The Redfern Terrace: Week 186

Illustration of a terrace home in Sydney. By: Stephanie Potell

Jason, the realtor, rocked up forty minutes late on his bike. He was in his early twenties and super keen about his job. “Because of the time of year,” he began as he led us into the house, “most of your flatmates are moving out. This creates exciting potential for you to pick your new flatmates. You could even recommend your friends and share the place with people you know!”

Ever since moving to Sydney, I have lovingly gazed upon the terrace homes that populate the inner west. It wasn’t too long ago that many of these urban homes were neglected and undesirable, but that definitely isn’t the case anymore. The same property that sold for $25,000 in the 1970s could now potentially fetch a million dollars. The neighborhood we were in, Redfern, had a funky vibe and the terrace we were looking at had space to store our bikes on the patio.

I have a good feeling about this! If this is the one we can move in this weekend!

Just after this thought popped into my mind, we reached the living room. It was dark and sparse like a bachelor’s pad. Jason pointed out the ‘new’ couch and then led us into the kitchen that looked significantly better online.

“We have inspections twice a year and if everything is not up to standard, then the tenants get a warning.” Jason explained. “If the house continues to be dirty, then we hire a cleaner. Don’t worry, this house had never failed inspection.” I’m sure Jason thought that was a great threat, but to me it sounded more like a great idea.

From the kitchen Barret and I were led outside and along the side of the house to the small brick courtyard. A bunch of our potential flat mates were huddled around the BBQ grilling meat and drinking beers. “We didn’t plan this!” Jason exclaimed. “I swear!” He chuckled before pointing out a small brick building in the furthest corner of the yard. “And the best part is that you don’t have to go inside to use the nice toilet- you can use the one out here.”

After greeting the group of guys, we walked back inside and up to what I really wanted to see- the bedroom with the terrace. The terrace was just as nice as I had imagined it would be. A cool breeze blew in through the double doors and the neighbor’s red bottlebrush tree blossomed at eye level. I could see myself on the weekend propping my legs up with a cup of tea and people watching the morning away. I loved it.

The only problem was the rest of the house. The online ad had mentioned two bathrooms, but that number included the brick outhouse in the backyard.

“Uh, Jason, how many people live here again?”

“It would be six including you.”

“And there’s only one shower?”

“Yes.”

No wonder there were only guys living there. “Hmm… I thought there were two showers.”

“Well, I can’t make another one appear.”

No kidding I thought, but it probably wouldn’t have hurt to advertise the property more accurately. Jason impatiently shrugged his shoulders and began reading every minute detail on the lease. You can have 5-9 people over before you need to ask permission. There’s a $50 charge if you call us out for something unnecessary like for a broken vacuum when really the bag is just full. The oven is gas which is great because it heats your food up faster. Are you familiar with them?

While Jason read the four page document out loud, one of the flatmates walked downstairs clutching his own roll of toilet paper. Jason must have noticed this too because he mentioned again how nice it would be if we got our friends on board. “It’s just better when you share things, you know?”

Jason was eager for us to sign, but I politely deferred. “I’d like to look at the bathroom again before I make up my mind.” Barret and I headed back upstairs. The shower floor was covered in hair and a million bottles. The room was small and humid and I realized that I already hated the idea of touching anything in there.

In fact I hated everything except for the balcony, and you know what? The price had somehow increased by $20 a week.

It was our first time house-hunting for an old two-story terrace and it would have been great if it were the right place, but that’s just not how the Sydney real estate market works. And so the search continued…

Marina Bay Sands & Gardens by the Bay: Week 185

Polaroid of the Marina Bay Sands and Helix Bridge: Singapore

Barret grabbed the railing above his head as the train picked up speed. The Circle Line to Bayfront was an air-conditioned bubble packed full of locals and tourists. Aside from the announcements, there was also a route map on the wall which Barret used to track our progress.

“Only six more stops to go,” he whispered as he leaned in my direction.

“Huh?”

“Six more stops,” Barret repeated, but I still wasn’t paying attention. A pungent odor had drifted my way and I needed to find the source. “Hey…” I cautiously began. “Did you put any deodorant on?”

“Nope. I didn’t have time.” This declaration made Barret feel proud. It was the same kind of conflicted pride that people get when they videotape their kids redecorating the kitchen with a bag of flour. It’s a disaster, but it’s also a very well executed disaster that could go viral.

“Funny how that always happens right before we go somewhere humid.”

“Yeah.”

“You think maybe that would be the first thing on your list…”

“Yeah.”

“Yeaaaah.” It was too late to turn back to Changi Airport, where we had left our luggage for the day. “Just keep your arms down.”

Ticket for Flower Dome at the Gardens by the Bay: Singapore

Singapore is hot and muggy all year, but that doesn’t deter tourists. Respite from the temperature can be found at Gardens by the Bay. Two separate UK firms designed the massive gardens which only recently opened to the public in late 2011.

The main attractions are the two conservatories and the Supertree Grove. Barret and I visited the gardens on the only Monday in September that the Cloud Forest conservatory was closed for maintenance, so it was an easy decision to visit the Flower Dome instead.

Polaroid of succulents inside the Flower Dome: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

The garden was a beautiful mixture of plants from all over the world. There was everything from succulents and orchids to kangaroo paws.

Polaroid of small crystal garden inside the Flower Dome: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

One part of the South American display had a small crystal garden, another part had an anatomically correct cactus covered in white hairs. It was called Old Man of the Mountain.

The conservatory dome arched way above the multilevel grounds and through the glass we could see the harbor and Singapore skyline.

Ticket for the Supertree Grove Skyway: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

After spending a few hours in the Flower dome, we walked through the outdoor gardens to the Supertree Grove. This main grove has eleven fuchsia tree structures which perform a variety of functions. Some of the trees harvest solar energy and others serve as ‘air exhaust receptacles’ for the conservatories. From 9am-9pm a canopy walkway is open and at night the structures are illuminated for a synchronized light display.

Supertree Grove: Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

An hour or two before sunset, Barret and I walked back to the bay to get a look at the Marina Bay Sands. It was a stunning hotel from the outside, but it was even more airy and delicate inside. From the lobby, the structure reminded me of a delicately balanced house of cards.

Lobby of the Marina Bay Sands: Singapore

From there we walked along the bay, past the flower-shaped ArtScience Musuem, and across Helix Bridge. There were several promontories along the route with great views looking back at the Marina Bay Sands.

View of ArtScience Museum and Marina Bay: Singapore

We continued walking past joggers and stroller-pushers, the people who come out for the beautiful night breeze. An amateur photography group set up on the sidewalk to capture the highrise buildings and the bay.

Our visit was just a taster of what Singapore has to offer. We wanted more time to explore the colonial neighborhoods and the vibrant Little India, but we had a plane to catch and Changi Airport had an excellent shower hire facility. There was no way we were going to miss that before our international flight. No way at all.

How to get to the Marina Bay Sands: MRT Bayfront Station

Lobby of the Marina Bay Sands: Singapore

How to get to the Gardens by the Bay: Via Circle Line or Downtown Line- Take Exit B at the Bayfront MRT Station. Follow underground linkway and cross the Dragonfly Bridge or Meadow Bridge into the Gardens by the Bay

Dress Cafe: Week 184

Polaroids of a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

“Is it ok for Barret to see you?” Amy looked worried when she saw me come out of the dressing room in a strapless wedding gown. “He isn’t supposed to, right?”

“Nah, it’s fine.” I replied as I glanced at my freckled scoop-neck tan line in the mirror. “It’s not like it’s my real wedding dress.”

Amy, Eun Soon, Barret and I were right next door to Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul. Most good university neighborhoods cater to their student population, and in this regard Ehwa does not disappoint. Within walking distance from the hallowed school grounds are nail salons, jewelry carts, cafes, and tiny clothing shops crammed with pastel blouses and hair ribbons.

While those are all great reasons to visit the bustling neighborhood, the four of us were there specifically to visit a dress cafe.

Prior to arriving in Seoul, I had lamented the fact that the four of us didn’t have any photos together. “Eun Soon,” I declared as our flight drew nearer. “We need to go to a dress café.”

“You mean the wedding one?” She asked.

“No, just one with lots of dresses.”

Barret at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

“There are only two types,” Eun Soon quickly clarified, “hanbok and wedding.” The loose-fitting traditional Korean costumes, called hanbok, are beautiful and come in a rainbow assortment of colors. However, the idea of renting wedding dresses for a photo shoot with friends was just too oddly intriguing.

“Let’s take a bunch of wedding photos!” I decided. “Can you make a reservation?”

Tree prop at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

We were the only customers when we arrived at the café. The term ‘photo studio’ is a more apt description, but we did each order a sweet beverage. There was a large pink flowery tree behind us and over to our right was a vanity mirror piled high with makeup and glittery tiaras. The closet next to the vanity held three racks of dresses divided into four separate price categories. The most expensive dresses cost 40,000 won a session.

When I finished my drink I picked out a dress and slid the curtain across the closet. The barista helped me into my dress and afterwards asked what size shoe I wore. “Namu kun,” I replied and she laughed at the thought of my feet being too big for the 40 odd pairs of heels on the ground.

“Well,” Amy translated, “she said you should just wear your sandals.”

Choosing accessories at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

While I waited for the others I sidled up to the vanity to touch up my makeup and select a tiara. Almost immediately, the photographer came over, removed it, and put a different one on my head.

“OK?” She asked.

“Sure, why not.” I smiled. She then selected a necklace and clasped it around my neck.

“OK?”

“Yeah!”

A veil appeared next to my head in the mirror. Ii was long and had gauzy fabric and a lace detail along the edge.

“Heck yeah!” I wasn’t planning on saying no to anything.

While Barret was putting his tux on and selecting his bow tie, Amy and Eun Soon were curling the tips of their hair and touching up their makeup.

About an hour after we first arrived we were finally ready to go. I just don’t know if the photographer was ready for Barret.

Barret playing the piano at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

The group posing with a boquet at a dress cafe in Ehwa: Seoul, South Korea

The dress cafe rose room: Seoul, South Korea

How to get to Ehwa University neighborhood in Seoul: Line 2 – Ehwa Women’s University Station – Exit #3

Kayaking on the Occoquan: Week 183

Polaroid of Barret kayaking on the Occoquan River: Manassas, Virginia

My parents store two kayaks along the southern side of their house. One is red, the other is orange and the both of them are covered with a few days’ worth of cobwebs. It was hard to navigate them around the corner of the house and when I finally had the right angle, I bashed into a beautyberry bush. The impact caused small purple berries and a variety of spiders to scatter across the cement.

“The spiders come be back an hour after you put them away,” my Dad warned me as he stated brushing them off with his hand. “You can’t keep them away.”

He was right but I grabbed a broom anyway. I didn’t like the idea of being trapped in the middle of the river with a spider crawling up my leg. Once the kayak was swept down I plugged in the leaf blower. The nozzle blasted all the plastic crevasses and then I positioned it so that the air created a spinning vortex of debris inside the kayak. Nimble little spider bodies swept along the walls like those dizzying theme park rides that just spin and spin and spin.

When the kayaks were as spider-free as they were going to get, Barret and I carried them down to the Occoquan. The river was one of the reasons my parents bought that house. You can’t see it from the windows, but it’s only a short stroll through the patch of trees on the other side of the road.

Because it was summer, a million miniscule bugs bounced along the surface of the water, their bodies so light that their movement doesn’t even cause a ripple. As we paddled down river we saw jumping fish and turtles resting on water-logged branches. One statuesque white heron watched us approach before it suddenly burst skyward.

Colvin Run Mill: Great Falls, Virginia

Most of the homes along the river use the water for recreation. However, it wasn’t too long ago that these bodies of fresh water were important for food and transport. The Colvin Run Mill, which is 45 minutes north of my parent’s house, is a beautiful example of an early 19th century mill. The mill is still used for grinding and the nearby gift shop sells bags of cornmeal, grits, wheat and buckwheat flour.

Polaroid of flowers at Colvin Run Mill: Great Falls, Virginia

While my parent’s bend of the Occoquan is too tranquil for a watermill, it is the perfect speed for a gentle kayak ride. There is nothing better a hot summer’s day than a shady river and the rhythmic splash of a paddle breaking the water’s surface.

How to get to the Colvin Run Mill: 10017 Colvin Run Road, Great Falls VA 22066

Neon Museum Boneyard: Week 182

Polaroid of the Las Vegas Club neon sign: Neon Museum Boneyard, Las Vegas

I was with my color photo class the very first time I visited the Neon Boneyard. Even before it became a proper institution, a museum with a visitor’s center and a security guard, the Boneyard was something special.

As soon as my film was developed, I locked myself up in the photo lab. The color darkrooms were small individual rooms along a short dark corridor and they had a vinegary smell. It might not have been practical to study film in a digital age, but it felt more meaningful. My film was a tangible object that captured the jagged glass, the rusted metal, the heart and soul of Sin City history.

Polaroid of the Neon Museum Boneyard: Las Vegas

“Neon lighting took on a particular resonance in Las Vegas and in other parts of the open landscape of the Southwest. Without many trees or buildings, the illuminated neon sign could be seen from miles away in the evening. Western motels used the neon medium perhaps more than any other business. This was also perhaps afforded by the low profile of casino and motel buildings when casinos within Las Vegas’ city limits were once limited to two stories. The low, horizontal profile has allowed building-mounted signs to be seen at longer distances. Traveling north on the Strip, the neon glow of Las Vegas acted as a beacon signaling toward the city.”(Spectacular: A History of Las Vegas Neon).

Polaroid of the Lido neon sign: Neon Museum Boneyard: Las Vegas

Within the last two years, the neon collection has been split into two different yards- the North Gallery is for commercial shoots and weddings while the Neon Museum Boneyard is available for public tours. One of the most exciting new additions to the facility, which was still in the process of relocation the last time I was in town, is the visitor center. The clam-shaped lobby, designed by Paul Revere Williams, was salvaged from the demolition of the La Concha Hotel in 2005.

Polaroid of the Stardust neon sign: Neon Museum Boneyard: Las Vegas

The Neon Museum Boneyard is a testimony to the ebb and flow of Vegas culture. From the atomic font of the 50s to the kid-friendly themed signage of the 90s, the history of this desert valley is written in neon. Hotels might come and go, the wedding chapel vows too, but the Boneyard will still be around fifty years from now to document the changing city. At least, that’s what I would bet on.

Polaroid of wedding neon sign. Neon Museum Boneyard: Las Vegas

How to get to the Neon Museum Boneyard: 770 Las Vegas Blvd North

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