coasting it on the west – los angeles+

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I travel a lot. One might even say, excessively. Part of that motivation to travel comes because Singapore is such a small island that after living there for nearly 20 years, you realize that there’s probably more to your world. The US is different though. The sheer landmass of the country opens up so much variety within their borders that many need not even leave the country to experience sun and snow in the same week. In that spirit, for Spring Break this year, to escape the cold of Chicago, a bunch of my closest friends and I packed our bags, rented a car and explored the famous West Coast.

Los Angeles

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This adventure starts in Los Angeles, the home of Hollywood and where American culture is thought to originate.  Los Angeles itself is a large city though, divided into distinctive neighborhoods, and surrounded by other interesting localities such as Santa Monica and Beverly Hills. Our AirBnB was in Hollywood itself, and we could immediately see how much of an effect that had on the community. Hollywood culture was everywhere, with large filming studios, monuments and posters boasting stars and celebrities. pic5

Walk not too far into the main Hollywood district near Hollywood Blvd and you’ll notice the ground is painted with stars.  Who are we kidding, these are probably one of the main reasons why you’re even in Hollywood. From musicians to actors to basically anyone famous in the media industry, the Walk of Fame pays homage to the personalities that shaped American popular culture. It’s quite the adventure, hunting for that one actor or personality you have a special affinity to, but that same hunt leads you to explore the Boulevard and the other sights peculiar to the area.

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One of these many sights is of course the Chinese Theatre. There’s an Egyptian theatre too, and a bunch of interactive museums, but this was definitely the most memorable for me. Built using distinctive oriental motifs, the Chinese Theatre is grand and boisterous, and very non-Chinese. It’s ironic that American’s heart of popular culture has a focal point that is essentially the appropriation of a whole ‘nother culture. It’s worth the visit though, to see how Americans saw the Chinese culture as ‘exotic’ and ‘alluring’, and in some way this reveals the historical tendency of Hollywood to tell stories of escapism and adventure to the world at any and all costs.pic10

Popular culture irks me sometimes. I love movies and television, but because fiction in many ways shape realities, when done irresponsibly, I fear for the future of our society. What does inspire me though is science. Science, when unrestricted to everyone, encourages to look at the world as it is, and confront realities. You can’t pick and choose what you like, you must deal with the complete laws of the world. The Griffith Observatory is one of Los Angeles’s best examples of opening science up for the masses. Set up on a hill, the observatory is a grand statement to how small we are in comparison to the universe. We were fortunate enough to go on a night where they opened up the telescopes to the public and we managed to catch sight of Jupiter. It was pretty much one of the more beautiful nights.pic14

The next day, we went out of Hollywood and to the actual West Coast. Venice Beach was our first visit, where we spent a few hours exploring the colorful beachfront with attractions such as street performers, a skateboard park and Muscle Beach, an outdoor gym where only the truly built occupy both physical and egotistical space. pic13

The beach itself is large and expansive, and with some thrilling oceanfront attractions including rock crags and surfboarding attempts. The only thing that surprised me was that the waterbody at the beach was literally the Pacific Ocean, meaning that the water would have been incredibly cold. Yet, people were still surfing without bodysuits, but I guess if you do it enough, you could get used to it.pic15

Near Venice Beach is Santa Monica Pier and the neighborhood. One of the richer neighborhoods in LA,  this area is populated with boutique shops, famous brands and hipster restaurants. Food trucks line Ocean Avenue and 3rd Street is the place to go for street musicians and promenade style shops. It’s a good place to see why LA people love LA.pic7

We’ve seen popular media, we’ve seen science and we only had art left to encounter. The Getty Center, accessible primarily by a tram that goes uphill, is set on a hilltop over West LA, and is a quiet recluse from the busy city. Funded by J. Paul Getty, this campus is made up of multiple exhibits including art museums, sculpture gardens and open public spaces, It’s a beautiful escape.pic8

Again, one of my favorite parts of this was with the exception of parking, there was no cost associated with visiting this Centre. Art and space was open to everyone who was interested. Be warned though, phone reception here is poor so don’t leave your group.pic1

Now we proceed to my favorite part of my travelogues : food. LA food is known for two distinctive cuisines : Mexican and Asian. Historically, there’s many reasons for this, but we won’t delve too much into that. One of my top choices was Ricky’s Fish Tacos – a taco food truck set near Hollywood that won Food Network’s Best US Taco Award.pic2

They have both fish tacos and shrimp tacos and a combo version, which of course I took advantage of. The seafood is extremely fresh, and evenly battered. Every bite cut into a pleasurable amount of batter before exploding into the soft fish or shrimp meat. You can add your own choice of sauces too, and the hot sauce was my go-to, making the taco even more exciting.pic6

In our pursuit of Asian food, we headed to Koreatown to try what people note as some of the cheapest and best valued Korean BBQ in the US. Honey Pig is famous for its Pork Belly, but their service, adding kimchi, bean sprouts and vegetables to the plate was very much welcomed. They end the meal by frying rice with your leftovers to make a delicious summary to the experience. They also have a Thai Village and Chinatown we never visited, as well as multiple Ramen shops I could only dream of dropping by at, but yes, the Asian food in LA is in the multitudes.pic11

Finally, of course, LA, home of American culture, needs to have some good ol’ American food. Pink’s hot dogs are famous for their themed dogs – hot dogs designed and named after famous Hollywood movies or phenomena.pic12

I got the Lord of the Rings dog, which classically had Onion Rings drizzled in BBQ Sauce placed on my hot dog. Delicious , sure. Eligible to become a regular dish in my life – probably not.

On the Roadpic16

Leaving LA for San Francisco gave us the opportunity to take Highway 1 and witness the overwhelming beauty of the West Coast. This was the famous roadtrip, the story shared by those who dared, of the most beautiful road in the US. There were many sights, some of which will be shared today and some of which will be shared in my next post.

One of the most unique aspects of this trip was the various Spanish themed cities that we went through including Santa Barbara and San Luis OBispo. Beautiful beachfront cities, we tried our best to enjoy every one of them, and truly relish the historical profoundness of how these cities came to be. One of my favorite sites was this Bubblegum alley in San Luis OBispo, where apparently tourists are able to stick their own gum on a gallery of what is thought as ‘bubblegum art’. Disgusting or captivating – that’s up to your interpretation, but sights like this are representative of the curious things I was witness to. Such pleasures are only given to those who go off the boring roads.

In the next post, we look at the actual coastal beauty of the West Coast, San Francisco City and more of the Bay Area.

till then,

hooah

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meet me here

hostel

When she walked in, all heads turned. She wore a black spaghetti dress, matched with her cherry red stilettos and hair yellow as soft gold.

‘Welcome’, Jerry said, reaching out his hand to her.

‘Hi, is this The Hole in the Wall?’ , the lady spoke, not shaking his hand.

Jerry left his hand for a couple of seconds more, before quickly withdrawing it to his right pocket.

‘Yes it is… well we’re not too sure’ he replied to her.

‘Yes, not quite. Where are you from ma’m’ the second guy spoke. His name was Dhruv.

‘I’m from Sydney’, she said. ‘And you?’

‘I’m from India. More importantly though, where were you before you entered that door?’  he asked back.

‘I am in Bangkok…aren’t I?’ she hesitantly answered.

‘Not quite, not really quite. I’m American, naturally’ Jerry began , both hands in his pocket now as he stood up with his chest puffed, ‘but as far as I remember I walked in here from the Czech Republic, and Drew here walked in from Taipei’.

‘It’s Dhruv, Jerry. I’d appreciate you keep it the way it is’ the tall built man said as he stood up to join Jerry.

‘We’re honestly not sure of what’s going on. There’s no staff, but there are rooms and washrooms, and this meeting place. Everything’s in place. But there’s something weirder than all that’ Dhruv went on, ‘As far as I know, I only speak Hindi and Chinese, but I can perfectly understand Jerry, whose lips can only utter English.’

‘That is peculiar.’ the lady said as she walked over to the couches and sat across from them, ‘My name is Talia, in case you were wondering’

‘I’m glad you all made it.’ a voice bellowed through the hall.

A stocky chocolate skinned man walked in, wearing nothing but a t-shirt , cargo shorts and flip flops. ‘My name is Tresor, and this is my establishment’

‘It’s probably only right that all of you aren’t responding badly to this. You guys are travelers after all, some of the most interested people in what this globe has to offer’ Tresor continued to talk.

‘And pray tell, Tresor, where are we?’ Jerry said , interest peaked in his eyes.

‘You’d either hate it or love it, but you’re everywhere and nowhere. all at once’ the hostelier responded.

‘Are we meant to figure these riddles out?’ Talia said, trying to figure this new character out.

‘Oh no no, I would never riddle you with trivial matters like these. We have so much more to talk about.’ Tresor said, taking his seat on the couch with the remaining travelers. ‘You see, I’m The Nomad, the writer behind The Binding Scrolls’

‘No fucking way, that’s the world’s most visited travel blog. They say that you’ve gained access to some of the world’s most prohibited and dangerously inaccessible places’ Dhruv retorted. ‘And you’re here?’

‘Yes, I am. On one of my adventures, I discovered a hole in the wall of an abandoned hut in Armenia. I couldn’t see what was beyond the hole, but the moment I stepped in, I realised it went on for a lot longer, which didn’t make any sense because the hut didn’t seem that big. When I got to the end, I found a door, which I immediately opened , and I came to this desolate place. This building didn’t use to exist.’ the Nomad said, observing his new visitors.

‘So you’re saying you built this?’ Jerry asked, his hands crossed across his chest now.

‘I had no choice. I didn’t know where I was to go. The door behind me had closed and disappeared. I had to find a way to make this work. I found a stream from which I got water, bushes from which I found berries, but I honestly didn’t know what else I could do without tools or electricity.’

‘Then I decided that perhaps the way in could be the way out. So I carved a hole in the rock that you see forms the wall behind you from which all of you came in through, and pushed it.’

‘That couldn’t have worked. It doesn’t make sense.’ Dhruv lamented.

‘Did anything before this make sense, Dhruv? I pushed it, and the rock moved, and this time I was in Phnom Penh.’

‘I remember your Phnom Penh post. That was when your blog started getting eyeballs. You had chanced upon the underwater tunnels built by the Khmer Rouge. How on earth did you find those?’.Talia said, as she displayed new found excitement.

‘I didn’t. I walked through the hole in the wall, and ended up there’. At this point, Tresor walked over to the hole in the wall that was the attraction of this newly formed group. He placed his palm over it, and took in a deep breath.

‘It was then that I discovered something about myself. I’m sure as travelers, all of you know each experience brings new discoveries and lessons to our lives. But that day, as I stood in the dark, damp tunnels of Phnom Penh, I learnt that I could hear the universe. I took a rock, and carved another hole at these tunnels so that I could remember, before finding my way out and writing about these marvels.

I didn’t tell anyone about the hole in the wall, but I continued to find new ways to come back to the desolate place that I had found myself so lost in. Being lost was always a familiar feeling, but in that place, I found a new feeling – hopelessness… and it was scary. So I built hope.’

‘You built this place’ Dhruv commented, admiring the work gone into the building now.

‘Yes. I brought materials from all over the world, as I carved holes in places yet unseen, and I built this place. I knew I wanted to tell someone about this place, but I wanted it to be ready for them.’

‘So why us then? Why the three unlucky people?’ Jerry retorted, standing up now and ready to walk over to Tresor.

‘I’m sorry you’re unhappy. I didn’t mean for you to be, in fact I hoped you’d be excited.’

‘You’re sharing this place with us now?’ Talia asked, her hands clenched together.

‘I think the word ‘leaving’ is more appropriate. I’m leaving the place to the three of you’

‘What do you mean? You’re not dying, are you? You can’t be, you don’t look sick at all’ Dhruv said, concerned now.

‘ No, far from it. I’ve never felt more alive.’ The Nomad walked over to the edge of the wall, where a shadow lay. ‘See this shadow?’

The three new travelers looked over, and nodded.

‘I’ve built a unique relationship with the Universe. It has spoken to me, and I’ve learnt to understand it more and more. And it has told me , I’ve seen all I need to see of this planet.’

‘This planet?’ Jerry asked , his arms by his side now.

‘Yes, this shadow is a hole waiting to form. Notice it’s in the shape of a fern.’ Tresor walked across from the wall, and pointed to a budding fern, growing out slowly. ‘This is you. You’re the fern waiting to grow. And once the fern matches the shadow it was meant to cast, the hole unveils itself’

‘Where does this new hole go? We haven’t even explored what the current hole has to offer!’ Jerry exclaimed.

‘Don’t worry, this new hole is just for me. It opens up the door, to the rest of the universe.’

The room stayed silent for a while as Tresor walked back to the couches. Everyone carefully gazed at the Nomad, trying to understand his recent words.

‘Are you saying you’re leaving Earth, the planet? I’ve suspended disbelief for a long time already, but every man has his limits sir’ Dhruv said, his fingers twitching.

‘I’m with the kid on this one. How do we believe you?’ Talia asked.

‘You can’t, not till the fern grows. My job is to teach you the ways of Earth and our history, that you guard this place and the holes around the world. And when that’s ready, I will go forth and prepare the rest of the universe for humankind. It has become my job as the Nomad.’

‘And how do we do that then? How do we become nomads in our own right?’  Jerry asked, taking his seat again.

Tresor smiled. ‘We start by talking. These will be the Lost Space conversations, after which I will teach you the ways of the Wall. Are you all ready to begin?’

The three travelers looked at each other. And then in almost perfect unison, they leaned back on their seats and nodded their heads.

‘Alright Nomad, let’s begin.’

___

I wrote this post in my own hostel  in Taipei, after being inspired by the people I’m meeting and the stories they’re sharing. Hopefully I make this a longer series. I want to write about the philosophies of traveling, and the characters that I frequently meet. I want to write about worlds and places, and then boil them down to stories of humanity and history.

Let me know your thoughts.

geronimo

 

the life consultant

One of the benefits of social media is that you’re able to track your own evolution over time. One of my friends said it perfectly the past day over a Skype conversation when he said “You post so much, but I’m never bored because it’s always something different. ”  I think when it comes to creating stories and content , it has to be about building on your past and bashing forward.

Avoid mistakes that you’ve previously made, make bold decisions and charge forward. Keep your head strong, and your soul on fire . There’s a reason to live, a reason to more than exist.

I’ve used social media additionally as a way of keeping people in my life involved in what I do. If there’s any a time I needed to push an activation or following, people aren’t taken aback but instead have already been so passively involved that they’re more inclined to provide a response. A spin off of this that was rather interesting was the accidental portrayal of me as a life consultant. One of my goals in life is to eventually become a coach in leadership and passion living. I’m nowhere near there ; instead I’m spending time putting myself in situations where I can learn as much as possible. But I’m glad people are talking to me about things personal to them because I get to learn so much from their stories, and if I may say so, their struggles.

I’ve given advice on anything from how to  plan  kickass travel itinerary, to how to survive the military, to how to start a business succesfully. I don’t think I ever did any of those things in the “best way possible” but I realise it didn’t matter because through the process of reflection I was able to identify the principles that would have made it better. My favorite session was when I was talking to a friend about how he wanted to help a village in Cambodia fight the local government for more sustainable development and had a friendly debate on topics such as governance, personal courage and political warfare.

I’ve missed having such cerebral topics and as much you would think you’d find those in college, the honest truth is that most conversations are clouded so much by emotion, personal biases and prejudices that you never get to the point of having a valuable discussion.

That’s why I’m an engineer by education. Everyone I’ve talked to says I much better fit an Arts degree, and I’ve always replied saying that I can still learn about the Arts without taking a degree but you can’t really the same about being an Engineer. I’d rather have discussions and write articles directed at people who’d be willing to have a discussion than those immediately wanting to judge.

Having given advice, I also reflected on the fact that a huge reason I am where I am now is because I was always asking others for their advice too. I’m blessed with mentors and friends who I can pull a whole bunch of information and wisdom from and use them adaptively. That ability to recognise resources and how to utilise them is something I hope more people gain and take advantage of, because only then can they see more progress in their lives.

I love the idea of being a consultant on life. Again, I’m nowhere near there right now, but when I’m 50 and ready to retire, I want to tell some of the best stories ever.

geronimo

It’s New York – My Crazy Trips!

I’m back with another travel review! I must apologise for the delay, there’s been too much to  do and see. The adventurer in me has been let loose, and it’s raucously living life.

Okay, so back to my trip. After visiting Chicago, my family travelled further east to New York. What’s visiting the US without visiting New York right? I watch a lot of TV and Movies ( don’t ask me how, even I surprise myself) and so walking through New York was like walking through the theatricals you saw on screen. It was incredibly surreal and fascinatingly exciting.

We went down to the City on the first day, and explored Wall Street. This is where the Stock Exchange and all the other famous banks and financial buidlings are. We went on a weekend, so there wasn’t much crowd beyond the tourists, but I could just smell the stench of money here.

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We visited Rockefeller Centre as well, where NBC films most of its shows. I took a picture to look like 30Rock hehe. If possible, go up for the studio tours. You can check out where Jimmy Kimmel has his set, or where Friends shot their scenes! The film-maker in me got very excited.

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And then of course, one must visit Liberty Island to visit Lady Liberty! It’s a ferry ride away from Battery Park (where the security is Airport level and super tight). Try to book online for tickets to bring you up to the crown or pedestal, because on-site tickets only let you roam the island itself. It’s good enough for a decent selfie like mine, but I would have loved to have gone on top.

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Grand Central Station, where some of my favourite romance scenes (yes I watch lame lovey dovey movies as well ) have happened and also where Madagascar had its epic chase sequence. I swear, the place is grand, and still functioning. I recall Charlie Todd doing many amazing scenes here including the light-up, and the Harry Potten IRL scene.

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And then we have Times Square. It’s everything people say it is. The heart of commercialism , with huge billboard ad screens and millions of shops. The land-planning of the area is unique such it channels a rush of wind through the centre. It was basically freezing cold. I visited the place on Christmas. It was beautiful.

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Oh ya, one of my favourite pictures is this one of a bird with the skyline in the background. It flew so close to us, I had to snap it.

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Now comes the food! Now there’s a lot more food I haven’t tried while being in NY. I wanted to try White Castle, some of the famous steakhouses, some of the famous pizzas in Little Italy but I couldn’t . Too little  time, too many calories.

I did manage to try these though! IHOP was one of those things you have to visit just to try it. Sinful pancakes – but oh  so good.

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We also had Korean food in Koreatown. Now , when it’s freezing cold outside, Korean BBQ is dabomb. Had this with Preston, together with Kimchi Soup. We really enjoyed this meal. In fact, I want to go back once I get the chance to.

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The rest of the meals were pizza, your normal mishmash of American cuisine, or something in the middle.

Now, I’m an architecture buff. And like I’ve mentioned, the US has amazing architecture. The Statue of Liberty was shipped from Italy, but still, look how amazing it stands in the middle of the island.

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Just walking through the city, you can feel tiny, with grand buildings flanking you. I’m glad Singapore’s main areas are not like these, I wouldn’t like to perpetually feel like an ant.

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The famous bull of Wall Street is also a tourist attraction. It’s derived from the term “Bullish Market” which means the market is doing extremely well – love how ferocious and strong it  looks. Now that’s machoism.

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We also visited World Trade Centre, or rather the site of the destroyed one. This was a really sobering experience because you recall the news coverage and the lives that were lost. The memorial pools have the names of the people who passed etched into it, and you can touch and feel the shapeless void left behind. It’s really a tragic memory.

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But at the same time, it’s a story of hope. They’re rebuilding the tower stronger and louder, as a sign of recovery. If you read my Chicago post, you realise it’s an American spirit. That when you’re beaten down, you pick yourself up and come back stronger. Hope and recovery – it’s the heartbeat here. You feel like you  always have a shot. Very impressed.

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One of my best memories was meeting up with the EDB peeps while in NY. I’ll always love  having friends in every town I visit – sharing experiences and making new ones.

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So that more or less concludes my trip to New York. There’s definitely a lot more stories to share, but I’ll  leave those for my Facebook Albums, or my storytelling in person to cover. This should give a gist to those who ask me what to do in NY .

My more in-demand post – My Weekend in Vietnam – should be out by the weekend! One of my favourite trips as well. Look out for that one!

Till then, keep believing people!

geronimo.