31 December 2007

Good one, 2007 !

Dear readers,

It's quite inevitable that I'll write one more post for the year on the last day of 2007 ... sort of a personal report card for my own keepsake when my own memory bank fails me eventually someday in the future. Somehow, for all the great year that 2007 was, this will be one of the few tangible bit of memory that I'll have to show for it.

2007 was a great travel year, but yet, most of the travel really took place in the 2nd half of it, and it felt like I was constantly on the move during the last 3 months of it.

I went far and traveled to parts of the world I've always wanted to see for myself. So, what left really deep impressions on me this year ?

I'll have to pick out a few overseas trip:

Sydney, Australia

Going to Australia is always good and fun. Of course, fun is one thing, meeting up with friends is another. Despite what some people say about Australians being less than friendly, I found myself making new friends and renewing acquaintances in Sydney this year. I'd like to thank May and my friends Darren, his young and vibrant family, and Kelen for their hospitality.

This trip's important because of the things about people that I learnt. Sometimes, small lessons take you very far. Most things you can buy have expiry dates. Friendships last forever.


Visiting 5 cities in the Greater China region in a matter of weeks on business is no small matter. I just had to see China for myself, to understand the history, and to see the future. Seeing China for myself, I have no reasons to doubt that this is the future, and I will have to learn from today to deal with that future. Like it or not, there is little stopping the Chinese march forward.

Of course, having some good food, great company, and making some new friends in China didn't hurt !

Bangkok, Thailand

Having the Girlfriend around this year had been a real joy ! None more so than when we went for a walkabout in Bangkok ! This being her first real overseas trips to a foreign land, I was quite happy for her that she did enjoy herself !

Food - GREAT !
Sights - GREAT !
Shopping - GREAT !

Ups and downs, highs and lows ... it happened all this year ... I can't wait for the next years !

I hope to continue with my travels, to take more photographs, and hopefully, I'll be able to post them to share with you all as well !

Happy New Year 2008 !


24 December 2007

Merry Christmas ... wherever you are ...

I'm not of Christian faith, but I do appreciate the public holiday, so there you have it ... Merry Christmas, and A Happy New Year too !

I'll be in Hanoi immediately after Christmas, so we'll see how that's like ! =P

If I don't get a chance to roundup the year, I'd like to just say a word of sincere thanks to all of you who've made 2007 a meaningful year of learning, friendship and love. Just like I believe everyday is a new beginning, every year is a new chance to turn the leave as well.

Personally, there is nothing I'd change from 2007 even if I could. Through the ups and downs, I think my soul has survived rejuvenated, and believing that we're all good on the inside, after all.

18 December 2007

The body's not an engine, you know ...

In my mind, as I go about my daily routine, I never think for a second that I'm getting old. Well, I'm not old ... I'm just 31.

But sometimes, I forget that the body is not an engine, really. Just the other day, when in Singapore, a colleague was telling me he thinks that I have a lot of energy, for all the travelling I've been doing. Well, yesterday night, I hit the wall ... the body just refused to do anything unless I sleep ... so sleep I did. The first 8 hour sleep session in a while ...

I was just counting my passport, and I've made 27 overseas trip this year, and will be making another 2 more trips before the year's out ... that's going to be 29 overseas trip this year that I'll be making, and that translates to around 1 overseas trip every 12 days ... if you average it out !

I think I'll have to take steps to rest myself better, to better make use of the travelling time I have. Perhaps I should start sleeping instead of gazing out of the window on flights. Maybe it'll be good to start sleeping early no matter where I am.

While travelling has been great, travelling as much as I do creates some unique problems. Not least is that fact that since I'm mostly around only over weekends, I try to squeeze in as much as I can during the weekends. This usually means I have stressed out weekends. I haven't had a single decent go at photographing bugs at home since September.

Sigh ... I need to take stock of my own lifestyle, and reconcile it with my love for the job, and for the travelling that comes with it. Maybe the end of the year couldn't come soon enough !

15 December 2007

Trip Report: Shanghai

Let's see ... my China trip started in Beijing, where I visited the Forbidden City once more, Beihai Park, and walked the Great Wall section at Mutianyu.

Beijing may be the capital, but the commercial heart of China is Shanghai, my next destination. I was quite keen to try and put a finger on the pulse of the Chinese economy in Shanghai, just to understand for myself what the hype is all about ...

As usual, I'll let the pictures do most of the talking on my little excursions while in Shanghai.

The City God of Shanghai, incidentally, happens to be ... would you have guessed it ... the God of Prosperity. No wonder Shanghainese are so rich ... I happened to stumble upon its temple while taking a little walk around the Old section of Shanghai ..

China may be communists, but there certainly isn't any shortage of worshippers everywhere I went into ...

For folks like me who isn't really into shopping, this part of Shanghai, the Yuyuan Gardens, and Shanghai Old Street would definately be the place to visit. The famous 9 Zig-Zag bridge is within the compound of the Yuyuan Gardens.

Yuyuan is a beautiful Chinese garden, formerly owned by an administrator in the city. There are plenty of ponds, lanscaped terraces, and loads of water. Shanghai is located in a region called Zhiangnan (literal: River's South), which is the lower reaches of the Yangtze River delta. There are many rivers and lakes in this area, and thus, water is a prominent feature of gardens here.

Shanghai Old Street is a street lined with antiques and souvenir stores of all sorts. It's not a very pedestrian friendly place, but it's worth a visit just to feel the vibe of the whole place. The old hutong style buildings are restored and renovated into a touristy road full of shops.

Inside Yuyuan, there are some very famous shops selling food, and I chanced upon this one ... the queue itself is at least 45 minutes long all day long, so you just have to be patient ...

And here's what the queue is all about ... Shanghai Xiao Long Bao, the famous dumplings with crab meat and crab roe. This shop was selling a dozen dumplings for 16 yuans (RM8). Not bad, though the skin's a bit on the thick side.

Good news is that Yuyuan and Shanghai Old Street is literally next to each other, so you don't really need any transportation between the two places.

Not far from the Yuyuan and Shanghai Old Stree, just around 15 minutes by taxi, is the world famous Shanghai Bund. It's a riverside esplanade by the Huangpu river. You've gotta come here for the lights and sights at night. Pictures don't do it justice ! It's such an overwhelming sensory experience !

The lights come on at around 7.30 in the evening, so don't be a jakun like me and turn up at 6pm, and just wait and wait and wait for the lights. Also, lights go off around 10pm on weekdays, and a little later on weekends, so don't turn up too late as well !

Was the wait worth it? Oh yeah ... the lights came on to reveal the world famous Bund facades, and you also get the view of Puxi, across the river, where all the skyscrapers are. The only blip is that the weather was quite hazy, and it was very, very, chilly as well. To think that I actually had an ice cream outdoors =P

And not far from the Bund, just a 10 minute walk, is Nanjing Dong Lu (Nanjing East Road), the famous pedestrian shopping strip in Shanghai. Not a shopping person, I just walked around admiring the neon signs, and stayed long enough to get myself some Olympic souvenirs - something my father told me not to come home without !

Another place worthy of a visit is Xintiandi, a posh entertainment area in the style of Bangsar. Xintiandi is right behind my office =). Formerly an area within the French concessionaire, it features pubs, restaurants and chill out places housed in former colonial buildings.

What I found really cool was walking in the narrow lanes amongst the old facade, and discovering pubs with minimalist designs, or restaurants that won't look out of place in Paris or New York inside. And the food's pretty decent as well !

And that's my walkabout in Shanghai ! What's there not to like ? From the little alleys (that aren't touristy) to the tourist traps of Yuyuan Garden and Shanghai Old Street, there's something for everyone. Like everywhere else in China, there are so many domestic tourists you sometimes feel crowded and sick of it all. Try to be early to avoid crowds, and if you can't, why not just enjoy it ? Just be prepared to be asked to help take lots of photos, especially if you carry a big camera like me ...

And oh, on a totally unrelated note =) ... I registered my 10,000th shutter count on my D80 in Shanghai, taking this nondescript photo.

06 December 2007

Trip Report: Mutianyu Great Wall

While in Beijing, I bumped into some Malaysian colleagues, attending some training. They asked me to join them for a visit to the Mutianyu Great Wall, and I gladly accepted. I mean ... it was either that, or I'd have to roam Beijing on my own. Better roam in a group instead :P

As usual, I'll let the pictures take center stage ... and provide some commentaries on the side ..

Picture above copied from www.micktravels.com. This is the map of Mutianyu, the Great Wall section I visited. It is one of the better sections of Great Wall to visit, since it's still quite close to Beijing, but it's not as infested with tourists compared to Badaling Great Wall, the other Great Wall section near Beijing.

Mutianyu is also in a much better state of preservation, and has better scenery. Plus, you avoid the Great Wall of Tourists that is ever present in the Badaling section. Really.

The tour, part of a package from the hotel, costs RMB300, and includes the bus ride, a compulsory visit to a handicraft factory (omnipresent in all Chinese tour packages), entrance fees, and an English speaking tour guide. It's a half day tour. Tour group was small (around 20 of us), so it was really cool. Plus, Leo "Don't Call Me Loo", our guide, is a stand up comedian. He's got great jokes about American politicians.

We stopped off just before reaching the Great Wall for a toilet break, plus we're all hearded into this really nifty handicraft factory. I'm not complaining, but I would have liked more time on the Great Wall instead !

One reason why Mutianyu doesn't get as much visitor is that there isn't a highway connecting Mutianyu to Beijing. You really get off the highway after 2/3 of the way, and travel on country roads. The first glimpses of the Great Wall appears some 20 minutes before we get to the entrance of the Cable Car ride.

That's right folks, you have a choice of hiking up, or taking the cable car. On our tour, the cable car is included. However, what I didn't know was that it didn't include lunch, and there's a pretty steep hike up to the cable car station in the first place. And of course, you get souvenir stores lining the way up to the station !

The first glimpse of the Great Wall was pure bliss. I had never imagined the landscape to be so rugged, and the wall in such a good condition. I guess they must have spent a lot restoring it.

Late autumn is a great time to visit, when the leaves turn into all hues of red, and the air is cool. Mutianyu is quite famous for its autumn foliage, and supposedly, it's got the best vegetation cover amongst the sections of the Great Wall open to tourists. That's right, folks, not all parts of the Great Wall is open ...

Leo kept reminding us that the Great Wall wasn't made with tourists in mind - it was a wall of defense when it was built. Some sections were really steep, and more than once, I was so engrossed taking photos and missed steps, nearly tumbling down sections of the Great Wall ! Be really careful, and take plenty of water with you.

It's winding, it's steep, but it's breathtaking, and it's a great hike in the autumn air. A few of us walked the whole section, while some just stayed in a few sections and took it easy. Either ways, it's quite an experience !

Me, I walked it all ... except one steep section, which I missed due to lack of time. It's the steep slopy part in the picture before this ... I didn't get to walk that part ! =(

The cable car is a life saver ... would have been really hard getting up and down otherwise. Still, there are other ways to get up and down the Mutianyu Great Wall. There's a ski lift to take you up if you can't afford the cable car. And there's a toboggan (yes ... toboggan) for you coming down if you can't afford even the ski lift ! Talk about choices !

On the way back, I had first hand look at the Great Chinese Traffic System during traffic jams. A few dozen miles short of Beijing on our way back ... I realised that there were cars going in the wrong direction on our lane in the highway .... It wasn't long before I realised that the cars were actually turning back because there was a jam ahead !!!

It's crazy !!! Cars were just going in the wrong direction !!! And look at the picture above ... the police didn't even bother ... you can spot a police van in the middle of the picture. Only in China ...

And I also learnt one thing: why Chinese cars won't ever sell overseas. Try telling your car salesman you want to buy a BJ6516B1DWA-5 model. =P

03 December 2007

How do I live without you ?

I always thought that bad things happen during thunderstorms only in the movies.

You know, like when they have a scene where a bad guy is about to do a bad thing to the heroine or a woman ... and the the scene cuts to a that of a thunderstorm, with lightning and all that shebang, and after that, the scene cuts back to one of the heroine or woman crying.

It is supposed to be fiction only ! How can it happen to me ?

My broadband access worked fine ... only to die in a thunderstorm !!! How can ??

Basically, lightning must have struck around my house ... because besides blowing all the fuses at home, even some surge protected equipment, such as the wireless modem and the AC adapter for the DSL modem were all blown out as well ...

*sigh* ... no Internet until I replace the broken stuffs ...

26 November 2007

T-Minus 10 Days !!!!

10 more days !!! How good is that !!!

10 more days !!!

Sawasdeekrab !!! Tom Yum Goong ! Tom Kha Gai !! Pad Thai !!

Chatuchak ! Siam Square ! Suam Lum !!!

Wat Phra Keow ! Wat Pho ?! hehehehe ... Wat Arun !!!

10 more days !!?!!!!!!11111one1!

24 November 2007

I No Likey ...

The ocassional doctor tagged me to write about 10 things that I hate ... so here goes ... and no, it's not a Top 10 list ...

  • Being stuck in traffic jams caused by police roadblocks that has nothing to do with escaped fugitives, armed robberies, major accidents or incidents, significant events (Merdeka, New Year's Day, etc). Especially the ones where they start the roadblocks a few days before anything's even supposed to happen.
  • Bad service in any restaurants where a service tax is imposed. If I'm taxed for service, I demand service ! I don't have a choice of not paying, so I better get the service. I prefer tipping ... it's at my discretion whether I pay or not, based on how happy I was with the service !
  • Being told that the price of 'something' is still low compared to other countries every time there is a price increase. Get real, if I compare that way, we're expensive compared to many nations ... even before any price increase !
  • Busybody, Malaysian driver style. Accident on another side of the road will always cause as much, if not even more, traffic congestion on the other side !
  • Chinese wedding dinner receptions in KL. If it says on the invitation it'll start at 7.00 pm, plan to arrive at 8.15 pm when they are going to consider serving dinner.
  • The global phenomenon where white skin is treated as superior to other skin colors. It's like what Chen calls Kulitfication, but subtler. It's like when in Vietnam, how ragged, badly dressed western backpackers are treated better than better dressed Malaysian backpackers on the basis of our skin color alone.
  • People dragging me into meaningless meetings simply because they want a show of numbers. Waste of my good time !
  • People turning up for my meetings simply to sleep and to eat the tidbits. If you're turning up for my meetings, you're expected to contribute. I should stop serving fruit platters and tidbits at my meetings!
  • Explaining something over, and over, and over, and over, again. Some people just don't get it. It's such a waste of good time.
  • Waiting. I hate long, unjustified waits. I hate waiting in a queue when a few other counters remain unopened. I hate waiting when someone could have done their job better, but just can't be bothered to. I hate waiting when it could have been avoided - see my 1st no likey item.

21 November 2007

Trip Report: Beihai Park

After leaving the Forbidden City, I waited for a taxi to take me to my next target ... The Temple of Heaven. But after flagging down a few taxis ... all of them told me that the Temple of Heaven is under such heavy renovation it won't make sense for me to go.

If one driver said so, I'd say bullshit. If two drivers said so, I'd be thinking there's a conspiracy. But with 4 drivers saying the same thing, maybe there's truth in it ... so I actually changed my plans, and walked around the vincinity of the Forbidden City, up to the Wanchun pavillion, and also to Beihai Park.

As usual, I'll let the photos do most of the talking.

First destination: Wanchun Pavillion. This is a sightseeing view on top of a man made hill. You see, the man made hill, built to cover the ruined palaces of the Mongols who were defeated by the Ming Dynasty. The Forbidden Palace was built by the Ming rulers at a new site, because they thought the old Mongol palace site was a bit too small.

All that huffing and puffing up the hill to get to the Wanchun Pavillion rewards you with this view of Beijing. It's just about as high as you can get, since Beijing is a flat plain, with no natural mountain or hills ...

The Emperor was out to greet visitors. Really. Notice yellow leaves in background. Autumn is here !!!! Yaaay !

After catching my breath and taking a short rest, it was time to go visit Beihai Park, just next to the Forbidden Palace.

Beihai Park is one huge park - it used to be an imperial garden, enjoyed only by the Emporer and his closest family. It is capped by the spectacular White Pagoda (also called White Dagoba by some Chinese !). The Pagoda is built at the site where Kublai Khan received Marco Polo.

What is really cool about Beihai Park is that it's not like the Forbidden City - it has plenty of open spaces, and it's got loads of greeneries - a sight for a sore eye. I think there needs to be more gardens like these in Beijing - which is usually a place of buildings, buildings and buildings. And not forgetting the sandstorms in summer.

And of course, gardens is where you get to see people relaxing. I managed to catch some calligraphy lesson from this gentleman here who was kind enough to share some tips with anyone who is willing to listen. This is the art of water calligraphy, where people just write on the street with a huge brush and water (instead of ink).

19 November 2007

Trip Report: Forbidden City

My "teacher" asked my to write a report about my recent trips wor ... so I start by writing this one on Beijing's Forbidden City lor, hor ?

Firstly, this isn't my first trip to Beijing. I've been there previously, but it was so rushed, I hadn't had much time to explore the sights of the city. Read about that previous trip here.

This time around, I had a bit more time, arriving on Saturday morning. The MAS flight to Beijing is at such a bad time that when I arrived, it was just 6 am ... and the hotel had no room for me at all. So, I just grabbed my camera, took a map, and finished off what I didn't get to finish the last time around - the Forbidden City, also known as the Imperial Palace.

My last trip there was rushed, and I didn't even had the time to finish all the sights, so this time, I am not going to let the chance pass me by !

I'll let the pictures describe the Forbidden City, rather than bore you all to sleep with words.

Autumn in Forbidden City means you get loads of Mandarin oranges fruits. In fact, they're all over Beijing!

First thing you do is buy an entrance ticket. Don't be stingy ... the ticket is around RM30, and you have the option of also renting an audio guide, which wirelessly detects where you are and plays out audio commentary. It serves as a really cool map - not just showing you the layout of the place, but where you've been to, so you don't end up walking the same place twice !

First stop is the Jing Sui River ... just outside the Meridian Gate. When I was last here in summer 2006, it was dirty, murky and smelled a little unpleasant. None of that now ! It's much nicer. Must be the Olympics ...

It's from this audio guide that I learnt about these little figurines on the roofs. The more figurines on a building's roof, the more important the building is ! Only 1 building in whole of ancient China can have 11figurines. And all buildings have odd number of figurines ! Ah ... see teacher, I learnt something new !

Of course, then I started venturing inside, seeing all the sights that most tour guides will want to show to their tourists. But the problem is ... these sights are overcrowded !

If you look carefully at the picture above, you will realise that there are TOO many people ! Just like all other places in China ..

It was then that I decided to go to places I've not seen in my previous trip, either because there wasn't enough time, or because they were paying sections. You see, it's quite morose ... but you sometimes have to pay again in the Forbidden City to visit some of the areas. In this case, I visited the Nine Dragon Screen Wall, which was very peaceful and quiet ... until some Malaysian tourist group came in and spoilt it all .. ! =(

Anyways ... this time, I visited some of the exhibits in there. The Forbidden Palace is now a museum, so many of the buildings actually hosts exhibitions.

And besides that, there are some unusual parts of the Forbidden Palace I haven't yet visited, such as the "Crystal Palace", an unfinished western style palace the last Emperor of China was building when money ran out due to wars, etc.

Of course, I had to visit the old favorite, even though it was totally crowded. I had to brave a crowd of old ladies from Foochow who nearly tore my shirt off and were shouting at the top of their voice asking me to move away so that they can see the throne. It's madness out there ... their tour guide actually apologized to me after that.

What was really satisfying for me was being able to visit the Forbidden City at my own pace and leisure, taking as much time as I wanted, or skipping places that didn't interest me. The audio guide made it easy enough, and tour guides, while nice, would not have been necessary, not when there's an audio guide anyways. Next time in Beijing, I probably won't stop by here, unless all the renovations have been completed, that is. I still have not been able to see the Hall of Supreme Harmony due to renovations - it was under renovation in May 06, it's still being renovated now ! =(

Anyways ... last but not least ... if you do visit the Forbidden City, please remember the important announcement above ;)