Monday, 26 March 2018

The Big Storm at the Big Apple



I know I've been so quiet lately, buy I just have to write about this. I had an opportunity to go to the Big Apple for the second time this month. It was actually the trip of the year for me and my bestie because we went to explore quite a lot of places here in the States. If I have the time, I'll share about the trip (I haven't even finish writing about the first one!!). In the mean time, I want to tell y'all what happened to us when we were there. 

New York was our last destination before we went back to London. Our flight was scheduled to be on the 21st of March, at noon. So there were already many places that we've visited and we were ready to go home. Before NYC, we went to Washington. We drove from Washington on the 19th,stayed at Brooklynn for one night, returned the car at JFK, then changed to Pennsylvania Hotel the next day. 

Everything was well planned out, but of course, Allah swt knows best. On the 20th, I received a text from Norwegian airline saying that Storm Toby was coming and it may effect our flight. I was hoping that it won't, but even if it did, at least being delayed will be better than canceled. We went on with our plan for the day. After a few hours, I received another text saying that our flight was cancelled. 

Not only that, the airline couldn't find us any available hotel rooms because all of them is fully booked. Luckily, before we came here, I accidentally booked an extra day at the hotel. At the time, I was thinking how wasteful it was. Now, I felt it was a blessing in disguise. How we needed the room so much! 

Early on the 21st, the storm came. It was bad. Can barely see more than a mile afar. My bestie had a fever, so we had to stay inside the hotel at all times. In my mind, I was worried what we would do if we couldn't get a flight the next day. Where would we stay? We can't afford to stay anywhere in New York. We've already ate our savings by going on this trip. 


On the day before, we tried calling Norwegian airline to book us another flight (they gave free rebooking to all passengers), but we were on hold for more than an hour. So on the 21st, we tried again. They told us to use the live chat instead. So we did. They only managed to book a flight on the 26th!!! Meaning that we have to stay in NYC for another 5 days!!! 


A day in NYC cost about $100 or more per person. This would include lodging and food. So I asked my family to help. My dad was in Hong Kong at the time, but he did try to call his contacts. We contacted my sponsor's staff whose in Washington if he knew anyone in New York that could help. My mum called her contacts as well. My sister made a posts on Facebook to ask her friends to pray for my wellbeing. Everyone did everything that they could. 


Luckily, a friend of my sister gave a comment saying that her brother works and lives here with his family. On the morning of the 22nd, I've got a few messages from my father's contacts and the brother of my sister's friend as well as Mara staff in Washington. 

The staff in Washington wanted us to go back to Washington to live with them. He gave  us contacts of students in New York, but most of them live in a shared building (which we fully understand). So there's no way we could stay with the students. We wanted to go back to Washington since we stayed there before and they were so kind to us. We know staying in NYC will mean having to spend more money. So that was one option. 


My dad's friend was actually on holiday in Switzerland, so he called his staff in NYC to help. I understand fully that most of the staff here live in a small apartment. It's the same in London. So we understood that they couldn't take us in too. Especially when there's two of us. But they did call to check up on us. 

The brother of my sister's friend, En. Azmir offered his home to us. He works in the permanent mission from Malaysia to the United Nations and he lives with his wife and three children in Queens. At first, we were reluctant, but then we thought, staying in New York does mean that we don't need to travel to go to the airport since our flight is from JFK. 

After we decided to stay with En. Azmir, we called everyone that contacted us before to inform them. We called En. Azmir and he asked us to meet him at his office, since currently there's no one at his house. So, we walked to the Malaysian embassy from the hotel. It took about 30-45 minutes walk. 


En. Azmir and his wife, K. Jaja invited us warmly to their home. They were very kind and generous. We were very comfy and well fed. Their children were adorable! We were extremely grateful to their generosity. Alhamdulillah, only Allah swt can repay their kindness towards us. 


We came home with almost 0 money in our accounts, but alhamdulillah, we are still healthy and safe. A lot of people said that we were lucky to be spending more time here. Maybe they don't understand the hardships that we had to go through. That's ok. All that matters is; we have people that love and care for us, and that we are happy. 


We are ever so grateful to the people that helped us when we needed it. En. Azmir and his family, En. Lassim and his family (MARA attaché in Washington), Dato' Shahrul, En. Tham and En. Khalid (Consulate General of Malaysia in New York City). May Allah swt reward your kindness in abundance in this life and hereafter. 

Until next time.. 

Friday, 4 August 2017

Big Apple-post conference 1

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته and good day!

Related links: NYC Day 1, 2, Cold Spring Harbor Lab

Since I compiled my conference into one post, I don't even remember which day to start again as my excursion in NYC continues...

The conference finished around 2pm. There's a shuttle that took us to the train station in Syosset, where they picked us up before. I stayed in Manhattan for 4 days, so I booked the cheapest and most convenient hotel I could find. I don't want to stay anywhere dodgy since I was by myself. You do hear things about New York, and after a lot of crime series and movies influences of the place, I want someplace I can feel safe. 


I found this place from booking.com. It's called Pod51 Hotel. The Pods have many hotels around Manhattan. This one is called Pod51 because it's located at the 51st Street. Even if I said it's the cheapest, it still costs me £500+ to stay here for 4 nights. I talked to a few people from NYU at the conference and they said it is cheap, considering the hotel prices in NYC usually are much higher than that. 

The hotel is suitable for singletons like myself because the toilet is separated. I'm not much of a fuss. I would rather have a shared bathroom than having to pay a 100 quid more per night. Thankfully, the bathroom is very clean. There's four bathroom per floor, which has around 8 rooms. Luckily they put me in a room located at the end of the hall. There weren't many rooms occupied at the time, so it's kind of like I'm having the bathroom for myself. 

Only on the last few nights there were some other people using the same bathroom. It was still clean, nevertheless. Towels, soap, shampoo, hairdryer were all provided. There's also a sink inside the room for people who does not wish to shower. You know who you are. =P

Previously from the Grand Hyatt Hotel, I walked with my big luggage to the Penn Station, which is about 10 blocks. That didn't seem far for me back then. The Grand Hyatt hotel is at the 42nd Street, the Penn Station is at the 38th street and the Pod51 is at the 51st street. So I thought, 42nd and 51st can't be that far, so it shouldn't be so hard for me to walk. Oh how wrong I am. Don't underestimate the distance when you see in the map. It might look as if it is near due to the big buildings. One block can take you a few minutes to walk. So imagine if I had to walk 15 blocks. Yes sir...it took me more than half an hour to get to the hotel from Penn Station, when there's actually a direct train that I could've taken from the station to the hotel. Genius!

It was a workout all right. A whole month worth.


Although I was tired from all that walking and pushing the 30kg bag around, that didn't stop me from quickly going back to sightseeing. Not a second to lose. For the 4 days of my time here, I bought a 7-day travelcard using the metro card (kind of like Oyster Cards in London) costing $33 for the fare+metrocard. You can buy this at any subway station or selected shops. 

3 blocks from my hotel, between the 5th and Park Ave. is the St. Patrick's Cathedral. One of the biggest and most beautiful built cathedral in Manhattan. 


In front of it, I'm sure some of you might already guess just by looking at it, is the Rockefeller Center. There's some pretty interesting history about this building, which I'm not going to tell here. 


This place is also featured in a lot of movies/TV series. If you go to the top of this building, which is called the Top of the rock, you can see a gorgeous view of NYC skyline and the central park because its location is at the center. The cost is $32 to go up there.


Next to it is the Victoria Secret store. Avert your eyes gentlemen...


Next to the Rockefeller Center, between the 50th and 51st street is the Radio City Music Hall, home of the Rockettes. If you ever get the chance, try and catch a show. It is one of the city's landmark.


Two blocks away from it, at the corner of 53rd street and 6th ave is the Halal Guys. This is one of the genuine Halal food vendors in NYC. If you walk around, you can actually see a lot of food trucks saying halal and such, but not all of them are genuine. Some of them are sold by Muslims, but a friend told me that some of them get their meat from the same source as the non-halal ones. So be careful. These Halal Guys have stores all over the states now. There's always a queue here, but for me, the food is less than ordinary. I thought Americans know good food. Such a shame.


A few minutes towards the north at the corner of 55th Street and 6th Avenue, you'll find this iconic LOVE sign. 


Then, I made my way towards the 5th Avenue. If your geography is good and if you noticed the NYPD barriers there, you'll know what's nearby


It is the Trump Tower. Since Trump elected as the President of America, this place has become and iconic landmark. A LOT of tourists come here, they even had to put multiple barriers around it. I guess for safety as well, because you know...even Americans don't like him. Kind of like that other leader I know.


I don't know whether you can go in or not, I'm not interested to get along with those crowd and I couldn't care less.


My interest is this. The high line. I took a bus to get here, just to try riding the bus.


Nice view ain't it?


What is so interesting about this place?


The High Line is actually a park that was built on a disused railroad that was called the West Side Line. 


It is 1.45 mile long (about 2.33 km) of gorgeous park that is very peaceful and calm.


You can see the tracks a lot clearer in these pictures


As my bestie has been in the states twice before, she told me to find this Blue Bottle coffee that she tried when she was in San Francisco.


I tried...and it was ok. 


I felt sad for the $3 I had to use for this tough. Everything need to be calculated precisely the whole time I was in NYC, as everything I felt was very expensive.


This view got me feeling a whole lot better. haha


Beneath the bridge, there's the Chelsea market.


Chelsea market is like an urban type market such as the Camden Market in London.


This place used to be a baking factory of National Biscuit Company (NABISCO) where the Oreo cookie was invented and produced.


Now, it is a food hall where you can find various choices of food, even international ones.


On this particular day, because I know I only have half a day to venture around the city, I decided to go only to the iconic places. One of the must see places is the place from a legendary sitcom that I watch and re-watch countless times.


So no one told you life was gonna be this way....lalala


That's right...it's the Friends apartment building. You know in the sitcom, Ross refers to this place as the village. In fact, this place truly is called the Village in real life.


That cafe down there is not Central Perk, obviously because any Friends fan would know that it doesn't exists since they shot that at a built set in a studio. But you can actually find a remake one in Singapore. No joke.


Getting on the movie/TV series trail, it's time to go see another filming site. So I took a subway...


A must have photo of the subway station. One journey subway here costs $3, but there's no limit to where you can go. You can ride the subway from the beginning until the end for that same price. But if you know you'll ride multiple times, it's worth to buy the unlimited rides (monthly or weekly travel).


You know there's a lot of reference saying that New Yorkers won't care what you do, what you wear. They will still notice if I take a picture with my phone though. haha..or maybe they were just watching me 'coz I look like a school kid wearing a hijab. I stand out no matter what.


So this is the other spot that was featured in a legendary movie of not one, but a franchise. Still don't recognize it?


Well, of course. It's undergoing renovation for three years, and lucky me, it was in the year I came here. This is the firehouse used in the Ghostbusters film franchise.


Couldn't get the whole building? The front door would be fine for now...


I did manage to get this awesome building though. The architect that designed this must have quite the imagination. I bet it's not Ted Mosby.


Last but not least, the most anticipated place of mine...


It's the Lady Liberty. I didn't buy the tickets to actually go to Liberty Island because I didn't buy the tickets to enter or go up to the crown. So I thought it won't be worth it just to go and take pictures from the outside. 


So, I just took a free ferry ride to Staten Island. You can take the number 1 subway to South Ferry Station (the last stop) and take the ferry. 


You can see the statue quite clearly. My picture wasn't that good because it was very cloudy that day, so it was quite dark. 


Did you know that the statue wasn't always green? Do you know what made it green? I'll let you know after you guess first.


I wanted to get a night view of New York skyline, but it wasn't dark enough. Oh well, this is more than I expected.


Before I went back to the hotel, I dropped by Times Square to buy some souvenirs from HRC and to get some sense of the nightlife in the city that never sleeps. This city does have a great energy. I miss it already. I will tell you more about it later.

Until next time...

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

What's up so far

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته and good day!

I know you want me to continue with my big apple stories, but before we get to that, let me tell you what has been going on so far. 

1) I have passed my Late Stage Review!!



This is by far the biggest news. If you don't know about PhD, or specifically PhD at Imperial College London (ICL), we need to go through two different assessment levels. The first one is after 9 months of registration, there's the Early Stage Assessment or some people might call it as PhD upgrade. That is when you need to defend your project, sometimes a proposal, presenting your initial data (if you have any). So the late stage review comes after 18-24 months for ICL students. Here, they will assess your progress, your future work, whether they think you will finish on time. Some people call this transfer. Meaning that if you pass, you'll continue as a PhD candidate. If not, they might either transfer you to MPhil or stop your registration completely. The harsh way of saying it is that you failed. So I passed it last Tuesday, thankfully. After a year and a half of banging my head on the walls, God knows how much hair I've lost, I finally did it!!


2) One of the people that helped me a lot since the day I've arrived has gone home. 


Another one from the many..many that have gone home before. It felt a bit more lonely in London nowadays. A lot more have finished their studies and gone home. No new postgraduates anymore. I guess the batch after me will be the last one if things don't change in Malaysia anytime soon. 

3) Eid Festival


Because my bestie and I spent our Eid in Lisbon, Portugal this year, we only get to feel the festivities during the Eid festival. This year the festival was sponsored by Lebara. You know how in Malaysia kids will get money packets when they visit, in London, they give you raffles!!! hahaha...I got a selfies stick (awesome!) and my bestie got a mug (boring...=P). But the best part of all, I get to have a selfie with the good Mayor of London, Mr. Sadiq Khan. #pleasebejealous


4) Canada 150th Celebration


The day before the Eid festival, there was another festival, which is the Canadian 150th Celebration. My bestie has been in Canada, so I'm a bit jealous of that. Even if I haven't been there, at least I get to taste a lot of their food, such as the maple syrup waffles, cookies and even drink! 

5) Royal Naval College Painted Hall


This was the most recent, but I've bought the ticket months before. The painted hall in the Royal Naval College in Greenwich is undergoing restoration (they prefer conservation) work from July to September this year. They haven't done this in 60 years. So while the people doing the work trying to conserve the paintings, they also open tours for people to go up and look at the paintings up close. If you have been to the painted hall before, you'd know that the paintings are from top to bottom. So with this tour, you get a chance to see it up close (if you're tall enough, you can even touch it; but not recommended since the oil from our hand may destroy the paint). They hope this conservation work will last for another 100 years. So if you miss this, just pray you'll live for another 100 years to see it. The Times magazine calls it as a once in a lifetime experience


The tour costs £11 per person. You need to wear hard hats and reflective vests for safety since it is a working site. You'll go up about 70 steps while the guide tells you stories about the paintings. The painted hall was painted by Sir James Thornhill. You'll be amazed by the accuracy and the detail of the painting. One particular example; there is a painting of a date of an event occurring a year ahead of its time. Meaning that their astronomy at the time was so accurate, they can paint it a year ahead. 


There are a lot more stories behind it, you should go and have a listen and look at the paintings yourselves.

It has been an eventful month. But the month has not ended just yet.

Until next time...