big station heritage and arts centre

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Sis and I took my niece to visit tai kwun centre for heritage and arts at the site of the former central police station/prison. It’s free to enter but visitors need a reservation. Sis had lunch plans, so ony stayed with us for about 10mins, my niece and I explored the site together. Tai Kwun translates to Big Station, which was the nickname for the police station. It’s always been an imposing building as seen from outside, but we didn’t realise how large the site is. The station was decommissioned in 2006. The jockey club funded the 10 year, almost USD500million restoration to a heritage centre.

The visitor’s centre had a small exhibition showing the site’s history, from the first building put up in 1864 which then grew in size until the last building in 1925. Part of the site was destroyed by Japanese bombers during WW2, to newspaper clips of famous criminals and trials. The revitalisation project aims to set up the site as a centre for heritage and arts, with space built for concerts, exhibitions and education.

Our first impression, really nice. The complex was built in Victorian times and consisted of the police station, barracks, magistrate court and prison. There are 16 buildings in total and all meticulously preserved and restored. My niece says it feels very much like a National Trust property, a rarity here because the government has a habit of destroying and pulling down historical buildings so property developers can profit.

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The prison courtyard is now a pleasant sitting area with a smattering of sculptures and interesting pieces. Some of the prison cells are open for visit. None of the smell or dirt that presumably was there but we could see how crowded it was, they kept the beds in one cell and the entire cell is filled with one bunk bed and one extra bed. No space even to walk.

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The clever way they showed prison life is through projections of images and short animation onto the wall. We could see how many were placed in a cell, what they did during the day, hard labour, counting the days, and even an escape attempt.

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There are 2 new buildings, both will be used for exhibitions and concerts. Made from aluminium blocks, the modern and cubic designs contrast and compliment the century-old Victorian architecture of the other buildings.

Overall, 10 out of 10. We were both so surprised at the quality of the restoration, the aptness of the exhibit and the general sense of tranquility of the centre. We stopped at one of the caf&#233’s for mango smoothie and the café décor has the police staion feel. And the smoothie was made from real mangos. Even if they had charged a modest admission fee, it’ll be worth it.

flickr set: https://www.flickr.com/photos/invisiblecompany/albums/72157692568354080

nyc parks 1978

nycparks1978

Six months ago, a park official in NYC cleaning out an office found 2 cardboard boxes that had been sitting around for decades. The boxes contained almost 3000 slides of NYC parks taken in 1978 by NYT staff photographers.

The pictures will be shown at an exhibition at the NYC Parks Arsenal Gallery in May/June. A lot of nostalgia. Kids playing, people enjoying the parks, the 70s fashion. Not a smartphone in sight.

There are comments in the mefi thread from someone hoping for a similar discovery in Chicago. Can I add my wish for London? That was the year we moved to London. It’s 40 years ago, that’s scary.

ugly not-ugly buildings

Architectural Digest is what people use to describe a beautifully designed home, as in the home is AD worthy. So the magazine has a certain authority when it comes to architecture.

Then they published an articled called 30 ugliest skyscrapers in the world and I started having doubts on their previously untenable position. First of all, the title and content are more Buzzfeed than Home & Garden. Some of those 30 supposed eyesores aren’t even skyscrapers–there are tv towers and low rise buildings.

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The Belarus National Library for instance, is not a skyscraper.

basketbuilding

Nor is the Longaberger Basket building in Ohio.

Some of the monsters I personally find rather charming and nothing approaching ugly, like that basket building. Or the Elephant building in Bangkok. Or the Lloyds building in London, which is one of the most distinguishing in the City.

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There are buildings that reflect national characteristic, like the Belarus library above. Or they are examples of architecture in their respective era, like the MetLife building in NYC, completed in 1963. And what about the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, completed in 1955. I think it looks suitably grand.

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Admittedly there are a few duds. The horrible gold Trump Tower in Las Vegas, the Tour Montparnasse in Paris and the Russian Embassy in Havana all stray into eyesore territory.

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The National Fisheries Development Board building in Hyderabad isn’t ugly as being too cute for its own good. There’s nothing wrong with it though, except it can never be used for another purpose. It’ll be the laughingstock of the architecture community if a fish-shaped building is used for, say, space research or a hospital.

And to tarnish the clickbait article even further, eagle eyed commenters on the mefi thread even found an error, that the Fernsehturm in Berlin they show is not, in fact, the right building. Ooops.

living in concrete pipes

opodinside

Recently read about OPods, tiny flats built inside concrete pipes. Each unit is 100 sqft and features a living area (sofa converts to bed), a small kitchen, and a bathroom. Not a lot of storage space and no windows, unless they’re above the door. And not a great deal of privacy. They are touted as being experimental, low cost solution to housing problems.

opodoutside

The tubes can be stacked and fit into any small available space in the inner city–between buildings, underneath flyovers, in a car park etc. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of storage space apart from some shelves in the living area and an open clothes rail opposite the kitchen. There’s room for a mini-fridge and a microwave, not sure if there’s a hob. But there are lots of charging ports! No surprise as the target audience are young people starting out and wanting an affordable space to live in away from home. Personally I’ll find it difficult to live there unless it’s temporary like a hotel room. I also think cubes are more practical and stack better; but there are plenty of stacked cube ideas out there so this one is new and a little bonkers.

The OPods are a successor to the larger Alpods the same architect designed a few years back.

And who is the architect? Hahaha, it’s James. He’s becoming the most famous person I’ve known since they were younger than 10 years old.

cold in amsterdam

Our friend L from Holland sent us a pic of icicles at her deck. Her house is in an Amsterdam suburb and it’s been an extremely cold winter in Europe this year. The canal hasn’t frozen over because it’s windy but the lake nearby has frozen.

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I took this of her house when we visited a few years ago in April. It was cold then but not icy. I love the house and the deck.

28 February was the coldest 28 February in history in Holland, breaking the record set in 1904. Below freezing temperatures worsened by heavy winds. Photographer Albert Dros took the opportunity to take pictures of canals so frozen people can ice-skate on them, crazy ice formations along the coast, and winter wonderland forests. Here’s before and after pics of a frozen canal. ©Albert Dros

canalbefore

canalafter

I remember this location, I think I have a pic myself with bikes on a bridge in the foreground, looking towards the Westerkerk.

fantasy islands

Most nights I can’t sleep and I start thinking of mundane things that involves going through a list, not unlike the traditional counting sleep method. Guided imagery, or focusing on an image or story to slow down a busy mind, is one of the methods suggested for combating sleeplessness. It’s not just taking a generic screensaver, it’s highly individual and may consist of:

a favorite vacation or calming outdoor spot, a relaxing activity like curling up with a book in your favorite chair, or something repetitive like remembering the steps of an exercise or dance routine. The key is to find something that allows you to focus your attention and let go of other thoughts. Begin to create this scenario in your mind. Visualize all the details of the image or story, as slowly and carefully as you can.

What has worked for me is to imagine I’m on a desert island. There’s a river within walking distance and the camp is by a rock formation that gives a sort of cave to provide shelter. The river runs to the ocean and there’s a small beach. Since I’m not a survival expert, the island isn’t exactly desolate, people used to live there so there are remains of houses but most importantly firestarter, vtools, pots, vegetables and, lately, goats. I would sustain myself via the plentiful coconuts as well as the produce from an abandoned fruit & garden. There’d be fishing gear available, like crab pots that I can use at the rocks that are at one side of the beach. I’ve even watched youtube videos on how to make salt from seawater and ropes from coconut husks.

Atlas Obscura, as part of islands week, asked readers to draw their fantasy island, and there are lots of fun submissions.

There’s St Bean’s island by Wroe Clark. Everything is idyllic, from the morning beach to the occasional volcano to the hammock to the orchard. And what fantasy island can’t be without a mountain meadow with perhaps a llama:
island01bean

Ericka Kendall’s island also has lots of features, like a beach with perfect sand that doesn’t get inside your underwear, a lush green forest with no bears or cougars, but best of all, guests who visit the island will have no memory unless the owner wants them to remember:
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This one from 11-year old Ben P. has a castle, a skull mountain and a hut for the witch who guards the treasure:
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I can’t draw, but I may take a stab at sketching out my fantasy island.

bbmm afternoon outing

Cold but sunny day. We decided we needed some fresh air so we headed out to the wetlands countryside area. Late lunch at an AYCE Japanese bbq place, then followed the signs to an “eco farm.” It was a big letdown. They charged an admission fee and it looked from the map outside that the so-called farm consisted of walking paths, small gardens, a playground and a kids’ petting area. There was one other car in the carpark which didn’t bode well either. We decided to save our money and give this placa a miss.

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Ended up at the small village at Nam Sang Wai. First thing we saw when we parked the car was a row of dockless bikes that have invaded the city. No fewer than 3 different companies with yellow, green and blue bikes. To the credit of the users, the bikes were parked in a neat row. We saw others in poorer shape elsewhere–covered in mud or just thrown into an unsightly pile. How these schemes make money we don’t know.

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The famous “wedding bridge” had been slightly repaired, and handrails added. This is the place where a lot of people come to take wedding pictures, because of the beautiful scenery. The bridge is more a small wooden pier but its location at the side of a canal and the background of trees and a small hill is ideal for photography. This was taken on the iphone and with no adjustments whatsoever. I know, golden hour and all that. Still, pretty.

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Walked further into the small village. There are around a dozen houses, mostly metal-cladded and quite run down. People do live there though; we saw a young woman watering her vegetable garden, heard the sound of a tv or radio through the gap of another house, and there’s laundry out to dry in front of several houses. The concrete path turned into one that was basically rotten wooden planks, which is part of the charm.

The wooden planks lead to another small pier, this one at the side of a river/canal. There’s a boatman who rows people across to the other side, probably the shortest river crossing ever. Equivalent to 50p per crossing, add 10p per bike. Very sedate. A sign says it’s around 15mins’ walk to the nearest train station from the other side of the river. During the 10mins that we were there, we saw a good 5-6 people crossing, one came back to this side with his bike and 2 bottles of either detergent or comfort in the basket. Looks like it’s widely used by locals.

We caught the sunset as we were walking back to the car. It was quick! We were both full from lunch, so decided to call it a day. I was home by 7.30pm.

winter’s watch

via mefi

Star Island is located 7 miles off the coast of New Hampshire, USA. It’s 38 acres in area and owned by the Star Island Corporation, a non-profit which operates hotels on the island. The island runs on solar power and has its own water supply and septic treatment facility. During the summer, staff at the hotels live on the island. During winter, there is one single inhabitant, the winter caretaker Alexandra de Steiguer. She’s been returning to the island every winter for the past 19 years.

Winter's Watch from Brian Bolster on Vimeo.

Here’s a moody, almost mysterious short film about Ms. de Steiguer’s time as the caretaker. Although it’s a video, all the shots were taken with the camera stationary, to give a sense of space and quietness. Well worth watching.

desteiguer
© alex de steiguer

Alexandra de Steiguer is a photographer and the film captures her taking her camera around, and processing the photographs. This is “Shoals – Rock Pool No. 1” of the Isles of Shoals series. She also has a book, called Small Island, Big Picture.

On long periods of solitude:

Most of us aren’t often by ourselves for long periods with only the wild elements for company. In a way, solitude is like being restricted to one small island – yourself. You’ve walked that personal island all your life; you take it for granted that you know every part of it. But solitude forces you to stay there, to walk it again with new eyes… to come to the very edge and gaze into the unknown.

The hotels on the island are more geared towards conferences and retreats. There is no bar (although visitors and staff may bring their own alcohol), and no real resaturant aside from the hotel dining room. From a mefi commenter:

It’s super tiny, it’s rustic, it’s homey and homely, it’s very very plain, it’s not luxurious. Yet it’s an incredible, gorgeous, elemental place to visit. You can hike the tiny island in under an hour, or ramble out on the rocks to watch the gulls and surf, and be the only person you see for hours any afternoon…It’s not for everyone, but it’s pretty wonderful if it’s the kind of thing you like.

I wonder what it looks like this week, under all the snow. All the pics I found on flickr and google images are during the summer. I guess since Ms. de Steiguer is the only person there, any winter or snow pictures will have to come from her.

big family outing

Big family outing day. Early start, everyone met at the train station to go take the cable car up to the big buddha. The cable car was very crowded but since there were 10 of us, we had our own. The journey was long, around 20-25mins, with really good views. I’d dismissed the cable car as a touristy gimmick but was as pleasantly surprised as when I went on it for the first time a few weeks ago.

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We walked along the shopping village, which my cousin A described as being like in Disney but in a good way. For some odd reason, we had a few free coupons for snacks at specified restaurants, including an ice cream place so the kids could get cones. Walked to the end of the village towards the big buddha. I still don’t know what record it holds, largest outdoor sitting buddha with a raised hand? My cousins and the kids walked up to the top while I went to explore possible lunch places.

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We saw several feral cows. They were just laying there on the grass enjoying the sun, people were going up close taking selfies and petting them and they didn’t seem bothered. My nieces were fascinated and J said it’s the best thing she’s seen all trip. I told them the story, that they are descended from farm animals that were abandoned. But looking at them, they don’t seem to be starved or suffering. If anything, helping with tourism.

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Vegetarian lunch at the temple starts at 1.30pm so we decided to go elsewhere. I ran ahead to check the bus stop and found the one to the fishing village just about to depart. The extremely nice stationmistress said she’ll hold it for me so I ran back to the group to tell them and got mum, my two aunts and my uncle (all retirees) to run for the bus, hahaha. Only 10mins to the fishing village with stilted houses. Not too crowded on a weekday, so a pleasant walk exploring the houses and shops. Lunch was at my “usual” deck café where we had the entire upper deck. Just pizza, fish cakes and soft drinks. But the view, wow, still spectacular even after so many visits.

We lucked out on the bus again, only 5mins’ wait back to the cable car. But the return trip had a 30min queue. My nieces were taking time lapse videos but for some reason mine didn’t work, sigh.

Dinner was buffet at the hotel restaurant. Really nice and everyone had a great time.

what did i miss part 2

A few of the stuff that’s happened over the past 2 weeks during nano, part 2. All London related.

1. how to pronounce some place names

londonnames

This is from a few years ago, Londonist’s guide to how to pronounce names of London place names, which cropped up on r/london recently.

No, it’s not Lie-sester Square it’s Lester Square; and Marylebone always stumps non-Londoners. Apparently Rotherhithe too.

Personally, I don’t agree with Ommer-tun for Homerton, I’d pronounce the h. And I always say Aldwych as All-witch.

We shouldn’t make fun of non-locals. I don’t expect to know place names in countries where I don’t know the language, but there are some names in the US and Australia that I can see the word and it’s made up of letters but I cannot put the letters together to form coherent sounds.


2. map of walking times between tube stations

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TFL published a map that shows the walking distance between tube stations. There’s also a map that shows the number of steps between stations, so they can put a spin on the “steps = exercise” trend.

Practially, this is a useful map for visitors and newcomers. Every Londoner knows it’s pointless to take the Piccadilly Line between Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Between waiting for the train, the actual journey, and the horrendous wait for the lift at Covent Garden, it may take 10-15mins. Walking is 4mins.

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There’s another leaflet, journeys that could be quicker to walk [pdf] that is also very useful. For instance, the map would suggest it takes 18mins to walk between Queensway and Bayswater (via Notting Hill Gate) but the journey leaflet tells us it’s only 5mins. Google maps actually say 2mins, but that probably needs running at nighttime with no other pedestrians.


3. john snow’s cholera map

I saw this on a tv program about sewage and how the world’s cities made the jump from being disease infested to, well, less so. It’s all about clean water.

choleramap

The story of how John Snow discovered that cholera spreads through water rather than through the air by plotting a map of outbreaks that showed occurrences near to a water pump in Soho is well known. His use of data mapping is as revolutionary as the discovery itself. The blob of black dots around the pump at Broad (now Broadwick) Street as pretty horrible. But the interesting thing is workers at the nearby brewery were not affected because: a) they drank mainly beer and b) the brewery had its own water supply. That would not have been the case if the disease spread in th air.

So many diseases from 100, 200 years ago are under control. Cholera, TB, measles. Have we reached peak discovery? There doesn’t seem to be huge discoveries like this anymore, more like small incremental ones. Then again, it could be that they were low key. HIV has been contained, and many cancers are less life-threatening now. We have so much to learn.


4. property prices

londonhouseprices

According to bloomberg, london house prices are coming down, with more sellers reducing their prices from originally marketed. A report published by Rightmove says on average the reduction is 6.7% due to:

initial over-optimism and a tougher market

That said, the average in november is still an eye-popping £628,219. I mean, that’s staggering compared with a national average of £311,043.

The article immediate below the one about housing talks about more bad news for the pound, with further drops possible. An uncertain brexit, Theresa May’s uncertain future, all lead to the market being bearish on the pound. This actually is good news for us, since it means we can buy more.

Around the table on tuesday’s lunch we were all talking about property, as a group of middle-aged professionals are wont to do. If only we’d all bought a place in London when we graduated, we’d be all sitting pretty now. Ah well, can’t turn back time. The consensus is, £ and house prices haven’t seen bottom, so it’s worth waiting a little while longer.


5. decadent hot chocolate

Have to end on a more cheerful note. How about the most decadent hot chocolate in the capital. Fortnum’s chocolate bar, Flotsam And Jetsam’s rainbow-coloured white unicorn chocolate, Fattie’s Bakery’s with a toasted marshmallow rim, and the best chocolate café name of all, Choccywoccydoodah. Some of them look like they have far too much whipped cream. My 2 favourites on this list:

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The one from Dark Sugars that has a mountain of chocolate shards shaved on top. The way the shards melt into the chocolate…

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And finally, the classic from Hotel Chocolat. Who needs fancy when you have classical elegance and top quality ingredients.

happiness is anticipation of experiences

We realised this long ago, and the idea is widely shared by others, that experiences, particularly travel, is more important than money. There’s scientific studies that show that anticipation of an experience lead to a higher level of happiness than anticipation of a material good. Cornell researchers Thomas Gilovich and Matthew Killingsworth and PhD candidate Amit Kumar:

You can think about waiting for a delicious meal at a nice restaurant or looking forward to a vacation, and how different that feels from waiting for, say, your pre-ordered iPhone to arrive.

Dr Gilovich talks about the Easterlin paradox, which found that money buys happiness, but only up to a point. People who are happy about their purchase of, say, a new iPhone, find that their degree of happiness decreases over time. Their happiness with an experience, say a concert or a holiday, does not diminish at the same rate.

This is true even in the negative. If the iPhone stops working, happiness drops. However if something negative happened during an experience, like if a beach holiday was rained out, people tend to say “we went to the museum instead and still had a good time.”

The researchers found that one of the reasons experiences rate higher than material is because comparison with others is less significant. There is no constant need to buy a bigger car, or earn a higher salary.

The last point is interesting. I have friends and acquaintances who are travelling right now–one couple is on a round-the-world trip and have reached Tanzania where one half did safari and the other half climbed Kilimanjaro; one couple is on extended honeymoon to Italy; an acquaintance is in South East Asia–and while it’s fascinating to see their trip posts, it feels weird because I’m usually the one travelling to lots of places.

So to make me happier, let’s increase the anticipation. With mm’s mum still ill, it’s not feasible in the immediate future, but worth keeping in mind as an option somewhere down the line. I was watching a program where James Martin travelled to Annecy and it looked gorgeous. Research time.

Annecy is located in the Haute-Savoie region of SE France halfway between Geneva and Chambéry. It’s called the Venice of the Alps–it has a river and two canals running through the picturesque city. A blogger called it a real life fairytale town; another said it will steal your heart.

It has everything–a beautiful lake, a well-preseved old town, a river and a couple of canals, a great market. Cycling, hiking, skiing in the winter, boating in the summer. And of course wineries, a local woman-run brewery, boulangeries, restaurants, and cheese, cheese, cheese. Seems to be less well-known and crowded than Chambéry and obviously Geneva, both less than 1hrs’ drive away. I randomly plugged in one week’s stay next April on airbnb and found great looking places for around $70-80.

No wonder it’s a must visit. Just look at these pics. It being in this part of France, the architecture feels very Swiss.

Along the Thiou canal:
Buildings along Thiou canal
courtesy flickr user kosalabandara under cc

The 12th century Palais de l’Isle:
Annecy
courtesy flickr user pug_girl under cc

The lake:
Annecy & alentours
courtesy flickr user lyanna_wolf under cc

What is so attractive is the location. Halfway between Geneva and Chambéry, 45mins to Switzerland and 1.5hrs from Italy. It’s easy to fly to Geneva, pick up a car from the French side of the airport. A trip that can combine Geneva, Annecy and Chambéry, that’s the ultimate in anticipatory happiness.

paris cake walk

pariscakewalk

Keeping this in my food and travel research file, food52’s paris cake walk. The plan:

We’re going on a cake walk, straight through the glamorous heart of the old school 7th arrondissement, steeped in Belle Epoch spirit, stuffed with gorgeous museums set in formal gardens (coucou, Musee Rodin). On the way, we’ll be collecting a grand assortment of the finest pastries, cakes, and chocolates that the City of Light has to offer. Then, we’re going to sit on a specific park bench and enjoy them.

The walk starts at Musée d’Orsay station. The walk itself according to google maps is around 15mins but the actual time taken will be much longer because of the stops. At least 10 pâtissières along the way where we have the option to get macarons, chocolate ganache, pralines, truffles, fruit jellies, cakes, tarts, breads and all manner of delectable goods.

The walk ends at the Square des Missions Étrangères with a marble bust of Vicomte Châteaubriand, politician, writer and who had a steak named after him. One of the best cuts of steak too.

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There are so many great food destinations in Paris that it’s hard to go wrong. Each neighbourhood will have its greengrocer, butcher, cheesemaker and baker. Hope we can take a trip back to europe soon.

july london events

I’m coming across stuff to do in london this summer. Of course, I’m not going to the UK because the round-the-world ticket was too expensive. But it doesn’t stop me looking. There’s a sculpture exhibition at regent’s park until october; kerb’s guiltiest pleasure festival featuring dumplings on a pizza, fried chicken with blueberry pancake bun and strawberry milkshake filled donuts; and half a dozen beer festivals in july alone.

paintedhall

An interesting tour, and educational too, found via the londonist, the old royal naval college in greenwich is offering tours to its painted hall to view the beautiful painted ceiling. The tour is 1hr and gives visitors the opportunity to climb 60 feet to view the ceiling up close and personal. The Painted Hall is called the sistine chapel of the UK and features baroque murals painted by Sir James Thornhill between 1707 and 1726.

Not bad, £10 for adults and free for children under 17. Tours end september.

outing to tai o fishing village

Met with my great-aunt again, for a day’s outing. I’d forgotten that the place I wanted to go to, a traditional fishing village, involved a ferry ride plus a bus ride. For some reason I thought the ferry would bring us there. Never mind, both Mum and Great-Aunt qualify for senior fare and it was nice to sit in an air-conditioned bus for half an hour.

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The village is a traditional fishing village still occupied by fishing folk. A lot of them have turned to the tourist trade now, running dried goods stores, restaurants or boat trips. The houses at the village are rickety wooden structures built on stilts. It’s amazing how they have weathered the elements for so many years.

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There’s a lot of talk about the area being redeveloped, which would mean the stilted houses are pulled down. There’s a lot of resistance, thankfully.

It’s a weekday so the number of visitors was tolerable. We got there around 1.30pm and first order of business was to find lunch. Then walked around the village, across the bridge for more views of houses. There’s a sense that time stopped a few decades ago.

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Some of the other houses inside the village are made with tin cladding. We imagine they can get hot in the summer. Then again, most of them appear to be air-conditioned. There’s one house that’s abandoned. All the windows and doors are gone and it’s overrun with vines now. Creepy.

Great day out. Nice day that was cloudy but not humid. Lovely to spend another day with my great-aunt.

fascinating north korea pics

I have a morbid fascination with North Korea. Currently it’s fairly nearby in terms of geography and a quick bit of googling tells me that there are package tours. Expensive, the 4-day tour is more than the flight+5 nights hotel package I got for Paris. Plus a) it departs Beijing and b) it’s more for foreign passport holders.

Which is why I was so fascinated at a r/pics thread of a European traveller who went to the DPK recently and came back with wonderful pics. Many were quick snaps out of range of the ever-present guides.

dpkshop

The pic that grabbed my attention to the thread, entitled Off-limits shop in North Korea. I had 15 seconds to take this picture before my guide realised I wasn’t around, which says it all really.

Road to North Korea

The first album posted, of the initial part of the journey, is a huge eye-opener. It isn’t entirely surprising, because we know about the poverty, isolation and amount of propaganda there, especially as more and more people visit. It’s just sad and shocking to the system to see how real it is. It’s worth scrolling through every pic and reading the commentary.

p.s. all pics copyright Michael Huniewicz @ m1key.me

paris plans, architecture

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Flight is booked. Accommodation in France is booked: hotel in Paris, airbnb in Normandy & Brittany. The hotel and flight is part of a package deal that we think is pretty good value. It’s in the Gare St Lazare area and 3 metro stops (15mins) to the start line of the marathon.

We’ll have 3 full days in Paris, in addition to arrival day and race day. I have to spend a few hours going to the expo, then the rest of the time is ours to spend as we like. We’ll hit some touristy spots, Mum wants to go to Versailles and then the rest of the time will be hitting as many markets as we can.

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I’m debating whether to bring the big camera or just stick to the small camera. Probably just stick to the small camera, seeing that we only have 20kg. It’ll be good to take pictures of things other than the usual Eiffel Tower, Sacre Coeur, Arc de Triomphe. I have those: 2008 | 2012.

There’s an architectural competition for

environmentally friendly urban designs to transform sites such as public spaces and unloved tower blocks

A nice gallery of some of the winning proposals. A few of them look just like blocks with trees and plants sticking out, if the plants are allowed to fall into disrepair the buildings will probably end up looking like it’s from a zombie apocalypse movie.

pershing

My favourite is Pershing in the 13th, by Architects Sou Fujimoto. The site is just a car park now but the result will be a mix of housing, offices and social facilities. Looks like something from the future. Anyway, there’s no chance to photograph these this time, they are all proposals and drawings. Something to look out for in a future trip.

bbmm outing

Met mm’s family for lunch; they were entertaining a friend visiting from Canada. Afterwards we drove her mum and the friend auntie to ladies’ street so they can go shopping. We continued to the country park near where I went for the night race in september. It’d been raining for several days; we lucked out when we arrived, the sun finally came out.

We found an outdoor bar café and had a glass of wine each. Well, I had 1.5 glass and mm had half a glass because she was driving. Sat there comfortably chatting for over 1hr.

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We took a short walk around the waterfront afterwards. It was almost 7pm, so sunset had long gone. The pic is grainy, even modern iphones can’t compensate for the darkness. I had it resting on a railing, so at least it’s not blurry.

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We drove to a nearby town for dinner at the cooked food centre of a wet market. The sort of place where you sit on plastic stools at tables that use plastic sheets as covers. Food at these places are reliably good and this particularly place was packed.

We had lamb hotpot, a winter specialty. Belly of lamb simmering in an aromatic broth kept warm using a portable stove. Also came with a basket of lettuce that we quickly dunk in the broth to absorb the flavours. Plenty enough for 2 people.

School starts this week for her, apparently second semester is even more busy than the first so she needs to work hard. We’ll try to find some time to meet up whenever we can.

new york nostalgia

I sometimes humblebrag joke that my career consisted of being sent to various places around the world to play with excel. It had to start someplace, and it was 16 years ago that I went on my first assignment to New York. As a junior intern, it was the epitome of excitement and privilege. I didn’t know what to expect.

New York will forever have a place in my heart as the city where I saw in the millenium. New Year’s Eve I was at a stranger’s roof at a stranger’s party, having gone there with people I just met earlier that day. It was a bit surreal. All I can say about living in New York was, it was an interesting experience, it’s a place where one can very easily disappear and become invisible.

My boss called me as I was leaving so I spent a good many minutes talking to her on the (then swanky) mobile in the lift lobby. My cousin picked me up at JFK and brought me to the serviced apartment I was booked in. I stayed at that serviced apartment for 2 months, then moved to my permanent place at 175 E96th between 2nd and 3rd Ave. It was the first time in my life I rented, but even with the application form filling and not having a credit history it wasn’t as troublesome as it could have been. I was a bit clueless then, and my furniture hadn’t arrived so I moved the suitcases and boxes I had accumulated at the serviced apartment on foot about 3 blocks.

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Reason I chose this apartment was I liked the bright airy feel and the beautiful view over the East River. On a clear day if I looked south from my living room I could see the Empire State Building. From the outside the building was imposing and my first thought was of a large drum. There were a lot of apartments per floor however the beauty of the cylindrical design was no one had to look at a neighbour’s apartment. I tried taping a big “X” on the living room window but it was too small to spot from the street. Hee.

It was only a few minutes’ walk from the subway and shops. My weekend routine would be wake up, read the paper and go to the neighbourhood supermarket run by Spanish speaking Koreans. More shops at 86th Street were only a few bus stops away, and since it’s only 10 blocks, on a nice day I sometimes walked down there. Once or twice I even ventured up past 100th Street in the middle of the day, I kept to the busy roads so I wasn’t that scared.

I did a lot of walking in New York. Some Saturdays I’d visit the Union Square market and then walked all the way down to Chinatown. Or I’d take the bus down to South Street Seaport and walk around there. I’ve always been a bus person because I liked looking out at the scenery, the subway had no view. In those days internet was dial-up. I subscribed to the weekend editions of the NYT and there would be small announcements of where street fairs would be that weekend.

New York was the place I learnt about food. Hours and hours of watching the Food Network and some of the enthusiasm certainly rubbed off. Food was abundant, cheap and portions huge. I thought nothing of having grilled strip steak once a week. The aforementioned Union Square market with fresh fruit & veg stalls, fresh meat and even a wine stall. Visits to the big name fancy food shops like Dean & Deluca and Zabar’s were a special day for me.

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But most of the time I stayed at my little place. I might order $20 worth of Chinese take-out, gorge and then stick the rest in the freezer. When the Razor rage erupted that year I bought one and was happily speeding from the front door to the living room window, it was a good 30ft run. There was only one bedroom so my desk was at the corner of the living room. The only thing I still have is the desk. The chair, the glass cabinet, the iMac and the (gasp) cassette player, all thrown away or donated.

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My assignment was supposed to be 3 years. The office was in Stamford so it was 1.5hrs by train each way every day. Once a week I’d work in the office in the city, which was at the bottom end of Broadway. My global head moved me to Zurich after one year so on 9/11 I wasn’t in NYC anymore. But I could have been.

It wasn’t long enough, one year, to live there. Took me a while to get used to it and I never made any friends. There were places I wanted to visit but I never got round to it. Fortunately in the years to come I’d get a chance to visit the US and eventually had my second US assignment to Chicago. Fewer regrets in life.

 

running inside concrete jungle

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6.25km 53.08min 8.30min/km

A slightly different running route took me up past the university campus around an isolated one-way street into a housing estate. This is a small, sad housing estate served by one bus route and what looks like one or two minibus routes. There are only 4 blocks in total, making it very small compared with the sprawl of other estates. Barely any shops: one 7-eleven, one small supermarket, one atm (not even a working branch). Other shopfronts are either empty or shuttered.

Some housing estates are no-go areas because of crime. This one, I don’t think anyone goes there because there’s nothing worthwhile to visit. Elderly people sit out in the public areas just staring into space (and at me, funny, I don’t think they get many runners running through). There are a disproportionate number of nursing homes and elderly people vans.

It’s built on a hill, so there is some open view to other built up areas. Not even the trees in the foreground can lift the overall gloom and doom. An empty playground, because it’s been raining. Not slides and apparatus for children; there are machinery for exercising legs and arms—the sort of park popular with elderly people. Everything about the place is so forgotten and forlorn.

sunset from bus

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Had early dinner with my dad, we decided the restaurant wasn’t worth going back to—indifferent service, mediocre food. Did some basic shopping then we caught separate buses home (he has senior discount, so he can take any bus; I took the cheaper one).

Sat on the upper deck, caught a bit of the sunset. While it’s all very nice to see a sunset, I’d rather it was raining and the temperature cooler.

london by night HD @LaforetAIR

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via mashable, a set of truly stunning night photos of London by photographer Vincent Laforet as part of the AIR project:

AIR is a creative project that started with a series of spectacular photographs above New York City. Through unprecedented viral momentum, the project is expanding to other cities around the globe with the aim to:

Show the world that it is connected

Engage people from all around the world to connect with one another.

Previous cities included New York and Los Angeles. The London pics were shot around 12-13 May, the next scheduled project flights will include Barcelona, Berlin, Paris and Venice.

Very interestng write up and observations (and loads more pics) about the project shoot in London, from initial worries about getting through the bureaucracy for permission to fly, the lack of a grid system and the dreaded British weather to realisation about the distinctive architecture and colours. Interesting tidbit, when they were flying over Buckingham Palace:

Within a few minutes we were (unusually) politely asked by Air Traffic Control how long we planned on flying around that specific area. There was no suggestion of asking us to move – but the high level of politeness sent an even stronger message.

Watch the video again, look at the London gallery again. Look at the details, the light, the colours, the buildings, the streets, the bridges. I challenge anyone to not feel completely in awe of probably the greatest city in the world.

village on the river

After 2 months’ of inactivity, mm’s car’s battery died. The mechanic from roadside assistance arrived quickly and we all spent a considerable amount of time trying to find the battery!! The car is a hybrid so there are 2 engines under the bonnet; ah, modern engines, we couldn’t find the point for jump starting the car. The mechanic had to call in to his colleagues for help. The battery is actually located underneath the back passenger seat, strange.

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Anyway, we got the car started and went off to charge up the car with a long drive to the countryside. We ended up at “village on the river” 河上鄉 where uncle wong lives. Had all-you-can-eat sweet tofu and walked around the canals and farms. Luckily there was a breeze otherwise it would have been a very hot day. The fields were photogenic and we saw a woman farmer crouched in the middle of the field.

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Between the fields and the canal there was a corner where we spotted a bunch of old pianos, just abandoned there. So sad. No clue how and why they were there.

peaceful evening at south bay beach

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Had lunch with mm’s family, then we went back to her place to plan our easter trip. It looks like our original plans will need to be changed. Ah well.

Drove out to isolated south bay beach for a bit of peace and quiet. The beach was virtually deserted, the whole time we were there we saw only 2 other groups of people. By the time we left we were the only car there.

The weather was great, the sound of the gentle waves hitting the beach quite soothing. People had been there earlier, there were the remnants of a sandcastle.

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We found a bench and sat there for a while. So wishing we could enjoy such quietude and fresh(-ish) air more often. The beach was deserted, even the lifeguard tower looked lonely. We even managed to catch the sunset.

spotted on my run: city limit marker

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13.08km (8.12mi) 1:40:08hr 7.39min/km (12.19min/mi)

Did the 8-mile long run scheduled for the weekend today, I mix up days, as long as I get all the runs in sometime during the week. From home to the end of the bowen road running path is 6.2km or 3.8miles, so I did a few short doubling back at straighter parts of the path.

It’s been a while since I ran all the way to the other end. I’d forgotten about the city limit marker over there. The marker is dated 1903, and the plaque says that it’s one of the remaining markers that marks the then city of victoria. Not a lot of history available, the city of victoria was established in 1843, and this marker is one of seven placed in 1903. As a sign of the attitude towards history here, one of the seven disappeared in 2007 during slope renovations.

island outing

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We’ve been meaning to go over to the outlying islands for a while, so we met up at the pier and took the ordinary ferry over. It took around 1hr, twice the time of the fast ferry at half the price—we weren’t in any hurry. Surprisngly for a weekday there were quite a substantial crowd. We had a leisurely lunch at a small café and then headed out for a walk along one of the beaches at the side of the island away from the crowds.

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After the beach we headed inland with a soft target of one of the retreat houses. There are a few retreats there on the island—away from the main streets it’s peaceful and quiet. The Salesian retreat wasn’t actually open, but the hike was pleasant and we came across some nice views.

We came back to the main street and spent some time at a tea shop that was closing down. Dinner was quick noodles and congee. Another slow ferry back and we discovered that we both had direct buses home. A great day out.

wetlands outing

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Good day for an outing to the countryside. We drove out to near the wetlands area (actual wetlands is enclosed and needs a ticket). First stop was an organic farm. They have vegetables in a hydroponics system, vegetable patches all over the place that were growing lettuce, carrot, turnip, beetroot, bok choy and even a jackfruit tree. They also have goats, rabbits and carp, more like for pets I think. The main attraction of the farm is a lily pond that has a rickety walkbridge made from wooden crates and plastic pontoons. We were trying to spot lilies hidden amongst the leaves. Nice.

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A short drive along a single lane road brought us to a dead end lane with a small parking area for 5-6 cars. Just beyond that end point is a walking path along ponds and fields. A rickety broken wooden pier is a popular spot for wedding photographers. Beyond that we could see tin huts of a village through the tall weeds.

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The village has a few houses and a store selling soft drinks, sandwiches and noodles. The village sits on a narrow river (more like a stream) with a sign advertising the shortest ferry crossing. And the crossing is very short. A boat takes passengers and bikes across in 1 min. Seems to be quite busy, while we were there 3 sets of people crossed already, two sets on bikes, we think it’s because it’s on a popular bike route. Next time we’ll explore where to rent bikes.

The area has many shallow ponds. We spotted an elderly woman casting her nets from her little boat. She was wearing the distinctive fishing hat worn by the local people.

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It was almost sunset when we left. Birds were beginning to stir and we saw some water birds around. Not having enough knowledge we guess they are herons?

We loved our day out. Good weather. Clean air. Greenery. Lots of wildlife, we could hear cicadas, birds, crickets along our walk. Great to get out of the polluted city.
 

walking around stanley

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We met with a couple of college friends for tapas lunch, then took a bus ride to the southern beaches, finding ourselves in Stanley. Weather wasn’t great, it started raining the minute we got off the bus. We took cover in the indoor mall and then mcdonalds for a while.

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It was also sunset when we came out. Cold but the rain had gone. We walked around the stalls (not full of tourists, must have all gone), the harbour and the watersports beach. Stayed a while at St Anne’s church, mm wanted to see the inside and say some prayers.

Took another bus back out to the central area and had noodles for dinner. Raining again.
 

exploring the parks I run in

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8.22km 69.50min 8.30min/km

If I’m at home I run along Bowen Road, which is a 12km round trip if I go all the way to the end and back. At parents’ place I run at two different parks. Shorter runs I go to a small park nearby (which I’ll call park A) which has a small football field, 2 basketball courts and a jogging path. It’s not even a running path because it’s only 265m around and usually overrun with old people. One circuit of the jogging path together with 2 circuits around the football-and-basketball area just about makes it to 1km.

For longer runs I go to a larger park (park B) that has several full-sized football pitches, a swimming pool, tennis courts and an athletics track. For odd reasons they close the track at weekends, but there is a marked running path that goes all the way around the athletics arena that measures 600m. The trail (pic above) that surrounds the various playing fields in the central area is 1km so between the 2 routes, it’s already 1.6km (1 mile).

Parks A and B are next to each other on the map, separated by the famous checkboard hill, that was where airplanes made the 47° right hand turn before landing at the old airport. As an aside, watch the video, it shows how planes used to make that spectacular (and dangerous) landing in the middle of a crowded city onto a runway that has notorious crosswinds.

Anyway, I tried to look on google map and street view to see if the two parks are connected. Couldn’t really tell, but it seemed like there is a narrow path that goes up the hill and back down. So I went exploring today. The answer is, yes, the two parks are connected. As expected, from park B it’s a steep, narrow path partially hidden by trees that leads to about 100 steps on one side of the hill, then a steep and winding road down the other side that ends up at park A.

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What was utterly charming are two discoveries at the top of the hill. The first is a lookout point, now partially blocked by trees. I guess that’s where plane-spotters used to go to look at planes landing at the old airport. The second discovery is an enclosed field with a big open grass/dirt area in front and a few benches at the back. Only one entrance which is gated. The sign says something like water department recreational park (can’t remember exact name, forgot to take a pic) and it’s right next to a few buildings with water department signs on the outside. What a discovery. The pic makes it look bigger, I’d say it’s about the size of a football pitch. Hard to get to, with steep access up and down, there were only about a dozen people there. I’ll try to go there again next long run. 

st stephen’s beach and sunset

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On sunday we drove out to st stephen’s beach for a bit. It’s a small beach near Stanley that is as uncrowded as you can get here. A small sandy beach with a pier for people to try fishing. One small bar-café and a few bbq pits. Accessible by car only. Or yacht — there were a couple anchored outside the swimming area.

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We sat at a free bbq pit facing the sea and did a little planning for Christmas presents. We got there at 4.45pm and by 5.30pm the sun was going down. We had a good view of sunset. 

fishing village walk

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We joke that one of the benefits of #occupycentral is the lower pollution level. We wish. Still, it’s been marginally less hot so it’s feasible to go outdoors without getting completely soaked or needing a ton of anti-histamines.

We met up at a fishing village called 三家村 (three families village) that is one of our favourite places to visit. I took the subway and mm took a ferry from near her place. There is still some fishing there, but mostly it’s tourism and seafood restaurants nowadays. We had lunch at a local diner then walked to the tip of the village. The stilted houses and narrow alleys are interesting and pleasant.

Afterwards we visited a shopping centre nearby and had tea/coffee. It’s a nice day out.
 

#85: bbmm day trip to tai o

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taio026village taio028village

Tasks #85-6 in 101 in 1001 are to do 3 new things with mm. This is 2 of 3.

We met up after mm’s piano lesson and took the train all the way to the end of the line, then another bus for almost 1hr to go to the fishing village of Tai O. It was an extremely hot day, the queue for the bus was long and it was crowded. We discussed for half a second whether to go, and decided that we should persevere since ee’d been talking about going there for ages. The village itself is more a tourist attraction now, although some of the traditional activities like fishing and preparing dried seafood still remain.

We walked to one end of the village, doubled back and shared a snack of fried rice and squid with shrimp sauce at a local place. Walked to the other end and went through the market and the pretty waterways area. One of the attractions of the village is houses on wooden stilts, many were destroyed in a fire in 2000, thankfully some are still standing. Other houses in the village were constructed from metal, tin or aluminium I think. They must be scorching inside, although some have been modernised with air-conditioning.

Right at the end of the waterfront is a hotel converted from the old police station. Very colonial in architecture and with great views out of the pier and sea.

A nice afternoon out, very hot and we were grateful for some shade and areas where we could feel the breeze. I didn’t have my camera, so everything was taken using the iphone. Not a bad set.

return road trip day 06: rushmore, bears, badlands

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Quick breakfast at hotel: half a waffle and a little eggs. Short drive to Mount Rushmore. At the crazy horse monument yesterday, they superimposed all 4 presidents onto the head of crazy horse, to show how large it is. I’d also read that people found mount rushmore to be smaller than expected. Wrong. I found the sculptures of the presidents very impressive. They were visible already from the car park and there was the grand viewing terrace which brought us very close to the sculpture. They also had one of the best gift shops of this trip, souvenirs weren’t as tacky as some places, there were lots of varieties (over 10 types of magnets) and quite reasonably priced too. I bought a baseball for gis, shot glasses, magnets and 10 tote bags ($2.99 each) for gifts.

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On the way to the highway we passed by bear country usa, a small safari park. They had deers, goats, reindeers, an arctic fox, mountain lions and lots of bears. The drive around the park was slow as they were busy, this gave us lots of photo opportunities. At the end of the drive they had a small enclosure area with baby bears and other small animals like fox, otter. Most were asleep in the hot midday sun.

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A short ways along the highway was badlands national park. Terrific landscape. We’d be driving along flat farmland and then in the park there were cliffs and ravines and canyons formed from clay and mineral deposits. It was extremely hot, desert weather and the haziness made the entire place seem like an alien landscape. We stopped at almost all the viewpoints along the 24-mile loop around the park, I jumped out and took pictures with our cameras.

And then my s110 developed lens error. Argh!!! Luckily I had the big camera with me, and it was towards the end of our trip.

We drove on until around 9pm and stopped at Mitchell. Most hotels were full, probably due to a rodeo or event in town. We managed to get the last room at the ramada inn. Dinner was takeaway pizza. There was no internet and we had problems with the front desk guy so I gave up and went to bed.

best park

Mashable had a list of world’s 10 best parks according to tripadvisor. Poor article, with no labels to the entries and I have to guess some of them. They had the usual suspects of Central Park, NY high line, Millenium Park and Stanley Park — together with an unknown park it makes 5 of the 10 in North America, not what I’d describe as representative of the world. No Hyde Park and not a single one from Asia, Africa or Australia.

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Nowadays when we travel, we look for markets, water and parks. It’s always great to visit a new park in a new city, or revisit a park in a visited city. Just sitting on a bench, watching the world go by, how wonderful and peaceful. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big urban park or a small neighbourhood park, parks are the best. Here’s Green Park in London and Tokachigawa Park in Hokkaido.

101.1001 #84 | 30in30 # 22: easter thanks sunset

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This is a combination of #84 of 101 in 1001, a new activity with mm and #22 of 30 in 30, to give thanks at 11.11.

Woke up early to go to mass with mm, I should try to go to mass at least at Easter and Christmas. We then lunch with her family before driving out to the NW, to a couple of places near Deep Bay.

First was Lau Fau Shan, which is famous for its dried fish and oysters. The oysters can’t be eaten raw, they are either braised, barbequed or deep fried. Quite a rich flavour and texture, great for snacks since we weren’t hungry.

About 20-25 minutes’ drive along a narrow winding and surprisingly busy road was Ha Pak Nai, just a tiny village with some fishing ponds and a couple of houses. A muddy path led to marshes at the bay, and quite a lot of people had gathered there to watch the sunset.

It was a hazy day, but we were still able to catch some of the sunset. It was a nice evening, not too hot yet and a little romantic. The first time we’d gone specially to watch a sunset. Went back to her place to watch Sherlock. I looked up and it was 11.11pm, sometimes it works this way. Perfect way to end Easter Sunday.

quietest places on earth

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Close your eyes, sit still, breathe slowly. What do you hear?

Unfortunately for me, it’s not just the clock ticking or the faint turn of the fan on the computer, it’s a constant, inescapable cachophony of traffic and people noises. I can’t hear myself think, I can’t relax, it’s very disruptive and annoying. If I had to lose a sense (and no disrespect to those who have) I have always said I’d rather be hard of hearing.

Where to find quiet places? Truly quiet, tranquil places free of human or human-made sounds. Surprisingly, it’s not Antarctica because of all the tourist and research activities. Not the North Pole or Canada or Siberia due to commercial aircraft routes. In order for an area to qualify as a quiet place, it has to be at least 1,200 square miles, large

enough to create a sound buffer around a central point of absolute quiet

According to bbc future, only about 12 of these places exist in the US and there are more in South America and Scandanavia.

Seems that to experience true quiet, these places have to be built. Called anechoic chambers, they are both sound proof and sound wave-absorbing. The quietest place on earth is a room at Orfield Laboratories, Minneapolis, which can apparently drive people mad. With no sounds, the only sounds a person hears are heartbeat, breathing and the rushing noise made inside the ear. May be we could all do with a sound absorbing room in our lives.

art café

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We took a drive out to a nature trail area near plover cove reservoir. A quiet area with people fishing, walking or biking on a weekday. We didn’t have time to go hiking on the trail, so we just stayed around the main area. Found a small restaurant for late lunch — minestrone soup, lamb chop, and we shared a frozen cream cake for dessert. Good value at under £10 per person, although the food quality was strictly average. Friendly service and a nice outside patio added to the charm.

The restaurant calls itself an art café with the work of an artist (the owner?) adorning the outside of the house, the interior and there are 2 floors dedicated to exhbiting his artwork. Plover cove is only 30mins’ drive from my parents’ place, not too far. Perfect for a quiet day’s outing. Will definitely return to hike the trails. There’s a 45min easy hike to a small waterfall.

nature outing

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flickr set

We drove out to a place near the wetlands park called Nam Sang Wai 南生圍. Just over an hour’s drive from my parents’ place, where mm picked me up. Could have saved 20-25mins by going through a tunnel, but the toll was too expensive and we weren’t in a hurry.

Turned into the side road once there and soon we came across a farm. They sell vegetables they grow themselves, not sure if it’s for commercial or tourists. They serve lunch and dinner at the outdoor space too. The nicest part of the farm was the lotus pond, with a rickety bridge made from planks, plastic crates and empty jerry cans. Apparently the flowers were out in the morning but like sunflowers they disappear in the afternoon. It was a nice enough day, not excessively hot and overcast, it made being outdoors more tolerable.

Drove down the single lane road to the end, where there were a few free spots for parking. Nice peaceful area full of hikers, runners and cyclists. There was a tree-lined path along a river that is apparently the favourite of magazine and wedding picture photographers. It’s been raining so the path was really muddy and we only managed about 100m before having to turn back. Walked a little along the asphalt road and stopped for a wee dram that mm brought along with her. Heehee.

Stayed in the district, found a church 15mins away for Saturday mass. Not hungry so we found the busy dessert place and had a little snack before heading back into the city.

bbmm island outing

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Took the ferry to Lamma island, we hadn’t visited in ages. It was a hot day, but some breeze and occasional drizzle made it more or less bearable. Wanted to walk towards the beach and a sweet tofu stall, but followed the wrong sign and ended up on a rather remote path. Good exercise though, a nice hour of hiking. Finally examined google maps more closely and turned back, finding the right way to the beach and the stall.

Ferry back to town, taxi to a restaurant at the market. Had steamed fish, squid ink fish balls with spaghetti, stir-fried clams and vegetables. Pretty dehydrated so stayed off the alcohol.

sai kung

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Went with Mum to Sai Kung, a bit out in the countryside. Still quite crowded. There’s a pier, a walk to a small sandy beach and traditional shopping streets. Saw a guy flying a kite made up of more than 100 small paper pieces.

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There was a normal covered wet market, but alongside the pier fishing boats come right up to sell their catch direct to customers — fish, lobster, crab, prawn, clams, whelks, all sorts. Most of the restaurants offer seafood. We had a set dinner for 2: lobster with noodles, steamed small prawns, steamed fish, steamed abalone. All in all a good meal and a good day.

blue island

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My friend Carleen posted in her blog (she posted in her blog, that’s already something amazing) about her town, Blue Island. It’s a suburb of Chicago and has history that is really interesting if you dig deeper. I won’t go into it, google is our friend. I do remember my first visit, almost 6 years ago. I had never visited Chicago, everything was fascinating and unusual and new. The tiny unmanned train station, the street she lived on — cute detached houses and pretty front gardens. The fact that it was not that pedestrian-friendly and we drove everywhere.

Everything was so big. What are these giant structures in the middle of the field? To this day I don’t quite understand why water has to be stored in these ginormous tanks perched on top of towers in the middle of a field. Alas, I looked through my flickr account and I never took any pictures of that huge Blue Island one, or the one at Alsip or Merrionette Park that we drive by all the time.

There were tons of grocery stores. The first time I went to one I was flabberghasted by the amount of stuff on these shelves that seemed to stretch miles and miles and miles. The local gas station is called Thornton’s, just like the chain chocolate store in the UK. Pizza came in squares (and is delicious). Drive-thru banking, which always brings the “what? seriously?” when I tell my non-US friends. There’s a street where you have to drive at snail’s pace because a golf cart might suddenly decide to cross the road. Or you might get stuck at a railroad crossing for 20mins while a freight train passes. And cemeteries everywhere!

After that first visit, none of us were sure we’d ever see each other again. It was a long way to travel (28 hours door to door). I believe it is God’s gift that I was able to return (6 times in 2008, talk about extremes), and definitely a blessing to have spent 2 years living there. Being able to bring my parents to visit my Chicago family…there are no words.

For the longest time I got my directions mixed up because google maps had their house in the wrong street. What should be north was south and vice versa. There is a sort of grid system in the south suburbs that should make it easier, but it took me a few years actually until I was able to shake the wrong google map image. Then it was easy. Streets that go east-west increased the further south you go. Vertical roads had a pattern — Western, Kedzie, Pulaski, Cicero. Foreign sounding names that I eventually got to grips with.

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What struck me about BI, again and again, was how family-oriented it is. It’s not the Gold Coast with its $1mm apartments, or the West Loop where all the yuppies live, or Belmont or, well, Andersonville, where all the gay hipsters hang out. (I’m not a gay hipster even though I lived in A-ville! Nor a granola-sandal-yoga new age…person, either.) It seems comfortable in its own skin. As Car said, people looked after each other. She already told the story about her lovely neighbour when her grandmother was taken ill. The neighbours surely got used to my car visiting after a while, and after the first few times, somehow I never attracted too much of a second glance. I certainly was fine with walking around during daylight hours. In fact, the last day I was in BI, I walked over to the nearby Aldi’s and then to the ice cream shop and had a very nice ice cream.

Car’s post is about her town. It’s not my town, Blue Island. But while I was living in Chicago it was sort of mine too. I don’t really have “my” town because I don’t have any affinity or loyalty or emotions about one particular place. “Where is home?” people ask me. “Where my furniture is,” that’s my answer. My life has been too strange and transient and a little disorientating. I will count Blue Island as one of the towns and cities I’ve hung my hat, so to speak.

legoland

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One of the places my niece really wanted to visit is legoland, so I got a zipcar over there. Only 1hr’s drive to Windsor, we got there mid-morning.

There are a lot of lego there, although we expected even more. The rides weren’t really lego, and neither were tables and chairs and everyday stuff. The park itself is geared towards kids, there are rides that are for the under-13s only, so my niece had a great time. She was a great driver in driving school and took us up on the balloon. The newest ride, Atlantis, is a yellow submarine that took a circuit around a giant aquarium that contained fish, sharks, stingrays and lego mermaids. The centrepiece legocity has replica miniature cities — London, English countryside with cricket team, Paris, Italy, and even the space shuttle in a NASA compound.

If only the weather held up. Dry, sunny spells were interrupted by heavy thunderstorms. During the storms we managed to hole up at the building stations and built a windmill and a racing car. All in all, a good day out especially with young children.

stansted park, home

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At first we wanted to go strawberry picking, but the PYO farm was closed. We ended up at Stansted Park. Didn’t go inside the house, just explored the grounds. Rode on the miniature railway, had lunch at the garden centre and did the maze with my niece. Then it was home to play in the garden for a while. We kicked a ball around, blew bubbles and ate gooseberries.

Sis came back to London with me. She’ll stay for a week for shopping and to go to the places she used to visit. The train journey was pretty long, almost 2 hrs. We had luggage and were tired so we got a cab. We thought we’d get kebab but the place was closed so we got ham and bread and stuff for a sandwich instead. She has the guest room, she’s all set up with the internet, hopefully she’ll be fine.

field museum

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Today’s itinerary was to meet up with my great-aunt and her family to go to the field museum. I hadn’t seen my cousin patrick in many years, and my great-aunt for a couple of years. They live in toronto and are in chicago for my cousin’s work convention. Their whole family drove down. Their 2 kids are so cute and well behaved.

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I’m not so much a museum person, but I loved the field museum. The most famous exhibit, Sue the T-Rex, was right up there in the entrance hall. The other exhibits were impressive too, especially the evolving earth and nature walk. Unlike some museums where the exhibits were in a glass cabinet and that’s it, the layout here was interesting and informative. The kids got tired so we left before going to all the exhibits. Well, that means a return visit is necessary.

They went back to their hotel to rest, and we came home. Met up for dinner at ed debevic’s, a fifties type of diner place. The waiter was fake rude, and it was kinda fun. We shared a full rack of ribs, roast turkey plate and dinner salad and there was plenty left over. We treated my great-aunt and her family for dinner, it was a pleasure to spend the day with them.

almost local

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Even after several visits, as recent as a year or so ago, my friend commented that I walked around chicago like a tourist — with my head tilted up looking at the architecture. Today my colleague C was visiting and we were walking around the Loop after work to our dinner restaurant. She was the one with the head pointed up. I was the one telling her about the buildings and patiently waiting till she got her pictures.

Heh. Somewhere down the line, I became local(-ish).

skylines and wifi

From metafilter, the top 15 skylines in the world. Some of the entries are contentious and subject to debate on metafilter, but most are agreed on #1. Heh, my reaction has a huge dollop of “yeah right” in it, simply because most days it’s impossible to enjoy a single bit of that skyline — everything is covered by a thick dark blanket of disgusting smog.

In other news (and this is for mary), Klimpton is the best hotel chain for wifi. I remember my problems at the Oberoi in Mumbai, where the wireless conked out without notice and took almost 2 hours to return. While I’m traveling I usually have to wrestle with awful in-room internet services that are expensive and not always Mac compatible. So it’s refreshing to read about a hotel chain that not only provides free wi-fi, they make sure the network covers the entire hotel. Like the article says, the hotel is perfect for “business travelers, hip leisure travelers, and globe-trotting bloggers.” Globe-trotting? They mean ‘North-American continent’ trotting surely? The chain is only found in the US and Canada.

outing

We went to Ocean Park today. It’d been raining the past month and for once the sun came out occasionally albeit interspaced with heavy showers. When it was sunny it was hot as hell and we felt like we were melting. I didn’t want to go at first for the same reason — I don’t go outdoors when it’s this hot. But she had these complementary tickets that runs out 30 June, and she really wanted to go. Sigh, the things I do.

Turned out to be a good outing. Heaps and heaps of people, and rude and loud too. I tried very hard to pretend they didn’t exist. Watched a bit of the show from way up on the pathway, walked along a nice sea lion enclave, fought against thousands of people for much needed but way overpriced fried chicken, vsited the panda house, dinosaur house, goldfish house. All in all it was worth the visit.

Bus queue was long, so we made a great decision to take the taxi out. Stopped by the computer store and bought her a new Powerbook, currently sitting pretty at my place. Nice dinner and here I am. Every single piece of clothing I wore today is soggy and sticks to my skin, my hair is full of grease and whatnot, I stink of … just stink. Freshly showered, I’m okay.