After thought: Los Angeles, California

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Palm trees soaring into the cerulean skies, that was how I knew I was in California. Well, that and the fact that I also bought a ticket to Los Angeles.

It was all a blur at first, stepping out of the airport, and trying to make my way to my host’s place without the use of my phone. I never had a chance to stop and take it all in, until I finally settled down and put my bags away. That’s when I began to see the familiar sights I had seen on TV shows. Towering palm trees along the sides of the road, clear blue skies that seem almost unreal, amazing weather that’s just perfect. I was in California. I was finally there.

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Throughout my stay in California, I took the train a lot. I took the train almost everywhere I went. The train, much like everywhere else’s, saw many different people. It was pretty eye-opening to see the kinds of people who rides the train. The tap card, is what they use to get around. It’s $1.50 per ride, no matter where your destination is. For some people, train rides are free – they just tag behind the person in front who, tapped to enter the station. I’ve tried it once or twice, it’s almost effortless. There’s no one there to check your entry, so you can just follow behind someone else, and no one would know.

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At first glance, the map of LA’s rail system can be overwhelming. The trick to getting around LA is to google your directions and then follow it to the tee.

Truth be told, I have never done anything like that before. I have never travelled so far on my own, I have never stayed at a stranger’s place and to be honest, I wasn’t the least bit afraid. I was more stoked than anything. LA was the first time I’ve ever couchsurfed, and it was amazing. I made new friends and met different people who are in the same place as I am because of the same reasons. Yes, I had to sleep on the ground with only some sheets as my cushion, but honestly, I wouldn’t have it any other way. That is also the price to pay if you want to travel cheap.

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This is Koreatown, I stayed in this neighbourhood for about a week before I left for Dallas. This is a pretty neat neighbourhood. It has everything you need within walking distance.20140208-204827.jpg

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The skies in California never fail to take my breath away. Every single dusk and dawn, the colors in the sky is so vibrant, it is like a painting but better. It’s real, this is all nature. There were days where I tried to capture it on camera, but my camera could not even do it enough justice.20140208-204931.jpg

On this trip, it was like every where you turn, there’s a picture worthy moment. Whether if it’s the sky, or an incredibly pretty park. This is just a regular bench in a church and a willow tree with its sweeping canopy of leaves. But I guess if you look hard enough, there is beauty in everything you see. Try a different angle, look at it with a whole new perspective, maybe you’ll find treasure right beneath your nose.20140208-205009.jpg

This  was my first time in LA, and I had absolutely no idea where to go other than Hollywood Blvd. So I googled places to visit in LA and Olvera Street came up. It was pretty far away from where I was staying, but I thought it would be an adventure to go out and walk about. So I did, I followed the instructions on google maps and took a train downtown, and then started walking. And walking. I am pretty sure that at some point I started doubting google maps, but I had already walked so far, I just continued on the route that was given. True enough, I saw the little marketplace. It wasn’t very fancy, considering that it is the oldest part of downtown LA. But it was filled with so much color and people, it reminded me of Mexico – or at least what I think Mexico would look like. True enough, this place has Mexican roots.20140208-205026.jpg

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On Olvera Street, there’s a really old house that is turned into a museum. It’s called the Avila Adobe and was built in 1818 by Francisco Avila. It has the distinction of being the oldest standing residence in Los Angeles, California. True to it’s name, the rooms were old and it creeped me out. The floors creaked as you take a step, and the rooms were so well preserved that it seemed like it could come to life any time.

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After a fulfilling Mexican dinner and a day of exploring the oldest town in LA. I walked back where I came from, only to find sights I’ve missed on the way to Olvera Street. The mountains in the background were so faint, that if you don’t look hard enough, you just might miss it. I come from a small city-state, I have never seen mountains as a backdrop for roads in my country. This sight was amazing, it took my breath away. The setting sun made it even more magnificent. 20140208-205139.jpg

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The streets of LA were filled up by many different sights. Hobos, for one, fill up the streets pretty well. Food vendors are everywhere, I hardly think that they have a valid license for selling these food but boy, are they delicious.20140208-205241.jpg

Hollywood Blvd was quite a disappointment. It was extremely overrated, but I cannot not go and see it for myself. After all, I was in LA. The Hollywood Walk of Fame was not as glamorous as it seems. The entire street was pretty empty and it was too quiet for my liking. I expected more… life. But hey, I got to see the hall of fame. If you’re in LA, I wouldn’t recommend you to go there, but then again, you’re in LA. You have to see it, no matter how overrated it is.

If there is one thing that I regret, it was that I never got to see Santa Monica Beach during the day. This is Santa Monica at dusk, can you believe how amazing this looked in real life, while I was standing on the board walk, watching the sun set? I cannot repeat enough, how many times California took my breath away. By the time I got to Santa Monica, the sun was already half way down. I failed to take into consideration how early it gets dark in winter, and how long the bus ride was. I was however, extremely thankful that I still made it in time to catch the last glimpse of the setting sun. It was magical.

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After all that glorious sun had set, I made my way down to Santa Monica Pier. There wasn’t a lot of people, maybe because it was a weekday. I did wish that Derek was there with me though, it would have been so much better and magical if he was.20140208-205314.jpg

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And lastly, I had to take a picture of this.20140208-205511.jpg

LA wasn’t just all fun and sights. It showed me many things. Yes, there are many hobos sleeping on the streets while it’s cold out, but there are also many kind souls who leave food by these hobos. There was not a single homeless person without packets of food by their “bed”. My new friends and I did the same thing with our leftovers, I know, leftovers aren’t the best thing to give, but hey, it was better than not having anything at all. LA was also not how most TV shows portrayed it to be. My friend lost her entire purse and some kind soul returned it to her with all her belongings intact. I guess there is good everywhere we go.

LA you have been wonderful. I will definitely be seeing you again, and if I could, I will want to stay there for a little while.

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Places and people.

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What makes a place worth remembering? Is it the places you’ve seen on the internet? Is it the things you’ve heard about on TV? Or is it really the people you haven’t met?

It was definitely the people I haven’t met for me. There were so many things I remember about California; the weather was amazing, even though it got a little chilly at times. The sky was magnificent at any time of the day, or night. The food was delicious, all those mexican in my belly makes me so happy. And most of all, the people I’ve met in California – Drew, Moon, Elsa and David. The strangers I’ve met made it so difficult for me to leave. California was great, but the friends I’ve met in California, they are the ones I’ll always remember.

Texas was more boring than I’d imagined it to be. The water tastes weird in Texas, everything looks flat and spread out. It was difficult to travel via public transit and it was definitely colder than LA was. Despite all of that, I will still miss Dallas. I will miss Spencer and his amazing hospitality, even though he’s so busy with work and school. I will miss Gibbs and how he was mean to me the whole time we were together. Again, the strangers I’ve met makes leaving Dallas so sad. To be fair, gibbs is no stranger, if anything, he made it very difficult for me to leave. It’s incredibly difficult to have amazing friends so far away from you, but it is inspiring and heartwarming to know that you have a friend somewhere out there in the world, who will always remember you and all the times you’ve had together.

I can’t imagine how difficult it will be to leave Indiana and New York, because just thinking about it breaks my heart.

Los Angeles

Sitting on the balcony of my host’s apartment, looking out the gridded window, it’s 1030 AM. The amazing cerulean sky and towering palm trees makes LA seem so perfect. I actually wouldn’t mind living here in LA for a while if I can. The sky in LA takes my breath away, it’s incredibly pretty.

In the morning it varies between a pretty azure and a nice cerulean, but when it comes to sundown, the sky turns purplish pink. After that crazy shade of pink, the sky transits into a perfect shade of orange with hues of red and yellow. I took some photos, it doesn’t really do the sky justice, but it is as close as it gets.

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After visiting Hollywood Boulevard, I’ve got to say that it is pretty disappointing. I pictured it to be more vibrant, bustling with live and crazy crowds but instead, it was quiet and empty. It kinds of makes the stars on the ground less significant than it is advertised to be. I’m still glad I saw it though, you can’t come to LA and not visit Hollywood Boulevard!

Its about 14 degrees celsius out, it is pretty cold for LA. It should get warmer in the afternoon. I think I’m doing pretty well in this weather, considering that I’ve only been wearing a long sleeved top and leggings most of the time. I can only imagine how cold it is going to be as I travel East to the other side of USA in the next couple of weeks.

Food in LA is pretty affordable, I stumbled across this supermarket called Ralph’s and everything there is so cheap, you wouldn’t even believe it. Actually, there’s a pharmacy here called CVS, it’s more like a convenience store than just a pharmacy, it has everything you need, much like a huge 7-11. Groceries are pretty cheap here, usually I would take at least 30 minutes to walk a supermarket, but I think I can live in supermarkets here.

Clothes are not that expensive either, Fashion District is like a night market (only it closes at 6 PM) – full of clothes and stuff that you can get for cheap. It’s like Bangkok’s Chatuchak Market, or Hong Kong’s Ladies Street, or Singapore’s Bugis Street. Who would have known that you can get stuff for cheap in the US? I saw a pair of heels that costs USD$19.90, and those are pretty, killer heels. Clothes are going for USD$4.99, crazy pretty maxi and empire dresses are only USD$32.

There really isn’t much to do after 6 PM. The sky gets really dark really early here, maybe it’s because it’s winter. But everything closes at about 6 PM, except some fast food joints and grocery stores. After dark, most of the people you see on the street are hobos. To be honest, it’s not all that scary, you just have to avoid walking in those secluded alleys and you should be fine.

I have been in LA for about 2 days now, there is not a day I don’t hear the police sirens wail. It reminds me so much of those TV shows I watched about LA. Last night, I saw a chopper in the sky from where I’m putting up at. It had red and blue lights, so I could only assume that it’s a police chopper, and it was circling the sky like it was looking for something or someone. It’s almost like the TV shows are coming to life.

I leave LA on the 10th, so I still have a couple of days more here. I really need to go to the Griffith Park Conservatory. I might go to the beach today, and try to catch the sunset. I’ll have to figure out how to get to the beach using the very confusing metro system here. Okay, I’m going to take a walk and maybe get some food along the way.

xx

The Layover.

And so it begins, I’ve embarked on my journey to the other side of the world. Truth be told, I didn’t feel the excitement until I walked towards the departure hall. I remembered when this was all a dream, now I’ve made it come true. I also remembered counting down, from 80 odd days to the very last few days – which crawled by really slowly.

I thought it would be a bigger deal when I boarded the plane, since this is my first time taking a plane on my own, but really it didn’t feel like it was anything special. I guess I really can survive on my own. Honestly, it was the most unpleasant flight I’ve ever taken. All I have to say is that if you’re at the window seat, you should refrain from drinking so much liquid because I ain’t moving every 5 minutes for you to get out and go to the bathroom. Or maybe you can stay in the bathroom the entire flight.

Anyways, I don’t think I’ve seen much of Philippines. It is more scary than it seemed to be roaming the streets of Manila on my own, I think I may have underestimated my guts. Manila reminded me of Bangkok and maybe even Kuala Lumpur. The streets were not as clean, the roads looked like it has been aged over and over. While I was on the cab to Mall of Asia, we stopped at a couple stoplights and there were people weaving through cars while peddling drinks and snacks. The last time I saw something like that was in Thailand. The way the cabby drove scared that crap out of me, I mean, I’m not the safest driver, so I’ve been told. But the cab drivers here take the cake, actually, Hong Kong’s cab drivers are as reckless but it works for them.

Oh, by the way, Mall of Asia is not as fancy as you’ve heard. It’s just like any other regular mall in Singapore, maybe that’s why it doesn’t really have any appeal for me. Lots of big brands and food, of course. Speaking of food, I thought I should give Jollibee a try since I’m in The Philippines. When I found one (they’re not difficult to find), it was PACKED. The one in Singapore is always packed, and I’d understand why since it’s almost the only one you can find back home. But here, it is everywhere, but it is PACKED. It was like the entire Singapore was in that fast food joint, so naturally, as impatient as I am, I decided to give it a pass.

The best part about my 18 hours layover was when I asked a stranger if she wanted to tap the internet connection from my phone. That kind of got the rest at the table talking, well, until they had to leave.

I’m really excited for USA, it’s starting to pump up now. It was pretty mellow when I landed in Manila, but it is slowly creeping up on me. Just one more flight and I’ll be there. Years of dreaming and planning, it’s finally happening. I think many people are happy for me, maybe what I’m doing will inspire them to do the same someday.

From here on, it’s about 12 hours. Until next time.

LEAP OF FAITH.

So here’s my first attempt at a travel blog. It really isn’t that much of a blog, but really more of an outlet for me to reflect upon my feelings and the new experiences I’ve earned.

Saturday morning, I left home with a backpack, in it were stuff for two entirely different events — volleyball and paragliding. Yes, you read it right. Paragliding.

It all started with an incredibly long and uncomfortable bus ride to Kuala Lumpur (KL). In order to understand this better, you need to know that I spent the entire Saturday at Sentosa playing volleyball, so I was exhausted and incredibly cranky. The bus departed at 10 PM from Golden Mile Shopping Centre. I had prepared myself to sleep the entire journey to KL. It was a 5 hours trip and the bus was incredibly cold, even with a pullover (I was so glad I randomly reached for something warm before leaving the house, albeit it being the ex-boyfriend’s pullover), I was freezing my ass off.

5 hours and a couple of naps later, we finally arrived in KL, right in front of Berjaya Times Square. It was 3 AM and nothing was open, we walked around and saw a food place with lights still turned on. Naturally, we decided to go spend time there until it was morning — well, normal, human being morning.

Unlike Singapore, KL or rather, Malaysia is less strict with its laws. For example, while we were trying to make our way across the road, we stumbled upon people sleeping on a bridge. In Singapore, you will rarely find anything like that. It is not just bridges, there were people sleeping everywhere. The most disturbing one was a man jerking himself off to sleep on the streets of KL.

By now, all the excitement of the thought of paragliding for the first time was drowned by how exhausted we were. It was a pretty long walk from Berjaya Times Square to Chinatown. 5 AM; we finally decided to get a room and get whatever sleep we could before having to meet the paraglider who was going to take us flying. Eclipse Guest House was where the meeting point was and at 5 AM, there was only one room left and we took it after much debate with the staff.

It was a twin room and there were 3 of us. According to their policy, 3 people are not allowed in a twin room. We finally settled on getting the last room, and instead of the twin room rate, we paid for the 3 persons room rate; it was only RM109 anyway. We settled in, set multiple alarms and gradually drifted to sleep.

The morning after, we got up and went to hunt for breakfast. Sunday morning, the street was bustling, there were people and vehicles all over the place. Breakfast was not that great, considering that we were in Chinatown — where one would normally find delicious food easily. We didn’t have much time.

The journey from where we were to the paragliding site was a long one. About an hour and many highway tolls later, we arrived at the flying site. It was about 400 feet above sea level and this was what greeted us when we got out of the car.

By this time, all 3 of us were stoked. It finally sank in, we were going to paraglide. For real. At that point, I was super flustered. I was scared, but at the same time very excited. I was feeling all sorts of emotions. Happy because I’m finally able to strike this off my never-ending bucket list. Excited because I’m finally doing it. Scared because I have never flown before, not like this.

First up was Yong Wen and this is him, preparing to fly.

And this is him, taking off.

While he was in the sky, we were dying of envy, waiting our turn. Bukit Jugra was slowly filling up with paragliders and spectators, one by one, each of the paragliders set up their wings, and took off into the distance. Soaring freely above the hill like eagles.

It was amazing to see these people fly. They have so much passion for paragliding, you can see the spark in their eyes when you talk to them about flying. There were so many different kinds of people, the French guy took off and didn’t land until about an hour later. The Japanese guy flew and landed, and then repeated it again and again. The Indian guy was flying solo for the first time after learning from his instructor, you can almost see his nerves and we were all excited and happy for him.

It feels great to be around people with passion. You will know what I am talking about if you have been around people with strong passion for what they do. It doesn’t just feel great, it inspires, it motivates, and it encourages and it feels good.

It was my turn to fly. I was stoked, as they helped me with my harness, I was feeling asdfasdfasdf. When the time finally came for me to take off, I ran as fast as I could, but when I reached the end of the “runway” I could feel my entire being freeze up. The pilot had Yong Wen pulling me hard, just in case I froze up and stopped halfway, but he jerked on me too fast and we stumbled. Yong Wen looked like he was going to fall off the hill, and coupled with my entire being freezing up, we failed to take off.

Thankfully, we didn’t fall into the bushes, and none of us were hurt. We then tried again, and this time… I took the leap of faith.

Airborne.

It was astounding. Flying is astounding. It is like nothing I have ever experienced. I would attempt to describe it, but I will not be doing it any justice. This is one of those intangible things that you have to experience yourself in order to know completely how it feels like. First, I felt relived to be in the air after the first failed attempt to take off. Simultaneously, I felt incredible because I’m flying, albeit it being tandem paragliding.

If you know a little about paragliding, or how the air current works, you would know that thermal uplifts will allow the wings to go higher into the sky. It is also because of these thermal uplifts, that I experienced sudden spurs of exhilaration. Every time we caught an uplift, I felt an adrenaline rush through my body. Other times, when we were gliding through the air, it was relaxing. The view from up above was amazing. The fear of something going wrong kept the adrenaline in my body pumping. The entire experience was stupefying.

The hardest part of paragliding was taking the leap. Once you have mustered enough courage to take the leap, amazing things will follow. I have always believed in this saying, and it applies for everything in life. A leap of faith. Or some might call it 20 seconds of insane courage.

And this being Malaysia, halfway through the day, a herd of cows randomly appeared on the landing site.

These cows grazed the pasture, without much cares about the flying people in the sky. This is probably a norm for these cows, paragliders come to Bukit Jugra to paraglide every weekend.

Having said that, I’l leave you with the amazing friends who flew with me and an incredibly apt and extremely unforgettable quote from Leonardo Da Vinci:

“Once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.”

Til the next trip abroad, xx.