Tuesday, July 31, 2007

All things

I was thinking of writing some sort of epilogue to my travelogue, but that might take a bit more time. I need to go through the photos first. The final photo count is 2001 shots over 11 days -- 6.7 GB of jpeg images at maximum resolution. I'm not that crazy. Wedding photographers typically shoot up to 1000 shots in half a day.

I went to hear Joni Eareckson Tada speak at Wisma Eagles earlier this evening. What an inspiring message of perseverance and purpose in the midst of suffering. She is a living example of joy and strength overcoming depression and disability. Despite being a quadriplegic after a spinal injury in her teens left her totally paralysed from the neck down, she has risen above the gloom of self-pity and bitterness, and radiates an inner joy and abundance of life.

It is when we are weak that God can truly display His strength. The rest of the time we are just too caught up in our human pride and self-sufficiency that we think we can live without God. Joni reminded us that God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6 and 1 Peter 5:5).

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). In ALL things. Good and bad things.

Well, for me, "all things" includes being hit from behind by an Altis. And most ironically, it happened as I was on my way TO Joni's talk. Argghhh. It was along Jalan Tujuan right after the Kesas flyover into USJ. Sigh. I was stuck in the usual stop-and-go USJ crawl. I braked because the car in front of me braked (like, duh). Obviously the guy behind wasn't paying attention, because I heard a loud "thud", the car got thrown forward a bit, some of my CDs were strewn out of their rack, and for the first time in my life, the inevitable happened... my car was rear-ended by an Altis driven by a Mr K. He was nice enough to get down and assess the damage. In order not to hold up the traffic, we pulled over to the inner road in USJ 2. It turns out Mr K lives in USJ 2, of all places. I think he was trying to change lanes to get home when he hit me, coz the right front of his car hit the left rear of my car. My car bumper was pushed in a little. The lights were not broken, but it's a bit loose now. The boot lid looks OK. The left rear fender is probably knocked slightly out, coz the gap between the boot and the sill on the left is wider than on the other side. Sigh. It's no consolation that Mr K thinks his car sustained more damage. Credit to Toyota though, nothing external was broken on both cars.

I got Mr K's number and address. He offered to pay for the repair (yeah, like, he has a choice?!). It was too dark to fully inspect the damage. I hope there's no major internal damage. The car is just 7 months and 2 days old... Tomorrow I'll see what the mechanic can do. I am a bit wary of getting the entire bumper resprayed... unless he can do a good job of matching the colour. You know, sometimes a cheapskate touch-up is worse than just leaving a few scratches alone. Mr K hopes that the repair bill won't be too high. I just hope he learns his lesson. I guess this is part of life. I just didn't expect to happen to me. What an irony. First, I got whacked, and then I got to hear a sermon on enduring hardships. Sigh. Amen.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

3rd Floor, Atlanta Room

In case any of you were ever in doubt about whether I'm on holiday or actually attending the workshop, I hereby attach a photograph as evidence that I was/am in the room participating in the workshop. I'm sorry my face is not in the picture, since I took the picture. You just gotta trust me. The instructors are the world experts on the program. They can program in C++ and Fortran, and understand all those complex chemistry equations and models. They speak in acronyms. And they are funny too. They might have PhDs from Princeton, but I wouldn't know unless I ask them, because they go by first name basis. Such are Americans.

Peachtree Street at noon on Monday

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Martin Luther King Jr, 1929-1968

On Sunday I went to visit the neighbourhood where Martin Luther King Jr (MLK Jr) grew up. The son of a Baptist preacher, ML, as he was fondly called, earned his PhD in Systematic Theology from Boston University in 1955, but even before that, he already began serving as pastor at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1953 at the age of 24.

MLK Jr was the leader of the civil rights movement fighting for equality of all races, the right to vote and work, and abolition of racial discrimination. MLK Jr organized and led marches for blacks' right to vote, desegregation, labor rights and other basic civil rights. Most of these rights were successfully enacted into United States law with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In 1964 he became the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his leading of the non-violent resistance to end racial prejudice in the United States. He also opposed the Vietnam War. He was assassinated on April 4, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee.

Ebenezer Baptist Church where MLK Jr's father was pastor. MLK Jr later returned in 1960 to co-pastor this church with father.

I heard part of a sermon by MLK Jr last Sunday. The building is now a National Historical Site managed by the National Parks Service. They play recorded sermons of MLK Jr throughout the day. He was a fiery preacher.

Names of church members who donated money to build the church in 1922, before MLK Jr was born.

The tomb of Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968) and his wife Coretta Scott King (1927-2006)

A display of MLK Jr's personal belongings.

Dr Martin Luther King Jr was influenced by Gandhi's principle of non-violent persuasion and civil disobedience, and by Henry Thoreau's essay On the Duty of Civil Disobedience.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character

MLK Jr's delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to more than 200,000 civil rights supporters on August 28, 1963 during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which was a defining moment in the American Civil Rights Movement. The speech ranks as the greatest American speech of the 20th century.

MLK Jr's birth place, January 15, 1929

Paying tribute

Auburn Avenue, where MLK Jr grew up

This road is named in honour of MLK Jr. The USA has very few public holidays, yet one of the national holidays is Martin Luther King Jr Day celebrated on the third Monday of January. A fitting tribute to a man who shaped modern American history.

This is Auburn Avenue further down from from MLK Jr's neighbourhood. Auburn Avenue passes through a semi-ghetto between downtown and the MLK Jr historical site. There were gangsta-looking youths loitering around... for a while I thought I was in the wrong place, coz the tourist guide told me to walk straight down Auburn Ave... I mean, that's like DBKL telling foreign tourists to walk down Chow Kit in order to get to PWTC. If I had known earlier I just might have tried taking an alternative parallel route. Anyway, nothing happened to me except that on the way to the MLK Jr historical site I had to pay off another homeless man by the name of Michael who self-appointed himself as my "tour guide". Now I'm more aware of their tactics. At first I thought they were just being helpful, but how naive of me to assume that that was all they wanted to do. Wikipedia has a summary of this practice called panhandling, which is American-speak for begging. I should have read this earlier. But then, I would rather err on the side of charity than on the side of doubt. It's better to have a false positive result than a false negative...?

And this is Joe. He's 60 (so he says), and his wife is 59 (so he says), and they live under this Interstate 75 overpass (which means flyover in English-speak). He "bumped" into me as I was walking back from the MLK historical site. As you can see, I was in no danger. But I was beginning to get a bit tired of being Jabatan Kebajikan Negeri Georgia (Is there a neon sign over my head?!). I have a compassionate *ahem* heart but I was starting to think whether I should strategically avoid such street people. It's hard to say no to them once they've started talking. And they have various strategies to hook you, e.g. asking if you need help and offering before you even get to say anything (see the Wikipedia link). And I can't afford to keep donating Malaysian Ringgit-converted US dollars, even if it's just a little here and there. Well, so I made Joe work a bit for his dinner (how cruel of me). I asked him to "escort" me a few more blocks down the street, past the semi-ghetto area where some young gangstas were hanging out. He said he is a Christian, and that my reward is in heaven. Amen. And he don't got no job coz he old, and he don't got no education, and ain't nobody gonna hire him, yo. So how could I say no to him? I just hope he bought dinner for his wife and himself, and did not spend the few dollars on drugs or booze. He looked pretty bona fide to me. But it was sad to see that part of this area so near downtown was still so economically and socially depressed. A bit like Chow Kit in KL, but not that bad, I think. Every city has its dark side, even a former Olympic host like Atlanta. From my hotel window I can see some homeless people sleeping on the sidewalk across the road. And so the struggle for socio-economic justice continues... in the land of the free.


To make my journey more interesting, I decided to take a series of photos of telephones... and now to make your life more interesting (as if it isn't already), I've put them up here and you can guess where they are located. Happy guessing!







Sunday, July 22, 2007

134 Peachtree Street

New York has Broadway, LA has Sunset Boulevard, Singapore has Orchard Road, KL has Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman, and Atlanta has Peachtree Street. I quote from the Where magazine on Atlanta, "Peachtree has become a long way from its humble beginnings as a dusty trail leading European traders and gold-differs to and from a Creek Indian settlement by the Chattahoochee River. Over the years, it has blossomed from a fashionable little main street of stately residences into a diverse mix of towering skyscrapers, upscale hotels, shops, apartments, condos and lofts, chic eateries, nightspots and art centers -- a world of modern urbanity coexisting peacefully with proud relics from the past kept safe by the Atlanta Preservation Center."

Jet lag hit me a bit late yesterday. After a long long journey from KL to Atlanta, I finally made my way from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, I got an early check-in at 8AM. After settling in I went for the complimentary American (what else?) breakfast which ends at 10AM. At that point, all the blood rushed to my stomach and then I realized that my body was still in a different time zone, regardless of what I was trying to tell myself. Atlanta is exactly 12 hours behind KL. I ended up sleeping the Saturday afternoon because it was nighttime back home.

Some hassles about time zones:
1. I have to reset the time on my watch, mobile phone, camera, laptop computer and this blog every time I cross time zones. I especially made sure I reset my watch at LA (so that I wouldn't miss my connecting flight) and then reset again at Atlanta. Well, those of you frequent travellers might probably be thinking what the big deal is. See, I haven't crossed a time zone in 9 years, so this is a big deal to me. Oh wait, Chiang Mai and Bali are 1 hour behind KL, but they don't really count coz it's just 1 hour.
2. My watch has a day and date change mechanism that changes the date at midnight KL time. So now, it's changing the day and date at noon Atlanta time and I don't think I can do anything to fix it.

Oh yea, at LAX I had my first taste of the famous US Dept of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration's super strict security checks. Shoes must be taken off and scanned. Laptops must be taken out and tested. I took off my belt. I basically took off everything that might remotely contain metal. But they didn't ask me to start the laptop computer. They didn't look at my small bag of LAGs (liquids, aerosols and gels). They basically ignored me after I walked through the metal detector, whereas I saw some other people who went through further checks after passing through. Did I look that innocent/harmless or what? I saw some people's handbags being subject to testing by gas ionizing detectors after going through the X-ray. Looks like they are dead serious about detecting chemicals and explosives.

So, now I'm at a hotel on Peachtree Street, the famous Atlanta street. It was eerily quiet when I stepped out of the MARTA station just across the road from the hotel. Extremely convenient. It's even nearer than from KLCC LRT station to KLCC.

Some interesting observations here... Atlanta is home to two of the most famous American brands in the world -- Coca-Cola and CNN. Yet, downtown Atlanta is pretty small, all within walkable distance. I can see the CNN Center, Georgia Aquarium and World of Coca-Cola right from my window on the 18th floor.

Another interesting fact about Georgia state: It is the home of golf in the US -- The prestigious US Masters is held at the Augusta National golf course every year.

It's funny listening to Jet Li speaking Spanish in his movies on TV.


Leaving the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, somewhere over southern Pahang

Clouds in motion

Somewhere over the South China Sea

Sunset on the approach to Taipei

Aboriginal Taiwanese sculptures

Twilight zone over the northern Pacific Ocean east of Japan... high above the clouds... I felt like I was on a spaceship... so serene

Sunrise over the Pacific

Somewhere over the Pacific... as we flew into the rising sun the sunrays became so blindingly intense that all the window shades had to be shut... it was also sleep time for most of the passengers, since it was already night time according to our biological clocks

Somewhere over northern California... earlier, the window shade was down, so I missed the landfall on the west coast of the USA

Making a steep bank to the right on the final approach to LAX... downtown LA is shrouded by mist/smog... in the evening.

Touchdown LAX!

LAX is a busy airport... there were planes taking off and landing all around us... flying over California, I also saw other planes flying in the sky nearby... it was a bit unnerving at first, coz I'm not used to seeing other aircraft in the sky at the same time as me... but I guess the air traffic control knows what they are doing.

Our gate at the terminal was occupied, so we got sent to a remote gate far away from the main terminal... it's like a low cost terminal, but with air-conditioned aerobridges.

Took a bus back to the Tom Bradley International Terminal

Getting in line at the Customs and Border Protection (CPB) a.k.a. immigration. The international terminal is under renovation, so space is constrained. The majority of CPB officers were non-white Americans. Their names were Jang, Afzal, Pangpang, and the like. The guy who processed my entry was Nguyen. I think the US government is really trying to project a more familiar international face. There was an amusing interaction between one of the few white officers and an elderly Taiwanese couple who looked like they didn't understand English. The officer had to use sign language and physically "assist" the Taiwanese man to remove his hat and glasses for the photo-taking by the camera.

You know you're in America when you see one of these

Civic powered by Compressed Natural Gas... California takes their air pollution control very seriously

Checking in a surf board to Jamaica

LAX Terminal 5 by night

'nuf said

Gate 57 Terminal 5 LAX for Delta Airlines

Baggage reclaim at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport

MARTA station at Atlanta Airport... at 7:15AM

MARTA Peachtree Center underground station

Very long escalator up to ground level

The first person I met in downtown Atlanta, the moment I exited the MARTA station... his name is Shorty... he's 51, homeless, very friendly... he gave me a running commentary of downtown... I think he would make a good tour guide.

Peachtree Street at 8 o'clock on Saturday morning... where is everyone??!

My hotel

Historic fire hydrant, the site of the first demonstration of the city's water system on September 11, 1895


Historic Candler Building

Poser in the lift... I mean, elevator.

View from my room... downtown isn't very big

CNN Center

Sunset views from my window

Atlanta pasar malam raising funds for charity

U want 1?

Horse carriage ride for tourists

Hard Rock vs Hooters

Hard Rock Cafe Atlanta

A dude getting his BMW towed by the police for illegal parking

This Hummer stretched limo can take 18 persons legally

Atlanta police bike

Homeless guy sleeping on the sidewalk... it was close to midnight, time for me to scoot back to the hotel... I didn't feel in danger out on the streets... there were police officers around... and local guys cruising in their fast cars (19 inch chrome wheels are in fashion) but I didn't wanna take any chances anyway.