"The happiest place on earth"

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Saturday, June 11, 2005

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Friday, June 10, 2005

My US Trip (2005)

Day 5 - Westpoint-Hyde Park

Previously featured:
Flight to Newark, Day 1 - Newark-Princeton
Day 2 - Princeton-Philadelphia
Day 3 - Gettysburg-Lancaster-Ephrata-Alexandria
Day 4 - Alexandria-DC

We set out early in the day just after 5:30am on our way to Westpoint - but not before getting some Krispy Kreme doughnuts for breakfast! It was interesting to try the assorted varieties, but Original Glazed was the best, so instead of the 1 Original 5 Assorted mix of the previous day, I ordered 3 Original and 3 Assorted.

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Somewhere along the way we had some hoagies from Wawa. Mmm...

After many hours, we arrived at Westpoint - a real military institute attended by people who actually want to be there (their acceptance rate is 13%). Many of the buildings near it had banners reading: "Congratulations Class of 2005". One banner added: "Go Crazy". One day I should rent a building opposite SAFTI MI (Singapore Armed Forces Training Institute Military Institute) and put up a banner reading: "Congratulations 62/05. ORD Loh!", or something.

Outside the Westpoint Visitors Centre was a sign notifying visitors that: "This area is monitored by closed circuit TV but not on a continuous basis". The rationale for that puzzled me. This would not placate those jealous of their privacy, yet it would encourage those the CCTV was meant to deter.

Unfortunately, Westpoint was not giving any tours that week since it was graduation week. We resolved to come again the next week, and looked at their museum in the meantime.

The Gettysburg battlefield guide had made a clear distinction between what he called military generals and what he called political generals. This made me think of our own exalted armed forces, which just possibly might have the greatest number of the latter in the world.

There was a nice collection of arms in the museum, and not only from the Western gunpowder tradition. Unfortunately, the SAR 21 was not included in the assault rifles section. Aww.

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At one side, instead of 'please do not touch', the military instincts of the curators came into play: Hands Off!

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Napoleon's sword and pistols

According to one exhibit, aviators in World War I used darts because they lacked bombs and synchronised machine guns, and they were still being used during the Korean War. Erm. There were also 77mm German Army message shells to fire from the front line to back. I wonder what happened if they hit people. And the armour of World War I sentinels and machine gunners was medievalesque.

We wanted to visit the Culinary Institute of America, which was in the area, but they only had a ridiculous 3 tours a week.

For lunch, my brother in law and I went to recce Dong Fang Chinese restaurant. As usual, my sister hid in the car, refusing to get down and walk all of 40m to the restaurant. Deciding we were pressed for time, my brother in law ordered takeaway, and we got Mooshu pork (cabbage, carrot, leeks, pork and egg fried together and wrapped in a pancake), shrimp in lobster sauce and General Tso's chicken (like sweet and sour, but slightly exotic).

Of course, when we returned to the car, she started scolding my brother-in-law for being an idiot, since the Moo shu pork had to be rolled manually, and this was impossible in a moving car. Thus began the latest episode in an interminable tragedy: my sister always makes my brother-in-law run errands, and when he screws up (as he often does), he gets scolded endlessly. Never does my sister seem to clue on that maybe she should do things herself or at the very least supervise since my brother-in-law lacks common sense. Or more probably she does, but is simply too lazy to do anything, preferring to scold my brother-in-law for the Nth time. So this scenario, though it has happened countless times in the past, is doomed to be repeated countless times in the future. An alternate theory to laziness is that she knows she herself might screw up, and so she makes my brother-in-law do it, so he can be the scapegoat.

Since I was in the back seat, I was entrusted with managing the food, and holding it when we were done. Unfortunately, this meant that stuff started leaking onto my pants. Lucky it wasn't a fresh pair. And later, when I poured water from the ice keg, ice suddenly fell out in a cascade - and onto my pants.

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Fumbling with Chinese food on the highway

We paid 59 cents for a 2 litre bottle of 'Tubz Old Fashioned Root Beer' from "Save-a-lot supermarket", a really el cheapo chain. It was almost as good as A&W which is, as far as I'm concerned, still the root beer to beat. Flavoured with the infamous High Fructose Corn Syrup though it was, I couldn't tell the difference (giving more credence to the theory that it's psychological).

After lunch mostly eaten in a stationary car, we drove to Hyde Park, home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In the gift shop was this poster: "Gee!! I wish I were a man. I'd join the navy. Be a man and do it. United States Navy recruiting station", as well as a FDR action figure complete with cane (but no wheelchair?!), with the doll vocalising 25 choice soundbites. Amusingly, the museum had a panel making a snipe at conspiracy theorists who claimed Roosevelt knew about Pearl Harbor in advance: "This argument defies logic" (but then what's new?)

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With sister on balcony

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FDR bust

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FDR's house

There were also some groundhogs on the grounds, so we went groundhog hunting. The damn things kept disappearing down their holes, so I suggested that we cover some of the holes and pour water down others - that would surely force them to come out!

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We passed by "Salisbury School, est 1901" which was in the middle of nowhere (not being near Salisbury, even), and there were cutouts of figures planted on the grounds. By the pond, for example, stood a fisherman. Damn private schools.

We ended the night drive at a Motel 6 near Hartford, Conneticut. We would spend the rest of our nights patronising this chain due to their low prices. However, their motels were also very far from the towns or cities they purported to be near, but this wasn't a big problem except for New York since we always drove, and didn't often stay at an outlet for more than one night (ie Using it as a base from which to explore the surrounding area).

Nearby there was a "Big Y" supermarket which billed itself as a "World Class Market" (and indeed had that phrase emblazoned all over the outlet - perhaps they'd come to Singapore before). What *was* World Class was their whole aisle of ice cream, divided into "Ice Cream", "Premium Ice Cream" and "Novelties".

My brother in law was sulking since after a long drive and late on that rainy night, my sister made him go on a wild goose chase for food that wasted a lot of time even though there was a cluster with McDonalds, Taco Bell, KFC and a few more within easy reach (something that she did more than once when we wanted to eat at a nearby food outlet, though it did result in us discovering Giovani's later), so when we asked him if he wanted any food he said no, but later happily tucked in, so the amount we bought ended up being not enough.

Sister's food diary: "Day 5 : 5.45am breakfast at Krispy Kreme, another half dozen donuts. Brunch en route at WaWa - hot roast pork hoagie, BLT, soft pretzel. Late lunch at Dong Fang, West Point. Mooshu pork, shrimp in lobster sauce, General Tso's chicken. Supper at Taco Bell - chicken and bacon chalupa, spicy chicken burrito, cheesy potatoes."

The Ben and Jerry's in a convenience store we went into was $3.99 a tub. After currency conversion, that works out to a markup of almost 75% here. Argh! And they had 2-3x the flavours that we have here too.

US food generally comes in bigger portions (even at the cheaper two of the 3 Chinese food joints we patronised). Even the Coke cans are 355ml as opposed to the stingy 330ml we get here.

I don't know why Americans like to put chicory in their coffee, like kopitiams here. I'm not a coffee fan myself, but chicory stinks. And apparently American coffee sucks. That might account for why Starbucks is so big there.

They have water coolers everywhere. How considerate.

US hotels all have ice machines. Lovely.

I think I'll just say screw it and upload my photos to Imagestation. I already have the full-sized copies anyway, and in the unlikely event that someone else wants them I can always email them over.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

"If by a "Liberal" they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind, someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions, someone who cares about the welfare of the people -- their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights, and their civil liberties -- someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a "Liberal," then I'm proud to say I'm a "Liberal."" - John F. Kennedy


Ctrl+alt+del strip

Customer: Hey, my computer is broken. I need you guys to--

Assistant: Oh, sorry, we don't service Macs here.

Customer: Is this your first day or something? This isn't a "Mac", this is an Apple brand computer.

Assistant: Hehe, of course. You're still going to have to find a speciality shop. We don't service those here.

Customer: Why?

Assistant: Well--

Manager (offscreen): Ooooh how adorable!

Manager (clasping hands): It's a Fisher Price 'My First Computer'! Did your mommy buy that for you? We don't fix those here, but maybe you're ready for your first 'big kids' computer! Shall we ask your mommy if you're old enough?

Customer (angrily): You just lost yourself a customer.

Manager: Gasp! We just lost a customer we never wanted in the first place!

Customer: I'm leaving.

Manager: Not fast enough.


He Who Must Not Be Named has confidently claimed so far to me that:

- the trebuchet was used by the Romans (Even in my diminished state of erudition, I know that it was of course unknown to them. He probably mixed it up with the onager)
- ghee is lard (I am ashamed to admit that his brash confidence fooled me for a while, till I realised among other things that Hindus do not consume pork, and that many roti prata sellers are Indian Muslim)


Fidget Away Unwanted Pounds

"Take toe tapping. You can burn nine calories an hour just moving your feet.

Gum chewing? 11 calories an hour.

Simply standing up will help you burn 20 more calories.

In fact, doctors say if everyone spent two more hours a day on their feet they could burn an extra 350 calories per day, or up to 40 pounds a year."


Prayer Center -- Let's not talk about sex

"Though less famous than activists on the right, there has long existed a community of Christian leaders preaching social justice. Evangelical political lefties like Ron Sider, head of Evangelicals for Social Action, and Tony Campolo, a professor emeritus of sociology at Eastern University (and one of President Clinton's spiritual advisers), point to Christianity's history of championing social reform (nineteenth-century evangelist William Wilberforce's role in abolishing slavery in England is a favorite example) and frequently stress that the Bible has much more to say about caring for the poor than about eradicating sexual sin.

In modern U.S. politics, however, personal piety has proved the more compelling rallying cry for a variety of reasons--perhaps the most basic being that sex sells. "Sex always gets people's attention," says Marvin Olasky, godfather of compassionate conservatism and editor of the religious magazine World. Talk of sexual sin "goes to the gut," agrees conservative columnist Cal Thomas (who, in his younger days, served as vice president of communications for the Moral Majority). "It goes to the emotions, to feelings. It produces a visceral reaction." By contrast, issues like health care and homelessness, while arguably more pertinent to more people's lives, lack the same sizzle and, as such, are unlikely to capture the imagination of the grassroots, not to mention a drama-loving press.

As a bonus, says Thomas, opposing abortion and gay marriage generally has more to do with changing someone else's behavior than one's own. He points out that, as far as the decline of American culture goes, Christians are just as guilty as non-Christians when it comes to high divorce rates, out-of-wedlock sex, and rampant materialism. (Supporting data for this and similar trends can be found in Sider's book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience.) But addressing this embarrassing reality would involve too much self-scrutiny, says Thomas. "People would much rather watch a video of someone else exercising than go to the gym and do the sweating themselves," he quips.

Similarly, issues like poverty and racial reconciliation don't lend themselves as neatly to the same good-versus-evil, us-versus-them political paradigm as gay rights or judicial activism, the right's latest bugaboo. Sociologist Tony Campolo (who recently conducted his own spiritual sit-down with Democratic lawmakers) likes to quote from philosopher Eric Hoffer's 1951 book, True Believer: "Mass movements can rise and spread without belief in a god, but never without belief in a devil." Hitler had the Jews, and the communists had the capitalists, says Campolo. "I contend that it's easy to rally people around opposition to gay people. In the minds of many, they have become the devil that must be destroyed if America is to be saved."

... A century later, American evangelicalism's emphasis on free-will individualism, personal responsibility, and the paramount importance of one's personal walk with God predisposes many adherents to distrust government intervention in social problems like poverty. In researching their book, Divided by Faith: Evangelical Religion and the Problem of Race in America, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith found that evangelicals are more inclined than nonevangelicals to blame an individual's failure to thrive on personal shortcomings--say, a lack of ambition or character--rather than on any systemic disadvantages."


I saw a girl wearing a top that said "SINGLE". I wonder if she gets picked up more often while wearing it, and if that's her aim.


Rahvin on my review of Tommy Seeback's Apache:

"I'm sorry I found this review so late. I loved it, I loved the video, the scantily-clad native American dancers. You made my day, and I am happy again. Thanks for this; if I ever suffer from cancer of the eye or the ear, I'll let you know."


Gay penguins won't go straight - "A German zoo's plans to tempt its gay penguins to go straight by importing more females has been declared a failure."

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

My US Trip (2005) - Part 4 of X

Day 4 - Alexandria-DC

Previously featured:
Part 1: Flight to Newark, Day 1 - Newark-Princeton
Part 2: Day 2 - Princeton-Philadelphia
Part 3: Day 3 - Gettysburg-Lancaster-Ephrata-Alexandria

I faced a decision about whether to go to Vermont and the Northeast or detour to Virginia and the South. I decided in the end on the former, since there was nothing in the south but Cajun fried chicken, red necks and mullets.

The weather continued to be bad, but at least it came in a drizzle rather than in torrents. Then again, it might've been better if it'd come in showers ala Singapore, since that would empty the clouds and it'd be clear for the rest of the day. We'd forgotten to pack an umbrella (damn) because we didn't think it'd be that bad. Luckily, I spent most of this day indoors, so it was alright.

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We started off the day by visiting Krispy Kreme. I'd heard so much about Krispy Kreme in the past months, but had seen none so far. So it was elating to spot, listed as a breakfast suggestion at the motel reception, an entry for 'Krispy Kreme'. I'd been led to believe that Krispy Kreme doughnuts really were 'Krispy', ala fried chicken. This was not so, especially not for the assorted varities. Yet, no doughnut I've ever had can compare to an Original Glazed Krispy Kreme Doughnut fresh off the belt. Warm, lighter than is possible for a doughnut made by man to be, fluffy and crisp, with a layer of glaze surrounding it.

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I wanted to get a T-shirt, but the largest they had was XL, which one lady at the counter didn't think was big enough, and they didn't let me open the shirts up to try. As my sister remarked, it's not smart for a place that sells doughnuts to only have XL.

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Then I was dropped off at the metro station and rode in to Washington DC proper, to visit the Smithsonian Air and Space museum to put an end to 11 long years of humiliation. The metro accepted credit cards, even for small amounts, so I found it easier to charge $1.95 to my card on the way back to Alexandria than to fiddle for coins in my wallet. The metro also has peak/off-peak pricing. 5 months ago I would have lauded this, and advocated that SMRT offer off-peak fares too, but now I know the truth behind off-peak fares!

My brother-in-law kindly lent me his digital SLR. However, due to his constant tinkerings in Manual mode, he'd set the exposure compensation to -2/3 in the semi-automatic modes, so some my pictures came out looking very underexposed.

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Messerschmitt Me 262

For some reason, there was a stall in the Air and Space museum selling dog tags and it was very popular with the museum visitors.

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Bell X-15

Exiting Air and Space, an egg roll was what passed for my lunch, as I am wont to do when wandering through cities alone, gaining sustenance from the sights and sounds instead. My sister, a fussy eater, thought egg rolls vile, but I found that alright - basically a spring roll with thicker skin, brushed with egg.

After that I proceeded a few blocks down to the Creationists' nightmare - The National Museum of Natural History. For some reason, there were exhibits on human culture in the museum (and quite blah ones at that - they should just stick to Natural History. Though they did have a bull mummy and a nice collection of papyri). For example, there was a Sikh gallery, so at first I was wondering how they'd managed to find a fossilised Sikh. When I realised that the exhibit was on Sikh culture, I was stumped, since it was after all a Natural History museum. Of course, some smart alecs, using techniques also favoured by apologists, will inevitably retort that humans are part of nature, so human history is natural history. To which I give an unprintable reply (because it is too long and out of point here. Besides which I haven't written it out yet).

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Elephant in lobby

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348 million year old tree trunk

Everyone made a beeline for the dinosaur gallery, which was crowded, leaving the rest of the museum relatively emptier. There was a nice collection of gems from the National Gem Collection.

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Quetzalcoatlus northropi - the largest flying animal ever known

I also saw a stuffed tree kangaroo. I didn't know there were tree kangaroos.

Unfortunately, the large amounts of glass, especially in the mammals gallery, made taking pictures difficult, so most times I didn't even try.

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A child looks rapturously at the Hope Diamond

I wish I'd gone to this museum for my Evolution fieldtrip. It sure beat the Raffles Museum of Biodiversity Research!

On the train back to Alexandria from DC, I saw some graffiti on a dilapidated railroad bridge across the Potomac, and felt admiration for the ingenuity of some of these graffiti artists, since some of this graffiti was sprayed on parts of the bridge's side between its pylons; most of the graffiti on the bridge's side was clustered around its pylons, since there would be somewhere for them to stand while spraying. In other words, since the graffiti was located between the pylons, there didn't seem to be anywhere for them to stand while spraying, and they certainly could not achieve the same effect by leaning over the side of the bridge, since that would distort the pattern of spray and thus the end result. Perhaps they shinnied out, risking a plunge into the river below.

Ad seen in the train: "4 out of 5 dentists recommend gum in your mouth instead of our trains". It was accompanied by a picture of a shoed foot trying to lift itself off the ground, but stuck to it by a piece of gum (I could Close Read the ad, but then I got a B for my "Writing" module). Sure beats a ban. But then having a Grand Prix encourages speeding, so.

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Notice seen at the Huntington metro station. It might come from having a litigious society. And you thought Singapore was bad! (There was a similar sign in the New York subway, but I didn't remember to snap it, unfortunately)

The sign above reads:

Escalator Safety Tips

Face forward!
Irregular steps!
Sudden stops!

Hold handrails
Always hold children by the hand
Stay clear of sides
Step over the combplate at exit
No running
No sitting on handrails
No sitting on steps
No bare feet
No loose laces
No carts or strollers

Elevator available"

Another sign nearby read: "Escalator alert: Persons with medical conditions or disabilities are encouraged to use the elevator... Please be aware of uneven step height on a stopped escalator". But then since stairs are more dangerous than either escalators or elevators (IIRC), how come staircases don't get so safety notices plastered near them?

After I took the picture above, someone asked me my opinion on the camera since she was intending to get a digital camera. I replied that digital SLRs were either for professionals or pretentious people. I hope I saved her some money.

As I was walking back to the motel, not wearing my pullover, this boy on a bicycle and wearing a camouflage hooded jacket asked me: "Aren't you cold?". By the time I reached the room, my feet were throbbing so badly I almost wished I wasn't C9L2, and it was all I could do to pull off my shoes and socks and collapse onto the bed and feel sorry for myself (I tried soaking my feet in hot water, but it didn't really help).

For dinner, we went to a crab place near our motel called Ernie's (There're 3 crab restaurants called Ernie's in the area. I think we went to the second) run by a Korean family (which explained why kimchi was on the menu). Their crab cake was mostly crab, rather than mayo, cheese or breadcrumbs, and my sister said it was the best she'd ever tasted. Not having had too many crabcakes, I have little basis for comparison and can't comment. Meanwhile the scallops were huge, and the oysters were at least 3 times the size of those used in or luah. Everything was very fresh.

The star of the meal was, however, the Chesapeake bay crab. We ordered half a dozen medium crabs, even though the menu listed prices for a dozen medium, large, x-large and xx-large crabs. Even though we had the medium crabs, they were already quite big, so I wonder what the XXL ones looked like. The kitchen also threw in "a couple of extra ones", so we got 9 crabs in the end, all dumped onto our brown mahjong paper-covered table and set upon eagerly by us with our mallets (sure beats the Chinese second class lever implement)

The crabs were so fresh, they were served steamed and there was no seafood smell (not even on the fingers), and they could be eaten effectively plain (they were steamed with some spice rub, but not much of the flavour penetrated into all of the meat). The gills (what I assume the spongy parts on the top of the crab directly under the shell that looked like fish gills were) were so fresh that they were bouncy and had a feeling, when pressed, akin to the bursting of orange sacs. And the meat was sweetish.

We wanted to to see Washington DC by night, but apparently it's hard to penetrate the web of roads surrounding the city to enter the city proper.

Sister's food diary: "Day 4 : Washington DC. Pilgrimage to Krispy Kreme - half dozen donuts and too-small XL T-shirts. Lunch at Cactus Cantina - warm fresh tortillas with salsa, shrimp burritos, chicken enchilada, beef taco. Dinner at Ernie's Crab Shack - jumbo shrimp cocktail, seafood platter with huge scallops and oysters, half dozen steamed Baltimore crabs."

I saw very very few mullets, and no fullets at all during my trip. I was quite upset. Maybe I need to visit the South next time.

Going to the US, I felt better about my hair since people there generally have lousier/messier hair than people in Singapore (at least among the long-haired population, among which there are surprisingly few males, given the absence of the institution of Slavery). Hell, I even saw at least 2 people with hair somewhat similar to mine.

I was speculating about why this is so and came up with several possible factors accounting for this: Caucasians are genetically predisposed to have curlier hair, the more variable and colder climate damages hair and makes it harder to manage, the tousled look might be in and they are less willing to spend hours on their hair and use Expensive Hair Products/Treatments (these are certainly not unavailable - I saw quite a few black women with rebonded hair). Or maybe SACSALs just spend too much time/effort/money on their hair.
"Obviously crime pays, or there'd be no crime." - G. Gordon Liddy


Trying to sort through and rename the many pictures my brother-in-law took on the trip, I realise that:

1) Since he was gey kiang [Ed: Tried to be too smart] and kept using manual mode, a lot of the pictures end up looking... weird. And not just in terms of under/over-exposure
2) He likes to take multiple shots of the same thing
3) He likes to take the most uninteresting shots
3) Worse, he likes to have multiple takes of the same uninteresting shots

(Translation: Don't blame me if the photos suck)

This is what happens when you give a technological victim a digital SLR and let him upload pictures from his memory card every night.

Selected pictures from the first 2 full days can be found at the bottom of this post, or in the relevant travelogue posts themselves.


Someone on my visit to Washington DC: "u were there for only a day?
haha u seem to have seen more of the inside of outlet malls than actual america"

Chara: "Why does Starbucks in the US suck? (Don't you agree?)So do Macs and Burger King.
Perhaps these are the things in Singapore that we REALLY take for granted :p"

I don't know about Starbucks, but McDonalds and Burger King both have more variety and are more authentic, so I totally disagree.

Someone on Krispy Kreme: "it is pure evil contained on a ring... don't tempt me devil
and it melts in your mouth, that layer of glaze...ahhhhh
maybe its prohibited...i think its classed with marijuana....soft drug"


Message left in my guestbook:

"emma watson's email is ***@aol.com, try it someones talked to her!"




"Steven Lim's Say no to aids commercial (after you see this, you don't wanna have sex anymore)

See? It really is effective in stopping the spread of AIDS!

Someone else: "erk. the steven lim video not only puts you off aids. it puts you off sex too. or even eating."


Flypower - "Welcome to FlyPower®. In case you are interested, you have now entered the only site on the Internet totally devoted to the intricacies and pursuit of fly powered avionics."

Out There: Toilet Eatery Bowls Diners Over - "Foodies are feeling a little "flushed" about a new restaurant in Taiwan that serves them food in pint-sized toilet-bowl dishes. And, yes, the food is designed to look like something that belongs in pint-sized toilet-bowl dishes."


Selected Princeton photos:

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Ivy. I'm told not all Ivy League universities have the titular ivy though.

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Dei Sub Numine Viget

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Stained glass

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Two-fer at PJ's Pancake House

Selected Gettysburg/Amish photos

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Guide and cannon

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Eternal flame peace memorial

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The rare monument to Confederate soldiers

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The engineer who saved the day

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Horse and carriage at shop

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Someone doesn't like my brother-in-law

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Amish boy

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Amish girl

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Flower at Ephrata

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Ephrata view from fence
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