Interesting or should I say weird people you see on Chicago’s CTA Train

People who skimp on train fares

This morning, as I was scanning my Ventra card to pass through the train gantry, I spotted a man squatting down and squeezing through the gantry so that he did not have to pay the train fare. Interesting. That guy probably did this all the time, cos he looked very at ease doing it, and it took place all in less than 5 seconds.Such behaviors probably happen all the time in Chicago, but it was my first time witnessing it today.

If this were to happen in Singapore, I bet the staff in the control station will do all they can to stop you and nearby commuters will all stare at you. Whereas this morning in Chicago, no one batted an eyelid.

People who pee on the train/platform

Just a few days ago, while I was waiting for the train on the platform, I heard the sound of water dripping. I thought it was the ceiling that was leaking water and turned around to check it out. And oh man, what I saw instead was a man standing right beside me, with water “spraying out” from his pants. Thank goodness his bottom was partially blocked by a pillar, and all I saw was water spraying out. I immediately turned and walked away as quickly as possible.

One thing about boarding Chicago’s CTA train is that there is often a strong stench of pee in the cabins which is really pretty disgusting. But it was my first time witnessing someone peeing in broad daylight, when there were so many other passengers around.

People who ask for money

In Chicago, (or perhaps in the whole of the US?), it is pretty common to see panhandlers and I have had my fair share of meeting these lovely people who have absolutely no qualms about asking for money from strangers. I’ve seen panhandlers walking from one carriage to another, asking for money along the way. I’ve seen a panhandler who launched into a monologue about his state of despair and why he needed money. I’ve also had people asking me to help sign for some petition?(I think), before telling me that after signing it, I need to pay. So far, I’ve never seen any commuter dish out money to them before though.

Talented Musicians

Well, although it all sounded quite bad so far, there are still some positive experiences in taking the CTA train. For me, I really like entering the train platform to be greeted with soothing live music from the buskers. I remember the sense of calm that washed over me when I heard the melodious notes of Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” on the quiet train platform on a particular Sunday morning. For some reason, that scene really stayed with me, and it became one of the strangely poignant moments that I will remember about Chicago.

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Chinese New Year Mood in Chicago

It is just a few more days to Chinese New Year, and if not for the fact that I am aware that it is Chinese New Year, the day would have just passed me by since I cannot feel any festive mood in the air.

While I understand that I am now in the U.S, not China, I still can’t help feeling slightly dismayed that there is absolutely no sign of Chinese New Year here! After all, CNY is such a major celebration in Singapore. By now, all shops should be blasting cheesy Chinese New Year songs, and bakeries racking up huge sales from the pineapple tarts and other CNY goodies. Yet over here, people just go on with their daily lives.

I mean there are a few celebrations in museums and participating stores, but there is nothing really wow about it. It just isn’t the same.

In fact, I can’t even feel the joyful CNY mood in Chinatown! And I thought Chicago has the second largest Chinatown in the US?! I thought of watching some Chinese New Year贺岁电影to sort of celebrate CNY, but I can’t find 贺岁电影too! This is really quite sian.

When I was in Singapore, the Chinese New Year songs do get a bit on my nerves after hearing it being played repeatedly everywhere. But recently I got into a habit of playing some CNY songs while I was working, and it helped in making me feel that it is Chinese New Year. haha.

Recently I have been watching some cooking videos on making pen cai for CNY. Hopefully I will be able to whip up something not too mediocre on Chinese New Year Eve. After all, it is the New Year, I definitely need to eat something good!!!


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San Francisco Trip Day 1 & 2

I booked my SF trip in October, thinking that I can’t possibly be this suay to meet with a winter storm in mid-December which could get my flight cancelled, and yet this was precisely what happened on the day I was supposed to fly out of Chicago.

Chicago was hit with a few days of snow storm and that last day of snow landed exactly on the day I was supposed to fly out. And dear Virgin America did not bother to notify me. I only knew of it when I tried to do online check in the night before.

Which led to me having to rebook my flight for another day, change my dates for my accommodation and upcoming cruise in SF. Thankfully I did not incur any monetary loss. Very thankful to AirBnB for refunding me my first night of stay although I only informed them half a day in advance!

Due to the last minute rebooking, I could only get a late afternoon flight, meaning I arrived SF at about 6pm. My whole day wasted -__-

Took the BART train from the airport to my accommodation in Union Square, and the train was spoilt halfway. Mega -__-

But I finally reached!

Dinner in Kin Khao – Michelin star restaurant in Union Square

And quickly proceeded for dinner at 1-star Michelin Thai restaurant Kin Khao. Based on my elementary Thai knowledge, I know it means ‘eat rice’ haha.

Given that I read rave reviews about it on Yelp, I expected it to be mind-blowing. Well, it was pretty good, but it didn’t make me extremely satisfied or eager to go back.


All I ordered was beef cheeks in massaman curry (great reviews online, made it sound like it is the best food on earth) and veggies, and it cost about 50 USD already! Sobs.

They definitely tasted good, but I guess the problem with me that I like to compare food I find in the US, to food I ate in their country of origin. Hence I couldn’t help thinking that I could eat food of equal standard or of even higher quality at 10% of the price in Thailand.

And then after that, all I did was walk around in Union Square and a nearby shopping mall called Westfield Plaza.

Another problem with living in the US for too long is that, I seem to have lost my sense of wonder here. I remember that I was very excited about Union Square when I visited 6 years ago. But now, because I visit Macy’s, Uniqlo and Nordstrom Rack etc all the time in Chicago, naturally I don’t feel excited about seeing such stores in SF.

Chinatown in SF

But my second day was considerably better. Woke up early in the morning and walked to Chinatown for breakfast.


Randomly popped into a store and the breakfast there was pretty cheap. The congee was just about 2 USD!


Not super-duper fantastic or anything, but cheap and decent and gave me energy to start my day!

I originally intended to head straight to Pier 33 to board my ferry to Alcatraz right after breakfast, but I realised that I still had about 1.5 hours after my breakfast.

Lombard Street

And hence I walked to Lombard Street next to check off another must-do activity off my list!

I just followed google map and passed by North Beach before walking up a slope ( nearly died) and finally seeing the famous crooked street. Well, actually I’ve seen it before, but it was my first time there with my husband. No harm seeing it together again!

20161214_111429_resized Glad that I went in the morning so there weren’t many tourists around and I could snap pics of Lombard Street without random people inside.

And then, I continued walking to Pier 33, which took about 30 minutes! What an active morning I had! So much walking all before 10am!

Alcatraz – High security prison


It was my first time visiting Alcatraz and I originally thought that it might be kind of boring. But I was wrong! My 2 hours there was spent rather fruitfully since I did manage to digest the information ( quite surprising given that I space out easily during ‘educational tours’) about the prisoners, the condition they lived in, how a few of them tried to escape etc.

The audio tour was pretty well-done and was quite an immersive experience since we got to hear soundbites from the ex-prisoners themselves. And if you hear their voices when you are stepping into the cell, it really offers an added dimension to the experience.

And even after all these activities I did, it was just only lunchtime! So I spent the rest of my day just exploring Fisherman’s Wharf as it was quite close to where we landed from the ferry.



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Surviving Chicago’s Brutal Winter

Winters have always held a special place in my heart, not because I grew up in a cold country, but rather because I grew up in hot and humid Singapore so winters just seemed so magical and far away from me.

My love for winter grew again after I watched korean drama Winter Sonata, which reaffirmed my belief that winters are romantic and beautiful. There is just something so peaceful about seeing white snowflakes fluttering down, caking the pavement in white.

Last year, Chicago had a supposedly mild winter ( still quite like a typical winter to me but somehow considered warm to Chicagoans) but this year it is back to its usual harshness. Which meant up to negative 18 degree celsius ( about 20 degree fahrenheit?) in December, when it is not even in the thick of winter yet!

Such temperatures are really quite shocking to me, and until now I couldn’t quite comprehend how such temperatures are supposed to feel like, and I have no such intention to experience it. I am just going to stick to indoor places or stay at home if it will be freezing that day.

Even so, I’ve been very well-prepared, channelling the inner Kiasu Singaporean in me since December.

When most Chicagoans are still wearing normal sweaters and a jacket ( just like that for about 5 degree celsius!), I had been wearing thermal layers, sweaters, boots, and down coats.

Now that temperatures had dropped to the negative, I have even started wearing two layers of pants. So warm that I even feel like perspiring in winter. LOL. This is just how prepared I am. Better safe than sorry after all!

Recently I bought a fleece neck warmer, and boy it was really a great purchase. Basically I pulled it up to cover up my face everyday, so essentially all people could see when they spot me on the streets is a dumpy-looking person all bundled up in thick clothes with just two eyes revealed. And my two eyes are even covered up by fog on my glasses, as my nose is covered by my neck warmer. HAHA. In fact, because of the stupid mist on my glasses, half the time I can’t quite see where I am going. lol.

As of now, I am fortunate enough not to feel cold, because of my multiple layers. But apparently it is still not the coldest in Chicago. I sure hope I can survive it in one piece and hopefully not gain too much weight as I am prone to taking afternoon naps after eating on a cold day haha.



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The Existence Of Chinatown In The USA

When I first went to Chinatown in Chicago, I was really surprised and dismayed by how old and run-down it looks. Granted, it really does feel like China, but it looks and feels like how I imagine a village to look like in China, or maybe China in the 1960s. There is nothing modern about it, and even souvenirs sold in the so-called souvenir shops are old and dusty.

The only other time I’ve been to Chinatown in the USA was in San Francisco, and perhaps because I was only there over the weekend or I was just in a great mood, somehow the Chinatown I remembered in SF was bustling and cheery. Nothing like the somehow kinda drab Chinatown in Chicago.

Recently, with work bringing me to Chinatown, I have a lot more opportunities to observe Chicago’s Chinatown and I have come to appreciate it more.

I realized that if you are a Chinese who do not know a single English word, you will still be in a complete comfort zone in Chinatown because there is absolutely no need for English to be spoken there. It is possible to have lived in Chicago for many years, not learn English, but still survive and be able to go about with your daily life if you just live and work in Chinatown.

While I am still slightly dismayed by the overall drab feel of Chicago’s Chinatown, I have grown to appreciate that this is instead an authentic Chinatown.

Having grown used to the extremely touristy Chinatown in Singapore, with lots of cool and cheap souvenirs everywhere, I have come to expect all Chinatowns to be equally bustling and touristy. In my heart, Chinatown is supposed to be a “tourist attraction” rather than an enclave really meant for the Chinese community to work and live in.

Sometimes I feel slightly sorry for the Chinese living in Chinatown who probably cannot venture out of Chinatown since they speak little English. This means they are essentially cooping themselves up in a small area, and the only USA they see is a Chinese-speaking one. In fact, if you just hang around Chinatown all the time, you can’t even feel that you are living in the US!

I know they would also love to explore other parts of the US, or try out different cuisine, but how is it possible when you can’t quite speak the language? And to say the truth, it is not easy to learn a brand new language i.e.English if you are already not young.

Therefore I now see Chinatown as a rather important place in each US city. It is truly a sanctuary for Chinese-speaking foreigners where they won’t feel alone and out of place.

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Scarlet Heart Ryeo vs Scarlet Heart Chinese Version (步步惊心)

Recently I started watching Scarlet Heart Ryeo, the Korean remake of the 2011 chinese hit drama. I think anyone who has watched the Chinese version before would agree that the Chinese version is better in terms of the intricacy of the plot, the characterization and the acting.


Love Lee Joon Gi’s chiselled jaw line!

When I was watching the Chinese version, I felt that I was really immersed in the Qing dynasty time period, however when I was watching the Korean version I simply felt that I was watching an idol drama with the actors all donning traditional Korean costumes.

Chinese version wins in intricacy of plot

It might have to do with the shortening of the series. With just 20 episodes for the Korean version, there is quite a lot of stuff to pack in. And we all know that themes of fighting for the throne has a lot of potential for witty plots and devilish schemes, which are not really fleshed out in the Korean version. Rather, there was quite a lot of focus on the female lead interacting with the different princes in the Korean version, which actually does nothing much in developing the plot.

And because the characters in the Korean version are quite one-dimensional, it does nothing much in portraying the personalities of the characters either. To me, it was quite annoying seeing IU depicting a rather stupid? and cutesy girl in the first half of the Korean version.

Chinese version wins in characterization

In the Chinese version, it is easy for the viewer to fall in love or at the very least root for the different princes because their personalities are more complex, and they have more role to play in terms of helping either the 8th prince or the 4th prince in fighting for the throne. I mean, so many viewers fell in love with the 13th and 14th prince in the Chinese version, because their roles were really fleshed out very well, and they seem like such believable characters.


The different princes’ characters are fleshed out better in the Chinese version.

As for the Korean version, I can’t help feeling that the different princes are simply role-playing. And the princes in the Korean version somehow feel a lot more immature. Especially the 10th prince. OMG.

Having said all these though, there are still redeeming qualities to the Korean version of Scarlet Heart which led me to watch them every week without fail.

Korean version wins in portrayal of 4th Prince

The biggest and probably only reason is Lee Joon Gi’s portrayal of the 4th prince. I was just so so so impressed with his acting even though I had never watched his dramas before. This drama really converted me into a fan.


Lee Joon Gi is really great in acting!!!! I’m so impressed!

Even though the Korean version did not showcase the personalities of the other princes very well, it did succeed in showing the viewers the personality of the 4th prince. Wounded, violent, intense yet tender-hearted to loved ones. Of course, Lee Joon Gi’s acting really helped in fleshing out the character. It makes your heart bleed when you see his mother being nonchalant and malicious towards him. And you so very want him to get  good ending, because he deserves it!


Nicky Wu as the 4th Prince in Bu Bu Jing Xin.

In the Chinese version, I wasn’t that impressed with the 4th prince even though he is supposed to be the main lead. I know many fan girls fell for Nicky Wu’s portrayal of the stoic yet intense 4th prince, but I just felt that he was slightly too intense and easily jealous for my liking. In fact I even felt that he deserved feeling lonely for snatching the rightful throne away from his brother who was a very likeable character. It is very important to root for the main lead when you are watching a drama yet I don’t even root for the main lead in the Chinese version.

Korean version wins in development of 4th Prince and female lead’s relationship

In the Chinese version, the female lead just suddenly became passionately in love with the 4th Prince which was really weird. In fact, when I was watching I wondered if I accidentally missed out some scenes cos it was that abrupt. When I watched it on youtube, many netizens also left comments wondering why is it that the female lead suddenly fell for the 4th Prince.

One fine day, the female lead just asked the 4th Prince if he is interested in marrying her. And from then on, the female lead became extremely in love with him. Which was really strange. Apparently the original book developed the relationship better, which wasn’t fleshed out that well in the Chinese drama.

As for the Korean version, the relationship between the female lead and the 4th prince was a lot more believable even though many scenes were also spent on developing the 8th prince’s relationship with the female lead initially.


Lee Joon Gi with IU, the two main leads of Scarlet Heart Ryeo.

Firstly, because of how inferior the 4th prince felt about his appearance, we as viewers understand why he fell for the female lead, who was probably the first girl to see his scar and to fully accept his scar. From then on, the 4th prince was steadfast in his love for her, therefore when the female lead was ‘dumped’ by the 8th prince, it was understandable why the female lead started to accept the 4th prince, who was always there for her.

Because the Korean series is still ongoing, everyone is really clueless about how the ending will be. Me too! I can’t wait to find out!



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Ernest Hemingway’s Birth Home in Oak Park, IL

Recently, thanks to the Open House weekend in Chicago, I got a chance to step into Ernest Hemingway’s birth home without paying a single cent of admission fee. Yay!

Out of the 200 plus free architecture sites that offered free admission, Hemingway’s home was the only site that attracted me and thus I took my little trip to this suburb.

Surprisingly, it wasn’t as far as I thought for it only took about 25 minutes on the CTA train before I reach the nearest train station, Harlem on the green line.

Then I spent about 20 minutes walking to the site. Thankfully, the weather was great that day, cool and cloudy so I wasn’t cold and I wasn’t scorched by the sun either.


A nice neighborhood, makes me feel like I am in Europe. Though I’ve never been in Europe before haha.

I really like the whole vibe of Oak Park. The houses are pretty. There is this really old-school feeling to the houses’ architecture and the whole neighborhood was really quaint with thrift shops and restaurants. Helps that there was great fall foliage too!

Long Long Queue

After I finally reached the place, there was already a long queue in place!

I thought it would move fast, but unfortunately not! In the end I spent about 1.5 hours queuing up although there were just about 60 people in front of me I think. Sigh. Thank god for the cloudy weather if not I would be grumbling non-stop about the harsh sunlight shining on my already pigmented skin.


A long queue outside Hemingway’s house. Why didn’t I reach earlier!

After the long long wait, I finally proceeded in. I really like the vibe of the place! Apparently the house was an example of the Queen Anne Victorian architecture style (if I didn’t remember wrongly). By right there should be a guided tour of the second floor and the first floor. However because of the long queue? or cos it was just a preview for the Open House program, we were only given a tour of the first floor.


The curved windows.

At least the guide still gave us a tour. It would be a complete waste if there was no guide around to tell us a bit about the history of the house.

20161016_150322_resized20161016_150234_resizedI would have loved to visit the Frank Lloyd Wright house nearby which was also one of the site with free admission for the Open House program. Unfortunately my dear husband has no more patience for long queues and hence I didn’t visit in the end……

But Oak Park is definitely a place I will introduce friends to stop by if they are ever visiting Chicago!

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A Romantic Night In Seaport Village, San Diego, CA

Recently I have been researching on my next travel destination, which is San Francisco, and seeing all the pictures in San Fran reminded me of my time in San Diego several months ago.

Even though Seaport Village has been described as a rather touristy place, I really liked it when I was there. It might be the balmy weather (which I have a special liking for), or the waterfront views, but somehow Seaport Village really left an impression on me, and surprisingly on my husband too.


Beautiful Seaport Village.

I first headed to The Headquarters at Seaport, and the very minute I reached, I heard live Spanish music being played and saw people dancing energetically to the music. That was completely spontaneous and such a romantic concept. Spontaneous dancing just cos you heard music? Definitely won’t happen in Singapore.


Dancing on a cool evening.

And amazingly everyone could dance very well. In fact I was wondering if it was an outdoor dance class? Because that’s really some sleek moves. My husband and I were really amazed. That scene of people just enjoying the music and letting their bodies sway to the music really left a great impression on me. I still think of that scene fondly till this day.

After that I walked on to Seaport Village and the first thing I saw was the vintage hand-carved carousel. At about 3 USD per ride, I felt that it was a must-do, however touristy it might be. And I was glad I took the ride because it was the most exciting carousel ride I’ve ever taken! It was surprisingly fast, totally unlike the kiddy slow carousel rides usually in theme parks or amusement parks.


The pretty hand-carved horses.

Actually the appeal of Seaport Village is in strolling down the waterfront, taking in the views, and browsing through the quirky items in the shops. As someone who really enjoys shopping, Seaport Village is really suitable for me as there are many interesting shops, some of which sell touristy souvenirs, some of which sell really cool items like wooden toys, super spicy chilli, intricate paper weights etc.


Apple Box Wooden Toys which sells wooden toys, naturally.

Maybe because I went in the evening, there wasn’t really a lot of people and the whole place was quite serene. All these aspects added to the romantic charm to the place, especially since I was there with my husband.

Definitely worth a visit if it is your first time to San Diego. Easy to go too, I went via the trolley which stops near the Seaport Village.

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Cocoro Sushi: Yummy Comfort Jap Food in Chicago

I love Jap food. And I love affordably-priced food. Therefore after researching a bit on authentic Jap food worth trying out in Chicago, I decided to try out Cocoro in River North area.

It seems that many Yelpers highly recommend the eel seiro, so that was what I chose for dinner even though I’m not a mega-fan of eel.


It is quite affordably priced at 16 dollars, with a reasonably sized portion. I am not sure how eel is actually supposed to taste because all the ones I had in Singapore always had this smooth, slimy texture, but the one in Cocoro was quite dry.

However I was really satisfied with the takoyaki appetizer  which is quite cheap at $6 for 6. The ones I had in Singapore sold in random stalls (not even restaurants) are already priced at about 3 USD for 3, so I think it is really quite a good deal.


Also ordered the scallops which tasted pretty sweet and fresh!


All in all, we had 2 main entrees and 2 appetizers, all for about $56 before tax and tip. Not bad. Originally I wanted to order the shabu shabu for 2 which cost $56. But then I decided to opt for 2 mains and 2 appetizers for the same price. If I want to get hotpot, I might as well just get them in Chinatown for half the price haha.

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Exploring Jiufen, Taiwan

For anyone sick of shopping non-stop in Taipei, Jiufen is an ideal day trip as it is reasonably near Taipei city, yet offers a refreshing change in scenery with mountain views, old-fashioned walkways and cool teahouses.

I’ve visited Jiufen long ago when I was a student in Taiwan but couldn’t quite appreciate its beauty and charm because I visited in the daytime where it was crowded and bright. Plus, I wasn’t aware then that this is the destination that inspired Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away movie. Now that I’ve re-watched Spirited Away, visiting Jiufen takes on another significance and adds a romantic aspect to its charm.

To me, Jiufen is best explored when it is during the cool season, because when you go during the summer, the heat plus the crowd in the narrow alleys makes it quite unbearable which takes away the positive experience.

It is possible to take a bus up to Jiufen, but being lazy I just boarded a cab from Ruifang train station since it wasn’t expensive either, about 200 TWD.


The mountain view you get when you reach Jiufen.

Jiufen is all about shopping along the old streets and trying out the snacks. And even though it is quite a touristy experience, I really enjoyed it, because I’m just someone who likes cheap and cute trinkets, and Taiwan is really great in producing cute stuff!

Due to Jiufen being the source of inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, there are many stalls selling Spirited Away’s merchandise. But of course, the most famous attraction is still “A Mei Teahouse” (阿妹茶楼), which is cited as the teahouse that inspired the bathhouse in Spirited Away.

This teahouse looked pretty nondescript in the daytime, but started resembling the famous bathhouse once the sky dimmed and the red lanterns lining it were lit up at night.


The exterior of A Mei Teahouse.

I was quite surprised at how expensive it cost to have tea in A Mei Teahouse. 600 NT for 2! And all it included was a small pot of tea for 2, and a few random pieces of snacks like sugared plums and crackers. Completely unsatisfying. And the cost price was probably 50 NT.

Surprisingly, Jiufen was still pretty crowded at around 7pm even though most of the shops have closed or were in the midst of closing. I guess it is because everyone is just like me, waiting for the sky to turn dark so as to capture the iconic lantern-lit scene of Jiufen. However because it was so crowded, it was impossible to capture a serene lantern-lit Jiufen as seen on postcards, but one with many people in the picture.


A still crowded Jiufen at 7pm.

Most daytrippers would go home by about 7pm to head back to Taipei, but I had booked a night’s stay at Jiufen because I heard reviews that you can then wake up to fresh air etc. haha. In the end, it is not like I woke up bright and early to take a morning walk anyway.

But I do appreciate the fact that staying in Jiufen means I can enjoy Jiufen in the morning before the hordes of tourists come. In fact it was probably the only time when there were no crowds. It is for once quite peaceful.


An empty Jiufen in the morning.


Jiufen in the morning.This is a nice place for picture-taking!

One of my best discoveries in Jiufen this time round is a shop that rents out costumes from different eras which allows you to cosplay in different settings.It is called 秘密基地. I had a great time trying out the different outfits and trying to look like I am a princess from the Qing Dynasty though I was suffering inwardly from the heat.(Read it here)


The place where you can cosplay and take pictures!

Unsurprisingly, I enjoyed myself in Jiufen since I basically like everything about Taiwan. Looking forward to my next trip there.

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