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 ...