Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Traveler's mental notes: Macworld San Francisco

So I went to the US the other day for Macworld San Francisco. It was my first time in that country. Went to so many places, spent way too much money but the good thing is, I learnt a lot so I think it was worth it. And I've promised myself the next time I go there, I'll be smarter with my budget.

Got so many things to talk about, but can't; afraid I'll bore you to death. So here are just some of my notes abt the things I learnt from the trip:

Long-distance plane rides
1. Your feet grow one size bigger during the flight. Bring a pair of Ronald McDonald shoes. Or just don't wear shoes altogether.
2. Bring fresh socks.
3. If it's a Sunday flight Malaysia Airlines, grab hold of the newspaper and show the stewardess your tiny Sunday cartoon. She won't promote you to first class but she'll call you by first name from then onwards. For example: "Encik Ridzwan, can you PLEASE put on your shoes?"
You'll feel important.

Surviving Macworld SF
1. Allow time to recover from jet lag. You don't want to be grinning from ear to ear while watching Steve Jobs' keynote and yet your eyes are closed.
2. Plan each day because it's winter and the days are short (7.00am-5.00pm). You can't get much done in a day. Don't be so ambitious. Don't attend too many free classes, apparently some of them are boring anyway. The last ferry to Alcatraz leaves at 4.30.
3. Watch out for the Apple chief designer Jonathan Ive at the exhibition floor right after the keynote. You don't wanna be starstruck when there's opportunity to take photos with him.
4. At Apple Store SF, people do actually line up to buy new Apple products the moment they are announced and they disappear within 3-4 hours. Next time, buy 2 iPod Shuffles.

Getting around in San Francisco
1. You can cover the whole of downtown SF by cable car or even on foot. At the Bay area, you can rent a bicycle. The weather's fine for walking and cycling. Bring a good pair of sneakers.
2. Cable cars don't reverse. They get to the end of the track where there's a revolving platform that lets them change direction. Take time to watch; it's quite a sight.
3. In SF, not only do they have cable cars. They also have, I'm convinced, the most number of homeless people per sq feet. Good thing they don't bite (both the cable cars and the homeless people).
4. Next time, buy Alcatraz "Swim Team" T-shirts for the little monkeys back home.
5. You can never have too many SF magnets.

Getting around in Las Vegas
1. You can cover the entire Las Vegas Strip on foot. It's only, like, a few miles long (you don't talk km when in the US).
2. Walk along the Strip and you'll find there are way too many call girls in LV. You don't see them, but their call cards litter the sidewalks. Don't skid on them call cards.
3. Not only have they got stretch limos in LV, they also have stretch Hummers.
4. Although it's winter and very cold at night, it's hot during the day. Next time bring some short-sleeve T-shirts.

Getting around in Los Angeles
1. You need a car in LA. You can rent a full-size Chevrolet Impala from Hertz for about US$55 a day. They also got Chevrolet Impaler but that one is from Hertz Butt.
2. Don't get a Hummer, but don't get anything smaller than a full-size car either. You need a trunk large enough for all those huge travel bags, trust me. Think Toyota Camry, not Proton Saga.
3. You don't need a special driver's license. They'll accept your Malaysian driver's license even if they don't understand a word in it. But you gotta tell them that 1976 is not the year your license expired.
4. You can get used to left-hand driving in no time!
5. Not familiar with the roads? No problem. GPS or global positioning is available from Hertz as a US$9 per day option. The service is called NeverLost, the hardware about the size of a bulky Pocket PC. The thing can get you anywhere. Very accurate and very easy to use too. I was scared at first, but I decided to treat it like playing a computer game: follow the sweet sound of the woman's voice and ignore your passengers' frantic warning of oncoming traffic.It was really nice when the woman's voice announced "You have arrived". Aah.
6. Alternative mode of transportation: on a good day, you can find a guy getting around on a Segway. I saw one in Disneyland. No, it's not one of the fun or terror rides, it's what you call a human transporter. It's got two wheels side by side and you lean forward to move forward and you lean backwards to (let's see how smart you are) brake.I think they call it Segway because after using it for some time rather than walking, you start to sag.
7. You can never have too many Disneyland or Universal Studio magnets.
8. For Malaysia Airlines flights, key in Tom Bradley Airport into the GPS, not LAX. Unless you enjoy going in circles over and over again.

Americans' attitude towards spelling
Just like any other man-made system, the GPS we used is really dumb. Now I don't mean that in a negative way, it's just that unless you know exactly where you wanna go, well, you're not gonna get there. You have to be specific when keying in your destination.
One day we wanted to go to go shopping so we asked Javier the guy at the reception to recommend a factory outlet. He said something like "City Dell" or City Dale", and nobody was sure how it's spelled including Javier himself. We spent an entire half hour locating that place on the GPS. Finally, purely by chance, we found "Citadel".
In another incident, it was a (dark and stormy night - yeah) and we were in the middle of this desert between LV and LA, we were looking for this freeway intersection called "Linwood" to no avail. Finally, it dawned upon us that what we were really looking for was "Lenwood". Same thing - guy didn't know how to spell "Lenwood".
Seems to me that Americans take their spelling for granite.

1. Food can be a problem in the US, especially if you're a Muslim. Most of the time, you just have to make the best out of the situation. In SF, I asked for a kosher (halal) restaurant near our Renaissance Parc 55 hotel and they directed me to this restaurant a few blocks away on Geary St called David's. It's a Jewish restaurant. True enough it's kosher but you pay through your (hooked) nose to eat there - about US$15 per head.
2. Found a Middle Eastern eatery in LA. Food is cheap; for way less than the Jewish restaurant - US$3 - you can get something that resembles a pizza with ground beef and spice topping. Aahh... Meat! Dunno what it's called and don't care. Anyway, here's the punchline: the place is near our hotel and I found it on my way to the airport to go back to Malaysia. Great.
3. The portions are generally large, too large for people like me. At the Jewish restaurant, for example, I struggled to finish my meal which was nothing more than slices of meat, some peas and mashed potato. The next time I went there, I asked for a Happy Meal. They didn't have any.
4. Sometimes when you order food - fast food, especially - they'll ask for your name. It's fine with me, especially when it's a pretty girl asking. Problem is if you have a name like mine which is difficult to spell and pronounce. 8 times out of 10, they got it wrong. It was either Ridzwam or Ridz-when. The rest of the time they called me by my "surname", which they tought was Arahem. And they mumbled so that if it was a mistake, it wouldn't be so obvious.
Eventually, I grew tired of having to spell my name so one day, I decided to make it simple for the girl at the counter.

"What's your name?"


She bought it. She must've assumed I was Hispanic or something and my full name was Roberto Alejandro de Pajero. Anyway, it felt weird when she actually called out to me "Bob!" to collect my food. I am not making this up. My friends couldn't keep a straight face.

Why do people use Bob when they're trying to be funny anyway?