Friday, June 18, 2004

Last Day: Tiger tiger!

We cancelled our outdoor plans for the morning because it was just too hot. What can I say? We get pampered by the California weather. Oh, last night our hosts made shaved ice desserts for us. We'd bought grapes and strawberries for everyone before we came home, so we used those for toppings. Add condensed milk and red bean paste for a finish with a flourish.

We had dim sum for lunch. At the end of the meal, the little 7-year-old was very sad to leave us. Who wouldn't miss someone (me) who'd listen to her and ask and answer her questions, and play and laugh with her? It was all very educational for me, I assure you. However, our hostess couldn't be more wrong when she said aloud to me, in front of the girl,"Oh, your happiest experience in Las Vegas must have been playing with my niece." I didn't say anything. Sometimes smiling's the best response.

1st stop: The Mirage Hotel. We checked out the giant aquarium behind the front desk. I wish it were closer up. Some of these fish seemed to have come right from the tank in Finding Nemo. Then we went over to see the white tiger. It was walking about very energetically today. Then we walked to another area when we found ourselves at the entrance. No good. So we went back inside. Remember to walk into the middle where it feels like you're in a giant greenhouse with palm/tropical trees all around.

2nd stop: Took the tram to Treasure Island. Did some rare shopping at a boutique. My only purchase at a Vegas hotel. I think this hotel was supposed to have shows with fighting between pirate ships, but only at night.

That's about it. Some last points...
1. The restrooms say on the door "Ladies" and "Gentlemen" more often than "Women" and "Men". Is this casino talk?

2. In one of the bathroom stalls, the hook for placing your handbag was directly above the toilet bowl, instead of behind the door. There was a sign next to the hook which read, "For your added protection..." Does this mean that people here know how to steal belongings from off the door?

3. The airport shuttle driver asked the family next to us, "So...Did you guys spend a lot of money?"
"..... "
I'm sure the guy was trying to be friendly. And thought that he was free to ask these types of questions in Las Vegas.

4. Wear running shoes if you're flying Southwest. Our flight was first-come-first-served. Suddenly, the announcer would say, "We've changed our gate to ___... If this is your flight, please proceed to that gate."
All the people waiting at the old gate became elephants. Very fast ones. Including us, of course. So naturally, we got a better place at the line than before. All because we wore good shoes. And because I kept saying to my parents, "Go go go! Move move!" I almost wanted to shout this through the rolled up Cezanne poster that I was holding and guarding.

In closing, click for "50 Fun Things To Do in Las Vegas," many of which we have yet to try.

Thanks for flying with us. We hope you enjoyed your flight. Please come again.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Win win win!

Let's take a break from the trip. Tuesday night was a great night. It was a moment fit for popping the bubbly and celebrating for real. Everyone felt so relieved. It was a collective good feeling.

Speaking only for Pistons fans of course.

The NBA guys in the white jerseys did it again. Game 5 of the NBA finals really summed up this team's work ethic. The ingredient for their success was good sportsmanship. A genuine concern to look out for one another. A true bonding of a team.

The super star power glare of the Lakers did not faze the Pistons one bit. The fact that the Lakers had many Hollywood stars as their fans did not intimidate them either. The excellent coach Larry Brown seemed to really know what the Lakers were all about. He saw through everything. And he knew how to engage his team to defeat these big guys.

I'm glad that now, people will believe that you can win if you "play the right way". It really is possible. You don't have to foul, flop, fight, hack, whack, bad-mouth, or shove your way to a win. Actually, even I was disappointed at the Lakers' performance for Games 4 and 5. Shouldn't they have tried a little bit harder? Their usual aggressiveness was all gone.

Oh wait. They've already won 3 times already. And suppose the old guys worked really hard to get a win. The old newbies would just be in for a free ride, more or less. Would that be fair? I think all the different self-interests of this team just got tangled up a little bit.

The aura of the Lakers has been shattered. The Zen master will be out for quite a while. It's exciting to know that changes are in store for these players.

It turns out there was no need to worry about the Lakers getting an unfair advantage this season after all. The Pistons have steered NBA basketball back to a good direction. No more "hohum" attitudes towards Eastern Conference teams!

Monday, June 14, 2004

Day 5: Seeing Red

No, no one got angry today. I was referring the color of the rocky mountains we saw--a firy red color. We visited these sandstone structures at the Valley of Fire.

What happened to going underwater? Well, all the terrain we saw used to be at the bottom of the ocean 600 million years ago. And now everything is dry, and all the rocks have weird shapes as a result of erosion.

We went inside the visitor's center, where there was air-conditioning. Some watercolors depicting close-ups of the flora of the area really caught dad's eye. It was all we could do to talk him out of buying any of them. In the end, he instead got a CD featuring screensaver shots of the mountains.

2nd stop: We stopped at the Monte Carlo Hotel. It looked very regal outside. This place was small inside compared to the others we've seen. Probably the most interesting thing there was a pub that had giant brewery pipes (?) all over the place. Otherwise everything looked very humble looking. But as with everything, don't take my word for it. The best thing to do would be to do more research than we did(!) and make sure you didn't miss anything worth seeing.

3rd stop: Paris again. This time we really looked around. Next door, there was a medical convention going on. Since I took French before, it was fun to see French "road" signs on the indoor streets. I regret not trying the crepes at the crepery because we were very full at that point. And no way could we try anything at this store Le Notre because we had absolutely no room. And why were we full? I forgot to say that we had buffet (#4?) at the Mandalay Bay Hotel. Overall, there weren't as many choices as Bellagio, but the scallops and raisin dessert were excellent.

Back at Paris, we saw bars that promised live jazz in the evenings. There was a bride and groom holding an after-party in one of them. Actually, we spotted at least 4 couples in bridal gear during our stay here. I think there is a chapel in each hotel. And I forgot to mention last time that the casino is located at the foot of the scaled down Eiffel Tower. And people who love taking pictures of views should go up the Tower to look at the Strip at night time and take some pictures, for 9 bucks.

4th stop: Caesar's Palace. Another hotel in the grand style. Roman statues were everywhere. We were walking along the shops when we came upon this fountain in the middle. A crowd was gathered around in expectation, but nothing was happening. It was just an ordinary fountain with four statues.

On closer inspection, the material on the statues looked kind of strange. Mom said "There's something weird about that fountain." So we waited a while. And sure enough, the statues started talking a bit and the "sky" above it started doing stuff like what they do at the Space Museums. It's especially nice if you are familiar with Roman mythology.

Another fountain worth seeing was the one where a restaurant surrounded it. Horses looked like they were ready to leap out. Many people were taking pictures at this spot. And so many people were waiting in line to eat there. However, I think it'll be hard to hold an intimate conversation at such a place. If you like shopping at brand name stores, I'd suggest checking out the ones at this hotel. And we also took a picture with a Caesar-like actor and his small band of Roman soldiers.

Next post: something white...

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Day 4: A Dam Day

"I've got to get this dam thing out of the car." (thing=brochure)
Later: "Dad is our dam leader for today."

Mom's exact words.

1st stop: We went to visit the Hoover Dam today. Although it was very hot and there was no shade, it was nice to see this large dam from above and to take some pictures. People who are really interested in how everything works should go on the paid tour that takes you underground.

For lunch, we had buffet (again) at Hacienda Hotel. It's just outside the Hoover Dam area. It was just 5 bucks and the food was decent American fare. Of course, there was a mini casino there too. You could never escape those machines. Also, helicopter rides were offered next door at $29.

2nd stop: We drove back to the Strip to check out the other hotels. We stopped at Mandalay Bay, which had a tropical theme. All the restaurants there had wonderful atmosphere. Read: very dark with dim lights in green or fire. There was also a large pool and water slide outside. It was dark everywhere inside, even when it was bright outside. This made it hard to see anything. We'd planned to go to Shark Reef to see some sharks, but it was very expensive.

3rd stop: Next we went to Luxor, which had an Egyptian theme. From the outside, the whole hotel was a dark pyramid, and there was a large sphinx statue perched right at the entrance. A light beam shone straight through the top of the pyramid. There were so many people at the casinos, whether it was slot machines or at the tables. Perhaps people preferred to gamble here because there was no high-class vibe getting in the way.

The top floor were the attractions, where all the shows were held. The whole place felt like Epcot Center in Florida. Eventually, we returned to the check-in area where there were tall statues and water. Many people were looking up and holding cameras. They were checking out the pyrmaid formation of the building. This means that each floor of rooms would get closer to each other as you went up.

Our hostess told us that many Chinese shied away from staying at this hotel, because it felt like sleeping in a tomb. Also, some workers had died during construction. Shady feng shui?

4th stop: We walked outside and took a tram to Excalibur Hotel next door. I was really looking forward to this place, because I liked the prospect of a "Knights-of-the-Round-Table" theme for a hotel. The outside was a magnificent castle. However, it was very different on the inside. The casinos resembled those at Luxor: low ceilings and quite crowded. We went to the food court inside and got something to eat. The decor of the shops tried to invoke a practical "castle grounds" atmosphere.

In conclusion: I didn't much like the 2 hotels today. However, if you like Egyptian stuff, you should visit Luxor.

End note: We'd planned on staying overnight at Mount Zion today. However, the news this morning reported that an oil truck had overturned on Highway 15. All the cars that were on it had to experience delays. So we went to the dam instead.

Next post: going underwater tomorrow?

Saturday, June 12, 2004

Day 3: "I Want Buffet Every Day"

The niece told me about a children's Christian song. The kids sang "I walk by faith every day". However, since the singing was so fast, all you could hear was "I woh bah fay", which sounded very much like "I want buffet I want buffet every day". That was in fact prophetic. We were on our way to another buffet. And this plan couldn't sound more perfect for this kid.

Before that, we picked up some snacks at a small Asian complex (kinda like Chinatown in LA). And guess who I saw at the supermarket? A couple from church. How fun! They disappeared before I could say hi. However, as I came hurrying to the car with dad, I spotted them getting into their car. I gave them a bright smile and waved. The husband waved back, while his wife looked totally confused. Unfortunately, I didn't see any more familiar faces in this city.

1st stop: Our hosts treated us to lunch at one of their favorite places: buffet at the Bellagio. For about 16 bucks, it was a pretty good deal. The pastas and desserts lived up to the quality of the hotel. I liked the caramel flan, hazelnut cake, and strawberry cake. There was a screen on the wall that had flashing numbers on it. Our hostess explained that diners would play Keno (pronounced "kee-no") while eating.

After lunch, we visited our hostess's friend's new house. We had all come to bless it. It was very pretty. In the walk-in closet of the master bedroom, I saw a safe in the wall. Only in Las Vegas I suppose. Afterwards, we went to pick up maps. I went into a souvenir shop and bought a Western pouch for my brother.

Then we waited a long while until we finally got our rental car. It was a Pacifica six-seater. To apply the parking brake, you had to stamp on a pedal with your left foot. To release it, you had to lift a camouflaged switch right above it. I'm glad I got to show dad where these were and how to operate them. ;)

2nd stop: We drove over to Bally's Hotel and bought tickets to see the Jubilee show. Since there was still time before it started, we sneaked into the Indigo Lounge, a small elevated area normally reserved for live music performances, and caught part of the 3rd quarter of Game 6: Pistons vs. the Pacers.

For Jubilee, we sat on plush seats relatively close to the stage, which made it really easy to see the performers up there. Right in front of us were dining tables. I noticed many Asians sitting there. However, I'd suggest sitting farther back because some performers were lowered from the ceiling directly above us. The show seemed like a parade, musical, and a circus show all rolled into one. During the opening and closing acts, there were as many as 50 performers onstage at once. There were 85 total dancers and singers involved in the show.

There were four main acts with different themes, like Titanic and Samson, alternated by three smaller acts. The most annoying act was a pair of guys who said they were from "Arrr-ccchhhhen-tina", acted macho, and drummed and threw a string-like weapon around. The one act that quite escaped Vegas cheesiness was another pair of guys who did acrobatics on sheets of silk that were hanging from the ceiling. The other acts provided good variety. They may even inspire adventurous honeymooners. However, I would not recommend bringing your date to see this show. Not even if all you want is to prove to each other that you're 18 and old enough to see it.

On the next post: my nice Christian family has resorted to swearing?

Day 2: Desert Roads

No, there were no Cleopatras or Elvises running around the streets.

To be sure, we saw a bride and groom standing through their limo's sunroof. Dancing while there was a traffic jam. But the people walking around us were tourists just like us. Most men and women were just in casual shorts and sandals. And it's ok to hold beer bottles on the streets in LV. I'd suggest bringing a water bottle or some other drink while you're walking, because it could get incredibly dry.

A relatively small number of women were wearing nice dresses and 3-inch stilettos. Their dates were wearing dress shirts and sported goatees. They wouldn't look at home in California. Some women just went as a group a la SATC. All these people probably made up only 30% of the crowd at most. There were lots of families with young kids. And sometimes you'd walk and realize a camcorder was staring straight at your face. I suppose many people are eager to share the LV scene with their folks at home.

1st stop: For today, our hosts drove us to Red Rock Canyon. The rocky mountains reminded me of Tom Cruise's climb in Mission: Impossible. Some young locals were kind enough to take a picture of everyone in our group. Our hostess said that this place would look much nicer in winter, when everything is topped with snow. However, the horizontal sections of brown and red seen on the huge mountains were interesting enough for me. All around was desert vegetation like cacti.

We drove to a point where we could walk down and look down from a mountain. Although the sun and heat were overhead, I became excited at the chance to experience the rocks up close. Tip: Don't forget your face when applying sunscreen. I used oil-free Coppertone. I ran down the gravelly ground in my slippers to catch up with dad and the rest of the crew. I really wanted to climb onto a big rock like I did at Yosemite, but couldn't because I was unwisely wearing a skirt. We still took a pic and noticed another party way up on the mountain opposite. They looked like ants! I decided to walk up after I saw a kid slip and fall flat on his back. Then a big guy with no shirt on walked over to our host, asked if he was a vegetarian, then asked where the best steak restaurant was.

2nd stop: For lunch, we went to an Asian buffet, which had amazing apple pie. Afterward, we went to The Venetian Hotel, which was based on a--surprise!--Venetian theme. There was a mini canal right in the middle of the specialty "shoppes". A small crowd plus my mom were busy taking pictures of a couple in a gondola. The gondolier, who was dressed in the appropriate black-and-white shirt and hat with red sash, was belting out some song.

Mom and dad took a pic with Pavarotti...the wax figure, at the hotel entrance. All around on the walls and on the ceilings were "paintings" of angels and scenes of coronation, etc.

Art galleries never escape my folks' attention. At The Venetian, we visited the Guggenheim Museum, which showcased a small but relatively modern collection "From Renoir to Rothko". We were given devices resembling walkie-talkies. If we pressed the corresponding button, we'd be able to hear more about a certain painting.

I was completely unprepared but happy to see an actual painting I'd analyzed in art class seven years ago, when I was still attending Sha Tin College. It's called "Improvisation 28" and the painter is Vasily Kandinsky. I ended up buying 2 different postcards by this artist. Not missing a beat, my dad, in his usual fashion, bought an art book of the whole collection plus an art print by Cezanne. In fact, he just framed it today and it's hanging at our house.
[2009 update: Yess!! I was cleaning my room, and finally found the postcards in my closet! Was wondering where they were all this time.]

We had an excellent dinner at our friends' house again. After dinner, I learned what "Polly's" were from my hostess's young niece (the "new" Barbie). Unlike Barbies, they had clothes made up of soft but durable plastic. They made my hands really dry though. And although you probably won't play with plastic, it's good to bring lotion when you come to LV.

The bright 7-year-old shared something with me which I'll mention in the next post.

Day 1: LV is for...

"We're going to Las Vegas! The 3 of us." was what my parents said to me.

Why? There was a couple living there who loved them and was very eager to show us around. So we packed our bags in preparation for our week-long trip and headed for the airport.

We flew via Southwest and got to see Las Vegas from above. All around the city were desert mountains. At the LV airport, there were numerous slot machines scattered across the area. There was also a sign which read: "It is against the law for a person under the age of 21 to loiter around these machines." However, I saw many young people operating them.

The couple came to pick us up. Their little white dog had pink tinsel ribbons tied to her ears. We settled down at their house, had a wonderful home-cooked dinner, and headed out.

The time was about 8:30 pm, but the place looked like it was just coming alive. We were at the Strip, which was really the main street where all the grand hotels were lined up. I'll refrain from mentioning all the puns related to this name. I'm sure you'll understand why advertisers use it as much as they can.

Anyway, all the flashing lights against the night sky looked really beautiful. Among them: the Coca-Cola Bottle, half a giant Harley Davidson, the Seven bar from the movie...even the In-N-Out sign looked like a blinking Broadway billboard.

1st stop: We parked at the Bellagio hotel lot and followed the "To the Casinos" sign. Since it was Memorial Day weekend, the place was packed. You had to move as if you were waiting in line. Right next to the lobby was a display made from flowers. Fake children on swings and in boats smiled down at us. There was a giant bell at the far end and a mini fountain that squirted water out to the rhythm of the music.

As we neared the lobby, I looked up and saw giant flowers made of glass filling out the whole area of the ceiling. I wondered how they could secure those glass structures up there.

2nd stop: Next, we decided to walk to Desert Passage. The weather outisde was a bit warm but thankfully dry. This place had an Aladdin theme to it. There was a fake sky and clay-looking jugs peering from the fake 2nd floor. We strolled around the area with the specialty shops.

3rd stop: Paris. There was a fountain with statues in the center. Next to it was a scaled down Eiffel Tower and accordion music playing in the background. It was really easy to feel the French vibe at this place. We peeked in at the casino and the chandelier-filled check-in area. I'd suggest sitting at one of those round sofas there, for they are really comfortable.

I saw a girl drinking something white out of a 2-ft long Eiffel Tower. I've also seen many people drinking out of what looked like an extra long dumb-bell. The drink is called La Salsa Cantina, and I found out that it cost about $12.50. I think every hotel has their own specialty drink with a corresponding container.

Last stop: We headed out into the middle and came across this huge fountain. It was a musical one and would dance to a new song every 15 minutes at night. So many people were hovering over the rails waiting for the next song to play out. The songs we managed to watch: My Heart Will Go On, Fly Me to the Moon, a song by Faith Hill, and a classical piece whose real name eludes me right now (remember the "Beef" commercial theme? I believe it was Aaron Copland).

And what about the people? What are they like there? Maybe I'll save that for a later post.