Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Odd Shopping

Besides the boxes of cute japanese snacks and rice cakes I grabbed from the Narita Airport during transit, the huge load of the new Dark Chocolate M & M's that is not yet available in Singapore....

...the other huge loads of random snacks for my cousins during Christmas this year, the summer clothes on sale in the cold winter, I also did a fair bit of shopping for odd stuff.

First on the oddity list includes Ice Cream for Astronauts. I bought this at the Milwaukee Public Museum out of pure curiosity. I don't see such stuff in Singapore though. Since I don't think I can ever go to space, perhaps I can try some of the food they consume in space.

I tried some just now, it looks somewhat like this, except mine is Chocolate Ice Cream with Chocolate Chip flavor.

Basically, it doesn't melt if you don't place it in the freezer. However, if you put a piece in your mouth, it will start to melt like and taste like ice cream. It is not cold, though. Henceforth, astronauts must be very sad people. Their ice cream is not cold. Imagine that.

The next odd thing I purchased is a pack of Mexican Jumping Beans. Apparently, the girl who was in the museum with me heard some cackling from a pack of beans at the counter. We read behind the pack and realized the beans could jump randomly and with proper care, could develop into moths. Gee.

Curiosity got better of me, so I came back to consult the google god. According to this site, Jumping Beans respond to warmth and light to get them active. You need to gently shake their plastic apartment to wake them up from their nap, and place them under a bright light for a few minutes. Be patient, they just woke up from a nap and it may take a few minutes for them to begin jumping.

Pretty damn cool, isn't it? I shall bring them to the Christmas family lunch on Monday and watch me become the Cool Cousin of the Year with loads of weird stuff. Muhaha.

Okay, other weird stuff I got include stuff from a luxury pet store at Magnificent Mile in Chicago called Tails in the City. Well, 'tis weird because that is the only 'luxury' store I entered among the big names of Coach, Pradas and whatsnot and whaddaya know, it doesn't sell stuff for humans. I stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the fur-clad well-groomed tai-tais picking out fur coats and diamante collars for their precious pooches. Me? I just bought some gourmet treats for Toto and his canine friends.

Right, the final odd stuff hailed from Victoria's Secret. 'tis odd because I could never ever comprehend why the entire planet of female gender is ga-ga over the items sold here. According to my friend, their services in fitting of lingerie is superb. Yes, the service. But why do people purchase the items over the Internet is beyond me. However, I am guilty of being coerced into commercialism and emerged with a hot pink paper bag of toiletries. Not for me, though. I have an aunt who is crazy over Victoria's Secret. That will be her Christmas present.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Chicago Updates

The weather in Chicago is a pleasant change to Milwaukee's hovering-below-zero temperatures. The skies are a shade of brilliant blue and except for gusts of wind, the climate remains at a comfortable 4-10 degree celsius.

The blue, cloudless skies

Actually, I kinda like winter because it makes everything serene and beautiful. Like I always say, the cold just makes me wanna snuggle up to someone for a great big hug. Couples saunter around in tight embraces, stopping for defrosting nose-rubs. There is no need for campaigns such as "Romancing Singapore" to keep love alive in such temperatures. And have I mentioned that to feel the hot cup of caramel apple cider trickle down your throat as the wintry wind blows is one of the most inexplicably heavenly sensation ever?

I like this city. It has a densely populated district of awe-inspiring skyscrapers, but it is fringed by extremely beautiful urban gardens. The Millenium Park serves as a fashionable civic center that defines the city lakefront.

Its signature feature is the the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a band shell designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry with 4,000 fixed seats plus additional lawn seating for 7,000. We would remember Frank Gehry as the guy who proposed a gold-fishy looking design for the proposed Intergrated Resort.

Another unmissable feature is the Cloud Gate, a 3-story, 110-ton steel sculpture that has been dubbed by residents as "The Bean". I think it is pretty cool to observe the city skyline reflected upon it. This is my personal favorite within Millenium Park.

Reflections in the bean

I had the Friday night to myself after my room mate left for Singapore and I returned to the park to watch caroling at Cloud Gate.

The Park was a rather breath-taking view at dusk. More apparent against the darkness of the night are the feature blocks known as the Crown Fountain. They basically comprise of glass bricks that hid high-tech LED video screens which illuminates and scrolls through videos of the faces of nearly a thousand individual Chicagoans.

The Millenium Park sights at dusk

The outdoor skating rink

The Christmas atmosphere is eletricfying. As the carolers sang, the crowd of audience sang along. Many began to grab some candles and join in as well. It is hard not to jiggle along to the powerful vocals (Blacks are really awesome at singing, no doubt.) that chorused Jingle Bell Jingle Bell Rock. There was even complimentary coffee and cider.

'tis a beautiful evening and I would have love to remain and watch if I haven't bought the tickets to the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Welcome Yule's concert.

I enjoyed the concert tremendously, gawking at the dancers, the ensemble of choir and the grand orchestra group within the the warm glow of festive decorations in Orchestra Hall. There were excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite, originals like “Christmas in Chicago,” and many Christmas Carols where the conductor would turn around and cajole the audience to participate. Ah, I feel so Christmasy, more than ever.

Besides the Millenium Park, the other more isolated parts of Grant Park are also adorned by sculptures and art installations.

Apparently, these are large-scale lilies created from old Cadillacs by Dessa.

Other installations include...

Or if you prefer less contemporary ones, the Buckingham Memorial Fountain.

All right, I will stop here for now to pack my luggage. I will update more on the trips to museums and other touristy spots when I head back to Milwaukee tonight.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Jetlagger's Narrations

I survived a 18-plus hour flight, finally arriving at Minneapolis for a connecting flight to Milwaukee, a place where birds don't lay eggs (because there are no birds, you see).

I had about two hours to while away during the transit and took some time to browse the airport stores. Then, I saw something that reminded me of my home, far far away. :(

Okay fine, I know some of you folks out there are sniggering, thinking that the word "Toto" can be found easily anywhere, for instance, on the smooth porcelain toilet surfaces. Yes, I know that, thank you very much. But, to have it in large, lighted letters on the store front is just heart-wrenching. Oh, I miss warm furry Mister Toto already!

Now, just how dependent is the nation on ipods to render it necessary to obtain them via a vending machine. It is as if one would walk pass and decide "Oh, hey, guess what, let's get some cover for my ipod. I think it is feeling cold." Duh.

Oh yes, the first thing I sniffed out for upon reaching USA is my ever-familiar comfort beverage.

Starbucks Caramel Apple Cider! For the last time, would someone please tell Starbucks Asia to bring that damn drink (which I deemed as heavenly nectar) to Singapore already?

Anyway, I finally made it to Milwaukee and was horrified to see the barren landscapes of snow from the plane. When the pilot made the announcement that the temperature was -8 degree celsius, I thought he was referring to the temperature at that altitude.

Obviously not. As I stepped out of the airport to walk like, 10 meters to the shuttle bus, I felt the cold blasted in my face. You know, sometimes after a run or a walk in the hot sun with Mister Toto, I come home and stick my head into the freezer for a few seconds. No kidding. Now, it just feels I am in the freezer that is working overtime and over-zealously.

The scene outside my hotel

Anyway, Saturday was a whole exhausting day of work, starting at the ungodly hour of 7 am. Workshop, presentations, conversations, blah blah. 'Twas a day gone in a flash.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you know?

Workshop gifts!

I am not someone to rave about stuff given out at academic conferences and workshops because they are usually extremely boring. However, this time, I was delighted to receive, among all other *cough* useless *cough* stuff, a pen that functions as a thumbdrive and a laser pointer. Finally, a useful tool!

The workshop dinner was held at this restaurant known as the Chinese Gourmet. However, if those food can be considered gourmet, then the food I cook must be heaven god-send. Uh huh, that is how bad it is.

Here I am, at a table of Taiwanese professors, who kept trying to convince me to visit Taiwan. I tried to think of something Taiwanese that I adored and I came out with 'Jay Chou', much to their disgust. Ha ha.

Sunday was more interesting, since it was the day of relax and recreation. Together with 3 others from my university, we proceeded to explore the Mitchell Park Horticultural Conservatory Domes.

The sun was out, thankfully, on the pretty Sunday morning. We spent time utilizing the sunny times (which brings the temperature up to about 1 degree) to explore the snowy landscape surrounding the domes.

Here is CH, trying to see if the lake is hard enough for ice-skating, by throwing a snowball.

Anyway, the domes function like a sort of greenhouse conservatory for different sorts of plant around the world. Just look at the strangest names of the various plants!

We have the Peanut Butter Plant...

...Chocolate Pudding Plant (I will export it to Singapore if it actually bears the fruit of chocolate pudding I can harvest.)

and the Sausage Tree...

Now, does this mean that by chewing on this plant, Zebras get to beautify themselves with scarlet lip stains? (The Zebra Lipstick Plant)

See lah, what happens when bird nest fern gets harassed.

The Arid dome breeds a large variety of desert plants. Sometimes, I think it is wonderful how mother nature can produce such patterns of regularity automatically.

Okay, this picture does not justify the size of this hugest roundest cacti i ever seen in my life. They look like large, thorny watermelons.

The view of the dome from within.

Then, we were off to see the Harley Davison Production Factory because Milwaukee is supposedly the main production line of the vehicles. The visit was pretty much boring and the only highlight was that I got to ride on pretty much any Harleys that I wanted. Ho ho.

We spent a good part of the afternoon at Mayfair Mall where I went sniffing for good deals.

The evening was spent at the conference opening reception at the Milwaukee's Art Museum.

It looks pretty cool, except we were there at night in the freezing subzero temperatures, and spent a good part of the time inside instead.

Food, food and more food.

Inside the museum...

I subsequently concluded the tiring Sunday with a long hot soak in the bathtub. Somehow, no matter how exhausted I am, I am sure to awake at the ungodly hour of 4 am. Damn you, jetlag monster!