In New York State of Mind

If you have been reading my blogs, you probably already know that I once lived in New York City. I left New York seventeen years ago, though I came back once for a visit, and that’s seven years ago too.

But now it’s time to visit New York once more.

When you hear New York, you picture in your mind the big crowded city. But in reality, a large part of New York State is mountains and forested areas. And that’s where we started our visit.

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Yes, the above photo is New York.

We did some not-so-serious hikes up the mountains, and the view there was breath-taking. Breath-taking, not just because we were panting after the climb.

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It’s not all work though, for we did some relaxing as well. Lots of relaxing. Especially beside a lake. We even went for a calm boat ride.

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Beautiful mountains, trees, a lake, and some quiet time. What could be better than that?

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Well, this: to enjoy it with the love of my life.

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While in upstate New York, we also visited the Culinary Institute of America. Besides touring the place, we also ate a sumptuous meal there (see previous post).

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Another place we went to is the Walkway Over the Hudson, in Poughkeepsie, New York. This is the longest elevated pedestrian bridge in the world, spanning 1.28 miles over the Hudson River. It is actually an old railroad bridge that they converted into a pedestrian bridge.

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After spending a couple of days in upstate New York, it was time to visit the city.

We decided to stay not actually in New York City, but across the Hudson River, in New Jersey. So we can sleep with a view like this (photo below). And going into the heart of New York City is just one ferry ride away.

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Though we stayed a few days in the city, I’ll just chronicle here a one-day trek that we did through the city.

We started at the new improved Chelsea Market. It is an enclosed food hall, shopping mall and offices all rolled in one. It was built at the old Nabisco factory complex, where Oreo was invented and produced. They transformed the factory, but kept many of its original structures.

IMG_5733IMG_5734IMG_5737IMG_5736There were places that we visited that were not existent yet when we were still living in New York. Like the High Line Park, a long elevated linear park at the West Side of New York City, which opened in 2009. This is again an old elevated rail road track that was repurposed into a park and walkway.

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Walking this park gives you a unique perspective of the city, as well as get interesting stories as you peered through buildings, neighborhood and people’s backyards.

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And yes, we walked the whole 1.45 mile span of the High Line Park.

The photo below shows typical New York. That means construction never stops in this city.

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Besides walking inside the city, we also rode the ferry to get a different “feel” of New York City. That is, to view it without the noise, the hustle and the bustle.

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United Nations Headquarters (white building)

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The Empire State building from afar

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Midtown Manhattan

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Brooklyn Bridge and Lower Manhattan

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Statue of Liberty from a distance

We got off at the Brooklyn port from the ferry, and then we crossed the Brooklyn Bridge by foot back to Manhattan.

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the city view from Brooklyn Bridge

As you can surmise from my account, we did a lot of walking that day. In fact, according to my phone app, we walked 7 miles or more than 18,000 steps that day.

After all that walking, I got hungry so I got something to eat. Iconic New York City’s street food, of course!

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We ended our tour at the One World Trade Center, which has become the emblem of New York City’s tenacity and resolve. Photos below show the One World Trade Center and the Oculus NYC.

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Finally I stopped at the 9/11 Memorial and spent some quiet moments besides the reflecting pool. I uttered a prayer and paid respect to the thousands of lives our nation lost there.

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After visiting the 9/11 Memorial, we decided to call it a day.

On our way home, we rode the subway. Though for some reason, it was not crowded at all. Is this is the World Trade Center’s ghost subway train? Nah!

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From New York,

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Pinoy Transplant

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(*Photo credit: Pinoy Transplant and his unofficial photographers)

No Swan Song

There is an ancient belief that swans sing a beautiful song just before they die. Whether this is scientifically true or not does not matter, as “swan song” has become a metaphorical phrase or a poetic term that means giving a final gesture or performance before saying goodbye.

A few weeks ago, I thought of ending it. Not my life, silly. I meant this blog.

After 7 years and 7 months of blogging, and after writing more than 700 posts, I just thought it was time for me to sing my swan song.

It is not that I have declining readership. In fact, last month was the most successful month with regards to number of visits, ever since the inception of this blog. It’s not also that I am losing my fire to write nor I am running out of ideas. On the contrary, my desire to write burns intensely as ever, and my ideas of what to write overflows from my brain like a bad bout of diarrhea.

But it might be those same reasons that I considered ending this blog. Seeing that my readership and followers are constantly increasing, I have this almost compelling urge to check my blog stats to see if I could break my previous stat records. Maybe I can get another 100 or 1000 more visits a day? Or maybe I can get another 100 new followers or more? I also experience intense anticipation of how many “likes” could I have on my new post or the next one. The craving to get more, more, and more.

I have not earned a single cent from blogging anyway, and I made that conscious decision to be that way. No sponsors, no ads. So that’s not even the issue.

Don’t get the idea that I am one of those elite bloggers who have a gazillion readers and followers. I’m not even close to that category.

Desiring to have a busy blog traffic and getting people to “like” your articles can be good, but it can wear you down as well. Like a bad itch or addiction. Plus the persistent pressure to outperform myself and the constant pursuit to please. Writing should de-stress me, not stress me out.

And that’s the reason, I thought I should end this blog. At least I am ending it on my own terms.

However, as I was writing my swan song, I realized that I still enjoy writing. Never mind if hundreds of people are reading my articles or it’s just me. Never mind if several readers push the “like” button or none. I don’t need to write for the approval of others. Never mind if my last post was a week ago or a month ago. No pressure.

I came back to the realization of my basic reason why I started this blog. I blog because I want to and for the simple joy of writing. Nothing else.

I guess my swan song article will remain unpublished. Together with some other 18 or so unpublished posts that will remain in my draft bin.

Swan song anyway, is just a myth.

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(*photo taken in Boston Common)

 

Hanging Gardens

When we visited the Holy Land last month, we went to the city of Haifa, the third largest city in Israel. Haifa is where Mount Carmel is located.

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monument of Elijah in Mount Carmel

Mount Carmel, as you probably know, is the site where prophet Elijah, as recorded in the Bible, challenged the prophets of Baal in where his sacrificial offering was set ablaze by a fire from heaven. But that’s for another post.

What I want to feature now is another popular tourist site also found in Mount Carmel, the Baha’i Gardens.

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The Baha’i faith is a religion, which started under 200 years ago by a Persian, of the name Siyyid Ali Muhammad Shirazi, who proclaimed himself as the prophet Bab (Bab means “gate” in Arabic). Today, some 7 million people practices this religion.

The Baha’i Gardens or also known as the Hanging Gardens of Haifa, are garden terraces around the shrine of the Bab.

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These gardens are relatively new, as its construction was started in 1987, and was completed and opened to the public in 2001. It has 19 terraces and has about 600 steps.

From the garden terraces you can view the Mediterranean ocean, the port of Haifa, and part of the city.

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We entered the garden from the top entrance and work our way down through steep stairways. Definitely it was much easier going down than up, as long as you don’t get dizzy and fall down the steps.

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Starting from the bottom and going up the stairs will be a real chore, unless you feel like Rocky-in-training.DSC_0595

The gardens are linked by a set of stairs that are flanked by streams of running water cascading down the mountainside through the steps and terrace bridges. These waters are fed by fountains on each terrace level.

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The Shrine of the Bab is the second most holy place for the Baha’is. The Bab was executed in 1850 in Iran and his remains were later brought to Haifa and laid to rest in this site in 1909. The original mausoleum was turned into this beautiful shrine built in the 1950’s, complete with a golden dome.

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Located also in the gardens is the Baha’i Archive Library which holds many of the sacred items of the Baha’i faith (photo below).

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Today, this garden and shrine attracts more than a million visitors a year. It is also a pilgrimage site for the Baha’is. And since this place is considered sacred, they would like visitors to be reverent and be quiet while visiting this garden. For sure it is a beautiful place just to be silent and reflect.

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I may not be a Baha’i pilgrim, but as a life’s pilgrim, I feel grateful and blessed to visit this magnificent place.

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(*Most photos taken with an iPhone, except for the B&W photos, which I took with Nikon DSLR, but forgot to check that its mode is on “effects,” so the B&W shots were unintentional.)

No More Free Concerts

Last week, I took a day off from work, drove a couple of hours, travel more than a hundred miles, just to see a concert.

It was not a concert of one of those pop superstars, like Adele or Lady Gaga. Nor was it a concert of some well-known classical artist like Andrea Bocelli or Yoyo Ma.

It was my daughter’s concert. It was their university’s orchestra performance. And it was their first concert for this school year.

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I have seen my daughter play cello in the orchestra multiple times in the past. From her grade school days, to high school days, and to community orchestra. From the screechy-sound of beginners, to more polished tones of intermediate, to quite advanced.

Though this maybe the best group that she’s been a member so far. After all they were all music majors, both undergraduate and graduate students. As far as I am concern, they can be considered “professional” musicians now.

We knew back then, that when we introduced our little girl to music, that she has a special attachment to it, and we cannot deny the fact that she has a gift for it. So it was no surprise that that was the career path she chose to pursue. Even though honestly, I tried to sway her to a different path.

I know as a parent, we wanted a secure future for our kids. So we prefer professions like engineer, or doctor, or lawyer. But what’s wrong with literature, or arts, or music, if that’s where our child’s passion is? Success should not be gauge only on how much money we can earn, but also on the satisfaction and joy on doing what we love to do.

It was heartwarming to witness that my daughter is getting very skillful on the cello, as well as playing with the orchestra. But playing cello is not even her major. She’s majoring in another instrument. A much larger instrument, the piano. So there will be more concerts and recitals to attend to.

All those years of music lessons are finally paying off. We’re proud as well that our homeschooling “experiment,” (we homeschooled her from kindergarten to high school) was a success. All of our worries that her education was not adequate, were all appeased.

Now, my daughter is not merely surviving, but thriving in college. She even was granted a good scholarship that covers her college tuition, so we only have to pay for her food and dorm. With the cost of college education ever on the rise, ranging from $10,000 per year in state universities (for in-state residents) to $50,000 or more per year in private and more expensive institutions, getting a college degree these days can definitely break the bank.

Back to the concert. Though some of the selection they played were kind of hypnotic to me, I was able to stay awake through the concert. Over all it was fantastic. After the final bow, the audience were up on their feet. The only gripe I have on the concert is that it was not free. Sorry, I’m cheap.

But I get it. It helps support their university’s music program. Besides, the quality of their performance was superb that the concert was even recorded, and maybe aired one of these days on a public radio station. Definitely worth paying for.

So for the first time, I bought a ticket just to see my daughter perform. But I’m OK with that.

I wonder, would I have to pay a more expensive ticket when it’s time for her solo piano performance?

Rest Mode

Consistency is arguably one of the key ingredients for success for any endeavor. That includes writing. After 72 months of continuous blogging, and after producing 610 posts, that amounts to at least 2 posts every week. Of course there’s no taskmaster that compels me to write, nor do I have a contract to keep. It is all self driven.

I also have not made even a single cent from keeping this blog, and in the contrary, I am even paying more, to ensure that this site is free of any advertising. So I keep this blog for the mere joy of writing and for self catharsis. But a greater satisfaction comes when I learn that my posts have made someone to smile, laugh, cry, be inspired, or even just read it. That is more than any money I can get.

For all my readers and followers, I thank you all for keeping this blog worthwhile. In the past several months, this site averages more than 150 visitors every day. For this I am humbled and grateful.

Rest and repose, however, is also an ingredient for success. This is why many organizations or business corporations hold retreats. It is not just optional, it is vital.

For this reason, I am going into self-imposed sabbatical in writing and blogging. I am not quitting. I am not abandoning ship. I am just taking a break to rest and reflect.

I hope that you still be here, when I come back from my blogging retreat. Again thank you very much.

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(photo taken with an iPhone)

Christmas 2015

We are experiencing a seasonably warm December right now. In fact we have more rain than snow this month, that we had flooding in downtown Des Moines these past couple of weeks. Yesterday it felt weird that we even had a thunderstorm, with lightnings and pouring rain this late in the year. Is this Iowa winter?

Come to think of it, if it has been cold enough, with all this moisture in our area, this could all be snow!

I know it’s not just here in the Midwest that we are experiencing the relatively warm weather, but also in other parts of the US. Some friends of ours in New York City even posted in Facebook that it was 70º F today there. I guess there will be no snow in Central Park this Christmas.

Experts said that it is El Niño, the periodic warming of the equatorial eastern Pacific Ocean, accounting for this phenomenon. Or is this global warming?

It’s not that I am complaining, for I’ll rather have a warm day than freeze, but my children have been wishing for snow for Christmas, just like the song “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas.” And they may not be the only ones who are praying for snow.

Then today, on this Christmas eve, it came. Santa Claus? No. Snow!

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We will have white Christmas after all.

From our family to yours, may you have a Merry Christmas!

(*photo taken with an iPhone)