Friday, 27 June 2008

The Boston Chapters: The Tail of Two Cities

Watching my breath dissipate in front of me was a sure sign of how cold it actually was. It was a Sunday, and despite former visits to Downtown Boston with my team a few days earlier, I would consider this to have been my most raw and freshest experience with the city itself, simply due to one simple fact...

That I was travelling on my own... again. There seems to be just an unexplainable appeal to my soul to be out exploring the frontiers of a foreign land accountable solely to myself; allowing for lots of time to fully absorb and reflect on the sights and sounds of the land, to get obtain a memory in its rawest form.

This isolation, however, was in equal part a matter of circumstance and choice, but the means to the end didn't really matter, as I was already in front of Boston Common, the town's presumably miniature of Central Park.

Alighting from the shuttle at the Boston Common due to a train service shutage, the park held a lot less life than the image of it on the sunny day before. It is somewhat astonishing how the park factors into the standard American lifestyle. Often seen as a green mental oasis amidst the monotony of the urban life, the park often served as the perfect venue for a day out in the sun, and also as an open-spaced, make-shift stadium for performances on special occasions. Like the festivities of the Pride Parade Concert that we witnessed the night before amongst the throngs of lesbians dancing in celebration around us.

Pride and Joy

Navigating through the streets and alley ways, I bypassed many cultural rich buildings to find myself back in the exact cross junction I was a few days ago.

The surrounding architecture was that of a fascinating mix of contemporary and heritage. The immediate surroundings that spawned from the crossing with mostly 2 - 3 storey heritage buildings of the uniform red and brown brick and mortar type. Yet, the distant backdrop was that of reflective skyscrapers that gave off a glaring reflection as the setting sun smiled on it.

Man in Black

In fact, this architectural heritage littered the streets of Boston as I made my way on foot through the almost-easily-nagivatable streets; often bypassing buildings that had that extra watch-tower or simply a clock tower as the pinnacle of it. Generally a town with a sparse population of skyscrapers, the central area of Boston, or Boston proper was not exactly a very big town and was possible to be traversed mostly by foot; something I personally didn't mind and found quite enjoyable, in a way.

Home to the Freedom Trail, a red-bricked pathway that winded through the city to link all the historical sights together, Boston was supposedly one of the most, if not THE most conservative city in the US, and perhaps her architecture is a reflection of her reluctance to embrace change. Following the red-bricked road, I ended up in a historical graveyard, which was supposedly where Benjamin Franklin buried his parents.

But the real reason for following the Freedom Trail was to get to Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall, a district beaming with the sound and fury of life over the weekends. Traditionally a market in the yester-years, Quincy Market was now a modern hyper-extended food court that kept in the spirit of selling some of Boston's most famous delicacies, such as Clam Chowder, Lobster and Ice Cream.

Hardly one that was able to resist the allure of fine food, I succumbed to my gastronomical desires and settled in with a Lobster Salad and Clam Chowder set. Conditioned to start with the soup first, I sipped a mouthful of the creamy Clam Chowder and was instantaneously convinced why it was one of the city's signature dish. Extremely creamy in texture, yet not at all overly viscous, the Clam Chowder was rich and smooth and actually had a hearty portion of clam.

The Lobster Salad on the other hand, was hardly as mind-blowing. Mixed between two sides of a loaf of bread, the Lobster Salad was generally fresh, but didn't pack the oomph of a dish that was heralded to be famous. Perhaps it is due to the fact that it was not exactly THE Lobster that was supposed to be famous, but early traces of it showed a lot of further investigation was needed between its fabled reputation.

The walls of Faneuil Hall that surrounded Quincy Market were equally modernized, carrying popular American brands like American Eagle and Gap, the walls of Faneuil Hall were lined with a huge array of modern clothes and gift stores that gave my wallet quite an exercise.

Not Cool Enough for the Weather

However, it was the culture that lay within these walls that added the most magic to the place. As if as a tribute to the cultural heritage of the place, people flocked to Quincy Market despite its modernized setting, in order to simply be a part of the crowd of the many street performances showcased throughout the day, or simply as a gathering point to see and be seen over an Al Fresco meal or a drink at one of the many pubs. The horse-drawn carriages were simply icing on the cultural cake.

Part and Parcel

As I made my way through the streets to the sounds of the closing shutters of the shops on an early (*ahem* 6pm) Sunday evening, I secretly smiled to myself with the fulfilling reminder of what it was like to spend some quality time with myself. Perhaps "The Big 5" was right in calling me an introvert afterall.

The Closest I could find to My Heritage

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

The Boston Chapters: A Tale of Two Cities

Separated by a mere body of water, the cities of Boston and Cambridge are so spatially near, yet beautifully independent and distant from one another in terms of culture and heritage.

My first experience with both cities couldn't be more on the opposite ends of the weather scale as well. Fighting through a heat wave as we were given a walking-tour about Cambridge on the first day of our actual orientation, I clearly remembered swearing to myself as I recalled the Director's words of *ahem* wisdom; those which clearly stated that "it's better to bring a jacket along during June, as it can still be cold if it gets windy."

I remembered sweating profusely under the sweltering heat as we made our way within and without the MIT campus, invading the other university in town (*ahem* Harvard), before ending off at Harvard Square, which was probably somewhat considered the town center of Cambridge and very much within walking distance from the rest of town. In fact, almost the entire area was within the realms of "walking distance".

Cambridge was a quaint little town, with the short little buildings wearing the faces of its heritage clearly on their walls. The town made no effort to disguise the fact that it was essentially a University-town, with the general populace mostly of the expected age as well, and almost all bearing somewhat intellectual mugs.

Reminiscent of Nikko (Japan), Harvard Square seemed to be the area in which most of the roads came together in a crossing, and resulted in a natural choice for the emergence of the shops that surrounded it. Speaking of which, the shops, while hardly bearing the extensiveness and variety of those in a fast-paced metropolis, had their own laid-back, low-storeyed, lazy-flavour that held true to its "slow-paced, small town" roots.

Not Pictured: Profuse Sweating

A refreshing change of pace to what I've been used to back home, all would have been well have with the hospitable welcome into the "Land of the Free" save for the fact that we were made to walk more than 3 hours in the sweltering heat; so much so that we had to take refuge in a little teahouse to wait for the sun to set on us, and at this time in this part of the world, the sun sets no earlier than 8 and rises no later than 5.


Tuesday, 17 June 2008

The Boston Chapters: What Lies Beneath...

Breathing in the fresh spring-time morning air, I watched cyclists go by me ever so frequently on my little walk towards campus from the residential dorm, Burton Conner. Cycling was apparently a big part of the culture in Boston, especially on the Cambridge side of the river, which was essentially a university town.
Not knowing what to expect, I only arrived at the street across the main buildings after a little bit of directional probing, something I was all-too-familiar with, as I remembered telling Michelle the very words, "It's an English speaking country, anything we are not sure of, we can always ask."

Majestically standing across the road were the large stone columns that held the foundations of the west-side building of one of THE most renowned Technological Universities in THE WORLD, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, or more commonly known as, MIT.

Entering the building, I realized that I had no idea where exactly IN the building I was supposed to go. So, as I wandered around the hallways of the interior of the complex, my improvising mind was looking for people or places in which I could possibly get some information or access to my email from.

Aimless wandering took me out into the central front yard of the campus, where I stood in front of the proverbial Dome of the main building. Often seen as a distinctive trademark associated with the MIT acronym, the Central Dome has been known to have been subjected to all forms of student "abuse."

In a school where the word "hacking" originated from, there is a culture to do crazy things referred to as "hacks" as part of the school's culture. Apparently, there was a particular hack that had a police car literally placed at the top of said dome.

Wandering until Lady Luck showered her pity on me by setting up a chance occurrence with Michelle and gang, I was finally able to follow them to the intended location. Winding through the corridors, and climbing up the stairs was a little underwhelming; entirely due to the fact of the decor of the campus and the facilities within it.

For one of the leading technological universities of the world, one would probably hold expectations of spiffy, hi-tech stuff in the details of the facilities and buildings around campus; yet, none of these were really present. The halls were colored in pale brown and beige and the doors of the offices along the corridors totally blended in to give the building its archaic feel, both on the inside and the outside.

A tour around the campus only further reinstated this point. But what the campus lacked in sleekness, it more than made up for it in terms of heritage. Most buildings spotted uniformly brown / beige exteriors, yet architecturally different enough from one another to be able to almost intuitively tell them apart.

More importantly, most of the buildings had their own little stories to go along with their identities; be it the Green Building's (bottom left) tale to work around the limit to the number of stories, or the Stata Center's (bottom right) unique and instantly recognizable architecture; these little tales associated with the buildings themselves, in addition to all the traditions and stories of its interiors, such as the Eastman Nose or the Infinite Corridor, are what sum up to give the school its prestigious culture and identity. And the bottomline is, no amount of fanciful hi-tech, savvy architecture build atop those grounds can actually account for What Lies Beneath it all.

The Room

Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Boston Chapters: 49...

9th June 2008

"The long flight won't be as bad as you remember it to be."

My brother's words ringing through my head as I reclined into the seat and lowered my head, still visibly dazed from the miserable 15 hour flight that I had just alighted from. The combination of the inhumanly cramp leg-room with a stupid aisle-seat-guard-dog who was mostly obstructive with his fancy macbook and whatnot watching some lame rock-band dvd, requiring a good 7 or more steps to be performed each time I wanted to pass through him was *ahem* torturous, to say the least.

Deeply questioning the tease of Fate to give me the aisle seat on a leg-room-hefty 4-hour trip to Hong Kong, only to turn the tables on the more important flight and giving me the miserable end of the stick for the much more vital 15-hour leg was more than enough to stir me from my attempted slumber.

As I opened my eyes, I fully absorbed the desolate sight before me. Clusters of the larger group of the 40-odd of us, scattered all over Chicago's O'Hare airport floor, some completely horizontal, others somewhat; but all completely miserable from the repeated news of the last leg to Boston being delayed over and over again, first from 5pm to 7pm, and then from 7pm to 9pm.

"The flight's been cancelled," someone announced in our general direction, with shock still deeply embedded in the tone of his voice. Typically, the half and non-believers went to the screen to see for themselves, like a virtual pinch to their souls.

"So what happens now?" I turned around to ask the guy next to me, half in shock, half in expectancy.

2 hours later, the answer finally reached my ears.

"Due to a thunderstorm, all flights to Boston have been cancelled. Currently, there are no other means of transport available as well, so United Airlines has is offering us a place to stay for the night, but there is only enough room for 44 of us," said the all-knowing-voice.

"So now, we need 14 volunteers to stay behind. All those who want to volunteer, raise your hands."

"Are you volunteering?" I was asked, despite my hands being obviously kept down, but thanks to my proximity to the majority of eager-beavers hungering for the coveted make-believe prize of the "best intern" or whatever.

"No, do you see my hands raised?" I snapped back.

"If you are not volunteering then stand away."

And sure enough, after 2 hours of transport hiccups and whatnot, I was finally on the bed at the Day's Inn, ready to snooze off after a 31-hour-needed shower, despite the lack of a new set of clothes to change into. Still, the ability to take a fully horizontal posture on soft ground was a rejuvenating oasis in a desert of misery.

6 hours of quality rest gave us enough optimism to re-enter the grace of the Lady Luck and beg her to smile upon us once again, or at least long enough to be able to see us through the Boston.

Yet, for every little thing She gives, She takes just as much. Through the chaos of the debacle from the day before, our group was divided into 3 separate flights to Boston. Perhaps retaining a little of my affinity with the ladies, I was showered with enough favour to be part of the first group, along with 10 others.

Up and down, in and out. 2 hours in, to my utter amazement, I was FINALLY standing on Boston soil.

As we boarded the bus, I turned to the guy behind me, cracking into a weary smile as I sighed, "Can you believe it? After 49 hours, we are FINALLY in Boston."

He broke into a weary but relieved smile as well as I finished my sentence.

Light at the End of the Long and Gloomy Tunnel

Sunday, 8 June 2008

Spirited Away...


The number of minutes away from being Spirited Away to a (not-so)foreign land for the next 2 months.

I've probably already ran through the process in my head quite a number of times over the last few months, with reality creeping closer and closer with each iteration of the mental cycle.

Partial feelings of excitement, anxiety and expectancy all run through my veins as I lay in wait over the course of the hours. "I'm sure you'll be fine", "I'm sure you'll have fun" are the lines that are so often heard these days.

Undoubtedly. After all, I'm always been quite the fan of American culture; and an even bigger passionate for travelling.

Always believing in stepping out of the comfort zone, always being the Experiential, always preaching about chasing the dream; its finally now come down to this... 320 away from putting my money where my mouth is and taking the step of faith... the big step towards an unprecedented level of independence and freedom, for better or for worse; yet almost essential for my growth in all aspects regardless.

But on a lighter note, the comforting fact is that at least the days prior to this departure have been more than well spent. I believe that I've almost done all I wanted to do (yeah, Ninja Gaiden II)and met almost all who mattered over the course of the last few weeks, which I'm sure most who are in this list should know that they already are, no matter how little I say it. For those, I say "... in 2 months time."

Yet, there are some things, 3 of particular note, that one can never say a confident goodbye to. And to those, it has to be "You will be missed..."


Minutes away to the gates... the gates that lead to the doors of hope to the next phase of the dream.

........... I hope I'm ready.

................... See you on the Other Side

Tuesday, 3 June 2008

My Humble House, Hardly

16th May 2008

Walking into the dimly-lit corridor did little to indicate to us what to expect upon entering the hallway. Crossing a majestic, classic, marble-black waterfall, illuminated with what-beared-some-resemblance-to-an-image-of-a-sun, we were lead across the bridge, so to speak, into the inner recesses of the "promised land overflowing with milk and honey," ok, not so much milk and honey, but still almost equally tantilizing.

Seated on high chairs that were more than fitting for my Gothic, vampiric taste; the fruits of an afternoon's labour of research after a sudden change of plans bore more, much more, than the sow itself. The captured images on the webpage hardly did the red-lit hall, the star-lit walls, and the marble floors the justice it deserved. Sounds of water flowing in the background brought about a calming ambient sound accompanied by some questionable musical tastes; but nothing could rob the surrounding furnishing of its zen-like grandeur.

Not the usual suspects for Chinese Cuisine (modern or otherwise), the lucky couple flipped through the artistic pages of the calligraphy-decorated menu in an attempt to make an informed decision for the spread for the night. The entire setting, from the ambience, to the furnishing, down to the menu design, all bore a consistent flavour to it; one that was a fusion of traditional zen and a more contemporary edge.

"If they dedicate one whole page to it, it must mean that it is their specialty dish," I told her, in my usual assumptious fashion, as she happily munched on the basket of appetizers, filled with rice crackers and traditional Chinese biscuits, but made to dip with the complimenting plum sauce.

As Sour as the Plum

True enough, the said specialty was quickly served to our table to bear the judgement of the lucky couple. Picking up the chopsticks, I grabbed the Green Tea Dumplings off the platter and sampled the chef's work; only to find one word flowing in my mind thereafter.... "Art." With succulent fillings of prawns, meat and vegetables, the traditional saltiness of the fillings were only uniquely and contrastingly accentuated by the Green Tea wrapping wrapped over the dumplings, resulting in a potpourri of sweet and salty. It's a pity that there were only 8 to go around the 2 of us, though.

Specialty Dish, Indeed

The Hot-and-Sour soup was served on a uniquely designed bowl / plate; bearing the width of a traditional plate, but with a deeper caveat in the centre of the plate that functioned as a bowl. Remembering how a particular friend (Jason, I'm looking at you) uses hot-and-sour-soup as a benchmark on which to gauge the standard of different Chinese Restaurants, I would believe that this particular one sat comfortably on the upper tier.


"Those chairs really remind me of the type of chairs that Dracula would sit on," she continuously exclaimed, every other time she lifted her head in that particular direction.

Taking a breather from the gastronomical adventure in order to toy with the candle, she was inspired enough by the artistic setting to take a crapshot at some crap shots, all in the mood of the Gothic and the mysterious.

Essence Represented

"Now, THAT is a good shot," I said, as the mid-riff bearing waitresses served us our last two dishes simultaneously.

"Which waitress do you think has the best figure?" I asked her, as she peered from tummy to tummy, seeking out the answer while I continued to scoop the rice into the bowl.

"I think it's that one," she said, pointing to a bespectacled waitress at the corner, as she brought a spoonful of the Olive Fried Rice to her mouth.

"Mmm, the Olive Fried Rice is damn nice," she exclaimed, as I took my first spoonful.

Leagues above the Norm

Rice littered with seafood and pieces of egg fried to perfection, the added olives gave the rice a brownish-green tint, but more importantly, a subtle yet enhancing fragrance and flavour to the bowl of fried rice, putting it in a totally different league from the conventional fare that we've both been used to.

Stirring the Silver Bait Basket, I discovered an assortment of fish, squid, prawn and scallops all held firmly within the fried-flour constraints of the basket. While the meat was generally succulent and juicy, my major gripe with the dish was that it tasted a little too.... traditional, if lack for a better word. Bearing stark contrast to the rest of the more "modern" and experimental fare that filled our stomachs prior to that.

Silver-Bait Basket, whatever THAT means

Stomachs-filled and memories-lived, I took her hand in mine for the 8th month, as we made our way across the little black bridge back into the mortal realm after a heavenly meal. Something in my subconscious reminded me that this would be the last proper celebratory meal over the next 3 months, as I stepped down from the little black steps. I turned around to garner the ambience one more time, only to realise the irony in the restaurant's namesake, "humble" was definitely by no means an apt monicker for the restaurant.

Lady by the Water

Couple in the Dark

Black Magic