"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Sunday, June 26, 2005

My US Trip (2005)

Day 12 - New York

Previously featured:
Flight to Newark, Day 1 - Newark-Princeton
Day 2 - Princeton-Philadelphia
Day 3 - Gettysburg-Lancaster-Ephrata-Alexandria
Day 4 - Alexandria-DC
Day 5 - Westpoint-Hyde Park
Day 6 - Hancock Shaker Village-Hanover
Day 7 - Burlington, Vermont
Day 8 - New Hampshire-Bretton Woods-Portland Head
Day 9 - Portland-Kennebunkport
Day 10 - Marblehead-Salem-Boston
Day 11 - Westpoint-New York

In the morning, my sister and brother-in-law came with me on the train from New Brunswick to New York, and we went to see the Cloisters, the branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to medieval art.

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My sister claimed I liked the place because it was Disney-fied. However, the place was essentially a museum, differing from most others only in the way the material was presented, housed in a constructed monastic setting more approximating the artefacts' original surroundings than a typical museum, and with some of the collection set into the architecture of the place (eg Arches integrated into doorways). There were no rides, no talking friars and no people dressed up as monks, so it was very far from Disney-fied.

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Column detail

My brother in law went around taking picture after picture of column and carving details, for some unknown reason. Of course, he probably doesn't know what the details are of now, whereas I took care to note down what it was I photographed when it wasn't immediately clear from looking at the photo. And since it fell to me to caption the photographs, with his leaving them named with such inspiring filenames as "NY 2 041", I now have 13 files imaginatively named "XX - Stained Glass.jpg".

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Cloister and fountain jet

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"Wth?!" shot 1

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"Wth?!" shot 2

Digging around in the Bonnefont cloister garden, I finally found my mandrakes! I didn't dare to pull one up to expose the roots, though, since having no ear protection, I wouldn't be able to abide the screaming.

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The only really wroth-inducing aspect of the Cloisters was the so-called "donation". To maintain its status as "tax-exempt under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code" and to be "eligible to receive contributions deductible as charitable donations for federal income tax purposes" (The Better Business Bureau National Information System), it likely is forbidden from levying an admission fee. Nonetheless, the ingenious folks over there have hit upon a way to impose a de facto ticketing system. Not only is a receipt and a token (some badge that one clips to one's garments) given when the "donation" is given, visitors are told that becoming a member entitles one to "free admission". The best part is that if one wanders into the Cloisters without being processed at the "donation booth", as my sister did, one is called back by the security guard for "processing". And when I shelled out $7 for my "donation", we were asked derisorily by the staff member at the counter if that was for 1 or for 3. If I ever go back there, I figure that since they're shameless enough to ask for "donations" so brazenly, I can decline equally shamelessly.

I proceeded to the main part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, leaving the Louvre as the last missing feather in my cap of the Holy Trinity of art museums. Probably due to the greater number of visitors there (only the hardcore people go to the Cloisters), they weren't as anal about "donations".

Most people walked briskly through the galleries, going straight for the crowd favourites, not stopping to smell the roses (or examine the hydriai, as the case might be), with various items on display that were uncharismatic but still interesting in their own peculiar way, like 'Terracotta vase in the form of a phallus' ('Vase en terre cuite ayant la forme d'un phallus') and bronze libation bowls. The sheer size of the kraters were frightening - one now knows just how well the wheel of ancient discourse were so turned. However, I ran away from the awful Cycladic figures, having had ten lifetimes' worth of them at the Benaki museum in Athens.

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Marble grave sculpture of a young girl

Many parts of the museum were closed, including the Etruscan, Roman and Hellenistic sections, so I didn't get my "donation"'s worth. Though there was a very respectable collection of non-Incan South American artefacts. I tried peeping into the modern art gallery for kicks, but ran away screaming.

The easiest way to distinguish Classical Greek and Roman statues from the Neo-Classical ones: the former are castrated, while the latter aren't.

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Innocence protected by fidelity

Some art pieces were placed in the Museum cafe. Very smart way to tempt people in.

There was a sculpture by Bernini of Priapus, but a basket of fruit conveniently obscured his identifying feature.

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Room from Hotel de Varengeville. They had several reassembled European hotel rooms, many of them Parisian (I wonder why), from the 18th Century. How opulent. Though for sheer shock value, it couldn't beat the whole choir screen from the Cathedral in Valladolid, or indeed the whole tomb of Perneb they carted in.

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A most lovely rosary

They had a very nice arms and armour exhibit, but unfortunately almost all the items were from the late medieval period and later. They did have some Qing ceremonial armour though, as well as some Middle Eastern specimens, and a whole (small) room dedicated to horse armour. The pamphlet proudly proclaimed that they had the 'finest collection of Japanese armour outside Japan'. But of course that would depend on how one defines 'finest'.

There were a few Byzantine galleries, but my feet were in too much pain to do more than breeze through them, let alone read blurbs and scribble commentary.

I was looking to steal a Book of the Dead to speed my ba to the Land of the West, but it was much too long for me to smuggle out, despite being in hieratic. Maybe a demotic Reader's Digest version is available somewhere. I must contact my local bookstore one day for details.

I didn't get to go to Columbia, but I met with my brother-in-law and sister as the gestapo at the Met was chasing everyone out 15 minutes before the official closing time, and they told me that it didn't have ivy. Pity.

We went to Ground Zero, which was underwhelming, looking more like a construction site than anything and lacking even a simple memorial after more than 3 years. No "co-ordinated continuous expressive activity as a part of a group of 25 or more persons" was allowed without a permit. That said, it beats the law on Illegal Assembly.

We then went to Ellen's Stardust Diner, where the waitering staff sang (sometimes while serving people), and they were all nametag-ed after TV show characters: "Scooter", "Jughead", "Judy", "Buffy" and "Jess" (this and the Boston restaurant were the only places with more male than female serving staff). The staff (at least those who sang) looked like they were genuinely enjoying themselves and had a great deal of chemistry. Oh, and their singing was quite good. However, they were sneaky, for as the evening went by they sang less and less, and in the end they just turned off the music and turned up the volume of the TVs playing videos.

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'Buffy' and us

The diner had an Elvis Special - peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The portions at the place weren't American-sized, though. Maybe it's something to do with New York City. Or with how people there are smaller than in suburban America.

The ads and animated billboards in Times Square are very aggressive and invasive. From here it's just a short hop, skip and jump to holograms jumping out at you ala Minority Report.

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Big Butts. We got 'em. Spanky's BBQ.

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Eats flies. Dates a pig. Hollywood star. Live your dreams. Pass it on. (The foundation for a better life)

The Nissin cup noodles billboard was very smart. They positioned it in front of a steam duct, so steam appeared to be coming from the cup.

Sister's food diary: "Day 12 : Breakfast at Penn station - Krispy Kreme donuts, 99c hotdog. Korean lunch - dumplings, beef bulgogi, beef short rib noodles. Afternoon snack - Chicago pizza. Dinner - all-singing diner. Coconut shrimp, bacon cheeseburger, sampler plate, milkshake, death by chocolate."

I think I took worse shots with my brother-in-law's digital SLR (Canon Digital Rebel 300D), despite it being better than my normal one (Canon Powershot A70).

The weight and bulk of the former made it more unwieldy, unstable and unsteady. The lack of movie and photo-stich modes also constrained my designs, and there was also no helpful camera shake warning flashing when the shutter speed was too slow, and no preview of what the captured image would look like. That removing and putting on the lens cap was annoying didn't help either.

On the upside, the lens was very wide angle, and zooming could be controlled precisely. But overall I prefer my own camera. Now to get the loose connection tightened...

People are noticeably less friendly in New York. If they even bother to mutter the requisite words, you can tell they're just going through the motions. Which was why at the McDonalds at New York Penn Station, they had to offer customers a free hashbrown/small fries on their next visit if the person serving them didn't smile.

In London it is easy to get cheap tickets (let alone normal-priced ones, and online too) to shows, even if they are lousy ones (the seats, not the shows). Maybe New Yorkers are more rich (or bored) and so can afford to watch shows more often.

I saw 2 Hummer stretch limos. Wth?!

If something like Central Park existed in Singapore, it would long ago have been paved over and used to build condominiums.

Maybe I should get a wheelchair the next time I travel, so I can move around and rest my feet at the same time.

Some subway stations have the strangest and/or most awful smells.

I don't know why we can't get amusing advertisements on TV. Maybe Singaporeans can't appreciate humour. That said we also don't get ads where a guy comes up and gives a lecture to viewers about how good his product is.
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