those old colorful French opera posters and the Can-Can dancers. One must be extremely obsessed to have the vision and determination to design and produce all the amazing pieces. That’s what artists do. I’m not an artist but the more I see the more I want to see. We ventured out to more sights on the walking map in the dark before heading back on the bus.



At end of the night we shared a kebob wrap and white bean stew in our neighborhood. With card boards and garbage spilling out onto the street things started to look familiar again, like Buenos Aires. Food was good and we were tired.
Time to go to sleep! Paris here we come!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Brussels Day 1

Rose and I dragged our butts out at 7am into the dark morning. My legs froze instantly so did my ears. We took the bus to the train station where we got two delicious kabob wraps to go for our three-hour ride to Brussels from Cologne. The server behind the counter with limited English was super friendly and offered us two bottles of free water to go with our extra spicy wraps. We’re off to a good start.

As the train rolled into Cologne I got a short glimpse of the famous Cathedral in faint morning light. We switched to the high speed ICE train and headed to Brussels, the city that gave us Brussels sprouts and the country that invented the Belgium waffles!

A phone call to Lufthansa confirmed that my luggage was located and will be delivered to Rose’s friend’s place in the afternoon. I was relived. Roland will meet up with us in Paris just before the New Years Eve. I’ll be ready for some new clothes but more importantly my battery charges! I got two cameras with fully charged batteries but I can’t imagine them lasting me more than two days!

The train first pulled into Brussels Nord station, and then the Midi station. Then we took a train back to Central station only to find out that our hotel is closer to the Nord station. So by noon we have toured all three of Brussels main train stations.

While in the central station we stumbled our way to the tourist information center which happens to be located on one side of the Grote Market, the main tourist attraction in the middle of old Brussels. Of course, we had no idea where we were going and as soon as we turned the corner into the square we each dug into our bags for our cameras. Without a proper guidebook, we didn’t know what we were looking at. The only book I took with me in my carry on was Allen Greenspan’s autobiography which only talked about European economic policies. Damn I should have packed my guidebooks! After a burst of photo taking and quick trip in and out of the tiny jam-packed info center for a survival map and a thee-Euro Art Nouveau tour map which Rose insisted on getting, we dragged our bags back to the train station. We could have taken a bus or a tram to our hotel but Rose suggested that we take the train back to Nord station “because it’s free” (no one check tickets, although if caught we could get a 40-Euro fine, but neither one of us are from here so we weren’t worried). We took the most disgusting elevator to the lower floor of the station and booked our bus tickets to Paris for Monday, 24 Euros for passenger under 26, me, and 27 Euros for Rose. Then we headed towards our Chinese owned, Chinese operated hotel ChaoChow conveniently located near the station across the street from Sexy World, 24-hour Peep show and various other bars and shops of similar kind, I think you know what I mean.

Our room was big and clean with one huge bed in the middle formed by two twin beds. Knowing that we were going back into the bitter cold Rose and I literately threw everything we had on. I looked completely ridiculous with Rose’s purple fleece pajamas pants over my jeans and four layers of tank top, long-sleeve shirts and turtleneck sweater under my jacket. I traced the Art Nouveau walk onto the smaller Brussels map and once again we headed into the cold -4*C in the middle of the day not consider wind chill.

First stop, Hotel Metropole, built in 1892. According to the map guide “the Toscanini suite is quite ok, for 950 euros per night (breakfast included).” The bar looked cozy with dark plush leather seats. We sat in the piano lunge when asked if we would like something to drink I said “we’re fine for now”, however, we did spend 0.30 euro each to use the bathroom on our way back in the evening.

Then we took pictures of Place des Martyres and met up with a blue dwarf with white hat invented by the Belgian comic artist Peyo in 1958 at the Comics museum hosted in a building designed by Victor Horta.


Just past the rather plain looking opera house between Rue de l’Ecuyer Schildknaaps and Rue Arenberg is Galeries Saint-Hubert, an old shopping mall with a narrow street extending out of the middle section filled with seafood restaurants with fancy displays to attract the tourists. Of course, none of the streets are straight and they change names whenever they turn/curve or pass a traffic circle making it difficult to track where to go.



At precisely 4pm we were guided to the Cathdrale Kathedraal by the loud church bells. I took pictures and walked on. With 30 more minutes of day light we have no time to spare.

Having been searching for traces of Art Nouveau all day we finally came to one of the best example of the day, the Old London store building on Rue Montagne de la Cour n*2 by architect Paul Saintenoy 1898-1899. “This type of extensively glazed department store, open onto the street to stir sales, became popular in most capitals. Paul Saintenoy, who designed few Art Nouveau buildings, created a characteristic Art Nouveau work, where the decorative elements express their constructional roles.”

By the night falls we once again found ourselves at the Grote Market/Grand Place. This time we shared a warm waffle with whipped cream, chocolate and walnuts next to the ever so famous Manneken Pis or the pissing boy, “the ideal national symbol for a country that is also very small and absurd. Little did I know that was the only food we would consume for the rest of the day. The square was full of tourists and light structures that lit up with music. We stayed for a while and started our journey back, afraid we would freeze in place if we stopped moving for too long. By now I have lost feelings to my hands and could barely feel my feet. Thanks to the fleece my legs are still functional.



We were so cold and tired. After walking for 5 hours straight we got back to our hotel around 7:30 and Rose passed out almost instantly. I transferred all my photos and crawled into the cold bed without taking off any of my pants or sweaters for the next 12 hours. What a vacation!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Lufthansa

Whoever said getting there is half of the fun clearly doesn’t fly economy. The seats are uncomfortable enough by themselves and I’ve had the luck of sitting next to rather large passengers on both flights who took their seats and half of mine. With the worst headache, dehydration and an empty stomach since I wasn’t able to keep anything down including tea I finally flew over the Rhine River and landed without my luggage. Of course, Lufthansa’s baggage tracking system is down worldwide making it impossible to locate my stuff. But the trip must go on! Rose has already booked train tickets for Brussels tomorrow morning at 8 and we will be in Paris by Monday the 29th. All I’ve got are three tampons, two cameras, laptop and my beloved ipod.


Rose and I met up in front of the Christmas tree with gold balls at the central train station as planned and walk the rest of the way back to her cozy little studio apartment on Herzog strasse in the cold morning air. We stopped in the internationally recognized gourmet chain McDonald for breakfast sandwiches with a side of hazy memories of Buenos Aires, a distant place in a time capsule. Rose always referred to that state of mind as being “high”. I don’t know what it was but it certainly was more surreal than anything else I’ve ever experienced. Most days now I forget I was ever there but with conscious effort vivid images conjure up like warm tears from deep down. It’s not a place we like to talk about with others. It’s not a place to talk about at all. Words and photographs are far too inadequate. We are not romanticizing the Buenos Aires, nor are the tango dancers. People of all walks of live mysterious get sucked into this place like the Bermuda triangle. Now looking back into the bubble we were high.

After staying with her friend for couple of months Rose recently got a place of her own in downtown. I too once experienced the joy of having a place called home in a foreign land, however simple and small it might be.


The trip is just getting started.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Lunch at Heidi's



Although Myland doesn't pay the bills, we do get fed every now and then.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Note from Last Year

"it just doesn´t get any better than this! went hang gliding this morning with liren. we became fast friends when we met last February and have really good traveling karma together for some reason. i mean, there was this amazing trip we took to barriloche when we first met and now, rio. today, we started with hang-gliding over a lush forrest, past beautiful mountains and a tuquoise ocean and i swear, no one should be allowed to check out without doing this first, it is such a fine, fine experience. then, we went to see the cristo, then we ate great, grilled street food while we were having a great walk, then, and then, as if that weren´t enough, we caught the bus back to our hostel in ipanema (yes, it´s true, we are the girls from Ipanema) and when we got off at our stop, there was this huge crowd all around this lake and suddenly we saw the greatest fireworks show ever within 4 minutes of stepping off the bus (right after i had said very quietly, ¨are there going to be fireworks...¨) we both absolutely love fireworks and had them in Barriloche too!" --Rose

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Goodbye Sutherland, Hello Myland!

It's been a while...I regret to inform you all that the cubical life has not turn out to be exactly exciting but the good news is that the end is near!!! I will be once again free on Oct. 10th! So what's next...having indulged myself with a good year of traveling, I am ready for a more serious pursuit: doing business with China. Just as my life-long obsession with food and traveling, I'm convinced with complete certainty that this is what I'm destined to do...like the missionary of trade.


Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

· Mark Twain

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Now that's more like it!

My new ride...the pictures says it all.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Saturday Afternoon

Erie Canal, Pittsford, NYOx Tail at Moe's BBQ
Banana Nut Cream Crepe at Simply Crepe


Ever since my recent discovery of the mind blowing ox tail, I've been waking up everything Saturday morning with thought of making my much anticipated weekly trip to Moe's BBQ on West Ave. for the best ox tail in town. It's a good thing they only serve this rare treat on Saturdays, otherwise I would have to be in the hood much more often!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Home Thoughts from Abroad

Quotations from “Home Thoughts from Abroad” by Jan Morris


---


“There go the swallows for Venice, the stout sea-farers –

Seeing those birds fly makes one wish for wings!”

So wrote old Browning, sitting in his English garden one spring morning, and Oh! I know too well that delicious pull of distant parts, foreign places and different ways of living. I have watched birds fly off too, as the drizzle falls out of a gray Welsh sky, the sheep in the field next door stand there hangdog and reproachful and whenever the telephone signs it seems to be somebody getting the wrong number – oh yes, I’ve wished for the wings of a 747 often enough, when the opposite of homesickness sets in!

And I know well, too, the delectable thrill of moving into a new house somewhere altogether else, in somebody else’s country, where the climate is different, the food is different, the light is different, where the mundane preoccupations of life at home don’t seem to apply and it is even fun to go shopping. Travel itself, after all, is largely a matter of enjoying differences – why else would those swallows migrate? Transferring one’s whole being – family, possessions, bank accounts, blankets, mixers and all – gives us the same pleasure in less restless form.

---

Homesickness is the most delicious form of nostalgia, if only because generally speaking it really can be gratified. We cannot return to the past, but we can go home again. In my own case, homesickness is related to something in the Welsh language calls hiraeth. This over-worked word means literally longing, nostalgia or sometimes plain grief. It has come to signify, however, something even less exact: longing, yes, but for nothing definite; nostalgia, but for an indeterminate past; grief without cause or explanation. Hiraeth! An

Insidious summation of all that is most poetical, most musical, most regretful, most opaque, most evasive, most inextinguishable in the character of Wales.

---

This powerful homing instinct is inexplicable. The old Welsh emigrants had left Wales because their lives there were poor and miserable, yet nothing could suppress the hiraeth within them, and nothing can suppress it in me, either. Nobody, I swear, has had more pleasure from traveling than I have, and nobody has pushed more eagerly through the door of a rented house somewhere far away. Yet the old sensation nags at me always, part sweet, part sad, part consolation, part reproach. Most expatriates, if you press them, will admit to something they miss, during their idyllic residences abroad: decent eggs and bacon for the English, a proper beer cellar for the Germans, the New York Times, perhaps, or cornflakes for Americans. For me it’s nothing so specific. A perceptive American once observed that a Welshman’s truth was in the nature of a circle, and similarly what I crave when I am living abroad is rather in the form of a blur.

It is the sense of belonging that I miss, together with infusions of historical awareness and sensuality…


So I stand with Browning, either way. When the swallows fly south I want to go with them, but when I hear that chaffinch calling, I need to go the other way: up our dusty, potholed lane, through the shabby old oak gates, into the familiar, the irreplaceable embrace of home, where there is no need for hiraeth, where love awaits me and the kettle’s always on the boil.”

Monday, July 21, 2008

Sunset at Chimney Bluffs


I enjoyed a beautiful sunset at Chimney Bluffs State Park near Sodus, NY. To top things off we also brought the best takeout Jamaican food in town from LJ on St. Paul street. It was well worth the drive.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Watkins Glen



Took a nice little hike at Watkins Glen State Park, one of my favorite parks in the area. The drive down Seneca Lake was pleasant as usual. I love summers in upstate NY.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Effortless

Lately I have become obsessed with two words: horrendous, which summits up my current situation; and effortless, the state I want to be in.

Everyone knows that marriage is a compromise but there is no easy answer on just exactly how far one should go before forgoing too much. When I was younger I thought it was a good idea to date people who are different from me. I thought the variance in people’s temperament and interest complement and challenge them to be a better person. While I still believe this to be the case for building great friendships, a misfit life partner is like constantly climbing uphill with shoes that are two sizes smaller than your feet or training a bulldog to be a collie. Recently I was told that I am too self-centered for living out my life exactly the way I intend to. I take no offense to the accusation just as I feel no guilt for traveling and experiencing life while others thought I should have been developing my career and building a family. If I’m selfish for living the life I want to live, I plan to be selfish for life. People can criticize me but they can’t change me. I’m an independent person and I enjoy doing things on my own. I have no objection in sharing my life with someone who is equally passionate about life. "Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed. Maybe they're supposed to run wild until they find someone -- just as wild -- to run with." I need to find a male version of Rose with old world romance. Anything short of that I might as well live life alone, selfishly.

The almighty Segovia, once said it’s difficult to play badly, meaning if you’re playing wrong you’re probably also exerting too much effort. The right technique frees the players from tension and enables them to play effortlessly. For more information refer to The Natural Classical Guitar: The Principles of Effortless Playing. The same thing should apply for everything else in life. Why not take the path of the least resistance? The best relationships should be maintained effortlessly. Life should be spent enjoying each other’s company, not compromising.

Lately I have become obsessed with two words: horrendous, which summits up my current situation; and effortless, the state I want to be in.

Everyone knows that marriage is a compromise but there is no easy answer on just exactly how far one should go before forgoing too much. When I was younger I thought it was a good idea to date people who are different from me. I thought the variance in people’s temperament and interest complement and challenge them to be a better person. While I still believe this to be the case for building great friendships, a misfit life partner is like constantly climbing uphill with shoes that are two sizes smaller than your feet or training a bulldog to be a collie. Recently I was told that I am too self-centered for living out my life exactly the way I intend to. I take no offense to the accusation just as I feel no guilt for traveling and experiencing life while others thought I should have been developing my career and building a family. If I’m selfish for living the life I want to live, I plan to be selfish for life. People can criticize me but they can’t change me. I’m an independent person and I enjoy doing things on my own. I have no objection in sharing my life with someone who is equally passionate about life. "Maybe some women aren't meant to be tamed. Maybe they're supposed to run wild until they find someone -- just as wild -- to run with." I need to find a male version of Rose with old world romance. Anything short of that I might as well live life alone, selfishly.

The almighty Segovia, once said it’s difficult to play badly, meaning if you’re playing wrong you’re probably also exerting too much effort. The right technique frees the players from tension and enables them to play effortlessly. For more information refer to The Natural Classical Guitar: The Principles of Effortless Playing. The same thing should apply for everything else in life. Why not take the path of the least resistance? The best relationships should be maintained effortlessly. Life should be spent enjoying each other’s company, not compromising.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Getting to Know Me

Some people wants to go back in time, some wants to live backwards. I’ve had mishaps but never a regret. Hindsight is always 20-20. Life moves forward in real time, no pause, no stop. More often than not, we have to make decisions based on limited information and mixed up emotions. Never was there a time when we’re completely informed, completely prepared and completely logical and objective. Split second decisions, regardless big or small, inevitably alter our lives. It’s unfortunate that no matter how close we get to someone we never know how they truly are. Only time will unveil misplace trust and unwise choices.

Understanding is not a fact or knowledge; it’s a feeling of intimacy on an intrinsic level. I know of two kinds of people: those who know me and those who don’t.

People who understand me respect and trust me unconditionally. Conversations flow like a clear stream with no resistance. We might have disagreements but the fundamental understanding never goes away.

People who don’t know me never will. They feel the need to sneak their way into my life through unjust channels such as reading me personal emails, going through my phone records and computer files. These people claim that they’re curious to find out more about me but in reality behaviors rise from lack of trust and understanding and even their own insecurities. Words are irrelevant when it comes to trust. People who believe me don’t need them and people who don’t believe me won’t believe my explanation anyways. I always say if you’re trust me, don’t ask. The truth is that I’ve written more revealing thoughts on this blog than many conversations I’ve had with people in person. My life is an open book for anyone who’s wants to read.

Many of you have been very supportive of my recent personal crisis. Thank you for your understanding. I hope my foolishness somehow brings you just a little bit amusement. And if that’s not enough excitement please stay tuned for the upcoming adventure episodes in December when I reunite with my best buddy, Rose, in Dusseldorf, Germany!!! Life can sometimes trip me up or slow me down but there’s no stopping.



The woods are lovely, dark and deep,

But I have promises to keep,

And miles to go before I sleep,

And miles to go before I sleep.

-- Robert Frost

Monday, July 7, 2008

Rock&Roll Hall of Fame

On the drive back from Indianapolis.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Clockwatcher

Life hasn’t been the same since I joined the National Association of Clockwatchers. Some people define their lives by their work. I’ve always defined mine by not working. People used count on me for stories of adventure, tuning into my blog periodically for my latest endeavors. There was a time when I took pride in not holding a 9-5 job. People respected me for my nonconformity or even at times bohemian attitude. Of course, not everyone felt that way, especially my parents and they don’t even know half of the story.

It felt like the end of an era when Jody called me out of the blue two weeks ago while he was having dinner with Rich. It has been over two years since I last saw them. I felt almost ashamed to inform them of my current status. I could hear the disappointment in his voice when Jody said “I was hoping you would pick up the phone in somewhere exotic like Argentina.”

People used to live their lives vicariously through me. Now I live my live vicariously through travel books and kayake.com.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Changes

People always say that the only thing you can count on is change. Nowadays the only thing that’s changing is the perpetual increase in gas prices. The economy must be suffering. I’ve never seen so many speed traps on 490 as I have in the last month and half since I came back in town. The high gas price has not only changed my driving habit (yes, it has, I’m well below 80mph now) but also my frame of mind. Last week while I was driving home from work on Mt. Hope, I noticed an older man all geared up on his bicycle towing a small trailer behind. He was blocking the right lane during rush hour with bumper to bumper traffic. I would have been pretty annoyed by this situation a year ago but recent changes have made me a supporter of his action. I truly admire his tenacity. As I drove by I wanted to wave and thank him for taking a stand and saving the environment and blocking traffic just to make a statement for the rest of us. Thank you bicycle guy! Hope to see you again on Mt. Hope again!

Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy Beetle

I love shopping but the idea of shopping for a new car really red lines my ready revved up stress level. I’m a pretty sharp person and meet the criteria for the above average math skills stereotype that is so prevalent for the general Asian population. However, I’ve never considered myself a shrewd business woman who is capable of negotiating for an unbeatable deal for just about anything. I lucked out with my current lease on the Infiniti G35 by an impromptu stop at the Dorschel dealer with John, the ultimate negotiator/motivator, who single handedly got us two fantastic lease deals after relentlessly going back and forth with the sales women for four hours! Since then John has gone back for an upgrade on his G35 and now as the end of my lease approaches I’m once again on the market for a new car. I have to admit that I’m pretty spoiled by the Infiniti and the low payment lease program. Not everyone is a fan of leasing a car but I’m pretty sold on the idea of zero maintenance cost and new car every two to three years. The Beetle convertible was a close runner up last time but the major deterrent was the fact that there was no way I could get my guitar to fit into the non-existing trunk space. Three years later I still can’t get the bug out of my head but this time I no longer have to transport my guitar to and from places and I have no plans on driving cross country on a whim carrying all of my belongs.

With a good idea of what I want (Beetle convertible, manual transmission and leather seat warmers), I stopped by the VW Dorschel dealer to get a feel for what’s out there on Friday afternoon. Gregory, the Ukrainian car engineer turn car salesman, took me for a test drive in a black manual convertible. The drive was pleasant but I was more interested in hearing the numbers. After waiting around for a little while Gregory came back with $1500 down and $309 per month for 36 months. I was a little shocked by the numbers since the VW online advertisement shows $1999 down (excluding tax and registration) for $229 a month. I expected a bit mark up at the dealership but definitely nothing that drastic. I am fully aware how lease payments are calculated and the Russian assured me that they’re running the lease at 62% residual with money factor set at 0.00089 or 2.14%. He talked a lot of stuff but I was very unconvinced and turned off by his high pressure sales strategy (I later ran the same numbers on Excel with $24,414 MSRP and the payment came out just over $270).

I immediately called a family friend, Phil Britton, at the Vincent Mazda dealer. He referred me to Chris Wilson at the Vincent VW dealer who ran the same numbers and offered me $1600 down and $263 per months. I gave him a verbal commitment over the phone and agreed to sign whatever papers necessary to secure the car from another dealer for end of July. All this happened with merely a couple of phone calls. I was happy with the numbers and they were happy with me.

The only headache left was the unrelenting phone calls from the Russian. I finally had to call him back and tell him what Vincent offered. This time Gregory sounded just as incredulous as I was. He told me he will match any offer that is printed and signed on paper. I guess things like this really bring out the vindictive side of me. I signed a $1600 check over to Vincent this morning and asked Chris to print out the offer just to fuck with the Russian. Even with the offer in black and white, Gregory is still not convinced that I did not fabricate the numbers myself. He tried to persuade me to do business with Dorschel for all the time and effort he has invested. I corrected him by 1), I have to take the best offer and 2) he was actually wasting my time for not giving me a better offer in the first place. He called in the sales manager and showed him the numbers from Vincent. The manager apologized for the $309 payment I got on Friday and offered me $249/month that expires by end of the day. I was honestly impressed by how aggressive and straightforward he was. Unfortunately they put themselves in a compromising position by not offering me the better deal earlier. What could possibly happen in 3 days that reduced the monthly payment by almost 20%? That’s $2160 over 36 months. So for anyone else out there shopping for a new Beetle convertible with winter package: it’s not a deal unless it’s under $249. Ultimately, Gregory is responsible for loosing the business for Dorschel. I love deals but I also honor my words. Even if I went with Dorschel my net saving is merely $148 because of an extra payment for the Infiniti. With Vincent, the deal is for the end of July, just when my current lease ends. $148 is a premium I’m willing to pay any day to cut the bullshit.

After all, I have to confess that I got more of a kick out of going to Dorschel with the Vincent offer than getting a new Beetle all together. To top things off, I told Christian my Beetle story at work. He was pretty appalled by what happened and said he will have to investigate the Russian with his father-in-law, who happens to be the CFO of Dorschel automotives! So here you go. I’m not a negotiator; I’m just a hard sell. More often than not people who thinks I’m little and cute really has no idea who they’re dealing with! I’m warm and fuzz until you get on my nerves. Bullshitting me is really not good for your own good.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Freezing Point

60 degrees is cold for June even in Rochester. But nothing is colder than this fortress of lost souls where everything freezes over and time moves at a glacier speed.

Even though time stands still in my gray cubical, days fly by faster than a Boeing 747. I work from 9 to 6; I eat, I shower, I sleep. When my alarm goes off at 7:30am I rinse and repeat. I have enough work to keep me busy for less than a quarter of my day and for the rest of the time I stare blankly into my computer screen. Shelley tells people I’m the most efficient person here. I guess boredom is my reward.

Everyday I look up flights to distant destinations on Kayak.com. Surprisingly it’s not one of the blocked sites considering the restricted access to Fanadango, who’s actually one of Sutherland’s clients. I’m leading a so-called responsible life now where four-month long itineraries are no longer my options. Still, I constantly glance over my desk top calendar to plan out exotic trips in my head. I talked to Rose yesterday, or was it the day before, I loose track. It’s good to hear the voice from my pervious life once in a while. It reminds me that I was happy once. The party is not over yet. We’re going to pick up where we left off in Berlin or Paris or somewhere else more enticing for Christmas. I’m starting to get a little confused on why exactly I work here considering I can make almost same amount of money elsewhere in one eighth the time. Talking about efficiency.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Cubical LIfe

Life changes like the weather in Rochester. Less than three months ago I was walking down the world’s widest street on a different continent. I was free. I had no obligations, no one to report to. My future was open. My possibilities were endless.

Nowadays I’m confined to a small cubical in the middle of a big blue room for most of my waking hours. Life is no longer the same. I now work for the Avaya program at Sutherland Global Services. My bosses are Marcia and Shelley. They are possibly the best people to work for and still, nothing quite compensates the fact that I can no longer feel the breeze in my hair while walking through the rose garden on a lazy afternoon.

Everyone grows up at some point. And by growing up we mean get a job, a husband, a house and a couple of kids. I used to detest the sentiment of conformity and the unbearable societal expectations. I still do. I despise people who think I was just a little girl, playing and wasting life away.

I traveled because I wanted to see the world. And by exploring the world I discovered myself. Everything I did contributed to who I am today. I’ve been the same person for as long as I could remember. I am still as daring and suborn as I was when I was three, oblivious to the pitfalls of life. Now I’m older and hopefully wiser. A certain level of realism or even cynicism is setting in. But I’m stronger, more confident now. I know for certain that I could get through whatever life throws at me.

Still, nothing will ever be the same again. And like a wild animal in a cage, I still long for the wilderness but I am begin to slowly accept the life that I am expected to live. I will never forget the thrill of flying in the air above the lush forest and vast ocean. Sometimes when I close my eyes I can still hear the wind.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Inspiration

From time to time everyone needs a little inspiration. I’ve been looking forward to attend another ESM commencement ever since my first one in May of 2006. To be an alumnus of the Eastman School of Music, one of the world’s most reputable music schools, is and always will be my greatest pride. The speeches at the commencements here are always profound and thought provoking. However, most important of all it is exhilarating to be surrounded by people who are driven by love and passion in a world that is motivated by money and power. Never have I met people with so much dedication in pursuit of their dreams. This is my little slice of heaven. I can spend a whole life time sinking into a seat in the grand balcony under the largest chandelier in North America and loose myself in the music. It is here I can feel the warmth of love and hear the pulse of passion. Even though I don’t play anymore I still feel like this is where I belong. It’s like being in an orchard that is no longer there. I can still see the blossoms in my mind and smell the fragrance in my imagination. It’s comforting to know for certain that the love of music is a life long commitment and it will always be a part of me for as long as I live.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

The Counterfeiter

Who would have known that the music of Hugo Diaz would go so well with a film about Holocaust? I was a bit surprised at first but as the story unfolded I began to understand the appropriateness of the music. Tango tunes are simple music with complex emotions: a dash of sadness for unrequited love, a pinch of nostalgia for yesteryears, and a touch of melancholy for the fleeting moment but never anything definitive. Tango is a dance of the moment. When we dance there is no past and there is no future. We live by the music. Every beat dies a little death. Maybe that’s the parallel.

I walked over to Spot for a little pick-upper afterwards. Films relating to the Holocaust are rarely uplifting except when you consider the strength of the human spirit. Come to think of it four of my favorite movies are of the same topic: Life is Beautiful, Lives of Others, The Pianist and The Counterfeiter. I’ve never being particularly interested in the time frame but it’s always inspiring to see ordinary people overcoming extraordinary circumstances. It makes my problems, whatever they might be, seem like no problems at all.

Movie Synopsis:

" Academy Award Winner for Best Foreign Language Film.

The COUNTERFEITERS is the true story of the largest counterfeiting operation in history, set up by the Nazis in 1936. Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch is the king of counterfeiters. He lives a mischievous life of cards, booze, and women in Berlin during the Nazi-era. Suddenly his luck runs dry when arrested by Superintendent Friedrich Herzog. Immediately thrown into the Mauthausen concentration camp, Salomon exhibits exceptional skills there and is soon transferred to the upgraded camp of Sachsenhausen. Upon his arrival, he once again comes face to face with Herzog, who is there on a secret mission. Hand-picked for his unique skill, Salomon and a group of professionals are forced to produce fake foreign currency under the program Operation Berhard. The team, which also includes detainee Adolf Burger, is given luxury barracks for their assistance. But while Salomon attempts to weaken the economy of Germany's allied opponents, Adolf refuses to use his skills for Nazi profit and would like to do something to stop Operation Bernhard's aid to the war effort. Faced with a moral dilemma, Salomon must decide whether his actions, which could prolong the war and risk the lives of fellow prisoners, are ultimately the right ones."



Thursday, May 15, 2008

Frustration

I might not have many talents but when it comes to stress I’m the expert. I was stressed when I was in school; I was stressed when I was on vacation; I was stressed when I was working; I was stressed out in Argentina; I was stressed out in Vegas and now I’m stressed out in Rochester. What’s worse than being stressed out all the time is that I somehow have the natural ability to disguise most of it and appear perfectly fine to others. So I don’t even get a sympathy hug. Next time when I get an opportunity to answer such question as “What is your greatest weakness?” I’ll have to say my inability to express intense emotions other than rage. I’m not the kind person who breaks down easily or act super excited at surprise parties. I’m never excessively nervous or dramatic. I’d probably make a bad Italian except when it comes to arguments. I’m so stressed out all the time that my shoulders are undoubtedly the toughest muscle in my body.

I’m getting pretty frustrated with job hunting and that’s an understatement. After four and half years of school, 2 degrees, and 90K in tuition I have zero employability. I have seen zero return on that investment. I have easily applied 200 jobs just this year (including 20 last night) and heard zero call back.

Yesterday I started to study for GMAT. Sentence correction problems are kind fun considering I just taught English in Argentina for couple of months.

Last night I looked up information on actuary exams and thought about getting down and dirty with some statistic books. For some reason working in statistics or accounting has always been one of my worst fears along with working at a highway toll booth. Mom always nagged me to take those exams even though statistics was by far my worst subject in school. Well, that and music theory. Everyone thinks just because I’m Asian I should automatically be good with numbers. I have no problems with number as long as we’re talking about 5th grade math, the usual +, -, x, /. If someone told me 6 years ago that I’d consider being an actuary I probably would have ended my life right there.

Knowing how difficult it is to get a job in finance nowadays I have channeled most of my search into secretarial jobs. I can read, write, type, answer phone calls and file. What exactly are they looking for? I actually saw one posting on Career Builder looking for someone with a secretarial science degree. I didn’t even know such thing existed!

I know I’m ranting a lot here but it’s frustrating that I have no one to complain to. Nobody understands how stressed out I am. Everyone just tells me that I’m a smart cry baby and if I try hard enough I can get a job just like the rest of the people in the country. I know plenty of average people with jobs but I don’t know what exactly I need to do to get one myself. I was told that I’m over qualified for a $10/hour job and so far I don’t seem to qualify for anything I’ve applied. Could somebody please let me know if I have a gigantic DONOT HIRE sign on my forehead? I’m starting to feel like the 40-year-old virgin only with jobs. I wish people could understand; I do try.

My other weakness is that I think too much. I’ve had many people telling me the same thing including professional psychologists and lately my roommate Andy, who has a degree in psychology from Albany. He suggested that maybe my inability to physically process any kind of alcoholic beverage has forced me to think things through by myself under many tough circumstances. My brain has pretty much being in the 5th gear since I could comprehend words. If only I could use all that energy at a job I’d probably be super rich by now.

More and more I feel like it is human nature to look for a sense of belonging, a niche where we feel some sort of equilibrium. Although I’m stressed out with the whole job thing, the lack of belonging and hopefulness is also starting to bother me. Everyone belongs to some sort of group, democrats, republicans, dart league, pool league, employed, unemployed, college educated, non-college educated, majority, minority, married, single, straight, gay, bi, whatever it is there seem to be a support group for it. I used to think I belonged with the musicians but those days are long gone. Now I don’t know where I fit in. I don’t play guitar, dance tango or go to school anymore. I will have been working at the same club on and off for five years this fall and I never felt I belonged there. My full time job is to look for a job. I loved Buenos Aires but I didn't belong there. People think I’m Chinese in the US and Chinese think I’m American in China. Where is the support group for people like me? Knowing that I belong to someone at end of the day makes it a bit easier to sleep at night, most of the time.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hardware Failure

First day back to Rochester, it’s strange to be surrounded by so many NY State license plates again. The weather is beautiful today making a drive down East Ave. especially pleasant. The flowers are blooming and spring is in the air. I’ve never felt so much appreciation for this city until now. After being on the road for almost a year and half living out of my suitcases I am more than ready to find a place to call home. Ironically my camera stopped working today. I suppose after all the traveling it’s time for that little thing to retire. Unfortunately, that’s not the only hardware failure I have to deal with. My laptop is on the verge of a total breakdown. The CD player hasn’t worked since last spring and now the USB port is dead along with the battery. I periodically hear clicking complains from the hard drive and the internal memory is down to zero capacity. It’s time for a replacement. This is end of a journey and beginning of another. I’m relieved to be back and I’m excited to reconnect with old friends and start a new chapter.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

I'm Back!

4,200 miles later I’m finally back to where I started: Rochester, NY. I arrived just past midnight. Not sure if I was too tired or it really has been that long since I was here, I got totally lost after I got off I90. It took me a good half hour and some directions on the phone to get back to Dave’s house. Just out of luck I found someone renting out a room exactly one floor above my old apartment on N. Water St. I am absolutely thrilled about moving back to the same building again. I guess it’s as close as I can get from going home for now.

Lunch Stop at the Windy City



I’ve driven over 24 hours without stopping now. Somehow it’s hard for me to blow through Chicago without a quick lunch break at my all time favorite Chinese restaurant in the States: Old Sze Chuan. Anyone who comes in contact with me knows that I have a passion for food and spicy food is something I can’t live without.

Lao Sze Chuan is a well-known establishment in Chicago Chinatown that has been catering to native and American dinners alike over the past decade. I can’t remember exactly when I first came here but since then it has been a must-stop destination every time I come to the city (along with a Brazilian steakhouse chain name Fogo de Chao). After getting directions on the phone from Rob and Eli I finally made my way to Chinatown. The restaurant was completely packed as usual but I didn’t have to wait for long for a table. The menu has been updated to a new colorful one instead of the old black and white printouts in plastic see through sleeves that had gradually become less clear over the years. The prices hasn’t changed much despite the recently inflation on food and don’t even get me started on gas. You can always count on getting a bang for your buck here. Although I have the habit of ordering the same dishes every time I’m sure all of them are memorable.

I’m an adventurous person but when I find a good one I like to stick to it. There’s a restaurant in Rochester called Mamasan’s and I’ve been ordering the same dish there (Basil Beef) since high school! There’s nothing like a good reliable meal. I heard majority of people prefer that over sex. Here’s the logic: if I have something excellent I’ll keep ordering the same dish; if I have something above average I’ll go back there and try another dish; anything below average I won’t go back to the restaurant again unless I’m there for reasons other than food (i.e. meeting people). In my opinion it’s not love unless it’s something I can’t live without.

My dishes at Lao Sze Chuan are Mapo tofu and Lamb with alfalfa. To me Mapo tofu is the single measuring stick for all Sze Chuan restaurants. The southern Chinese province is known for its spicy cuisine and this is one of the most distinct dishes coming out of the area. I’ve had it in many places from its original birth place to Buenos Aires. Two Sze Chuan restaurants that have impressed me so far are this one in Chicago and a smaller place on Spring Mountain in Vegas. But the mapo tofu here is one of the best you can possibly get without a thousand-dollar flight to China. It’s too bad the pictures I took came out blurry so it’s hard to see all the peppers and hot oil but since you would have been looking at them with tears in your eyes anyways I guess it really captures the essence of the meal. The sautéed lamb here is extremely tasty especially with alfalfa seeds. It’s probably an herb most people are not familiar with outside of few Middle Eastern dishes. Alfalfa seeds have a very distinct aroma and it’s often used with lamb or other meat with strong flavors to accentuate their natural taste.

My father side of the family is originally from Sze Chuan so I was born with hot chili peppers in my blood. Having only been to Sze Chuan once when I was very young, eating deadly spicy food makes me feel close to my heritage. There are many things I can live without but I can’t live without the mouth-numbing, tear-jerking, sinuous-clearing, temperature-rising, sweat-pouring Sze Chuan chili peppers.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Montana


Ida is a Ho




Idaho, that’s one place I most likely not going to visit again. I started driving out of Seattle around 10:30 this morning. The scenery was very beautiful going through the mountain passes just outside of the city on interstate 90E. Just before crossing into Montana I got yet another ticket for driving 82 at 75. The cop might as well just pulled me over and robbed me. The speed limit went from 75 to 55 within 10 miles and went right back to 75 again just cross the border to Montana. At first he tried to tell me I was driving 82 at 75 and 75 at 65 but I knew we had just passed the 65 sign within 20 feet. I told him I was trying to slow down. He said he didn’t see my break lights go on until he turned his lights on. Where does a highway trooper learn to BS like that? After he wrote me the ticket he told me to be careful getting back onto the highway. Well, if he was so concerned about my safety he shouldn’t have pulled me over in the first place. If I get run over by a truck getting back onto 90 he’s going to hell for it. Idaho is quickly becoming my most hated state in the US. California is up there too but at least the tickets there were legitimate.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Things I did in Portland

View from Japanese Garden

Japanese Garden
Saturday Market, opens on Sunday too.

Definitely the biggest bookstore I've ever been in.

Friday, April 25, 2008

1200 miles later

I'm here at last. Spring is in the air!
I can't wait to start exploring the city tomorrow.

F#@%! Another ticket in CA!!!

Although end of the month might be a good time to buy a car, it sure is not a good time to drive one. Just as I got back onto highway 5 padding myself on the back for how close I’ve stayed to the speed limit thus far I saw a police car getting onto the entrance ramp behind me. I thought: you’ve got to be kidding me! I had my cruise control set to 80mph and the speed limit is 70! This has been my greatest attempt to respect the speed limit. But it didn’t matter. I got a ticket for driving 82. The police woman in her late 30s was not at all bad looking. Despite her friendly effort to start a causal conversation, I was in no mood to talk. As soon as I got the ticket I was gone. They can’t give me a ticket for going from zero to 70 in less than 10 seconds; I just have to suffer the rest of the drive. California and I are so over! I’ve been driving all these years, two cross country trips and no tickets. This is my second time driving in California and I just got my second welcome ticket. I have to admit that I probably deserved the first one but this one is totally uncalled for. I’m never driving in CA again! Arnold Schwarzenegger can do as many TV commercials as he wants to encourage tourism but it won’t be that easy to get me back there again.