Archive for the ‘2007-12 to 2008-01, Hong Kong & China’ Category

Don’t EVER buy Business Class…

Thursday, January 17th, 2008

We managed to get some sort of weird seat sale on business class tickets from Bangkok to Delhi (a five hour flight) a few months ago when we looked into it. The economy tickets were the same price as usual, but the business class tickets were almost half of their regular price!. For only $25 more per person compared to an economy class ticket, we had a glimpse into a lifestyle that is regretful to even know about now… (I am a bit of a hic, for anyone new here.)

First we got to que jump the check-in and waited barely a couple minutes for one guy at the counter ahead of us. Sadly, the economy fare line was only about a dozen people and not the 40-50 people (90 minute wait) that we had sometimes encountered previously. It was still nice even just skipping a few people though. Then it was off through security and to our own (almost) private lounge. There were big comfy chairs, huge windows with a view of the tarmac, and power plugs galore to use! There were also a half dozen internet enabled computers (only one of which was being used). This was one lounge out of three available near different gates in the International terminal. About a half hour before our flight, Luke found the complimentary food and drink area (beers, pops, highballs) and we pigged out on a variety of snacks and deserts. This abundance of luxurious living was all before getting on the plane even!

Then we took our seats in row three! We watched as our delightful stewardess closed the curtains on the cattle packed back in economy class, looking forlornly at us before being cut off. We had super deluxe touch screens with all sorts of programming and games. Economy had only audio and dinky little shared ceiling screens (with common programming) every six seats or so, (I went and checked). Of all our flights so far (25) we had only had these super deluxe touch screens with customizable programming twice before in economy.

Before departure came the menu choices. It wasn’t a slap down of a tray of commonly heated food, no sir-ee! We had a five course dining experience where we had to choose between one of three items in most categories. Mmmmm, even after pigging out on the free goodies in the lounge I was salivating at the thought. I also kept the menu to mail home later as a souvineer. yeah, I’m a big hic, but I warned everyone of that before.

During the entire flight we had two stewardesses devoted to business class. That was only six rows of four seats, but just thirteen people! What a ratio! After a most relaxing plane ride, we disembarked before the curtains behind us were lifted and got on a tarmac bus to take us to the terminal. We got standing area near the door and were prepared to be crushed by the throng of people. Odly (to us) people stopped coming off the plane and the bus doors were closed after us thirteen snobs got on, and we went to the terminal in golden silence and comfort. This is a HUGE deal of course, not only for the uncrowded five minute bus ride, but to be first in line for immigration and passport control meant another 20-45 minute lineup was gone out the window.

Lastly, our bags were previously marked as “important!” and they were collected from the luggage conveyor and brought to a certain area. It had a sign requesting that Business & First Class passengers need not rub elbows with the riff-raff pushing and crowding around the turnstile. We need only wait there at the sign, away from the melee, and our bags would be fought for and courteously brought to us. What a way to go! I don’t know how I can ever go back to economy class again!!!

The Great Food of China

Monday, January 14th, 2008

In Beijing we had all sorts of meals. Our first interesting meal was peaking duck. In Beijing you eat duck like a taco. You slice the duck up and then wrap it up in thin soft taco bread. Our second main meal was a hot pot. For those who don’t know what a hot pot is, you basically have a bunch of ingredients around a table and boil them in well, a hot pot. The last interesting meal was at 1001 Arabian nights restaurant but it was not the meal that was cool it was the entertainment. There were belly dancers dancing. We only watched two dances. I think it was a different girl dancing both times. Mom thinks they were the same girl.

Buh-bye Beijing & Gerbers

Saturday, January 12th, 2008

We had an incredible few weeks in the city. Not the least of course which was the fantastic hospitality! After Jim came back we toured around a variety of amazing sites, (most with Jim, some without) with occasional CJ recharge time here and there. Our first day back to Beijing I (stoopidly) made a sarcastic remark to Jim about his toque and insulated gloves. Well, we quickly went to a market in the neighborhood and bought some North Face imitations for all of us as well. It was rather nippy! Especially since none of us had really really worn long pants or shoes since departing Edmonton six months previously.

Our week with Jim (and also the few days of the six of us after Letty returned home) can pretty much be considered an orgy of eating! We saw lots of amazing sights too of course, but the food stands out as a very fond portion of our stay there. Even if I had cared particularly about loosing weight before, these two weeks would have blasted me back up into the 210+ pound realm. We naturally went to a famous (and down to earth) place that specialized in Peking Duck. (The city of Beijing was formerly called Peking.) This ranked right up there with having a Singapore Sling in Singapore (well, except for the fact that Claudette and I chose NOT to have such an expensive girly drink while we were in that nation/city.) except the duck was great! We were a little short on actual duck meat for the five of us, but got by and really enjoyed it. On some other nights we had incredible beef ribs at a place where we ordered them a half day in advance since they usually run out. We finished off three huge plates, (along with other plates of dumplings & greens and stuph) and none of us left hungry for desert that night, (no matter what Luke might say now). Yet another places’ specialty was some sesame coated and glazed ribs which were also delicious. The table next to us got a Peking Duck, and we longingly watched their plates go by, before turning back and digging in to our excellent ribs. There was just amazing food every which way we looked. (Oh, and cool cultural stuph too… Yeah, lots of goodly cultural stuph…) One other meal (and dining style in general) worth noting were the “Hot Pots”. This can be done different ways, and typically just includes a can of sterno (a jellied type of Kerosene) under a frying pan still burning. It is set in the middle of the table for everyone to extract the sizzling food from. Very Nummy! Another derivation of this that we went to was actually a type of fondue though. It had a double style of pot in the middle of the table. The middle section was for charcoal briquette’s (sp?) burning, and the “outside” attached pot had boiling water in which we put all sorts of raw food to cook it. The raw foods included a variety of vegetables, thinly sliced red, meats, tofu chunks (just for Jim) and fish meatballs. The food was really good, but the concept was way cool! We all enjoyed ourselves so much that we looked around for, and eventually bought one of those pots. It cost just under $50 to buy, and another $35 to mail home. (Keizer’s and Gauthier’s, buy some charcoal so you can be ready and try it when it arrives! The kicker is, ya hafta use chopsticks to get everything out! My pot, my rules…)

All in all, it was really great to see Jim and Letty again. Our visit was just too short, (plus they have a HUGE! LCD TV that we all enjoyed watching. I wonder if he’s compensating for something though???). Our entire visit there consisted of us (together and individually) all asking them to come and visit us in Smith. Airfare of $800 each from Edmonton seems to halt most people’s aspirations of coming for a visit though, and the Gerber’s were no exception. We will continue resorting to pure guilt to get our way though…

The only other regrets I have for our visit in China was not being able to fit in (monetarily and time wise) the Three Gorges Dam, and much of Western China. There is so much more to this vast and culturally rich country than just the little swath of Eastern section we made it to. I didn’t push it too hard though, since it’s obvious that China should really almost be a two to three month (minimum!) trip unto itself. We’re very happy with the sights and activities we managed to fit in though. And we’re most happy of all to have been able to visit with old friends who don’t look as though they’ll be returning from foreign teaching anytime soon.

Lastly, I should casually mention that leaving Beijing and arriving in Bangkok marked the extent of our bulk Airtreks purchased tickets almost a year ago. The remainder we have just purchased ourselves a few weeks or months or so in advance, as we cruised along. While we are confident now in “winging it”, it was sure nice having the first half all scheduled and looked after for us (and tickets in hand).

Travel Updates

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

While the web is a spectacular resource, the abundance of misinformation (sometimes intentional but mostly human stupidity or laziness I believe) seems to cast a shadow over relying on it too much. We looked up information on getting travel Visa’s to India and their site said we needed bank statements with $1500 per person and we needed to show purchased tickets OUT of India as well. So, we diligently went to the Emirates office in Shanghai to purchase tickets out of Mumbai to Nairobi Kenya, smugly thinking to ourselves; “What could possibly go wrong?!?” Well, two days later was the election, the rigging and the pursuant chaos and killings. What could go wrong indeed…. We are currently tentatively planning on maybe changing our tickets to go to Tanzania instead of Narobi from Dubai.

The cool thing about buying Emirates tickets was that it was only $25 more per person than some other smaller airline, but allows multi-day stays in Dubai while passing through without a monetary penalty. We have three nights planned there now so we can take the kids skiing, for the first time ever in their lives, at the indoor ski resort in a +40 degree desert. A very cool (yet likely expensive) opportunity to be sure. I’d also like to see the “soon-to-be” tallest building/tower/structure in the world, not to mention the sail hotel and all of the outrageous manufactured palm resort islands.

So that portion after Dubai is still up in the air. At the airport tomorrow we’re going to try and change the tickets to Dar Es Salom (sp?) instead of Narobi. We only just booked a Delhi hotel tonight and have yet to design any sort of route or plan for India at all! Much to do… In India we have to do about three mini DVD video camera backups and uploading of still pictures to the gallery. Luke had told me the other day that the gallery wasn’t fully loading when he showed his “classmates”. I think that there’s almost 600 pictures there now, so we might have to delete some. It all loaded fine for me tonight though. We had planned on using a second gallery for 2008, but I just haven’t been able to get the pics off of those discs yet. Plus I need a computer with an FTP program to change our main index page with the links to everything, (including the new picture gallery page). Hopefully in the next week!

I received an e-mail from another “James” family in Washington who are planning a similar twelve month trip to ours for July 2008. He was casually asking about any suggestions or recommendations. Hah! I have tonnes… I plan on writing them out on a separate page linked from the top left in the next month or so, with additional updates and edits along the rest of our trip. Their website is:
http://thewidewideworld.com/

School….. On vacation!?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

today we went to the school Jim works at W.A.B but this time it was quite a bit cooler because I was with kids my age.I was in grade 5 alex was in grade 8 ( the grade we are missing WA WA ) : (
It was kind of funny because all the people at the tables were saying SIT HERE SIT HERE I ended up making friends with zdenek (it is pronuonced sdenek ) juran and thomas ryde I gave them my email address and the website address. The class subjects were haiku,social studies,math, Gym, language,s and lastly I got to show the class the wesite . My favorite subject was gym we did hockey Yah !!! 00
U

School days

Tuesday, January 8th, 2008

Yesterday I went to school (again but this time it was way funner!)!! Jim got us some teacher friends and we got to stay for the day. I was in grade 8 and Luke did grade five. My teacher got me a buddy for the day, Her name is Sabel (I think it might actually be Isabel but every one was calling her Sabel. We did computers, languages (Chinese French and 2 other ones I think), Band, LA and I think Math (I can’t remember!). My favorite subject was in band. In every other class I has to sit and read. but in band I got to fiddle around with the drums and the guitar and the piano. It was fun. The class split off into there bands and practiced the song they each made up. It was the most fun I had had at school for a while( considering the fact that I HAVEN’T been at school for a while.). S’all for now! miss you guys (and school) lots!!!!
Alex

The Great Wall

Monday, January 7th, 2008

This morning we are heading to the great wall near Beijing. We booked a driver for early so we could get there by about 7:30 AM to see the sunrise. We couldn’t get the driver any earlier, but it’s a great price. Travel time is about an hour each way from the Gerber’s place. Then, we will be taking a gondola ride up the mountain to a high point on the wall. The driver apparently will just stay and relax in a tea shop as long as we want, waiting for us for a whole day “rental” of about $70. To get down the hill there is a concrete sled run similar to the one at Paskapoo, (Canada Olympic Park ow I think) in Cowtown. That should be a blast! We packed a lunch so we can sit and relax for a bit along the top just taking it all in (and avoiding the hawkers at the parking lot).

We’re on our way back to Beijing now; what a day! The kids both wrote a bit about what an amazing visit it was. At the bottom of the hill my chest felt compressed with the sheer majesty of the view. For a full 180 degree view we could this this incredible structure snaking up and down, curving and flowing, following the ridges of the mountain. “Breathtaking” barely describes the feeling, and that was before even getting up the hill and touching it! The hill wasn’t much, we would have only taken 40 minutes or so I’d say to climb it. We still opted to ride up though in order to have more time for traversing along it. The gondola was out for a three day service, so we took the chairlift up instead. It was a simple ski hill chairlift and we bought tickets to take the wheeled sled back down. That was hours off though!

The workers started up the chairlift just for us and stopped it to run back inside their break room once we jumped off at the top. I guess they weren’t expecting anyone else for awhile. We actually were the first ones up that morning. That was even cooler than just being there. While the sun was certainly above the horizon, it hadn’t yet crested the hills. First things first, Luke had to go pee, and the lifties told us there was no bathroom close by. So, he got to stand on the lift exit sidewalk and urinate adjacent (a few meters away of course!) to the wall. Then we climbed up and were immediately wowed! The view all around was incredible, and the stonework was just immense.

We later surmised that a few kilometer section had been redone with new large cobblestones for tourists to walk on. This section also was structurally maintained compared to most of the rest which was left to slowly crumble under the elements. I’m not sure how many stratiegic sections like this had been set aside for tourism, but there’s abundant opportunities in 5000km of wall…

We took our time wandering West, stopping to thoroughly explore the towers along the way. At the first tower in that direction we stopped for a snack. We’d all had a quick bowel of cereal before jumping in the car at 6:30 Am in Beijing, but I brought along some leftovers from Sunday Brunch the day before. Who would have thought cold Letty’s brown sugar, maple syrup, special, ultra french toast concoction would be so incredible as I barely got my fork into the shared tupperware with my ravenous family. We had also packed some cheese bread sub sandwiches for later. We discussed going along up to the gondola and then perhaps to the top of the adjacent peak depending upon the time. We had a self imposed deadline of leaving by 1:00 PM in order to pickup our passports and travel Visa’s at the Indian Embassy.

After a very leisurely 40 minutes or so up there alone we heard the chairlift start up, inevitably bringing us some tourist company. We still continued at a pretty leisurely pace, and the young Aussies aught up and passed us while we were exploring an offshoot wall section and they were in a rush. We later caught up and visited with them at the gondola station. The two guys in their tour group had hustled along ahead to reach the top of the peak. We later chatted with them and were told that the last bit was incredibly steep and starting to be a lot more of a ruble walkway than freshly laid stone blocks (in the last 20-40 years I would guess). At the top was a sign forbidding anyone to continue. They also noted that the remainder of the wall was in a fairly decrepit state of disrepair. (As would be expected from 500-600 years of Mother nature’s elements.) They both seemed pretty proud of seeing the “untouched” section of wall in it’s naturally depleted state. I asked if they had taken pictures, but they were in such a rush that they had forgotten.

The girls in their group were fun to talk with. One lady (the lone Canadian in the GAP tour group) said she was from Edmonton when I asked. I asked what state of the US that was in to Claudette’s horrified chagrin. The woman started to try and explain that it was a major city in Canada before I broke into a smile and informed her that I was in fact born and raised there. She was actually from Sherwood Park and was equally shocked when Claudette said her sister, father, Aunts & Uncles and her grandmother all lived there. Here we ate our sandwiches which hit the spot quite nicely. After the girls departed we were along on the walkway and steps of the gondola access, (I need to emphasize that we were not actually on “The Wall”. I then felt the need, and found a nice ledge from which to launch a decent stream. While urinating into the bushes and grass below I sang aloud “I’m the king of the castle…” just to give my grandmother a good chuckle later when the story would be retold to her. Claudette didn’t seem to buy in to this excuse, but it was too late. We then began to head back to the other end for the sled ride down. Along the way vendors had now taken their positions at intervals to hawk ridiculously high priced snack goods to the unprepared tourist (not us in other words). They were pretty aggressive since there was probably only about 100+ tourists along this section which in the Summer Jim estimates the daily crowds to number at almost 1000.

We took the awesome sled ride down and at the bottom of the hill were rows and rows of hawkers and peddlers selling everything one could want. T-shirts were dirt cheap here too, only $1 for the cheap thin cotton and $3 for the heavy & thick nice cotton that won’t fall apart for a long time. We bought a “I climbed…” plaque and a t-shirt or Claudette and I to share. Also, while I was negotiating for a dragon embroidered Hugh Hefner silk robe, the kids were playing hacky-birdie (hacky sack with a large flat nosed end with feathers) with another vendor, so we grabbed that for them to play with too.

We headed back all promptly fell asleep in the car after such an early morning (and late to bed the previous night). The kids came up with an idea I thought was pretty cool. They wondered if someone could walk the entire length of the wall and make a film documentary of that trek. (With all government permits and clearances in place of course!) I’d like to see someone do that some day. Hopefully even, one of them!

The Great Wall Of China

Monday, January 7th, 2008

A few days ago we went to the Great Wall of china it was quite like Machu Picchu except it was easer to look at because it was long not wide .we saw the sunrise peek over the mountain then we ate our breakfast (witch was very good) French toast Letty made it . There was only one tower with a stair case so you could go up to the top it was the second closest to the chair lift. We met a Canadian from sheer wood park born in India we also met some Aussie’s and one New Zealander they were all in the same tour group we went as far the gondola then we went back to the chair lift . I wanted to go further but Alex and mom were tired .

Great Wall

Monday, January 7th, 2008

The great wall was absolutely amazing! You can go pretty much any where! Time gos by really fast. We decided we were gonna go to the place were the gondola comes up (it was closed so we had to up by the ski lift). We got up reeeeaaally early and caught the sun rise. We were also the first ones on the wall. It was just amazing! We set a goal (the gondola place) And we thought it was impossible, but we did it really easily. It was kinda funny, because we were coming back and Luke said “Hey look its a snack shop!” then dad asked if it had a big M and golden arches, and Luke said no but then I said “ does it have a big L for liar liar pants on fire theres no snack shop!?” In the end we found out he wasn’t lying (I was confounded)! I highly recommend going there now!!!
Alex

The Incredible Beijing Acrobats

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Last night we saw a fantastic acrobat show. the first thing that happened was some men on a titer tater and a high board two men jumped off the high board and a man on one stilt ( both feet were tied to the pole) was on the other side he did a double flip in the air ( WOW ) they did this a few time,s but they did’t do it with a stilt all the time.Next three girls came out and started doing very difficult gymnastics you could not do it inless you practiced for 11 years or be born with it. Next we saw a man standing on a chair with eight bowl,s on his head. under the chair there were sholder pade,s beside the sholder pade,s were two girl,s .under the sholder pade,s was another man under the man was a board under the board was a wheal under the wheal was a table under the table was the floor. After that act some Girls were doing some tricks on biciyle,s the part that was really cool was they got 14 Girls on one Bike.

A week plus in Beijing

Sunday, January 6th, 2008

We have had a great week with Jim in Beijing. He had a great itinerary worked out for us in half day blocks. We have managed to see The Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, The Llama Temple, the Confucious Temple, a variety of shopping from expansive inexpensive markets, to reasonable and super deluxe (not so reasonable) shopping malls, and an exquisite menagerie of fantastic restaurants. Jim’s wife, Letty, only got home from Mexico on Saturday and spent Sunday catching up on work and sleep before they both had to return to work this morning, (Monday January 8).

The Forbidden City was a large walled and moated administrative center for the Chinese government starting around the mid 1400’s. It was pretty vast, but cool to see the incredibly old buildings and huge piazza’s. The cobblestone here is about the same age as Machu Picchu but was in much worse shape. They have redone sections of about 3m wide pathways for tourists, but left most of the other areas. The buildings were in pretty good shape and Jim emphasized how packed it would be in the Summer, Spring and Fall seasons. We didn’t take much time to wander through most of the buildings, only stopping in a few at the core to check out the artifacts. At the entrance was a gate tower, (really a taller gymnasium sized building) over top of the moat that provided a fantastic view of Tienanmen Square.

Tienanmen Square

After touring the Forbidden City we ventured to the edge of the road to take in where all the tank action had happened. The road here is huge (eight lanes) and completely uncrossable, so we used the subway access to get to the other side. The square was incredibly vast and just emanated “history” as we strolled along in no particular direction. “If only these bricks could talk” was a lament that frequently buzzed through our minds. I later read that Tiananmen is the largest civic plaza in the world, and at 500m by 800+ that’s easy to believe. It was pretty impressive with only one obstruction, and tall monument, near one end. Beside the square is Mau’s mausoleum which wasn’t open at that time of day (the afternoon). Across the street on one side was the monstrous Beijing Museum of Natural History. We had heard from many people how impressive and enjoyable a tour through it was and trekked off in that direction. Unfortunately it had just closed down a few months previously for a massive three year renovation.

Around Town

While Beijing is one of the largest cities in the world (population wise) it is laid out quite well with pretty decent transportation infastructure. There are four major ring roads allowing for fairly straightforward travel. the difficulty lies in the large density of cars now travelling these roads. While there are some cyclists who just won’t ride in the colder winter months, most of the cyclists have upgraded to cars in the last several years. I recall seeing many media pictures that always showed four or five lanes of road full of bicycles for a couple of city blocks of length. That is no more due to the robust economy and mass production of very inexpensive cars. At one dirt market we went to there were a few hundred three wheeled cycles all propped up (to save space) outside that all of the vendors had arrived on. I took a few pics of the line of them all piled up just because it was so amazing to see so many all stacked up in one place.

The Confucius Temple was nice and immediately brought about a calmness to us. Jim’s school had somehow arranged to have their (first ever) 2007 Graduation take place in the main Confucius Courtyard which I thought was extraordinarily cool. across the street and down a block was the Llama temple. This was very similar architecture and artistic painting styles to most other “old” buildings in Beijing, such as The Forbidden City. The temple though consisted of room after room (in between courtyards) of various Buhda statutes. At the very back of the temple complex was a huge Buddha, certified by Guinness, carved from a single tree. It was absolutely huge at about 3m across and maybe 8m high. The whole temple complex was considerably larger than any of those we had toured in Thailand or Laos, but I’m not sure if that’s simply due to age, or the fact that there’s far more people to “service” in China.

We also went to a little lake park in the city called “Ho Hi”(not that spelling, just the pronunciation). It was frozen over and there was skate and sled rentals with a bunch of people out enjoying themselves. There were also a dozen or so guys playing hockey (mostly Caucasian expats by the looks of it) in a section away from the leisure skaters, and lastly, one guy with speed skates who was taking himself way too seriously. Just around the corner was a restaurant supply services store where we finally found a charcoal burning hot pot. The prices were pretty good and we bought a medium sized one. Jim asked only once for us if they could discount the price at all and got a look that was deadly at best (and killed & chopped him up into little pieces before feeding those to some pigs at worst). Apparently negotiations are only expected in every other aspect of Chinese retail, but not in the services reseller supply market.

Down a little further was the Drum Tower. Jim said he had walked there with other guests and friends several times previously, but had never gone in before. It was a great little exhibit of drums in a higher tower used to convey the time to people. All the doors on the top would open to allow the sounds to penetrate the suburbs of the city. The staircase climbing up was incredibly steep, and took a bit of wind out of all five of us. At the top was a water clock as well. This series of bins and narrow diameter pipes was very cool, and ended with a 1m statute clanging his similarly scaled cymbals every quarter hour. Every half hour several drummers put on a few minute show banging out a beat on a bunch of the massive drums in the tower. Also housed off to the side were some of the original (now rotted) drums from the 1400’s, with different sizes and sounds depicting different times. Behind those in the corner is the world’s largest drum (or so the sign says) at 2.61m face diameter, 2.89 width diameter, and 1.2m in height. Across a small park was a similar tower called the “Bell Tower” with a huge bronze behemoth that we could even see quite vividly from about 200m away. We were running out of time to go check it out unfortunately.

Amazing Acrobats!!!!!!

Saturday, January 5th, 2008

Last night we went to the Beijing acrobats, and they were positively absolutely amazing!!!!! I mean you could tell that they had all been training since the age of 2 and that pratice took up a lot o time in their lives, but it was so cool! First off they were doing some very hard stunts. they had a teeter totter set up an a ladder (it actually looked more like a diving board) and to guys would jump off the ladder and fling another guy up into the air, where they would do all do a flip or a double flip or something. One person was on 2 stilts and he had a pole so he wouldn’t fall, then the 2 guys jumped and he let go of the pole, did a flip in the air and landed it!!!! then the next guy came on on ONE stilt (they were tied to his feet, not a foot). The two guys jumped and he did a double flip and landed it!!!! The next act were some very very very flexible girls. They were amazing!!! It would be so hard to totally describe what they did so I’ll just tell you a little. There was one girl for this bit and she had a candle like thing in each hand, one on her foot and the last one she was balancing from a rod in her mouth! and she turned all around the table thing she was on. There was actually three girls total. Then in another part the first girl lay down on her belly then brought her feet up near her head. then the second girl lay down on the first one then brought her feet near her head. then the third girl did the same thing on the second. They all got on and smiled. the entire crowd was laughing and clapping like crazy (moreso clapping though). I think my favorite acrobatic feat was with the bicycles. somehow they actually got 13 girls on one bike!!! and once they did it was really cool because the girls on the outside edge put out they fluffy white fans so they looked like one giant fan, on a bike!!! My favorite not acrobatic act was this one guy who was in front of a made stage wall. You could clearly see a rip in the wall. but when he got near one of those rips he would start waving his fan around and you couldn’t even see the transition, but every time he got close to one of those rips his out fit would change color! thats all I really totally remember about the show that I could say in great detail. See you later!!
Alex

Temples of Beijing

Friday, January 4th, 2008

The other day we toured the summer palace. It is where some of the old emperers (and empresses) would go for summer. It was a very nice llittle place. It sort of surronded a lake. Because it is winter the lake was frozen and on the lake there was some people folling around. There was lots of decorative buildings all along the grounds. I think my favorite one was the boat house (thats was I think it was called). It was a building that was shaped like boat, but it was on the lake and extended a bit. So it looked like a boat. We weren’t allowed to go in it though. After lots of touring I think I’ve decided China (popular places like where all the tourists are) are as bad as in Peru, when it comes to people trying to sell things to you. They just don’t take no for an answer! Its painfully anoying!! The only funny thing was when someone offer to be our tour guide for forrrbidden city, and we told him that Jim was our guide! It was very funny trying to convince him!
Yesterday we took a quick tour of forrbidden city. I don’t know much about the history but it was also a very nice place, and had a nice view of tienamin square. I can’t rem much now but this will be a fixxed.
Today we went to 2 temples. The first was the lama temple the second was called the temple of confushus (I was just guessing the spelling). It was really nice to walk around both of the temples. The second one was almost like a maze! It has a world record (guiness) because the really tall budda was made out of one tree. S’all for now
Miss you guys lots!!!
Alex

There’s no place like A home

Monday, December 31st, 2007

While the trip we have taken so far (and will continue on) has been nothing short of spectacular, the toll of inanimate hotel rooms quickly begins to wear. They have ranged wildly from the very basic to rather deluxe, ($18-$280 per night). We have had some amazing exceptions on this trip of being invited to friends homes to stay for a few days. The first in Costa Rica at Maricela’s which we had paid for as part of our Spanish lesson’s. In Australia we met up with Robert & Leesa-Maree who graciously invited us to veg out in their spare room a few times for almost a week. Now in Beijing we stayed at Jim & Letty Gerber’s place a few days before heading to Shanghai. There we stayed at Gerber’s friends who were back home in North America for the holidays. This was simply wonderful to be able to buy some groceries and relax in a true home. Never mind that they had left their Christmas tree and decorations up all around the house. This was a wonderfully warm environment to spend our first Christmas away from home in and we really appreciated their hospitality. Especially since they had never met us and were just going off of Jim’s word. Jim and Letty’s apartment is great too, even more so now that He’s back and she’ll be joining us in a couple of days. All in all, there’s nothing quite like a big old couch to stretch out on a recuperate from a few days of travel and sightseeing!

Thanks Everyone!!!!

PS: HAPPY NEW YEARS!!!

Figure Skating, The bestest sport in the world!!!!

Thursday, December 27th, 2007

I bet you guessed already, but if you didn’t I tell you. We got to go figure skating yesterday! First the bad parts;
-the ice was bad
-the skates weren’t, making it even harder to skate
-they weren’t the type of skate I’m used to, no ankle support
-the ice was melting
So all in all I couldn’t do much because of those factors. Pretty much skate forward, sorta a spread eagle, a drag and a cross cut every 20 mins or so.
Good parts;
-It was way fun!!!!!!
-I got some pratice
-It reminded me of home, which is equal to no homesickness whatsoever for about 3 months
-I was the only one who didn’t fall!
-I just had the funnest time for a while!
Thats all the goods I can think of currently.

Ok I exaggerated, Dad didn’t fall. I was the only one who didn’t deserve to fall. Luke and mom fell which disqualifies them and dad did a running jump onto then ice. Therefore I was the only one who didn’t deserve to fall. 🙂

Now a few days later I really gotta say….

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!!!!
Really miss you guys!!!!

Miss you alll!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Alex

Christmas in China

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

It was a pretty subdued affair for us. Santa had to make two trips since our presents were misdirected to the Canada Bag, so he returned to China after delivering to the Great White North. While there were decorations and carols playing in the public spaces, it was still a regular workday for the proletarian masses. This naturally involved an early awakening for Claudette and I due to the 7:00 AM pounding and sawing construction noises outside our window.

I’d forgotten to mention in the previous China post how it seems MOSTLY like a regular capitalist pig society here, and there are not strong undertones of the oppressive communist rule that we expected. The shopping malls are packed with people spending lots of money, traffic is very abundant with lotsa new vehicles and fashion clothing is on everyone. I’m sure that if there was a gathering of more than twenty people in any public area the police would come out of the woodwork to quash it, but on the surface things seem very “normal” and semi-democratic. Another odd thing I’d forgotten to specifically point out previously was the almost absolute lack of motor scooters & motorbikes around. There’s even less here than in Edmonton in the Summer! Very different considering that they seemed to make up 90% of all vehicles on the road in the rest of Southeast Asia.

M e r r y . . C h r i s t m a s ! ! !

Tuesday, December 25th, 2007

sany0080.JPG

Four Days in China

Monday, December 24th, 2007

We’d heard from many other travelers and some friends that Beijing was the city with the most smog & pollution that they had encountered. No ones comments prepared us for the heavy set haze and absolute lack of view that we encountered. The ride from the airport to Jim & Letty’s apartment was pretty quick though, only about twenty minutes or so. Major roads along the route had side lanes for bicycles and animal carts. We know this of course from the pictures signs indicating such. Jim had helped us book a flight to Shaing Hei (sp???) for a week over Christmas starting two days after we arrived in China. So we had a complete Veg day, and watched a whole bunch of movies at their place (along with a quick spurt of grocery shopping across the street). We arranged with the same driver that picked us up from the airport to take us back early (5:30 AM) in two days. Their apartment has a spectacular view! It is nicely done up as well, but Claudette and I both noticed the lack of Mexican or Spanish adornments.

At the airport we had trouble figuring out which domestic airline counter to go to as their were about fifty of them. When I was at the cell phone counter for a minute, Claudette started receiving help discerning our tickets from a couple Chinese ladies who seemed to know English fairly well. They took us to the counter to check us in, and verbally accosted me for trying to help with baggage or trying to communicate with the ticket counter lady. They had name tags, but only from some hotel. I tried to get ahold of my tickets again after we had checked in to no avail. Instead they led us to the correct entry gate, which was helpful but still something we could have stumbled through ourselves. After I got my ticket back her shrill arrogant voice could be heard demanding a “Tip?”. Instead of making a scene in front of my darling wife at being held hostage by this petty criminal, I sent her to Claudette to get some cash for being “helpful”. Of course I kicked myself afterwards for not remembering the hotel name so I could vehemently complain to the management about her behavior when we returned to Beijing. Luckily Claudette sternly negotiated her down from the $30 tip she originally wanted to a little over $10. The flight was a larger plane packed full, but pretty uneventful. It was raining in Shang Hei when we arrived, but that still didn’t dampen our spirits cause we were about to ride the FLANE! The airport here is about 30km from the edge of the city proper and we were gonna be taking the MagLev train (or “floating Train” as Luke called it). It is supported and propelled by electromagnetic currents along the track at a top speed of 341 km/hr we soon found out. To say that the scenery absolutely flew by is rather an understatement… It was amazing! The ride only took a few minutes and when we started slowing down to approach the end station it seemed as though we were crawling along at a human running pace even though the digital speed readout still said 95kph!

It was still late morning when we had arrived so we leisurely made our way by Taxi from the MagLev station to Jim’s friend Neil’s home. They had taught together previously and Jim made (Awesome!) arrangements for us to stay in their vacant apartment while they were home visiting for the holidays. Luckily there was another huge grocery store just across the street and this home was incredibly nice as well. I’d love to ask about the cost of rent just for curiosity sake. They have a tonne of movies and a maid who visits every day to do dishes, laundry and cleaning ‘n stuff. What a way to go! Jim has one too, (a maid) and I mentioned to Claudette that we gotta look into this phenomena as well! This family has a beautiful Christmas tree set up unlike the infidel Gerber’s…

After a (yet another!) day of relaxing we went touring a bit yesterday and visited the Oriental Pearl Tower. It is such a cool design for towers that makes it still worth visiting even though it’s small than the CN tower in Toronto. We had a pretty good buffet lunch up in the rotating restaurant before heading up even higher to check out the even better view from the Space Pod deck. While the pollution wasn’t as bad as it was in Beijing, it was still fairly dense here in Shang Hei. Luckily, the day we chose to go up the tower was not too bad for smog (plus it had stopped raining!). We could see “city” as far as the eye reached in all directions, which was only about 15+ km I would think. Still a pretty cool experience.

After the tower we went across the street to a ten story high shopping mall and got pushed and shoved around by the crowds there for a couple of hours. We didn’t really buy anything, just checking the place out. They did have a skating rink on one of the upper floors which looked pretty cool. We’re gonna go back on boxing day for a skate. Other than that we don’t seem to have any other major plans here. Once we get back to Beijing it’ll be gangbusters tours again though.

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23rd, 2007

I can’t believe it’s the 24th already! I think we have about 13 countries left. The trip is pretty much half over. It’s not a good thing or a bad thing, we are just missing home. Alot! The first thing I noticed when we got to Bejjing was the smog! You can practically taste it. It is very sad because it will be the middle of the day it is a cloudless sky but the sun is very blocked. But it is still a very beautiful city! I recommend every one who hasn’t seen the pictures should just stop reading right at this very moment and go look at the Santa Claus clan I made of plasticine. There is Mrs Claus, Mr Claus (Santa Claus), Baby Claus, Rudolf, two identicalish looking elves, four beautifully colored presents, a heart that says thank U and Santa’s sleigh (It is multi colored due to the fact that I was really running out of clay). It took me a while but I think it qualifies me to be an arteest (not an artist they are pros)! We aren’t in Bejjing right now though, we are in Shaing Hai. Here we are going to see the Oriental Pearl Tower. It is one of the tallest towers in the world and it is the tallest tower in Asia. To get to the place we are at we at we had to take a maglev. It kinda stands for magnetic train. What it is a train that kinda levitates using magnetics which allows it to reach very high speeds. When we were on the maglev it went 450 km! That is it for now, bye!
AJ

TECHNOLOGY SPENDING SPREE!

Friday, December 21st, 2007

In the ritzier hotel in Hong Kong, I went out shopping alone one evening and came back with the new Sanyo waterproof digital video (640×480 only) and 6MP digital still camera for Alex that we had been eying up for awhile. We first saw he Olympus one in Fiji back in Sept for almost $500. That included a lot of extras, but I still didn’t care for the fact that it used an XD card, since we already had various devices with SD and Sony Memory stick cards on the go. The thought of having another format of card to carry around all manner of accessories for just made my head spin. Luckily the Sanyo one uses SD, and the price on it had been slowly decreasing as we made our way North up through Asia. Prices on electronics in Hong King were generally OK, but not near as spectacular as I had expected. MP3 players specifically were no better, and in fact were often higher than North American or Australian prices. Ipods of every color, size and derrivation filled up huge amounts of every store. I had no interest in a genuine ipod due to the highly restrictive software and their poor price/feature index compared to almost every other brand available. Anyways, I digress… At the same place I bought Alex’s camera I also grabbed a 120GB hard drive small size media player. The brand is not one I had heard of in North America before, but that hardly means anything. It is a Vosonic 8360 and includes integrated video and audio recording. It’s not near a large and bulky as the Archos model I intended on buying, but the Archos was slightly more money and on top of that it still requires a separate cradle for about $120 to hook up to a larger sound system or to record. Another bonus on this one is that it includes a SD and CF cardreader into the chassis for PALM or Alex’s Sanyo camera backups. Very cool and handy! Our intention when we get back home is to have this adjacent and hooked up to the living room stereo system for playback of any of our entire music collection, without needing CD’s ever again. We concluded that this was maybe a better option rather than streaming them by WIFI from a server computer downstairs. We will probably still buy one video/audio streaming receiver when we get home for playback on the TV and audio system downstairs though. Lastly I managed to grab a CREATIVE brand MP3 player speaker set that’s specifically designed for the Zen V we have. It docks right in the front of the speakers and they provide incredible portable (or plug-in) sound while charging the player. Since the Zen V model is discontinued the speakers were about 1/3 of the original price! Well, they were half but since I bought them with the camera and 120Gig portable player the total price got drastically reduced. That cost a good hour investment of my life, but it was pretty worth it considering what I ended up paying for everything.

A few days later we all went about ten blocks North to another shopping district known to be not quite as ritzy as the one by our first hotel. This one area had all similar stores focussed in an area, so the consumer didn’t really have to go far to compare. The prices here were actually stickered (marked) on most items and were cheaper than the fancier area at the very South end of Kowloon. At the South end the stickers just had cost codes that the clerk would look at and then look at the consumer to size up how much he thought he could get away with before reciting a price. So while the Northern area prices were all cheaper, there was very little (if even none at all!) room for negotiating. In this area we were slightly looking for a new, larger, MP3 player for Alex and I was checking prices on a bluetooth microphone for our video camera. This would allow the person to wear a mike and transmit the audio up to 30m away to the cameraman. It was pretty cool, and something I had been looking at since we left home (at $400!). In Malaysia the price was about $300, (but that’s also possibly mainly due to the decreasing price over time) and in Vietnam I saw it for $250. In a couple places in Hong Kong I saw it for $175, and then $151 that day. My target price had always been $150, but I held off to try and get it with other things for a combined reduced rate. At one place we saw a new mini computer from Asus, called the EeePC 1701 that had a 7″ screen, was ultra portable with a battery, ran Linux or Windoze XP, had WIFI, a built in web cam and was only $385. This was a brand new item and NO STORE would go down on price, (as we eventually found out from repeated asking). So, finally at one store (we were running out of time before a booked space show at the science center that evening) I arbitrarily asked for a price on the 16GB flash MP4 player Alex had been eying up. The attendant made a mistake of $74 less on her verbal quote to me. I immediately agreed to buy it and also inquired if the had the Sony bluetooth mike. It turns out that they did, and better yet it was the best price I had ever seen at $138!!! I didn’t even bother trying to negotiate and just whipped out my VISA urging her to ring it up before some manager came along and knocked her to her senses.

We had been having quite a bit of difficulty connecting to the internet lately, (since half way through Thailand). It was becoming increasingly expensive, and the hotel “business centers” were almost cost prohibitive! The funny part was, most hotels we had stayed at in the latter part of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Hong Kong, all provided wired internet access for free in the rooms. This must have twigged Claudette’s nerves, because she was actively pursuing this little Asus ultra-light laptop, (with my approval of course!). We went back to the original place we hahd seen it and grabbed one before rushing off to the show on Black Holes. So, we spent a poopload of cash, but got some pretty good deals on “stuff” that we were planning on buying anyways or would be quite useful to us. I’m still typing this on the Palm, but no one else seems to like using it due to the keyboard occasionally acting up. For two thirds of the rest of the family, it has become a very expensive portable solitaire game…

Hong Kong

Friday, December 21st, 2007

This “Administratively distinct” region of China was really fun and interesting. Well, except for our feeble attempts at finding a reasonable hotel of course! We expected that before arriving, but we were still shocked to be paying CAN $300/night for only three beds, but downtown. Crazy! We stayed on the Kowloon side, across Victoria Harbor from Hong King Island. It was pretty cool, but we later discovered that we were in the slightly ritzier district for shops and hotels. Traffic was solidly busy everywhere we could see as well, so NOBODY jaywalked here. Hong Kong reminded both Claudette and I of Singapore in a lot of ways. After watching the discovery channel Extreme Engineering show on building the Hong Kong airport, tunnels, bridges and high speed train system it was pretty cool to see it all and ride it.

Sadly, a few days before while looking up activities to do in HK we found out about the gondola car dropping from the cable thus closing down the entire ride to the big Buhda that we had also watched an episode about on Extreme Engineering. We had seen quite enough Buhda’s in all shapes, sizes and mannerisms (believe me!) in Thailand and Laos, but we had been looking forward to this billion dollar gondola ride. We still managed to take the street cable car up the side of very steep hills on Hong Kong Island though. That was certainly a big highlight, even with heavy smaug obscuring the other side of the harbor, (At least, I thought I saw a dragon flying around???). Madam Tusseau (sp?) had a wax museum up there too, but we didn’t bother buying tickets since Claudette only wants to see the original (apparently?) in France. From the top we could see down to the ocean on both sides of the mountain. There were some pretty spectacular homes up here too! I can’t even imagine the price…

We looked for a venue to watch the (Guinness Book of of World records approved) world’s largest permanent light show, and caught most of it for fifteen minutes at 8:00 PM. It was OK, but not near as spectacular as we had heard and read about from so many different sources. We assumed that there was music, but it wasn’t played at our location and we didn’t have a radio. The next night though, after watching a great show on Black holes at the Science Center, we watched the light show from the opposite side. The whole area alongside the harbor was developed and had speakers to play music matching the light show. This was clearly the place to be to see it, and we went to the second floor balcony of the Art Museum to get an uncrowded view. There were scads of people crowding and elbowing in the other areas, but apparently none had thought hard enough to look for the obscured stairway coming up where we were, with only five or six other people along a huge 200m long deck area. On some of the video we captured, it can clearly be heard two and a half of us saying:

“WOW!!! Halifax doesn’t have ANYTHING like this!”