Sunday, October 11, 2009


I arrived in Darwin's tiny airport in high spirits, meeting up with my friend Dan who is currently working there for ABC Radio. It was my first time in Darwin, and so my expectations was a dusty red earth stained small town with lots of corrugated iron and beer swilling men with large beer guts and singlet tops. Stupid Media, how wrong was I?

The first thing I did notice was the weather. Darwin has two seasons - Wet and Dry. You would think Dry = Summer and Wet = Winter, but it is actually the opposite. Summer (which I arrived in) is extremely hot, humid and sticky - A perpetual sauna. Fortunately there is always an air conditioned building or car around.

A surprising thing about Darwin is the high cost of accomodation. Apparently it's more expensive than Melbourne! The town itself though is a decent size, but not big enough to have a main entertainment district larger than one street. This actually makes things more exciting, since at night everyone comes to the same place to party. It feels like a festive street party, and safe too. This is probably due to the small population meeting in one spot guarantees you'll always see someone you know somewhere. Small town mentality in a capital city. Nice.


We thought it would be fun to go see some crocodiles, so we booked a trip to Jumping Croc Safari, an hour or so drive south (which in Darwin terms isn't far at all).

So after driving into the middle of no where, where road turned to gravel which turned to hard dirt, we find a small corrugated shed in the distance along a small river. Jumping Croc Safari headquarters.

The reason we chose this particular tour was because of the fact you can get up close and personal with our reptilian friends. We boarded a small low rimmed flimsy boat that looked too easy to capsize, with some iron bars dividing us from certain death. The driver then drove us through the river, on the lookout for any crocodiles.

It didn't take long before we found some. The driver thought it would be a good idea to park the boat right close to a known crocodile nest - right next to a river bank full of gigantic spider webs and menacing looking spiders on them. I wasn't sure if i was more scared of the spiders or the crocodiles at that point.

To which the driver calmly started banging the water and the boat with a stick "to attract the crocodiles". Yikes!

And if that wasn't enough, when a crocodile did appear, the driver took a piece of meat out of the esky and hooked in on a stick. He then held it over the edge of the boat a foot away from our faces. Was that supposed to be an appetiser and us the main course? I sat thinking at this point whether I actually told people I was coming here, for surely you hear tales of people disappearing here, right?

And it was while i was deep in my thoughts that the sudden snap of a crocodiles jaws closed tight over the piece of meat, followed by the thump of his body as he collided with the side of the boat!

It was then the driver noted "it's only a baby one, the mother must be somewhere close".

It was like that for most of the tour. We found several crocodiles, each seemingly larger than the one before. The driver was quite happy to tease the crocodiles by holding the meat up high so they had to "jump" out of the water to reach it.
Not sure how the crocs felt about it though.

We left the tour feeling more closer to our own mortality and grateful for being alive.


To celebrate staying alive, we drove back to Darwin via the town of Humpty Doo - mainly because of the name, but also because there was a world famous hotel there. Though i'm not sure what made it so famous.

I was quite interested in the roadkill jerky they had for sale there, until i realised it wasn't really roadkill, just a name. Disappointed, but nice idea though.

I was however, happy to try my first crocodile burger. The hunter has become the hunted, muhahaha? It wasn't too bad, but I think i'm happy to stick with a regular beef burger.

Anyway, we spend the night enjoying the Darwin nightlife, starting with local boat club, where we could enjoy a nice beer by the ocean and watch the sun set. We followed this by drinking in the main nightlife street and visiting some cool bars
and clubs.

The next day, we quickly visited the war museum before my flight home. The war museum was interesting, learning about the bombing of darwin during world war 2 and seeing the old gun turrets and weapons and vehicles lying around.

In short, Darwin is a nice place to base yourself, with so much to see and do around. It's a nice place to come back to after a long trip to the national parks by relaxing or partying in the vibrant nightlife. I also really want to go back so I can try the emu parmagiana I heard they have up there but missed out on. ;)

Thursday, July 9, 2009

USA South West Trip - Thur 9 July


The last day of my vacation, we decided to all go down to the Santa Monica Beach nearby and enjoy some rays, surf and admire the beautiful bodies around us. After a arduous journey around the South West, it was nice to just lie down on the beach and do nothing. The water as cold but refreshing, and now I can say i've swam on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. :)

We walked to the Pier again for some final sightseeing and photo taking, before going back home to wash, change and head to the airport, stopping at a really nice pizza franchise called California Pizza.


Finally, I reach the airport, farewell my friends and flew back home. Suddenly, it was over, as if the whole trip was just a dream - the only sign of it happening was the 3kg i had gained and the nice tan i had developed. I also wasn't as scared as I was of the country when I arrived. Indeed, even though many people might critisise America, Americans and their way of life, I can honestly say they don't know America until they visit it. And once they do, they will fall in love with it. It is truly the land of opportunity and freedom; where people are kind, friendly, generous and are free to be themselves, eat and drink well, enjoy the beautiful nature - ranging from deserts to forests; canyons to volcanoes - and appreciate the idiosyncracies of this nation that gives it it's particular charm and personality.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

USA South West Trip - Wed 8 July


The next day we left the motel and headed towards Sequoia National Park. The park is famous of the huge Californian Redwoods or Sequoias - massive trees considered to be the biggest in the world.

We entered the park to find ourselves surrounded by the massive trees. We couldn't even hug them - you'd need at least 5-10 people to do it! We took photos, even standing on top of a massive fallen tree exposing its roots, which really gives you a good idea of just how big these trees are.

We drove through a tunnel carved into the side of a tree.. it was overrated. We also walked a bit to see a hut carved out of the inside of another fallen tree (did I mention these trees are big?)


We got to check out the largest tree in the world, nicknamed General Sherman. It is the biggest in volume, not girth or height. It is so big that the top of the tree has been pretty much fried due the number of lighting strikes on the poor thing. Even then, it's still the largest tree in the world. Looking at it, they liken it to a mouse looking up at a 6ft person. It is pretty impressive.

And that was it. Our road trip was nearing it's end. All we had to do is head back to LA (stopping at a mexican restaurant for lunch). We were kinda relieved to be back in civilisation where we could wash, rest and relax - yet also sad the trip had ended.

We had a celebratory dinner at the same Korean BBQ restaurant we went to last time - but this time we were more careful with drinking soju. :) Not only that though - we were too knackered to even drink!

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

USA South West Trip - Tue 7 July


The next day, we packed up and left for the long trip back to California. I was glad because the ranch was filled with wild grasses that was really playing up my hayfever - I never thought I would get hayfever up there.

Anyway, we decided to stay the night near the Sequoia National Park and see the park itself the next day. So we could take our time driving back.


We stopped for lunch at Big Boy - a franchise diner famous from the Austin Powers movie (Dr Evil's rocket). Anyway, what caught me by surprise was that the diner offered Chicken Parmagiana. I was shocked - I thought it was invented by Australians (since i couldn't find it anywhere in Europe), yet here I was in the middle of the Mogave desert being served it. I definitely had to try it out.

As it turned out, it was not that great. For starters, the breaded chicken itself was flat, tough and dry - not thick, juicy and melts in your mouth like it's supposed to. Secondly, it was not topped with ham, tomato sauce and cheese; it was only topped with some napoli (or bolognaise) sauce and a bit of cheese. Lastly, it did not come with steak fries and a nice salad; it came served on pasta and napoli sauce. The salad came seperately, with some strange raspberry vinegarette which was actually quite nice if only it matched the meal.

Yep, it may sound patriotic, but no one does Chicken Parmagianas like the Aussies do! :)


We found ourselves a motel, managing to sneak in an extra person without them knowing, otherwise they would have charged extra. At first glance, the motel seemed alright - there was cable TV showing Michael Jacksons tribute in LA (good thing we weren't in LA that day - traffic would have been crazy), and a funny MTV show which targeted and followed the lives of "Douchebags". However, we saw some cockcroaches having a party on the floor. This meant I was not going to sleep on the floor this time as planned - i was going to sleep on the foot of one of the beds instead!

We were hoping to have dinner at a local japanese restaurant - we were kinda hanging for Japanese after all the diners and western style junk food we've had recently. Unforunetly though, it was closed, so we had no choice but to eat at Subway. Guess we can't get away from all the fast food restaurants.

Monday, July 6, 2009

USA South West Trip - Mon 6 July


We never thought we could do it, but we did - we got up around 5am, a quick breakfast, and then Billunta drove us all to Zion so we could begin our hike (poor Billunta couldn't come).

Because it was so early, the weather was blessedly cool. We took the shuttle bus to the hike starting point - in our case we choose to do one hike - the Angels Landing - a 5 hour ordeal.

It started out ok, with a gradually inclining winding path going up the cliff. Even then, some of us were struggling - all that junk food on the trip has not helped. Huffing and puffing, we got to a nice narrow canyon path that offered lots of shelter from the rapidly rising sun. Looking around, the scenery reminded me of what the Jurassic period might have looked like, pristine, full of towering rock faces, mountains and lush trees and ferns. The cliff closest to us looked very reminiscent of honeycomb (could you tell i was tired and hungry?)

After a while, we saw some people coming down and, thinking we were more than halfway there, asked "Are we nearly there yet?" People were surprised and looked at us with pity as they told us "you not even halfway yet, and you haven't got past the wiggles yet"! The Wiggles?

No, not the children's singing performers group, that would be rather surreal to see. They meant a very windy steep path just ahead of us. Now that was painful to walk up. Even though it was similar to walking up a long flight of stairs, after the hiking we've done so far, it was torture! Slowly but steadily we got to the top.

A bit of walking later, and we arrived at what we thought was the top of Angels landing - well, instead of Colin. We enjoyed the beautiful views of the valley below us and thought we could sit and rest, as well as worry about the long walk back down - until Colin pointed further out to yet another higher peak and told us "that's where we need to go!" We were not impressed and even getting grumpy at this point. Reluctantly, we followed Colin.

At this point, the hike got kinda scary and very dangerous. I was surprised that a country very into OHS would allow hikers to go up this route, with no railings to prevent people falling (and indeed in the past people have), and a series of chains that you would pull yourself up and around ridiculously narrow ledges (do not look down!). It was more rock climbing at this point. Adding to the difficulty was that people traffic could only go one way, so people had to wait for others to cross first. To be considerate, you don't stay in the middle scared out of your wits hanging for dear life - you go as quick as you can!

Anyway, after all is said and done, it was definitely worth it. An hour later we emerged onto the very top of the peak, to admire more glorious views that the previous view below cannot compare (an idea which we were skeptical of beforehand). We sat on the sun drenched peak to eat lunch with some rather feisty squirrels, who we're not supposed to feed. However, Yujin didn't realise this, and after throwing some food at them, found herself getting swarmed by the little rodents who suddenly became a little aggressive. Quite a sight being on top of the world on a small peak being attacked by squirrels.

We started the long trek back, which took a while but went quicker than going up. We stopped by a horrible smelling toilet halfway up the mountain which was surrounded by barrels imprinted with the words "Human Waste". I feel sorry for whoever is supposed to carry the barrels up to start with, and remove the existing waste - it's got to be the worst job in the world!

As we neared the bottom, we noticed it getting more hotter, as well as people just starting their hike. We were so glad we had left early because we could not have survived that hike with the heat!

We were so relieved to see Billunta at the bottom waiting for us, with life saving cool water and air conditioned car ready to take us to lunch. We were exhausted!

We went back to same diner as yesterday for lunch. I had jambalaya - a Lousiana style dish of shrimp and sausage in spicy saucy noodles - a way to make up for not having gumbo before.

We then headed straight back to the cabin to go swimming in the nice cool pool and hot spa to relive our tired aching limbs. So nice :)

Dinner was had at the place as we couldn't be bothered heading back out, and I was curious about meatloaf - a very American dish that I had not tried it. It wasn't as nice as i thought though, but I was told nothing tastes as good as your mums homemade meatloaf anyway.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

USA South West Trip - Sun 5 July


The first thing we did was go out and eat at another diner. This diner was awesome, with cowboy and road runner decore and with big cokes served not in glasses, but in large jars!

We then drove 4hrs out of Utah and into Arizona to see one of the most famous sights in the world - The Grand Canyon.

We arrived at the North rim, which is apparently less crowded and visited than the South Rim that most people see in the movies. We weren't really keen on driving another 5 hours around the canyon just to see it from that side though.

Anyway, the Grand Canyon is indeed grand and very different to what I was expecting - i thought it was just a big orange hole. But I saw instead was jaggered cliff faces showing layers of sediment worn away throughout the passage of time. Bright red, orange, yellow, white and black layers of colour made decorative patterns which made it alot more impressive and beautiful than i imagined. Still, maybe due to the other impressive sights i've seen, I wasn't overwhelmed. I still rank Bryce Canyon as my favorite.

After some photo taking and walking around, we headed the long drive back to our Cabin, stopping at pizza hut for dinner. As aways, the food is larger, more plentiful, and more unhealthy, with garlic bread sticks drenched in butter that came with the pizzas. At least they had an ok salad bar.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

USA South West Trip - Sat 4 July


The next day, we amazingly got up before 11am in time to check out and head out eastwards towards Utah. We had a quick lunch at another diner and spent most of the day on the road. We arrived at Zion National Park around 4pm in stinking hot weather (around 40 degrees). I was warned it was going to be hot in these parts but I wasn't prepared for its intensity that I was even questioning whether i'd be able to hike these areas.

The park itself was truly spectacular though. I was impressed by the sheer size and number of the vertical cliff faces in various textures and shades of red, orange, brown and white towering above and around us (to think i'd be hiking up on one of them a few days from now). We drove through the park, taking photos as appropriate; we drove through a very long man made tunnel right through the heart of one of the mountains, and emerged in very different looking terrain, a series of smooth pointed white peaks called Mesas. Amazing how they can exist all in one particular area of the country.

Figuring we had time, we drove on away from the park (and area where we were planning to stay), towards another famous park - Bryce Canyon.


This place is definitely one of the most stunning natural landscapes i've seen on my travels. A place very hard to describe or appreciate through pictures and film, especially around sunset. From up high on the rim of the canyon, one can look down to the multitude of jaggered pink, orange, white spikes and shards as far as the eye can see - it's like looking at a pink rock pine needle forest. Not the wisest place to land if you're parachuting down. Anyway, I could have spent hours admiring the scenery, but we had to quickly head back to the place we were staying at so we could get dinner there.


We got to the "Cowboy" Cabin at Ponderosa Ranch, a remote collection of wood cabins in the middle of nowhere. They have an awesome pool/spa and a decent buffet (though a bit pricey).

Anyway, we arrived just before midnight, hoping to place a pizza delivery before they close. Unfortunetly, we were too late! So we had a dinner of beef jerky, chips, fig bars and beer - based on all the snacks we had bought on our road trip. Not very exciting but at least we didn't starve.

Again, there were not enough beds, but at least I could sleep on a sofa instead of the floor. It was here that I was determined to not sleep in a single bed throughout my whole time here - i mean, if i'm on holidays I want to do things I normally don't do in normal life - like sleep in a normal bed. It makes it feel more like an adventure that way. :)

Friday, July 3, 2009

USA South West Trip - Fri 3 July


We went for another state today - Arizona - to see the famous Hoover Dam, which is one of the greatest industrial wonders of the world. The amount of manpower, lives lost, resources and innovation that went into building this massive dam, in temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, is hard to fathom. It's hard to complain about the hard work we do when we compare it to what the people building it went through. It's a truly impressive sight to walk on and admire. There's also a monument built with a map on the floor of the position of the stars when the dam was completed - this way, anyone in the future from earth or outerspace can know when it was built instead of looking at the date (since dates are an arbitary relative way humans know time/date, whereas stars/planets are not). Anyway, we didn't stay too long due to the oppressive heat - i don't know how people could live there.


We got back to Vegas in time for lunch at The Bellagio. Lunch Buffet in the Bellagio is famous, maybe because it is inexpensive ($20) for high quality food. Standing in line to enter and waiting for people already there to leave, it's clear from the way they people leaving are stroking their bellies with a glazed expression in their eyes that the food is good, and plentiful. We made a note to leave ourselves later with a more cheerful happy expression for the benefit of those still waiting in line. Anyway, the food did not disappoint, only my stomach did for not being able to eat as much as I wanted. I have fond memories of the roast turkey meat, the freshly prepared shrimp rice paper rolls, the mini burgers (Colin told me there's a proper name for them but i've forgotten - is it sliders?). I'm only surprised that a place like this only has one toilet cubicle for the male toilets, not even a urinal.
How are people supposed to make room to eat more?


Those who come to Las Vegas expecting the same crazy partying they see from the movies will be bitterly disappointed. Las Vegas is a playground for the rich - if you ain't got money and willing to spend it, you not gonna see anything but nice pretty buildings. For starters, you only get free drinks and food if you gamble alot of money in the more expensive tables - not the $5 dollar blackjack table or 2 cent pokies. Secondly, you have to look the part - dressed to impress.

Considering we were all poor and packed for travelling and hiking, and also keeping in mind Billunta was injured and Yujin was too young to drink or go into any bars (even in Sin City), the only thing we could really do is drink and walk around admiring the different casinos and their novelties. No bars. No girls. No clubs. No crazy parties and getting into mischief. Zilch. Nada. The closest we got to anything regarding risque was collecting cards of call girls from the line of people handing them out on the street everywhere we went, then playing "guess how much she costs to call to your hotel room?" and revealing the answer which is written on the cards somewhere (the average was around $40 - apparently this is just the calling over cost; the cost of doing what you want with them is expensive and negotiated). Was it the best bachelor party ever? Probably not. But I can't complain, i mean, I'm in Vegas with a group of awesome friends in a middle of an awesome road trip - what more could one want! :)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

USA South West Trip - Thur 2 July


We got up early in the morning to pack our things and hire "the grandpa car" we were planning to drive around in for the next week. It was a sky blue Grand Marquis with a boot that even Billunta could sit in comfortably if he should feel so inclined. Even then, it only managed to fit the 5 of us and our luggage.

We left LA into the Mohave desert, noting the stark difference of LA to the flat sandy plains and towering rocky mountains in the countryside around us. We also passed the greatest concentration of spectacular looking windmills i've ever seen.

Anyway, our first stop was at In-n-Out burger fast food restaurant - which only exists in California. I was recommended to order the burger with "animal fries", which appears to be a secret codeword for getting something not on the menu, which is fries drenched (literally) in bacon bits, melted cheese and 1000 island dressing. After filling my arteries with the stuff (I swear i could feel my heart murmuring while eating it), we continued on.


We headed towards Joshua Tree National Park, famous for the strange hardy spiky trees that grow there, and only there in the whole world. It is a rather eerie landscape, being in the middle of the desert with random large boulders, mountains and trees scattered around the place - and nothing else. We spent a few hours climbing over things, taking photos, pretending to be trees, and other touristy things.


We then headed out towards Las Vegas, where I had my first (and only) attempt at driving on the "wrong" side of the road. Boy it was scary! Even though i drove on just the highway with not many cars around, doing so on the wrong side of the road, in the biggest car i've ever driven, during nightfall, with headlights that were either too dim or too bright, in speeds of miles instead of kilometers, is a little overwhelming. The nice thing though was that I got to drive on the famous Route 66, which is an old road that originally connected across the whole country from left to right. Now it's only used for nostalgic reasons since new bigger faster highways have been built. It's nice to know that even though America is not as old as most countries, you can still get a feel of history by doing things like this. If only it was still light outside, i could enjoy the scenery more and imagine better what it was like 150 or so years ago..


We finally made it to Las Vegas at around midnight, tired, and hungry as we couldn't find anything open on the road, even fast food restaurants were closed. Many smaller casinos where open though, from the time we entered Nevada. It seems that Nevada is the only state that allows gambling, hence Las Vegas being built in such an area - the middle of the desert - but as close to LA as possible.

Approaching the Las Vegas strip however, all thoughts of tiredness and food were gone; I felt like a bug that's drawn towards a bug zapper. The neon lights of the strip reminded me of that too. The sense of size and amount of money you could see that has been spent on this place is overwhelming. Massive buildings and casinos advertising american consumerism and sin at it's best - giant coke bottles, harley davidson bikes, adult clubs, a hooters owned casino, a black pyramid that beams light up into space... huge casino complexes, some still being built, causing traffic chaos with it's construction, others providing some kitsch or unique element to draw in gamblers - paris with the full size eiffel tower; The Venetian with it's indoor and outdoor canals, towers and gondoliers; The Bellagio with the famous musical fountains in front (it's hard to imagine that Las Vegas has a water shortage crisis)..

I must admit that after driving through the strip I was slightly disappointed with where we were staying - Circus Circus - because it didn't really have any of that. We were also further away from the action that I thought, despite it being on the strip. I realised then that Circus Circus is one of the original casinos that is now lost it's appeal since the new grander ones were built, and now generally caters for families and people who can't afford the prices of it's neighbours. Circus Circus isn't cheap, but comparatively not expensive either, and in all i'm glad we stayed there instead of a hostel further out, just for the experience of staying on the strip itself.

Anyway, we managed to find parking and our way through a maze of corridors and pokies to the reception area, then through another maze of lifts and pokie areas to our room. Finally, we could relax. After freshening up, we went back down to the main casino area of Circus Circus to see what fun we could have. We went to a smaller casino next to and owned by Circus Circus called "Slots of Fun", quite a sad dingy casino compared to it's neigbours, but cheap and good enough for us. We got cheap beers and we sat out the front of the casino, enjoying the scene and drinking on the street - which is the only place you could do it in the US. I also ate my first foot long hotdog. It didn't last very long since i was famished.

We didn't do much more that night, being exhausted and all, so we called it a night. Unfortunetly, because there were two double beds and I was the only single person there, I had to sleep under the desk.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

USA South West Trip - Wed 1 July


I figured it was time to actually see the beach properly, so me and Yujin went to Santa Monica while Billunta did other things. Because Billunta wasn't around, we had to catch the bus. One downside with LA is that public transport is slow, inconvenient, and confusing. It's a car city, and I'm glad I had friends who lived here who could drive me around - I don't think it would be much fun being a tourist backpacker with no car here.

Anyway, we first checked out the malls and did some shopping (cause that's the American thing to do). Then we walked down the beach coast and onto Santa Monica pier, full of buskers were busy performing, street vendors, artists, and all kinds of souvenir shops. There was even a small amusement park with rollercoasters and rides - on a pier! I was rather amused the the restaurant Bubba Gump" which served - well, you know what movie it's from, right?

That night, Colin and Alexis finally arrived, so we could begin our road trip the next day. We had a reunion dinner at Hooters - mainly because I wanted to see it, since my Hooters experience in Korea was more Goosebumps, and I wanted to see what it was supposed to be like. I wasn't disappointed. :)

Hey, I am trying to get the real American cultural experience here, right?

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

USA South West Trip - Tue 30 June


I was a little hungover when I went here. Billunta and Yujin needed to get some stuff done, so I went here by myself. I must say that this place rocks, and I imagine much better than Disneyland, unless you're a kid of course.

I went on the studio tour, which involved being driven around in a long cart, with the tour guide making jokes and showing movie clips on the screens in front of us, relating what we saw outside such as some set, to what was used in the movies flashing before us. We saw some cool special effects such as the flooding of a small town, an earthquake in an underground train station, a trail of destruction left by a boeing 747 from War of the Worlds, and so on. I was excited to see the Back to the Future car, the Psycho motel, and other things. If you're a movie buff it's definitely worth checking out.

The rest of the day there was spent going on the rides which were pretty cool - the Mummy rollercoaster which goes forwards and backwards in pitch darkness; the Terminator 2 3D ride which combines live action with visual special effects - lots of fun; the Waterworld stunt show combining stunts with water and fire effects... I could tell the effects technologies used in the studio tour were taken from all the other rides around the studio, which kinda dampened (slightly) the excitment and novelty of it all. But it would be silly to expect more than that.


That night, we went to downtown Disney, which is a shopping/entertainment/food area just outside of Disneyland. We decided not to go in Disneyland because it was more for kids and i'm not really a big fan of people dressed up in animal suits taking photos with you. Anyway, it was fun going through the Disney and Lego stores. Because Billunta had trouble walking, we found a nice fancy hotel generous enough to let us borrow a wheelchair for a few hours.

There was heaps of restaurants around, and we were looking forward to trying some traditional gumbo from the Lousiana restaurant - Billunta's childhood food - after walking around, but it closed for the night by the time we got there. We were a little disappointed, as Billunta told me it's not easy to find food like that unless you are in Lousiana itself. We consoled ourselves with the biggest burrito I've ever seen,.

Monday, June 29, 2009

USA South West Trip - Mon 29 June


I decided that I should probably check out Chinatown, as i think it's used in alot of movies. Anyway, arriving there, it was a lot smaller than I thought it would be, and more kitsch and not authentic at all. The yum cha there was good though.

We also tried to seek out Tokyotown, which turned out to be a few japanese shops in a small block that was hard to get to. Not sure why they bothered calling it that.


We went to seek out the famous Hollywood sign. Billunta said we could see it from many places, but wasn't sure how to get up close to it. So we drove up and down windy hilly roads trying to get as close to it as possible, but always losing sight of it just when we thought we were on the right track. It seemed hopeless, until we saw a tourist bus drive past us. We thought, maybe if we just follow the tourist bus, it might lead us to the closest point we can look at it. Sure enough, we were rewarded - we noticed the bus stopping at some point, tourists getting out and taking photos, getting back on and turning around. So we did the same. :)


That evening we went out to Koreatown, which is huge compared to the touristy chinatown and non-existant Tokyotown. I suppose LA has a massive korean population, driving down the big streets and boulevards, you can see pretty much all the signs are in Korean. If it weren't for the big clean roads you would think you were actually in Korea! Anyway, we ate dinner at an awesome korean bbq place, but it's a little different from when we were in Korea. For example, asking for a small side dish of mushrooms resulted in a huge platter of mushrooms and less money in the wallet. Also, a bottle of soju, which costs around $2 in Korea, was $12. A small fact we forgot while drinking about 5 bottles of the stuff. That was an expensive meal..

Sunday, June 28, 2009

USA South West Trip - Sun 28 June


Schooner or Later's is a relaxed, lovely brunch area in Long Beach, a nice area in the southern part of LA. The rich and famous sometimes dine here, as well as own the hundreds of boats and yachts floating in the piers in front of the restaurant.

We met up with Billunta's sister, Dana, and another of Billunta's friends, Connor. Because the restaurant is so popular, there was a waiting area overlooking the boats where one can order drinks and chill out before being seated, which is quite nice. 45 minutes later, we were seated and slightly inebriated on Mimosas - a delicious champagne/orange juice concoction.

As aways, I like to order whatever is considered popular or famous or stereotypically American. The result was a beer served in a Schooner - which isn't the little tiny things we get in Australia, but a massive (around 1.5L) goblet. With that i had something called "The Mess" - a famous omelette with "a tasty blend of chopped ham, onion, and bell pepper grilled with hash browns and eggs. Topped with melted Cheddar cheese. Served with sourdough toast". Yummy! Did I mention I gained a lot of weight here?


That evening we went down to the infamous Venice Beach, where the spectacle of human life can be enjoyed in all it's myriad forms - tourist walking down the street taking photographs; buskers getting people to pay before doing their performances; people from the ghettos taking all kinds of drugs; crazy people and exhibitionists, such as the famed bodybuilder walking around in speedos posing in front of people and carrying a crystal ball. Shops advertising doctors selling Medical Marijuana abound, as it's legal in California to possess it if it's for medical purposes. Muscle Beach is full of bodybuilders and fitness fanatics who spend all day working out on the outdoor work out circuits. At around sunset everyday, large groups of people from everywhere would go to the beach and play drums and dance in a massive free-for-all drum circle, playing until the police come to break it up after sunset. Definitely a place to check out.


It's interesting to note how strict America is over alcohol consumption, probably stemming back from the days where alcohol prohibition was in effect by the puritans. These days, at the age of 18, it's ok to have sex, get married, vote, drive, and take medical marijuana, but not drink until you are 21. At any establishment that serves alcohol, you must present proof of age before they will serve you. I had to bring my passport everywhere I went.

This law was a problem to us, as Yujin was 20, turning 21 in the following month. Even though she could drink and go to bars in pretty much every other country in the world, in the US she couldn't, which meant we were also restricted in where we could go at times.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

USA South West Trip - Sat 27 June


I arrived hot, tired, dishevelled and rather disorientated at LAX airport. For some reason, the airline neglected to provide any indication of what time it was - no announcements, no clocks in immigration/customs. I only managed to work out the time after asking the information desk. "Must be because the US think they are the center of the world that they don't need to tell us the time, we should just know it, like English" i thought cynically to myself, not paying attention to how half the people in the airport were speaking languages other than English. Of course, LA, like most US countries, are cultural melting pots of various civilisations, creeds and nations, so clearly my cynicism is misguided.

I did notice how authoritive and downright mean the immigration officers sounded; in fact any LAPD officer i encounted in my trip here. I don't know if that is their intention - they could be very nice for all i know - but their aggressive loud commanding voice and manners make sure you don't even try to joke around with them. Imagine dealing with a police force where they all seem to have had a really bad day and you'll get how I felt.

At least the weather was warm and welcoming, a nice reprieve from the cold winter i escaped from. I took off my layers of clothing worn to insulate me from the ice cold blast of the airplanes air conditioning (what's with that anyway, they have Harry Potter's "dementers" running the thing?), and sat down on the floor (lack of seating) hugging my baggage, looking warily around at the shifty seemingly shifty looking characters around me. For some reason, maybe due to too much television, maybe due to the fact that any of them cold be carrying legal guns, i felt a little unsafe.

Of course I had no right to feel that way, seemed like strangers were quite comfortable chatting to the people next to them. One old asian man even offered me his seat while his wife asked me if i was waiting for someone. The cheerful friendliness of the locals was an experience that would replicate itself over and over again throughout the rest of my trip. Americans are really friendly people.

Anyway, I was waiting for my American friend, Billunta, who coincidentally was arriving an hour later from a trip to Peru. Being good friends since we met teaching English in Korea a few years ago, it was decided that we, along with his Korean girlfriend Yujin, another American, Colin, and his british girlfriend Alexis (all friends met in Korea), would try to do a roadtrip around the southwest of America. Being here was the result of nearly a years worth of planning, of making sure we could all make it to the same city at the same time.

I have to say that LAX is not one of the best airports in the world - it's rather confusing and badly designed. It took me half an hour beforehand to find out exactly which gate Billunta would be arriving from, and from that gate it seemed like 3 different places they could come from, 1 from the first floor, 1 around the corner, and 1 from the main door. I was worried I would miss him.

After a tense 20 minute wait, Billunta arrived, appearing in good health after a long trek up Macchu Picchu. Only his knee seemed to struggle, which he dismissed as a little pain that hopefully will go away, since we planned to do alot of hiking on our trip.

Later on, we would find out that his knee was sprained that that he would not be able to do much hiking, let alone walking, for the next 6 weeks! Bit of bad luck and bad timing.


We caught a taxi to Billunta's apartment in Santa Monica, where we unloaded our baggage, set up my floor space to sleep in, woke up Yujin, then went to get some food.

First impressions of LA is that the roads are big, traffic moves fast, and traffic jams like to appear for no reason at random. Forget rush hour; Billunta tells me that even at 3 in the morning, you'll might see traffic backed up on the highway in one direction, for no reason at all. Where are these people going?!!

Anyway, we stop for lunch at some famous pizza joint nearby. As food is always a major attraction for me in foreign places, I order a large Peperoni pizza, because it's a typical american stereotypical food. I'm glad i shared it with Billunta, because a large in the US means something different to everywhere else in the world i've been. I mean it was huge!! I can't even imagine what XXlarge size would look like.

Turns out that American food is usually of large portion sizes, and all soft drinks, water, tea and coffee is refillable and plenty. This explains why in two weeks i still gained 3kg, despite the hiking and exercise i got.

As for the taste, well, pizza is pizza. It was so big though that the best way to eat a slice is to fold it first.


We had a few days in LA before Colin and Alexis arrived, so we went to check out Hollywood at night. The main Hollywood strip is just that - a strip spanning a few blocks, with the pavement lined with stars and actors names. As this was just after the death of Michael Jackson, it was an interesting time to be there. A huge line of people were there, aiming to walk past Michael Jackson's star, to throw flowers and pay tribute to him. Security guards were there, continually shouting at people to "keep moving", "take your photos and leave", which was practical but rather insensitive also. Unsurprisingly,in the area were lots of MJ imitators, some good, some bad; and people selling MJ tshirts in all poses and styles.

We also saw some familiar sights but didn't go in any, such as Madame Tussads, Ripley's Believe it or not, and things we didn't expect, such as an open shopping mall with massive elephants on giant pillars and an arch with hieoglyphs on it. Cool. We had a late dinner in a strange burger place which had computer screens on the table, allowing you to order food and play games with other tables.

Hollywood at night is a scary place. Lots of crazy people come out at night on the streets; the smell of marijuna everywhere. Overheard near a club was a man telling the security guard how he just got out of jail for murder. We just kept walking and avoided eye contact with everyone else.

Not the Hollywood experience i was expecting, that's for sure.