NYC Fall 2016: Part 1

Now, I’m going to spend some time talking about our amazing adventures in NYC earlier this Fall. Museums! Food! Star Trek!

We arrived in Friday evening. We stayed in a lovely boutique hotel near Union Square. That meant we had about an hour to get to the Strand before it closed for the evening! There are a lot of great bookstores in NY and the Strand is one of them. I always find some really interesting books there. Last year, I found a book about the history of cooking utensils. This time, I found an unofficial Banksy biography. And their sock selection is amazing. Poe socks, enough said.

Afterwards, we found this restaurant that is best described as small plates Spanish. Not tapas, mind you. I ordered a dish that was effectively scrambled eggs with sea urchin. My husband got a lovely dish of guinea fowl. I had sea urchin for the first time a few months ago. I go back and forth on it. I’ve had one really amazing dish of sea urchin in Chicago. This dish was pretty good but not the best. My husband’s dish was rather tasty.

On our first full day of our trip, my first stop was the Metropolitan Museum. I was very keen to see Manus Ex Machina. I had thought that I was going to miss this exhibition but it was extended. It was amazing. This exhibition looks at how fashion balances machine made with man-made. The first thing you see when you walk in is a wedding gown from 2008(?). It has this amazing white train covered in gold beads. At first, you think it belongs in the baroque period but the explanation notes that the pattern was actually designed by a computer. The exhibition is categorized by different materials like leather,feathers, flowers, metal, etc. In the flower section, they have a remote control dress with wheels. It has these seedlings on it. You have to climb into it to put it on. At an appointed time, you can send the seedlings into the air. Crazy times!

The exhibition was mesmerizing. There were a lot of 3D printed dresses, which is rather awesome. Some seem like they belong in some future era; some don’t look 3D printed. However, my favorite dresses were by Issey Miyake. You can see her genius with shapes in these photos.

This fish scale dress took 1500 hours to make.

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I also loved all the laser cut dresses. This one is covered in seahorses!

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I spent about an hour and a half wandering around this exhibit. Afterwards, I took a little journey through the rest of the museum. Right outside the exhibition space, there was a little exhibit on ceramics from China including vases depicting West Lake, where I was in July! Also, this soup tureen is amazing. I went to say hi to the temple of Dendur, one of my favorite rooms there. I also ventured into the American wing to see my Tiffany glass windows. I had a sandwich at the cafe there. Sadly, I would not recommend it.

I also made a stop on the roof to see the Psycho House, or “Transitional Object (PsychoBarn),” by Cornelia Parker. The front half looks like a creepy house while the backside reveals that it is fake. I loved the contrast with the skyline!

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My next stop was meeting my family at the musical On Your Feet! On Broadway. It’s a bio-musical about Gloria Estefan. I was skeptical at first but I ended up enjoying it. The music is fun; dancing is great. It was a fun time.

We then rushed off to see a museum that I had never been to: Mmuseumm. It’s in a freight elevator in an alleyway. Three people at most can be in the museum at a time. It’s been open in 2012 and attempts to elevate the mundane. Several exhibits were on display including ISIS currency, screenshots of the last text messages they sent a loved one, frosted cookies commemorating events in a year, objects found as people were crossing into America, Iranian fast food knockoffs. We only had about 20 minutes before they closed but it was the right amount of time. It was very charming and a philosophy I adhere to.

We walked home to the hotel from there, taking in the amazing street art in NYC. Dinner was wonderful Italian food with a renderings of a map of Naples in German. An unusual combination!

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What a great first day in NYC!

China and Cambodia: Part 13

Then the final day of our trip was upon us. We had most of the day in Phnom Penh before it was time to make our journey back home.

Our first stop was the National Museum of Cambodia. What a lovely museum! The first hall is filled with all sizes of bronzes, which is pretty impressive. Other halls have many stone sculptures of gods and goddesses from Hindu and Buddhist traditions. There’s even a little section of the courtyard with linga and yoani!  One side of the museum had more recent artifacts from the 19th century such as wooden sculptures and a caravan. One of my favorite parts of the museum was a section of contemporary Cambodian artists. I love seeing the mashup of contemporary and older art. Just beyond the contemporary art was a room filled with Buddhas, which was really great. Sadly, photos were not permitted without an extra fee (don’t ask me why I didn’t pay it. Foolish choice!)

The main section museum centered a courtyard with a Buddha statue in the middle surrounded by four lakes filled with fish. You could buy fish food from a vendor in the museum. And obviously, we did. (With all the cats, dogs, and birds of this trip, it was time to give fish a turn). We had a lot of fun wandering from pond to pond distributing tiny bits of dried food. Can’t say I’ve done that at a museum before!

Afterwards, we decided to wander the area a bit, something we hadn’t done a lot of. Around the museum, there were stores selling art, sometimes large sculptures that I wished I could have taken home. We also ended up at a market, less touristy and more everyday. It was a fascinating experience walking through the halls to see the various household goods and food on sale. Sadly, no fried crickets to redeem myself.

We took a little trip to Wat Phnom that we had seen on the first night. It was well worth the trip. It seems to have been built on a hill so there are various levels to explore as you climb up. We saw beautiful shrines filled with offerings. It was lovely. My friend paid to release sparrows back into nature from vendors at the Temple.  When we left, I bought a durian popsicle from a vendor on the street. While it wasn’t fresh durian, it was absolutely delicious. At least, I got a taste of it in this part of the world. Next time, my mission will be to get fresh durian!

We eventually found ourselves on the riverfront again for lunch. Once again, our food was amazing, fresh and incredibly cheap. I had another coconut with lunch. So tasty and refreshing. We decided to go back to the Foreign Correspondents Club for a final drink before heading to our hotel. We shared a few drinks while watching the boats float down the river. What an amazing trip.

We took a tuktuk back to the hotel to rest a bit before our midnight flight back to Shanghai. We ate the remaining candy we had from Shanghai and watched Cambodian TV. We hired a car to take us to the airport. We were a bit early so we found a series of chairs nearby and had some pastries from the Blue Pumpkin. Eventually, the gate opened, we checked our bags (giving a silent prayer that we would see our bags again), and entered the main part of the terminal. I managed to have one last coconut before our flight!

We were slightly delayed, which made me a bit nervous. We were the last plane to leave Phnom Penh that evening so there’s always the chance that they’ll cancel it. Thankfully, our flight took off. When we landed in Shanghai in about 5 in the morning, we played the eternal game of who do we trust. When we checked our bags in Phnom Penh, a sign informed us that we had to collect our bags in Shanghai and recheck them. However, when we got to the desk in Shanghai to get our boarding passes for the next leg, we were told that our bags were checked through. Shades of South Africa again. We decided to trust the Chinese official and made our way to gates. We had a final meal of dumplings at a cafe, which was pretty good for airport food.

We flew home and collected our bags without an issue.

What an amazing, exhilarating trip. Can’t wait to go back!

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 12

Our first full day in Phnom Penh. What a city. It’s bustling with people; motorbike outnumber cars on the road. It’s growing quickly. I know that when I return, it’ll be completely different with the fast pace of development. I’m glad I got to see the city now.

Our first stop for the day was quite serious. We decided to start our visit with the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, about 15 minutes from the center of town. I had studied the Khmer Rouge in graduate school and had wanted to bear witness to the past. So we hired a tuktuk driver who drove us to the site. Through twisty roads and past little stores, many selling gasoline from bottles, we made our way to Choeung Ek.

13765668_10100890121336530_3778632479927105901_oFor the next three paragraphs, I’m going to talk about some very upsetting things. If you wish to skip, I’ll bold the section where you can start reading again.

We paid the fee and received a headset that would led us on the tour of the fields. As you walk in, the first thing you see is the Memorial Wat, filled with skulls and femurs of people who were killed and buried there. But it’s the last stop on the tour. The audio guide explained the stages; how people entered the facility, where they were killed and their bodies burned with chemicals to remove them quicker, and then the various burial pits. The process of death. There’s also a small museum that you can wander through to read some of the history. But the thing that struck me the most was the case filled with tools of death. Farming tools. Day to day tools turned into implements of death. I had forgotten that the regime had used these tools to kill because bullets were expensive.The kroma scarves, traditional Cambodian scarves, used to bind people’s hands, blindfold them. There was a tree that the audio guide pointed out was where babies and small children would have their heads bashed against it. The everyday turned grotesque. The banality of evil. As soon over and over again in other genocides and massacres.

The audio guides were really effective at telling the story. One of the most inspired parts was how they had people (or actors) tell the stories of events they experienced or partook in. I’m also a big proponent of giving voice to people to tell their own stories. It made it even more alive and more brutal.

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The final stop was the Memorial Wat. It has skulls and femurs of folks that were uncovered in the pits surrounding the area. They had little colored dot stickers on the skulls that let you know how they suspected the person died. You can buy flowers right outside to leave as an offering.

Our next stop was the Russian market. We thought it might be good to do something frivolous after the seriousness and sadness of Choeung Ek. We were told that we had to go to the Russian Market. We got back on our tuktuk and drove there. It’s a covered market, that was a bit like an oven that day. It was more than a tourist market; there were sections for food, auto supplies, clothing. We wandered and shopped, a contrast to the hefty history we had just been to. It was a great place to find intricately made shadow puppets.

But it was hot. We ended up leaving a lot sooner because of the heat. As we got outside of the market, we decided we needed an air conditioning break. The only place we could easily find: a KFC. Yes, a KFC. I’ve never been to one before. (I can’t eat fried chicken). But it was the answer to our prayers. I got an ice cream with jelly and my friend got a soda. We sat there for an hour, enjoying the sitting and the air. It was what we needed at the time. Oy!

After we were sufficiently refreshed, we headed off to the National palace. What an incredible palace. The architecture is astonishing. The area is a giant garden with buildings all over. Reminded me a little of Topkapi with the various courtyards. The throne room building is amazing; you can’t go in but you can look into it through the windows. As we were looking into the throne room, the rains came. We waited it out underneath the roof for about five minutes. When it seemed to clear, we left the safe confines of the roof.

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As we wandered next to a substantial tree, the rains came back. So we hid underneath it, which was not the best move since it wasn’t exactly a dry location. After about five minutes, a guard nearby waved us over to an off limits building with a overhanging roof. We ran over through the pouring rain. We took a seat on the steps and watched the world around us. During the storm, we noticed tiny frogs jumping around the courtyard. It was kinda magical. Like the time in the Japanese forest, where we were stuck in the rain with the sounds of taiko drums in the distance. Moments you’ll never forget.

After the rains stopped and held off, we wandered some more. In another courtyard, it was lined with these beautiful murals of scenes from the Ramayana. Very cool. We sat a little bit and fed the stray cats in the area. We also toured the silver pagoda filled with treasures. The floor is lined with silver tiles. There’s a beautiful Baccarat Buddha with over 2000 diamonds in the center of the room. We also found a statue to Napoleon III that was nearby.

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Our final stop for the day was the Mekong river front. We wanted to get some dinner and check out the Foreign Correspondents Club. We found a place that had rooftop dining. I had a coconut, which was delicious as always. Again, the food was amazing. Fresh and delicious. We watched the sun go down on the river. In contrast to other city rivers or waterways, it was relatively quiet. But in less than five years, it will be filled with boats and the banks of the river will have giant hotels and business skyscrapers.

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We ended the evening at the Foreign Correspondents Club. What a trip. Here was where journalists gathered after a long day reporting. We got seats at the balcony so we could watch the world before us as we sipped our various drinks. There are old pictures and plaques on the walls talking about the not so distant times. What a place!

That’s all for now!

China and Cambodia: Part 11

It was a travel day. We were going to our final destination of the trip: Phnom Penh, the capital city. We took it easy in the morning and got up a little later than prior days. (no 4am wakeup!) We then found a cute breakfast place and I tried my first avocado toast (thinking briefly on the journey of the avocado to Cambodia). It was tasty and a relaxing start to the day. We finished packing and waited for our ride to the bus station.

My friend had wanted to take a bus instead of flying between cities. I’d never really traveled much around Asia by car or bus so it sounded like a plan to me. We rode the Giant Ibis bus, a fairly luxurious bus. We got a snack, charging stations, and even Wi-Fi. It was about 6 hour trek to Phnom Penh, where we got to really see more of the country. It was a fascinating ride. There were many houses on stilts; some were really bare bones while others seemed luxurious. Fields and rivers passed us by. We saw a few funeral processions to local temples; many were on foot while others were on bikes or motorbikes.

There didn’t seem to be an interstate highway like we have here in the states. It was a fairly local road to get to Phnom Penh. We had several pit stops (the bus doesn’t have bathrooms). At one place, I bought a coconut from a lady who hacked it open with a machete. Unfortunately, it was room temperature and had fermented just a tiny bit. Alas. Still worth the dollar.

We got to Phnom Penh as the sun was setting. We went by one of the biggest traffic circles I’ve ever seen with a lovely statue in honor of Bayon.

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We passed astonishingly lit up Wat Phnom, one of the main temples of the city, as we got to our final stop. When we got off, there was a bit of crush but we grabbed our bags and hired a tuktuk driver to take us to our hotel. When our guidebook had been written, it had mentioned that some tuktuk drivers would hook up the passenger cart to their motorbike but most used bicycles. Within years of that being written, every tuktuk driver we saw used a motorbike.

Traffic in Phnom Penh was crazy, almost crazier than Shanghai. The vast majority of vehicles on the road where motorbikes. There were few stoplights in the city. So to cross large streets, you had to go slowly. Unlike Shanghai, everyone was fairly slow and let people in. Shanghai is crazy times when it comes to traffic.

Once we threw down our stuff, we decided to find food in this new city. It was quite a change from Phnom Penh. We had to fend off the tuktuk drivers right outside the hotel’s walls. We wanted to walk to dinner. We wandered a few streets, found one that seemed right out of Michigan avenue, with big glittering stores. But we found an area filled with restaurants and chose one.

It was clearly a tourist area but the food was good as always in Cambodia. I had chicken in a coconut that was delicious. We watched this new world around us. Big and busier than Siem Reap. It was exciting. I couldn’t wait to explore the city more.

That’s all for now!