Thursday, September 20, 2012

Sky diving in Arizona

September 15, 2012. Together with my Taiwanese friend Randy we made our way on car from Sierra Vista to Eloy, Arizona. It was around a 3 hour drive, but made shorter through constant conversation, typically on what we were going to go through by the end of the day. For the both of us, it was going to be our first sky diving experience.

It starts off with registration in a small room, together with a couple of other people in our time slot. After signing our lives away on a stack of documents that declares they are not responsible for any accidents as well as us giving up our rights to sue in the event of any accident, we were ready for our training. Which actually wasn't anything much.

We paid additional money for digital stills and videos, and thus a dedicated camera man accompanied me for the jump. He was first to greet and introduced himself, and began our conversation by saying he has good news and bad news for me. Good news was that Kim, my instructor, was a lady. Bad news, he added, that she wasn't very good. You can imagine my reaction when he told me that. But of course he broke out in laughter and said he was only kidding. I managed to force a smile back.

A truck took us to the plane and the runway. I wasn't too excited nor nervous at this point in time really. But the trip up changed everything. As we rose, the buildings and cars began getting smaller and at this point I wasn't even joking around with Randy anymore. Somehow, the lack of instructions from Kim wasn't too assuring. She had only given me basic instructions back on land and I wasn't even strapped on to her yet. Till 3 minutes before we jumped out of the plane, that is. She told me to turn around, and began to strap my harness onto hers. Then we edged to the exit and this was the moment when the million dollar question popped into my head:

But there was no room for regrets. Nor hesitation. Before I knew it, Kim pushed me off and I was falling from 13,000 feet above ground level. To be honest, the feeling of free falling didn't last too long and I overcome the initial shock pretty quickly. I felt Kim tap my shoulders, which was the cue to let go of the harness, lift my chin up, and stretch my arms.

The free falling lasted about 1 full minute. I was trying my best to maintain a straight face, motivated by the camera man staring right in my face. I didn't really have the luxury of time to look around much and to enjoy the scenery nor feel the sensation of air rushing up my nostrils and mouth though. The camera man was too much a distraction.

However, I do remember the minute being extraordinary. The fear had completely left me, and I didn't even think or remember that Kim had full control over my life at that point in time. I was joking with Randy earlier that maybe they have this protocol to release the customers first in the event of an accident. That was a real question by the way. I just didn't have anyone to ask.

One funny thing was that I felt my shoes shaking because I didn't wear them too tight. I was afraid that they might fly off and that someone would see a pair of Adidas dropping from the sky.

I also remember my lips becoming very dry and I had to keep them moisturised because they were starting to crack. Breathing wasn't much of a problem. It's the air that keeps pushing against your face that makes it slightly uncomfortable. But that's not a problem when feel like you're on the top of the world. 

After Kim pulled the chute and our speed came to a refreshing halt, I finally found time to enjoy the view that the jump offered. She was nice enough to narrate everything she was doing and we also had a very enjoyable chat on the way down. She's had over 8000 jumps, though I'm not too sure in the world of sky diving how experienced that would mean.

The descent took a lot longer than the free fall but I wasn't complaining. In fact, I found it very relaxing. It was slow, and I could make out the landing zone and all the people that were running around in the facility. She also including a few spins that brought me almost parallel to the ground. It was pretty fun.

She instructed me to lift up my legs as high as possible once we were about to land, and I did as told. So in the end I landed on my butt, and we slided along on the grass patch. She should have told me to keep my mouth shut as well. I was all smiles and didn't know that I would be eating grass as all the pieces of grass came flying. Had to spit them out while releasing my harness.

For my efforts, Kim presented me with my First Jump Certificate and a commemorative T-shirt. Pretty cool stuff. It was a mere 10 minute wait for the DVDs of the photos and video (uploaded and linked via youtube below), which I thought was worth every penny.

On the whole, I thought it was a magnificent experience. I thank the opportunity that was presented to me, and otherwise I would never have gotten a chance to try this out back home or in Asia. Would I do it again? Definitely, but perhaps not with the camera man this time round. :)

Monday, September 17, 2012

New York, New York

I visited New York City a few weeks ago during one of the long weekends here. It took 2 flights to get there, around 5 hours of time from where I stayed in Arizona. And it's so different from the small little town where I live in. I already have the full album up on Facebook, so do check out the photos there. For this blogpost, I'll just briefly sum up where I visited during the weekend in NYC.

On the first night after touch down I visited Time Square, and then the top of the Empire State Building. Both were magnificent. I was speechless and both locations, and was in awe of the sheer spectacle presented to me. The bright lights as well as the crowds of people were a sight in itself. I was totally immersed in the environment and it slowly struck me that I was in the heart of NYC itself. On the top of the ESB, the view was equally mesmerising, if not more.

Next day I met up with my twitter friend Christine, who was so kind enough to give me a tour around the Manhattan and Brooklyn area. We took the subway and walked across the Brooklyn bridge, which was really awesome. I took a panoramic photo too, and more photos can be found in the album on FB. 

We also went to Toys R Us at the Time Square area, which was great. There were so many display items and sets there, including a fully operational ferris wheel inside. I was particularly impressed that they showed off actual Amazing Spider-man props, including Peter's mask, bag, and skateboard. They had a lot of other life sized displays too, not to mention a T-Rex from Jurassic Park.

We made our way to Wall Street too, where I got to take photos with the bull, iconic statues, and also a NYPD police officer and her police car.

Another important location we covered on that day was Central Park. Though, I didn't really had enough time to walk through it (it was huge). But it looked beautiful and if only I could have woke up earlier for a run inside it would have been a great experience.

The next day was spent in Chinatown, where I had my first good dim sum in quite a while. Next on the itinerary was The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The queue took over 90 minutes, due to the crowd congestion and also the security checks. But it was worth it. Although there's nothing much to see on Liberty island except for Miss Liberty herself, I spent quite a bit on the souvenir shop there :p

The last day was spent in Chinatown and Little Italy, buying souvenirs and having some good Chinese food before heading back home. There's just too many things to see, and there wasn't enough time to do the attractions justice. At least I've covered the important spots and got a feel of how life in the Big Apple feels like.

This is probably my only visit to NYC in the next couple of years, since it's so expensive to visit and it's too far away from home. I wish I could have brought my family along though. But I'm thankful that my work allows me to visit places which I would normally not have the chance to. I'll be updating the next few entries on my other trips around the US, but please don't have the impression that I'm not doing any work here. The weekdays aren't that much fun, I assure you :)