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Captain's Log: Stardate 16-8-2013 Supplimental

How about a Q and A session?

sunny 97 °F
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Ok, no pics on this one. We are waiting for our flight to Chengdu and it's late "due to air traffic congestion."

So, let's have a little fun on the "small game." A phony Q & A session. If I don't finish this before we board (currently set for 90 mins from now) I'll finish tomorrow morning. Right now, I'm thinking we are getting in to our hotel on a late night timetable. Ugh. I'm pretty sure it's a long drive to the Panda Center, and that is just the morning schedule. We hit Dufu Cottage in the afternoon. Bruce and I have been having fun with his name for days. Can't wait to be laughing hysterically for no reason once we get there.

Ok...the Q & A

Q: What is the strangest things you have witnessed in China so far?

A: Probably some of the English language T-Shirts that make no sense. It's largely a fashion statement for the Chinese. Now, they don't get a total pass. Most of the younger people start learning English early, like we teach French and Spanish to our elementary and middle schoolers. That's how Faye, our most recent guide, learned hers. But there are some real howlers. We've put a few in our pictures, we'll try to get some more up.

Q: What has surprised you the most?

A: There haven't been a ton of surprises. I like to do my research and I did a lot this summer before we headed over. I guess what is interesting is some of the things I read about that have become readily evident. The dust, the construction, the masses of people, the jostling, the cigarette smoking (unbelievably bad) the poverty, the staring at us (two old westerners with two little Chinese girls who speak english, not Chinese), the people who walk up and ask questions. I get quizzed by people when I'm at the bathroom, I think so they can practice their english. When I tell them I'm American, they don't act surprised. It's probably similar to the way we can't help staring at Amish in Lancaster County; we expect to see them, but we still can't help staring in surprise. "Gee, they really exist?"

The biggest surprise for me is the incredibly evident Chinese wealth as evidenced by automobiles, luxury stores (full of Chinese, not westerners), large groups vacationing at 5 star resorts, and on. Bruce and I agree: Mao may be on the money, but he would be cheesed to see what has happened to his socialist revolution.

Q: What do you like the most over there?

A: The people have been largely outstanding. Our guides are little short of amazing. I know this is what they do for a living, but they know they will never see us again, yet they keep in touch. We have continued to exchange emails with every one of them. Example: When we left Nanning, the driver threw away a bag that he thought had trash in it. It actually held a tile from the site where Laurie's original SWI had been. She had picked up a piece as a memento. Bruce just got off the phone with Hannah: she had obtained another tile and will be sending it to our hotel in Beijing. Seriously. I can't tell you some of the other amazing things she did. Sandy got us front row seats to the cultural show. We wouldn't have known the difference, but he worked hard to do it. Faye just saved our bacon when there was a discrepancy in Laurie's passport. Evidently, the ticket had her old passport number on it; Bruce had to get her a new one this summer because the passport must be more than 6 months from expiring when you travel. This young lady in her early 20s cut through some pretty tough red tape and got the situation resolved in around 15 mins.

Q: What do you like least?

A: Hard to say. Some of it is simply comfort issues, and I know that, as an American, I am spoiled. They consider air conditioning at 80 degrees to be ok; we don't. We drink a lot more fluids, especially because we sweat so much when it's hot, and we miss ice-cold drinks with ice. Some roads are super smooth and nice, others are like tank traps at Normandy. Dust, heat, noise, yelling, chattering, excited gesturing, massive crowds and pushing, and a resistance to lining up. All of these can grate on your nerves if you let them. Being pre-warned made it easier for me, but didn't make me like it any more. I also have strong opinions of a national/cultural need to do things for higher reasons. I see an important place for religion there. I think it is something some are seeking, but for many, it's simply about getting ahead, keeping your forward momentum, and advancing. Most of those we meet are interested in coming to visit America. We would love have them come visit. I think it would be more of a cultural shock for them than China has been for us. That's due to availability of information. Many Chinese are learning to get around the "Great Firewall of China "(government blocking of websites like US Google - they use Hong Kong, and Facebook) But most aren't interested in wasting their time with that when there are so many approved portals they can go through. In 20 years, what will the government do when all that is for naught? Interesting question.

Q: What would you hope people would take away from your experiences from this blog?

A: Ah, I'll save that for the end...many places still to go.

Q: What is modern air travel like in China?

A: Pretty good. Most of the facilities are new, security is not nearly as draconian as it is in the US, and luggage comes out quickly. I could tell on our flight from Nanning to Hefei that a number of them were flying on a plane for the first time. They were posing, taking pictures, and having to be told the flight rules. I love the way each member of the flight crew is introduced over the PA and they bow as each name is announced. It's kinda fun. The attendents work hard because they need the job and want to keep it. For the most part, you see that around China with service personnel except the stores. You can tell the store salespeople are bored; and not on commission! Probably because they see us Americans. We spend all our money just getting there and are cheap, or don't buy much in the stores. Whereas the Chinese figure they are on "vacation" and drop a bundle on gifts, souvenirs, and parties when on vacation. At least, this is what Sandy told us, and I'll bet he's right!

Q: Do you tip in China?

A: In theory, no. But westerners have ruined things there also, and it's starting to get expected. The Chinese culture would say that you shouldn't get extra money just for being proper in performing your tasks. But the consumer culture is booming in China and tipping is catching on. In a few years, in the major cities, it will probably be like most cities in the world.

Q: What do the Chinese do for fun?

A: From what we saw, smoke, drink, eat, talk loudly, and stare (just kidding on that last one). We see a lot of ads for liquor (not beer), fashions, but mostly by the government (police, admonishments to behave better (I don't know what else to call it) and government construction.) The models are starting to look western in revealing outfits and made up to a T western-style. Looking around the airport here, many of them read a lot (books, newspapers, etc) but, and here is another big surprise of the trip, EVERYONE, AND I DO MEAN EVERYONE, OWNS A CEL PHONE. The telephone is a relatively new reality for many Chinese. We had wired phone technology for a century; China has not. Cel technology has allowed them to connect hundreds of millions of people simply by putting up massive numbers of cel towers, not miles of pole and wires. People are motorbiking with one hand and yelling on their cel. They walk and text and expect others to get out of their way (from what I have witnessed, amazingly, they do.) Numerous signs tell people on the highway not to text and drive (they do anyway) I have seen people in what looks like abject squalor texting on a smartphone. It's truly amazing. There are few iPhones, unlike the USA here. The smartphones are largely Android, with those huge Samsung Note IIs being most popular. There are other manufacturers like Lenovo, Huawei, and others. But you can walk for a long time around any public areas and see swarms of people in groups, or individually, swiping, texting, or, more often, yelling (not talking quietly) It's quite a massive experience.

Q: Anything you forgot?

A: Sure, and perhaps I'll do another of these sometimes. Some I hold back on. We have had weird blockage of some sites we use from time to time. I don't know if that is intentional or accidental, but it does make one a little paranoid. Some things I hold back because it sounds petty. Like the spitting phenomenon. Chinese spit...a LOT. It's ok, because it's usually presaged by a loud HOOOOWWWWWAAAACCCCCCK..then a pause, then PTOOOOH. So you do have time to not get in the firing line. I attribute it, as outlined in one of my guide books, to the smoking, but also the poor air quality. Bruce and I are ready to leave Hefei. It's nice, but it reminded us of Anaheim in the 1970s...or worse. Hopefully there is a clearer air in the hilly regions of Chengdu.

Well, I hope this has been fun. Allegedly, our plane leaves in 30 mins...but I'm preparing to be disappointed. :) It's all good. The Chinese take it in stride...and I think I should too.

Zai Jian

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 03:48 Archived in China Tagged me buildings people parties night hotel research prep Comments (1)

Hong Kong: Economic powerhouse in transition

How now red cow?

sunny 94 °F
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We awakened before the crack of dawn on Thursday to head early to Incheon International Airport for our trip to Hong Kong. Since we had an 8:10 departure time, and wanted to allow at least an hour to travel to the airport, and two hours before departure for check-in, that meant a 4 am wake-up.

The girls have been great, but it's also been challenging for youngsters who have never experienced jet lag. And a 12 hour jet lag is the "mother of all jet lags." (90's Saddam Hussein reference) The Seoul bus transfer system is well oiled and our departure from the PJ Hotel to Incheon was as smooth as it can be when trying to help two sleepy children to negotiate the streets of Seoul at 5 am! IMG_0373.jpg

As we have found in many cities on our trip so far, they local and national governments want to encourage tourism, and in Seoul, the bus system to and from the airport is very nice, efficient, and prompt. We boarded the bus from the same drop-off point that had led us to Hotel PJ, and made it to the airport in plenty of time. This allowed us the opportunity for a nice little snack of muffins and juiceIMG_0374.jpg before getting on our second, and unfortunately last, trip on Korean Airlines. I swear, I'd fly with them to Cleveland, if I had to go there! So we say goodbye to KAL...and...

...hello Hong Kong! The airport is on a different island from the main peninsula of Kowloon where most of Hong Kong's famous skyscrapers are located. It used to be only accessible by ferry, but there is now a fabulous express train/bus combination that gets you to the main hotels for us foreigners! We waited in the entryway for the train while Hayley scouted out how we would arrive at our final destination: The Kowloon Hotel.IMG_0380.jpg

The train has only a few stops before you disembark at a busy station where gloved attendants direct you to a fleet of buses. You put your luggage below, put your carry-ons in a holding area on the bus and are whisked downtown like the opening of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom through the busy streets of Kowloon to a series of stops at the hotels most frequented by tourists. Hong Kong is constantly being rebuilt as older structures are torn down and water, sewage, and transit infrastructure is updated. Bruce found much of it unfamiliar from his visit just 8 years ago.

After getting settled in our two "cozy" rooms, it was off to see the town! We were right across the street from one of the finer hotels in Kowloon: The PeninsularIMG_0181.jpg. I know that because their internet was free; ours was not. So I just let Bruce blog last night and saved this blog for the free internet here in Guilin. More about Guilin in my nightime blog in a few hours.

Our main goal of the day was to get to Victoria's Peak for the storied nighttime view of Hong Kong. That quest would allow us to take in many of the sights in sound in the pursuit of that holy grail of tourism. Alas, it was more pursuit than we had bargained for! We started with a ride on the famous Star Ferry line. We would take it to the other side of the peninsula, closer to the Victoria Peak, take in inclined trolley tram to the top, have dinner, and then take in the sight as the city lights up! It started well enough on the ferry.IMG_0184.jpg It's a nice slow ride past the newer areas of Hong Kong where today's jet set live in penthouse apartments on the newest complexes. IMG_0188.jpg Hong Kong has been trying to manage it's future without losing grip on it's past. It's past is not merely British colonialism, but one of the most important ports of the world. It's also a major player in the asian economic story, and the Hong Kong trading floor's Hang Seng index is watched by as many investors as those who live and die by the Dow Jones or S & P averages. It's now playing a part in China's economic story on the international scene. How that will play out over time will be a fascinating story.

After the ferry ride, we took to walking the streets of Hong Kong to complete our journey to the Peak Tram. Much of Hong Kong's walkways are above the streets, winding through and around office complexes replete with restaurants and night clubs. We also noticed that almost all construction is NOT done with steel scaffolding. The scaffolding is still in bambooIMG_0192.jpg It was confusing, and we got lost several times. It was hot, muggy, and jet lag was an issue. I even turned on my cel data roaming to have Google maps get us out of the mess. Finally, we relented and had a taxi drive us to the tram stop. It was only five bucks. Hmmm...file that away somewhere in my noggin...

The tram is a real mob scene.IMG_0195.jpg You may wait a few hours in the tropical sun before you get loaded onto the tram. But the wait is worth it for the experience of going up the hill...and what you see up top.large_IMG_0384.jpg

It had been such a physically demanding day that we were finding energy a challengeIMG_0200.jpg
and no one really had much of an appetite...except for a taxi ride home and a nice waiting bed. Fortunately, sunset was upon us and we did stick it out enough to get that desired stunning shot of Hong Kong at night from Victoria's Peak.IMG_0388.jpglarge_IMG_0390.jpg

Now, it was time for four groggy traveler's to do another hour long wait to get on the tram going down. None of the taxi drivers wanted to take us to the hotel (too short a drive, but we were again, confused as to directions). I pulled out my iPhone (saved again!) turned on my cel data roaming, and started walking to the hotel. Hayley said, "let's take the subway" and we were able to get on the proper train going the proper direction, popped out of the underground, and complete the final few block to our hotel, and more importantly, our BEDS. We all crashed and looked forward to tomorrow, breakfast, and entering the People's Republic of China!

Tonight...entering the PRC and spending a good part of the day at Hong Kong International Airport!

See you soon from Yangsuo Province and the Moondance Boutique Resort!

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 14:46 Archived in Hong Kong Tagged me buildings skylines people children trains Comments (0)

Over the Pole and into Seoul

We establish our first Asian adventure in Korea

overcast 88 °F
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Going from Boston to JFK was a hop, skip, and a plop. But getting ready for our 14 hour flight to Seoul seemed daunting. Bruce and Jo had gone on Korean Air when they went to meet Laurie in 2003 so we decided to take KE for our first leg of our journey even if it was a bit more. We later realized we had bought at just the right time and we had an experience that reminded us of what air travel can be like.

The flight crew of KE 82 were gracious, patient, attentive, tireless, joyful, creative in solving problems, and, with the exception of one young man, all women. They came to the airport looking like they would be walking the runway at a fashion show, rather than an airport! By the end of the trip, many of us felt like something on the floor of a theater after a Saturday morning matinee. The crew was as effervescent as ever. Bruce and I remarked again and again that this KAL crew was showing the world that it can[i] be done. We saw them line up before entering the jet in JFK and it looked like their version of the pre-game meeting at the Super Bowl! large_IMG_0318.jpg

Once onboard, we settled into our "new economy" seats in KAL's massive A380 Airbus. I sent a text to my bride, who remarked, it looks as big as an apartment building. True...but how many buildings hold over 400 people?! It's a 3-4-3 configuration, and we had chosen a row of four near the front (and the bathrooms) We were excited to get on our way! IMG_0320.jpg

Food was tasty and nicely presentedIMG_0329

IMG_0329

And once we landed, we promptly got on a very nice bus for our trip to our hotel!IMG_0332.jpg After a bit of excitement trying to find our hotel (which was only "one block" away) we checked in, dumped our luggage, and headed off for some quick Korean cuisine...at Burger King! IMG_0346

IMG_0346

Finally, it was time to head home. We scouted out some eating places for the morning. It's going to be a quick beginning to the day as we head to the Seoul USO for a tour of the DMZ between the two Koreas. IMG_0348.jpg

On our way back, we had a glimpse of the active small stores around our hotel. Perhaps tomorrow, we can be a little more adventuresome than Burger King!IMG_0350.jpg

It's late and I must rise in a few hours. Good night, all!

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 07:51 Archived in South Korea Tagged me buildings children night planes hotel Comments (1)

Just a few days away

Planning, packing, and preparing

sunny 83 °F
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I admit it; I'm a technogeek. I have spent the last few days largely focusing on making sure that I take advantage of things that might be useful in the event of unexpected happenings. One thing one can usually be sure of when traveling is the unanticipated and Mr. Murphy's law. (I'll have to find out if there is a Chinese name for Mr. Murphy) I am not saying that I expect "bad" things to happen, I'm simply saying that I want to have as many tools available to deal with sudden changes or the need to pivot to Plan B, C, and so on. (The Chinese have so many more characters in their alphabet; is this why? ;) )

Laurie has done a lot of thinking along the same lines and several days ago presented me with a wonderful notebook full of our reservations, information on possible excursions, and even some Chinese phrases that I should get to know. large_IMG_0280.jpg I must admit that I am not too good at languages (a frustration for my wife who is excellent at them; I wish she was coming!) So...I came up with my techno response: Google translate!

I am bringing my iPhone 5 and have already gotten it "unlocked" (so that I can put a China Mobile sim card in and use it in China on their system!) and have added some nice apps, most of which are free! I have some Seoul apps (even one that helps you find a public toilet!) a Seoul tourism app that does maps, and some other tourism maps that cover sites in Hong Kong and each Chinese city we will be in. While most of these work offline (so you don't need data connections...and roaming charges!) my China mobile sim will give me some data connection. Woo-hoo! I can still iMessage my bride back in the States! I also expect to make use of whatever WiFi my hotels or restaurants have. Portable batteries to charge the phone, my camcorder, plug adapters, a myriad number of other electronic items are joining me on the trip. I really want to make sure we document this. Of course, this blog will be an important part of helping those at home continue to experience it in a small way as well do our "Today is Tuesday, it must be Chengdu" tour!

Finally, I will need some clothing. Yes, even the Chinese don't like to see nekkid foreigners. This part of the planning has been going on since June. I'm using lightweight clothing that can be sink washed and dried overnight. That includes "underclothing" and then keeping the toiletries to a minimum.large_IMG_0281.jpg Most areas in Asia still struggle with their water systems because it will take decades to replace old piping, not because modern water purification systems are unknown to them. I expect a lot of bottled water, even to brush teeth in, but I still hope to find some acceptable swimming pools in order to keep up my "conditioning." I know this will be a physically energetic trip for a couch potato like myself, but I have been working to get myself into a little better shape in order to be a help and not a burden.

I'm getting excited about the coming weekend. Sunday, I leave for Boston where Bruce and the girls are participating in a reunion of those who went over in 2003 when Hayley was added to the family. Monday morning, we leave Logan for a flight to JFK in NYC. Then it's 14.5 hours in a Korean Air Airbus Jumbo for the initial flight to Seoul. I'm getting geared up and ready for this wonderful opportunity to be part of a blessing...

Till then,

Keith

Posted by Kwpres 15:48 Archived in USA Tagged me research prep Comments (1)

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