Frequent thinker, occasional writer, constant smart-arse

Tag: USA (Page 2 of 2)

USA-specific postings

New York, New York

I’ve been in New York city since Saturday, and I fly out for Europe this Wednesday (tomorrow). You honestly need a full week to really appreciate this city, so I am a little disappointed. But I also know I’ll be back, so it doesn’t phase me too much.

My cousins in Boston drove me down and stayed for a night. We shared a room that cost $US200, overlooking a lovely cemetery. The average rooms in the city were $500! Accommodation is a real bitch here. The last few nights I have been staying with my other cousin Pete. He lives in Greenwich village, down on 11th St. It’s a bit like Sydney’s Paddington – young, trendy, gay-friendly, yuppie-ish. Such a nice area though, compared to the dirt in NY’s touristy regions like Canal St (China Town) and Mulberry St (Little Italy).

I stood atop the Empire State Building, visited Wall St, Ground zero, and dropped by Battery park which is where the statue of liberty ferry takes off (they ran out of tickets when I went). I also walked through some of Central Park, and visited the American Museum of Natural History which was awesome. I’ve been extremely lucky with my family connections here in the States, and in the case of NY, Pete has taken me to some good food joints. We also went to a Comedy club (Gotham) which was really high quality. We were sitting at the centre-front seats. And yes, yours truly was the butt of all five comedian’s jokes – everything from my watch, my shirt, my mobile on the table, and my nationality. Almost as bad as my experience at the r-rated hypnotist show in Boston (don’t ask).

New Yorkers are in such a hurry. They are like a trail of lemmings, running into each other and whatever is in their way. The city itself is impressive – Manhattan is organised in a grid system, which is very handy. The city is so dense, that every avenue (roads going South-North; “Streets” go east-west) are main roads, crowded with people at all hours. There are about 12 avenues, and 150 streets – to give you an idea of the size of Manhattan. Whilst there are tall skyscrapers, it’s also the average buildings that amazes me. You’d be pressed to find anything smaller than four-storeys – meaning you have these valleys of buildings all around you. And because of the grid system, you’re looking quite literally looking down a valley of buildings.

The subway system is very good, however this is more because of the grid system rather than the actual subway that makes it so good. All the subway lines do is go up and down in straight lines, directly underneath avenues, looping when they get to the end. The result is that you have several of these lines running parallel, enabling you to get to any part of Manhattan very quickly. Having said that though, the trains run quick, and I found them reasonably clean.

Cars are abundant as well, and clogged up roads are the norm. It’s interesting though that when looking at parked cars, apart from tourists, all the cars appear very upmarket – implying that driving is a rich persons luxury. Although with such a good subway system, I can’t see why you need a car.

Plenty more to say – however all I will say is do yourself a favour and visit New York at least once in your life because it really is the capital of the world. Next destination is Athens, but really it is Gallipoli, as I spend two days in Athens, waiting for my bus trip to Istanbul.


Harvard University is America’s oldest; world renown for its educational excellence, and its President who said women are too stupid to study science. The tour I was on was led by one of those keen undergraduate students – y’know the ones who are trying to earn brownie points, so that they have something to say on their CV when they are running for student office, applying for a scholarship, or filling out the employment form at their local Burger King. As honourable as her intentions are to flip burgers and contribute to Fat America’s love of fast food, I couldn’t help but reminisces of a lot of people I knew at University. She was one of those high-school geeks, with acne and glasses. Now, at university, she got herself some Clearasil and contacts, and after dropping a few party pills, proclaims to now be “cool” with her other ex-geek friends.

The tour-guide also reminded me of Sydney University’s propaganda. Her talk about Harvard university wanting “well-balanced” people, giving them the whole education, nearly made me laugh, because it was the same shit I heard throughout my university experience. It’s funny how a person who studies Latin in her spare time, and thinks breathing is a sport, believes she is part of that a “well-balanced” philosophy.

The tour was fairly interesting, although I must admit, I expected things to look a little classier. However the classiest thing about Harvard is the logo, which has “Truth” in Latin on it – a funny irony when you look at the statue of John Harvard. It claims John Harvard was the founder (he wasn’t – Massachusetts Bay Colony was); it claims it was founded in 1838 (was actually 1836); and even the statue itself is a fake – the guy that made it had no idea what Harvard looked like and so just put a random face on it.

My favourite story of the tour was about the library. Apparently, there was this mega-geek kid who loved collecting old books. Mummy paid for a trip to Europe where he went rare-book collecting, as you do when you go to Europe, and stumbled on some book that made him orgasm in excitement. So excited he was, that he decided to cut his trip home and return to America to show his books. Unfortunately, the ride home was on the Titanic.

Mother was distraught, and in memory of her son, she donated a big wad of money to Harvard to create a permanent library. However, there were three conditions that had to be met, otherwise funding would be revoked and she would haunt the place.

First of all, they had to maintain a little area with a picture of mega-geek son, and a fresh flower was to be placed there every day. “No problems there”, I am sure the Harvard council said back then, grabbing the cash. Unfortunately, the other two requests were a little weirder

The mother of mega-geek, quite logically I think, thought that if her son knew how to swim, then he would have survived the ship-wreck. After all, the Atlantic ocean, surrounded by ice-bergs, would have be a simple swim at the beach by today’s standards. So mother of mega-geek prescribed that every student had to know how to swim, if they were to graduate. And up until very recently, every student had to pass a swimming test (they stopped it because of discrimination laws).

The third request was that the no brick, mortar or piece of stone was to be ever removed. This poses a bit of a problem for a growing library, that is already four floors high, and six under the ground. The solution was discovered by a Harvard legal team, who had poured over the legal document, suggesting that they would remove the glass of a window and create a walkway to an adjacent building through the window. Although they removed the bridge last year, I thought that was fairly clever. I always knew academics had a place in our world. If only they can get out of their world, and join ours, we would be so much more better off.

An Italian guy, whose facial expressions made it out like he was trying to shit razor-blades, ended up asking a question about fees. The tour leader said it cost about $35,000-40,000 a year, but that also includes boarding and unlimited food – and all students are forced with that package. Although that was in US Dollars, I didn’t think that was too bad, considering at Sydney University you have to pay $20,000 for a college and a full-fee law degree costs about $15,000 a year. Whilst $200,000 for a degree is a bloody lot of money, it would be semi-worth it if the education was world-class.

One thing the guide mentioned, which was interesting, was that students are required to have a broad education as as well as a specialty. For example, you study your specialty such as accounting or French, but you also have to do subjects in seven of the 11 subjects areas furthest away from your discipline.

Harvard came across as sub-standard, when the tour-leader talked about the equivalent to tutorial classes – which average 15-20 people. I don’t care how good an education is, if you have overcrowded lectures and overcrowded tutorials, it’s like looking at the difference between dog shit and bat shit: it’s the same shit with a different smell.

Before I arrived, I had illusions that Harvard would be a cool place to study. Fuzzy haired geeks, sitting under a tree with apples dropping on their heads, and then writing up a complicated math’s formula that solves world poverty. Or overgrown oafs, playing football with that jackarse kid that no one liked at school. I was thinking ground-breaking research, world-class facilities, and really hot chicks. Alas, I walked out of the place realising that the only people that go to Harvard are rich geeks, and well-connected jocks. Harvard may be a great institution, but my impression of its undergraduate program, is that it’s just another brand is today’s commodity-business education market.


I am hopeless – so much for trying to write entries in this blog every few days. Either way, these last two weeks as been more about visiting family rather than experiencing wild and exotic things.

I spent two nights in Ohio with my friend Debbie, and it was nice. However I spent my entire time sleeping, as it rained, while Debbie was stressing out over her school assignments. Lucky I rested, because the day I got off the plan at Boston, I had a bit of a crazy schedule.

My cousins Stacy and Elaine – whom I have never met before – picked me up and took me to a bar straight away. It was about 2pm. At about 9pm, I went to their house, and met my aunty and uncle for the first time – completely drunk as a skunk. I passed out on the couch. Apparently, it took a while to wake me up.

The second night, we went – surprise surprise – drinking. I had three long island ice teas the size of balloons (you’ll see them in my pictures). On top of that, the girl behind the bar was Stacy’s friend – meaning extra alcohol. I have never had that much to drink before in my life in such a short space of time. I passed out on the couch that night. Again.

The next night…lets not go there. Almost two weeks later, and I have become like a piece of the furniture around the house – it is going to be weird when we say our goodbyes. I get along like an absolute riot with my cousins, who are drop-dead-gorgeous, however they are also completely fruity – absolutely hilarious. And don’t get me started on my uncle and aunty – they are like living cartoons. “Oh mae Gads” – I have adopted half of their vocabulary.

I have also met like a gazillion families I am related to. Crazy. And I am absolutely convinced that my uncles have formed their own little mafia outfit here. So mafioso it’s not funny – Cadillac’s, pizza parlours, and “donations”. They know everyone is their area. The police are very friendly to my family here – must be the free pizzas. God I hope so.

Massachusetts, and in particular Boston, is an amazing area. I came not expecting to see anything but family, and instead I was blown away by the culture and history. It is home to the first American settlers; it is where the American revolution started; the first baseball game (and last year’s world series winners). They are even the home state for the Kennedy family.

There are over 50 colleges and universities in sister city, Cambridge (more like a suburb), including MIT and Harvard. They have some of the leading medical facilities in the world. Even two of the September 11 planes began their flights from Logan Airport in Boston. Could you ask for any more fame? No wonder they call this state “the spirit of America”.

I also visited nearby state Rhode Island, which is where the mafia hang out. We are pretty sure we had a beer at one of the mafia’s fronts, overlooking the beautiful chemical plant on this (not-quite-water-anymore) water-front location.

The Australian thing is a bit annoying. Not just the accent, but the vocabulary as well. So many common Aussie words like “queue”, “buggard” and “you give me the shits” are unheard of here. Half the people I speak to look at my like a stunned deer. The other half laugh their “asses” off. However if you want to speak Boston-english, just say the words “Wicked” and “Nasty” and you will get nods of acknowledgement, like they totally understand what you mean, even if it makes no sense.

Off to New York on the weekend. Can’t wait.


I’ve landed safely – finally!

It’s been an interesting experience so far. When I was at Sydney airport, waiting in the check-in queue which was chokka-block, my mind drifted and I kept perving at one of the airport workers. Unfortunately, every time I looked, she caught me out. But it obviously paid off, because she let the guys in front of me as well as myself to jump the queue and line up at the business class section which had nobody waiting!

So as I am checking in, making idle chit-chat with the attendant, she tells me I have been upgraded to business class. I told her she was making a mistake, because I’m just a plebian that got lucky with the queue situation, but it turns out that because the flight was over booked, and because I am a “high-level customer”, I had my seat upgraded! United Airlines is part of star alliance, and due to my trip to Greece in 2003, I had acquired ‘Silver Status’.

As I walked to my gate, I looked for my passport to board the flight. It was missing. Somewhere between immigration and the gate, I had dropped my passport. With 15 minutes until the gates closed, I ran around like a chicken on ecstasy. It was finally found by some guy underneath the X-ray machines – it must of slipped out of my plastic travel case as I was collecting my items. Reconfirmation of a lesson previously learnt #1: When they say never lose sight of your passport, it means literally, never lose sight!

As I am sitting in my business class seat, thinking I had used up my luck for today, I started speaking to my neighbour. Anyone ever heard of GATX? Me neither, but apparently they own most of the aircraft we fly on. Anyway, it turns out I was sitting next to Alan Coe, the guy in charge of the company’s two-billion-dollar aircraft division! Naturally of course, I asked all the pesky questions like how he got to where he is, and what he looked for in interviews. Even though we spent most of the flight sleeping, the chats I had with him about his life were really interesting. Although he has probably forgotten about me now, his words of wisdom will most likely make an impact on my career.

After that, the flight was rather uneventful. I had to transit via San Francisco and Chicago Airports, before I actually got to Dayton in Ohio. The only fun I had was asking a woman in San Francisco to look after my bags, whilst I went to the toilet – I did not give her a chance to reply, and when I got back she told me she had wet her pants, because you are not allowed to leave bags unattended (bombs and stuff). She was still shaking as we walked on the plane

My friend Debbie thought I was coming the next night and wasn’t at the airport. My phone battery had nearly died, and she was not answering her phone, but luckily I got through to her eventually and just in time. She abused me for misinforming, and I apologised profusely (even though they are not – always say a woman is right – until they realise they are wrong). However when we checked the e-mail I sent her with my flight details, she was wrong and she is indulging herself in some humble pie. Reconfirmation of a lesson previously learnt #2: Women are the same no matter where you are.

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