Went to Alcatraz today and had a nice dinner at Chez Panisse in Berkeley (review to come).
Tomorrow, a closer look at the Golden Gate Bridge…
Firstly, the four and a half hour flight from Chicago to San Fran did not come with a meal – United wanted us to pay $5 for a snack box. Secondly, when we got into San Fran at around noon, our bags did not appear on the baggage carousel. Turns out that United screwed up with the handling of our baggage. Our backpacks ended up on some other flight. We were promised the bags would be delivered by 8.00pm that day. However, that was yesterday…
While browsing Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile” – a long section of Michigan Avenue lined with boutiques and other expensive stores – I stumbled across Chicago’s Apple store. I went in to use the free net access there (or here, rather) and overheard a lady complaining to a staff member about her damaged iPod. I glanced over and it was a older generation iPod with a disturbing amount of sand stuck behind the click-wheel surface and behind the display glass. I couldn’t quite catch the whole conversation between the staff member and the woman, but at one point he blurted out rather loudly, “So you want us to print an advisory warning saying not to rub sand on your iPod?!“
Extended stay in San Francisco by two days, will now be back home on the morning of November 3rd. Toronto is probably the city that I’ve found to be the most similar to Sydney, except that it’s fricking cold and windy here.
United Airways sucks. We rang up their hotline to change our flight times and didn’t have certain information on us at the time, so we said “sorry, I don’t have that number on me at the moment”. The extremely rude reply came as, “No need to apologise. I don’t think you were being sincere anyway.” A second incident was on board the plane when Dorian leaned over to take a newspaper from a newspaper trolley passing by. Instead of saying, “Sorry sir, you can’t take a newspaper at this time,” (or similar), Dorian’s hand was physically swatted away by a disgruntled stewardess, followed by a stern “NUH-UH!”. Fly United? NUH-UH.
Boston was a good change from the rush and bustle of New York. It’s a quiet city, which I guess means less distractions for the students at Harvard and MIT which are across the river in Cambridge! The highlight for me was the Mapparium, a 10 metre high globe made of stained glass windows with the map of the world as it was circa 1935. There’s a bridge suspended through the middle of the globe through the Indian and Pacific Oceans and you get to pore over the world as it was when colonialism was still very much in fashion. The globe reveals many things which show how much has changed over the last 70 years: the full scale of the Soviet empire, the carving up of vast tracts of Africa between the European powers, a united India (before Pakistan and Bangladesh were separated out), the complete absence of Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia from the map (all come under the label of French Indochina), a China without Manchuria and so on.
The other interesting aspect of the Mapparium is its acoustic qualities. A “whispering gallery” consists of a circular wall which reflects sound waves along its surface such that sound travels a full circle back to the speaker. A whisper along the wall can be clearly heard by anyone listening along the wall’s circumference. There are many whispering galleries around the world, such as in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, or the Echo Wall in Beijing’s Temple of Heaven. However, the Mapparium is different in that speaking in any direction, since it is a full sphere, will result in the same effect. Furthermore, standing in the middle of the sphere and speaking produces the unnerving effect of hearing yourself in surround sound with startling clarity.
We also had the chance to catch up with Danny, who is on exchange at Boston College, for an enjoyable dinner. We concluded that European men seem to have a peculiar (and somewhat unsettling) habit of walking around bedrooms in underwear and socks and nothing else.
Currently enjoying a restful stopover in Montréal with the wonderfully hospitable Frances and Frances. Unfortunately the clouds have decided to follow us around and since we left New York every day has been overcast and rainy. It’s a pity really, because Montréal would otherwise be a very nice city to walk in. It really doesn’t have any “grand sights” like a castle on a hill (though it does have a chalet on a hill, which the locals call “the mountain”), but nonetheless has a certain charm to it. One aspect of this city that I find particularly charming and somewhat unique is the bilingual aspect of it (though something which I’m sure is shared by various European countries). Montréal belongs to the French-speaking province of Québec, but most locals are completely fluent in English as well (incidentally, this also means that many migrants to this city are trilingual). Signs are all in French, mostly with English written beneath in italics. Unlike France, however, locals don’t mind whether you make an attempt to talk in French or not. Anyway, hopefully the weather improves over the week. Apparently the progression of Autumn (or “Fall”, rather) means that the leaves on the deciduous trees are changing colour and thus the forests are quite a beautiful sight, but I haven’t been able to see this yet due to the constant rain.
Perhaps it’s the temperate weather on this visit, as opposed to the biting winter coldness, but I’ve enjoyed New York a little more on each subsequent visit. It hasn’t visibly changed much since I came here almost five years ago. Lots of WiFi hotspots and other superficial modifications, but apart from that it’s pretty much the same city.
Of course, except for the WTC. The WTC site is a gaping hole in the city, demarcated by a chain link fence with boards commemorating September 11 dotted around the site. Constructions on a new subway station are underway, but the building of an appropriate memorial site and skyscraper is proving to be much more controversial. The site is nothing much to look at, but it’s still worth a visit.
Yesterday a terrorism alert hit the media about a possible attack on the New York subway system. We went into a bank to change some traveller’s cheques and it was disconcerting to see on CNN terrorism reports pertaining to the city we were currently in, although I imagine New Yorkers are getting increasingly used to it. In response to the terrorism alert, the subways were swarming with cops (I had my bag randomly searched once) but with 4.5 million depending on the subs daily, the terror alerts weren’t deterring anyone from using them – least of all backpackers with no other means of transport. Meanwhile there was one guy selling newspapers outside a station who appeared to be getting quite frustrated by the lack of sales. At one point he was crying out, “Terrorism alert! Read all about it! … Hey, those cheap shoes are tickin’. I’m callin’ the po-lice!”
U2 is in town playing at the Madison Square Garden. We queued up for about three hours yesterday waiting for cancellation tickets. In the line we had the somewhat painful experience of listening to a local man who was some leftover remnant of the hippie era. His ramblings covered things like the time he smoked pot on the Great Wall, how everyone in the world is ignorant or stupid, how no one talks about “important” issues in the world anymore (including moving towards a four day work week), and most disturbingly, how Australia should cut down its Asian migrant intake to avoid dilution of its “culture”. It was a relief when we got to the ticket booth and parted company. Unfortunately, we found out that the only tickets left were US$170 ones and left empty handed.
At the Apple Soho store. Dorian looks around and goes, “The trendiness here is sickening!” Haha!