“In New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made up
There’s nothing you can’t do, now you’re in New York
These streets will make you feel brand new
Big lights will inspire you, let’s hear it for New York” – Empire State of Mind
New York City (NYC) is really a very vibrant city, its like the city has a life of itself. The moment I stepped out of Port Authority Bus Terminal, I felt its “energy” and the lyrics from Empire State really made sense. …
Taking advantage of the Christmas long weekend, I decided to take book a bus from Boston South Station to NYC (Peter Pan bus, USD$40 to and fro). Next comes the horrible search for hotels. A quick google of “new york hotels” will throw up searches from numerous 3rd-party booking sites like Priceline, Booking.com, Kayak, Orbiz… A search of apps will throw up Hotel Tonight in addition to those. I was then introduced to the bidding system, as well as their Express Deals section. Further searches reveal another site, Backbid.com. With time on my side, I gave all of them a go. My search was simple, free wifi, at least 3 stars, close to Empire State Building, a user review of at least 75%, and a price of <$140. Priceline’s express deals only offered hotels in the Financial District, and still cost at least $137 (even on the day before my departure!). 5days before my departure, Booking.com suggested NYMA for $140. It was perfect for me. I googled NYMA, and learnt that it was a chain of hotels managed by Apple Core, which have their own booking system! The exact same room on Booking.com cost only $120 ($20 less). However, when I finished entering my card details, the room was taken. A search of room availability threw up Ramada Inn which have a room for $140. I decided to take it up, since they offered free cancellation up to 24hrs before arrival. I then placed the reservation on Backbid.com to see if its any use. And as I expected, its a waste of time, and required the upload of your hotel reservation email, which might lead to privacy issues. All in all, I got 3 bids, 1 from YMCA (shared room, shared restrooms… wth?), and 2 bids from hotels in Brooklyn (duh~). Knowing hotel rates fluctuates, I check back to see if I can get a room at NYMA, which is nearer to Empire State Building. Sadly, there was no $120 room available. But fortunately, I saw that the exact same room that I booked for in Ramada has dropped to $120! So I cancelled my booking, and made another booking. Tada, so here I am, 14days later in Ramada hotel. Final verdict: the site with the best price is Booking.com. It is worth checking Priceline.com (although it is worth mentioning Priceline owned Booking.com), but don’t put your hopes too high. Reserve a hotel, either from its own site or from 3rd-party, but with free cancellation and keep rechecking its price.
So here I am in NYC after a 4+hrs bus ride (Peter Pan, $42 to and fro). The first shop I saw out of the bus terminal was the Cake Boss Cafe! I know they have a program on TLC (but I never really watched it). While walking along the streets beware of Disney/Sesame Street characters. These are street performers and taking a photo with them requires a “donation”. Around Times Square its row after rows of theaters featuring performances like Phantom of the Opera, Mama Mia and others. Discounted tickets can be bought at the tkts booth, but its only for last minute tickets and often its in the front row.
The streets of NYC is arranged in a grid with parallel streets running up and down. The vertical ones are named avenues, while the horizontal ones are numbered streets. The numbers run from smallest at Downtown, to 30-59ish at Midtown and >60 at Uptown.
What’s a visit to NYC without visiting the Grand Central Station. From here, I took the green line (4,5) down to Bowling Green. The NYC subway can be daunting at first. But once you grab hold of one of the many NYC subway apps, its easy. Basically there are many overlapping routes, some stop every station, some are express and skip certain stations. For example, only train 4 and 5 stops at Bowling Green, while train 6 will skip past it.
After exiting Bowling Green station, you should be facing this huge Museum of American Indian. Turn right and walked towards the Staton Island Ferry. This is a FREE ferry that shuttles people from Manhattan to Staton Island. Along the way, you can catch a good glimpse of the Statue of Liberty. Now, outside the Bowling Green station all the way to the Ferry terminal, there will be people peddling statue of liberty cruises. If you are not interested, just walk along and kindly reject them. They are just trying to make a living. Be nice. Its quite a mess in the ferry terminal. There is no queue, so everyone just squeeze as close to the gate as possible. Despite the squeeze, there is still some respect for individual space, unlike the squeeze in China, where people really squeeze till their skin touches yours. On board the ferry, quickly make to the right side. On this trip, I met some really rowdy people. A woman stood at a window pane and attempted to bar anyone else from viewing out of it, claiming “my friends will be here”. Another person can’t be bothered with her and stood right there snapping pictures of the Statue of Liberty. It then became a tussle for window space, and “photobombing” each other. Its hilarious, none of them got really good photo of the statue ultimately. The tussle ended when the statue faded from view, and the group lamented “we don’t have a good photo!”
On the way back to Manhattan, I caught a good nap on the boat. For dinner I visited this place called Eataly. It is an open concept marketplace cum restaurant. It is sort of a Marche mixed with a supermarket. Its really crowded, and food is on the pricey side. Unable to get a seat, I then settled for Outback.
Finally, I checked into my hotel – Ramada Inn for a good rest. Check in was a breeze. The room was small but cozy. It comes with a walk in wardrobe! There was also an Ipod/Iphone dock, where I filled the room with Dragon Age Inquisition soundtracks. I took a bath while a drip coffee brewer made me some nice hot coffee.
For the last activity before I end the night, I decided to go view the Rockefeller Christmas tree. New York is truely a city that never sleeps. At 10pm, the streets were still bustling with people. . From my hotel to the center its almost 20 streets to the Rockefeller Center. I recommend walking along 5th avenue as it is the most crowded and has quite a number of landmarks along the way.
On a bright sunny day in Fall 2014, I decided to go walk the famed Freedom Trail that cuts through several scenic spots in Boston, MA. The trail begins at Park Street station on the red/green line. There are ample signage around guiding one on the Freedom Trail even without a map.
I modified the route to a shorter one to cover the wharf and aquarium area.
First stop: Boston Commons.
Massachusetts State House
Cranary Burial Ground
Along the way, you will see Tremont Temple across the street. It looks so grand. The carvings are so intricate.
Old City Hall
Irish Famine Memorial (just outside Walgreens)
Old Meeting House
Old State House
The next part of the Freedom Trail is a long walk to Beacon Hill. Hence, I decided to follow the crowd and head to Quincy Market for some “snacks”. Sadly, its really a tourist trap with overpriced food. Not recommended to dine here unless you want to pay exorbitant price, join long queue, stand around waiting for sits and squeeze with the crowd. I am in and out within minutes.
Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park is just across the road from Quincy Market. From here one can proceed to the harborwalk and the aquarium with really nice tranquil view of the sea.
Finally, I just followed the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway towards Boston South MBTA and take the train home.
Taking advantage of the Columbus day long weekend, 3 friends and I rented a car and drove up to Maine from Boston. We rented a Hertz Toyota Camry for 3 days (we only spent 1 night in Acadia). It costed about USD$130 per person for the car, GPS, damage and liability waiver, gasoline, and toll charges. The drive from Boston to Maine took about 4.5hours. We stopped along a rest stop and had Burger King breakfast. Their nuggets were USD$1.49 for 10!!! (naturally, we got 40 of them).
The first stop in Acadia was the visitor center. We bought a 1 week pass for the car (USD$20), and got a map. Driving along the coast, and hopping onto the park loop road, we made our way to the Sand Beach. In my opinion, its just a pretty normal beach. However, the highlight is not the beach, but the Beehive trail! Sand Beach area has a pretty big carpark, restrooms, water fountains to replenish our water bottle, and its at the bottom of the Beehive trail. Its a very interesting, and at times exhausting trail, rigged with steep, almost vertical climbs, narrow ledges, and metal rungs.
After the Beehive trail, we drove along the coast heading to Thunder Hole. Nothing really exciting, and the crush of the waves didn’t really produce a loud thunder as advertised. Probably its the season or the tide. Nonetheless, its along the way to Northeast Harbor, where we will spend the night in Kimball Terrace Inn. Dinner was a meal of LOBSTER at Thurston’s Lobster Pound. The restaurant was pretty remote, and en-route was dark and there weren’t much cars around. However, when we reached the restaurant at around 8pm (it closes at 9pm), it was packed, and the carpark was full!
After a hearty meal of lobster, we headed up Cadillac mountain to view the stars and the milky way! Its really one of the best stargazing spot that I have been to. However, it was really cold, and after a few minutes, we seek refuge back in the car. Thereafter, we went back to Sand Beach, hoping to see some bioluminescent plankton, but was disappointed.
The next morning, we woke up at 4:30am (!!!) to catch the sunrise at Cadillac Mountain. I was kinda grumpy that I had to wake up so early. However, looking back, I was kinda glad I did catch the sunrise. Another perk of going up early, is you get to park right at the summit! It gets really packed. Its really spectacular, seeing the sun peeking out from under the sea as only a tiny orange dot, and slowly rising and growing in intensity to become a fiery red ball so bright, some people exclaimed that the headlines of the day’s newspaper will be tourists got blinded watching sunrise atop Cadillac Mountain.
Breakfast was at Jeannie’s Great Maine Breakfast. It was seriously good, with free flow coffee. The eggs were fried or poached exactly as you wanted. However it was on the pricey side.
The last item on the itinerary before we head back to Boston was a hike up Precipice Trail. In terms of difficulty, Precipice was harder than Beehive, but more exciting. The trail is longer and tougher. Also, unless you return back the way you go up, there is no trail that leads back to the beginning of the trail, unlike the Beehive.
One of the highlights of this trip to South. Korea, is to catch the cherry blossoms at the 52nd Jinhae Gunhangjie, It is really a tranquil lovely place to enjoy the cherry blossoms. It ran from the 1st to the 10th of April for this year (2014). There are a few scenic spots to view the cherry blossom, and the most famous of which along the Yeojwacheon river. Another spot is at the Gyeonghwa station, where people camp to catch the arrivals of trains, which send cherry blossoms flying throughout the sky like snow. However, this station is actually quite a distance from the main jinhae festival location (hence, I skipped it). In fact, there are enough scenic spots to view the cherry blossoms within the vicinity of the jinhae festival, that one can get cherry blossom fatigue very fast… especially after catching cherry blossoms all around Jeju. Mt. Jehwang park is another nice place to view cherry blossoms. Not only is it atop a hill/mountain, it also has an observation tower, which gives you an all-encompassing view of the city.
To get to Jinhae from Busan, take the subway to Sasang station and take exit 5 towards Seobu Bus Terminal. Upon exiting, turn left and you should see a Macdonalds. Walk straight and the Bus Terminal should be in sight. It should be the place where most people are heading to. Purchase bus tickets to Jinhae from here. Its a one way ticket without timing restriction, so just board any bus that departs. Counter staff are friendly, and understand the word and pronunciation of Jinhae (gin hay). Proceed to platform 17 to board your bus. During the Jinhae festival, the most important advise is be EARLY! The earlier, the better! I reached the bus terminal and 0730, and boarded the 0750 bus. Bus journey is about 30-45mins. Get off at Jinhae Bus Terminal (last stop). This will also be the place where you take a bus back to Busan. Upon reaching the bus terminal, if you don’t have any navigation device (e.g. iphone!!!) you will be lost. It is a distance to the festival compound. I have included a map taken from Google map, for reference.
Enjoy the cherry blossoms.
During my stay in China (2years ago, hence this post is 2years late… :D), I visited Tai Shan, the grandest of the 5 sacred mountains in China. If you are interested, the 5 sacred mountains refer to Tai Shan in Shan Dong, Hua Shan in Shan Xi, Song Shan in He Nan, Heng Shan in Shan Xi, and Heng Shan in Hu Nan. In English, some places and mountain sounds the same, hence I refer you to the Chinese test: 山东的泰山, 陕西的华山, 河南的嵩山, 山西的恒山, 湖南的衡山. Tai Shan is also classified as UNESCO heritage site. This mountain places an important cultural role in Chinese history, being the site of worship for numerous emperors.
I departed from Beijing South Station (rapid rail) and took the train to Tai An station. Note that this station is not the Tai Shan station, which is for the slow train. There are various ways from the train station to Taishan. For some, they prefer to take a taxi all the way to the red gate. For some, they choose to take the bus (#37) and alight at Pu Zhao Temple. For my friends and I, we decided to take a cab to Dai Miao (Dai Temple), and from here, we just follow the road all the way up. There are restaurants along the side that serve quite nice and cheap food. Be warned, it is quite a hike up to Hong Men (the beginning of the Tai Shan trail) from Dai Miao. But I think Dai Miao is not to be missed.
There are 4 entrances into Tai Shan – Hong Men (红门), Tian Wai Chun (天外村), Tao Hua Gu (桃花峪) and Tian Zhu Feng (天烛峰). Tian Wai Chun and Tao Hua Gu has bus services that bring you up to mid mountain where you transfer to the cable car to reach the peak.
After about 3hrs of grueling climb, I arrived at the peak of Tai Shan at around 4pm, and started looking for lodging for the night. Depending on the cleanliness and size of the room, prices range widely. Whether prices increase as night approaches or not is a point of contention between my friends and I. After scouting around, my group of 4 finally settled in a nice room on the 2nd storey with an attached restroom with hot water for 800yuan. This is after much bargaining and mind games. For the budget conscious, you can just bring a sleeping bag and sleep along the roads, the stairs, the grass or wherever you want. Be warned that temperature can drop really low at night, be adequately dressed.
The point of staying overnight is so to catch the gorgeous sunrise the next day, which occur around 5am. Our guesthouse operator actually provides such guided tour services, and they have helpers to secure good vantage points. I think separate guesthouses, have separate viewing points. As these viewing points are usually assessed by a single narrow road, the helpers position themselves at the choke point and ask people which guesthouse they are from. From what I observed, local Chinese generally sleep in their sleeping bags right at the road outside of guesthouses. When guests are ushered to the viewing points, they quickly pack up their stuff and joined in the ‘tours’. This way, they get assess to the vantage point without too much problem.
Below I will let the photos tell their story.
Rainbow Village (彩虹眷村) is a small ‘village’ comprising of about 3-4 small houses. These were houses given to war veterans in gratitude of their service. Grandpa Huang, was one such veteran. During his free time, he would use the pension given by the government to buy paint, and draw graffiti on the walls. Initially, no one took notice of these colorful graffiti, until undergraduates from the nearby Lingtung university stumbled upon the village and started taking photos of it, thus the birth of the Rainbow Village. It was initially slated for demolition. Petition by the people led to its temporary preservation. However, all around the ‘village’ demolition and construction work can be seen ongoing, such that from the main roads, this place can’t be easily seen. Sadly, as told by my taxi driver, despite calls for preservation, the village will soon be pulled-down. While visiting, do keep your volume down, as other grandpas and grandmas living in the vicinity are not really hospitable to tourists.
The easiest way to get to Rainbow Village is by taxi, as public transport in Taichung is still generally lacking. It is a small compound, and can comfortably be covered within 15-30mins. Do support Grandpa Huang, by buying some of his souvenirs. It really don’t cost a lot.
|Getting to Taichung|
Went on a weekend trip to Jieyang (揭阳) to visit some relatives with my parents. Jieyang is a small prefecture city in Guangdong province. Although the predominant spoken language is teochew, apart from the really old, most people understands and speak Chinese as well. Like most Chinese cities, it is rapidly developing from farming and agriculture into medium and light industries. This industrialization brings much wealth to the people, as evident by the numerous plots of land, factories, and high rise condominiums owned by my cousins. According to my relatives, electricity had only been introduced to their house 40years ago. Gone were the days where they had to write to us, asking for donations of clothes or money. Now, on comparison, they seem better off than us…
My journey begain with a jetstar plane out from Singapore Changi airport to Jieyang Chaoshan airport. The flight journey is about 3.5hrs, and cost about SGD$200 one way inclusive of taxes. With a budget airline, you can’t expect the seats to be comfortable. However, given the relative emptiness of the plane, one can take up an entire row of 3 seats and sleep horizontally comfortably :D. However, given that this flight is flying into and out of China, and am appalled by the cabin crew’s command of Chinese.
Upon arrival at Jieyang Chaoshan airport, I was overwhelmed by my relatives that came to pick us up. Feels as if we were mobbed – all our luggages were taken from us, and we were ‘escorted’ to their cars. Jieyang Chaoshan airport is a small international and domestic airport, with only a handful of shops selling souvenirs and food. Like most airports in China, there is an airport express bus service, ferrying passengers to and from various locations in downtown and rural Jieyang, at a fraction of the cost of a cab. There is a bus that stops directly in front of the hotel I am staying at, and cost only RMB$24.
So, my relatives ‘escorted’ us to the hotel I pre-booked, Hefeng international business hotel (和丰国际商务酒店). It is a relatively new hotel, just opened in 2011, and has a ‘five-star’ rating. The most famous hotel in Jieyang is Rongjiang Hotel, and on retrospect, I should have booked that, as it oversees the Rong River and supposedly has better view. However, it was also the oldest ‘five-star’ hotel in Jieyang, first opened in 2005. And according to some comments online, the rooms were musky and service wasn’t great. Hefeng on the other hand, was situated next to a shopping mall, Guangbai Departmental Stall. Service at Hefeng was good, and rooms were really clean and spacious, with very comfortable beds and pillows. There is a free wifi spot in every room, which means you get a strong dedicated signal. Speed was good enough to watch HD movie streaming off China websites. Towels, coffee, tea and mineral water were replaced everyday, together with a meal voucher for breakfast. Don’t be too excited about the breakfast though. Selection was mediocre, and generally quite salty. I only ate it for the first day, and skipped it thereafter. Nonetheless, what do you expect from a RMB$10 breakfast? Hotel rooms were RMB$258 per night, and we stayed for 3 nights.
Public transportation around Jieyang is under-developed. There is no subway, and public buses are almost non-existent. Students walk or cycle to school, while adults ride their motorized vehicles to work. It was afterall a small farming town some 10 years ago. However, urbanization was rapid and much of the rural farmlands I saw 5 years ago, were already converted to 6-9 stories high factories/houses.
My first dinner in Jieyang was at a upscale restaurant called Dong Fang Yu Chun (东成渔村). Food was fantastic, and I ranked it as the number one restaurant I have tried in Jieyang. Though it is pricey in terms of Jieyang’s cost of living. For RMB$800 the group of 7 of us were ushered to a private room with a attached bathroom and pantry, and a couch where a tea set was placed for tea drinking. We were served about 10 dishes of fish, squid, oyster omelette, stewed duck, stewed cabbages, some cakes… Service was excellent. We had a dedicated waitress attending to our every needs, and frequently changing our plates, and our hot towels.
Other places we had our meals were not that wonderful, but sufficiently good in quality. One of the most expensive one must be the restaurant in Zhong Tian Wen Hua Hotel (中天文化酒店). Food was elaborately presented with lots of garnishes, and decorative carving. However, to my disappointment, it didn’t taste as good as it looked, and service was really bad. No one came to change our plates or refill our tea.
On this trip, I realized my relatives were quite well-to-do people in Jieyang, each owning a piece of land, and staying in 6-9 stories houses, they built for themselves, I also realized that buying an apartment in Jieyang, cost more, at least 2-3 times more, than building your own 9 stories house! My cousin attributed this to the location of his apartment, which faced the Rong river, a much coveted view. Then it struck me that my flat in Singapore cost as much as buying a piece of 150sqm land and building a 9 stories house on it, with private lift and interior furnishing. And to my astonishment, this cousin is in the business of printing money – paper money. He even joked that the money he prints is universal across all countries and banks.
On our sightseeing days, we visited a couple temples, and the West Lake of Jieyang. All these scenic spots paled in comparison to those offered by other Chinese cities, like Hangzhou, Shanghai, Qingdao…
Nontheless, Jieyang is a city full of history. Given a few more years, it will no doubt catchup in development with the more developed cities of Beijing and Shanghai. Afterall, it already has an international airport.