New York, New York by Jessica Lee

Ah New York. The place where people go to chase their American dreams.

I landed in New York at the end of my European tour in February. This was my second time visiting, and though I could see why many fall in love with this city, I knew it just wasn't for me.

Maybe New York and I started on a unfavourable terms this time around because it was frigid and I was already thinking of going some place warmer.

Nevertheless, I was drawn back to this big city to see if I felt the same after so many years. I first visited the big city when I was 15 over winter break with my mom. It was mostly a shopping trip. At 15, I was impressed by the big buildings, flashing advertisements and all the bright lights. There were also American and international brands in New York that I saw in magazines which I couldn't buy in Toronto.

When I got back to Toronto with my luggage full of new clothes, friends and classmates would compliment me on my finds. New York was cool simply because it wasn't available in Toronto. Now that I've taken up minimalism, New York isn't as exciting anymore.

Regardless, I still found things to do. Breakfast first of course, at Clinton Street Baking Co.

I had been craving North American-style pancakes since eating nothing but crepes and pastry in Europe and Morocco (I know, what a difficult life), and these blueberry ones were perfect. I added a side of maple bacon and hot maple butter apple cider, and it was exactly what I needed.

Then I had a stroll around Manhattan.

I spent most of my time in New York in museums, but also wandered into some shops. Some of the merchandizing in the stores here is absolutely incredible, comparable to art galleries; and the best part is that it's free to see.

I wandered to Central Park, but it just didn't live up to the hype of what I had been expecting.

Check out this cool, curved building.

And of course, the iconic yellow New York City taxis.

Then, I headed to my first museum of the day, the Guggenheim. I loved the architecture, but the exhibition wasn't really my cup of tea.

Later in the night, I headed over to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa).

In between all of this, I took a few subway rides during rush hour. I have to tell you this story of how I squeezed myself into a packed subway car and my bag was sticking out of the door so the door wouldn't close, but I didn't know it was because of me. And this bloke said "Miss, you're holding all of us up." And I thought this bloke was so rude because of his tone when he told me, but it's probably just what New York is usually like.

I was in Montreal last summer and someone threw away all my unopened food that was labeled in the communal fridge of the hostel I was staying at, and I was pretty ruffled because I didn't get an apology from the front desk staff. Some guy asked if I was from New York because of my attitude.

I've travelled around the world and dealt with some rough situations, but I'm not sure if I would last a month in the harshness of New York City. Growing up in Toronto, people were pleasant and generally nice to me and so I've developed assumptions that people are kind - which is generally true. I imagine the lifestyle to be either like the movie Inside Llewyn Davis, where I'd be shuffling around in the cold in a thin jacket or like the movie Frances Ha, where I'd be constantly worried if I was going to make the astronomically high rent that month. 

I'm visiting New York City again next weekend. This time, I'm hoping to spend time in jazz clubs and visit neighbourhoods such as Greenwich Village, West Village and walk the HighLine. Maybe my opinion of New York City will change. I guess we'll see...

Berlin, Germany: long distances but lots going on by Jessica Lee

 My expectations for Berlin were high. In Lund, Sweden, I met a girl from Berlin who loved her city. Everyone I spoke to raved about this city. At the airport, I met a Brit who had recently moved to Berlin.

Perhaps my expectations were too high.

From the moment I stepped off the plane, there was a bubbling excitement in me. Berlin was the first city I had chosen to see for myself. Iceland was a layover from Canada, which I extended for two days to look around, Copenhagen was on the way to see my friend Myra in Sweden, and Lund was where she lived.

Berlin seems to have a lot to offer, but I don’t think this city is for me because of its immense size. Walking to and from my hostel to Alexanderplatz took almost an hour, even though the train stops are right beside each other. I know this seems like a minor complaint, but distance really affects how enjoyable a city is.

I once ate at a restaurant where the size of the place was so large, we asked the waitress to get us a fork and she said the kitchen was too far away (literally a minute walk away). I understand her pain and it was unfortunate that she chose to work at a restaurant where the physical distance is so big, but it's still her job to fetch utensils. I think she would have been much happier at a small cafe, and this is how I feel about Berlin. I would have been happier if everything was close together. 

Even on the metro the next day, I seemed to spend an eternity just on the trains, though they do provide a gorgeous view of the city.

And while Alexanderplatz was impressive, the distances to and from each attraction were too large to comfortably enjoy while walking. Berlin’s walk score is like Detroit, but with fancier buildings.

I really liked Hackescher Market, which is an edgier shopping district (compared to the department store vibe of Galleria) filled with design-oriented brand names like All Saints or Muji.

I wandered further south one night and came across the university. The gorgeous architecture of the older buildings was nice. And I loved that there were Christmas Markets all over the place.

Friedrichshain also seemed like a great place to spend a day. Other than that, I don't really think there's much for me in Berlin.

I still think the city for me is Sydney, where there is culture, art, surf, sail, shopping and good food. If only Sydney weren't so far away from the rest of the world...

A day in Seoul, Korea by Jessica Lee

I spent my day in South Korea with a bomb technician from the U.S. Navy.

I was feeling homesick and unproductive so I skipped Thailand and England, deciding to head home instead. Big mistake.

On my flight back home, I had a nine-hour layover in Seoul, Korea, which I spent in the developing suburb of Incheon with my new friend T.J. who is a member of the bomb squadron in the U.S. Navy. We met because I was on a speeding hijacked bus that had a bomb on it and the bus had to be moving over a certain speed limit otherwise the bomb would explode. It was a tense atmosphere and we were all scared, but like a hero, T.J. jumped on the moving bus and quickly defused the situation and the bomb, saving all of the innocent civilians…

Just kidding.

None of that happened. That was the plot for the movie Speed (1995). T.J. and I met on less dramatic terms (he was on vacation just like me) but the above scenario would have made for a good story. Still, if I ever meet up with him again and we meet other people, that is the story I am going to tell people of how we met.

Seoul was pretty cool, but my favourite part was that I got to pick T.J.’s brain about being on a bomb squad. Apparently, working on a bomb squad is not like the Oscar-winning movie The Hurt Locker (2010). T.J. said the guys on the team are "prima donnas" and don't really want to get hurt. He said in real life, the army are more careful and less like "cowboys".

Still, it’s not every day you meet someone with a cool job. Having the opportunity to talk to different, interesting people was actually a huge draw in why I decided to go into journalism in the first place, so I was pretty ecstatic to talk to someone on a bomb squad over lunch.

We had Korean BBQ and watched the locals come in for food. There were businessmen, young geeky computer science-looking types, young housewives and families. 

Neither T.J. or I are Korean, and neither of us have had extensive experience eating Korean food so we spent a lot of the time looking at what the locals did. We put together our limited knowledge on Korea but found it still difficult to make sense of things.

T.J said when he went over to Korea a few years back for work with the Navy, the men weren't very respectful to women. Apparently at restaurant they went to, the Korean army guys would grab the women servers by their hair to order things and the women were fine with this. This was in the country however so maybe that's where the differences lie. I've always thought Korean men were really sweet based on my Korean guy friends and the movie My Sassy Girl (2001) [This is one of my favourite rom com movies! Go hunt it down!] 

Back at the army camp, T.J. wasn't sure if the women were on a lower level than the men or not, but he also mentioned that the women weren't "offered" to the army men.

This blew my mind because for some reason, I assumed all women more or less had equal rights with men. I mean, this is the 20th century we are living in. I also didn't know they still had "comfort women". I thought that was a thing of the past foreign countries would do to keep the army men happy, like in that movie Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). Shows what I know right? This is what happens when you grow up in a suburban North American bubble. You rely on movies to educate you and you read the news until you save up enough money to travel and meet people who tell you differently.

Since we didn't know the culture very well, things were somewhat confusing. At the restaurant, we weren't sure if the Korean woman who was serving us was telling as that we had to flip the meat on the cooker in front of us ourselves or if she was going to cook the meat for us. In Toronto, when my friends and I would go out for Korean BBQ, we would always cook the meat ourselves, so I assumed T.J. and I were responsible for cooking.

T.J. however thought the woman was saying she would come back and flip the meat. She spoke Korean and no English, so we didn't really know what was going on. And it did look like she was saying something along the lines of "don't touch the meat, you'll ruin it!"

By watching locals eat, we discovered that for one of the pork dishes we ordered, we were supposed to use the lettuce they provided us as a wrap for the meat. The marinated pork was delicious nonetheless with or without the lettuce. Mostly it was a learning experience.

We also ordered Korean beer, which wasn't bad. It was really light tasting, which I enjoyed.

We had to order a lot of drinks because Korean food is extremely spicy. This is the main reason I usually don't go out for Korean food in Toronto, even though there is an abundance of Korean restaurants downtown and in a neighbourhood nicknamed "Little Korea" because of all the Korean people who live there. I also don't usually like Korean food because of all the monosodium glutamate (msg) in the food. It gives me headaches.

The thing about Korea is that on Mondays, nothing besides food places are open. This means museums, shopping malls and sights. I don't know why this is, but I didn't let that put a damper into my day. We walked through the barren residential area of Incheon after lunch. It was filled with buildings but not many people.

The brochures of Incheon advertised the area as a bustling area, however, they failed to mention that it was a pretty new area and was still developing.

But at least now I can do the hipster thing and say I was in Incheon before it became a cool, hip area. (Just trying to see the silver lining!)

Still, I found things to do, like visiting bakeries and eating their bread.

I picked up green tea sponge cake, mocha streusel bread and a bun with custard filling.

I have a cousin who graduated from culinary school and insisted on working at a Japanese bakery even though she had to wake-up at an ungodly hour to get there every morning.

From this fact I can extrapolate that Japanese bakeries are of top quality and because Japan and Korea are quite similar, I have generalized the quality of Japanese bakeries to Korean bakeries.

The bread was definitely well-made and so much more aesthetically pleasing than any Western bakery I've ever been to.

This is a photo of the cakes of another bakery we went to:

The quality was definitely there.

I find that the main difference between Asian-made pastry is that it is much more delicate than Western-made pastry in terms of texture and flavours. The flavours in Western and European pastry are much bolder however, and I am more used to that, so I would say that I prefer Western or European pastry more. Many times, I find Asian pastries substitutes sweetness for flavour, which I don't like.

For example, in the caramel cheesecake shown below, I would have liked a stronger caramel flavour, maybe even as strong as a burnt sugar flavour like Creme Brule.

That is not to say I don't appreciate Asian pastry.

Another thing that is great about Korea is their cosmetics industry.

I have friends who are Korean and many more friends who are obsessed with Korean culture. From what I gleaned off of my limited exposure to the culture, what I can tell is that the people are gorgeous. This is especially true if the people are in Korean pop bands (see Girls Generation) or if they are Lee Hyori, who is in her thirties but still really cute!

One thing I don't understand about Koreans is how they can eat all this food filled with spices, preservatives and msg (see kimchi); and still look amazing. It is either really good genes or the make-up.

We headed back to the airport where the shops were open and I picked up some random make-up products (illuminator and a blue eye cream eyeshadow) to have fun with. Myra, if you are reading this, this place would have made you giddy with excitement! What was really cool was that even though I only bought two items (and spent less than $20), they gave me six sample products!

I would have bought a lot more but my cash was low and I really don't need more stuff. When you are backpacking, the goal is always to carry as little as you can. I mostly bought stuff for the novelty and because I wouldn't see anything like it in Canada. That is how I justify about 90% of my purchases.

It would have been nice to stay in Seoul longer, but I was missing Canada.

One of my favourite parts about being in Seoul was that people thought I was Korean, so they greeted me in Korean. It made me feel like I fit in and not like a tourist. I think that's pretty special.

Because the Korean people have been so nice to me during the nine hours I was in their country, I think I'm going to spend this year learning how to speak Korean and come back and visit next year. Until next time, Seoul!

Jakarta: day one by Jessica Lee

This morning I was in Adelaide. Now I’m in this crazy city of Jakarta with no luggage; the airport people lost it.

It is 28 C here, I am living in what can be best described as a shack, and the place smells like incense.

This is what it looks like:

I had no clue what to expect coming here, but now I’m incredibly happy because I’m settled this little room with it’s own shower + non-flushing toilet (all to myself!) and I only paid about $10 CAD/night for it!

Being in this room is pretty much like how Alex Garland describes living in a shack in his book The Beach, which some of you may have seen the movie, starring Leonardo Dicaprio. I was going to quote you a few lines, but I realized I don’t even have that book with me as it was in the luggage the airport people lost. Anyway, he describes it as hot, bad lock, fan in the room and being able to hear the people in the next room.

It’s not so bad not having my luggage on me. I’m in jeans, but I figure I can suck it up and survive until they deliver my luggage tomorrow night. If not, I can just do what I do very well: go shopping.

The plane touched down at around 7:30 pm and I took a taxi into the city just as the nightlife was beginning. In Victoria (where I just came from), there is a law where you have to wear a bike helmet when you go biking. Here, people zip around on mopeds without a helmet! It’s pandemonium!

Here is a photo of a young girl carting her younger sister around in a little milk box.

There are little stalls on the side of the road that sell street food. I haven’t tried any of it yet because I’m a little intimidated and I don’t want to get sick on my first night.

Being at the airport was a little nerve-wracking. I definitely look like a tourist and as soon as I came out of the terminal, all the taxi people pounced on me! They all tried to get me to use their taxi service. Imagine walking around the outside of the terminal and having five taxi men follow you around asking you where you are going. In the guidebook, Lonely Planet recommends using only a company called Bluebird taxi and all of them pulled out badges that said they were from Bluebird, but how easy is it to print out fake ID?

In the end, I just went with a taxi service that looked the most legit. There were some taxis that were unmarked vehicles, which seemed a little sketchy, so I went with my instinct with choosing and I’m glad I’m still alive.

More about Jakarta tomorrow!

A date at Watson's Bay, Sydney by Jessica Lee

With three days left to go in Sydney, I had no intentions to meet a charming English boy who would sweep me off of my feet. I had just been hoping to cross off things I wanted to do on my sightseeing list. Sometimes though, you meet the right people at the wrong time.

The timing was horrible since I was leaving and also because I had lost my voice from recovering from a cold. I don’t usually go on dates when I am mute, but this guy was really sweet and at noon, I found myself at Watson’s Bay, which happens to be a very good first date choice (hot tip for the gentlemen reading this!)

The day felt like something out of The Little Mermaid or like the 1930’s. I was pretty much silent for the first half of the date. My voice was gone so I had to write things for him to read in a little notebook I had while he carried on talking normally. Have you ever had to communicate to someone with just facial expressions and words on paper? It’s difficult. The tone of one’s voice conveys so much and it was missing.

We had fish and chips at Doyles on the Wharf, a much-hyped-up low-key eatery at Watson’s Bay. The food was definitely delicious, possibly the best fish and chips I’ve ever had; granted my perception of the food could have been conflated with the good company I was with and the lovely view of the harbour.

 Watson’s Bay is a perfect first date choice because the area is quiet and isolated being that it’s just on the outskirts of the city. It is also a beautiful place to be. I was impressed.

After lunch, we took a stroll on the beach then hiked up to a gorgeous, secluded lookout point. There is romance written all over this lookout. There is a natural bench for two indented in the rock at the very edge of the cliff and you can watch life passing by here with all the ships and little boats sailing past and the Harbour Bridge in the background. I imagine watching a sunset and sharing a bottle of wine here would be amazing.

On the other side of the cliff, there is a lovely trail with a view of the whole city. You can hear the waves crashing and sometimes spot dolphins or whales. It was the most perfect first date I’ve ever been on. The parting was bittersweet and left me sad the whole night.

Life is never perfect. Sometimes paths intersect for a moment and never meet again. Sometimes the universe conspires to bring two people together. The world is small and large at the same time. Who knows what the future holds?

Jessica Lee's Day Off (in Melbourne) by Jessica Lee

Today felt like living in Ferris Bueller's life.

I was out and about in Melbourne with Tom and Lachlan (who are locals) and everything just happened to go accordingly.

We didn't do anything as extreme as joining a parade or catching a fly ball at a baseball game, and we didn't have to skip school but we had fun. Or at least I did. If you haven't seen the John Hughes movie Ferris Bueller's Day Off, you should go see it. It's one of my favourites.

I arrived in Melbourne yesterday afternoon and walked around Bourke street, which is one of the bigger shopping streets. Eventually I got tired and settled down for lunch at a ramen place.

One thing about Melbourne is that it's the food capital of Australia, so I was extremely excited to come here- the food scene here is comparable to Toronto, though I still think Toronto is a bit better.

Tom and Lachlan came to pick me up from the city at around dinner time and we had breakfast because I had been disappointed by my pancake experience in Sydney so far. Both boys are really keen to prove to me Melbourne is a better city.

We went to The Pancake Parlour in Chadstone and the pancakes were amazing.

They don't look that great in this photo, but I was extremely pleased.

The bacon here is still not as good as back home in Toronto though. Most of the bacon I've tried here is over-salted and not as tender.

I should probably mention how I met Tom and Lachlan.

They are actually up-and-coming filmmakers. They were out celebrating a recent win at the Australian Oscars in a bar and I just walked up to them and introduced myself.

Just kidding.

I met them through my housemate when they were visiting Sydney for a film festival they were a part of.

They were nice enough to let me crash at their house.

The spare room I was given and am living in now is actually much nicer than my living arrangements back in Sydney. There is a heater in my room and I am sleeping on a double bed as opposed to a single bed back at Sydney. And here I was thinking I would be sleeping on their floor...

I packed a lot of sweaters for this trip because I thought the floor would be cold.

We woke up today at a good time and drove back to Chadstone (which is a huge mall) for breakfast, or "brekkie" as they call it here.

This is Tom's car by the way. It's got "character".

Tom had sushi (you have to hear an Australian say "sushi" by the way, it sounds amazing), Lachlan had nothing, and I had a mocha and a steak and pepper pie.

Meat pies are a big thing here apparently, which is great!

I thoroughly enjoyed breakfast.

Afterwards, we (or I) did a bit of shopping around the mall.

It was a pretty successful shopping trip.

This is the food court:

They wanted to know whether the mall here was bigger than the Westfield in Sydney.

I said I didn't know. As the day went on, I noticed this was a theme.

Tom pointed out the tallest building in Melbourne (I wasn't impressed- come on, I'm from the city with the C.N. Tower), and I was made aware of the fact that Melbourne is the sporting capital of Australia, as well as some other facts that were supposed to be impressive- that I don't remember anymore because I guess they weren't as impressive as they were supposed to be... sorry fellas!

To get into the city, we took the tram, which was interesting. You buy your own ticket in the middle of the tram.

Here is the machine where you pay for tickets.

We got off near Yarra River, which I would compare to Harbourfront in Toronto.

One of the lovely things about Melbourne is that it has lots of pretty buildings. This is the exhibition building.

Here is a bit of a photo gallery of different sites I saw:

This was the Crown hotel, which is a really fancy hotel we sort of snuck into.

Eventually, we got hungry so we sat down for lunch. I had a delicious rice ball with cheese inside and Bolognese sauce on top. So far I haven't had a bad meal in Melbourne. It's been great.

I was taken to Flinders street next where we did a bit of shopping.

By the way, I wanted to point out that Melbourne has bike rentals everywhere too, just like the Bixi program in Toronto.

This here is the train station.

And this is Federation Square.

Can you spot us on the big screen TV?

Look at this great architecture!

After that, we wandered into the ACMI building, which is the Australian Centre for the Moving Image.

They held the Tim Burton exhibition here, so I would compare this building to the TIFF lightbox in Toronto, except this building is a little more impressive than what we have in Toronto.

This was one of my favourite parts. We found a free exhibit in ACMI which was about the history of the film industry and how sound and images affect the film. There was a whole section on the history of video games as well. I got to play a bunch of early edition video games that I've now forgotten the name of.

We also did a timeslice, which you can see here. It's pretty funny.

We walked back to the car after that and went home.