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.