Showing posts with label Illinois. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Illinois. Show all posts

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Illinois, USA: Random musings from DeKalb, Illinois

DeKalb, Illinois is a university town playing host to Northern Illinois University. We'll be leaving DeKalb in a few days. I can't imagine this has been my home away from home for the past four weeks! Did you know that barbed wire was invented in DeKalb, Illinois? There are a lot of heritage structures in DeKalb which remind us of this aspect of its history.

Some of the highlights during our stay were a barbecue picnic where we grilled some steak, nights out and karaoke in Starbusters every Wednesday, home-cooked dinners, and a picnic hosted by the Filipino community in DeKalb and Sycamore. Thank you to the Fil-Am community and to all the friends I met along the way. I had one hell of a time!

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Illinois, USA: Puerto Rico and Mexico in Chicago

Today, we visited more neighborhoods of Chicago. Aside from Little Village which I visited weeks ago, another Mexican community of Chicago is Pilsen. The group did a lot of walking to check out the Mexican street art which is all over Pilsen. The murals are wonderfully-done and very symbolic, filled with a lot of elements from Mexican culture and history. Some are expressions of the situation of Mexicans in the United States.

There are a lot of fresh fruit stands around and we tried their local mangoes which taste like our Indian mangoes in the Philippines. It was raining at times so we weren't able to maximize our tour around Pilsen. But I sure did enjoy the street art.

We went next to the Puerto Rican community along Paseo Boricua. The funny thing about Chicago weather is that it is so unpredictable since the sun was out by the time we got there.

Just like in Pilsen, we walked around and explored the street. I made sure to try the local food. I had been tipped about a fried banana and meat snack called alcapurrias unique to the Puerto Rican community and was happy to find it in one of the shops. I also had some morcillas (blood sausages) which are different from the ones I had in Spain since the ones here are made mostly out of rice. After a late Puerto Rican lunch, we proceeded to Oakbrook Terrace, IL since we were going to watch the Buddy Holly Story at the Drury Lane Theatre later in the evening.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Illinois, USA: Chicago-style hot dogs

They say it's taboo to put ketchup on a genuine Chicago dog. A Chicago dog is a steamed or boiled all-beef hot dog on a poppy seed bun. Toppings include mustard, sweet pickle relish, onion, a dill pickle spear, tomato slices, sport peppers, and celery salt, but never ketchup! So since I was in Chicago, I made sure to try one.

I found a hot dog stand in Navy Pier which serves different types of hot dog sandwiches from across America. On the menu of America's Dog are the following:
  • Chicago dog - mustard, relish, onion, sport peppers, tomato, pickle and celery salt
  • Buffalo dog - Buffalo sauce, bleu cheese and celery salt
  • Dallas dog - chili, onion and shredded cheddar cheese
  • New York dog - sauerkraut and brown mustard
  • Baltimore dog - deep-fried dog, melted cheddar cheese and grilled onions
  • Kansas City dog - melted Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and yellow mustard
  • Louisiana dog - BBQ sauce, grilled onions and tomato
  • Green Bay dog - melted cheddar cheese
  • Atlanta dog - coleslaw, chili, mustard, ketchup and onion
  • Pittsburgh dog - chili and yellow mustard

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Illinois, USA: Chicago architecture overload in the Chicago Architecture Cruise

One of the best ways to see Chicago is by getting on board the Chicago Architecture Cruise. The architecture of Chicago is said to have influenced and reflected the history of American architecture. You'll find a lot of prominent buildings in various architectural styles, designed by eminent architects of each period.

Many of these buildings, over 200, have been designated as Chicago Landmarks, an honor bestowed by the City Mayor and the Chicago City Council for historic buildings and sites in the city. Landmarks are chosen based on various criteria which include historical, economic, architectural, artistic, cultural, and social values. There are also 38 historic districts designated as landmarks. I wonder when Manila will do that.

The good thing about Chicago is that they protect their heritage since one a historic building is designated as a Chicago Landmark, it is subject to the Chicago Landmarks Ordinance. This requires owners who want to have any alterations beyond routine maintenance, up to and including demolition, to have their permit reviewed by the Commission on Chicago Landmarks. Among these are the Michigan Avenue Bridge (1920), London Guarantee Building (360 North Michigan - 1923), Tribune Tower (1925), North American Life Insurance Building (35 East Wacker - 1927), 333 North Michigan (1928), and the Carbide & Carbon Building (1929).

But Chicago is also a showcase of contemporary architecture where structures designed by some of the world's best architects can be found. Some of the interesting buildings include Marina City (the two towers which look like corn cobs - 1964), Lake Point Tower (1968), Sears Tower (once the tallest building in the world - 1974), and NBC Tower (1982). Under construction is the Trump Tower and the supertall skyscraper known as the Chicago Spire designed by Santiago Calatrava which will be taller than Sears Tower when completed in 2012.

Architecture lovers will have a blast on the Chicago Architecture Cruise. In great cities, the best architecture is built by the river! This 60-minute cruise costs US$24 per person and departs from Navy Pier every 45 minutes.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Illinois, USA: Springfield, Illinois and Abraham Lincoln

Springfield, Illinois is the hometown of President Abraham Lincoln. All over this state capital are images, symbols and historical landmarks that remind us of Lincoln, his life and his times.

I found out that the Lincoln Tomb was in the Oak Ridge Cemetery in front of our hotel. So I made sure to wake up early to visit before we left for our tour of Springfield. The burial room was closed when I got there since it opened later in the morning.

After breakfast at the hotel, we proceeded to the grand and elegant Illinois State Capitol for a guided tour. The Illinois State Congress was in recess so there was not much activity when we got there. We got to see the assembly halls of both the Senate (where Barack Obama once sat as a state senator) and the House. We were also shown the governor's office as well as the hall which used to house the Illinois Supreme Court before it transferred to another building next door.

Our next stop was the Lincoln Presidential Museum and Library where we got to enjoy the interactive exhibits, film showings and presentations on Lincoln. In the main hall are life-size wax figures of President Lincoln and his family as they were about to move to Washington, D.C. Don't miss the "Ghosts of the Library" and "The Union Theater" presentations.

We had a lot of time to go around the museum so I decided to sneak out and explore Springfield. On top of my list of things to see was the Lincoln Home which was five blocks from the museum. The neighborhood around the home of the Lincoln Family was preserved and recreated giving you a feel of how life was during Lincoln's time.

From the home, I walked back to the museum. But I made sure to pass by the Lincoln Law Office which is right beside the Old State Capitol. It was the seat of government from 1839 to 1876 where Lincoln, Stephen A. Douglas and Ulysses S. Grant used to work. Right in front of the museum is the Union Station but it is no longer in use since the railroad tracks have been transferred elsewhere.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Illinois, USA: Cahokia Mounds and prehistoric native American culture

The first thing I did when I found out I was flying to the U.S. was to find the nearest UNESCO World Heritage Site to Chicago. It was a good thing there was one in Illinois, the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site. It excited me more when I found out that we were visiting it as part of our program itinerary since the only convenient way to get there was by renting a car.

According to UNESCO, Cahokia is the largest pre-Columbian settlement north of Mexico and was occupied primarily during the Mississippian period (800–1400), when it covered nearly 1,600 hectares and included some 120 mounds. The main mound in the complex is called Monks Mound, the largest prehistoric earthwork in the Americas, covering over 5 hectares and standing 30 meters high.

After watching a video at the Interpretative Center, we walked around the park and got to climb up Monks Mound where you can see nearby St. Louis, Illinois. If you don't want to rent a car, public transportation to the place is possible but a bit complicated. Directions are available in the Cahokia website. Take note that the Cahokia Mounds are in Collinsville, Illinois and not in the city of Cahokia.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Illinois, USA: Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition

As part of our program, we visited several not-for-profit organizations or NPOs in the Chicago area. Among these is the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, an NPO formed as a merger of two non-profit organizations — Operation PUSH (People United to Save Humanity) and the National Rainbow Coalition — founded by Jesse Jackson. The organizations pursue social justice, civil rights and political activism.

We were lucky to meet the Rev. Jesse Jackson himself, an American civil rights activist and Baptist minister who was closely associated with Dr. Martin Luther King. Before Barack Obama, there were four black candidates for president namely Shirley Chisholm, Senator Carol Moseley Braun, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton. Jackson was a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1984 and 1988.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Illinois, USA: Philippine Independence Day celebrations in Chicago

We celebrated Philippine Independence Day by attending the reception hosted by Mayor Richard M. Daley and the City of Chicago on June 10. It is indeed an honor for the Philippines that a major American city has given significance to our celebration of freedom. In fact, Mayor Daley proclaimed June 12, 2008 as Philippine Independence Day in the City of Chicago. At the reception, Mayor Daley encouraged all Chicagoans to appreciate the contributions the Filipino-American community has made to Chicago

Earlier in the afternoon, we had made a courtesy call to Consul General Blesila C. Cabrera at the Philippine Consulate General along North Michigan Avenue.

During the reception, I was expecting Philippine cultural performances but there was none of that. Maybe next year, they can include that in the program since the current generation of Filipinos in the U.S. are no longer familiar with our culture having been born and raised there. It would be great if they can bring in cultural groups from the Philippines to perform or even better if young Filipinos in the U.S. can practice and perform our traditional songs and dances themselves.

What I noticed though was that there were so many ladies wearing crowns and sashes on the stage and even right below the stage. I know that traditional Philippine fiestas involve naming a queen and princess. But it's usually one for each. So we asked why there were so many ladies wearing crowns and sashes. The answer was each Filipino association had its own queen!

Then I realized, the Filipino-American community in the U.S. is an agglomeration of ethnic associations reflecting the regionalism that exists here in the Philippines. In general, we were told that Filipinos in the U.S. form associations based primarily on their place of origin in the Philippines rather than forming a single heterogeneous community based on their geographical location in America. We were told it partly explains why we don't have any "Filipinotowns" in the U.S. aside from the fact that we are good at adjusting to any culture to begin with.

Filipino-Americans are in the best position to set an example for our country by going beyond the regions, provinces and towns, transcending cultural barriers and moving as one. Filipinos here and around the globe must unite, strengthen Philippine national (and not just regional) identity and move our nation forward.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Illinois, USA: Millennium Park and Chicago City Hall

We visited Chicago City Hall yesterday as part of our immersion with American institutions. We got to meet Filipino-Americans holding important positions in the City Government of Chicago and got to tour City Hall as well. Mayor Richard Daley wasn't there but it was not a problem since we were meeting him in the evening anyway.

Lunch was at the James Thompson Center next door where we experienced more of America's food culture at the fast food center! For lunch, I had Bourbon chicken from New Orleans Chicken and a roast beef sandwich from Arby's. With the size of the servings, it's no wonder why we all put on weight when visiting the U.S.

After our afternoon and evening activities, and since the sun was still out at 8 p.m., we visited Millennium Park. Completed in 2004, the park was Chicago's answer to open space since it was built on top of an area previously occupied by the Illinois Central rail yards and parking lots. This makes it the world's largest roof top garden at 9.9 hectares!

It has several major artistic elements. One of these is the Crown Fountain, an interactive public fountain composed of a black granite reflecting pool in between two glass brick towers with high-tech LED video screens behind each block. It's a very creative concept really. The towers project the faces of Chicagoans reflecting the cultural diversity of the city. But what is catchy about the fountain is that water spouts from the towers from the lips of the projected faces making it look like the faces are spitting out water, playing on the historical theme of gargoyles with water coming out of their mouths in fountains.

Then there's the large "bean" called the Cloud Gate. Made of stainless steel, it was inspired by liquid mercury and is one of the most popular sculptures in the United States. Finally, there's the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a band shell designed by controversial but award-winning architect Frank Gehry. It's a popular venue for outdoor concerts.

And Chicago knows how to raise funds since most of the features of the park are from corporate donations! That's something Metro Manila should try emulating. I'm sick and tired of the ugly, tasteless and kitsch infrastructure the MMDA has been churning out lately. Aren't you?

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Illinois, USA: Chicago is a candidate city for the 2016 Olympics

There was so much buzz in Chicago when we arrived there since they had recently been named a candidate city for the 2016 Summer Olympics. They're up against Tokyo, Japan (which hopes to host the Olympics for the second time, it's the front-runner having scored the highest in the preliminary rankings), Madrid, Spain (one of the few major European capitals which has yet to host the Olympics, it was also a candidate city for the 2012 Olympics), and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (which hopes to bring the Olympic Games to South America for the first time). Michael Jordan is currently the unofficial spokesman for the Chicago 2016 bid.

Chicago was supposed to host the 1904 Summer Olympics but it was moved to St. Louis to coincide with the 1904 World's Fair. They also bid for the games in 1952 and 1956 but with no success. Will they be lucky this time around?

Monday, June 09, 2008

Illinois, USA: Chicago skyline from the Adler Planetarium

The area around the Adler Planetarium by Lake Michigan is where one can enjoy one of the best, if not the best views of the Chicago skyline. You could see most of the major skyscrapers from there including the Sears Tower, Aon Center, John Hancock Center, AT&T Corporate Center and Two Prudential Plaza among many others. It's a great place to chill, and I sure did enjoy the view.

Illinois, USA: Chicago's culturally-diverse neighborhoods

If there's one thing I enjoyed about Chicago, it was the cultural-diversity which manifested itself in the wide array of food choices. And yesterday was the day I sampled food from Chicago's ethnically-diverse neighborhoods.

First stop for the day was Devon Avenue, a former Jewish community which now plays host to Chicago's Indian & Pakistani communities. Available there are various cuisines from all over India and Pakistan, and even Afghanistan! I still saw some Jewish establishments but not as much as Indian and Pakistani restaurants.

Try entering a supermarket and the distinct smell of spices fill the air. Mangoes are a popular fruit in the area, mostly Indian. But they sell "Manila" mangoes which are ironically grown in Mexico and elsewhere. I wonder when we could export our luscious Guimaras mangoes to the U.S. because the "Manila" mangoes are a far-cry from what we have here in the Philippines.

From there we proceeded to New Saigon, a small Vietnamese area to sample the bahn mi sandwiches at the Ba Le Bakery. We also walked to the local Asian supermarket to get some dried jackfruit chips but we also saw some Philippine products as well. Another tasty surprise was the crunchy dried durian which was really good!

Shortly before lunch, we proceeded to Lincoln Square, the former German community, to sample the tiramisu cakes which is a specialty of Cafe Selmarie.

We made a quick drive around Andersonville (Swedish) and Greek Town (if we had more time, I would have wanted to sample the Greek food), before proceeding to Little Village, the Mexican community for a late lunch at Taqueria El Milagro. The grilled beef and tortillas was a filling treat! We proceeded to the New Maxwell Street Sunday Market to get more Mexican tortillas were they are freshly-made right in front of you.

We made a quick drive around Chinatown proceeding to the Adler Planetarium area by Lake Michigan where one can find the best views of the Chicago skyline. More from Chinatown and Chicago's other neighborhoods in the next posts. Thanks to Ron Salazar and Padma Siap for taking me around and back to DeKalb!

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Illinois, USA: More from Chicago

Before taking that elevator ride up to the Skydeck, the bus stopped over for a few minutes at the United Center so that we could take some photos. The United Center is the home of the Chicago Bulls.

Outside is a statue of "His Airness" Michael Jordan, the team's legendary guard who lead the Bulls to six NBA championships. By acclamation, he is said to be the greatest basketball player of all time! It was a surprise though seeing the statue there when Michael Jordan is very much alive and kicking.

After Sears Tower, we also dropped by Navy Pier for lunch. This is another heritage structure that was adaptively reused and converted into a shopping and entertainment complex. If you plan to hop on the Architecture Cruise or cruises to Lake Michigan, Navy Pier is where you can find them.

We also dropped by the Bahá'í House of Worship in nearby Wilmette, one of the lakefront suburbs of Chicago. It's the temple of the Bahá'í Faith, a religion founded by Bahá'u'lláh in nineteenth-century Persia. Plans to construct this temple began in 1903. Construction commenced in 1921 and was finally completed in 1953.

For the evening, we had a picnic in Grant Park while enjoying the 25th Annual Chicago Blues Festival. But I didn't stay long since I had to meet up with my family who were on vacation in Chicago as well. So I took a Metra (the transportation system from Chicago to its suburbs) to Lisle where my family was staying.

It was a coincidence that my mom had a mini-reunion with her US-based high school classmates in Chicago, and an even bigger coincidence that the dates matched with my Chicago trip. So at least I got to meet up with them even just for a few hours since they were leaving the next day.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Illinois, USA: Sears Tower and the view from the Skydeck

Sears Tower in Chicago was the tallest skyscraper in the world from 1973 to 1998. It's still the tallest building in Chicago and a visit to the Skydeck on the 103rd floor which is 1,353 feet (412 m) above ground, is definitely worth the visit.

It was our first real day in Chicago since we went straight to DeKalb as soon as we arrived at O'Hare. And we had a list of places to visit today, one of them being the famous Sears Tower.

They say that up there, you can see up to fifty miles on all sides. It was a great experience looking down at Chicago's magnificent skyscrapers. The city is known far and wide for its architecture which covers more than a century of history.

Contemporary structures are properly blended with old historic buildings, standing side-by-side in a harmonious mix of past, present and future. We'll see that in detail when we take the Architecture Cruise later in the month.

What looks like the beach and a sea is actually a large freshwater lake called Lake Michigan. Although I've swam in lakes, I've never experienced a freshwater urban beach before (meaning the usual beaches we all know about, the same fun without the saltwater).

In fact, the water was so blue, if I did not know it was a lake, I would have mistaken Lake Michigan for a sea. Even the river that runs through the city is very much clean and that was evident from where I stood.

It costs $12.95 to get up to the Skydeck and you can stay there for as long as you want during visiting hours.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Illinois, USA: Northern Illinois Univeristy in Dekalb, Illinois

Northern Illinois University (NIU) in DeKalb, Illinois is going to be our home away from home for the next four weeks. A public university founded in 1895, it has 25,000 students in seven degree-granting colleges that together offer 54 undergraduate and 74 graduate programs, and 12 doctoral programs.

DeKalb is about an hour and 30 minutes (104 kilometers) west of Chicago. Sad to say, there is no train service to DeKalb so we couldn't sneak out to Chicago that easily. Oh well!

Anyway, We got to tour campus today and visited some of its older buildings, including Altgeld Hall which houses the administration, and the East Lagoon where some wild Canadian geese can be found. NIU was in the news early this year being the site of another campus shooting incident in February. But all is well here and life has moved on. As the motto of NIU goes: "Forward, Together Forward."
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