usa - learning points

Lots of Malaysians go to USA, be it to study, to work or to tour. Therefore there are not many learning points that I have to share other than what most of you may already know. So I’ll just share some answers to common questions I get after returning from the trip, plus some useful tips.

1. Getting a US Visa for tourist purpose? Nah, it’s not that difficult actually. Inconvenient, maybe. Expensive, absolutely (application fee was MYR 512 back in 2012). Difficult, not really. The first step was to fill in the online form. Then to print the confirmation and bring it to Standard Chartered Bank to make payment. Then to go to US Embassy for an interview, which is what most people are worried about. Tips? Just be prepared and be yourself. Remember basic information about your trip (i.e. why you want to go there, where you plan to stay, what you want to see). Some people get so nervous they forget the answers to these simple questions. Being proficient in spoken English helps aplenty. Having a stable job with a reputable company is also a plus point. Married? Even better. I read somewhere on the Internet, the idea is that they don’t want people to come to their country, find an ad-hoc job and refuse to leave. So if you can prove some sort of commitment back home (i.e. job, spouse, family) for you to return to, it will be easier to get a visa. Some people joke that if you are married, working and already have many stamps on your passport (meaning you are used to travelling), you’ll easily get a visa. If you are single, unemployed and just got your passport issued yesterday, be prepared to donate that MYR 512 to Obamacare. Yup, it’s non-refundable.

2. Going to Universal Studios? There are two things you absolutely must bring: raincoat and rubber slippers. They are really useful when you are going for water rides. Those rides are fun and shouldn’t be missed. What’s not fun is walking around the park soaking wet head to toe afterwards. So pack a raincoat. I bought a cheap disposable one (poncho style) at Guardian pharmacy. And don’t forget your beach (read: toilet) slippers.

3. Staying around Universal Studios? There are plenty of affordable hotels nearby, as long as you are willing to walk for a bit. The area south of the theme park is a very safe and pedestrian-friendly. We stayed at a cheap motel along International Drive and walked to Universal Studios to and fro. Absolutely safe, even late at night.

4. Shopping in Orlando? Take the cute I-Ride trolley bus at USD 2 per ride. It will bring you to both outlet malls (one near to Disney, one near to Universal). It’s rather tiny with only one door at the front, so wait for people to disembark before you board.

5. Catching domestic flights within USA? Be warned, the security checks are just as thorough as international flights. Make sure you start lining up to enter the departure hall at least 2 hours before your flight. The line can be very long and the officers tend to make you go through the screening again and again until they are satisfied that you are good to go. Taking off your footwear is a must, so I would advise wearing sandals instead of shoes. They are easier to remove and to put back on. If you wear boots with laces, I can assure you that you are going to have a long and uneasy time at the x-ray machine. And if you are a Muslim girl wearing headscarf like me, be prepared to get you head patted by the officers. Wondering if they ever find anything by doing so. Hmm…

Till next time, muah!

goodbye usa

Our two weeks party finally came to an end. It was a wonderful introduction to USA for me as a first time visitor. Before the trip many people warned me of discriminations I might face for being a Muslim girl wearing hijab. For me, all I had to do was being myself. I held my hijab-clad head high, put a huge smile and be friendly to everyone. People did ask questions about my religion (sometimes offensively), I answered them in good nature. They were just curious and it was my responsibility as a Muslim to provide clear explanation so they could understand better.

My lovely Latina looking travel buddy Fiza. She could pass as a local anytime.

Good bye USA. I had a really great time. From west coast to east coast and to the southernmost point, I truly achieved my American dream. Still, there are many more places to discover. Not to worry, my visa is valid for 10 years. Hope we meet again Uncle Sam!

warner bros studios tour & lakers game

Final full day of our long party in the USA and we intend to end it big! We started with a “movie star day” by going for Warner Bros Studios VIP Tour. Later we wrapped up with a “basketball star night” by watching LA Lakers vs Philadelphia 76ers. Now let the pics do the talking!

Welcome to Warner Bros Studios VIP Tour. There were several studio tours offered by different companies. After much research, we figured this one was the best.

Let the tour begin! Similar to yesterday’s tour at Universal Studios Hollywood, visitors were taken around by trams. But this time the trams had no poles, yeay! By the way if you watch Gilmore Girls, that’s Sookie’s house.

Oooh that’s scary. Notice it from anywhere?

Rosewood City Hall in the series Pretty Little Liars. Look on the right, do you see the bushes attached on green metal frame near the two lamp posts? Those are moveable bushes. They are used to block unwanted background. On camera they look like normal patch of greens. 

The gazebo is moveable too. Today it’s in front of the hall. Tomorrow it might be in someone’s backyard.

Workshop where they built the props.

1964 Ford Galaxie used by Agent K in Men in Black 3.

The banner says it all. I don’t think any channel on Astro shows this series.

Aaah.. my favourite movie!

We were showed how the green screen worked and got the chance to pose in it.

Any F.R.I.E.N.D.S. fan here? This one is for you.

I love watching Ellen. When the tour guide told us that each tram could choose two shows for our indoor tour, I quickly shouted “Ellen!” and got my pick! The other one was Big Bang Theory, chosen by a Chinese tourist. Too bad cameras weren’t allowed inside.

Then we went to Warner Bros Museum. The tour guide told us that Harry Potter exhibition was on the upper floor, so I immediately rushed upstairs.

Props for Professor Lupin’s class.

The hat said Gryffindor!

What happened to Hermione?

My cute little Dobby. I cried when you died.

Who could forget this scene!

Then I went down to the lower floor, which was for movie costumes.

Sandra Bullock’s spacesuit in Gravity.

Not sure which Batman movie this was for.

Done with the VIP tour. Thank you Daffy Duck!

There was no metro station near the studio, so we took a taxi and went straight to Walk of Fame. The nice taxi driver reminded us to be careful and watch our bags as there were lots of people there. Yes sir, will do. We spent the afternoon walking along the star-filled sidewalk. It was fun to check out famous spots that I often see on E! channel.

It’s no secret that I’m a proud CSI fan.

We had lunch at a halal fast food restaurant there (I’ll talk about it more in my halal features later), then return to the hotel early to pack our bags and rest, because we were going to spend the night watching Lakers game. When we planned for the trip, we had the choice to either watch Lakers or Josh Groban. Both of us agreed on Lakers so that we could experience something uniquely LA.

Staples Centre, home of LA Lakers.

The boys warming up. Kobe Bryant was out due to injury.

And the games began!

Laker girls strutting their stuff.

It was almost full house.

The boys in action.

Regrouping during the short break.

Final score. Lakers lost by merely 5 points. Ouch. But hey, look how happy the fans are anyway.

Another very happy fan.

It was the best ending we could ever hope for the trip. Never mind if we didn’t get to see Kobe Bryant. Never mind if Lakers lost. Watching the game live at Staples Centre was a dream come true. We returned to the hotel, did some last minute packing and had a good sleep. Flying home tomorrow!

universal studios hollywood

Our second Universal Studios visit for the trip. We bought the tickets online together with the “Front of Line” pass. The pass was rather costly, but since we didn’t want to waste time waiting in line, we went for it anyway.

Took the metro to Universal City and then waited for the tram across the road (near the Universal City signage) to get to the theme park.

Got our “Front of Line” pass from the tix counter and went inside.

The first attraction that we saw. Transformers, more than meets the eye. Transformers, robots in disguise.

Hey hey Bumbleblee!

And the Oscar goes to… *drumroll*

Imagine the suspense! Thank goodness we have Google now.

Devon Aoki’s outfit when she did Fast and Furious.

I was really excited to see this car!

Other than rides, the park also offers studio tour. 

Beautiful landscape of LA captured from a lookout point near the studio tour entrance.

The studio tour tram took us around to see various filming sites, actual props and reenactment of famous scenes by live actors. It was awesome! Too bad we had to stay inside the tram the entire time, thus most of my pics have tram poles in them, hurmmm…

Look at that, Back to the Future clock tower!

The casts of The Grinch sang and danced as we passed by.

Wow, that scene from Bates Motel. Goosebumps.

War of the Worlds aircraft crash. 

I didn’t take many pics of the rides because I was too busy enjoying them. By the way, I was sooo glad that I took motion sickness pill in the morning. Even after going on so many rides and getting thrown all directions, I didn’t feel drowsy at all!!! My experience this time was absolutely superb.

The…Simp…sonsss…

All Access Band. Not much attention given to them. But hey, if they suddenly become famous one day I have this picture to prove that I watched them live.

Just look at the waiting time! At this point I really felt that my “Front of Line” pass was worth every single penny.

WaterWorld show. Rated number 1 at Universal Studios Hollywood and deservedly so.

A pose with Whoville’s very own One Direction.

The last show that we saw. Pretty cool to see how they trained animals to become movie stars.

Good night Universal Studios Hollywood. It was fun!