Postcards from Scotland


Earlier this year, I visited Scotland right after a trip to Berlin. I’m always nervous visiting a place that’s been touted as breathtaking because… what if it doesn’t deliver? After devouring haggis (more please!), interacting with the architecture of Edinburgh, and being humbled by the absolute beauty of the Highlands, I can safely say that this land lives up to the hype. Here are the postcards I meant to send.

edinburgh 2

My first impression of Edinburgh

I noticed a beautiful convergence of ancient and modern architecture as soon as I arrived. There was an Escher-like double level portion of the city and stunning vistas that looked infinite, yet seemed to lay within arm’s reach of the city’s buildings.

As usual, I preferred wandering through the city with few preconceptions instead of following a mapped-out itinerary. My biggest goal for the trip was to finally taste their infamous national dish: haggis. The rest, I trusted, would flow naturally.


My first plate of haggis

Sheep’s intestines! That’s all I ever heard, generally with a note of disgust, about this notorious Scottish dish. The thought made me think it’d be a squeaky, chewy plastic-like sausage full of mush. Well, it is a sausage of sorts, but I was wrong on all the other counts. I sat down in a proper pub and asked for their traditional haggis plate proudly, as if they would pat me on the head for being a good tourist.

“D’ya want neeps an’ tatties wi’ tha’, miss?” the bright-eyed waitress asked. Yes, I nodded. Yes to all of it, I wanted to taste Scotland! I didn’t even ask what neeps and tatties were. They sounded like provocative parts of the sheep, honestly, but I was there for the full experience.

Soon enough, my platter of food came out, steaming and fragrant. It was delicious! Haggis is sausage with the casing removed after cooking, so there were no actual intestines to chew through. It was spiced lamb (yes, the offal, get over it people) mixed with oatmeal, yielding an incredibly satisfying texture, sort of like al dente pasta with earthy ground meat that I could roll around on my tongue.

You can’t get the real thing in the States, so get it if you go to Scotland. It’s absolutely worth it!

st giles cathedral

Visiting St. Giles’ Cathedral

From afar, I spied the open cupola of St. Giles’ Cathedral and loved it. It was light and airy and so intricately carved that it resembled garlands of flowers that had suddenly turned to stone. It became my true North for the entirety of my stay: I sought out a glimpse of it wherever I was in the city.

One day, when my friend and I finally ventured into the cathedral, the atmospheric sounds of a choir surrounded us. The singers’ voices were so pure and open that the air around me felt lighter, as if I might start floating without its weight to hold me down.

Bright clear sunlight poured in through stained glass windows, spilling vibrant colors everywhere, as if I’d entered a painting at the moment of its creation. Enveloped in this aural and visual enchantment, I wandered into all the tiny alcoves along the perimeter and drank in the carved wood walls and ceilings of the Thistle Chapel within.

scott monument

Climbing the Black Tower

Large, forboding, and ominously black against the bright blue sky, the Scott Monument (but forever known as the Black Tower in my mind) looked like the skeletal remains of some ancient architectural dinosaur. I climbed up steps that curved around and around inside the narrow tower, gasping at the view (and at the steep climb) before realizing there were three more levels to ascend.

Each section was increasingly claustrophobic in the rapidly narrowing staircase and each viewing balcony progressively smaller. The result, at the top, where there was barely room to scrape one’s body between the curved stone wall of the tower and the railing, was a bottleneck of tourists trapped at the top with no way to descend while people kept filing up those tiny, steep steps.

The (literally) breathtaking view of Edinburgh was worth it though, and in the end, my New Yorker attitude saved the day. I yelled down the tiny stone staircase that everyone had to start backing down to a lower level to allow us our escape, and luckily, they complied.


Exploring the Highlands

Speaking of escapes, my friends and I decided to drive up into the Highlands for a day to dazzle our city dweller minds with natural wonders. We sampled roadside beef patties, squealed at baby lambs (all tiny balls of white wool teetering on impossibly thin black legs along bright green fields with constantly surprised expressions on their little faces), and gasped as our car climbed higher and higher on the road around a mountain range, each turn revealing new unimaginable vistas.

There is no way to capture the vast beauty of the Highlands. There was just the humbling realization that we would be an invisible speck, possibly mistaken for the shadow of the leaf of a tree, to anyone gazing down on this land from up high.

It was so large that my mind could not contain it, and when I accepted this fact and stopped straining to remember it all, the wide blue of the sky and the infinite shades of green and rust red of the earth filled my skull, projected upon the interior like the most wondrous film.


What is Shirley Chan?

A rainbow!!  For one day only, come see me in full-on face and body paint and costume as a pretty pretty rainbow.  And, oh yeah, support a great cause too!

The Hudson River Pageant is a FREE parade and performance art  event to celebrate and help clean up the Hudson River (yes!  it can be done!).  There will be performers and Shirleys dressed as different seasons, natural phenomena (did I mention I would be a rainbow??) and aquatic species (please refrain from making blue crabs jokes).  It will begin at 1pm on the Marina behind the World Financial Center and then move northward along the river.

Come!!  If only to take blackmail-worthy pictures of me.  Yaaay, nature!!

Viva las Shirley!

As those on Facebook know, I went to Vegas for a friend’s wedding.  It was a few weeks ago, but it has taken this long to process everything that went down!  In my three days there, I hit extemes in partying, relaxing and nature’ing (work with me).  I’ll start with the partying.  I know my audience.

The first night began with a room full of blonde wigs and Hollywood makeup artists wielding false eyelashes.  All wedding guests had to be dressed as either Marilyn (Monroe) or Elvis (Presley).  I chose to be Marilyn.  Finally, I had a chance to experience life on the other side of the great hair color divide.

Bewigged, red lipsticked and beauty mark drawn, I joined the gang for a cocktail in the lobby of the Bellage (the Bellagio and I are BFFs and have nicknames for each other;  my nickname is “room 1140”).  Tourists pointed at us and took pictures and waved like we were celebrities.  We waved back because we were feeling magnanimous.

After cocktails, we were bussed to Fremont Street, the original Vegas Strip with the Golden Nugget Casino and the winky cowboy sign.  Once there, we walked a red carpet and posed for the paparazzi.  At least, I hope they were paparazzi.  They could’ve just been old men with nice cameras.  Whatever.  We made somebody happy.

The party was amaaaazing!!  Thank goodness I never tried acid because the scene would have triggered a flashback for sure.  Everywhere I looked, there were flashing casino lights, sequin jumpsuits, sneering Elvii and pouting Marilyns.  I would turn and people would hand me giant hot dogs and whiskeys and sticks of cotton candy.  Showgirls pranced around with feather headdresses and peacock tails.  And just when I thought I had seen it all, a Cookie Monster Elvis emerged from the crowd and performed an energetic striptease!  Blue.  Fur.  Everywhere.

The entire street was covered with what appeared to be a curved awning, but was really a gigantic television screen.  At one point in the night, this ceiling screen began to flash pictures of the bride, Mandy, as the song “Mandy” played.  The street fell silent.  After the song finished, the words “Will You Marry Me?” appeared on the screen.  Everyone simultaneously swooned.  Even the slutty Cookie Monster.

After dancing for five or six hours, our crowd of Elvii and Marilyns crowded into the roadway of the Little White Drive-thru Chapel to cheer as the bride and groom got hitched in a pink Cadillac convertible.  It was almost too much for some.  One overly excited Elvis took a running leap onto the back of the Caddy and started performing hip gyrations.  I guess he wanted to give the happy couple his blessing.

That was just the first night.  The second night, the wedding party marched through a long corridor made of balloons to enter a mansion decked out in streamers, disco balls, blown-up yearbook photos and even more balloons.  The guests were all dressed up for prom, but everyone had different ideas of what “prom” meant.  My good friend, the Greek Goddess, did the 1980’s proud with a bright teal and fuchsia getup complete with a piece of tissue tucked into the bosom of her dress.  There was a happy hippie couple in matching Afros and white bellbottom suits.  And there were lots of nerds in plaid suits, hitched-up pants, pocket protectors and taped-up glasses.  In fact, I vaguely remember beating one up in my wine rage.  I’m sure he had it coming.  He was probably trying to talk smart to me or something.

In the back of the mansion, a photo booth masqueraded as a kissing booth, prompting many inappropriate photos of which we shall never speak.  Ahem.  And upstairs, in the master suite, models in lingerie fed guests champagne and strawberries.  Funny.  I don’t remember anything like that at my high school prom.  Guess I just can’t escape the porn.  The industry just sucks you in!

Those were the parties.  And believe me, what I described were just the highlights.  It may take me years before I fully process what happened in Vegas (do not complete that sentence with “stays in Vegas”).  On to the relaxing.

Aah the Bellage.  There was no better way to recover from the 10-hour parties than by laying in the sun by the pool and sipping on a Caesar.  I have no idea what was in a Caesar, but it was ten times better than a Bloody Mary and made my troubles go far, far away.

I hung out in a cabana on the first day.  That was pretty cool.  We lounged on slightly elevated ground and literally looked down on non-cabana people.  It ended awkwardly, however, when some sort of banker’s conference started to have a private party in the courtyard right next to the cabana and pool area.  I woke up from a lovely nap to find a hundred finance geeks in matching grey polo shirts and khakis staring at me in my bikini.  And I didn’t get a single date out of it.  Ouch.

On to the nature’ing.  A bunch of us got to tour the Grand Canyon via a small plane.  I was so relieved when it lived up (down?) to expectations!  When our plane first entered the canyon, the rock formations and valleys seemed impressive, but not mind-blowing.  I started to wonder if I was missing something when the bottom of the world suddenly dropped out.  I almost peed myself.  The Grand Canyon went so deep that I thought I would see the white hot lava at the center of the earth.  Or China (hi, grandma!).

Another group was brave enough to skydive into the canyon.  Wow.  I definitely would’ve peed myself if I did that tour!

At the end of the weekend, one of my friends rented a cherry red convertible and drove us out of the city and into Red Rock Canyon.  The views were spectacular!  The rocks were all different colors and shapes, and wimpy as I was, I managed to climb up a few of them.  Up there, I was engulfed by a blue sky with clouds that stretched into infinity, endless scrubby grass plains and a chain of mountains anchoring it all together.  It really put my tiny little dot of life into perspective.

That was my weekend in Vegas.  I felt like I lived an entire lifetime for each day that I was there!