04 January 2009

Las Vegas and San Diego

With my downtime dwindling, and with a new car AND a new camera to spend more time with, I needed to keep driving. I ended up in Las Vegas and San Diego. Here are some photos.

First, I went to Madame Tussaud's at the Venetian. Sure, I had been to the Hong Kong branch just a month prior, but I needed to go again, if only to be able to say that I've been to the five main branches of the chain (the others being London, New York, and Amsterdam). Madame Tussaud's is staying ahead of the curve, however, by continuing to open new branches, including Berlin, and soon, Los Angeles.

In any case, this visit was more opportunity to test the capabilities of my new Canon from Seoul.

Some nasty Joan Rivers fashion critiques should get me started.

Well, I am wearing a very old tunic sweater with cable-knit tights - I'd say Joan is gonna burn me for not wearing "proper bottoms." I picked this setup for one reason only: it was the very sweater that I had lost my virginity in many moons ago - right here in Vegas.

I get to see the Governator. I may NOT agree with his politics (I disagree more than I agree), but I do appreciate the fact that on many issues, including gay marriage, he does NOT follow his party's agenda. I often find that I prefer his positions to those of the utterly clueless NorCal liberal Democratic ideologues. Nevertheless, the Governator has trashed the state's education system, and a new approach is sorely needed.

Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones. Again. But where is Calista Flockhart?

Here's a classic. Touch this J. Lo's derriere, and her face lights up. Literally.

Not this homewrecking whore again!

And again, Jennifer Aniston is missing.

This being Las Vegas, where getting married is extremely easy (assuming it's heterosexual), visitors can "marry" this George Clooney.

This hardcore lesbian passed.

Bono of U2. Great!

I can hardly stand Jessica Simpson - but she surely looks stunning in this rendition.

Sir Elton John, one of three big-name entertainers I ended up enjoying here in Vegas. And his "Red Piano" shows continue from time to time at Caesars Palace.

No signs of my other two entertainers here in Vegas - Celine Dion and Mariah Carey.

JFK and Jackie. They certainly were trendsetters. I hope Barack and Michelle Obama will outdo them!

A really horrendous rendition of W. He is still the President - but not for long.

There was a visitor log where people were able to put down their favorite and least favorite figures. Most people were naming W as their least favorite personality. Surprisingly enough, I did NOT put down W as my least favorite. That "honor" went to Angelina Jolie. After all, W will be history in a few weeks, but the homewrecking whore will continue to dominate the headlines for years.

I then proceeded to Imperial Palace in hopes of seeing its classic car collection. However, its crummy parking structure was packed - and somehow I ended up backing Gwaneum One into a trash bin! No structural damage to the bumper or the vehicle, but there now are a few scratches on the rear bumper. I had barely had the car for under two weeks and driven just 2,000 miles! Not good. I hope Gwaneum One is NOT one of those cursed cars - my first car, a Ford Contour, certainly was cursed, and I don't want another cursed car again! By the time I ended up parking at the neighboring Harrah's and returned to Imperial Palace, I found that the car collection was open only between 10 and 6. Oh well.

Time to recompose myself at the Bellagio, watching some music fountain shows.

This night photo of Bellagio was taken without a tripod or anything like that. Exposure time and sensitivity settings, all automatically set on my new Canon, are excellent - and I can get fabulous night shots with little to no blur!

The Canon was pretty much an impulse buy, primarily to honor Kwan Yin, after three months of crazy picture-taking in Korea and Hong Kong. But as it turns out, I had made a great buy!

The fountain is now in action, as it is every 15 minutes until midnight. The soundtrack is Elvis Presley's "Viva Las Vegas."

Another test of the camera, using Paris Las Vegas. One of these days, I'll have to take the camera to the real Paris and see how the real Eiffel Tower is captured.

Another test, using the welcome sign.

Feeling crummy after damaging Gwaneum One's bumper, I ended up not gambling at all. Now, I am up the next morning, preparing to leave my hotel for the drive back to SoCal.

Looks like another Hyundai Genesis had come in overnight to stay here. That one is gray, and based on its wheel design and lack of sunroof, it is clearly the base model. It had been purchased in Riverside, California, and was driven by an African-American man.

For now, I am enjoying the fact that Gwaneum One is still a rare sight. But I do want Hyundai to end up selling enough Genesises out there, so that I'll have good parts supply later on. They do say that the Genesis is slightly outselling Lexus GS, which isn't too bad. And given that it is as much of a game-changer as the original Lexus LS, it better sell!

Close-up of the bumper damage on Gwaneum One.

Fortunately, my car is silver, so the damage isn't noticeable unless I am close to the car. But having scratches after only 2,000 miles is NOT very fun.

And for that matter, driving around Vegas is NOT fun either. There are too many morons, both locals and SoCal visitors, out there. The Nevada DMV does NOT remind drivers about the meaning of the fast lane, for example, it seems. The worst morons are usually found behind the wheel of a Chrysler product; seeing a Nevada Chrysler makes me cringe as much as seeing a Toyota Corolla driven by an Asian woman (the ultimate bad driver stereotype) back in SoCal.

I drove out to Red Rock Canyon for this shot.

I still can't believe that (1) I am driving a super-luxurious car, and that (2) it is a lowly Hyundai.

Sunday morning, back to my Unitarian church in Pasadena.

Seen on the bumper of a Toyota Prius (if my memory is right): this bumper sticker.

Even today, there are plenty of bumper stickers out there supporting Obama and opposing Prop 8, everywhere I drive in California. This includes even many portions of reactionary Orange County. I am heartened.

It does look like the Prop 8 fight was between the white liberals (who opposed the measure, and are an endangered species) and the conservative nonwhite immigrants (who supported the measure, and are multiplying fast). And given the awful US immigration policy of the past three decades, there are too many conservative immigrants in the US destroying others' right to a pursuit of happiness. If I learned anything from my three months in Seoul, it's that the good people haven't been able to come to the US, while the assholes have been very free to come.

In the specific case of South Korea, the new visa-free entry provision now allows the good people to come - if only for a visit. But in many other cases, the good people continue to be kept out, as it is still a nightmare to get a US visa.

After the church service, I drove on to San Diego - for some more photo ops, and for the auto show. I went to the Cabrillo Monument first - which honors Juan Cabrillo, the Spanish explorer who was the first European to visit the modern-day state of California (also known as Alta California during the Spanish and Mexican eras, to distinguish from Baja California, which remains part of Mexico today).

Due to the Spanish background, and due to San Diego's proximity to Mexico, these trash and recycling bins are in English and Spanish. Glad to be juggling languages again - though they are vastly different from the languages I had been juggling for the past few months (Korean and Chinese).

A lovely view of downtown San Diego in the background, where lots of new construction has taken place.

The foreground is the Coronado Naval Air Station. Coronado also handles a lot of aircraft carriers.

Here is the Cabrillo Monument itself.

In the far distance are the mountaintop shantytowns of Tijuana, Baja California. The shantytowns end right at the US border.

Back in South Korea, I had visited a museum in Incheon dedicated to a similar mountaintop shantytown that no longer exists. One of these days, I will have to get over to Mexico, if only to visit the shantytowns in Tijuana and see how they compare to South Korean shantytowns.

I haven't been to Tijuana since 1995, and given the current drug murder situation in Mexico, I'm staying away a bit longer. But I do want to get out there someday. Not sure if I want to drive Gwaneum One into Tijuana, however, due to the added hassle of having to buy Mexican auto insurance and, depending on how far into Mexico I want to go, temporary Mexican registration. Moreover, Hyundai does not have dealerships in Mexico; Hyundais are sold as Dodges at Dodge dealerships, but I doubt that they can service Gwaneum One. Another issue is adding a map of Mexico to Gwaneum One's navigation system, which covers only the US and Canada as is.

In September 2003, the Spanish Navy came here and left this plaque to honor Cabrillo.

Another look across the bay.

To the left: National City and Chula Vista, San Diego's southern suburbs, and now desirable places to live, despite being close to the border (and the chance that criminals can simply run to Mexico after a crime).

To the right: the skyscrapers of downtown Tijuana. San Diego and Tijuana are major cities by themselves, but combined together, they make up an enormous metropolitan area. Many people do commute across the border, even though entering the US from Mexico at the San Ysidro checkpoint may easily take 2 hours or more.

I can even look at the Coronado Bridge and some luxury condos. Coronado Bridge is one of Southern California's two major bridges, the other being the suspension bridge in Los Angeles Harbor. Both bridges used to charge tolls, but now are free. California's other major bridges are located around San Francisco Bay.

After visiting the auto show, I tried to get a few photo ops at Gaslamp Quarter, but was not successful due to lack of parking. I had to suffice with this photo, showing MAC Cosmetics' Gaslamp Quarter store. Looks like Dame Edna is modeling some of MAC's products; that's the second female impersonator for MAC, after RuPaul. And yes, MAC's foundations have great coverage - excellent if you are in showbiz and need heavy coverage that stands up to the spotlights, or if you have facial hair to cover up.

Auto show photos in a separate post.