Tuesday, 25 December 2007

Christmas dinner party at Jo’s (24th – 25th December 2007)

This is my 2nd year celebrating Christmas Eve with my Brazilian friends. Rose (Jo’s sister and Andrew’s wife) would cook up a feast for Christmas dinner – hmm, I can’t wait to have her roast turkey and lots of other yummy food again!

Helbert and I were there early to help out. Well, I don’t think we were much help frankly since we were eating the pastel (commonly sold on the streest in Brazil, this savoury is made with a thin pastry envelope containing minced meat or another filling and then deep fried) that Jo was cooking for the dinner. I think I had one too many – I couldn’t eat much after…oh, but they were so good! Hehe…Photos taken at Jo’s:

Guilarme and Jo cooking the pastel

First you need to flatten the dough, then put in your filling...

I've only had one, really! (yeah, like we believe you :P)

Let’s do a quick Xmas presents swap before the other guests arrive! We had to do this before the party because Helbert was up to mischief and had a surprise for Rose. This was how it all started: sometime ago, Helbert had purposely bought Rose a display cartoon cow figurine with one ear chipped off for her birthday (that was not the actual present but a present before the real one). This time, he managed to find a similar cow with both ears chipped, had it wrapped up nicely and given to Rose personally. Oh my, you should see Rose’s face when she saw it! What a laugh it was for everyone! Photos taken at Rose’s: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603735385054/detail/

This year’s dinner was slightly different. We had the dinner at Jo’s place which was a few doors away from Rose’s house and lots of dancing after a meal (last year was more of a sit, eat and chat dinner). More photos taken at Jo’s: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603762875186/detail/

It was really nice of Rose to invite me to the dinner. I’ve always wanted to spend the night before Christmas with family and/or friends – it’s just a special moment that you want to share with love ones. Thank you so much for making it happen, Rose! She’s like a big sister to me and I enjoy being in her company :)

Christmas day itself was a lazy morning at home (was pouring outside) and packing up stuff for my year end travels up north tomorrow. There was still food leftover from last night and a few of us went back to Jo’s for a late lunch.

Time really flies and another year is about to come to an end. I wish all my dear family and friends a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. May the year ahead be blessed with lots of happiness, good health and prosperity in our lives!

Sunday, 23 December 2007

Andrea’s farewell at Havana Bar (18th December 2007)

Andrea had invited many of her Wellington friends to her farewell drinks at Havana Bar tonight. Honestly, I don’t like the term ‘farewell’ – it sounds so sad, as if we’ll never meet again. I prefer ‘temporary departure’ because I still want to see you again, my dear :)

We somehow managed to salsa dance and even squeeze in a rueda in the small bar. Just use smaller steps and dance closer – that would work :P Perhaps Havana Bar should consider promoting Tuesday nights as salsa nights too. Gives us salsa dancers another place to dance during the week. Photos of us at Havana:
Andrea with friends from Wellington

Roberto and Rafael playing Cuban music while we salsa in Havana Bar (pairs from back: Willy-John & Su Wei, Alicia & Colin, Carlos & Lily, me & Antonio)

Andrea partnering up with Lily while I danced with Willy-John

Turn ladies!

Me and girlfriend Alicia

Andrea, I will miss you so, so much! I’m so fortunate to have known such a sweet and sexy salsera like you. Please do keep in touch wherever you are and take good care of yourself, chica!

My housewarming party (15th December 2007)

After several requests to throw a housewarming party since I moved in to my apartment 1.5 months ago, I decided to have a party tonight and invited my friends over. It was a BYO drinks and snacks party i.e. you bring your own drinks and some food. I had some finger food and drinks for the guests too - wine, beer, antipesto and bread plate, nuts, even small Santa chocolates (hey, Christmas is coming). Thankfully Helbert was around to help set-up my place moving my furniture and organising the music - my apartment is still quite empty so there'll plenty of dance space!

My friends started streaming in from about 8pm onwards. It helps when throwing a party to invite your surrounding neighbours too so that they wouldn’t lodge a complaint because you were making too much noise :) Oh, and did I mention, there were even fireworks display, especially for my party (haha, yeah right, but there really was fireworks).

The salsa dancers burned the dance floor! They were the majority as compared to my Brazilian friends (most of them couldn’t come due to other commitments) – it would have been better with more equal numbers so both groups could take turns to dance. Photos from the housewarming party: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603782423597/detail/

It was a great night – might have to do another one in the new year! Thanks everyone for coming!

The last lot of friends left around 2am. Cleaning can wait till tomorrow. Need to catch up with some zzzs. Been partying the whole weekend!!

Salsa Picante lunch at Ramnish’s (15th December 2007)

Salsa Picante is the name of my rueda performance group who will be performing in the NZ Pacific Salsa Congress during the Easter weekend next year. We have been practicing for a few weeks now but haven’t quite decided on the song for the routine. Ramnish had called the group together for lunch at his home in Kilbirnie and to also find songs we’ll all agree to for the performance. Some of us were still recovering from a long night partying the night before…

Yum, Ramnish can sure cook! He prepared lots of food for us (we had a few extra non-performers join in for lunch – the more, the merrier!). Photos of us at Ramnish’s: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603770097679/detail/

And here's a video of us chilling out after lunch and listening to some potential salsa songs for the performance:


I can’t stay and hang out guys! Need to run off to get stuff for my housewarming party tonight – see you all later!!

Salsa and clubbing with friends (14th December 2007)

It's Friday again!! Salsa night tonight!! My friends and I headed to our usual hang out place, Latinos bar for dancing. Tonight was special than most Fridays because our dear friend Andrea is leaving next week (sob, sob!!) - it was her last Friday night dancing salsa at Latinos. We'll miss you so much! There was no band playing tonight thus not a lot of people, mainly just us ruling the dancefloor. Photos taken at Latinos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603702693174/detail/

Not too sure who suggested to go clubbing (we don't normally do this after salsa dancing) but those of us who hung around till late were walking around town looking for a club to go to. Photos of us on the streets:
Back (l-r): Ramnish, Colin, Clare, Alicia and Thomas. Front (l-r): Ken, me, Willy-John, Andrea and Annie

What are you looking at?!
After trying to get into a few clubs (long queues everywhere), we ended up in Red Square on Blair Street for a few dances. Quite a cool place and packed with people - it was my first time here. Gee, I must have super eyesight because amidst the packed club, I saw sexy Sharon sitting on one of the lounge couches from the corner of my eye! Sharon was there on a work function and it was good to see her (the busy bee has such a packed social schedule I have to pre-book to catch up with her!). Hehe...Photos taken in the club: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603712399302/detail/

My, my, Colin, you sure can groove for your age - I can't keep up! Was feeling tired after all the dancing at Latinos but still ok to sway to a few songs :)

It was about 3am when we left Red Square to Burger King for a late night (morning, actually) snack. More photos of us: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603717040098/detail/
Wow, this was probably one of the longest nights I've had for a long time. I don't remember the last time I stayed out this late! We have to do this again sometime, people - it was heaps of fun :)

Saturday, 22 December 2007

Telecom Xmas Function 2007 (13th December 2007)

Our whole unit got together for Xmas lunch today at Café Istanbul. I’ve never been here before and apparently you can eat and watch belly-dancing (even participate) on certain nights. We did the $30 lunch special (this is only for groups of 8 or more people) but I don’t think I ate my $30 worth. After the bread entrée, I could only finish half of my main meal!

When you have Peter, Scully and Chris – you get the 3 Amigos donned in what looked like a cross between a mariachi and a clown. They looked so funny and I couldn’t stop laughing at their antics! The ladies, Nicky, Kirsty and Mindy were dressed up like can can girls and looked so lovely. These colleagues of mine were already in gear before we even got to TSB Arena for the Telecom Christmas party later this evening :) Photos of us at Café Istanbul: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603704049149/detail/

A few of us stopped by at Matterhorn on Cuba Street for a drink before heading to the party. A photo of us at Matterhorn:

The Telecom Christmas party was said to be legendary and it definitely has the 'wow' factor. The theme for this year was Street Carnival and so many people came dressed up as all sorts: cross-dressers, Halloween characters, beauty queens, can can girls etc. And nothing keeps the employees happier when there’s free alcohol flowing, food and live DJ and bands (including Spacifix) playing! It was a fantastic night with lots of laughs!! Photos at the party: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603704154547/detail/

Friday, 21 December 2007

Team Day at Telecom (12th December 2007)

This is my 3rd week at Telecom and so far, it has been interesting. Though I’m not 100% sure what my role entails (I think any new person in any job feels the same as I do) and the jargon they use (I thought I landed in Jupiter – are you guys speaking in English??!), I’m gradually picking up on things and hope to be a productive member of the team soon. My colleagues are very nice and have a good sense of humour (we need that in this high-stress environment!).

Okay, maybe I’ll take back when I said my colleagues were very nice – some of them tried to 'drown' me in a pool today!!! It was our department’s team day and most of the permanent staff from my unit attended the day long event at TSB Arena from 8.45 this morning. The morning was mostly speeches while the afternoon part was a team building activity hosted by local celebrity Mike Havoc. There were 20 teams, each given the same set of materials (corrugated cardboard, penknife, bubble wrap, lots of packing tape, sticks, paper, etc.) and 3 hours to build a boat that 1 team member had to row on in a race against time. I had Jeremy and Sam on my team (team members were randomly grouped) – I knew those guys wouldn’t let me off the hook even when I told them I have a cold! Poor me became ‘victim’ to test out the boat they will be building…oh dear!!!

Peter was our team leader (well, he’s got a degree in boat building) and we were split into 2 smaller groups: the structural team and the creative team. The creative team dressed me up as a mermaid and Peter gave me a crash course on kayaking. OH MY GOD!!!! What have I gotten myself into???!!! Andrew (my boss) didn’t tell me this was part of my induction! It was such a fun day and so many creative boats and brave sailors – I’m so glad I didn’t sink on the Aquamarine (our boat name)! We didn’t expect the boat to be so buoyant – I was pretty much paddling at a 45 degree angle all the way!! Though we didn’t make the fastest boat (we completed the race in 54 seconds; the fastest was 19 seconds), we did win the most creative title :) Great team work, team! Photos taken of the amazing boat race: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603682411158/detail/

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Bianca’s going away dinner (11th December 2007)

Bianca and her partner, Rod, will be going to Brazil for 6 weeks and she got a few of her friends together for dinner at Oriental Thai Restaurant tonight. Poor Rod – everyone kept telling him to be careful when he’s there and I think he’s starting to have second thoughts about going! Well, it can be dangerous anywhere you travel. You just have to be careful and aware of your surroundings especially when travelling alone. Don't go anywhere without Bianca!

Eh, Carlos, what do you mean ‘you look familiar but not sure where you saw me before’?? We got introduced like 2 years ago and we see each other all the time in the same parties we go to (thoink, thoink - needs bashing in the head)! Yes, nice to meet you AGAIN :P By the way, Carlos, like my friend, Roberto, is a musician and leads in his band Clave Latina. Carlos (he’s Mexican) also plays at Havana bar every alternate Tuesday (him this week, Roberto next, him again and so forth).

Hmm, the food here is good…you have to come try! The serving is huge though so it would be better off to have a group come together so you could sample different dishes.

It was a nice get-together and catch-up. A few of us stayed on till after 11pm (most of us had to go as we worked the next day). Photos of us at the restaurant:

Brazilian girlfriends Mariama, Paula and Bianca

Anaiyibi (Colombian and a new mum-to-be), Josinta (Kiwi-British) and Tabatha (Brazilian)

Brazilians friends Helbert and Lesith

Christening of Helbert’s BBQ (8th December 2007)

Me and the gang of boys from the hostel days (we used to all hang out when living in Taranaki 217 Hostel; Sandum, Jason and TJ still lives there) got together at Mike’s house in Ngaio for a BBQ this afternoon. Helbert has just bought a new BBQ set – this is probably the 4th BBQ set that Helbert and I had assembled in 2 years (hmm, perhaps we should make a profession out of this – haha!). We've moved our regular Friday BBQ after work sessions to Mike's place until further notice :)

Rose and Andrew came to join us this time. Wow, look at the amount of food everyone brought – we had leftovers enough for the next BBQ! Helbert tried to BBQ a fish this time – we had been testing this out in smaller scale with my oven (the fish on the BBQ was 6.5kgs; we had only done 1kg fish so far). Hmm, we can still add more seasoning to the fish but it was a good first attempt! Photos from the BBQ:

We have tried and tested different food to put on the BBQ including a whole pineapple, whole onion and live mussels. Don't try the banana like we did in a previous BBQ (hot mashed banana doesn't look and taste very appealing):

Latinos Birthday Party (7th December 2007)

Today is Latinos’ 7th birthday – woo-hoo!! Still the only place where you can dance salsa EVERY Friday night! Keep it up, Latinos! Photos from the party:

With Brazilian friends Marcio and Cleusa

Ops, caught on picture but no one was ready...

With Ramnish and Helbert

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Movember at Telecom (30th November 2007)

What is Movember New Zealand? Movember (the month formerly known as November) is a charity event held during November each year in NZ. Most companies or individuals will organise a Movember and the guys start Movember with a clean shaven face. The Movember participants then have the remainder of the month to grow and groom their moustache and along the way raise as much money and awareness about male health issues as possible, mainly prostate cancer. It fantastic to see the men here actively participate and groom their mo (short for moustache) in all sorts of shapes (I'm sure they have fun doing so). The ladies support our brave men by putting up with a month of mo burns :)

Today is the last day of Movember and the boys in my unit who took part are shaving off their mos. Here's a photo of them before the big shave:

The Movember guys (l-r): Phil S, Jeremy, Samir, Peter Scully, Tama, Phil, Francois and Steve

Week 4 back in Wellington (19th - 25th November 2007)

Monday – Friday, 19th – 23rd November 2007: You know, I realised that I never really had time to watch TV since I came to NZ. My friends and colleagues would be talking about Desperate Housewives, Grey’s Anatomy or something, and I would be pretty much LOST. So I decided it was about time I caught up with some of those TV series and rented Season 1 of Sex in the City (I’ve seen parts of Season 6 on TV but nothing made sense to me e.g. who’s Mr Big and how did he come into the picture??). I would love a life like Carrie’s minus the smoking. Come to think of it, I do have a bit of a Carrie-like life to some point…not so much on the expensive shoes though :P

I went to Havana Bar on Tuesday night to catch up with some friends. Roberto was playing that night and some of us managed to salsa to a few songs in the small place. Nothing’s changed at Havana – still the same gigs on Tuesdays, Abel (the Argentinean bar manager) in his Argentina hat serving us drinks, dim lights, cosy atmosphere and the sound of good music blended with people talking. If you are not up for a drink on a Tuesday, then order yourself an $8 Havana Special – non-alcoholic fizz drink made from passion fruit pulp, mint leaves, fruit juice and soda water (and probably some other stuff inside that Abel’s not telling me). I’ve got to try it out myself at home…hmm…Photo of us at Havana Bar: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603467813990/detail/

Wednesday was my last day at SIM. It felt odd to say goodbye again. Everyone, thanks for having me back for a short while – please do keep in touch!

Hew, her friend Ping and I went to James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor on Wednesday night to attend The Rock Church Women’s Christmas Party. Cost me $25 for the function which included supper. It was really nice – a choir, Christmas carols, a fashion speaker (Amilie Taylor from Truststyle), yummy cakes etc. And lucky for Hew – she won a discount voucher for a facial at Beaute Ultime!

Caught up with Sharon for lunch on Friday at The Long Bar on Brandon Street and a quick update about our lives (I haven’t really had the chance to talk to Sharon since I got back). A very busy place during lunchtime – make sure you book beforehand!

Oh, and I picked up my car today! Yay, I get to zip around in my new car this weekend!! It's such a cute little thing. Hehe...Photos of my car: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603472072383/detail/

BBQ at Helbert’s flat is now becoming a regular Friday after-work activity and his flatmates have also started to get in sync! Hehe…it’s a good way to end the work week, enjoy some sun and good company :) The night was spent at Latinos Bar (Vivio and Greydis were back for another series of workshops) – Greydis can really shake and groove! Doubt I can ever do that tummy-crunching move like her. She does it so well and it’s always a pleasure to watch her dance.

Probably if you have met me several years ago, I would be quite stunned if you came over and gave me a kiss on the cheeks or hug. I don’t know if it was the way I was brought up or the culture I was in – if you see someone, you shake hands; no kissing or hugging business. These days, if you didn’t greet me that way, I would feel something amiss! I’ve got used to it and I think I stunned some of my friends in Malaysia when I hugged them hello (sorry, I forgot I was in another country!). It was really funny when Helbert told me some woman he was saying goodbye to on his way out of Latinos Bar (yes, he did the usual kiss-on-cheek) asked him if he was gay! I would say New Zealand is starting to get into the habit of this sort of greeting though still foreign to some ;)

Saturday – Sunday, 24th – 25th November 2007: Caught up with old friend Ben (fellow Malaysian whom I met during university international student orientation 6.5 years ago – the same time I met Hew; we are probably the only 3 from that batch still in Wellington) on Saturday morning for breakfast at Caffé Italiano on Cuba Street. This is a new café and the wait staffs are Italians – adds to the authenticity of the place! I went to settle the bill and the Italian waiter said to me that Wellington women always pays when they go out with a guy (I didn’t mind paying for the breakfast). Our brief chat went something like this:

HIM (speaking with an Italian accent): ‘In Italy, the men ALWAYS pay!’
ME: ‘If that is the case, I should really move to Italy then!’
HIM: ‘Yes, or date an Italian man…’

Hint, hint…Italian men…hmm…

I had my first swimming lesson at the Wellington Aquatic Centre in Kilbirnie. About time I got back into an exercise routine and work on that water phobia of mine. But boy was it hard work trying to swim a full length and back! I had to use the 1.2M pool to learn the freestyle move. Would probably take awhile before I master the swim stroke and migrate to lane swimming (the depth of the pool for lane swimming is 2M). And Helbert is a no-nonsense coach that keeps me on my toes!

I’m feeling nervous to start work on Monday!! By the way, I won’t be updating my daily life happenings here as often from now since I’m not travelling much (back in the workforce and routine lifestyle). Please do check my blog regularly for any updates!

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Week 3 back in Wellington (12th - 18th November 2007)

Another busy week at work but I’m very happy because I’ve just received a call from Telecom on Monday informing me that I've been offered the job (I applied for a position there a week or so ago). I’m so excited!! I still need to review and sign the contract to ‘seal the deal’ and should be receiving my contract sometime this week.

Caught up with my friend Joel for dinner Monday night at Roti Chenai Cafe on Victoria Street. I've always wanted to check out this place but never got round to it because it wasn't on my way home. Joel was briefly a flatmate of mine when I was living at Everton Hall of Residence (Everton Hall is one of Victoria University’s student hostels) – I was moved to another flat shortly after moving into his flat. We were supposed to meet up during my visit to Singapore and do some travelling together in Asia but our travel plans didn’t quite match up. Sounds to me like you’ve had quite an adventure, Joel!

On Tuesday, I went back to Toyota to finalise the purchase of my Yaris. I couldn’t believe that I bought a brand new car for myself! The car should arrive in 2 weeks. Can’t wait!

I plan to start cooking for myself a bit more from now on. Poor Helbert was ‘guinea pig’ to my first attempt – this was the first time I’ve cooked in years. Hey, I’ve warned you beforehand…the Japanese curry wasn’t so bad, right? :P

Wednesday, 14th November 2007: Received my Telecom contract today. Very professional, I must say – the contract came inside a business folder that included a calculator, pen and business pad. I'm impressed! I'll be finishing up at SIM next Wednesday which gives me 4 days to rest up before I start my new job. I will need that!

Had dinner with Sly at Satay Village on Ghuznee Street tonight and we brought each other up to speed on what has been happening the past 4 months in our lives. Sly’s a regular there. Even the manager knows him by name. :) Thanks for dinner, Sly – we have to catch up when you return from your trip, and it’ll be my shout!

After dinner, I went to a Mario Canonge concert held for the closing of the No 11 Wellington International Jazz Festival at Ilott Theatre. Cost me $35 for the ticket and the seating is first-come-first-serve (lucky I was there early and took the seat in right in the middle of the theatre). This guy plays the piano very well – his fingers would run up and down the piano keys like millipede legs i.e. very fast movements. It was a full-house concert and good overall even though the jazz music wasn’t really my type (I prefer Latin jazz). What was fun was when the audience clapped to a string of beats and became part of the music. 2.5 hours of good music to end my night. Ahh...

You know, I was thinking to myself while walking home that this was the life I wanted to achieve at 21 – independence, having my own apartment, car, social life, etc. Though not exactly how I would like it to be, I’m quite happy with what I have so far. Life’s too short to think and get bothered about the haves and have-nots; you have to live the moment!

Friday, 16th November – Sunday, 18th November 2007: My bed arrived on Friday but I still had to sleep on the couch that night because the delivery guys didn’t have a screwdriver to put in the screws (and I was told if I didn’t have the screws in and ‘broke’ the bed, I wouldn’t be entitled for the warranty). When I asked why they didn’t have a screwdriver, I was informed that theirs was broken. I couldn’t believe my ears!

Saturday night was spent at a summer party at Liva’s place in Newtown – it was supposed to be a surprise get-together for Andrea who was going to Brazil for a holiday but turned out to be a surprise for the rest of us when she walked in showing off her engagement ring! Yep, our gorgeous friend is now engaged to fiancé Zaza. Guess you won’t be going to Brazil anytime soon, will you, hun? It was a fun night – drinks, BBQ, catching up with old friends and meeting new ones, and of course, lots of dancing!

I tagged along with Hew and family to her church and life group after the church service on Sunday. Met a few fellow Malaysians at her life group leader’s potluck lunch and when Malaysians get together, all we talk about is FOOD! Hehe…

Late Sunday afternoon was spent at a BBQ in new friend Christina’s home at Roseneath. Christina’s from Salvador, Brazil and I met her and her German husband Thomas last night at the party. She cooked a whole fish for everyone – it was delicious! Christina and Thomas will be going to Germany soon for a few months. Do contact me when you get back – would love to catch up! And safe travels!

Monday, 12 November 2007

Week 2 back in Wellington (5th - 11th November 2007)

The work week has been insanely busy. I’ll be working full-time for the next 2 weeks during Pillai’s absence. Still trying to figure out how to deal with the many queries I get flooded with…

Monday, 5th November 2007: In New Zealand, we celebrate Guy Fawkes Day, an annual celebration on the evening of the 5th of November that celebrates the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of the 5th of November 1605 in which a number of Roman Catholic conspirators, including a man named Guy Fawkes, attempted to blow up the House of Parliament in London. Frankly, it feels more like a celebration of Guy Fawkes trying to blow up the Parliament :P You might want to check out the movie V for Vendetta which gives you some idea what Guy Fawkes tried to do centuries back.

Us Wellingtonians would gather at various places around the city on this night to watch the Pelorus Trust Sky Show (lasts approximately 15 minutes) – you could go to the waterfront or places high up to view the fireworks display. Kiwis can purchase fireworks from shops a few days prior to Guy Fawkes Night and have their own mini-fireworks display too! I was very fortunate to be able to watch the firework display from the comfort of my own apartment (well, not exactly very comfortable given that I had to lean against my kitchen bench the whole 15 minutes). Photos taken from my apartment: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603300344843/detail/

Wednesday, 7th November 2007: Got my internet connected yesterday – yes! Oh, and I had a job interview today with one of the government departments. Don’t think I’ll be going for it because it is a temp role and I’m looking for a permanent position.

6 of us (Michelle, Sandum, Helbert, Elham, TJ and me) went out for dinner at Masala Indian Restaurant on Allen Street. Helbert shouted everyone dinner to celebrate Elham’s and TJ’s birthday. A very nice, posh Indian restaurant that serves nice food (though it was quite odd to hear salsa/jazz music playing in the background but suits me fine!). Mango lassi (sweet yoghurt mix chilled drink), biryani (a variation of fried rice with mixed spices, meat and vegetables), naan…yum! Word of advice – don’t down the whole glass of mango lassi before your meal. I felt full just drinking it...and my main dish is not even served yet! The slight downside to eating here is that it’s costly but it’s worth paying for good food and ambience once and awhile ;)

Friday, 9th November 2007: Shannon, Ruth, Kim and I went to our regular lunch and catch-up place Chow Restaurant on Woodward Street – they’ve changed the menu! Turns out, they use 2 menus throughout the year, one for summer and one for winter. Ruth and Kim were most disappointed that their favourite curry is no available this season. We’ll have to look for a new lunch and catch-up place, ladies! By the way, Chow is a westernised Asian restaurant - western setting and meal presentation but serving Asian meals.

Had interviews yesterday and today – man, I’m so tired of interviews. I keep repeating the same things to the prospective employers because they ask the same questions. I just need a job!

I joined Helbert and flatmates for a BBQ at their place in the evening. Met everyone except for the 8th person Bruce (yes, 8 of them and one toilet - surprisingly no one ever has to queue to use it!). Faizal and Aid are from Saudi Arabia, landlord Johnny from Singapore with his Chinese wife Summer and their lovely (and cheeky) daughter Faredah, and Amir (Johnny’s brother). Very nice people. You know what, I have a feeling that this Friday BBQ will be something we’ll do every Friday this summer… :)

Went to Latinos later to ‘shake off’ all the food I’ve eaten at the BBQ...haha...Roberto’s band, the La Guagua Boys were playing tonight (well, it was made up of most of the other guys from the other bands like Carlos, Miguel etc. – we don’t have many Latin music players in town so the bands are made up of ‘recycled musicians’). $12 for good music and lots of dancing!

Saturday, 10th November 2007: Today, I decided to check out Salsa Therapy’s Ladies Styling Workshop taught by Lily (by the way, Salsa Therapy is Ramnish’s and Lily’s salsa dance school). It was good fun and Ramnish came to join our all-female class in the last 15 minutes. Hehe…

I later caught up with Aunty Daphnne for coffee and ended up spending the rest of my afternoon and dinner at her place. Always good food and laughs with the family – too much food at most times :)

Sunday, 11th November 2007: I had an unexpected phone call from the local Toyota car dealer to drop by their office to test drive a 1.3 litre Toyota Yaris (I went to have a look at a Yaris a week and a bit earlier but they didn’t have one for me to test drive). This little thing sure can zip! I didn’t expect a 1.3 litre car would move this fast though it felt weird being in such a small vehicle after having driven station wagons for the last 1.5 years. Hmm, it’ll be economical to own one but I can’t buy a car without a job (the dealer needed to see proof of my earnings). Oh well, maybe sometime soon…

I went to the Westpac St James Theatre tonight for the Beijing Olympics Family Showcase. It was a concert incorporating singing, solo and group dances in modern and traditional Chinese dance, and Chinese folk music performances. Cost me $15 for the 1.5 hour show.

Thought I saw my friend Sly on my way in…Sylvester aka Sly (he was originally from Singapore but lived in NZ for many years) was sitting at the other end of the grand circle (the grand circle is the seating area at the top level) with his friends. I was being mischievous and texted him asking him to look to his far right where I was seated. Haha, the surprise in his eyes! We managed to have a quick chat via texting before the show started and agreed to catch up during the week.

I have to admit that I was somewhat disappointed with the show as I was expecting more traditional Beijing performances such as Beijing opera, folk dances etc. – this was a very modernised version of Chinese performances. The dances were less demure (more booty-shakin’) and traditional Chinese instruments were playing latin jazz. Perhaps portraying the Beijing of today?? Oh, and did I mention that the person next to me just wouldn’t stop talking to me? Shhh!!!

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Week 1 back in Wellington (29th October - 4th November 2007)

Having been back for a few days now, I’m still getting used to being here. The weather feels rather cold to me (or is it just because I’ve been away in warmer countries the past few months??) – people here must wonder why I’m wearing my ski jacket but it IS cold, even though it’s now the beginning of summer.

I haven’t heard back from the organisations I applied to and beginning to worry. I do need a job pretty fast as money is getting tight and I’ll start having bills to pay once I move into my apartment. Perhaps this is the wrong time of the year to find work? Well, the job market does slow down towards the end of the year. Hopefully find something soon…

Wednesday, 31st October 2007: I got a phone call from Jean (my former manager at SIM) yesterday evening to say that she needs a temp till the end of the year and asked me if I was keen. OF COURSE!! Pillai (my former colleague) was going to India for 2 weeks so I went to ‘learn the ropes’ of his role to help out during the time he goes away. Yay, I’ve got work, at least to help tie me over for the next couple of weeks.

Helbert and I went to see Rush Hour 3 at Reading Cinemas in Courtenay Central today. Chris Tucker looked chubbier this time…hehe…The movie was ok, nothing overly surprising. I’ve seen the first 2 movies so already knew what to expect in this one.

Thursday, 1st November 2007: I had all my stuff packed up ready for my move this evening. At 10am, I went to see my landlord William to get the keys to my apartment and sort out the contract. He’s such a nice guy – he left me some furniture, a TV and cooking utensils knowing I only had 2 bags of my stuff with me at the moment. Thanks so much! And hey, the place looks way better than when I first saw it (the previous tenants were American exchange students and they had a bed in the lounge). Photos of my quite empty apartment: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603259927832/detail/

Back to work and boy were there heaps to learn! Pillai leaves tomorrow for India and I have no clue what I’m doing!! Accounts, even though was one of my majors, wasn’t and still isn’t my first love, which was why I never really continued on in this career path. I’m surprised I even managed to complete a degree in Accounting!

Wow, my apartment is so quiet...and empty…Spent my first night here sleeping on the couch (there was no bed in my room). Oh, but I’m loving it! I can’t wait to furnish the place, making it cosy – a place I can call ‘My Home’. Exciting!!!

Friday, 2nd November 2007: Caught up with Sonja today for coffee to return her house keys to her. Thanks Sonja and flatmates for housing me for the week! Really appreciate it :)

I got my landline connected today and will get internet set up sometime next week. Until then, I’ll have to go to public wireless hotspot areas in town to access internet. At least there's a TV to keep me entertained.

Went to Lonestar on Tory Street with Ramnish and John to meet up with our salsa friends for drinks and nibbles before heading to Salsadrome (tonight was the last Salsadrome for the year). Salsadrome is a salsa event that occurs every fortnight on Fridays at the Wellington Performing Art Centre. You pay a fee of $8 and you can pretty much dance from 7.30pm till 12am to the songs played by the DJ. An introductory salsa class is held around 8.00-8.30pm and the dance floor officially opens for social dancing from 9.30pm. In the studio next door, you could dance tango. Some of us who dance both types of dances would hop in and out of the studios. Occasionally, bachata (a form of music and dance that originated in the countryside and the rural neighborhoods of Dominican Republic) is played next door instead of tango. Bachata is becoming a popular music played in salsa events. I enjoy dancing bachata – it’s sensual, dancing very close to your partner as you sway to the music. I had a good night dancing though there were times when I felt left out and just sat down to watch others dance.

Saturday, 3rd November 2007: This morning was my turn to help Helbert shift his stuff to his new flat (he helped me move my things to my apartment on Thursday night). Quite a nice place in Newtown though I wonder how the flatmates cope sharing the 1 toilet and shower among the 7 of them...

We caught up later in the evening and went to visit Sandum at 217 Taranaki Hostel (where we used to live) for a couple of drinks. Elham (TJ’s girlfriend) was celebrating her 21st birthday and we all headed to Eclipse for drinks and nibbles. Hmm, some of the boys were already tipsy before we even arrived at the bar! Photos from the party: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603703953091/detail/

Helbert and I didn’t stay too long at Elham’s party as we had been invited to Josiane’s costume party, which was also on the same night. I was dressed up as Pebbles from The Flintstones (well, I ‘tried’ to be Pebbles in my sarong and jandals – went shopping in the afternoon and couldn’t find a last-minute costume so raided my cupboard and came up with Pebbles) and Helbert in his vampire costume. It was a lot of fun seeing everyone dressed up (most were vampires), Jo was Snow White, Juliano came in a scuba diving suit (ooo, nice butt…hehe…), and Andrea, Paula and Marcelo looked like they had just walked out from a posh casino! Lots of chit-chat, dancing and drinks – exactly how a Brazilian party should be :)

Sunday, 4th November 2007: Followed Hew (my good friend from uni), Jonathan (Hew's partner) and Edmund (her 4-year-old son) to their church service at The Rock City Church situated at Ngauranga Gorge approximately 20 minutes drive away from Wellington Central. The Rock is very similar to Ah Mike’s church in Perth, with a band playing as the followers sang modern worship songs - nice :)

We went for yum cha (is a tradition on weekend mornings, and whole families gather to chat and eat dim sum and drink Chinese tea) at Regal Chinese Restaurant after the church service and Jonathan’s younger sister, Kymberly, joined us for lunch. Wow, the place was packed! If you ever plan to have brunch here during the weekends, you had better make a booking. Even though we had booked a table, we still had to wait for about half an hour before we got seated! The yum char here is really good so I guess waiting a bit longer for good food is worthwhile…hehe…I suggest coming here in a big group so you and your family/friends can try out the various savouries and sweet stuff served. And for the adventurous, perhaps try out 'feng zhao' (these are chicken feet, deep fried, boiled, marinated in a black bean sauce and then steamed) - they are nice, really! And you musn't forget to have an egg tart to complete your yum cha session.

After lunch, I went to meet up with Marcos (who was having lunch with Helbert) at Courtenay Central and had coffee with the boys. I haven’t seen Marcos since I left for my trip – it was lovely to see him again and happy to hear of his promotion at work. Congratulations!

Helbert and I went to see Game Plan (Marcos had other plans so didn’t join us) – heart-warming movie that touched me and made me cry in some parts. One of those Disney family movies with The Rock (this is the actor, not the church) in the lead role.

Sigh, tomorrow's Monday and it would be a busy (and crazy) day at work with Pillai not around…

Monday, 29 October 2007

Returning to Wellington (22nd - 28th October 2007)

Monday, 22nd October 2007: Today's the day I'm leaving Chicago after spending 6 weeks in the States. My travels here have been wonderful and I'll miss the friends I've made along the way - everyone please keep in touch!

Maria, Dilsia and I had lunch and coffee for one more time (I'm not saying 'one last time' because I don't want it to be the last!) before I took off to NZ - I'm still here but miss you girls already!! I know, I know - the 3 Musketeers will be losing 1 Musketeer soon. We can't do coffee together in person but we can always do it via Skype...hehe...and I'll come visit again and you can come visit me too :) Photos taken at lunch in Medici and the girls showing off their bikes (Dilsia's looks tiny next to Maria's):

Went back to Antonio’s apartment after lunch to finish up my packing. My backpack looked as if it would explode anytime - I suspect that it's over 20kgs (how come, since I didn't buy anything during my travels here???). It's going to be a long way back, some 22 hours. It's Monday now and I'll only arrive on Wednesday in NZ!

Urgh, the weather is getting cold and wet. What a coincidence that it's bad weather everytime I had to fly to or from an airport in the States...

At 3pm, Antonio drove me to O'Hare International airport. It was sad to say goodbye - hey, we'll see each other again when you come to Wellington in December so it's just a temporary goodbye :) And thanks for housing me, showing me around, introducing me to new friends etc. – thanks for everything!

Guess how heavy my backpack was? 33 KILOS!!!! What on earth did I pack inside?!

You wouldn't believe this but my flight got delayed till 7.10pm and I didn't leave Chicago till 8pm (was supposed to have left at 6)!!!! I'm so afraid I'll miss my connecting flight. I really don't want to stay in LA for the night...

Somewhere in between time zones: I arrived in LA 15 minutes before my connecting flight took off and I could hear some lady paging me on the PA system to get to the boarding gate!!!! Run, Angel, run!!

Ok, I managed to board my plane and thank god I didn’t have to stay over in LA. Now I can finally breathe normally…

Hey, my Qantas in-flight entertainment control doesn’t work! After the staff tried ‘resetting the system’ (whatever they did) like 5 times in 2 hours and it still didn’t work, they swapped me to another seat. The control works but the seat in front of me was stuck in a reclined position, making the space between my seat and the screen rather cramped. Oh well, better than facing a blank screen for the whole 14-hour flight to Sydney.

Wednesday, 24th October 2007: Arrived in Sydney International Airport at 6am. This is the 4th time I’ve been here in the last 4 months! It’s rather annoying that there isn’t free wireless internet via personal laptops here and I’ve to use the PC at a stand-up kiosk. My flight to Wellington isn’t till 9.15am so I’ve got a couple of hours to kill.

I’m feeling alright, not too jetlagged but just a bit tired and have dry eyes. And feelings of anxiety knowing that I’m getting nearer and nearer to Wellington where I need to get serious and start my life over (again). I can’t describe how I’m feeling – it’s as if I’m going home but home is not there? I don’t know…strange feeling of emptiness…

You must be wondering why I’m going back in Wellington when I had planned to travel till the end of the year before deciding my next place of stay. Well, as I’ve said previously, plans keep changing in my life. During my travels, I found that I still miss having a permanent place where I could return to, a place where I can call my home, where I can relax, be myself. Wellington keeps popping up to mind. Besides, after my stay in the States, I’m strapped for cash and need to find a job fast. Wellington seems to be the easiest place to resettle and find work. I’m not sure how I’ll feel emotionally when I actually arrive in Wellington – will I still feel like ‘running away’ when back? Perhaps once I make NZ home base, I won’t feel so.

Sonja came to pick me up at 4pm from Wellington Airport. It was so nice to see her again! I will be staying in her flat (one of her flatmates is away and her flatmates were ok with me staying in the room) at Mt Cook for the week. Thanks so much for housing me! I hope to be able to find a place of my own before the week ends, otherwise move into Base Backpackers again for awhile until I find a suitable place.

We returned home to drop off my bags and headed out for a walk down the waterfront, making the most of the sunny day. And no doubt I’ve arrived in Wellington because it was so windy! Chicago is the Windy City but I doubt it can beat our Windy Wellington. If only the weather was better in Wellington…we all love the city but just dislike the weather here!

We went to Cuba Kebab for dinner. It was the first time I had falafel kebab and it was nice though I couldn’t finish the whole thing (had to take the other half home). We headed to Chow on Tory Street for a couple of cocktails. It was 2 for 1 house cocktail night (occurs every Wednesday). Woo…my head was spinning after having 2 drinks…must be the jetlag kicking in. I stayed up till 10.30pm and slept like a log till the next morning.

I’ve been having the same weird dreams the past week. I find myself in scenarios (in my dreams) where I could see people wearing nightgowns walking aimlessly down a long corridor that had many closed doors on either side, wondering what’s behind the doors, or me and a few other people peering down the balcony or window of a very tall building, wondering what’s it like to fall. Hmm…

Thursday, 25th October 2007 – Sunday, 28th October 2007: The rest of my week was spent resettling in Wellington, a place both familiar yet unfamiliar to me. It was great to catch up with many of my friends who are here, making me feel very welcomed back. Though I may be starting life over, at least I’ve got friends here and not starting from zero.

I had an appointment with a recruitment agency on Thursday and I was surprised at my typing test result – 87 words per minute! I think on average, one needs to type at least 40 words per minute. Given that I should be jetlagged, I was expecting to do pretty badly in the test. By the way, if you didn’t know, it’s rather common to look for work at a recruitment agency these days. Employers are too busy to spend time recruiting people so are leaving the task to the agency and I have to be registered with the agency to be able to submit an interest for the advertised position.

Made a brief visit to SIM on Friday morning to say hi to my former work colleagues (always a pleasure to see them) and had a cuppa with Kim and Shannon on Friday morning. Hey, we still need to organise a lunch together with Ruth!

Met up with Sonja and Erik later that night for a romantic Italian comedy titled ‘Christmas In Love’ at Paramount. It was one of the movies screened in the 12th Italian Film Festival held in Wellington from October 17th – 31st. I headed to Latinos after for some salsa dancing and caught up with my salsa buddies. Grupo Salson (the band is lead by Wellington Cuban dance teacher, Rafael Ferrer Noel aka Rafa) was playing that night with Auckland Cuban dance teacher Vivio – the Cubans really know how to have fun :P So many familiar faces of friends from the Wellington salsa scene, lots of hugs and kisses, and the many warm welcomes received. Some of my girlfriends weren’t there – they had taken off to Fiji Islands, without me!

The apartment I had a look at on Friday evening was a 1-bedroom unit located on top end of Abel Smith Street. Quite a nice, quiet but not brand new unit with its own bathroom, kitchen and lounge, partially furnished and good enough for a couple to live in. Comes with a car park too. There were so many people scheduled to view the place (including my friend, Vik, and his partner) but guess who was the lucky one who got offered the place? ME! The landlord rang me Saturday morning and told me that I would be able to move in on Thursday if I wanted the place. Why not? It’s near town and I don’t have to look for a place any further - yay! Next is to concentrate on finding myself a job. I’ll have to get a bed and some other stuff for the apartment but those can wait a bit.

Bianca and Paula had a party at Southern Cross Bar and Restaurant on Saturday night – Bianca was celebrating her birthday; Paula was going away for 2 months. It was great to catch up with our friends, most of whom I’ve not seen since I left in July, some even longer than that.

Josiane had a BBQ at her place on Sunday afternoon and had a few close friends over. This is the first BBQ I’ve had since the end of summer in February-March – yum! Helbert’s grilling of rump steak the Brazilian way (no need to marinade the meat, just sprinkled with rock salt) is still the best..hehe…Jo’s got a lovely back garden that’s covered from the wind. Hope she won’t find us BBQ regulars annoying when we turn up every weekend this summer at her place :P

Ramnish came to pick me up to Southern Cross for the year’s final Dine and Dance. I didn’t get many dances that night and it just further confirms that we need more men who can dance. Women in Wellington are getting too aggressive – not surprising to see 2 women walk up to the same man asking for a dance. I miss the salsa scene in the States – there are always more men and once you hit the dance floor, it’s quite hard for you to get off! I didn’t stay very long. Sitting and watching from the sidelines suddenly made me feel alone and teary. Sigh…

Friday, 19 October 2007

Last week in Chicago (15th – 21st October 2007)

Monday, 15th October 2007: Got up early to shower and headed to Navy Pier but there was no hot water!! Reminded me of days when I was living in a student hostel (taking a cold showers in winter...brr!).

Got lost on bus and metro to Navy Pier and after 2 hours going in wrong directions within the city, I FINALLY got there. Yes! Navy Pier was originally opened as a shipping and recreational facility in 1916 and has evolved into a premier family entertainment centre. I walked through the shopping strip and stopped to ride the ferris wheel for USD6. Very nice view from the top. Halloween is just around the corner and this whole place was decorated to the theme. I think it’ll be nicer to visit Navy Pier during the night or weekend when there are more stuff happening - it was pretty quiet around here today. Photos taken at Navy Pier: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603824201891/detail/

I took the free trolley to State Street looking for lunch when Maria texted me to meet up outside the Art Insitute. Caught up with Maria, Dilsia and their German classmate, Mareika for coffee at Intelligentsia Coffee. We make a very good representation of people from different skin colours - dark, olive, fair and Asian!

Hmm, I'm not sure where the blob of water came from, Dilsia...We were sitting outdoors, chatting over our drinks when something 'dropped' into Dilsia's large latte. Suspicions that it could come from the apartment upstairs or a bird flying past (ew!). Better don't drink it anymore!

Antonio and I went back to Las Tablas for dinner tonight - I've been thinking of the place the whole week! Tried Aborrajado (sweet plantain with sliced guava and melted cheese) for appetiser. Ooo, the cooked guava was so good and sweet! Literally melting in my mouth :) I had to have my sangria since I was there and we shared a main meal of Bistec a Caballo (sauteed rib eye steak with two eggs on top, potato and yuca simmered in delicious onion & tomato criolla sauce served with sweet plantain and rice). Please, if you go to Chicago, make sure you go to Las Tablas. I'll be so sad for you if you missed out on such glorious food!

About 9.30pm, we went to watch another festival movie with Laura and her friend Mary. This movie was titled The Age of Innocence (same director as Barbarian Invations). It was a French movie with a satirical swipe at the monotony of modern life. A middle-aged government cog with a sexless marriage and a pair of clueless teenage daughters escapes his humdrum existence through elaborate fantasies about being a triumphant and irresistible artist. Hmm...

Tuesday, 16th October 2007: I didn’t think M&Ms comes in peanut butter flavour! Sonja (my German friend in Wellington) had asked me to buy her some and I thought she was kidding. M&Ms REALLY do come in peanut butter flavour!! And they are very, very yummy :P But I think this is unique to America since I’ve never seen it sold elsewhere. In fact, America seems to be the only place I’ve been so far that has peanut butter in lots of stuff. Apparently, peanut butter is one of America's favorite foods. Found in about 75% of American homes, peanut butter is considered by many to be a staple like bread and milk. A-ha...

Didn’t do much today but stayed home to update my blog. Watched another DVD (yes, I do sound like a movie buff nowadays) tonight – Pulp Fiction. I’ve been meaning to see this old film of Quentin Tarantino just to see the extent of his gruesomeness (I’ve seen Kill Bill and I thought it was pretty gruesome and twisted – not my type of movie). Pulp Fiction’s not so extreme though.

Wednesday, 17th October 2007: Stayed home again to update my blog and had coffee with Dilsia and Maria in the afternoon on 57th Street. Oh, I’ll miss the girls and us hanging out…

Antonio, Paco, Maria and I went out for dinner and salsa dancing tonight. We went to a Spanish tapas bar Cafe Iberico and tried lots of interesting food. Had Canelon de Atun (tuna cannelloni served with a creamy white wine sauce), Champinones a la Plancha (grilled mushrooms with garlic and olive oil), Croquetas de Pollo (chicken and ham puffs served with ali-oli sauce), Gambas as Ajillo (grilled shrimp with olive oil, garlic and wine), Patatas Bravas (spicy potatoes with special tomato sauce) and Calamares a la Plancha (grilled squid with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice) with a pitcher of Red Sangria for the 4 of us. Delicioso (delicious)!! Photo at the restaurant:

This is the first time that Paco and Maria went out dancing salsa socially and Antonio took us all to Buzz Nightclub to shake all the food we ate off. Oh, I danced a lot! One fantastic thing about dancing here in the States is that the men will 'fight' to dance with a women (contrary to Wellington were the women outnumber the men). All you had to do was stand at the edge of the dancefloor and within seconds, someone will ask you for a dance. Downside is if you only want a dance or two, you need to tell your dance partner; otherwise, you practically will not leave the dancefloor. I had a continuous stream of men dancing with me one song after another - phew! As Maria always says, "Too much!".

Thursday, 18th October 2007: The weather seems to have gotten colder and drizzling these days. Stayed home and watch a DVD of a Brazilian movie titled City of God. Quite an interesting movie depicting life in the favelas (a favela is the Brazilian equivalent of a shanty town). I’m kind of happy that I could understand some words spoken though my Portuguese language is no where near conversational level (I had taken some introductory lessons in Portuguese previously).

Gabi had been talking and raving about this hot dog place in Hyde Park and Antonio decided we all check it out tonight. I went with the boys to Nathan’s for hot dogs – I guess all that talk from Gabi really made me think it was going to be something really special but it’s just a Chicago-style hot dog (nothing too big a deal). But it’s always fun to see Gabi because he’s really funny. I’ve never seen him in a suit and tie before (he had a job interview today) and can see that he doesn’t feel comfortable in one either. Hehe…Gabi’s more of the non-serious, casual jeans and shirt kind of guy; the suit make him look older than his age. He’s got a few more interviews lined up in the coming weeks – good luck!

Friday, 19th October 2007: Spent the afternoon at Maria’s place for girlie chit-chat, coffee and flan-making with Dilsia. I’ll need to try the recipe when I have a place of my own. It looks really easy to make (and also very nice to eat hehe…). Photos at Maria's:

With our cooking instructor, Dilsia holding the flan

We're going to eat this...

Hmm...it's so nice...want some?

Antonio and I went to a Mexican restaurant named Cesar’s at Lincoln Park for dinner and met up with friends in Happy Village later. Happy Village was quite busy tonight with people drinking and playing table tennis at the same time.

Saturday, 20th October 2007: Woke up late today and had brunch with Antonio in Medici on 57th Street before heading to his office. Antonio had to do some assignment marking and I just hung out at the office. Paco’s office was a few doors away – couldn’t resist knocking on the door to say hi :P Guess who I found there? Maria!

I believe I mentioned before that most Chicagoans own a bicycle. Antonio bought one recently and suggested that we rode to Navy Pier this afternoon, him on bike and me via the bus. Maria came up with an even better idea – why not take her bicycle? Are you sure, my dear?? Because I’m not! I’ve not ridden a bike for like 12 years and I’m not sure if I could still do so. “You’ll be fine!” said Maria but I’m not so sure…

After 20 minutes of bike lesson from Maria, I think I’ve managed to balance myself on the bike and not swerve into a wall or rubbish bin. It’s slowly coming back to me, I can feel it!

The cycle to Navy Pier was nice – not too hilly and gorgeous views cycling by the lake. It was a sunny day with a bit of breeze and it took about 45 minutes to cycle one-way from Hyde Park to Navy Pier. We made a stop at Navy Pier for ice-cream and a short break before heading back. It was very busy here today, far busier than when I came on Monday. Obviously – it was the weekend! Photo on Maria's bike (and wearing Antonio's bike helmet as I'm more prone to crashing):

At night, Antonio and I went to catch up with Paco and Maria at the university. There was a salsa introductory class and party on. Paco makes me smile and laugh when he dances with Maria – his exaggerates his moves to tease Maria. :) Sheila and Felipe were teaching so we stayed on for the party and danced. Tonight would probably be my last salsa dance in Chicago as I’m leaving on Monday. Sob, sob! We spent the rest of the night downstairs at The Pub for dinner, drinks and chit-chat. Photos of us salsa dancing: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603824988997/detail/

Sunday, 21st October 2007: Started to pack up for flight back to NZ tomorrow. Feeling sad that my holidays are officially coming to an end...

I went to play soccer with the rest of the gang at 3pm at our usual place in Lincoln Park – was nice, sunny day. It was sad to say goodbye to my friends at the end of the game. It has been a great pleasure getting to know you all - please keep in touch! Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603821541684/detail/

The one thing I love about autumn here is the colour of the leaves – shades of red to yellow with some green ones left on the trees. Grassy areas are covered with fallen leaves, making the surrounding peaceful and romantic. Makes me want to put on my coat, scarf and beanie, and cuddle with someone as I walk under the canopy of trees. Hmm…

Dinner tonight was at a Cuban restaurant Café Bolero. Didn't do much the rest of the night except to finish up with my packing and watched a strange Italian movie titled Caro Diario.

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Back in Chicago (8th – 14th October 2007)

Monday, 8th October 2007: Got up at 5am to get ready to go. Merce is just one of a kind – she got up early too to make breakfast for me and sent me to airport. Merce, thank you so much for being such a wonderful host during my stay with you! Both you and Jorge made me felt so welcomed. I will definitely miss you both and please keep in touch. You are always welcomed to my home when you guys come visit, anytime!

Photo of a not-very-nice Chicago day taken from the plane:

Arrived in Chicago at 8.15am. There was a baggage delay and poor Antonio was waiting for me in the car outside till around 9am. He looked so sleepy even after gulping down a mega-sized takeaway coffee. Ops, sorry but thank you for picking me up :) I’m very fortunate to have nice friends like Antonio and Merce!

Was thinking of sleeping but my brain seemed to be fuel with caffeine – tired but want to be on-the-go.

Antonio and I went out to Las Tablas for dinner – it was a Colombian steak house that served the best meat I've had in Chicago to date. We had a couple of empanadas (stuffed pastries with filling of beef, chicken, spinach or cheese inside) for starters. I had a Sangria (fruit punch wine) - hmm, very nice! Antonio and I shared an main meal (hehe, lesson learnt from previous dinners), the Bandeja Paisa (traditional Colombian mountain platter of char-broiled Colombian-style cut rib eye served with fried pork rind, rice, beans, fried egg, corn bread, sweet plantain, and avocado). I love the food – it was so good! Definitely recommended :)

We took a walked around Lincoln Park area – nice quaint shops, lots of variety of food places and people. This is the area where Luca has recently moved to.

We went to see a Spanish movie called Pudor at Landmark's Century Center Cinema. It was one of the many movies screened for the 43 Chicago International Film Festival held from October 4th-17th. The movie was about the most dysfuntional family you can think of (Dad’s dying, Mom’s having an affair, their teenage daughter hates herself and their young son sees ghosts). Interesting movie though had a rather sad ending.

Tuesday, 9th October 2007: Spent the afternoon with Maria shopping for Paco’s birthday present and had lunch at Potbelly Sandwich Works (it has similarities like Subway where you build your own sandwich). It was a nice day and I enjoy hanging out with Maria. Photo of us in the city:

Oh, did I mention to you that Maria is super creative? She made those earrings she wore in the photo. Hey Maria, you should set up a little shop to sell your jewelry pieces! Anyone interested to see Maria's collection, just click on the link to her blog "Maria Pozo".

Laura had invited some friends to a Brazilian party at Ñ bar. I’m not sure if the others enjoyed it because it wasn’t really a party but a live Brazilian band playing wonderful bossa novas. I thoroughly enjoyed myself and would love if there was a band like this that plays at Latinos bar in Wellington (so far there’s only Batucada which plays samba carnival music in Wellington and several salsa bands in town). I wouldn’t mind listening to a band like this every week! And I need to learn how to samba – it was nice to watch a couple dancing slowly together to the beautiful songs and I was unable to fully participate (sob, sob!).

Wednesday, 10th October 2007: Went over to Maria’s at 1.30pm to help her with party plans for Paco’s birthday tomorrow night. I was introduced to her classmate Dilsia from Republic Dominican. Dilsia, like Maria, came to Chicago because their husbands work/study at the university. It was a nice afternoon for ladies to have coffee and chat – I can see the 3 of us hanging out a lot more. We just click!

Tonight was takeaway dinner from Caffe Florian again - it's becoming a regular place to grab dinner these days. Tried the lemon pepper catfish tonight – yum! Didn’t go out tonight and stayed to watch a DVD.

Thursday, 11th October 2007: Stayed at home in the morning and tagged along to IKEA with Antonio later that day. We somehow got lost trying to get to the other IKEA (there are 2 located in Chicago) when we stopped at the gas station on the way there. After probably half an hour going around in circles, we managed to get back on track.

Antonio bought a few more items for his apartment (now he’s got a bookshelf so his stuff won’t have to cover the floor). A quick coffee and shower later, we headed to Maria’s place for Paco’s birthday party. It was a small party of 12. Maria made tortilla de patatas (Spanish potato omelette) and Dilsia made her signature flan (a cream based dessert). Maria also made some gazpacho (a cold Spanish soup) for us to try. Yum - need to ‘steal’ the recipes off the two cooks! Photos at the party: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603822393495/detail/

Friday, 12th October 2007: Stayed home to update my blog and fixed up some IKEA furniture for Antonio. Also watched a movie online titled The Tiger and The Snow. If you enjoyed Life is Beautiful, you will love this movie - similar actors and storyline.

At night, Antonio and I went to visit Jonathan and borrowed his electric drill to finish up the rest of the furniture at home before heading to this Mexican place for dinner. I decided to be brave tonight and tried 2 new dishes - lengua taco (which is tongue taco) and milanesa (breaded meat fillet). Hmm...the lengua didn't taste as bad as I thought but one bite is enough for me...We ended the night watching another online movie with wine and cheese at home.

Saturday, 13th October 2007: Antonio and I went out in the afternoon to shop for a birthday present for his friend Hellen (also an Uruguayan). Hellen threw a small birthday party at her place in Irving Park and she made lots of food for the guests – sangria, caviar, dulce de leche (milk candy) etc. A nice night socialising with new people (and promoting NZ to them!).

Sunday, 14th October 2007: Stayed home to apply for more jobs and I have to admit, it is starting to stress me out. Am I not getting shortlisted because I'm out of the country??

Football was cancelled today due to bad weather. Antonio and I had a quick dinner at Aladdin Eatery before heading back to Century Center Cinema for another festival movie. The one we watched tonight was an Italian movie titled One Hundred Nails. Strange movie about a modern day Jesus Christ-like person...

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

New York, New York! (3rd – 7th October 2007)

Wednesday, 3rd October 2007: Was up at 6am to check out and walked to the bus stop to catch my ride to New York. I bought my ticket with Apexbus which was located in what looked like a dodgy Chinese/Asian neighbourhood basement shop. Should I have flown to NY instead?? I wonder…Photos this morning taken before rush hour in DC:

The bus left around 8am non-stop to NY. It was actually comfortable, more so than the buses I took in Perth and Malaysia. I guess having the footrest nearer helps. Would give you the green light if you plan to travel by bus to NY with this company. Another photo taken during my ride somewhere between DC and NY:

4.5 hours later, I arrived in Chinatown, New York. Antonio had previously given me contact details of one of his close friends from university, Mercedes, who lives in NY, and I’ve been in touch with her last week (she’ll be my host during my stay at her apartment). I'm excited to meet her in person – she sounded lovely in her emails and on the phone :) She even had her fiancé, Jorge, come pick me up in Chinatown! And he’s a real gentleman, I must say. You don’t get many guys who walk over to the passenger side and open the door for you these days...hehe...Jorge was so nice and shouted me lunch at Metro Diner (a typical American diner that serves pancakes, waffles, burgers and unlimited amounts of coffee like those you see in movies - I had pancakes and boy was I so full as the serving was massive!!) nearby Merce’s place (Merce is short for Mercedes) before dropping me off at Merce’s place and gave me his keys so I could go out if I wished to. Aw, thanks guys - I already feel very at home and welcomed :)

New York City is the most populous city in the United States, with its metropolitan area ranking among the largest urban areas in the world. For more than a century, it has been one of the world's major centres of commerce and finance. It is also known for its global influences in media, politics, education, entertainment, fashion and arts. This is the city which I'll be spending the rest of the week in - I have only ever dreamed of coming here and I can't believe I am ACTUALLY here!

Merce lives in a lovely basement apartment in Harlem. Harlem is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Manhattan, long known as a major African-American cultural and business centre but also crime and poverty though it is going through a social and economic renaissance. First impressions made me think Harlem is poor, messy, dirty and unsafe – there were people just hanging out or sleeping on the streets! But the brownstone (brown Triassic sandstone which was once a popular building material) buildings here is beautiful and makes Harlem very unique in architecture. And I feel pretty unique being in the neighbourhood too because I stand out in the crowd!

Dropped off my bags and had a quick freshen up before leaving home at 2.30pm and headed to the New York Visitor Centre in Times Square via the subway. Wow, and I thought it was confusing enough figuring out the subway lines in DC – the one in NY was even more confusing with the different numbers and colours for the different routes. Headache!

Times Square is a major intersection in Manhattan at the junction of Broadway and Seventh Avenue and stretching from West 42nd to West 47th Streets. Times Square has achieved the status of an iconic world landmark and has become a symbol of its city, principally defined by its animated, digital advertisements.

OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! Did I just land myself in a busy Asian city like Tokyo or something???! There were SO MANY PEOPLE in Times Square!!! I was bumped and ushered among the crowd as I walked along the streets and looking up at all the huge billboards – full of colour, lights and sound. And tourists everywhere! So this is what Times Square is all about...WOW.

Went to the visitor information centre on 810 Seventh Avenue, between 52nd & 53rd Streets and took lots of brochures. Lots of homework to do when I get home tonight to plan my itinerary for the next few days. Oh, by the way, here in New York, to get to a certain location, you need to mention if it's Uptown or Downtown and what cross streets it is on.

I need to pee…why aren’t there any public toilets around here?? Thought I could find one in M&M's World. Not one to be seen in the shop but it was a cool shop - heaven for chocolate lovers :P Photos taken this afternoon: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603868908129/detail/

Ah, finally found a toilet at the Times Square Information Center. Phew, what a relief! Now I can concentrate on looking for something to do around Times Square. Hmm, I remember seeing Madame Tussauds on one of the streets I passed earlier. Where was it....

Walked around Times Square in search of the wax museum and saw Ripley's Believe It or Not located next door so decided to visit it first. It is a franchise which deals in bizarre events and items so strange and unusual that readers might question the claims. Costed me USD22.70 to marvel at the hundreds of weird and unusual artifacts displayed in over 20 galleries spanning 2 floors. It would be heaps of fun for the whole family - you've got to check it out when you visit NY! Photos at Ripley's: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603868974171/detail/

Hopped along next door to Madame Tussauds New York. This is a must-see if you happen to visit a country that has a Madame Tussauds wax museum. Imagine standing side-by-side with A-list celebrities, world leaders, politicians and icons (though sorry to say, not all the wax figures resemble the actual famous people - some just look 'fake'). Costed me about USD23 for this visit. Photos at Madame Tussauds: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603869841703/detail/

Headed back to Harlem at 6.30pm. Okay, I think this is a really bad time to catch the subway because it was packed like sardines in a can. And just because I didn’t want to push in (hey, I’m very nice, you know) meant that I had to wait for the next train. Sheesh!

Finally met Merce in person and she’s lovelier than what I imagined she would be (like a big sister). We stayed home for pasta dinner that she cooked for us and chatted lots. Good food and company, what else could I ask for? :) I do feel bad that I’m invading in her life for the week – sleeping on her couch and poor Jorge can’t visit her as he pleases since I’ve got his set of keys. Sorry!

Thursday, 4th October 2007: I left home at 9.15am to Times Square Information Center to buy a New York Pass. Spent a few hours last night going through the brochures looking at places of interest in NY and worked out that it would save me money if I had the pass rather than pay as I go. The pass allows admission to over 40 of NY's top attractions and museums for a low price. I bought the 3-day pass for USD120 and worked out that if I went to at least 3 of the 40-something places listed in the book, that’s enough to cover the cost of my 3-day pass. Oh yeah, entrance fees are not cheap around here...

I think it’s the city hectic lifestyle here that makes New Yorkers somewhat edgy. The lady at the information centre counter spoke to me as if I didn’t understand English, repeating the same sentence louder each time I ask for further clarification. And she still didn’t answer my question in the end – I give up!

Headed towards the Rockefeller Center next to check out the Top of the Rock on 30 Rockefeller Center. The Rockefeller Center is a complex of 19 commercial buildings located in the centre of Midtown Manhattan. The centrepiece of Rockefeller Center is the 70-floor, 266 metre GE Building (also known as "30 Rock") where their newly renovated observation deck (Top of the Rock) is located. Costed me USD16.80 to visit the place (unfortunately not covered in my pass). The panels of fully transparent safety glass allows completely unobstructed, open-air views of the entire city from 70 stories, including Central Park, the Chrysler Building, the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty. Woah...feeling a bit giddy standing near the safety glass and looking down...On the 70th floor, reached by both stairs and elevator, there is a 20-foot wide viewing area, allowing visitors a unique 360-degree panoramic view of New York City. It was a little foggy today at the top. Photos taken this morning: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603869023678/detail/

Hmm, what else could I do around here? Was casually walking by and found Radio City Music Hall. Decided to go for the Radio City Stage Door Tour at 12 o'clock - that leaves me a gap hour to walk around this side of Manhattan. Cool! Popped my head into St Patrick's Cathedral on 5th Avenue just opposite the Rockefeller Center, the largest decorated Neo-Gothic-style Catholic cathedral in North America. It was kind of odd to have a cathedral in the middle of an urban area where everyone seems to be a walking fashion statement. I suddenly felt rather under dressed for New York!

At 12pm, I headed back for the Radio City Stage Door Tour, an interesting one-hour walking excursion behind the scenes of Radio City Music Hall, located in the heart of Rockefeller Center. The hall has a beautiful art-deco interior and masterfully restored to the original 1932 grandeur. This is also where lavish theatrical productions, concerts and award shows are performed, including performances by the world-famous Rockettes, the most celebrated women's precision dance company. Photos taken at Radio City Music Hall: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603875037757/detail/

I'm so tired from all the walking! Stopped by some food place in town and had sushi for lunch then continued walking to the Empire State Building. You know, NY is very fast-paced (yep, I could actually feel it even as a tourist) and people seemed to always be in a hurry. They are edgy and sorry to say, rude even, and in effect makes me behave like them too - sheesh!

After a long series of security checks some 30 minutes later, I finally got into the Empire State Building. The Empire State Building is a 102-storey art deco skyscraper in New York City and stood as the world's tallest building for more than forty years until the completed construction of the World Trade Center's North Tower in 1972. Following the destruction of the World Trade Center in 2001, the Empire State Building became for the second time, the tallest building in New York City. After the 9/11 incident, most places of visit I've been in the US required stringent checks before you can enter. A real pain in the butt but I guess safety comes first.

I started off with the NY skyride at the Empire State Building on the 2nd floor. It is New York’s only aerial virtual tour simulator filled with adventure of movie, motion and sights. To be honest, unless you have time and money to spare, don't bother. I was fortunate that it was included in my pass but wouldn't suggest it. Yeah, it was fun for a bit getting tossed around in your seat but still not worth the money (not interesting or exciting to me).

After the skyride, I did a quick trip up to the Empire State Building Observatory located on the 86th floor. It is 320 metres high and you get a panaromic view of New York City from the observation deck. Too many people to squeeze past to get some photos or use the viewing telescope. It was still quite foggy though. Could have paid extra to go up to the 102nd floor but couldn't be bothered with the long queues.

Gee, I don't get the construction of toilet cubicles in the States - they are cramp and small and to make matters worse, the doors open inwards i.e. into the cubicle. How very annoying...

Opsie, late for my meeting with Erik! Erik and I had agreed to meet up in NY to visit the Museum of Sex (Mosex) after we missed each other at the Washington National Cathedral. The poor guy had been waiting for me for 10 minutes - sorry, got stuck at the Empire State Building!

I have to say, the museum wasn't what I had expected it to be - I had thought there would be exhibits that one could touch and hold (maybe even try - ha!) but mostly only for one to see. You would have to have quite an open mind to explore the world of kink, fetish and fantasy - there are people out there who use whips, balloons, masks, saddles etc to 'spice up' their sex lives! And for those who don't have a partner but still want to the sexual experience at the convenience of your own home, consider getting yourself tools like a life-sized doll made to your liking and feels almost like the real thing (I had touched the 'fake' vagina on display, ok?). Personally, I would like to get a copy of that DVD they had playing in the museum. It was about 45 minutes of unadulterated and uncensored instructional sex video clips of normal day couples having sex in all sorts of positions and ways of penetration. OH MY GOD. That's some serious education you don't get anywhere, ever! You had better go with your partner so you can try the stuff out after your museum visit...hehe...Photos from the rest of the afternoon: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603875303903/detail/

It was fun visiting the museum with Erik and discussing the exhibits openly. Haha, I wouldn't suggest to anyone to use this place for a first date - a bit too bold a move. We said our goodbyes here, agreeing to keep in touch. It was a pleasure to meet you, Erik, and I look forward to visit you in Paris or you visiting me in NZ in the near future!

Headed home around 5.30pm and had McDonald’s for dinner – oh, why do I always do this? Urge to eat it but always feel yuck after I had it. Urgh...The rest of the night was spent planning my itinerary for tomorrow and swapping stories with Merce about our day.

Friday, 5th October 2007: Woke up around 7.30am today to get ready for my day out. Merce was up as well and made us Colombian scrambled eggs on toast – yum! She's so nice :)

Left at 8.30am and took the subway from East Harlem towards Battery Park where the ferry leaves for Liberty Island (that's where the Statue of Liberty is). East Harlem is known for its large Latino community home to Spanish Harlem, also known as El Barrio, a neighbourhood in this area. My walk to the subway was an eye-opener - there were people hanging out and homeless people sleeping on the streets. Dirty and not appealing. I wouldn't recommend you using this subway at night. My suspicions is that it is quite a rough neighbourhood given many NYPD roaming the streets during the day...

Battery Park is a public park located at the Battery, the southern tip of the Manhattan. Along the waterfront, ferries depart for the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. I was walking towards the waterfront and taking photos in the park when I was stopped by a busker donned up like the Statue of Liberty - he gestured me to come close for a photo (the 'statue' did not speak, just mimed). Ah, the trickster! After the photo was taken, he whispered in my ear that I now owed him 5 bucks!! Ok, you can say it was my own fault if there was a notice stating the price or something but there was NOTHING written ANYWHERE! Sheesh!! I couldn't believe this is how one does business...felt somewhat cheated...

Went to Castle Clinton to collect a Statue of Liberty National Monument Pass (it's free but limited numbers daily) but there were no more passes for the day (and it's not even 10am yet). Oh well, since I'm already here, might as well take a ride to the island and back. It was another foggy day today with some drizzle but thankfully is was a smooth ferry ride. Did I mention to you that I had to go through a security check before getting on the ferry? Oh yeah, another long queue of visitors ushered through the checkpoints...

The first stop was at Liberty Island, a small uninhabited island best known as the location of the Statue of Liberty. The statue is of a robed female figure wearing a crown with seven spiked rays representing a nimbus (halo), who is holding a stone tablet close to her body in her left hand and a flaming torch high in her right hand. Statue of Liberty is one of the most recognizable icons of the United States, and more generally, represents liberty and escape from oppression.

As visitors were disembarking the ferry, I had a chat with one of the ferry crew to find out if it was worth me getting off the ferry since I have no pass into the Statue of Liberty. "How big is your party?" he asked me. Party?? I guessed he meant people in my group. Told him it was just me and he said to wait for him (he went somewhere). About a minute later, he turned up with a pass for me!! Oh, thank you! Now I can go inside the statue - yay!

What the??! Another long queue to get inside with more security checks, this time including a bomb check. I had to stand in a machine that was like a huge air-blowing cubicle (apparently that was a bomb detector). Exciting...No backpacks, food or liquids permitted in the monument. After 45 minutes standing in line, I FINALLY was inside. Took the elevator to the 10th floor pedestal and climb 24 steps to reach the observation deck, which was just the bottom part of the statue i.e. under the skirt. Hmm...nothing impressive, really. Just spent about 10 minutes there and left to catch the connecting ferry to Ellis Island.

Ellis Island was at one time the main entry facility for immigrants entering the United States. There is a museum on this island that you can visit which I didn't - I just stayed on the ferry and returned to Battery Park (I think the ferry arrives every 10-15 minutes at each stop). Photos taken this morning: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603883139943/detail/

About 12.45pm, I arrived back at the waterfront and made my way to Wall Street. Ah, the sky is clearing up - fabulous! Wall Street is a thoroughfare in lower Manhattan island that runs east from Broadway downhill to South Street on the East River, through the historical centre of the Financial District. I took a walk around the street where the famous New York Stock Exchange (the largest stock exchange in the world) is located and back up before heading to the World Trade Center site.
Wow...there was just NOTHING in the World Trade Center site but rubbles and lots of construction going on. I can imagine the devastation of New Yorkers on September 11th, 2001 and how much damage had been done. Felt a pang of sadness just standing there looking at the empty site. In need of a hug right now...

Next on my list of places to go to today was the Brooklyn Bridge. It is one of the oldest suspension bridges in the United States and stretches 5,989 feet over the East River connecting the New York City boroughs of Manhattan and Brooklyn. The bridge has a wide pedestrian walkway open to walkers and cyclists in the centre of the bridge and higher than the automobile lanes. I only walked half of it (my legs were sore from all the walking earlier today - should have gotten myself a bike!). Photos taken from Wall Street to Brooklyn Bridge: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603883243465/detail/

I've a feeling that my day of walking has not yet come to an end...Took the subway and went to Chinatown – always very busy and lots of people. Chinatown has the largest Chinese community in the Western hemisphere with smaller clusters of Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian and Hispanic residents living in this neighbourhood. Along these narrow, crooked streets are fish markets, shops selling everything from jade carvings to birds’ nests and hundreds of eateries.

I continued walking on and found Little Italy, a neighbourhood in Manhattan once known for its large population of Italians. This is the part of town you want to be when you crave a good cappuccino - it is crowded with al fresco restaurants and cafes. A bit further west lies SoHo, where galleries show the works of avant-garde artists, chic boutiques sell cutting-edge fashions and busy streets flaunting open-air cafes, buzzing bistros, bars and an aura of hipness. The name is a blend of "South" and "Houston", from "south of Houston Street", and has no relation to the district called Soho in London, England. I could feel and see the obvious change in neighbourhoods as I walked past these 3 places. Very interesting!

Around 4pm, I went near Astor Place to get a ticket to the show "STOMP" for Sunday. Walked down St Mark's Place looking for a subway station to get to Grand Central but instead found a street that hosts alternative retailers (think tattooist, piercings, punk clothing). This street also has several authentic Japanese restaurants.

Grand Central Terminal it is the largest train station in the world by number of platforms - 44 with 67 tracks along them. They are on two levels, both below ground, with 41 tracks on the upper level and 26 on the lower. Being there was like a flashback of my first day at Times Square - too many people! Oh, but it was very cool to be in this famous movie location and just take in the sound and sight of this busy place :)

Started to head back home around 5.30pm to meet up with Jorge and Merce for dinner. Merce shouted us to dinner at a Carribean restaurant nearby her place called Native. Hmm, the food there was yum! Tagged along with Jorge and Merce to do some grocery shopping (Jorge's making pancakes for breakfast tomorrow) and stopped by Settepani Bakery on the way back for coffee and dessert. Ooo, if you come to Harlem, do drop by this shop. They make lovely tiramisu and chocolate cakes to die for and the staff are very friendly too! Thanks Merce for the wonderful treat! Photos taken the rest of the afternoon: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603889513021/detail/

The 3 of us decided to check out this salsa place called Columbus 72 later at night. Photos of us before we went out:

There was a band playing salsa music when we arrived. Interestingly, this place seems to cater for the older crowd i.e. not many young 20-somethings around. I had fun dancing salsa, meringue and bachata with the older men who treated me like a lady :P Even had a dance with Jorge too (though I've a bad habit of trying to lead him - Jorge doesn't know much salsa yet). Hehe...Oh, and I danced meringue with this Chinese man who would dip me as we grooved and that caught a lot of stares and a small audience around us! He gave me his business card asking me to keep in touch so he can come visit me in NZ. Right...that was random...

Saturday, 6th October 2007: Thought I should show you my lovely bed:

Don't be put off by it - that's one very comfortable couch to sleep on!

Jorge and Merce convinced me to join them for breakfast before heading out (eee, me playing gooseberry...). Jorge made us all pancakes this morning - yum, I love pancakes on a weekend! Hey Merce, can I clone myself another Jorge? Or perhaps tell me where I could pick up another man like him? He's so sweet, kind-hearted and a total romantic :) They make such a lovely pair - I'm so glad they found each other!

Left home around 9.15am and headed to Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, the largest cathedral in the world. It is the seat of the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of New York. I did a free self-tour of the cathedral and it was huge (and I only did part of it as some renovations were going on)! The Statue of Liberty would fit comfortably under its central dome!! Photos taken at the cathedral: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603890023135/detail/

Next was a brief stop at Columbus Circle, a major landmark and point of attraction in Manhattan to take some photos and then was off to The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). The museum is a preeminent art museum located in Midtown Manhattan on 53rd Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. It has been singularly important in developing and collecting modernist art, and is often identified as the most influential museum of modern art in the world. It normally cost USD20 to visit the place but I got in with my NY pass at no additional cost. Spent about 45 minutes walking inside the museum and taking photos of a few art pieces of interest (I still find it odd that you are allowed to take photographs in museums here in the States). I don't understand much of contemporary art but I do like Pablo Picasso's work :)

Immersing myself in more modern art, I went in search of Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, another modern art museum located on the Upper East Side in New York city. Ah-ha, finally a museum that DOES NOT allow me to take photos! It has a rotunda gallery that spirals up 6 floors. Paintings are displayed along the walls of the spiral and also in viewing rooms found at stages along the way. I think it would be quite fun if one could rollerblade down the rotunda from the 6th floor (don't thinkthe museum security guards would be too happy about that).

Around 2pm, I walked from the museum across the street into Central Park. Central Park is a large public, urban park in Manhattan and is the most visited city park in the United States where many movies and television shows are filmed. There were lots of people running around the reservoir as I walked on the grounds of the huge park. Whoever decided to create/build this park is a genius - this is the only place I've been in New York so far that I felt peace and tranquility, as if everything has slowed down and people are more relaxed. I believe this is where New Yorkers come to chill out, having picnics or sporting/family events, some even having a tan in swimming trunks and bikinis at the Great Lawn! Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603890125839/detail/

The last museum to visit on my list was The Metropolitan Museum of Arts (aka 'The Met'), one of the world's largest and most important art museums. The main building is located on the eastern edge of Central Park along what is known as Museum Mile (the Guggenheim was also on this street). The Met's permanent collection contains more than two million works of art, divided into nineteen curatorial departments including The American Wing, Arms and Armor, Arts of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, Egyptian Art, European Decorative Arts, European Scuplture, Greek and Roman Art, Medieval Art, Modern and Contemporary Art, Roof Garden, Ancient Near Eastern Art, Cypriot Art, European Paintings, Musical Instruments, South and Southeast Asian Art.

I didn't quite understand the admission fee - I was told that the recommended payment for adults is USD20. Does that mean I can opt to not pay??? By the way, admission to the Met is not included in the NY Pass.

The museum was very huge with lots of visitors. You would be able to spend a full day in the museum (and you would be lucky if you manage to go to all the curatorial departments within your day). I had to be selective and picked a few departments of interest - by now, you should realise that I like Greek, Roman and Eyptian art...hehe...After 1 hour dragging my feet around the first floor and taking photos, I had to take a break from all the walking. Stopped for a coffee and corn muffin at Balcony Cafe and continued on to the 2nd floor. Photos taken at The Met: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603892902160/detail/

I left The Met at 5pm and hurried to catch a tram ride to Roosevelt Island at the tram station on 59th Street and 2nd Avenue. The Roosevelt Island Tramway is an aerial tramway in New York City that spans the East River and connects Roosevelt Island to Manhattan. Each cabin has a capacity of up to 125 people and makes approximately 115 trips per day. It was a 4-minute trip at 16kmph, rising to 250 feet above the East River. Quite interesting to be in the tram even though it was packed and very hot inside. Photos taken on my tram ride: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603892923148/detail/

You can take a bus ride around Roosevelt Island if you wish but I had to take off early as I had planned to return to Times Square to check it out during the night. Around 6.15pm, I took the subway to Times Square. Boy was it busier than during the day! And looks different too with the colourful and bright billboards illuminating into the sky. Photos taken tonight: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603892962596/detail/

You know those yellow New York cabs? My god are they insane drivers! I saw a lady put up her hand signalling for a cab and the cab swerved made a U-turn and zipped 3 lanes across on a very busy street!!
Was searching around for an internet cafe (hmm, I don't recall seeing any during my travels in US). Went to Times Square Information Center to find out if there was one located nearby and I was told to find Kinko's (they had some PC with internet access but the queue was too long).

Found a Kinko's sign outside a Fedex shop and I went in to ask if I was at the right place. Apparently Fedex in the States provide not only courier and copying services but internet services too (of course, you'll have to pay for it).

Started heading back to Merce's place by 8pm and just chilled out in the lounge with Jorge and Merce, watching TV and chatting over a cup of tea.

Some interesting facts about New York city you might like to know:
1) Fifth Avenue divides Manhattan into the east side and west side
2) When getting directions, always ask for the cross streets i.e. 810 Seventh Avenue between 52nd and 53rd streets
3) In Manhattan, if you walk 20 blocks north or south, you have walked 1 mile
4) If the number on top of the taxicab is lit, it means the cab is available
5) It is customary to tip 15-20% to waitstaff, bartenders and taxi drivers
6) MetroCards work on both buses and subways, and transfers between the two are free

Sunday, 7th October 2007: Stayed in today to help Merce and Jorge prepare brunch. They were having some friends over this afternoon and made huevos rancheros (translates to "eggs ranch-style", a salsa stew with poached eggs) eaten as it is or with tortilla or bread. Yummy!! I bought them a tiramisu cheesecake from Settepani Bakery on my way back from getting some last minute shopping for them at the nearby grocery store.

Wow, that was a lot of food guys! Met some of Merce's work colleagues who were also South Americans (from Spain and Uruguay). Lovely people :) I wished I could stay longer to chat but had to leave before 2pm for the 'STOMP' show at the Orpheum Theatre on 2nd Ave and 8th St.

The subway didn't stop at Astor Place as it should!!!! I had to run 7 blocks in 10 mins to the theatre and got there just in time for the show. I was huffing and puffing by the time I got to the entrance. Crazy!
The show costed me USD35 and was well worth the money (and my run). STOMP is a unique combination of percussion, movement and visual comedy. Explosive, provocative, sophisticated, sexy, utterly unique and appeals to audiences of all ages. They are an international sensation and I've seen their show on TV several times and leaves me at awe with their musical creativity. The eight-member troupe uses everything but conventional percussion instruments – matchboxes, wooden poles, brooms, garbage cans, Zippo lighters, plastic water containers, plungers, sinks – to fill the stage with magnificent rhythms. Very funny and entertaining. The audience was also included in a few of the rhythms! Go get yourself a ticket to the show - you MUST see what all the noise is about!

2 hours later, I walked back to St Mark's Place, this time stopping to check out Waga African & Ethnic Gift Shop. Bought myself a pair of bronze earrings from the lovely shopkeeper who asked me many questions about life in NZ. He told me that he has never met anyone from NZ before!

I seem to be back tracking a lot today...I returned to Central Park, this time starting from the south side at The Pond. Hmm, too many couples here...probably this area is the 'romantic' side :P I won't be able to cover the whole of Central Park on this visit in NY - have to come back to finish up the other sections! I would have taken a carriage horse ride around the park but had promised to take Jorge and Merce out for dinner tonight as this was my last night in NY. Photos taken today: http://www.flickr.com/photos/8070917@N05/sets/72157603892993038/detail/

The two were still feeling full from brunch by the time I met up with them at home so we decided to skip dinner and went to Union Square for drinks and nibbles instead. Union Square is a popular meeting place, given its central location in Manhattan and its many subway lines. There are many bars and restaurants on the periphery of the square, and the surrounding streets have some of the city's most renowned and expensive restaurants.

We ended up at Coffee Shop New York where I shouted Jorge and Merce drinks and nibbles. Oh, I'm feeling tearful because I'm leaving my wonderful friends tomorrow!

There are lots more you can do and visit in New York. 5 days is too rushed and definitely not enough! I will have to make another trip back here in the near future :)