Tim Hortons Souvenirs

At the time of this Adventure 2012 post, I mentioned that it had been 557 days since I enjoyed Tim Hortons, and wondered when the next time would be. Last week, we finally got a chance to return to Canada, and after nearly 4 years (1,444 days), I enjoyed an Iced Capp once again.

Like Adventure 2012, we decided to do a road trip and drive up to Canada. Unlike Adventure 2012, it didn’t seem as enjoyable. Maybe it was something we’ve already done, so the novelty is gone. Maybe we’ve changed these past 4 years. It could also be that we got sick a day into the trip (and are still recovering as of this moment). Or maybe Adventure 2012 really was the adventure of a lifetime, and nothing will ever come close to it again.

Now that we’re on the West Coast, a trip to Tim Hortons is only a short flight away. Until next time, here are some souvenirs I brought back with me.

Tim Hortons Tim Card

Tim Hortons Tim Card

Tim Hortons Tim Card Sleeve

Road Trip, Day 3 – Niagara Falls to Farmington Hills

Day 3 – Niagara Falls to Farmington Hills

November 2, 2012

This third day of our cross-country road trip began with another visit to the hotel restaurant for a buffet breakfast. The things I remember are a chatty waiter and a made-to-order omelette that ended up going to someone else. The man in front of me ordered an omelette with peppers, I ordered one without, and somehow the chef got the two mixed up. It probably didn’t help that the man’s kids crowded around the omelette station and made a lot of noise. I didn’t want to wait again so I kept silent and accepted the omelette that wasn’t mine. Overall, the experience from the previous night spoiled us and we thought that breakfast was just so-so.

We still had a few hours before checkout, so we used the time to stop by Walmart to get some supplies for the road. One of the items we procured was a car charger for my phone; over the past two days I learned just how much using GPS navigation drained my phone’s battery (and actually, the charger only slowed down the drainage). The other things we got were just daily necessities like hand lotion and mouthwash, and some paper towels and bottled water for the car.

Once we checked out, we drove around and explored the parkway a bit before finally parking at the main lot for the falls. It was amazing to finally see the falls up close in daylight. The powerful flow of the water demanded respect. Standing just a few feet away, I imagined what might happen if I fell in…

A different perspective:

Niagara Falls
Clean and crisp

I suppose if I did fall in, I wouldn’t have long to enjoy the cool, crisp water – I’d either be smashed against the rocks below or frozen to death. Anyhow, here’s a panorama of the whole thing:

Niagara Falls - Canada Side Panorama

Depending on the weather and the time of year, the size of the mist cloud over the falls varies. At the time that we went, it was pretty cold with the remnants of Sandy still around (you can see the rain clouds in the photos/video above). This New York Times article suggests that the difference between the water and air temperature is what affects the size of the plume. If that is the case, then the water must have been a lot warmer than the air on this day.

We hung around for just under two hours before returning to the car for lunch. The timing was perfect because just as we started digging in to our peanut butter sandwiches, the rain started coming down, heavily. It turned out to be a pretty nice experience, eating food that we had procured for Hurricane Sandy, inside the cozy cabin of our car, while rain poured down outside.

We still had a long drive ahead of us, so we said goodbye to Niagara Falls and hit the road for Farmington Hills. After a few minutes on the highway out of Niagara, we passed by what looked like a pirate ship. Turns out it was a replica of a ship called the Grande Hermine, wrecked in that location since 1997 and burned in 2003.

Grand Hermine Replica Wreck
A pirate ship?!?!

The rest of the drive was mostly uneventful, save for one more stop at Tim Hortons in Brantford, Ontario. Since that day, it’s been 557 days since I’ve been to Tim Hortons. I wonder how much longer I’ll have to wait until the next time I enjoy an Iced Capp?

Ontario Highway 403
On Ontario Highway 403, near Woodstock

We crossed the Blue Water Bridge just after 1700 and once again entered the United States. Our car had New Jersey plates and we were driving into Michigan, so we definitely stood out, and our conversation with the immigration officer was probably a bit longer than usual. His eyes widened when I told him we were driving back to California. Once everything checked out, he wished us a pleasant journey and welcomed us home. That’s always my favorite part when entering the U.S., when the officer says, “Welcome home”.

After about another hour of driving, we checked into our hotel in Michigan. It was Friday night so there were some basketball games on TV. We ordered Chinese delivery (no chow mein this time) and watched the games while planning the route for Saturday. Got a chance to do some laundry in the hotel laundromat as well.

Next: Road Trip, Day 4 – Farmington Hills to Chicago

Road Trip, Day 2 – Cortland to Niagara Falls

Day 2 - Cortland to Niagara Falls

November 1, 2012 – Thursday

We started a bit later this morning after an extended night of restful sleep. Compared with the apartment in New York City, the hotel room was a lot nicer.

The night before when I was picking up our Chinese food, I saw a Tim Hortons. Being the Tim Hortons fanatic that I am (Can you blame me? None exist in either SF or HK), I had to have breakfast there.

Tim Hortons - Cortland, NY
Tim Hortons – Cortland, NY

With the remnants of Sandy still bringing rain and wet to the region, I wanted to improve my visibility when driving. On the way to Cortland, I noticed that the rain on the windshield was not beading, and rain on the side mirrors and windows impaired my visibility. From my experience taking care of my Acura, I know that there are products out there that can repel water, and just as luck would have it there was an Advance Auto Parts across the street. I bought a bottle of Rain-X (I actually prefer Stoner, but they didn’t have it), sprayed it on, and for the rest of the road trip rain was no longer an issue.

With that taken care of, we were on our way. When we mapped our route earlier, Google Maps suggested going through Syracuse, which didn’t make sense to me since it was slightly in the opposite direction. Fortunately, it’s quite easy to drag the route to a different road if the first one is not to your liking. Instead of heading northeast on Interstate 81, I chose to go northwest on NY 41. In hindsight, it was a great decision because we ended up driving on smaller country roads and passing through smaller towns and villages, something that wouldn’t have happened on the interstate.

Hong Kong in Cortland
Hong Kong in Cortland? Sadly, no longer in business.
Military Vehicles Outside the CNY Living History Center
Wow, a tank! Outside the Central New York Living History Center.

Just outside Cortland is the village of Homer. This is old America, going back all the way to the American Revolution. Pretty amazing. Even more so, it’s larger than San Francisco in land area, but has over a hundred times less people.

Homer, New York
Passing through Homer, NY

As we went further up highway 41, we encountered fewer and fewer cars. Pretty soon, it was just us on the road, and we drove relatively slowly so we could take in the sights (the roads were wet, after all). After a while, I noticed a huge, orange truck bearing down on us – it reminded me of a Caltrans truck, and it was probably the New York equivalent. We were driving slowly and enjoying ourselves, and this truck was in a hurry. It got stressful after a few miles and I couldn’t wait to find a turnout to let it pass. When I saw a 3-way intersection approaching, I quickly signaled left and made the turn, and the truck whizzed by with a cloud of kicked-up water droplets flailing around behind it.

Beware the Truck
Beware the truck, and notice how clean the mirror is.

A few minutes later, we passed through the town of Scott. After that, it was mostly farmland and random houses here and there.

Limited Visibility
Mostly farmland

It was dull, it was dreary, and it rained, but it all added to the experience. I had always enjoyed driving in the rain, listening to it hit the windshield and roof while I’m inside the car, staying warm and dry, and now I was doing it while exploring the New York countryside. Less than two weeks ago, I was doing the same thing in Scotland. Crazy.

The thing about driving in the countryside, though, is the lack of rest areas. Fortunately, the drive from Cortland to Niagara is pretty short, and in between there are towns and villages. We were driving through the historic district of Skaneateles when we saw a sign for a public bathroom. It’s not often that you see a sign for the bathroom when you really are in need of one, and we took advantage. Having been in the warm confines of the car, the moment I stepped out I was quickly reminded of what time of year it was and put on my jacket and gloves.

I-90 New York Toll Ticket
Entering I-90 at Waterloo…

Back on the road, we headed west and passed through Auburn before merging onto Interstate 90 near Waterloo. This was our first time traveling on I-90, and we would travel on it a few more times before the end of our trip. For now, we stayed on until our next stop, the Ontario Travel Plaza. It was here that I encountered the pinball machine from my first job for the first time in nearly 17 years. It was pretty unbelievable. I hurriedly finished my McDonald’s lunch so I could go play.

We continued on I-90 until Buffalo, then switched to I-290 and eventually I-190. It took just a little over an hour to get to the Canadian border.

Entering Canada
Entering Canada

The first thing we saw after we entered our hotel room was the view of Niagara Falls. We must have spent at least half an hour standing at the window looking at it, photographing it. It was something JC had always wanted to see, and something I hadn’t seen in over a decade. The window itself could not be opened, but underneath it was some sort of vent. Since the room had air conditioning, we surmised that the vent was not an air vent, but a sound vent so that guests could hear the rush of the waterfall.

Night was approaching so we stopped marveling from our room and headed down to marvel in person. Alas, the stairs that connected our hotel to the parkway below were closed for maintenance; we ended up doing a lot of extra walking. It was already cold, and as we walked the wind and rain picked up, making it even more so. Still, it was our only chance to see the falls at night and we somehow managed to brave the elements for over an hour before making the uphill walk back to the hotel. I’ll always remember the chilling cold, the tripod feeling like a popsicle, and the wind hitting my face while we walked along the parkway.

Niagara Falls - Horseshoe Falls
The Horseshoe Falls at night

That night, we took advantage of our hotel package and enjoyed a discounted, full meal at the restaurant. After all, we had been in the cold and needed to warm up. Considering the time of year, the restaurant was mostly empty and we had almost the entire place to ourselves. A couple of candles and the light from the falls illuminated our table while we dined on French onion soup, chicken corn chowder, ribeye steak, lobster tail, and pork chop, all accompanied with wine. It was the fanciest meal we’d had since London.

Steak and Lobster Tail
Steak and lobster tail

Completely stuffed, we retired to our room and relaxed for the rest of the night, looking forward to seeing more of the falls the next day. It had been a complete day with driving, pinball, and Niagara Falls.

Next: Road Trip, Day 3 – Niagara Falls to Farmington Hills

New York, Days 5 to 8 – Superstorm Sandy

October 28, 2012 – Sunday

With the impending arrival of Hurricane Sandy all over the news, we thought it would be best if we stayed in and around the neighborhood on this Sunday. We started off with laundry in our apartment building, just in case the power went out and we’d be stuck with dirty clothes. An interesting thing about laundry in New York apartments is the laundry cash card. Instead of coins, you use a credit card to buy a smart card that you insert into the machine. I suppose it’s better than inserting a bunch of quarters.

Hercules Laundry Cash Card
A Hercules laundry cash card – with quarters pictured on it!

Inside the laundry room was a TV tuned to the local news channel showing the destruction that Sandy had left behind in the Caribbean. We learned that the subways would be closing in the evening (good thing we decided to stay put). You could tell that the authorities speaking on TV weren’t kidding around. We definitely got to know Mayor Bloomberg and Governor Christie during this period of time.

Like local New Yorkers, we had to make sure that we had plenty of food and water. Since we weren’t aware of any grocery stores in the area (not like we were going to cook, anyway), we went across the street to Cucina and Co. again, where we stocked up on salads, soup, pasta, and sandwiches. I again got the cheesecake and coffee that I had liked so much. It was sort of a guilty pleasure to stock up on food from that place because it wasn’t exactly cheap. I also liked building my own salad, picking only my favorite components. It was here that I encountered the mussel lady.

Later, realizing that if the storm was really serious we had only perishable food that would last only a couple of days, I went back down to get water, bread, and peanut butter. The water shelves at Duane Reade were almost empty, the checkout line was long, and they were out of peanut butter. Luckily, Walgreens still had peanut butter. I used the opportunity to also snag the last six-pack of beer, saltine crackers, and some cookies, just to be safe.

With our supplies secured, it became a matter of waiting out the storm. The authorities had urged everyone to stay inside, so that’s what we did. We used the time to catch up on some TV shows that we had missed while traveling. I played a 23 year-old video game. I finally took a look at (and washed) the flask I bought from the Glenfiddich Distillery. Throughout the night the wind howled, and the storm wasn’t even here yet…


October 29, 2012 – Monday

After spending so much time in our apartment, the next morning we went outside to see if anything was open. I walked out onto the street and immediately felt the strength of the wind. It felt good to be hit with the cool air after being cooped up inside. Debris was on the street from the wind and to my surprise, quite a few people were out and about. I guess in my area, things weren’t as bad as what the news was reporting. Tim Hortons was open, and it was one of only a few places that was, with commensurately long lines (for another Tim Hortons coffee, I didn’t mind waiting). KFC was also open, so we used the opportunity to stock up on more food.

KFC at 34th & Broadway - October 29, 2012
Everyone wants KFC; told you it would come in handy

For the rest of the afternoon, it was KFC, beer, and TV. The stock market was closed for the day. Google cancelled an event that was supposed to announce a new Nexus device. A crane at the top of a skyscraper construction site collapsed. Our lights flickered sporadically. And that was all before Sandy made landfall.

We were super lucky to be at the very edge of where the power was still on. With the internet still working, we were able to keep up-to-date on what was going on. This live-blog on the New York Times website was invaluable for finding out what was going on (note that it’s quite huge now and will slow down or freeze your browser). We also kept updated by streaming WNBC. It was unbelievable to see what was happening at some of the places we had been to just a few days earlier: Battery Park 10 feet underwater, the Statue of Liberty going dark, and Penn Station getting sandbagged. We heard sirens almost continuously throughout the night.


October 30, 2012 – Tuesday

Originally this was the day that we had scheduled to leave our apartment and either find another place to stay or move on to our next stop. A bit travel-weary and concerned about budget, we had also considered flying back to San Francisco. Of course, with the arrival of the storm and the closure of the airports, that was no longer an option. We could try to wait out the recovery effort until the re-opening of the airports, but how long would that take?

Earlier in the year, when I was winding down my last days at work, my coworkers and I were having a conversation about what I would be doing after work ended. One of my answers was that I had always wanted to take a cross-country road trip. Back then I still had my TSX, and I thought it would be awesome to tour the country in it. Once I sold it, however, the idea faded from my mind. With our options to leave town now limited, it occurred to me that we could now do the road trip, albeit in a different form.

On this day, we searched for car rental places that still had cars. A couple of days earlier I’d already booked a car from a place in New Jersey (it was certainly not the nearest, but it was the cheapest), but with the PATH not running, there was no way to get there and I had to cancel. Looking online, it appeared that several places still had cars, but to be safe we wanted to confirm in person. Not knowing what the traffic situation would be, we also wanted to see how far of a walk it’d be, since we’d be carrying all of our stuff with us.

The place nearest to us was in the Garment District. When we got there, the clerk told us that they had nothing left, that even if we had booked and confirmed online, it didn’t matter. Well, at least we got to see the giant button and needle.

Needle and Button, NYC Garment District
The Garment District

I don’t remember what happened afterwards, but we didn’t go to another car rental because we had walked so much already. I know we booked a car from the second-nearest place, and I know we didn’t go there to confirm. I must have called them instead. I also checked with the landlord to see if we could stay another night (we could). A few places in Koreatown were opening back up so we had dinner there, and then finished off the night with one more Iced Capp from Tim Hortons. That was our last night in NYC.


October 31, 2012 – Wednesday

We finished the last of our perishable food, cleaned up the apartment, gathered our belongings and said goodbye to the place that had been home for the past 8 nights. I texted the landlord to let him know we were out. From Herald Square, we walked along East 34th Street all the way down to Lexington Avenue, then up to East 50th. It’s a pretty long walk by itself; with two pieces of check-in luggage, a couple of carry-ons, a backpack, and a bag of water, bread, cookies, and crackers, the difficulty level increased quite a bit. We tried putting the food bag on top of the rolling luggage, but it kept falling off. This was fine when we were on 34th, but once we were on Lexington and got closer to our destination, it became more and more crowded. I’m sure some people didn’t appreciate us suddenly stopping to adjust a bag that was sliding off.

This was the day that limited bus service resumed, and I noticed a packed bus pass by as we walked. JC had actually suggested taking a cab or a bus, but I knew that traffic would be a nightmare and I wanted to get out of the situation as soon as possible. Traveling on foot would be the quickest and most reliable, at least until we picked up the car.

East 50th Street, NYC - October 31, 2012
Waiting for the car; still lots of emergency-services activity

Finally, we made it to the car rental place and I checked in with the clerk. Naturally, their car selection was rather limited, with only a Toyota Camry or a Ford Escape as the options. Not wanting to drive an SUV, I reluctantly picked the Camry (my first TSX was hit by a Camry, and I’ve been traumatized ever since). As she was about to process the rental, the lady looked up and said that an Infiniti G37 had just come in, and asked if I wanted it. I couldn’t believe my good fortune and said HELL YES! I just had to wait for them to clean it up. It didn’t take very long and soon we were on our way. We left Manhattan via FDR Drive and then the George Washington Bridge. Just like that, our trip to New York City was over. As we drove out, the landlord replied to my earlier message:

“Hope you enjoyed your time in NY. It was historic.”

I certainly did, and it certainly was.

Next: Road Trip, Day 1 – NYC to Cortland

New York, Day 3 – 9/11 Memorial, Friday Night In

October 26, 2012

After visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island the day before, on this third day in New York we went to visit the 9/11 Memorial.

We had already secured our free visitor passes for 10:00 AM entry, so all we had to do was show up. Of course, no morning would be complete without another visit to Tim Hortons; I elected to have a hot coffee with my donut this time instead of an Iced Capp, since it was a bit chilly this morning.

After breakfast, we made our way to the subway station and once again took the R line, this time to Cortlandt Street. Prior to the September 11 attacks, this station was connected to the World Trade Center. Afterwards, it was closed for over a year for repairs. Now, ten years later, we were here.

It is difficult to believe that it has been a double-digit number of years since 9/11 happened. On that day I was driving to work, unaware of what had taken place. I was in traffic on the Bayshore Freeway approaching the Bay Bridge when I turned on the radio. The news announcers sounded panicked and nervous. You could tell that something big had happened. They mentioned that the bridge might be closing in case of an attack. I wondered if someone had started a war. Amazingly, “al-Qaeda” flashed through my mind. I still didn’t know that planes had crashed into the World Trade Center in New York.

My heart started pounding and different scenarios went through my mind. Should I still go to work? What if I got stuck over there? I could always drive down to San Jose and back up the Peninsula. What if they attacked the bridge while I was on it? I didn’t have much time to make a choice because the last San Francisco exit was coming up. I elected to take the exit and head home.

On the way, the announcers finally recapped what had happened. My hands started shaking, imagining what might have happened if planes crashed into the Bay Bridge. I sped home and ran upstairs. My family was watching the TV. I was so scared of what had happened and so relieved that I was home that the second I walked into the room, I cried like a little baby. It was real, irrepressible, uncontrollable sobbing, the first time I had cried in years. All those people, killed! My mother comforted me and that’s the last memory I have of that day.

I imagine that most people would have similar playbacks of their memories when they visit the 9/11 Memorial. It is a poignant reminder of that day, but it is also a sign of hope. What was once a picture of a post-war apocalypse is now a beautiful, quiet, and serene place. We spent some time sitting and reflecting, taking it all in.

I was pretty emotionally-drained afterwards so we decided to just head home. Before getting on the subway, we went looking for a bathroom because there are none at the memorial (remember this if you go!). We walked around the area and found a department store called Century 21 and went inside, knowing that department stores are usually pretty good with public restrooms. Lo and behold, this one was no different, and afterwards we got a chance to walk around the store.

From one department store to another, we stopped by Macy’s after going home. I wanted to lighten our loads a little bit and send home some of the souvenirs we had acquired during Adventure 2012. In hindsight, it was probably a bad idea, because these were priceless treasures and I risked losing them in the mail because I didn’t want to carry them around (I wouldn’t have needed to anyway because the next leg was our road trip). You could probably argue that it was just as much of a risk carrying them around. Anyhow, I forgot to mention that the Macy’s in San Francisco has a post office inside, so I figured the one in NYC did as well.

One cool thing about this Macy’s is that it is also an historical landmark, originally built in 1902. It is hard to forget the 100+ year-old wooden escalators that took us up to the post office level.

Another cool thing about Macy’s is that the basement floor is usually called the Cellar and they usually have some pretty good food down there. In this Macy’s there was a Cucina and Co., a “Gourmet Café & Marketplace”. I’d have to say that I don’t disagree with how they’ve positioned themselves. JC enjoyed her self-constructed salad and I scarfed down my penne pasta with chicken and bacon before drinking a Snapple. I also bought a coffee and a slice of New York cheesecake (I ate New York cheesecake in New York!!!) for dessert. I guess you can say I really liked that place. 🙂

Cucina & Co. Penne with Chicken and Bacon
Penne with chicken and bacon – delicious

I spent the rest of the afternoon inside our apartment reviewing finances, scanning flyers and sorting photos, eating cheesecake, and drinking coffee while JC shopped at Macy’s. It was an extremely pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

For Friday night, our friend came to visit and check out our apartment. After that, we walked over to Penn Station and took the subway to Court Street in Brooklyn (since we were following our friend again, I have no idea what line we took). As it was Friday-evening-commute-time it was pretty busy inside Penn Station, and I was glad I got a chance to experience it. Things got even better when I saw a Tim Hortons. I bought the Iced Capp that I had skipped at breakfast. So good.

Penn Station Signboard Penn Station Friday Evening Commute

Dinner was at a neighborhood bar called Henry Public. It was a cozy little place where I enjoyed my first Scotch since leaving Scotland. My friend kept recommending me the Turkey Leg Sandwich (which they are known for), but I was in the mood for some beef, so I ordered the Hamburger Sandwich. That was the first item on the menu so I figured it must be pretty up there as well. Well, my friend was right, the Turkey Leg Sandwich was pretty awesome, while the burger was just so-so. We also had some beef marrow bones with toast that was very, very rich. Overall, it was a pleasant dinner.

Marrow Bones & Toast at Henry Public
Marrow bones & toast – very rich

We walked around the neighborhood a bit afterwards before going back to my friend’s apartment to watch a movie that we rented from a vending machine at Duane Reade. It was my first time doing all those things. My friend had been trying to get me to visit New York for years, and I finally got to see her place and get an idea of how she lived.

Borough Hall Station - Brooklyn, NY

After the movie, we took the subway home via Borough Hall station, which is apparently connected to Court Street as part of the same station complex. Our experience with King’s Cross in London taught us that even if stations are in the same complex, they may not be truly connected, so we made sure we entered through a entrance labeled “Borough Hall”. Although it was after 1:00 AM, we never felt like we were in danger of being mugged or anything like that. It makes me think of another thing that I took away from New York: people were really friendly, nothing like the surly city-dwellers that they’re reputed to be. Two stereotypes debunked, which is what traveling and experiencing things is all about.

We got home before 2:00 AM, ending our third day in New York City.

Next: New York, Day 4 – Central Park

New York, Day 2 – Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Chinatown

October 25, 2012 – Thursday

One of the few good things about jet lag is that we invariably end up waking in the wee hours of the morning and it seems like we have the whole day ahead of us to do stuff. Tourist destinations are also usually less crowded earlier in the day, and on this second full day of our NYC visit, we went to two such destinations: the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island.

First, we started off with breakfast from the Tim Hortons that we had discovered the day before:

Tim Hortons, Herald Square, NYC
Breakfast at Tim Hortons (The KFC would come in handy later on)

Next, we went to take the R line from 34th Street-Herald Square to South Ferry-Whitehall Street. We had been on the subway when we went to Brooklyn the night before, but at that time we were chatting with our friend and exhausted from the jet lag and didn’t really pay attention. Plus, it’s a lot different figuring things out on your own versus relying and focusing on a guide (as opposed to your surroundings). On this morning, we did it ourselves and got a much better impression of the world famous New York City Subway.

I believe the train we were on was an R46. Interestingly, the linked Wikipedia page does not include the R in its list of assigned services, but a quick Google search will reveal that there are indeed R46 Rs. These cars were built in the 1970s and definitely had that feel to them. I wanted to take more photos but remembered reading about NYC subway etiquette somewhere, about not making eye contact with anyone (let alone photographing them), so I made do with the surreptitious shot below:

NYC Subway R Line
Be careful who you make eye contact with

We disembarked at South Ferry and said goodbye to the R46. It feels strange looking at the photo now knowing that only a few days later, the entire station would be underwater due to Hurricane Sandy.

Whitehall St-South Ferry Platform
In just a few days time, all of this would be submerged

From the station we walked through Battery Park in order to get to the ferry. After we emerged from the trees and walked over to the harbor, I saw the Statue of Liberty in person for the first time. I felt pretty neutral when I saw it, even though I understood its significance. Maybe it was because it was too early in the morning, maybe it was because we’d seen so many tourist attractions already, or maybe it was because unlike those immigrants who came to America of their own accord to seek a better life and escape persecution back home, I arrived as an oblivious child, brought by my parents. Like going to Brooklyn the night before, my path to becoming an American was laid out for me, and all I did was follow. It’s human nature to appreciate less the things that are simply handed to you. Compared to the people who had to and wanted to make their own path, my first impression of the statue could never match theirs, and I can only imagine what it must have been like.

Statue of Liberty from Battery Park
Looks so tiny from here

We walked along the waterfront to the pier and waited in line to go through security and board the ferry. Our check-in time was 0900 (we purchased our tickets ahead of time online), and we cast off at about 0930. Seeing the wide open water and feeling the wind in my face, I was reminded of our cruise in Tokyo just a little over a month ago. Like Tokyo, New York is built along a river (more than one, even). We had noticed during the trip how so many major cities in the world are built along life-sustaining rivers: Tokyo with the Sumida, Paris with the Seine, and London the Thames. Now, we were sailing on New York Harbor, at the mouth of the Hudson.

For a New Yorker, the Hudson River probably conjures up certain images, maybe of home or something modern like driving across it (perhaps similar to what I would envision if someone mentioned “San Francisco Bay”). For me, hearing “Hudson River” conjures up images of Henry Hudson, early American settlers, and Indians. Of course, these are all images from history books, where I first learned of the existence of a Hudson River. Even now, if I don’t remind myself that I’ve actually been there, I still think of the history book Hudson River instead of the one I crossed on a ferry. First impressions can be pretty powerful.

Speaking of ferries, we saw a whole lot of them in the approximately 20 minutes it took to get to Liberty Island:

Finally, there it was, up close and personal. Regardless of one’s immigration background, standing under this towering statue brings a sense of awe and amazement. It’s already pretty impressive by itself if you think only about the workmanship, how humans shaped copper and iron into this sculpture and then moved it all the way from France. When you add in what the statue represents, these notions of freedom and liberty, that people are all created equal, that just takes it to another level. I can only stand and look at it with my mouth agape.

As much as I want to post all the photos I took of the Statue of Liberty, I am aware that photos of it are all the same. Therefore, I will post only one, taken at an atypical angle:

The Statue of Liberty
Welcome to America

Liberty Island itself was a pleasant experience, literally a walk in the park (it’s managed by the National Park Service, and if you like, you can take a tour with a park ranger). It’s not very crowded due to the way they stagger the ferry schedule, a great example of efficient crowd control. You can walk as slow or as fast as you want, check out the statue from different angles, check out the Manhattan skyline, watch the birds, enjoy the grass, the trees, the water, grab a bite to eat. We were leaning over the railing and enjoying the view when we noticed a seagull with its catch (looked like a rockfish). It swallowed the entire fish with a single gulp! Another cool thing we saw along the shore were some old bricks, marked “S&F. Co”. Googling around, it seems that the Sayre & Fisher Brick Company was once the largest in the United States. I wonder where and how these particular bricks were used?

We got back on the ferry and headed for Ellis Island. There, we spent about an hour walking through the museum, trying to imagine what it was like for those early immigrants. There was a sign that said over 100 million Americans today could trace their ancestry to people who had been processed at the island. That’s a third of all the people in the U.S. Crazy.

From one immigrant center to another, we made our way back to Manhattan and New York Chinatown. I thought it was very similar to San Francisco’s Chinatown, except Canal Street is a lot wider than Stockton Street. We stumbled upon a restaurant called Hong Kong Station and poked around outside looking at the menu. Some random guy came up to us and told us to give it a try. He seemed enthusiastic so we did. Turned out he was the owner! Later on, after sitting inside for a while, I felt a sense of déjà vu. I was like “man, this place feels familiar.” I did a search and realized that they had shown this restaurant on TV during the Linsanity craze earlier in the year. You gotta love mainstream media sometimes: an ethnic-Chinese guy tears up the NBA and they set up a camera in Chinatown to show Chinese people watching the games and cheering. All you can do is shake your head and laugh.

New York Chinatown
Almost looks like SF

After a long morning and afternoon of sightseeing, it was time to retire to our apartment. We made sure we were fully rested before going downstairs for a late dinner. We had Korean again, this time at a place called Gahm Mi Oak, famous for its Korean beef soup. They bring you kimchi in a stone pot, cut it up in front of you, and then take the pot away. I thought they could have been more generous with the kimchi. Anyhow, the beef soup arrived and it didn’t really taste like anything (you’re supposed to add your own salt). At first, I added the salt sparingly, but I still couldn’t taste the soup. I figured since they give you so much salt you can’t be too stingy when adding it, so I dumped a whole mess of it in at once. Oops. Now the soup tasted like seawater. Well, chalk up this experience to customer ignorance.

We went home slightly thirsty, but happy after having had such a great day.

Next: New York, Day 3 – 9/11 Memorial, Friday Night In

New York City, Arrival and First Day

JFK Arrivals Area
Waiting for a cab at JFK

October 23, 2012 (Tuesday), ~8:00 PM EDT – Arriving in NYC for the first time

After almost three months away, we were finally back in our home country. We had arrived before our scheduled arrival time of 8:10 PM, but due to our luggage having been inexplicably removed from the carousel without our knowledge (we were standing on the opposite side and waiting, waiting, and waiting), we didn’t get into a cab until 8:45. Despite that little setback, it felt good when we finally stepped out of the terminal and saw some distinctively American things: Ford vans, Chevrolets, and Crown Victoria police vehicles. When I checked my phone, it had a T-Mobile signal. The cash in my wallet was green. We were finally home.

Of course, even though we were back in America, it was my first time visiting New York City. I was looking forward to everything the city had to offer, but first we needed to get some rest. We hailed one of those world-famous New York cabs and made our way to our rented apartment in Manhattan, where we quickly unpacked, cleaned up, and went to bed.

The next day was spent walking around the neighborhood while recovering from jet lag. We were staying in the Herald Square area so we were close to Broadway, Times Square, and the Empire State Building. Continuing with our ramen tradition, we found a place at West 52nd Street called Totto Ramen, and walked all the way up Broadway, taking in all the sights and sounds of Manhattan. You see it in the movies and you play it in Grand Theft Auto, but there’s nothing like actually being there.

When we arrived it was just about lunch time, so there was a short wait. It was dinner time for us, though, because London is 5 hours ahead of New York at that time of year (still on summer time). I felt hungry and ordered an extra rice in addition to the ramen, which in hindsight was a bad decision. Since then, I have noticed a pattern when it comes to eating the first couple of meals after a long-haul flight: although I may feel hungry, my appetite is actually satisfied much more quickly than usual because I’m so exhausted. It’s like my stomach can’t keep up. Without the benefit of this knowledge, I scarfed down the rice (which came first and was really good) and ended up finishing the ramen to finish it instead of to enjoy it. Argh.

The rest of the afternoon was spent relaxing in the apartment while planning our next few days. Next to our apartment building was a “standalone” food court (there was no mall, it was just there) with a Tim Hortons inside; I had discovered Tim Hortons from my visits to Vancouver, and I was pleasantly surprised to see one in New York so close to where we were staying. That afternoon and over the coming days, I thoroughly enjoyed each and every Iced Capp that I had. 🙂

For dinner, we met up with an old friend at a Korean restaurant in the nearby Koreatown, and afterwards she gave us a tour of her neighborhood in Brooklyn. We finished off the evening with a walk along the Brooklyn Heights Promenade:

View from Brooklyn Heights Promenade
Night view of Lower Manhattan

Like when we were at the Pont Neuf in Paris, I found myself thinking about the Bourne movies again, this time of the last movie when Jason Bourne jumped into the East River. I also thought of Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, the password screen where Little Mac is training with Doc. Throughout my life I have seen and heard so much about New York City, and though it took me 30+ years to do it, I was finally there!

Mike Tyson's Punch Out
NYC in Mike Tyson’s Punch Out

Next: New York, Day 2 – Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island, Chinatown