RSSArchive for November, 2007

New York: The United Nations

I actually had not planned to visit the United Nations on the first day. It was supposed to be one of the “B-List” places that I had written down. But I guess I lost my bearing around midtown Manhattan and somehow ended up walking in the east ward direction. Before I knew it, I see all kind of people of different nationalities all attired in suits and national costumes … and for some reason I could not figure out, all of them were carrying big, big piles of files.

I checked the street I was on against the map … and found that I was just half a block away from the United Nations. Oh well, since I am already here, I went on to visit the United Nations.

Unlike all over Manhattan where every square foot of land are built up with skyscrapers, the United Nations complex is located on a very spacious ground. The UN complex consists of a 38 stories Secretariat tower and the General Assembly Building.

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The grounds around the complex had quite a number of outdoor sculptures donated by nations around the world. Perhaps the most poignant sculpture to me was the knotted gun (below). This one graced the visitor entrance to the UN.

There is also a section of the Berlin Wall on display too. Another one that I really admire is the gift from Japan … a simple Peace Bell which is cast from coins collected by children all over the world … and this coming from a defeated country during the second world war.

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I signed up for the Guided Tour. I can’t remember exactly how much but I think it’s about $13 or so. We were brought on a tour around the General Assembly building.

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We got to see the Security Council. The Security Council is perhaps the most powerful body of the UN. This is where their main task is to deliberate on peace and security. The Security Council is made up of 5 permanent members (victors of WWII) and 10 temporary seats. Can you name which countries that made up the 5 permanent seats?

We sat at the press area. From here I can see how old this facility is. The place is very clean and neatly maintained but the communications system and furnishing seems like they are from the 1970s. It was enlightening to say to least hearing how the Security Council functions.

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This is the heart of the United Nations … the General Assembly. Almost 200 member states are represented here … and the beauty of this is that each member nation gets ONE vote … it does not matter how large, how populous, or how wealthy a member state is … each gets ONE vote. The decision made is by majority … so, in theory this allows states of just 8% to pass a resolution.

It was a really moving experience seated in this grand hall.

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The UN is located on independent state soil … i.e. the land on which the UN stands in not part of the United States. They have their own stamps and all. It seems like buying UN stamps is popular with tourists … I did not get any. Anyway, the stamps purchased in UN can only be used if posted within the UN complex.

Like I said, the entire complex is really old and is in a dire need of renovations. It was just announced lately that the long awaited renovation which will cost something like $1 billion dollars will be kicking-off. The Canadian government had responded by offering the UN to move the HQ from New York to Montreal for roughly the same cost but with much more greater land for expansion. I think it would be difficult to have the UN HQ moved from NYC … but personally, I think it’s a great idea! Don’t you think?

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By the way, there are no subway to the UN HQ. You either walk or take the bus. Me … I took the bus to The Grand Central Station. Tomorrow, I will have food featured on this blog … promise.

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New York: Getting Around Manhattan

New York is a really expensive city. I spent a whole week scouring the internet for hotels and the best I could come up with was a $150 rundown hotel room in Manhattan. I finally got a motel room in New Jersey (North Bergen) that costs only $89. It was a pretty good sized room but the best thing is that it takes just 15 minutes to get from the hotel doorstep to the Port Authority Bus terminal.

The moment I got out of the station, I spotted the Chrysler Building — it was pretty exciting to me. Can’t believe I was finally in New York!

Before I came to NYC, I had been quite fearful of crime, especially when I had planned to lug all my camera gear in a backpack with the tripod that juts out — a dead giveaway that I have camera in my bag. You know what … my fears were totally unfounded. I had never felt more safer in any American city than in NYC. There were so many police cars and police men on EVERY block.

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The first morning I ended up in Manhattan was pretty overwhelming. A short 3 minutes walk from Port Authority brought me up to Times Square. It was exactly how I imagined it to be — very busy and lots of animated digital advertisements all over the place. They are bright even in the morning.

I remember it took me quite a while to get myself oriented. My first stop was the visitor center to get some info. For this trip, I had planned not to go for a Broadway show but would definitely want to get into the David Letterman’s Late Night Show (more about that later).

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I also got myself a bunch of free maps. These maps were simply indispensable. I used them so much that they did not last more than 3 days, they were all torn up. Anyway, they were available in lots of places, so finding a replacement was easy.

The ones I use a lot (the yellow one on the left), is the subway map. Traveling via the subway is often the best option. The purple one in the middle is the bus map. The last one on the right is the Manhattan street map which shows street names in greater detail. Generally, if I wanted to travel north-south, I would use the subway … and then if I wanted to travel east-west, I used the bus. NYC has a very efficient public transportation. It is so efficient that I heard NYC has the lowest percentage of people owning drivers licenses.

NYC is big, but not that big. By that, I mean NYC is very much walkable as it is flat and a lot of attractions are close to one another. So, sometimes I don’t bother to take the subway or buses and just walk … it’s a great way to see the city.

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I got myself a MetroCard which I could use on both subways and buses. The 7-day unlimited rides card costs only $24. This is the first thing you should get the moment you get into NYC. There are machines located in most stations where you could buy the MetroCard.

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I believe NYC has one of the the biggest, if not the biggest, subway system in the world. While it is efficient, I am not impressed with the system because it is so old. I felt that the air in some of the stations were quite bad and smelly … it is hot and humid too. Each time a train comes by the entire station rumbles.

It took me a couple of days to get a hang of the system. This is because some tracks has several “lines” operating on it.

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I also got the CityPass for New York. It costs $65. With that I get access to six attractions at half the entrance prices which includes:

  • The Empire State Building
  • A 2 hour Sightseeing Cruise around the Manhattan Island
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • The Guggenheim Museum
  • The Museum of Natural History
  • The Museum of Modern Art

This saves quite a bit of entrance money. The other thing about this pass is that I could use it to bypass the long lines that often forms in these popular attractions.

There is another kind of such passes. I think it’s called “Go New York” or something like that. I did not like that one. This other card allows you access to places by the day … i.e. visit as many places as you can in a day for a price. I did not want to run from one attraction to another the whole day long. My plan was just to visit one major sight a day, maybe two.

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Next stop … the United Nations.

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New York: Flying Continental from YVR to EWR

This is the first time I flew with Continental. I must fess up regarding the $110 flight ticket … there are no direct flights from Vancouver to New York. The connection is in Houston. Thaaaaat’s right … instead of just fly east-west directly, I fly way south and then up north.

But I must say I am most pleasantly surprise with Continental. Like I said, never flew with them before. I had always thought that United and Delta was the best but Continental is better to me. I will tell you why further down the blog.

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My destination is the Newark airport in New Jersey. Despite that Newark is in NJ, it is basically a New York area airport. As a matter of fact, Newark is closer to NYC than JFK.

The stopover in Houston was good with just an hour wait before the connecting flight. My “Plan B” in case I don’t get on to New York was to stay a night in Houston and visit the city. It was not necessary because both Houston and Newark are Continental hubs and there are hourly flights between them … lots of empty seats on my connection flight.

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It is on flights that I try drinks that I had never tried before. This is not overly exciting I know … Seagram’s Ginger Ale? Well, heard of it but never tried it. How does it taste … well, all pop tastes the same to me.

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This is what I like about Continental the best … they provide food … for FREE! It was nothing to shout about but considering that all other American airlines who provides free peanut packs or sells snack boxes, this is simply awesome. The box includes a surprisingly nice moist & soft muffin, some Cheerios (with milk!) and a small pack of raisins. I am happy.

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Continental does come by quite often asking if anyone wanted more drinks … three times during each sector. Most airlines will just come by twice … maybe once. I get dehydrated quite a bit on flights and I do make it a point to drink a lot (before and during the flight). BTW, the coffee was pretty good, I must say.

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They even provide free packs of peanuts on their drink rounds despite them already also provided the meals. Can’t beat that can you? For international flights, this is pretty standard but for US domestics, it’s mighty impressive.

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I like Sudoku and have purchase a computer version of it for my notebook. I even have one of those books with hundreds of Sudoku’s which you find so commonly in bookstores. Sudoku is a great time killer … that kills about 30 mins of my time.

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On the following sector, there are more food. This time it’s over lunch time and therefore they serve a more “lunchy” meal … burgers and greens, with a small bar of choc snack.

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I am impartial to burgers but the cheese burger was pretty good. It came warm (see condensation on the wrappings above?). Moist and juicy too … it was not great-great but I enjoyed it.

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The greens too was cold, fresh and crunchy. Fresh … that’s very important for salads huh?

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You guys have seen this many, many times before. My favorite inflight drink. I must have blogged about this drink on EVERY flight report I had made on this blog. LOL!

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Another thing I like about Continental is that their planes are new. I think they are the one that claim they have the youngest fleet in North America. So, how do you know if the plane is new? Well, a dead give-away is that they have flat screen TVs. You just can’t believe how many other airlines still have the ancient CRT TVs which is way past their date.

One of the shows I caught on flight was Harry Porter Potter — I don’t know which episode. Maybe it was the one that had “phoenix” in it. Dead boring for me but I know Arkensen and Nanzaro would love this show. Something about Harry Porter Potter I don’t quite understand … my boys can watch this show a hundred million times and they won’t get bored with it.

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I spent the rest of the time planning for the trip. That’s right. Being a procrastinator that I am, I had hardly planned for the trip. I managed to complete the plan 30 minutes before landing.

I’ll blog about Manhattan tomorrow … stay tuned.

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New York: Going to New York

Hey all … I had a great time in New York last month. I spent a full week in the Big Apple by myself … that’s right … I traveled by myself. As some of you have know, I had been travelling alone and as odd as some of you may think, I greatly enjoy it … especially the opportunity to take as long as I like making pictures.

BTW, I had never knew why New York is called the Big Apple. I asked friends and no one seems to really know the answer. NN told me that it’s called the Big Apple because New York is big enough to offer everyone a bite of. I think NN is just BS’ing.

I love that shot of the Empire State Building below and thought it should grace the first picture of this blog series. It’s taken from the old vibrating Brooklyn Bridge and with a extra long zoom (200mm with 1.4x extender!!). It came up tack sharp.

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A month prior to this trip, I raided the Richmond Public Library for all the travel books related to New York. I ended up with using this book for the entire trip. It is a series called the Eyewitness Travel Guides. What I like about this book is that this book “shows” me what other books only “tells” me.

There are a lot of colorful pictures on every page with 3D maps. The size is just perfect for me … I hate lugging around 2″ thick books or a book so small that I can hardly read the prints. Next time you need a travel book, you should check this series out. I had used the same book for my solo trip around Europe earlier this year. After a week, the book does get worn out. Oh, I must have been taking the book in and out of my bag like 50 times a day!

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You can buy the book off Amazon here:

I had been asked many times before … does Ben work … where does he find so much time to travel. I remember someone commenting on this blog that all I ever do is eat and travel. Well, some of you knows that I work for the aviation industry. Basically, I manage aviation systems development projects which gives me a lot of opportunity to travel. The company I work for has offices in every country where there is an airport or airline. My business unit, which deals with everything to do with “airfares”, has major offices in Vancouver, Atlanta and London. So, I do most of my travel between these cities.

The biggest perk of the company which I love so much is the number of leave I get each year (4 weeks) and the fact my family and I can travel on staff prices in most airlines. For example, the flight tickets for this trip to New York from Vancouver, BC just costs me $50 bucks … that’s right, there is no typo … it’s just fifty bucks. Well, tack in the taxes of $60 and all I paid is just $110. It is so ridiculously cheap that often I pay more for the cab ride from the airport to the city.

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So, with 2.5 weeks of vacation days left to clear before the end of the year, I decided to make use of my once a year travel opportunity on Continental Airlines. I read that the best time to travel to New York is in fall. NY could be a very humid and hot city in summer. Another impetus to travel now is that the Canadian Dollar is so strong against the USD.

The bad side of staff travel passes is that it is on standby only. It is not just any standby … it is what the airlines call a “SA5″ standby … meaning, I am at the lowest of lowest rank on the pecking order when it comes to boarding. So, I have to make “Plan B” in case I don’t get boarded. Generally, it is OK if I take flights mid-week (Tue-Thu) as it is when flights do not normally fly full. Also, I would plan to take the earliest flight of the day to the destination in case I don’t get on the first flight, I could get rebooked on the next one.

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With that preamble above, here is the chronicle of my trip to New York. It starts very early … a 6AM flight and that means that I need to be at the airport no later than 5AM. Suanne dropped me off at the airport and we went for an early breakfast. We went to the place we hate most … #9 restaurant … since this is the only place we know is opened 24×7.

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Suanne had french toast. This seems like it had been deep fried (not pan fried). Suanne recalled seeing this on TV … that in HK, their french toast is deep fried.

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And I had … what else … beef tendon and pork hock tossed noodles. Whew … the meat was really fat … and delicious!

I must admit. The service that morning was really good.

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I guess I need to explain why Suanne and the boys were not on this trip. I know some of you will wonder because I had the same questions asked by my friends too!! Well, flying on standby is difficult during heavy travel season … and especially with four people trying to get boarded together. So, Christmas period travel is definitely out of the question. Moreover, I need to use the travel pass before the end of the year and also clear some of my vacation balances. We did not want to yank the boys out of school anymore especially for Arkensen who had just started his (busier) secondary school this year. [he he he ... I actually felt guilty about this ... that's why the incessant explanation!]. As much as I want Suanne to come along but she understand. I’ll make it up to her next year.

Anyway … anyhow … hope you’ll enjoy the series for the next four weeks or so.

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Caring Place Potluck 2007

The Caring Place Community Kitchen sessions for 2007 ended early this year on 15th November. This is because the kitchen is fully booked for Christmas-related events even five weeks before the Christmas. You know, I feel that Christmas starts earlier every year.

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We had a potluck, as usual, to celebrate the closing of this year’s program. It is always great to enjoy each other’s food and chit chat about everything under the sky. I am going to miss meeting the ladies for the next couple of months. Anyway, here is what we had brought to share for the potluck.

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Stella made some Banana Apple Walnut Muffins. The large pieces of walnuts studded from the top of the muffins make it very interesting.

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Minoo made Lubria Polo which she had demonstrated in the Gilmore Park Church Community Kitchen.

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I brought Steamed Rice Cakes (Pak Thong Koh).

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Ada brought Mango Pudding.

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Amy brought some mash potatoes.

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Jean brought two items. Her Matrimonial Squares and …

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… Devil Eggs.

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Zoe is the best. She made four items, mini cheese tarts …

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… peanut salad, …

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… milk pudding, …

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… and a coffee jelly to be served with coffee creamer.

Ladies (from left, Minoo, Jean, Stella, Zoe, Amy and Ada), thank you for sharing and I had a great time. Also, I had to thank Ruby for dropping by with some Chocolate Chip Cookies even though she is not able to attend the potluck.

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I wish everyone a great year ahead.

OK, I am done for the next 1 month … Ben is supposed to start on his humongous New York series tomorrow. Being such a procrastinator, he had not blogged a single word yet. I know he is going to scramble to put it together tonight.

BTW, Ben changed a bit of the way the blog looked. There are some improvement but he had started to what-he-says-is-to “monetize” chowtimes. He had put up a few Google Ads for the last one week and it’s making some money! I hope the ads is not too distracting to you readers out there. Let us know if it does.

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Red Bean Bun

Julie also made some Red Bean Bun which is great for snacking. I know it looks so much like hamburgers (a full meal even) but it is actually light despite the size. This is actually a simplified version of those Japanese Red Bean Pancake (Dorayaki). Julie used store bought bun to substitute the pancake.

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However, the red bean paste, Julie made her own. She preferred a coarser texture red bean paste than those smooth one from the store. She did not show us how to do this though as it takes time to make it.

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To assemble this, just warm up the bun using the oven or microwave and fill the bun the red bean paste.

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The Red Bean Bun makes an excellent snack. It is best eaten warm.

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Ha ha … this is not much of a recipe huh? I hope to get Julie to show me how she makes her red bean paste someday.

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Szechuan Pepper Chicken Cold Dish

We had Julie demonstrating in the South Arm Community Kitchen again. Julie, who works as a Chinese Language teacher, told us that her students always ask her when her dish will appear in chowtimes again. For us, we still have not quite gotten over it that there are people actually looking forward to our postings.

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At this time, Julie showed us a Cold Chicken Dish. This Szechuan pepper Chicken Cold Dish is good especially as snacks with beer. This is also great for potluck. One thing for sure, the colors are just perfect for the coming Christmas season.
Ingredients

  • Chicken drumsticks, deboned keeping the skin intact
  • Szechuan Pepper Corn powder
  • Salt to taste
  • Chinese cooking wine
  • Japanese cucumber, slice in coin shape
  • Strawberry or Cherry tomatoes, cut into halves
  • Kitchen string
  • Toothpicks

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Click on the link below for the instructions.

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Caffe Artigiano on West 41st, Vancouver

Polly and I went to Caffe Artigiano for our cake meet. We have no idea that Caffe Artigiano is the home of the Canadian Barista Championships from 2003 to 2006 until I checked their website after I came home. Artigiano also had several medals from the World Barista Championship medals. Not quite gold but silver and bronze … pretty cool.

Caffe Artigiano has 5 outlets in Vancouver in all. They are located on Pender St, Hornby St, West Hasting St, Park Royal in West Vancouver and Kerrisdale. We went to the one in Kerrisdale.

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Caffe Artigiano is a very busy caffe as there were many customers come and go while we were there. I wondered why they are called a caffe and not cafe … you have any idea why?

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We were quite disappointed in the beginning as we did not find any cheese cake in their buffet. However, there were scones, biscotti, bars, sandwiches and wrap.

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We ordered two scones and a biscotti to share. This is the blueberry scones. The serving is quite large. We enjoyed it with some jam.

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We liked the second scone better, it’s made with nut and dried fruit. This scones is more crunchy and has lots of nuts and dried fruit in it. The biscotti is not what I expected. This is more cakey like instead of the crunchy type. The scones were $2.95 each while the biscotti was $1.95.

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The best is the coffee. I ordered the Caffe Mocha for $3.39. It is very smooth and creamy. The cream formation is so creative.

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Polly had the Caffe Latte for $2.99. This is the best coffee we had ever had since our cake meet. For the true coffee lover, you must visit Caffe Artigiano.

Click the link below for more coffee art. You will like some of the prettiest coffee art I have ever seen. Note that the ones below are not from Artigiano’s

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