4 days in Peru (Cusco, Machu & Lima)

 

Apr. 27, 2018 (Friday) :

I guess most people (like myself) come to Cusco or Cuzco in Peru because they are on the way to Machu Picchu. The center of Cusco is Plaza de Armas where I stand in the photo, with “La Catedral” in the background.

Cusco is about 3400 m above sea level and the whole city is hilly. Very quickly, I felt the difficulty and pain to climb any slope at ~3400 m above sea level.

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悠閒的曼哈頓西區走廊

初寫於2018年4月22日 (星期日):


嗨,

雖然昨天去了Flushing,今天一來不欲辜負美好的天氣和終於不再嚴寒的氣溫,二來為了幾日後的旅程來一個『臨時抱佛腳』的鍛,三來感覺上已經好久沒有到曼哈頓走走了……,於是便下了決心乘 LIRR 跟 地下鐵 來到曼哈頓西岸。因為已經是中午,也因為好奇,我到 同事曾經跟我提過的在 Battery Park 走廊旁的 Ningbo Cafe 。我去之前已在網上查過、想好了,最後叫了上海炒年糕。味道淡淡的,但還行,不過那一碟的大小比我預期中的小多了,跟 $13 絕不對稱!當然也沒有吃不完可以打包帶回家的食物 😦

在 Flushing 極受歡迎的『上海豫園』,類似的炒年糕(那裡還有多種選擇!)如果沒有加價的話只要 $6.95 ! 而且記憶中,『上海豫園』的炒年糕很有味道! 特別是過了冬天,想在『上海豫園』吃午飯,大概要在十一點左右到達,要不然,接近十二點餐館門前就會出現打蛇餅的隊伍,要等好一陣子才能有座位。

Ningbo Cafe 貌似高級,我十二點半到時,外面才幾張檯子的客人,餐館裡面完全沒有人。由於陽光燦爛,預設選擇是外面的桌子,但我嫌外面冷, 成為唯一坐在餐館裡面的人。不過,我的座位靠著門邊,Hudson River 的明媚風光,還是一覽無遺的。那裡賣的就是這些風景吧,平日靠商業區的人,假日就靠遊客吧?起碼今天的生意就非常一般。所以,在曼哈頓南部, Wall Street、World Trade Center 或 Brooklyn Bridge 附近,『搵(唐餐)食』還是去唐人街划算。當然,今天從 World Trade Center地鐵站出來,因為我的目的地是西區走廊,往唐人街走就是逆方向了。不過以後我還是情願多走一點路,反正一年也不會有很多次。

今天60F 度左右,不算很暖,但走一走身體就開始熱起來。倘佯在和煦的陽光下,伴著河邊走廊和對岸的優雅景緻,心情舒暢極了。我覺得,西區走廊是曼哈頓最風景怡人的一處,絕少旅客懂得這個道理,是只有當地人才懂得的公開的秘密。走著走著,我不禁會想如果在這裡有間公寓也不錯 🙂 我花了幾分鐘隨便查了一查,一兩千平方尺的,當然要數百萬,但好像也有五百多尺的,五十幾萬可能就有交易。不過不知道是正面對著海 (所謂的無敵海景),抑或只是側面對海、甚至看不到海,呵呵  🙂

離開 Ningbo Cafe 後,悠閒地依西區走廊走著,不久就碰到了 Vesey Street。在那個 “Irish Hunger Memorial” (我媽都來過超過一次! ) 前,我看到 300 Vesey Street,我馬上想到前幾天跟朋友在網上的交談。我查了一下 SAT College Board 的地址,250 Vesey Street,就在300 號後面的那棟大廈!我那位曾經從事高能物理實驗工作的朋友,他在高能物理的資歷比我深,幾年前副教授的工作不能再延續後,去年11月開始在 SAT College Board 當上了近年頗流行的所謂的“Data Scientist”。 他年輕時來自比利時,現在好像已超過六十歲了。這位朋友曾上了一個三個多月的關於數據科學的課程,花了一、兩年的時間包裝自己,終於打入“Data Scientist”的行列。六十多歲之年再學習、轉行,還挺不同意的唄! ( 其實,寫著寫著,我又想起另一個朋友、前物理系的同事 … 唉!)

我昨天在網上打入 “what to do this weekend in NYC” 查了一下, 有多個網頁都提到 “Camp Arlo”這個免費的、為了 Earth Day 所搞的『活動』。在市區中搭營、又是免費的,很快就成為我今天去曼哈頓的另一個『藉口』。從西區走廊的第25、26號碼頭向東走,好像不需十分鐘就到了 231 Hudson St. ( SOHO 區)。Hotel Arlo 附近沒有任何動靜,所以就只有一個可能性。我走進了酒店裡面。我期望很低,但那個地方比我想像中還要小,兩、三個算是帳篷的東西,裡面都坐著看似相互認識的人談笑風生,完全是個小圈子!旁人怎麼好意思貿然侵入?周圍有些大概是販賣各種有機產品的桌子、小攤位,也完全沒有任何吸引我的地方。在這個反高潮的地方,我大概只待了一分鐘左右,便迅速離去。

我平時完全沒有運動,但走路時我依然覺得自己是健步如飛的。離開那個 Hotel Arlo 後往北走,我很快就發現我對那裡絕不陌生。邁著大步沒過多久,就自然地進入了 8th Ave.,而接近8th Ave. 的開頭、打橫的14th  St. 隔著馬路相對的分別是 HSBC 和 CVS 的兩棟老舊大樓,這也已經好多好多年沒變了。從14th St., 我約莫看了一下時間,好像十五分鐘不到,我就抵達 31th 和 32th St. 之間的 Penn Station 進口,乘搭 LIRR 火車回長島。要不是交通燈 (台灣作者都叫『號誌』!) 和繁忙的交通,應該會更快一點。

輕鬆完成了自己給自己的小小鍛,我自鳴得意地想着,我接下來的秘魯之旅起碼在平路上應該不成問題,呵呵 🙂

Kin

 

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明喻、隱喻 ……

隔一段時間才做一次的事,經常都會是有趣的。今晚 ,突然想起很久沒有用過那部 Blu-ray/DVD player 裡的上網功能,所以就用裡面的 Youtube應用程式,看看有甚麼好看的。很快就碰到了曾俊華主持、香港電台製作的《香港故事 – 修復時刻》,似乎沒花多少時間就看了兩集。其實,之前也曾經在報紙上讀到,曾俊華為了這節目,惹了申報的爭論,也因此更引起了我的一點好奇心。

第一個看到的是, 《離開‧離不開》,好像還是最新的。另一集是《再見鄉情》

《離開‧離不開》說的是香港人近年考慮、甚至實踐移民的故事。前面說起阿欣怎麼在四年前決定離開香港到台灣生活,說了香港不少不好的地方,我不知道為甚麼好像覺得很『愜意』、『啱聽』;但到了節目的最後,阿欣的朋友說她為甚麼不留下來為香港做點事,阿欣有點動搖。她最後說什麼『…香港是有希望的…』。這句話本生沒有甚麼對錯,但我好像有點被導演欺騙了感情的感覺!特別是看電視、電影的時候,我是很感情用事的,此一集開頭我被挑動的情緒,跟最後予我幾乎有點『說教』的內容,我好像被導演『出賣』了。… 不是說嘛,感情用事啊!

如果《離開‧離不開》是明喻,那麼相對來說,《再見鄉情》就算是隱喻了 🙂 此一集說道,西貢對開有個叫『鹽田梓』的小島,幾乎已經沒有人住了。村長在那裡重建自己的祖屋,希望其他村人也參與重建,甚至像他們上百年前的祖先那樣造鹽。不過,以前的村民很多已經去了外國,仍在香港的也遠在鬧市,由於交通非常不便,絕少會回去鹽田梓,修建舊屋又有何用!用舊的方法造鹽,更是難上加難。看到他們辛苦弄出來的鹽,被颱風、雨水摧毀,怪可憐的,但也只能同情、嗟嘆。最後,曾俊華說『… 要修復一個地方,就要讓下一代看到希望 …』。相對《離開‧離不開》那一集來說,這算是隱喻了。我覺得,節目好像以鹽田梓來警戒整個香港,但那只是我的某種想法、感覺,別人可以有其它不同的想法,呵呵 ……

《離開‧離不開》裡的阿欣,一回到香港就要立即去吃香港的食物。想起來,我以前也曾有這種情緒、衝動。但不知從哪一年開始,我已經不覺得香港的東西有甚麼特別的好吃。這大概是『進化』的一種吧,畢竟我在美國生活的時間已經長過我在香港生活的時間了。我1993年離開香港到牛津留學時,我大概不是想著移民甚麼的。當時想的只是為了追求從事基礎粒子物理研究的夢想、興趣,和出外『見見世面』。我仍記得,剛剛抵達牛津 的 St. John’s College 時,我發現我竟然丟了大行李的鑰匙,打不開行李了。一時之間,沒有任何朋友的我,有點自我憐憫起來,懊惱自己怎麼這麼無用,一下飛機就發生意外,隱隱然流下眼淚。然而,好勝的我,很快就告訴自己流淚是無補於事的,於是我立即就想辦法在 College 裡找來了一把大鉗子,毅然夾斷了行李的鎖。記憶中,我似乎從此就懂得在香港、甚至華人地區以外,我一個人也是有辦法去解決必須要解決的事情的,只要我曉得怎樣去問、請求,不論甚麼膚色或種族的人都有可能會幫我的 🙂 有些東西,如牛頓定律,在華人地區適用,在英、美、全世界也適用的。也許由於有獎學金的輔助,在牛津和瑞士的那三年多的日子,是人生中最優游快活的一段日子。

我對香港這個我長大的地方,依然有不少感請,要不然我不會一直都在網上看明報,也不會感興趣去看以上的節目。但我或著更相信『勉強冇幸福』這『定律』。我以自己的長遠的快樂為依歸,在哪裡最利於我的精神和物質的生活,就在那裡生活囉。

…… 最後話說回來,我好像以前都沒有聽過《香港故事 – 修復時刻》節目裡的主題曲『大城小動』(謝安琪唱),節目裡播放的那段副歌的旋律,非常悅耳動聽(『啱聽』也!)。我已經想辦法將那首歌下載到我的電腦、手機裡,這可能是今晚最大的收穫。

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Only walking on those horrible roads in Kathmandu/Patan for 3 days …

My travel diaries in Nepal


Written on Nov. 18, 2017 (night) :

The online procedure leading to obtain a landing visa at the Kathmandu airport (TIA) actually works and with HKSAR passport it’s free….

The site is http://online.nepalimmigration.gov.np/tourist-visa. The first advantage of this online application is that you don’t need to surrender a real photo but you just need to submit an electronic one (jpg etc.). But I did need to fight a bit with the online form before I figured out what I should state and got rid of all the errors.

Though their instruction indicates that you’d get an email after the online process completes, I never got that email even after two trials — just like many people have stated online. Instead, you just need to save/print the page appeared after the process was complete, which contained your graphical photo and submission ID etc.

In principle, there is a visa fee except for a small no. of countries. Because of the Chinese connection, HKSAR passport holders can get free visa. ( Actually, today I can’t use my US passport anyway as it’s going to be expired in less than 6 months. …Yeah , I have been a US citizen for almost 10 years !! )

If you haven’t applied something online nor gone to a consulate to get a visa, you have to wait in line to use some machines (or fill in by hand) and then you have to line up to pay, which may all be time-consuming. The Chinese girl in https://m.mafengwo.cn/i/6598298.html?static_url=true describes her Nepalese trip in extreme details including the immigration process at TIA. I went to the left-most counters (V1& V2) as the Chinese girl told us to do. These two counters are for passport holders who don’t need to pay for visa — there was a sign ~ “Gratis visa”. Almost nobody was in these two counters.

The online instructions say that we need to print a copy of the passport but the immigration officer didn’t want to take it. He just wanted that online printout with my passport. He gave me a month’s stay at the end. Checking the fees, the landing visa for 15 days is US$25 and US$40 for 30 days. Since it’s free with my HKSAR passport, I don’t care whether he gave me 30 days or 15 days. 🙂

So, this choice of online application beforehand with HKSAR passport saves me the time for queuing up in a couple lines, a photo, $25 and/or a trip to a consulate.

This time, my bag may be the lightest ever. And without needing to wait for any luggage from the carousel, I came out of the arrival terminal early before the person from the hotel (who was supposed to transport me to the hotel) showed up.  Even when I found the hotel guy eventually, I had to wait for another lady going to the same “Kathmandu Eco Hotel”. The guy I met first turned out not to be a driver but just someone who arranged us to get on a van. Before he closed the van door, he wanted tips. The old lady (British?) and I both said that we didn’t have any local currency and didn’t offer any tips. That guy was obviously not pleased with us. He certainly would have accepted US$ as tips but I wanted to optimize my happiness rather than his 🙂 The old lady had visited Nepal for many times and I was happy to follow the experienced 🙂

For whatever reason, this Kathmandu Eco Hotel put me in another hotel just 10 m away from theirs, Hotel Shreesu, for one night. The room turns out to be very modern and clean. I wonder whether my room tomorrow will be as nice.


Written on Nov. 19, 2017:

( It’s as I had guessed. The room in Hotel Shreesu is better than that in Kathmandu Eco Hotel. The former room is much modern and it has lift and a bigger TV with a lot more channels including some English ones such BBC/CNN while the latter doesn’t. )

Thamel, where my hotel is, is a good place to wander as some streets and lanes are blocked off from traffic. The rest of Central Kathmandu is just chaotic as cars, motorcycles and human beings are competing for the same narrow space and many roads are unpaved and bumpy (not sure how much was due to the earthquake in 2015). Cars and motorcycles can seemingly get into every road no matter how narrow it’s. I don’t see anyway that I could walk relaxingly and feel comfortable. Often I’ve had the thought of kicking at those cars and motorcycles. Of course, the heavy pollution and the smell of gasoline doesn’t help.
 
The entrance fee to Durbar Square is Rs. 1000, almost US$10. ( The ATMs all seemed to want to charge something like Rs. 500 and so I just exchanged my dollars. The exchange rate in banks is only marginally better like $1 = Rs. 103.xx compared to $1= Rs. 102.xx in currency exchange shops. ). I did go to the Site Office to change (free of charge) the one-day ticket to a visitor pass which is valid for as long as your visa lasts. You need to show passport and surrender a small photo — the staff was not very strict and I gave an old passport photo which the staff cut into smaller piece to fit into the pass.
 
1119170953_MultiI’ve found it difficult to appreciate those Hindu temples. As far as I can see from the descriptions posted on the boards there, the main Hanuman Dhoka (former royal palace) seems to be under serious restoration works apparently by the Mainland Chinese govt. ( This may explain why Chinese tourists can enjoy free-of-charge visa. )  1119170937_MultiThe tourists entering Hanuman Dhoka could only wander around one square (and read the “Chinese propaganda”) and are still not allowed to enter the rest/majority of this former palace. When the guard was not paying attention, I entered a side door and went in and out quickly and saw something more interesting than just the square and the walls of the palace under restoration.  [ According to Lonely Planet/10th edition, the map on p.73, they should be Mohankali Chowk and Sundari Chowk. ]
 
Not helping the local drivers’ pockets, I walked almost 3 km (one way) to Swayambhunath and back. After all filthy roads and dirty traffic, one’d see the Buddhist stupa at the top of a 50 m (?) hill. The hikers are entertained or annoyed by hundreds of monkeys there, running and jumping around (outnumbering the dogs). This explain s why it’s called “Monkey Temple”.
 
1119171613_MultiThe reward for the non-religious hikers is of course the stunning view of Kathmandu. Apart from being at the top of a hill, is this Buddhist temple really that extraordinary ?! In fact, I didn’t spend too many minutes up there and quickly walked down and went back.
 
Kathmandu with all the narrow paths is like a maze. One thing I learnt (again) today is that I can’t / shouldn’t really depend on “Google Maps” all the time. Because by doing so, I just followed the Apps’ instructions and quickly lost any sense of direction. With GPS turned on, the phone would lose battery quickly and then without knowing where North or East is, you are really lost in the narrow and uncomfortable roads and human/engineering traffics. This morning when I suddenly felt lost and phone was low on battery, I asked a random lady for direction, in spite of communication difficulty, her finger pointing allowed me to where North was and from then on, I just re-gathered my sense of direction and only checked with Google very occasionally to see and confirm where I was. This has been a much better approach.
 
Dumpling is called “momo” in Nepal. I went to Yangling (Tibetan) Restaurant (which has ranked highly in TripAdvisor.com) and ordered pork steamed momos (10 of them) — Rs. 180 only and soda (Rs. 70). The new location of this restaurant (in Kaldhara, outside Thamel), along an unpaved road didn’t instill much confidence when I finally found it. The momos didn’t taste nearly as good as any Chinese dumpling that I have eaten, though of course I am quite biased here. It’s not spicy but its flavor gave a hint of spice. I have found it hard to finish all 10 momos. The soda was not sweet and was probably close to S.Pellegrino (but with a strange flavor). I also didn’t like it. I guess these were all new tastes to me and it’d take a lot of time to get used to.
 
Every day or night here, I need to climb 4 floors of staircases in my hotel (here the street level is G or 0 as the first level up is 1) to reach my room. Somehow, I have found it difficult to climb up quickly. I don’t think I have been always so tired or deteriorated physically so quickly. It should have something to do with the fact that Kathmandu is ~1400 m above sea level and hypoxia kicks in. So, I can’t expect myself to almost run 4 floors of staircases as I often did. Even just walking at the same level may get me into a fatigue state sooner than I usually do.

Written on Nov. 20, 2017:

Today I have walked a long way from my hotel in Thamel to Pashupatinath and then even a bit further (northeast), Bodhnath. Some areas outside central Kathmandu may look slightly better and are slightly more bearable than central Kathmandu (around Durbar Square). Though partly it may be that I have also got used to the horrible roads and traffic, indeed many roads are wider and some other roads are quieter, when one is away from central Kathmandu.
 
The most exotic experience today was the visit to the Pashupatinath Temple (Hindu) which is 4.5 km from my hotel and I walked for more than one hour to reach. Chinese online seem to call it the “corpse burning temple”. The entrance fee of Rs. 1000 (as expensive as that for Durbar Square) is a bit of a rip-off as only Hindus can enter this temple and other Hindu temples around. I was stupid enough to ask a question and was told to buy a ticket. There is a nonzero chance that one could sneak in without paying the fee. Because the ticket checking is far from diligence and was totally “government work”.
 
Though I couldn’t enter the big Pashupatinath Temple from the main entrance, I climbed the hills surrounding the Temple and saw quite a bit of it. In fact, one could enter through a side door or two. From those doors, I saw everything in the courtyards outside the main temple. 
1120171025a 1120171026

But the most interesting part is of course the burning scene outside the temple. Walking towards the Bagmati River where the burning took place, people approached you only to volunteer their guide service (only Rs. 100 or 200) and nobody asked to check my ticket. I got quite close to the actual burning and asked a guy whether they were burning was an animal and he replied firmly that it’s a human corpse. I then walked over the bridge to “appreciate” the corpse burning across the Bagmati River. I took pictures for the same corpse burning from both sides. A little while later, I noticed a hand coming out of the straw covering the body and the fire was probably too strong for people to try to put the hand back to the burning straw.

 
I was just observing with curiosity. Nothing seemed elegant to me but just nasty and even a bit obnoxious. I am typically not fond of ceremonies, esp. those after death. But from another angle, it’s similar to incineration but this is just open-air 😁
 
Walking away from the burning scene, there were rows of shrines and a few temples before one found roads with traffic across the Bagmati River again. For another half hour or so, I reached the Bodhnath Stupa (Tibetan Buddhist). I expected the entrance fee to be Rs. 200 but the sign indicated Rs. 400.  Feeling not very pleased, I decided to experiment the “evil” idea I had had for some time. I walked casually past the staff sitting at the entrance, with eye fixated at my phone. Not too surprisingly, I was not challenged and I have avoided the entrance fee ! Which was the most exhilarating element in this Bodhnath visit 😀
 
1120171144_MultiI was allowed to climb up the first level of the stupa and walk around. I also climbed the opposite Guru Lhakhang Gompa and took a couple more pictures. After a long lunch in one of the restaurants circling the stupa, I left and walked the 6-7 km back to Thamel.
 
1120171426_MultiWith a tired body, probably after another one and a half hours’ walk, I visited the Garden of Dreams, close to my hotel in Thamel. It seems to be the best place in Kathmandu and the entrance fee was only Rs. 200. It was first built by a British and later taken over by an Austrian company. It’s so serene, charming and elegant and clean that you’d forget about the the dirty world outside. It can be a small corner of Versailles or Summer Palace in Beijing (the most western portion?) or Schönbrunn in Vienna or even Drottningholm outside Stockholm. I could relax myself, wandering and sitting in various spots and reading a little of my Kindle book. I happened to spend almost two hours inside this lovely garden, more than the previous two religious locations.
 
Maybe, I have been brain-washed by the western civilization too much. My aesthetic assessment or most comfortable spot in my brain seems to be those of western style ?! But seemingly without traffic light, Nepalese vehicles can still move around the city or the entire country. And of course, without democracy, 1.4 billion people (elsewhere !) seem still to be able to live proudly and haven’t overthrown their govt. … Ah, today, I came across a mechanic sawing a steel exhaust pipe with all kinds of sparks but he wore no glove nor safety glasses at all. See ?! Just like democracy, safety is also unnecessary, hahaha 😀

Written on Nov. 21, 2017:

I finally saw the Kumari (living goddess) this morning in Kumari Bahal of Durbar Square of Kathmandu. The old Kumari was recently replaced by the current one about 1 month ago and she is only 3 years old. ( Kumari is replaced when she has her first menstruation 😄 )
 
I was able to go back to the Durbar Square (without paying for a new ticket) by making use of the Visitor’s Pass that I got 2 days ago. I was told that she would show up at about 10 am. I went back before 9:45 am. She didn’t show and experienced guides said that she’d show when there was a reasonably large crowd. I almost gave up but her mother (?)finally held her up over the window at about 10:25 am. After probably only 20 seconds or so, her appearance was cut short as her mother shouted and grabbed her away because she seemed to notice somebody was secretly taking a picture which was not allowed. The other time slot that one might see her is said to be around 4 pm.
 
The final afternoon was dedicated to Patan, south of Kathmandu. I walked almost 6 km to reach there. I was hoping that things may change slightly for the better. Nevertheless, the area around Durbar Square of Patan is just as overcrowded as that of Kathmandu. The air pollution, horrible roads and traffic are about the same, unfortunately.
 
In the Durbar Square of Patan, they now sell combined ticket of Patan Museum and the palaces (namely Mul Chowk and Sunday Chowk) at Rs. 1000. Chinese seem to have lost the privilege of paying less.
 

1121171453_MultiThe Durbar Square in Patan is smaller than that in Kathmandu. Fortunately, the Patan Museum and the two “Chowks” seemed to be fully opened to the public which made it more interesting than just temples (as it’s essentially the case in Kathmandu).

1121171508In the Sundari Chowk, I found a carved sunken water tank, called “Tusha Hiti” (according to “Lonely Planet/10th edition”, p.141), they looked very similar to me to those that I saw in Hanuman Dhoka.  

Lonely Planet put a “star” for the Golden Temple and so I paid Rs. 50 to enter. There are so many Buddhist temples in the world and it’s difficult for this one to stand out. The gilded metal made it look golden and they are not really made of gold. Too bad 🙂

After visiting this Buddhist temple, I didn’t feel like visiting other temples (of any religion).  I was running short of Nepalese rupees.  There was one foreign currency exchange shop opposite to the Durbar Square.  I was curious and walked along Mangal Bazar towards Pulchowk.   But I’ve found no more exchange shop.  Though I’ve found a bank and entered, the staff told me that they had officially closed and told me to go back to Durbar Square to change money.  That’s what I did at the end.   After a dinner, I looked for a taxi to go to the airport.  When I asked the first taxi driver how much it’d cost to go to the airport, he asked me how much I was willing to pay.  I said Rs. 500 and he said it’s impossible and he wanted Rs. 700.  I didn’t like him and go away.  I walked back to the Durbar Square taxi stand, I asked a younger driver and he wanted Rs. 600.  Though I tried to bargain for Rs. 500, he said that it’s at night (actually it’s probably just past 6:30 pm or so) etc.  Though I might tried harder and got to Rs. 500, I suddenly felt that it’s not that meaningful to save another US$1 when that $1 seems more important to those drivers than myself.  And so I just accepted the Rs. 600 offer and took his ride through a path with less traffic but horrible and bumpy to the airport.

Sitting at the Tribhuvan airport, I’ve not started to miss Nepal yet. The most peculiar Nepalese feature is probably its time zone of GMT+5:45, which is even more awkward than India’s GMT+5:30. They don’t seem to be thinking for the tourists.
 
Last year about this time, I visited Dubai which has combined ultra modern and rich elements with the historical past and poor aspects. Kathmandu is far from being called “modern”. I haven’t reached Mount Everest and its other wild natural aspects. In my opinion, Mount Everest is “very rare” 😁 whereas the undesirable roads and traffic (with cars, motorcycles, people, dogs, monkeys …) are probably what the vast majority of Nepalese are in contact with every day, rather than Mount Everest.
 
By the way,
 
— the mobile data speed in Kathmandu/Patan is only close to the level of that in Luang Prabang of Laos when I visited in 2014. It’s mostly H (3G) and occasionally E (provided by “NCell).
 

— the security at the airport likes to do body search both at arrival and departure. They did it quite quickly but rudely and when their hands running through my body reached the waist and about forcefully, it gave me tic(s). When passing the security, they have separate lines for ladies and gentlemen 😁

 

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Making use of “Museum Day Live!” … Amazon bookstore … thinking/indulging in my random thoughts

Originally written on Sept 23, 2017 :

While searching for “what to do in NYC this weekend” last night, I realized that this Sat. (today/Sept. 23, 2017) is this year’s “Museum Day Live!”, ie., a day of free entrance to many museums. I’ve made use of this opportunity once some years ago with my Mom. But this time, I’ve picked two museums, “The Rubin Museum of Art” and “Morgan Library & Museum”, out of the museums which normally require fees. The rule is just that one email address for one ticket for each museum and I walk/visit fast.

“Rubin” vs “Morgan” is like Asian vs Caucasian and/or Religion (Hinduism/Buddhism) vs Aristocracy …

The Rubin Museum of Art was said to be focused on Himalayan art and I mainly saw religious art from India, Tibet, Nepal and somehow Mongolia 🙂 It’s mainly Hinduism and Buddhism, esp. Tibetan Buddhism. As usual, religious materials don’t really touch my heart and I tend to view the artwork superficially. Probably Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photos about Mahatma Gandhi and esp. those when/after he was assassinated, have appealed to me the most. The Indians seemed to really love him. Gandhi symbolizes India’s Independence. History is not like physics that one can do and repeat various experiments to verify. One can’t really take out a piece (such as a person like Gandhi) in history and calculate reliably to figure out what would have happened (such as whether India would be independent anyway without Ganhdi). HK’s news these days can’t avoid mentioning the idea of independence even though the news item itself may be an attempt to suppress it. To me, uttering/protesting in independence is a reaction to the oppressive political atmosphere. Unfortunately, there is no simple formula one may follow in history or politics to succeed. I can’t help thinking of Lee Kuan Yew who relied on the British and Malays to get rid of the Communists (~Chinese) — his political rival, and less than 2 years after joining the Malaysian Federation, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia and became independent (with an ethnic Chinese majority population) due to racial conflicts etc. I don’t think Lee Kuan Yew was really so magical that he’s the mastermind behind and intelligently designed all these. But he was certainly an opportunist with some sly or crafty surviving skills in politics. I imagine that if HK were one day becoming independent, there was probably something very significant happened to China and the Communist Party. I guess both Gandhi and Lee understood the British (and the Malay in the case of Lee) very well which helped them succeed. Focusing on just HK and ignoring everything in Mainland China probably wouldn’t help the cause of independence. It’s back to the same old principle of “know your enemy and know yourself” in the art of war that Hollywood movies have recited more than once.

Only in the latter half of wandering around in the Morgan Library and Museum, did I realize that this “Morgan” is the “Morgan” in J. P. Morgan (Chase) and Morgan (Stanley). I felt really ignorant and stupid. The arts there didn’t really impress me much. The saving grace is the classy library portion of the complex. Being there, I could try to imagine myself a little bit like wandering inside the Bodleian Library of Oxford. I don’t go to nightclub or disco but visiting library is really my thing 🙂 I could easily imagine myself to be indulged in a personal library such as this rich fellow’s !

Trotting towards the Penn Station, I came across the Amazon bookstore and immediately decided to catch a later train in order to pay this place a first visit. Entering the store, not sure why, my mind immediately thought of old bookstores such as “Borders”. Amazon.com has helped kill many bookstores and now it opened its own ?! Hmm … I guess this bookstore shows/sells the most popular books or gadgets that people want in amazon.com. After the last 10 years or so reading some New York Times Best Sellers, I could recognize many popular novels or at least the authors. After a bit of effort, I found the few shelves of “Science and Nature” in which the only physics books were “Brief History of Time”, Lisa Randall’s book trying to link dark matter with dinosaurs and a few of Neil deGrasse Tyson’s. I think this bookstore is completely about popularism and probably nothing else. It doesn’t seem to allow you to find anything outside the mainstream.

Before taking the subways to visit the above Manhattan museums, I actually went to borrow book(s) in Jamaica. I guess, as I “traveled” alone, I could do a lot of things in the most hasty and efficient manner that I wanted to. People may ask why one wants ‘efficiency’ or this or that in travel. I guess that’s the privilege of solo travel that you can choose something no matter how ridiculous it is. It’s got me to think that it’s like life as well. Travel = Travel(x1, x2, …) and Life = Life (y1, y2 …). Everybody could pick their most beloved factors to decide what they want to do and not to mention that, even for the same factor, you could formulate or treat it very differently. Unlike gravitational force F = GmM/r2 (which is kind of true everywhere … until you get too close to a huge mass), there is no such thing for the meaning of life. If the gravitational law is different from Canada to USA, it’d not be called a law. The meaning of life is even different from person to person, not to mention from country to country. Therefore, universally, there is no common meaning, or can we say it’s meaningless ?! … This explains why somebody want to live to save people while others want to kill people. Like “natural selection” in evolution, when people want to live together, the doctrine of saving people and helping each other gets to prosper, through Confucius or Moses or Jesus …It then becomes what is called “moral”. But this is just pragmatism, nothing really fundamental. In some crime scenes, people often say that they don’t understand why people can make such and such cruel act. But why not ?! In all the thousands of years, making use of Confucius, Jesus or moralism, you can only try to educate or brainwash people to “do good”, but there is nothing fundamental there and things don’t have to be that way. Everything is just artificial. People can define their Life = Life(killing people, ….) and the Sun tomorrow will still rise from the East. Though there will be (legal) consequence if you kill, the law of physics or chemistry or biology would not stop you from doing so. If electron mass were not ~0.5 MeV, the Universe would be very different. But if Kim and Trump started Nuclear War tomorrow, most likely there will still be some people left after the Nuclear War … Even the species of homo sapiens becomes extinct, the electron mass won’t change and electrons continue to exist and behave in whatever way electrons have been doing for billions of years.

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How to earn a few bucks while reading a book …

Originally written on Aug. 19, 2017 (Sat.):

People often give a lot of different meanings to (probably meaningless) life … but I very often think life is about how to waste ( — people use “spend”, “make use of” etc. but “waste” is closer to my appetite / taste / sentiment / philosophy … ) one’s lifetime.

Having been living in USA for over 20 years, it’s my common knowledge that if you care, you can often make a phone call to ask your utility (and other) companies to reduce their service charges etc.; or if you don’t care, your utility costs will just quietly increase 🙂 Verizon has made a $5 increase in my “phone+internet” bill. I’ve thought a bit and concluded that I care 🙂 Today (Sat.), I finally called.

In terms of getting to talk to a person in Verizon on phone, weekend is worse than weekday as there aren’t many staff available etc. and there is longer wait.  Even worse, a couple years ago somehow (without my explicit consent) Verizon started to route my phone call to their Chinese (Cantonese/Mandarin) speaking staff in their customer service dept. (after their computer system could identify me by phone no. etc., I guess).  And these Chinese speaking staff don’t work in the weekend (like today) and so when I followed their regular phone instructions, I ended up with a message telling me to call them back in the weekday. Moreover, due to my (limited) statistics, I somehow feel that I’d gain more benefits if I talk to English-speaking staff in the customer service 😦 🙂

Just like for any other animal, “evolution” drive manifests itself 🙂 Very soon after the above phenomenon, I found an almost scientific (scientific — as it’s repeatable and should work for everybody …) method to bypass those Chinese-speaking staff or get to talk to Verizon customer service dept. in the weekend. One just needs to call “technical support” and then they would route you to the English-speaking customer dept. staff who work even on Sat.

Today, “technical support” (of Verizon) has just kept me waiting for maybe 10 minutes or so. After a little explanation, they transferred me to the customer service/billing personnel. I knew it’d be long but today it’s really long, like >2 hours !  Leaving the phone in “speaker mode”, I was reading Haruki Murakami’s book and wondering whether he’s again been nominated for the Nobel Prize this year and would this year be finally his ?!  The Verizon phone-waiting music and advertisement has got a few different styles that cycled repetitively … After ~1.5 hour, I began to lose hope. I decided to leave the phone on and drive out to the nearby Home Depot to pick up the toilet seat that I’d ordered, which just arrived this morning. I think I came back home probably ~25 minutes or so later.  And interestingly, the phone music was still playing !!!

I kind of almost gave up and told myself to maybe call them during the week … and was about to go out for lunch.  But soon after 1 pm, the phone music suddenly stopped and a lady finally spoke out.  My mood was cheerful and I didn’t need to argue or plead (though one minute into the conversation, I did humor her with their guilt of keeping me wait for >2 hours), that lady checked for promotion + discount and came back a couple minutes later with a result of $6.01 deduction 😁 Even more saving if taxes/fees are included … As I said, you have to care enough to call to get those stupid promotion/discount; otherwise, they wouldn’t do this automatically.

Though I have to wait a bit to see all the nos. materialized in the actual Verizon bill, I felt like winning a battle … even though it’s not against certain dictatorship or white supremacy, hehe 🙂 I don’t remember I’ve ever waited for so long and ended up with something fruitful.

In any case, what a “good” waste of time ! … ( Well at least, many pages of Murakami’s book has been read. )

 

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Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity

9780735213920When I borrowed this book (from the library), my purpose/intention was to try to see whether I may learn something about the theory of loop quantum gravity.  At the end, though I don’t feel that I have grasped too substantially about the theory of loop quantum gravity, the author does seem to make the readers feel very straightforward to accept that the space at the smallest level is quantized (as quanta of gravity).  It seems to be the most natural thing in the world.  “Of course !” one may exhale in one’s mind.  Probably, only the part that the space as a sort of substratum or backdrop has disappeared is slightly more difficult to thoroughly comprehend.

The other thing that the readers would learn well from this book is that time doesn’t exist at the fundamental level. Because we never measure time in reality but only other physical variables such as how many beats for each oscillation or how many ticks of a stopwatch, and their relationship. In particular, time does not exist in the Wheeler-DeWitt equation, the solutions of which has given rise to “loops” — first found by the famous Lee Smolin together and Ted Jacobson, p.159. Which was the beginning of loop quantum gravity. In p.249-252, the author has explained quite well about “Thermal Time” by comparing time to heat as kind of an average of many variables. Time, like heat, doesn’t exist at the most fundamental level but it exists as a useful and convenient variable. In fact, the entire Chapter 12, “Information”, including “Thermal Time”, has done a good job in explaining the information theory, probably not because I have read about this subject quite a number of times.

Another distinct and interesting “tidbit” that I’ve learnt from this book is that black hole or the universe would explode or bounce back (Big Bounce) if they get squashed or contract to (presumably approaching) the level of the quanta of space/gravity due to quantum repulsion. The quantum repulsion is not explained clearly (eg. in p.207-208) as “All of this is still at an exploratory stage” (1st line of p.209). Nevertheless, it’s said that when the space is very very small, the universe is just “spread-out cloud of probabilities in which time and space wildly fluctuate” (3rd-4th lines of p.208). ( As a side note, the author still uses the word “time” here though time should not exist at the fundamental level. Maybe, the author is just using an average sense of “time” as it’s what most readers are familiar with anyway ? Or, even the author himself can’t get rid of the old habit of thinking of time ?! This is just one of the places where I might have been confused or bewildered after the idea of “time doesn’t exist” was so ingrained in my brain. ) It seems to me that these loop theorists must like some kinds of cyclic models of the Universe, contracting and bouncing back. But what if the Universe keeps expanding and even in an accelerating pace as we’re observing now, which leads to no scenario of contraction ?!

Even though the quantized space has been so well explained, the loop quantum gravity itself is not really convincingly explained.  Though the readers may learn about the “spin network” as the quantum state of gravitational field and later “spinfoam” as a sort of spacetime structure, when a reader comes across the author’s 3 equations of loop quantum gravity on a T-Shirt in Fig. 7.7 on p.191, s/he probably doesn’t feel delighted or excited as those 3 equations were not really explained (not to mention derived) but they were there just to show that the theory of loop quantum gravity can be summarized in a T-Shirt 😦   By the way, the word “spin” is used only because the result involves half-integers which are like spins in quantum mechanics.

On p.187-190, the author explains that the probability of any physical event can be calculated by summing over all possible spinfoams, using the equations of loop quantum gravity (of course !).  Apparently, they take advantage of the two techniques used heavily in quantum field theory and for Standard Model, Feynman diagrams and the lattice approximation — as in “lattice QCD” I guess (as the author doesn’t say explicitly).  These two tools are so famous and broadly exercised and yet they haven’t helped the loop theorists produce useful results that we can verify experimentally ?!  The only example that the author has mentioned is the spectrum of (cosmic) background radiation as predicted by loop quantum gravity.  They are hoping that the wide-angle fluctuations they have predicted, which are different from those theoretical predictions that do not take quanta into account (p.218-219), may show up and be verified in future (satellite/space) experiments with enough precision.

One thing I don’t really share with the author’s enthusiasm is his tendency to tell us again and again that the philosophers/scientists thousands of years ago already had the same ideas of the modern dates. Once or twice may be OK or even cute but there are just too many of this kind of “forced analogy” (in my opinion) in this book. The most long-winded example is probably in p.97-106, where the author tries to tell us that Dante’s poem “Paradiso” has described 3-sphere as in Einstein’s finite universe without border. And of course, Democritus knew pretty much everything, certainly not just atoms, but even the information theory (p.242). Maybe, Italian readers would enjoy reading these frequent mentions of ancient philosophers (even though they’re not Italians). But it’s just too much for me. Sometimes it’s even given me a feeling of going to the Bible to look for answers for modern scientific problems, which is obviously opposite to the scientific and experimental spirit of this book.

In the first paragraph of p.89, on p.214-215 and p.220-221, the author apparently mentions the LIGO’s discovery of gravitational wave in 2015/2016. This is definitely an addition to the original Italian version which was first published in 2014. By the way, the author does make use of the absence of discovery of supersymmetry at LHC/CERN (or elsewhere) to his advantage, to at least give the loop quantum gravity a little “+” in comparision to (super)string theory 🙂

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