Monday 31 December 2007

Day 2: New Year's Eve, Saigon-Style, Baby!

Woke up today to a Pho breakfast! Kind of exciting for me, not going to lie.

Pho with meatballs: The IT dish in Vietnam!

The coordinator was supposed to pick me up and we'd take the bus, but was too busy. So apparently Mr. Nguyen came by on his motorbiker and off we went! (Jump on a random motorbike with some kid and trust him to take me through the city? Sure, why not?). We got to Thi Binh Orphanage, a government-owned institution with over 200 special-need residents.

First time on a motorbike!

I worked upstairs just playing with the younger ones in their cribs. Some kids were seven or eight years old, but still had to be kept in cribs. One of the the locals that was volunteering as well started crying as she had never seen a sight like this. I helped to feed the children as the nurses were severely understaffed and then played with two boys in the playroom. Once child, named Leigh, took quite a liking to me and it was then I felt really comfortable in Vietnam.

Had a chicken burger at Lotteria, a popular American-esque burger joint. Definitely needed some American grub! I bought some dessert and bottled water "La Vie" that I kept for the next two weeks.

I took the big green bus that only locals really take back to Banh Thanh Market. Super cheap, it's only 3000 dong for one ride (equivalent to about 19 US cents).

Cho Banh Thanh

Jaywalking (the norm) in Saigon is an experience like no other. With motobikes aligning the whole street, you're just supposed to start slowly walking and they'll get out of your way. Quite the adventure!

Tip: For crossing the streets in Saigon and handling the motorbikers: If you speed up or stutter, you'll get hit, but if you keep a slow pace and just stare at them, you'll be okay. Don't be nervous!

The motorbikes typical of any street in Saigon

Not sure if Banh Thanh Market was what was inside the building or if it entailed everything about it, I asked a nice, young gentleman named Sebastian, "Do you speak English?" Long story short, he was a backpacker from Germany traveling all throughout Asia by himself. Before I knew it, he was my new travel buddy. On the way to him showing me Banh Thanh, I bought a sweet journal in the Fashionista market held during New Years along with some hand-made keychains. At Banh Thanh, I also bargained for some sunglasses--he originally said $26, I got him down to the equivalent of $5USD. YAY!

Sebastian, my new travel buddy!

Sebastian and I had some coconut milk and then I left to go back to the host family before heading back out to District 1 to celebrate New Year's Eve with my new found friend. I wasn't too sure what to expect for New Year's as Vietnamese New Year's is usually in late Jan/early Feb. Being in the tourist section of the city in District 1, however, proved me much surprised. Thousands lined the streets of Phu Ngung Lau as food booths and live entertainment provided a great concert. Sebastian's local friends came by and we all quickly bonded.
One of many booths in District 1 for New Year's Eve

Just chillin' with some locals

New Year's Eve on the street of Phu Ngung Lau

Traditional Vietnamese dresses

After midnight, Sebastian and I ended up getting drinks at a bar where some disgustingly old and jerky American thought I was a prostitute. To Sebastian: "I remember when I was your age. I came backpacking to Vietnam and I was so happy to find a beautiful Asian girl. Now I have to settle for the old ones (points to the woman he's with)." Me: "Hey, that's so rude!" "Oh, you speak English?" "I'm an American, you jackass!" He tried to apologize and I just told him to stop talking. Grrr!

Besides the last story, I just love how this morning I had no idea what to expect. AWESOME way to celebrate New Year's Eve!

Sunday 30 December 2007

Day 1: 17 Hours Later....Arrival into Saigon, Vietnam

The flight from LAX to Taipei took about 14 hours; unfortunately I was stuck in the middle seat, but somehow managed only to get up once. The individual sitting next to me turned out to be a new graduate from UCLA--small world. We exchanged information and will hope to see each other again on this trip.

Taipei Airport has free internet! This was how my e-mail looked.

Tip: The greatest conversation piece is a USC sweatshirt. You'll always meet someone, so think about what you wear!

After arriving in Saigon Airport, customs questioned me on why I had an American passport. "Because my parents immigrated to the States. " "Why don't you speak Vietnamese?" "I grew up in the States." Great, I'm getting attitude and causing confusion already.

Met the host family in their house with no toilet paper or hot water. Thankfully there was internet and a TV. My room was simple with a fan, desk, and bed. I took a little nap and found 6-year-old Neh watching me as I woke up. We played some Dominoes I brought and I took a short walk outside.

Tip: In Vietnam, you can get a good SIM card for about $10 and slip it into any phone and voila! Use your phone as you wish. HOWEVER, before you leave, check with your phone company to make sure your phone isn't locked. Damn AT&T!

My room for the stay

Saigon is famous for having motorbikes EVERYWHERE that really won't stop for you. Imagine New York City and instead of taxis, you have motorbikes. Should I take the risk and try to cross to the other side?

Motorbikes of Saigon in District 8

I've come to learn that I'm a product of my environment. Usually my adventurous spirit comes out, but for the moment I know better. I'll wait until tomorrow! And hopefully someone around me will understand English!

Monday 5 November 2007

Final Push in Chicago....P.S. Sleeping in an Airport is Not a Good Idea

Said goodbye to our sketchy hostel this morning and dropped our stuff off downtown at Mr. Gary Lee's apartment downtown. Headed down to Navy Pier (not quite as romantic as Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles) to catch a boat cruise. We actually missed the tour with a jazz brunch; however, we ended up catching a 45-minute boat cruise for only $15 (And that is why I tend not to plan things out!)

Chicago's famous Navy Pier

Boat cruise overlooking downtown...

After the Pier, we visited a true hidden gem: The Chicago Public Library! No, this is actually NOT where one rents books, but rather a cultural center for the arts. Inside the "People's Palace," the Chicago Cultural Center features over 1,000 programs and exhibitions each year. Best of all, it's all FREE!

The Chicago Public Library

Veronica and I found ourselves inside the beautiful arena walking from room to room. One exhibit consisted of the most remarkable yarn artwork; however, my ears perked up when I heard in the distance....JAZZ!

Oldies, but goodies, the band played a more classic-mixed-with-fiddle kind of jazz. The two of us got lost in the moment...

Afterwards, we grabbed our luggage and rushed to Andy's Jazz Club (yes, I love jazz, can't you tell?), the supposed "best jazz in Chi-town." We wanted to spend some time here before heading off to the airport to try to grab a standby flight instead of taking the 6AM the next morning.

Front row seats at Andy's Jazz Club!

Only $5 for students on that Sunday night, we really got a great taste of Chicago jazz. Although alike in some respects, all cities have their own style when it comes to jazz. LA is very instrumental, where you get lost in the fingering of each musician. Chicago? It's more soulful in the voice of the singer-you get lost in what they're saying and how they're saying it.

After only about half and hour, we had to go! Unfortunately, we got to Chicago O'Hare only 30 minutes before the last flight and they said we couldn't go on standby because standbye only works on same day flights. Damn.

Not wanting to pay for a hotel, Veronica and I toughed it out and decided to sleep at the airport! It was cold, employees actually moved the bench I was sleeping on, and it was ridiculously uncomfortable. When asked for blankets, we were told there were none. On a mission, I set out to find these non-existant blankets and voila! Behind an empty counter there were bunches. With my IPOD on, I salvaged whatever sleep I could get.

NOTE: I WILL NEVER SLEEP IN AN AIRPORT AGAIN. Even at my favorite one, all I wanted was to be home in my bed with my huge comforter!

Literally landed and had the shuttle drop me off at my car and straight to work! Oh, power traveling!

Chicago and all its beauty...

Jampacked in Chi-town!

Chicago has too much to experience, so only with a weekend here, Veronica and I power-traveled all over this city!

We took the train downtown to start off at the must-see in Chicago: the Sears Tower! The tallest building in North America at 1450 feet, the building obviously provides a magnificent view!

Standing in the tallest building in North America!

Tip: Walking around downtown is nice as there are lots of good photo-ops.

Outside the Chicago Theater. Classic pic!

We ate at a BJs (sometimes food from home is just nice) before heading off to Millennium Park. With world-famous architecture and statues, the 24.5 acre park provides more than a fair stroll for tourists and locals alike.

Random kid that ate lunch with us! Emily's adorable! (not pictured: Parents off to the left).

Wrigley Square in Millennium Park. Gorgeous!

Some people call it a "bean" or a "peanut" but actually probably the most famous Chicago icon is "The Cloud Gate."

The Cloud Gate. Another dimension one would say?

The Art Institute is of course, beautiful. Small, but the works in it are fantastic. I especially enjoyed the photography exhibit by Richard Misrach entitled "On the Beach."

Our shopping consisted of going down Miracle Mile and then visiting the Water Tower Place, an 8-story mall, on Michigan Avenue. It's no Mall of America, but damn, it's still great! There, we ate pizza with the one and only, Mr. Gary Lee!

The train was still under construction, so we took the bus down to Wrigley Field. I hate maps because I used to not be able to read them, but after travels after travels, you must learn to love!

Lincoln Park has a great nightlife, but beware: you must be 21 and they are strict! Speaking my talk, I was only able to get into about 50% of the bars, but hey, we were still able to hop the hop!

Tip: If you are underage and would like to get into bars, the best places to try are Irish pubs--they really just don't care!

Nice job, Chicago! On to tomorrow!

Sunday 4 November 2007

Chicago, Anyone?

Some of the best and most memorable travel adventures are the ones that happen spontaneously; for no other reason but "just because."

Veronica : Yeah, I'm looking at Grad Schools right now. I'm thinking the University of Chicago.
Krystina: I've always wanted to go to Chicago!
Veronica: Really? Do you want to go? I want to visit the school.
Krystina: Uhh...okay!

And with STA Travel providing flight deals of $200, we were off to Chi-town in about 3 weeks.

November 3rd
I leave my internship at 3ish and deal with traffic on a typical Friday afternoon in LA. Arriving at the airport at 5PM for a 5:30PM flight, I set off the security check and have to have a special inspection since I'm so late. Great way to start my weekend in Chi-town.

I arrive around midnight and meet Veronica at our hostel in Lincoln Park, Arlington Heights. Yes, a hostel in the States is NOT one you want to be staying at. Enough said.

We took a short walk around the neighborhood as it was right by the Children's Hospital. Eating at the local "no-name" diner (a term I use for the late-night diner where the food and service aren't great, but you're so hungry that you just don't care), we got our taste of Chicago and its hospitality. Hmmm....normal! Off to bed before a big, busy day!

Monday 22 October 2007

Goodbye, Philly...You've Been Good

Jen and I woke up ridiculously late today after last night's adventure. Oh, well!

We made it to the last leg of the conference in the Lowe's Hotel and then walked ourselves over for some lunch at the Reading Terminal Market. With a variety of choices, one can eat anything and everything from French crepes to Chinese chicken. Since it was actually late in the afternoon, we settled for the only type of food open, one that always seems to be the only one open : Chinese it is!

That night, the recruiting team of GM actually invited me out to dinner with them before they left (Sweet! I'll take that as a good sign). We went to Al Vez, a great Mexican restaurant on 13th Street. The layout was very casual sleek with the bar in the middle of the restaurant and booths all around. The meal was fantastic to say the least with chicken, enchiladas, and a handful of desserts!

Afterwards, Jen and I went to the PRSSA Dance Party held for all the conference attendees. Excitingly, Jenny Tamayo, another Contiki Marketing Intern who went to Europe with me, attended the conference as well! We finally met up and danced the night away!

ROOMIE! Jenny Tamayo and I travelled to Europe together this past summer.

We had a great time to say the least. Pretty impressive, Philadelphia. Thanks for the free trip, USC!

Sunday 21 October 2007

Day 2: Philly Cheesesteak Much?

With Jen now here, we set out on the biggest reason people come to Philadelphia: to eat the notorious Philly Cheesesteak! We walked down to the tourists' favorite stop (debatable) : Pat's. Pat's and Geno's are the two long-time rivals in South Philly (also Jim's is a favorite, but he's located on South Street, unlike the other two on Passyunk). Located across from each other, these two really compete it out to be the King of Steaks. Pat's is the original and Geno's tends to have more variety.
Enjoying our Philly cheesesteaks at Pat's!

Jen ordered while I saved us seats. Unfortunately, she didn't read the sign on how to order and didn't get the whiz! Hence, I definitely had to go back and order some whiz to a very peeved cashier. Oops!

Tip: Be prepared to order your cheesesteak the correct way! Otherwise, you will face some pretty angry locals.

The correct way to order a cheesesteak!

I must also say, these cheesesteaks are not for the weak at heart! If you hate grease, then beware! The cheese will just slip off, so watch your clothes and shoes (Jen definitely didn't).

At the conference, I had my interview with General Motors for a Financial Communications Internship for the summer. Crossing those fingers! No matter the outcome, I won't find out until December. Afterwards, I listened to a talk about globalization and diversity in the workplace, then off to explore the city!

We had dinner at a cute lil' Greek restaurant called South Street Souvlaki. Then we experienced some of South Philly's nightlife and barhopped down the rest of South Street to John's Sports Bar, an Irish Pub, and my favorite, The Miami Cafe! I think some of my favorite phone calls occur when people call to ask what I'm doing and I can say, "I'm having drinks in Philadelphia!" Haha. Nowadays, that's how alot of my phone calls go due to my addiction to travelling.

Best Pina Coladas in the country (in my humble opinion)

Adding to the collection on the "Gum Tree". You can see our new world travelling/homeless friend in the back.

Our adventures ended with meeting a wandering boy that left Florida to travel the world and taking home a new pumpkin (appropriately dubbed Pumpky). Good times, Philly!

Saturday 20 October 2007

Hello, Philadelphia!

The Public Relations Student Society of America holds a National Conference each year where schools across the nation send delegates to engage in the weekend's PR activities. Although I am currently a Finance major, not so long ago I was interested in public relations and marketing. Long story short, I attended the conference in Philly.

Philadelphia is perhaps the only city in the country where one can feel a sense of the nation's true history. One of the biggest reasons I enjoyed Europe was that there was so much culture, so much that made every location so important, so full of life. Flying to Philadelphia by myself really gave me an extra edge to enjoy the city's humbleness and history.

Philadelphia's Town Hall

The architecture is ridiculously classic. Even the hotels are uniquely beautiful! As there are over 2,500 murals in the city, one can always find art on the streets and on the sides of buildings.

Even the Ritz Carlton is beautiful in architecture!

One of over 2,500 murals in Philly

My first stop was of course, the most touristy, but most important part of Philadelphia: the Liberty Bell! The prominent symbol of freedom actually gained its "crack" or "gap" in an attempt to fix a smaller, thin crack. The bell's sound is silenced, but it's symbolism lives on forever.

The Liberty Bell!

The area where the Liberty Bell sits is called "The Historical District" as many historical icons, such as Independence Hall, First Bank of the U.S. and many others reside. I feel lucky to have seen one of the sights off my To-See List: The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The flame lit on through the chilly winds and all I could do was sit and listen to the silence.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Washington Square

Tip: Ride the Ducks!

One of the best things, and yes, touristy things to do is to Ride the Ducks! It consists of a half-car, half-boat that drives around the city and then hits the water for a cruise (it's my first day in Philly, cut me some slack!). Providing whistles that quack, ones blows quacks through the soundtrack and cheesy duck jokes. Haha. Good times!

Elfreth's Alley: The oldest street in Philadelphia

Afterwards, I met up with Miraya Jun and Blake Wu of U. Penn where they took me to a delicious Italian dinner. We then continued our eating fest (it's what we do best!) at Capogiro Gelato, where we sampled pretty much every flavor between the three of us! Then finally, we hit The Naked Chocolate and enjoyed the sweets.

Capogiro Gelato is the "it" place in Philly for gelato. Each spoon represents a sample of one flavor. Go us!

Jen Haughton from USC's PRSSA flew in later that night. Off to the conference tomorrow!

Sunday 16 September 2007

Day 3: Mall of America - Meet Your Match!

One of my goals in life was to not only visit the Mall of America, but to finish it. All of it. Meaning I , single-handedly would complete shopping in the mall from top to bottom. Speaking with everyone throughout the past two days, from my shuttle driver to a local student attending the "M", nobody thought that I could complete it in one day. Oh, how wrong they were!

But let's start at the beginning of the day, shall we?

Target provided a tour of the city that morning. We met at 8AM, but it was well worth it! What I love about Minneapolis is that not only is it truly a metropolitan for young people, but it's unique in that you're always safe and the people are ridiculously nice!

Downtown skyline. Skyscrapers AND trees? My eyes must be playing tricks on me!

Famous "Spoon and Cherry" sculpture in the 11-acre park!

Mississippi River. Have never seen it until now!

The tour was quite interesting as we saw everything, including Mary Tyler Moore's old house and the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. We even went to the other "Twin City" of St. Paul. More historical than Minneapolis, it definitely is the the more traditional city in architecture and atmosphere.

After the tour and final goodbyes to everyone, I packed up and pumped up for my goal of completing the Mall of America! It was already 11AM and I had a flight at 8PM. Clock is ticking! 11.1 acres. It's own zip code. 500 stores. Bring it on!

With the warm-up last night, the first floor was a good one! It's a brilliant layout really. Unlike other malls, each time you take a turn in the mall, it leads you to a new spot. Hence, you just get lost and keep on shopping!

I definitely spent a good hour in a quotes store. I'm a sucker for that!

I love this!


It was challenging because there were definitely multiple Victoria Secrets and Abercrombie & Fitches. I kept twisting and turning into the same stores!

But, long story short, I completed the WHOLE mall, all FOUR floors in ONLY 5 1/2 HOURS! Take that non-believers! It IS possible to finish the Mall of America in a day!

Saturday 15 September 2007

Day 2: The Interview, But More Importantly....Painting the Town Red!

On Fridays, you can tell exactly who is interviewing and who actually is employed by Target. All the employees come in business casual, while all the interviewees sit in the lobby in business professional.

The interview process was actually quite interesting--we had overviews of the company, took a few tests, went on a tour, and only sat in two interviews for half an hour each. I know that we were being judged the whole time, but regardless, Target seems like a great company to work for! After the interviews, they treated us to a Target Happy Hour where I met with Sara Lopez and Ken Tamura--both recruiters. We'll see what happens!

Afterwards, the night began with a few of the other interviewees. Onto the fun!

At the Metro station--barely missed the first train!

Mall of America! Check off the "Life To Do List"

Tip: Make sure to ride Paul Bunyan's Water Log Ride! (A water ride in the mall!)

The Mall of America's own min-Legoland!

After doing a quick practice run in the Mall before tomorrow's power shopping, (I was able walk the first floor in about an hour), we headed off into Minneapolis's nightlife. I didn't think it would be so good!

Chino Latinos! There's no sign for this restaurant/bar-you
just have to know about this local hot spot.

Mmm...sushi! Thanks for dinner, Target!

We spent the rest of the night laughing while enjoying a great meal and drinks at Chino Latinos. The interviews were over with as people had a great time before their flights the next day.

Minneapolis is actually a great city for young people--the average age is only 30! A great night to end the interview with. The best thing about travel-going by yourself and then enjoying the night with friends!

Friday 14 September 2007

Minneapolis--Nice First Impression!

At the Monster Diversity Leadership Conference in July, I had the great opportunity to network with some fantastic recruiters and employees from various major companies. From the weekend event (which I highly recommend every undergraduate to attend), I met Sara Lopez of Target. A fellow alum, she contacted me a couple months later to fly out to Minneapolis and interview with the company. Obviously, I dropped everything and flew out a couple weeks later!

At the airport, I first exchanged my leftover Euros to dollars. Wait, I go to Minnesota, so I must first exchange my Euros to American money in Los Angeles? My life is random....

Yeah, Target!

Fanciest Radisson I've ever seen! (And I know a thing or two about Radis)

Ironically, a fellow DLP conference participant, Mark Diment, flew out for Target 's interview as well! The moment we met up, we obviously did what we do best--eat!

Classic "I'm at the Hard Rock Cafe" Pic

My delicious steak dinner. Thanks, Target!

The city was cold, not going to lie; however, the people were ridiculously nice and although a big metropolitan, Minneapolis definitely provided safe streets. Good first impression!

Off to bed for a big interview tomorrow!