I know it has taken a while to actually start recounting my trip, but that would be due to the tight schedule that we have set for our “holiday”. It’s interesting to reflect and see that you can have two types of holidays: the chillaxing one where you just go at your own pace and do what you want when you want; and then there’s the “cram everything as efficiently as possible so that you maximise enjoyment and value for money”. We have gone with the latter option and are trying to put down as many things as possible to make good use of our limited time in each city.
Anyway, formal introductions: This post is to recount the start of our trip to the US. We are visiting a variety of cities: Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Orlando, Miami, Washington, New York, and somewhere else that we haven’t completely planned out yet. I want to try and have videos supplemented by a blog post so that there is both literal(?) and audio/visual accounts of my trip.
We all arrived at the airport somewhat on time (shout out to Jacky for driving me to the airport), where we quickly check in and waited in the passenger lobby(?) for a good 1.5 hours due to delays. It was this initial flight to the US that taught me how unreliable United Airlines was. Anyhow, I took the time in the airport as a chance to take a few videos, which were then used in my poor trailer video. Oh the other thing to mention about my videos is that I have very little chances of taking videos in public (without making myself look like an obvious tourist) – I would rather not attract unnecessary attention and any threats that may come with it. But if I feel safe I’ll shoot a video.
The flight was excruciatingly painful. 12+ hours being seated is just asking for it. And on top of that there was no personalised entertainment (eg: a personal screen in front of you to watch what you want when you want). No, there was merely the large screens at the front of the sections in the plane with a communal movie/program playing here and then. I did end up watching most of the movies, and they were alright, but I realised just how sheltered I was my whole life, flying only Cathay Pacific – the difference was tremendous. Anyway, the airline was a bit dodgy, people were walking around the plane when the seatbelt sign was on, the captain didn’t bother going through the safety checklist with us, and expected us to read it on the pamphlet. We even had the chance to stand up and chill in the back of the plane, where the food is served. None of the crew said anything to us so when our legs started cramping we just got out of our seats and stood at the back of the plane…dodgy.
Once we got off the plane, we quickly got through customs and went off to grab the cars that we were renting. Our designated drivers too a bit of a while to get used to driving in USA – driving on the other side of the road and also having to drive on the other side in the car. More or less it is just reversing everything, and driving as if it were seen in a mirror, so in some sense it should be easier to adjust than people would think it to be. Practically speaking it wasn’t as easy a task but it was okay, we got on the road instantly and things were more or less okay. Us guys have had heaps of simulation experience from playing games set in the US (where the simulated driving is right-hand side) and so it theoretically was much easier to get used to driving on the right, it just became a matter or working out how to stay in the lane.
There were other things that weren’t as straight forward, namely the way the roads in US are structured as well as some road rules. Most of the road rules we are familiar with are still the same as expected, but for example they had the rule of “left (right) turn on red after stopping” as a default; in that, you can turn right (for US) on red all the time UNLESS a sign clearly said not to. We learnt that after stopping at a red light and the guy behind us honking madly – we asked someone later on who told us what the rule was meant to be.
The other thing to mention that made driving quite annoying (in Los Angeles anyway) was highways were heavily relied upon. All roads lead to the highway and all roads stem off the highway (which is sort of efficient in structuring cities because you then only have a few select major roads). The hard thing about this was getting used to seeing heaps of exits off the highway and getting into the exit lane at the right time – to avoid unnecessary exits and to get to your designated exit. I am so glad most of us has GPS’s (we had set this up beforehand) and it became relatively easy to navigate around the place.
For parts of our trip we hired out houses since it was a much cheaper alternative to booking accommodation in hotels, and it gave us the space we needed for our large group. There wasn’t really any awkwardness in staying in a house together with 7 (soon to be 8) people; we’ve done this frequently at camps and roadtrips throughout uni so we’re pretty used to each other’s company and how to “live” together as a group. As one would expect for a group of Christians, we place a higher priority on modesty and accountability; so strictly having guys and girls section in the house and making a silent promise to venture into the other gender’s territory unless invited to do so.
We didn’t have to cook many meals (since cooking also means cleaning), but I had the chance to make breakfast a few times. We shared the cooking and cleaning load, and we’ve never had an issue of someone not pulling their weight in the group. The only difference here was going out to buy groceries now and then, and also to wake up early to cook. I think our only issue with cooking was thinking of things that were fast to prepare, given our tight itinerary. We simply didn’t have the luxury to make a gourmet breakfast every morning, so we needed something fast and delicious – most of the time we just resorted to toast and eggs: simple to prepare and easy to clean up.
We did laundry towards the end of our stay in LA, which wasn’t too bad. It seemed fairly efficient to only do laundry once a week (and collate everyone’s laundry into one massive pile that requires several rounds of the washing machine). We made sure to separate our laundry from each other, especially for guys and girls haha! I wouldn’t be able to say much more about laundry since it’s probably one of my weak points; the girls took more of a lead in this area.
In terms of sleeping, there will normally be less beds than people (which is why the house overall is cheaper for each individual). Both guys and girls are a bit hard pressed for beds, since for three guys one bed is not enough but two beds may be too much. And a similar situation for the girls. The first few nights saw us three guys in the one king size bed, which was…manageable for a short time. I can vouch for myself and say that I’m probably a more controlled person to share a bed with. My roommates would sadly roll all over the bed at night (alongside the snoring; oh how I detest snoring), and they would either end up literally on top of me the next morning (very awkward), or have all the sheets on their side. I’m not exaggerating too much, but in light of our sleeping patterns, it was not viable to have three guys on a bed. I suppose I can make the note here that I am a very light sleeper. The slightest noise will wake me, even the shifting under the sheets. And so anyone who snores is pretty much my worst nightmare. The flip side is that I can wake up in the morning easily too; and as it turns out, to me, everyone else seems to have a discipline problem with waking up. Once an alarm goes off I can instantly get up, only because I know there’s no chance I can fall asleep again.
I think I’ll only select certain events to recount here, since it would be really hard to mention every little thing that I did on this trip. One of the highlights of our stay in Los Angeles was going to theme parks – only two in total: Universal Hollywood Studios and Six Flags Magic Mountain. Short snippets of both parks can be found in my videos. Theme parks are one of the things I haven’t been too much (having an overly sheltered life and all). But ever since going to Ocean Park in Hong Kong at the start of this year, I’ve sort of lost my touch for amusement parks (ironically I’m in Disneyworld as I write this). The rides are awesome, I won’t deny that. The thrill of going in all sorts of directions on roller coasters is quite exhilarating; I suppose they’re all about the adrenaline rush.
It’s a tiring day to go to amusement parks because you strategize how to go on all the best rides as efficiently as possible so that you can fit it all into one day. So it’s pretty much a day of walking all over the park, lining up and going on as many rides as possible, not giving any room to rest (or eat). Overall, most rollercoasters start feeling the same, and I would dare say that they start getting a bit boring after a while. It’s more fun watching the person next to you scream their head off instead.
Anyhow, Universal Studios was more movie based and their rides were more 3D simulations that take you through the movie (usually extra footage generated just for the ride). Some were interesting (like the Transformers one) and others just had a really silly plot line (like the Terminator one – which I did not film). I sadly cannot remember much else at this point in time; photos would help bring back some memories but sadly I have more than 1500 photos to sort through (and upload) and I dread having to start on that some time soon haha.
One thing that I just recalled was the studio tour which showed us a lot of different behind-the-scenes for movies. They showed us how some special effects were created and also some of their movie sets which was pretty cool. A lot of their larger props were easily recognised and it made us feel much closer to the movie in terms of understanding how it was filmed and what the actors had to go through. A side note to mention is that people who work for theme parks are quite enthusiastic (which I imagine they need to be) and they certainly did brighten our experience of the park. Makes you wonder where they get that charisma from, especially if they have to repeat the same tour or show several times a day.
Watched my first basketball game live as well (see the video). Although instead of talking specifically about basketball, it is worth noting what you learn about America and its sporting culture. You have your mainstream sports such as basketball, baseball, and American football. And you have each city with its own teams, and strong supporters of that team (from their respective home towns). Essentially with the number of cities across America you actually have your own little Olympics and what not due to the large number of participating teams. I suppose we in Australia have a similar thing but it doesn’t seem as large as in the US (or perhaps it’s because I shy away from Australian sporting culture).
And when you have that many sporting teams, and you want to make each sporting match spectacular for the many spectators watching (either live or on TV), they you also need talented people to perform acts during the event. So you have your singers for the national anthem; you have people to perform half time shows; and then you have your cheerleaders. I was taken by surprise at how popular this cheerleading thing was, that even little girls the age of 5 wear makeup and perform in large groups for. It’s a very strange culture to experience and wonder about; how can cheerleading be a profession. But just for me personally, it not something I would enjoy or admire (it is interesting nonetheless). I find K-pop performances much more enticing than cheerleading, but that’s just my personal taste.
I suppose I should save up other material for future posts (I also have heaps of videos to go through too). Let me just go over the daily routine that we’ve settled into. Essentially we decide on a time to wake up on (which generally fails). We try to make a balance between getting to places early and allowing everyone to have sufficient sleep – we understand the wisdom in sleeping earlier the previous to accommodate for an earlier morning the next day. In Los Angeles particular, we struggled a bit to find quick fixes for breakfast (and the person who would wake up earlier to cook). I helped in breakfast for about two days (there are photos on instagram of my masterpieces haha). But after getting everyone to wake up and feeing them a bit of food we would head out to wherever we were going.
We had allocate extra time to travel to places since we were factoring in things such as there being traffic, and us randomly getting lost. This cannot be helped since we are driving in a city we are unfamiliar with. We weren’t able to follow our schedule perfectly, of course, but we were still able to get done most of the things we had planned. Lunch would generally be eating out at wherever we were at; in the case of theme parks we made sandwiches the night before and brought them into the park to try and avoid the high prices of theme park food. Somehow it felt like we weren’t allowed to bring food in, but we smuggled it nonetheless. We did get rejected at Six Flags, forcing us to waste a lot of food and also to buy the expensive stuff that was there in the park.
At night we would head to another destination for night activities and find dinner there. Other times if we didn’t have something on at night we would just find a restaurant and eat there. The key, though, was to find good places to eat based on Internet reviews and such. The idea was to have as much of the quality food as we could while we were there, to make the most out of the city. The Internet was a really important tool in organising our trip, especially when it came down to making last minute plans and changes.
Afterwards we would just drive home, safely, and go to sleep. The house/hotel we were at really just became a base for us to sleep at night, we never really took advantage of any facilities it had to offer; that was never the point of our accommodation. But of course we wanted more than a cardboard box to crawl home to. Sleep was integral to replenishing our energy for the following day. All in all, a lot of the money we’ve spent so far has gone into food (and tips).
Anyhow I shall leave things here for now. I’ll add photos to this post later once I can get round to them (everyday has been too hectic to sit down and recount what has happened).
Some notes I’ll leave for myself to mention in the next post: