Saturday, August 24, 2013

Wildy Random Foto - Ladybug

Taken with Nikon V1 10-30mm lens

Should take lesser photos or blog more often?

Recently I am engrossed in writing a story. However my obsessive nature has driven me to check my reads and votes hungrily everyday, which isn't very healthy, so I decided to distract myself with some good old blogging.

Think it is time to break out the SD cards and look through my USA photos (I was reading someone's blog and she happened to go California one week later with her baby and husband. Amazing how two persons' experience of California can be so different. Must be the effect of traveling by first class and actually having $$). 

I just spent five minutes staring bewilderingly at some photos. I couldn't place the venue that they were taken... only to realize that they were of Frankfurt from last year. Must be the SD card that has gone missing. oopz.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Helluva Engineer

If only I still had his enthusiasm....maybe it's because I didn't go Georgia Tech.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Guess how much this was?

I bought this breakfast the first morning when we just came back from our trip. I almost jaw-dropped when the lady told me that it cost "S$4.50!? for breakfast?!" Looking through the receipt, the fried egg was S$0.70, vegetables were S$1.00.

I am really shocked.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Useful Advice: Carry a Spoon in your underwear if you are being forced into an overseas arranged marriage

I was reading jezebel when I came across this seemingly strange article "Spoons hidden in Underwear could save teens from arranged marriages". Sorry for my finding humor in such a harrowing situation, but when I first read it, I was wondering if the innocous spoon was to be used as self-defence against your amorous pedobear of an old man husband? 

Like dig his eye ball out or literally spoon him to death? 

Turns out this is very useful advice by the Karma Nirvana charity in Britain, which supports victims and survivors of forced marriages and honor-based abuse. Basically the idea is that usually these forced marriages take place overseas, so when the petrified teenager puts the spoon in her undies, it will sound off the alarm through the airport security. And because it is in a private area, the bride-to-be will be taken to a safe place to be checked, away from their interfering relatives, and they can disclose their situation.

Tried my hand at shooting guns

Guns are banned in Singapore. So naturally when I went to USA, there were four things on my mind (not necessarily in that order) shooting a gun, In-n-Out Burger, Alcatraz Island and Cheesecake Factory (or anything Big Bang Theory). 

I am not promoting violence per se (ok, I am a pretty violent person), but I really wanted to know how it'd feel to really shoot a gun or try hunting. Before we went for our trip, I started checking out the places that offered shooting in Las Vegas, because we were going to be there longest due to Bobo's work commitments. 

I found a few places that let you try shooting very scary guns, but they tend to be a tad too expensive and dubious-looking. So I was delighted to find out that Clark County (where Las Vegas is located, by the way) had a shooting complex, complete with shooting facilities and free orientation lessons by their experienced staff. I checked via email with them if foreigners could try shooting, and they said it was ok, just bring your ID along.

We wanted to drive out there Thursday night after collecting the rental car, but due to bad math, we mixed up the dates, we weren't able to go together. We could only get the car on Friday, and everyday Bobo had to work till at least 6pm, and the shooting was until 7pm most nights, except for Wednesday and Thursday nights.

So by the time Sunday (last day in Las Vegas) rolled around, Bobo still had to work till 4pm so I decided to go by myself, even though I wasn't exactly sure about the address. (1) I read on some websites that it was better to avoid other parts of Las Vegas other than the Strip, especially North Las Vegas, which coincidentally where the shooting complex was located (the northen most part~!). (2) I didn't really dare to go by myself.
The pistol and rifle complex is that little orange building, against an awesome backdrop
I summoned what little courage I had, and armed with that horrible Hertz Neverlost (it got me lost a lot of times during this trip), my printed Google maps and an abysmal data connection, I drove out to North Las Vegas. I predictably got lost, because the Hertz map ran out on the coordinates, and the area looked really lonely and wild beyond where the Neverlost brought me. The canyon loomed ahead.
Don't miss it! Past this main entrance, you still have to drive further into the canyon.
I thought the Neverlost was being dumb, and drove to a nearby shopping area, so that I could stop the car and pore over the map. I decided to try driving out into the canyon, and was rewarded for my daring.

I drove up to the highest point, which was where the rifle and pistol shooting located. They also had shotgun and archery further down the hill. Getting out the car, I took some quick photos, and flinched everytime I heard a loud crack. I figured even if I didn't dare to shoot, at least I managed to capture the experience.
There was a very friendly uncle and young lady chatting by the slope leading up to the nearest building (administration office). He turned to me and asked me if I was here to try shooting. I replied yeah!

He smiled a friendly welcome and pointed me to the door. "Go in and sign up."

So I went in, the people at the range are all very friendly folks, they really made me feel very welcome, and I had a super fun time there. I was advised to watch a short video on the simple rules they had for the complex (namely the obvious "point the gun downwards at the range"), which allowed me to collect a yellow card. I was told that with the yellow card, I would not have to watch the video again the next time. The rules were quite simple, 20 minutes of shooting, then 10 minutes of resting. During the resting time, no one can touch their shooting table where the guns lay, and everyone will go out and change/collect their shooting targets. Point the gun downwards at the range, and upwards after you leave the range.
Smith & Wesson pistol ok!
Then I was told to fill out a form and choose which shooting targets I wanted to buy. The man in charge asked me if I wanted to try a rifle or pistol. I asked him what is the difference in experience, and he told me that with the pistol, you could shoot multiple times at a go but it was harder, while with the rifle you have to keep reloading but it was easier to pick up.  The rental pistol and rifle used the same kind of bullets.
Form and card
I chose the rifle. Too bad I didn't have my own gun, so I had to rent the equipment. Thankfully, they let me swap out for the pistol later, without having to pay a separate rental fee. Aren't they great? I was quite eaten by jealousy when I saw what awesome guns the other people brought with them to the range.  
Setting up targets during cooling-off periods
Mr Mitch taught me how to load the rifle and later, the pistol. I tried shooting the rifle at 5 yards then 15 yards, then 17 yards. It definitely got harder to get bulls eye at 17 yards, especially since my arm got tired from holding and aiming the guns. 

I should have change to pistol earlier, because my arm became very tired to point and shoot properly. I tried shooting for 3 hours and changed several targets. The people in the office were super nice and equally excited with me that I was having such a great time at the range. Of course, because you have the great view of the canyon in the distance. It looks as if you are shooting into the canyon but actually you shoot into the sand banks in front. Phew phew!

As for the other people at the range, they were mostly families coming to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon shooting targets together or serious gunheads trying their really impressive looking guns (complete with binoculars, cool). There was a scary group of gangster-looking uncles at one end, but they left everyone alone. So it was all good.
Awesome gun 1
Super Awesome gun 2 (the sound from this gun made me JUMP)
The only bad experience I had was when this older man set up his two daughters at the shooting table next to mine, and every time they discharged their revolver, the bloody brass would ping me in the head because we were standing so close together.

If you are interested, 
Check out the Clark County shooting complex here with its shooting fees.
Mr Mitch explained that gunshells are expensive for other gun models, so most people buy the scrap brass so that they can make their own bullets. They can increase or reduce the amount of gunpowder accordingly, lesser for shooting range, more for hunting.

Monday, August 12, 2013

[Book Review] Pretty in Plaid

This book was quite an awesome read. Jennifer Lancaster is both snarky and witty between the sheets, even though I felt that the book came to a abrupt ending in the epilogue. Probably it's because I liked what I was reading and wanted the fun to continue. I especially liked the part where she wrote about her "rush" days at Purdue, and how various fashion pieces symbolized the various episodes in her life. Then there was the part about her mother drinking a blow job cocktail, to the amusement of Jennifer's friends and colleagues at the restaurant where she spent her college days serving disgruntled customers and getting into trouble for not giving a shit about their lives. 

"Just when I think the evening can't get any more mortifying, my mother leans in and conspiratorially whispers, "But I've had the real thing." Were I to even contemplate what she may have meant by this statement, I'd curl up in the fetal position and rock back and forth for the remainder of my life. As it is, I spend the rest of my graduation night suffering from hysterical deafness." Jennifer does have a love for footnotes (amusing as they are, give me a terrible work-based flashbacks), which would have made our お母さん proud. Still, it was a funny read, though I might have underestimated the calculating, cunning mind of a young girl, despite having been one myself.

Sleep deprivation

No wonder prisoners are tortured by lack of sleep. Because it works. Even though I only flew home yesterday morning, totally sleep starved thanks to kids kicking and whining behind me.

Last night I tossed and turned the whole night. Since coming home only slept six hours sigh. So today worked half day, which was lucky because I crashed at three pm... fortunately I set the alarm to go off at five thirty So that I will not have another sleepless night. Hopefully I will survive tonight.

Tried to send my brain into standby by reading, and then it was so effective, that my head fell forward and I banged my head against the table badly. Took me a while to sleep after that.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Planning trip to USA - tips based on my own experience

Hadn't blogged in a while. Video card died before my trip. I was also in the western part of USA for two weeks. Very eventful. More so than Germany, but I still prefer the latter.

Car Rental
I followed the tips here when renting the car for our trip. Long story short, it is cheaper to rent a car for a week than over days. I thought about using train travel rather than driving, like we did in Germany, but I have much less faith in the commuters in USA and the level of comfort that we'd expect.

Getting Alcatraz Island Tickets when the particular tour I wanted is sold out
San Francisco - Alcatraz Cruises
This is the only and official tour that allows you to walk on the Alcatraz island. I already decided to get the tickets back in June, but I wanted to get it with the City Pass. The complication with the City Pass was that if you want to buy it with the option of Alcatraz Tour, then you have to CALL Alcatraz Cruise to buy the City Pass with the option (note: the Blue&Gold cruise that comes with the tour will be replaced by this option). Email or online purchase are not allowed.You can only buy the tour ticket online.

Since I don't live in the USA, this idea sounded particularly horrible to me. So I decided to only call them when I reached Las Vegas.

Guess what? Two weeks later, when I changed my mind (decided to sit on the Blue & Gold and go Alcatraz), I went to the site to buy the tour, only to find out all the tours on the two days we are going to be in SF are no longer available.   
So I searched online for two days, trying to see how others resolve this problem? This is what I found out:

Alcatraz sells the tickets in 3 ways, over counter, on phone and on website.

What do you do if the Alcatraz Island cruise you wanted is sold out?
- Buy it on Craigslist
- Buy it on actual day when the hotels give up the tickets they couldn't sell.
Alcatraz also releases 50 tickets for only the 9.10am tour during off season, and 50 tickets each for  9.10am, 10am and 10.30am tours in high season (summer). The counter opens at 8am, and according to the company people start queuing at 5am sometimes. Everyone can buy up to 4 tickets by cash or credit but the entire party has to be in line to get the tickets (I interpret this as everyone can buy only 1 ticket) on a first-come, first-served basis.
- Buy it from people who can't go and are trying to resell the ticket at the pier
- Buy it from another tour company which combines it with another SF tour/ resells it for $$$. If you do this, make sure the Alcatraz ticket is confirmed.
- Be patient, Alcatraz Cruises will release tickets randomly on the website. You have to keep pressing refresh. The earliest this happens tends to start 5 days before the actual cruise.

It was like back in university when we had to keep clicking on websites for class registration. So you'd bet that this was no skin off my nose, even though it was a terrible inconvenience. I got the tickets about 2 days after trying, one at a time.

Usefulness of online coupons in USA!
I learnt all about the couponing culture when I watched "extreme couponing". Too bad I didn't get to try it out when I was there. One thing you should do when you are buying specific products or services, you should always google said product/ company/ service and "coupon". This helps to save a few bucks, which comes in useful when your country's exchange rate is not favorable against the USD.

Example. We went for the Warner Brother's VIP tour and I also did a Grand Adventures' Grand Canyon tour while Bobo was working. You can save USD5 per ticket with the coupon code "perk" (for Friends) or USD8 per ticket with the coupon code "ellen". "perk" worked for me. For Grand Adventures, I went to their Facebook page, and searched for the coupon code (forgot what it is now).

Otherwise there are the printable coupons, as well. I also signed up as a member on the premium outlets website (where you can buy brands at cheaper prices *tight pussy and proud of it*), which entitled me to a coupon book (valid for one month) on top of other coupons that I could print off each outlet mall's site. Example. I saved USD20 on top of my savings at Levi's with a separate Levi's coupon, versus the USD15 from the coupon book.

Las Vegas Coupons
(1) Vegas4locals

When you got to go, you got to go
The cleanest toilets in Las Vegas are on the casino floor. Duh.

Don't fly United
I can understand why USA is so anal about security with the body scans and all, but I am extremely irritated by United. First of all, they only allow 1 checked in luggage, which meant we had to pay another USD100(!!!) to check in another bag. Strangely they allow you to hand carry two other luggage, which is very dumb and causes a lot of inconvenience on the plane and during checks. The food was disgusting as well, even though it was plentiful (will upload the food pics later). At first we thought it was because of the food provider at San Francisco, but the food was also bad on the flight back to Singapore from Narita, Tokyo.

Our flights back to Singapore were 100X worse than the experience we had flying with ANA to USA, even though there was a long-legged caucasian who kept kicking me all through my 10 hour flight from Narita to San Francisco. Our 10 hour flight from San Francisco to Narita saw two crying kids (one intelligible toddler, and one psycho Japanese little girl throwing tantrums + kicking the seat right behind me), and having to share common tv screens in the economy class. I hadn't seen a common tv screen on flights since 2000, and it reminded me of taking trips on tour buses to KL where they feed you bad food and let you watch pirated movies on shaky common screens. The United one was exactly the same, and the movies would hang a bit at times as if pirated.

Not only that, all our United flights were delayed (we flew ANA from Singapore to Tokyo to San Francisco, and United to Las Vegas, then United from San Francisco to Tokyo to Singapore), and the flight from Narita to Singapore was quite a joke, especially since we were already taxiing to the runway, and the captain came on to say that we had to return to the gate because some baggage were incorrectly loaded onto the plane..

United also has a bad habit of overbooking its flights and delights in offering you USD300 to take a later flight. WTF. After 2 long flights of more than 8 hours each, I just want to get to my destination. And this, after we already paid for the tickets. Fucked up service, fucked up attitude on top of that. Everytime they played their motherhood bullshit video about how professional their service was, I nearly wanted to die from laughing. I WILL NEVER TRAVEL UNITED AIRLINES EVER AGAIN.


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