Friday, August 28, 2009


My first stop in Monteal was Saint Joseph's Oratory, one of the National Historic sites of Canada. It all started with André Bessette who built a small chapel (now known as the Chapel of Brother André) on the side of a mountain near Notre Dame College. After a few enlargements, Saint Joseph's Oratory had become a complex that consists of a Crypt Church and Votive Chapel on the 1st level, the Exhibition on Brother André with a big terrace on the 2nd level, and the basilica on the 3rd level (take a 360 virtual tour to get to know each part and their relative locations). As the name indicated, the Oratory is delicated to Saint Joseph, Jesus's father, a patron saint of workers, which is relatively rare to see when many others are delicated to Notre Dame, the Holy Mother. The basilica that stands today was completed in 1967 and its dome is the third-largest in the world of its kind after the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro and Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome. From a small chapel to nowaday the largest church in Canada, it was the healing power of Brother André that poured many pilgrims (handicapped, blind, ill, etc) in to his basilica. In the Votive Chapel, there is a wall covered with thousands of crutches from those who came to the basilica and were healed. Pope John Paul II deemed the miracles to be authentic and beatified Brother André in 1982.

I like the fact that everyone can find a shrine that is delicated to a Patron Saint/gardian of workers, the afflicted, etc to pray to in the Votive Chapel, otherwise God would be too busy to listen and to answer to every prayer. This Oratory used to be packed with pilgrims who were sick searching for a miracle recovery and now is packed with tourists who come for its magnificence. Despite the fact that the wooden stairs, from the parking area to the Crypt Church for pilgrims to kneel and pray, were preserved, it's rare to see one kneeling down and praying. On my way out, I saw a man kneeling on the wooden stairs, step by step, he prayed sincerely. A young man dressed nicely, healthy and handsome looking, had a great profile, drove an expensive car... it seemed he had it all and I wondered under what circumstances a man like him would pray in such devotion. It seems people in desperation no mater what they believe in, they all end up doing one thing: physically torturing themselves. I am not a religious person and not trying to blasphemy, but I don't know if such acts are specifically required by Christianity, Buddhism, Lamaism or any religions to make the prayers heard or it's just a consolation, a final resort the pilgrims try because they can't know for sure if God really hears them.

Notre Dame Basilica is by far the most beautiful church I've ever seen. From outside, the Gothic exterior of the basilica is average so I wasn't sure that I wanted to pay CAD$5 to get in at first but I did. My stereotype on most basilicas is that they are usually dark, colorless, white marble columns, majestic but stern and the only color inside seems coming from the stained glass windows. I was blown away by the colors and details of the Notre Dame Basilica of Montreal. The stunning wood carving pulpit, gilded columns and the altar, all bathed in lights that sifted through stained glass windows from the ceiling and the side; dim fluorescent lights and warm candle lights flatters the hues of cobalt blue, green, red, and gold of the sanctuary. The cobalt blue ceiling and countless gilded stars create an illusion of a stary night sky at the moment when the sun has just set and the shining gold hues faded away leaving the blue blending into the dark. The heavenly glow sapphire blue in the background of the altar, where sculptures for the Eucharistic theme can be found is the highlight of the sanctuary that you'll have to see for yourself to believe how much detail there is.

In the back 0f the basilica, the Chapel of Notre-Dame du Sacré-Coeur gives a totally different atmosphere. If the basilica is an illusion of early stary night fall, the chapel will be the break of dawn. Brighter, but no stained glass windows that I could find, the natural light comes from the vaulted ceiling and the 2 levels crafted linden wood reflects the light on sculptures and vivifys them that makes the chapel look more like a modern gallery. The Notre-Dame Basilica de Montréal has more to offer, a wedding, concert (Pavarotti had a concert there in 1980) and sound and light show, visit their website for more info. I didn't have enough time to stay longer for its sound and light show. Instead, I went to Just for Laughs Comedy Festival at the St Denis theatre on St Denis Street with the St Denis family.

I enjoy the Just for Laughs TV show, yes we got them in Taiwan too, they always put the green monster crying " mommy, it's over!" at the end of the show and I feel the same way, it's too short and I want some more! But after watching the same seriers over and over again on TV, I just want to pick up the phone and call the producer to file a complain: it's supposed to be Just for Laughs not Just for Yawns, can't you guys come up with some other ideas? and then call the cable company threaten them that I am going to cut the cable if they are going to play the same show for the next 3 months. I was hoping to see them making some kind of jokes some where in Montréal when I found out the Just for Laughs Comedy Festival was held in Rue St-Denis on July 3-26. Rue St-Denis was closed for the event, bright color painted stilt walkers, musical performances, men made up as devils were wandering in the streets at night, etc, it was more like a carnival to me. I went for a comedy gala that was hosted by Lewis Black with the St-Denis family. I didn't get the jokes sometimes because of language barriers and cultural differences, and I was truely sorry for that I kept bothering my friend with the question "who is that guy they are making fun of?" It seemed to me that sarcasm was the only way the comedians could do to make people laugh in the gala. I don't know since when sarcasm has become a form of humor and has been practiced worldwide. I guess it's just like the funny clips they made in the streets, watching people embarrassing themselves is funny; I wonder would the term Schadenfreude and Sarcasm be catagorized into those happy words or they've already in that category?

Parking in downtown Montréal was a nightmare! The street parking with coin operated meters were money suckers, it's a design to evict cars from the city and to increase revenue of the government exponentially as the ticket for an expired parking could be outrageous. It's difficult for me to estimate exactly how long I would stay and tour around an area, given the fact that I could only pay my parking at the exact block where my car was parked, so I fed the machine as much as possible before leaving and kept watching my time anxiously. A friend of mine gave me his parking spot on Rue de Bullion where parking is free for those who live there. I parked my rental car there overnight anxiously because of the notorious car vandalism stories in downtown Montréal. The next morning I went to my car, from far away it looked still intact, a good sign, but soon I saw ticket on my windshield, a CAD$42 ticket for parking there after 9:00AM on Saturday! I was only about 30 mins late and I had a New Jersey plate on my car, come on gave me a break! I wish I had found this great article regarding parking in downtown Montreal on trip advisor earlier.

I went to the Biodome but it was full of kids lining up to get inside, so I gave up and walked toward my car then I realized that I'd just paid CAD$ 10 for parking and it's good until midnight, it would be a great change to experience the metro system in Montréal. I bought a one day pass from a ticket booth, CAD$ 9, a single ride $2.75. Unlike the one day pass in NYC, the man gave me a paper that had the month and date of purchase scraped off. By showing the ticket to the staff in booths , they would open the gate for you to get in or out. The metro system in Montréal is a modern, artistic underground city, shopping malls built just above the railway, you can buy almost anything you want without stepping out of stations. I can see how people move in this underground city in a harsh long winter.

Situated between the St Lawrence river and the downtown skycrapers Old Montréal is a lovely historic tourist attraction, a picturesque area where artists are inspired to create their artworks. Restaurants, gift shops are often seen in the painting as background, it's mesmerizing by looking at the painting and the street: are those people in the street the creation come to live or they are walking into the painting.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Dome of light

The dome of light is the world's largest one-piece stained glass artwork, 30 meters in diameter with a coverage about 2180 meters square, that is located in the underground station--Formosa Boulevard Station of Kaohsiung Mass Rapid Transit system. The masterpiece was a creation of the Italian Narcissus Quagliata in cooperation with Derix Glass Studios in Germany (Jurgen Gerbig even joked about it at a media conference: "Germans have ideas, Italian know how, and Taiwanese have some money). Its 4,500 glass panels present 4 themes: water, earth, light and fire each of these represent birth, growth, glory, destruction and rebirth respectively.

Women and Birth
MoonFire of Hope
Birth of wisdom
Men and Growth
Flying time
Creation and Glory
SunDance of godess and oracle
Destruction and rebirth

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Change of plans

I was all ready to spend the day taking pictures and coming back to write about the Chisi Festival when I found out that all performances at the Confucious temple were cancelled; performances at other venues were also cancelled on Aug. 22 (Sat) - 24 (Mon) because of typhoon Morakot. Instead, a charity bazaar was held at the Confucious temple area to raise funds for Morakot typhoon victims.

All the works and handcrafts were made by inmates at jails all over Taiwan and donated for the typhoon relief. Here are some pictures from that generous effort. God Bless Taiwan.

Friday, August 21, 2009

North America Roadtrip

The map below recorded my footsteps on a roadtrip to Canada: from JFK to woodbury outlet, Lake George, drive in at St Albans,Vermont to little towns in Lacolle and Hemmingford, Montreal and then back to JFK one week later. Click on the icons for more info of the trip.

View North America Roadtrip in a larger map

Thursday, August 20, 2009

New York

When checking in at Kaohsiung airport (KHH), the staff told me that I would have to reclaim my checked luggage and go through the X-ray again in Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) which was my first transit in the USA. I wasn't sure why I had to do that even thought the tag on the luggage was labeled JFK New York, but I didn't ask. After more than 15 hours traveling, I was ready to use my priority pass to check in an airport lounge for relaxation, then I realized here was the place that I had to go through Immigration and Customs check insead of my final destination. Everything made sense to me while I was waiting in line at the immigration check points; that's why I've been told to reclaim my checked luggage in LAX but not JFK and why I would still have to go to the AIT to apply for a C1 Visa even if I was just in transit through the USA, a story that I was skeptical about when my travel agent told me. It seems all passengers are asked to go through Immigration and Customs check points at their first landing airports which means you have entered the USA at this point even though its maybe not your final destination. For those who just transit through, then can find their way checking in and going through the whole X-ray, security check process for departure to their next destination. I didn't have time to go to a lounge after the whole process; after another 6 hour flight, I finally arrived at JFK and thank god, I didn't have to go through the Immigration and Customs again.

I booked a super shuttle service that provides door to door ground transportation between airport and hotels. Given my arrival time and the service price (US$20/person), it seemed to be a great idea so I disregarded advice from one of my friends and stuck with the plan. I was happy to see a super shuttle's blue van stopped in front of the terminal while walking out of the building, the chauffeur put my luggage in the van, found me a seat and asked my hotel address. I showed him my reservation, he took a look then asked me to get out of the van and dug my luggage out of the back and told me that I should go back to the terminal and find a phone to call super shuttle for a van. I tried to call the number, 10 mins later finally someone picked up the phone and confirmed my reservation. I waited in the terminal for another 30 mins then a man showed up trying very hard to pronounce my name. I sat in the van and spent another 30 mins visiting JFK terminals 1-8 until the van was filled with other travelers. Luckly, my hotel was the first stop, I wondered how much longer those poor guys could bear to escort passengers to their hotels with the chauffeur. So if you ever take a super shuttle, don't reserve in advance, just jump on the first one you see and you'll save a lot of time. JFK transportation options: by Airtrain(USD$5) then subway (USD$2.5/entrance, USD$2.25/entrance); take the yellow cab to your hotel, it's a flat rate $45 plus tips; or you can take the New York Airport Express Service Bus to Grand Central Station (one way ticket USD$15) and then take a taxi/metro from there to your hotel.

After checking in at the Wall Street Inn, I collapsed on the bed thinking now I can relax but that was only to last about 2 hours when a kock at the door woke me. I didn't answer, then another kock. I thought they gave up and I could go back to sleep but then my locked door opened this time, and I saw a man looking in, and he saw me lying in the bed naked. The next thing I heard was sorry and the door closed. So much for a peaceful nice sleep. The next morning before I could even say anything, the reception desk clerk began to apologize to me and upgraded my room for the rest of my stay.

Without people in nice suits bustling around wall street during the weekend, downtown Manhattan is a lovely quiet area where you can find bistros set tables on Stone St when night falls. Two floor stone houses on South William St emit a medieval atmosphere that makes the area an ideal scene for modeling and movies. A few blocks away, the majestic Trump Building, skyscrapers and the high security fortified stock exchange center declare their status blatantly: a center with power to shake up the world's economy. Heading south to South St on the riverbank to Battery Park, joggers brought in energy to the city early risers, the smell of the trees in the park worked as a double espresso, I felt energetic and ready for my first experience in New York.

Given homeland security implementations and being one of the must see tourist attractions, a tour to the Statue of Liberty (operated by Statue Cruises ) usually takes a few hours just for lining up and going through security checks. So I decided to take a Staten island ferry which commutes between New York and Staten Island for free, and used my camera tele-lens for an eye-tour. A 20 mins free cruise gives you a closer look of the Statue of liberty and Ellis Island, where the "Kremlin style" looking great hall was the location where millions of immigrants waited anxiously for medical and legal processing.

New York Subway is one of the oldest (first operation in 1904) and most extensive public transportation systems in the world. Given its old age, I wasn't expecting to see a modern, clean and air-conditioning station, but I wasn't expecting to see the paint peeling off from the ceillings and walls crumbling in some stations either. The daily metro card for unlimited rides on subways and buses for $8.25 is a great deal, single ride is $2.5 $2.25, if you will take more than 4 rides of subways and buses, it's worth it, however, buying it was a challenge for me. You can buy any passes from the ticket booth except for the the daily metro card which can only be purchased from the machine and no one could tell me the reason. Some machines accept only ATM or credit cards, but somehow they wouldn't accept my credit card, so I had to find a machine that accepted cash. I put 20 in the machine and selected a daily metro card, but the machine refused my purchase because the maximum change reimbursement of the machine was $6. Then I tried to purchase two tickets at one time, one for my friend, but there was no such option that allowed passengers to purchase multiple tickets, at least I didn't find it, and the man in the booth ran out of change so I had to find a store to get change. I felt retarded for the whole process and I never wanted to spend my 10 dollar bills since.

SOHO is a plate of delicately balanced ratatouille, a thriving and robust area where you can find almost anything in different corners: from art galleries that are hidden in the alleyways to little italy and Chinese communities; from street stalls to luxurious boutiques; from exotic restaurants to commonly seen salad bars in convenient stores, fusion is the spirit of the area. On Spring St, Evolution (11:00-19:00) sells all kinds of unique natural history collectibles inculding butterflies, beetles, fossils, seashells, skulls, skeletons, medical models, and tribal art etc. items that are usually only seen in museums whereas Hollister settled on Broadway have 2 half-naked men with great profiles standing in front of the gate, as fashion model advertising. The variety of SOHO makes it one of the best tourist attractions in New York.

Summer is an outdoor season for New Yorkers, street fairs are held mostly on weekends in various streets throughout April to November, if you are interested, visit Mardi Gras Productions' website for schedules. I came accross the East Side Summer Festival on Lexington Avenue, and was pulled in to the crowd by the smell of BBQ from the first stall. Most of the vendors were selling food and drinks, some were selling bags, jewelery, knick-knacks, etc. I even found the F.D.N.Y. 40 truck set a tent there selling their 100 years of service T-shirt to raise funds. A slogan from the organizer says: "N.Y.C. streets are paved with gold", the street fair was a fun outdoor activity especially if you were the one "paving it".

Time square is always crowded because it's the center of where all broadway theatres and TKTS are located (there is also a satellite TKTS located in the South Street Seaport). TKTS sells unsold tickets on the day of performance for many broadway shows for 20-50% off the box office price ($3 service charge per ticket will be added). An electronic sign displays what shows are available for that day. TKTS only accepts cash and traveler's cheques and they don't accept reservations, so go early as the tickets may sell out quickly. If waiting in line is not your thing, you can also google search broadway show tickets and book discout tickets online via agencies such as the, but the real bargain is the lottery tickets of each theatre. To get one, you have to show up at the theatre that you are interested in around 17:00-18:00 and wait for staff to give you a paper to write down your name and address then put it back to a box. Theatre Staff will pick the lucky winners who can spend only about $25 for the show. The number of reserved seats (usually about 20-30 seats) for lottery and when they do the lottery (around 18:00) depends on each theatre. I went for the Hair show lottery but I wasn't in luck so I checked with TKTS but they didn't have tickets for Hair that day.

I was not ready to call it a day, so I went to one of the top 10 tourist attractions--the Empire State Building and that was a nightmare. I waited in line from the 1st floor to go to the second floor of the building where the observatory ticket was sold. I followed the line and went through the security check (tripod is not allowed, because there is no room for it, you can deposit it at the security) and back to the line again until finally I made it to the audio guide rentals where it seemed to be the end of the waiting. I asked the staff where I could buy the ticket and they pointed at the crowd about 100 meters back. I still haven't figure out how I could miss the booth by following the line? The staff showed me a fast pass to buy tickets and came back. To get to the observatory I had to queue with the crowd to go through a stage for snapshots where they took a photo of you and photoshoped it into the night view from the observatory as a souvenir before reaching the elevators that took me to the 80th floor. Again, I was back in a line at the 80th floor waiting for elevators to take me 6 more floors up to the observatory. When I finally was at the 86th, I had to fight my way out to the observatory. It wasn't anything like the movie 'Sleepless in Seattle', all I saw was skulls in the background of blurry New York City lights. I stayed for 15 mins and fought my way down. Back to 80th floor, I couldn't help feeling schadenfreude as those who took a snapshot on the 2nd floor were lining up to find and pay for their photos. I spent 4 hours in that build for a 15 mins glance over New York City in lights. I took a clip with my new DSLR Nikon D90, so enjoy it, and if you really want to see New York City from high up, a recommended alternative is the Top of the Rock.

I went to central park for Alpha Blondy and the Solar System's free concert that was held at the summer stage on July 19, from 15:00-19:00. It was Sunday, I met my friends in the Time Warner building and had lunch together at the beautiful Hudson Hotel. Before the concert started, I took a chance exploring this New Yorkers' playground. I loved the fact that every park in New York regardless of their size has the smell of florae (well, I admitted that I only went to two parks in N.Y.C.) that creates an
enchantment that seperates the city from nature. After a long cold sunless winter, it's not suprising to see people turn into suntan afficionados, however, a scene of hundreds of people stripped to get suntanned in the park still amazed me. A book in hand, gentle sunlight on the skin, lying down on the soft grass, you could even smell the aroma of fresh mowed lawn, it should be a leisurable and sexy summer feast, the huge crowd in the park, however, made it feel like walking to a meat rack, there was nothing sexy about it. Roller skating, Juggling, musical performances, carriage tour, cycling, Jogging and even a carousel, these are familiar sights of the central park. Energy flowed in the park affecting everyone, I saw a granny dancing with the music that was being performed by a drum group and I thought that's the spirit to live a life by. It was a long queue to the concert, so we sat on a rock under a maple tree near the summer stage listening to Alpha Blondy's Jerusalem, I felt blessed.

Before heading to JFK to pick up my rental car, I walked across the Brooklyn bridge. Whoever designed the bride was a genius. Cars drive on 2 lines blacktop on each side whereas pedestrians and bicycles on the wooden path in center of the bridge that was elevated gradually from each end. Steel wires that hold up this suspension bridge extend from two stone towers create a beautiful geometric pattern, no wonder it is one of the popular scenes in movies.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

MORAKOT Damage report

This Morakot typhoon catastrophe map was created by BillyPan and many volunteers. The map collects damages, requests for helps and update information around the devastated sites in Taiwan as a reference for anyone who wants to help can locate the spot faster. If you are around please help by sending information to any of the volunteers by email or leave a comment here. Any help is appreciated.

Visit the link below for more info:

Updated Aug. 19
Volunteer wanted: date and contact info
Powered By

A great news from yesterday's Taiwan News (Aug. 18th):
A photo of central and southern Taiwan on the Google Map shows areas which require rescue activities. This map was marked and updated by blogger Billy Pan and 35 volunteer workers to assist rescue teams and have successfully help rescued more than 10 people.,981,1115,1177#slideshow_top

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Itinerary Planing

I was invited to attend a wedding in LaColle on July 25, I accepted the invitation and worked on the itinerary for the trip delightedly. Soon, I found out that I had to spend over NT$60,000 to fly to Montreal via Vancouver and back with Air Canada, so I searched online for alternatives. From I found a roundtrip from Hong Kong via SFO to JFK with United Air for NT$30,000. However, to catch that plane, I either had to spend over NT$10,000 for a roundtrip from Kaohsiung to HK not knowing whether I could check in at the transit counter, or NT$6,000, 2 nights hotels in HK (one day earier before departing from HK and one day later after landing in HK) and a HK visa. Eventually, I had an agent book me on United Air, which took me over 24 hrs to fly from Kaohsiung via Taipei, Narita, LA and JFK for NT$47,800.

To apply for a US visa, I wrote down all my life time records starting from my Junior high, military service, employment, etc. I took a day off, traveled by high speed rail and checked in a hotel near the AIT in Taipei, because my appointment was at 7:45AM, there was no way I could get there on time on the same day from Tainan. I heard a few of my colleagues being rejected when applying for a visa in order to participate in international conferences that were held in US, and the problem seemed to be that we are working in a Division of Infectious Disease and that makes us a potential threat to homeland security. I prepared certificates of bank balance, employment, wedding invitation, my tax papers etc., basically any documentation that might help to prove my urge of returning to Taiwan. Luckly, my interviewer only asked my purpose and duration of visiting America and issued me a 5 year multiple entrance visa.

The plan was to stay in New York City for 2 days then rent a car and drive up to Montreal. Stopping by Lake George one or two days on the way up and spend 2 days in Montreal for the just for laughs comedy festival, that was hosted by Lewis Black. After the wedding, drive back to JFK and the next day fly to San Francisco and stay for 3 days.

Accommodation and transportation are the two biggest issues to deal with when backpacking., a search engine that is programed to compare prices and offers available hotels from multiple search platforms. The service provides hotels overview/details, photos, location on google map and reviews from the users, and best of all is that travelers no longer have to search websites one by one to find the best deals and lowest rates. Once you find the supplier suitable for your needs, just click on the link that directs you to the supplier website to book the room directly. My first choice of hotel in NYC was the Hudson Hotel, however, after reviewing comments from Tripadvisor and advice from my friend, I decided to pass this hotel that seems to have too much fun at night.

Driving to Montreal was a logical choice when considering the price to fly to Montreal and transportation in Canada between LaColle, Hemmingford and Montreal. I found a website, Car Trawler, that claims to be the first company to provide a next generation car rental distribution system, specializing solely in car rental solutions, enabling increased revenues for its customers and suppliers. Indeed, I rented a Ford Focus for 7 days with all car insurances covered for US$288.65.

511, is the most seen/heard number when traveling in America, it's an American's Traveler information telephone number that provides real-time traffic conditions,transit conditions, public transit trip planner and travel links etc. Travelers can dial the three-digit telephone number 5-1-1 on traditional landline telephones and most mobile phones for the information or visit their website at

Other useful website:
Hotels Combined: compare hotels and prices from multiple hotel reservation sites
Subway maps : worldwide metro maps downloadable in many formats
Couchsurfing or Servas : Sleep on a couch for free

Monday, August 03, 2009

Microsoft Photosynth

Microsoft photosynth provides a great platform to share photos in 3D. First, you need a Windows Live ID or Passport account to sign up the photosynth. 20GB of storage spaces are given to each account and it's a free service. After installing the photosynth in your computer, all you have to do is to follow the instruction carefully while shooting to ensure a 100% 3D synthed image. Microsoft Silverlight is needed to view a synth.

Here is an example of my recent synth: Notre Dame Basilica Montreal

Further reading: