Wednesday, April 30, 2008


A few more random tidbits from the trip to Hong Kong and China.
  • Some of the restaurants in HK had 2 sets of chopsticks at each place setting. One is for serving the other is for eating.
  • I noticed in the elevator at the Ritz there was no 4th or 13th floor. I knew that 13 is "unlucky" for westerners and I figured the same applied to the #4 in the east. Sure enough when I asked somebody I was told that the #4 equates to death. People don't even like to have the number 4 in their license plates. Of course the Hilton wasn't superstitious both a 4th and a 13th floor.

In all my travels I really thought that I had seen everything at an airport but I was surprised twice. At security at Hong Kong I was provided with a bin to put my bag and belongings in. There was a number on the bottom of the bin and a laminated piece of paper with the same number. I had to carry the number through security with me and present it to pick up my bags after they were screened. The next surprise was in Shanghai, after I collected by luggage I started to walk out but quickly realized that the staff was examining all luggage tags to make sure everybody had the correct suitcase. Luckily I knew where my baggage claim tag was so I was able to safely leave with my luggage.

And that's all you need to know about my latest adventure.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Beijing - Olympics and Street Life

Olympic Fever
It seemed like everywhere you turned there was someone or something advertising the Olympics and not just in Beijing. I saw signs on lampposts in Hong Kong and Shanghai as well. The clock counting down the days was on a building outside Tian'amen Square. In preparation for the Olympics Beijing has been spending a lot of time and money beautifying the city - all of the buses are brand new, flowers have been planting everywhere and overall the city looks very clean. In order for blue skies to be seen during the games instead of the normal haze, factories will be closed to reduce the emissions. In preparation for the loads of tourists, press, athletes, etc that will be coming to town a total of 57 new hotels are being built and scheduled to open this summer. The tour guides have already been told that they can have no days off during the games, and possibly for a the week before and after.

Street Life

I was amused by the various types of transportation that were seen on the streets of Beijing. The most popular was definitely the bike but the types of bicycles varied widely. Some were battery powered, some were old, some were new, some were pulling carts. For people with disabilities that can not ride a bicycle you can apply for a license for an enclosed motorized vehicles. As you get further from the city center you quite frequently see donkeys pulling carts. Near my hotel this was unfortunately not to be seen.
Periodically you would see the people that were pulling carts jump off their bike and uncover the cart to reveal food, books, drinks, etc that were then sold on the side of the road for a few minutes. They would then suddenly jump back on their bike and ride off. This type of selling does not appear to be legal. After a few minutes of people watching I realized that there were teams of people that were all working together. The people selling items had a lookout person who would instruct them when to leave and when to return. The woman in the jean jacket in the picture to the right was the lookout.
Of course there are shops along the road where it is perfectly legal to sell items. It is quite common to see grills/deep fryers set up with kebabs. 5 CNY for 2 kebabs - quite a tasty dinner and probably the cheapest meal I've had in quite some time.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Ancient History

I hope you have some time on your hands as you settle in to read this post as this is going to be a long one (over 3 full pages in word and that doesn’t include the pictures). So go get a cup of coffee or some other beverage and get ready to settle in – no really go get something to drink this is going to take a while. To start with you need to load 13 pictures below (I did resize them to make them smaller for those of you on slow links). While some pictures are below more pictures will be posted to my photography site next week when I get back.

The Forbidden City
Thursday started off with a trip to Tian’anmen Square and The Forbidden City. Maps here are rather deceiving, first off there is no legend on them so you have no idea how far apart things are (that may be intentional), second the distances between items vary there is no standard. I however was aware that Tian’anmen Square is the starting point for a trip to the city. The square is absolutely massive and loaded with tourists. Queues line up around the block to get into Mao’s Masoleum, a couple of statues but otherwise the square is just a large concrete area, reminded me a bit of the queues to see the Sistine Chapel at Vatican City.

All entrances to the square are guarded where your purse is searched. I was surprised that they didn’t want to search my backcpack as well. If I could smuggle something in a purse I could smuggle much more in a backpack, but I was not about to point this fact out to anybody. I was a little surprised by the number of Chinese tourists at the square as well, I later found out that many tour groups that cater to the locals are forbidden from coming into Beijing during the Olympics. They do not want the attractions overly crowded and they will be crowded enough with out-of-towners. As a result many people are taking trips now that they would normally take in the summer. You can easily pick out the people on a tour they’re all wearing matching hats or jackets and following a person waving a flag. I quickly learned to spot them and walk the opposite direction of wherever they were going or wait for them to walk by in order to get a closer look in the FC (I've decided I need to start abbreviating – this stands for Forbidden City not Football Club).

You walk under the road from the square to FC and basically just follow the swarms of people. There’s a pre-cursor to the entrance to the FC where there are art exhibits, vendors trying to push junk on you and oddly enough a basketball court.

Speaking of vendors I find it odd that they think that by pushing things in your face or following you around a store that you’ll buy something from them. I walked away from 1 vendor because they wouldn’t leave me alone after I asked them multiple times to just let me browse, bought the same item somewhere else cheaper, oh well.

I bought my tickets to enter the city – I guess nothing is really forbidden as long as you’re willing to pay the price. I erroneously bought the audio guide – I’ve always found these worthless not sure why I thought this would be worthwhile. I remember very little about what was said on the audio tour and I don’t even know for sure that it was telling me the right things. It was all wireless that would detect where you were standing and start talking to you. At many times it way say to look at this item and I couldn’t see what it meant. One of the things I do remember this is the largest stone sculpture in the palace:

Even without knowing what I was looking at the palace was quite impressive. Front to back it covers about 1 KM, with hundreds of buildings. Most of the buildings are identical in structure, colour, etc. This building stands out as it was the only white building I saw in the entire complex. For me the most memorable part of the palace was the Imperial Gardens. Now when I think of a garden I think of flowers and trees, but this garden was a rock garden. Absolutely stunning! I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

Finally after a long day walking around I was ready for dinner. I finally had the famous “Beijing” duck. This is prepared tableside and is served in 2 courses. The first is with pancakes, sauce, cucumbers, onions, and the skin rolled up. The skin is carved from the duck tableside where the roll-ups are assembled. The duck is then taken back into the kitchen, carved and prepared with bean sprouts. All I can say is delicious. I didn’t leave a bite of anything on the plate. I figured I needed my energy if I was to hike The Great Wall in the morning.

The Great Wall
Not being a fan of organized tours, especially after seeing them at the FC, I booked myself a private tour guide for Friday to visit the wall. This way I could take my time and do my own thing. There are 2 main sections that can be visited from Beijing.

Badaling: This is the closest and has been opened the longest.
Mutianyu: This was only restored about 20 years ago and is a little further away. I opted for this.

One of the great things about going on your own you can ask to make stops along the way. Of course my guide was a little surprised when about 5 minutes away from the Wall I asked them to pull over so I could get out and take a picture. I guess most people only go where they’re told. There was no traffic so I didn’t see any danger in getting out for a minutes. If we hadn’t stopped I wouldn’t have been able to take this.

I like the combination of the modern solar cell in front of the ancient wall.

Twenty gatehouses along a 4 KM stretch were renovated during the 80’s at Mutianyu (all facts from here are what I remember from my guide if they’re wrong don’t blame me). If you look closely at the bricks you can see the difference between the original and the newly renovated ones. What is interesting about this section of the wall is that there are battlements on both sides of the wall, other sections only have battlements on one side as the enemy only exists on one side of the wall.

There are a number of ways to get up to the wall, you can walk, take an enclosed sky ride or take an open-air sky ride (similar to a ski lift). The way down is a toboggan ride, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I opted for the open air ride I figured this was the best way to see everything and I would be doing enough walking once I got to the top. After the crowds at FC I was expecting massive amounts of people, however I was pleasantly surprised that it was not crowded at all. I was shocked that I was able to get a number of photographs with no people in them. I imagine on the weekends there are many more people there and picture taking would not be possible. The lack of crowds probably accounted for how peaceful it was, when nobody was around it was very quiet not even any birds chirping.

The views all around were spectacular; you could see watchtowers stretched along the mountain tops for miles.
To think about the amount of effort that goes into designing and constructing this is mind-boggling. It’s no wonder that not all sections are maintained and only certain portions are open to the public.

You don’t realize as you start walking how steep certain sections are and the number of stairs involved. Towards the end your legs really start to burn as you climb upstairs, of course then you have to turn around and go back. Some people think that they walked uphill one direction so the way back is all downhill – not so. Just as many stairs going up:

as down:

Near almost ever watchtower were entrepreneurs, the locals who try to sell you water, beer, crackers and other assorted items. These individuals are not licensed to sell on the wall which is why they position themselves at the Gate houses – there are stairs out near each gatehouse.

After a couple hours wandering around decided to head down, the toboggan ride. This was a totally cheesy tourist thing but I enjoyed it. The only problem was there was a woman about 5 people in front of me that was obviously very afraid and we kept having to stop so we didn’t bump into one another.

And just to prove I was actually there, a wonderful photo of me!

Did you ever wonder why there are some may vases in China? The word for vase in Chinese is ping which also means peace & harmony. Having a vase in your house or giving it as a gift indicates you are wishing for a peaceful and harmonious home. I learned all this at the Cloisonne factory that I visited as part of this tour. Cloissone are made from copper, wire and enamel each item is hand made. The intricate designs on these items are all assembled by hand and carefully applied. Once the design is complete the painting process begins, an item can go between painting and firing 25 times before it is completed and ready to be sanded.

Tea Service
On the way back to the city I asked my guide if she had any recommendations for where to go to buy tea She quickly offered to take me to a tea shop near her home on the way back to the hotel where we could have a traditional tea ceremony and I could purchase some tea. The tea service allowed me to sample 5 different types of tea ginseng, 2 types of jasmine, lychee and rose hips, and pure black all of which were delicious. It was hard to decide which ones to buy. When I purchased the tea I was given a free gift – a little clay man that you pour water into, if the water is the correct temperature for the tea it will pee.

If you thought that was were the excitement ends you’re wrong. On the way back to the hotel the car broke down. At first the driver thought it had overheated but further examination revealed that some wires had gotten disconnected and the fan wasn’t working. After about 30 minutes he was able to fix it and we were back in action. The guide and driver kept apologizing profusely I guess they thought I would be upset and this would reflect poorly on their service. This is where this tale ends until next time, in the next installment we will be covering life on the streets and the olympics.

Thursday, April 24, 2008


For those of you who thought you were going to log on to my blog today and hear all about my thoughts of the Forbidden City I am sorry to disappoint. Instead I decided it was "Potty Time." Yes that's right another post dedicated to bathrooms, loos, the can whatever it is you call it.

Yesterday I had to do a double take when I walked into the restroom and instead of a toilet there was a hole in the floor, OK it was more than a hole it was a ceramic basin in the floor. I quickly remember hearing from friends that this is typical in China. I quickly realized that in public places the outside of the stall will either show somebody squatting or a picture of a toilet so you know what the stall contains. I can't imagine using a toilet like that when drunk! I unfortunately did not take a picture of the toilet - I draw the in at taking photographs in public restrooms. However taking a picture of the outside of a public toilet is fair game.

The sign outside one of the toilets at The Forbidden City made me laugh and I just had to take a picture of it. I sort of feel sorry for the person who has the enviable job of rating toilets. I wonder if all toilets have a rating and what are the criteria to earn 4 stars.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Beijing Day 1

Sorry for the lack of creativity in the subject but I'm too tired to think about being creative right now. Today's blog consists of a bunch of random events.

Drove by the site of the Olympic Stadium and the swimming venue. It is already a tourist attraction as people are lining up around the building site to have their picture taken in front. I of course drove by quickly in a taxi so I apologize for the quality of the images below. The giant birds nest on the left is the new stadium the picture on the right is the swimming pavilion.

The fact that I was in a taxi also made me miss numerous photographic opportunities as I headed back from a meeting. Drove about 15 KM from the center of Beijing and it was striking the differences, the city is just like any other city loads of skyscrapers and very modern. As you drive further from the center you see more people riding bicycles laden down with goods, run down buildings, people on the streets selling their wares. In many ways it reminded me of South Africa.
On the way back we stopped for dinner, I had heard many people told me I had to have the Beijing duck so we stopped at a restaurant for duck. After 90 minutes of being told that it would be 20 minutes and there were still 4 parties ahead of us we decided to leave for elsewhere. Ended up at a Japanese restaurant, we ordered way too much food but it was all great. By far my favorite was the item below. I have no idea what it was but I loved the fact that it had gold flecks on it. I've never eaten gold before. Oh yeah, it tasted excellent as well.
I get to play tourist for the rest of the week. Tomorrow the Forbidden City and Friday the Great Wall. Stay tuned for photos.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Royal Treatment

What a treat, in Beijing I am staying at the Ritz Carlton. They arranged for my transportation from the airport to the hotel, I was expecting to look for a sign greeting me after I cleared customs, instead a greeter was right at the gate. I did however have to convince them that I was who they were looking for as the reservation was for a Mr Parzych. It didn't take too much to convince them and they were very apologetic for getting it wrong. I was escorted through the airport to the baggage carousel where my bag was taken from me and carried to the car. Once we got outside they apologized that the car was not there and I had to wait 2 minutes for it to pull up (this is nothing compared to waiting 30-45 minutes for a taxi at some airports).

A bottle of water was sitting in the car for me and I whisked off to the Ritz. Upon arrival my bag was again taken from me and I was greeted at the front desk. Check-in however did not occur at the front desk, I was personally escorted to my room and checked in privately. I should travel like this more often.

This morning as I was getting ready I noticed a couple of other amenities in the bathroom. A small television above the bathtub so you can have a soak, relax and watch TV. The outlet in the bathroom has the ability to take plugs from the US, UK, and China. This is a place that seems to cater to every need.

Hong Kong

Today we shall start off with a quiz, yes the teacher in me is trying to escape.

1) Hong Kong was a dependent territory of the UK until 1997 when it became a Special Administrative Region of China.

2) Hong Kong is a single island located off mainland China.

Hong Kong is home to

1) The world's longest escalator.

2) The tallest building in the world.

I've spent a couple of whirlwind days in Hong Kong, arrived Sunday evening and am now on my way to Beijing. It's unfortunate that I wasn't able to spend more time here, there is still so much that I haven't seen. I guess that means I'll have to come back some day. I did manage to make it to the peak and take the photo on the left. I was very lucky that a rain storm hit on Saturday causing a lot of the haze to clear up resulting in a pretty clear view.

Also took a ride on the world's longest escalator on my way to lunch today. It goes down in the morning to bring people to work and from 10:30 AM til midnight it runs uphill. After lunch I had an opportunity to stroll through the markets. Fascinating to see the fresh fish and butcher shops lining the roads. Unfortunately you can't quite see the fish flapping in the picture.

I have found it amusing driving around town and all the street names sound British - Waterloo Road, Queen Victoria Way. Beneath each street sign is also the name in Cantonese. The street names are obviously a result of it being a dependent territory of the UK since the 1800's. In 1997 sovereignty was transferred from the UK to China. (Look I've already given you answers to 2 of the questions.)

One thing I learned quickly is that business cards are exchanged and received with 2 hands. Not sure the origin of this, I'll look into that. I'm off to wander around the city for a little while longer before my flight.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

What a Week

Craziness ensued this week as I attempted to get a visa for a last minute trip to China. Given the upcoming Olympics and all the protests surrounding Tibet the Chinese embassy has added more items to what is required for a visa. After running around trying to get everything together the visa was finally approved on Thursday and I'm off tonight for a week.

The one humorous thing that happened during this whole process was on Monday I put all the paperwork together and handed it off to the office admin to arrange for a courier to take it off. At lunch all of a sudden I started wondering whether or not I had signed everything, kind of like thinking you left the iron on when you leave the house. I was sure that I was just being paranoid but to put myself at ease I went downstairs and opened the envelope. Sure enough I hadn't signed the visa application!

Not sure whether or not I'll be able to access Blogger during this trip, but will try. If not will post all when I return to London.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Wide World of Sports

This weekend was spent doing a number of athletic activities from signing up for a 5K to playing a game of touch football to watching the London marathon. In an effort to keep my motivation up and get back in shape I had signed up for The Race for a Life a 5K event just for women that takes place at various places throughout England this summer. I will be walking with a number of women from my office to raise money for cancer research. Watch out shameless plug follows.


If you would like to sponsor me in this event you can donate on-line. Please be advised that all donations are in pounds not dollars.

End of paid advertisement now back to the blog.

I woke up a little sore this morning after playing football yesterday, surprisingly I was the only girl that showed up to play but I think I held my own. I caught a pass and almost had an interception. All in all I had a good time and that is what really matters. Since I was sore this morning I decided to watch the marathon instead of run it this year.

After years of watching the Boston marathon I wasn't sure if this would have the same atmosphere, it did. As you walk down the street the crowds are deafening as they cheer on the various runners. It is great to hear everybody being supported and encouraged to go that one last mile. The route through London zig-zags around town . I watched the race at various points from Embankment up to St Paul's and Tower Bridge. As with the Boston marathon among the masses there are those making a statement, those that inspire you and those that keep on plugging.

The Masses

The Crazy

This guy had a political message on his back side "Free Tibet" I also captured that but thought that would make my blog R rated.

The Inspirational

The End

OK I don't know for sure that this was the last guy to cross tower bridge but they were starting to clean up the bridge at around 2:30 as this guy came walking across.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Musical Interlude

It's funny how urban legends, myths, rumors, stories whatever you want to call them get started. Last weekend I was down in Devon for a wedding, stayed at a lovely little B&B by the river. In the taxi back to the train station the driver decided to impart a little bit of local "history" on me. He went on to say that the bridge and the river at the Inn were the inspiration for Simon & Garfunkle's song Bridge Over Troubled Water. Unfortunately this isn't the case, as the news article from 5 years ago says, funny how the locals all still are keeping the legend alive. He also said that some of the photos for the album covers and jackets were shot up the road, who know if that is the case or not.

British Music
While on my recent vacation to Florida my sister and I got to discussing music and what was on the radio in London. It has become apparent to me as I read news stories and listen to the radio that British music is very different than US music. It seems much easier for a US singer/band to break into the international music scene than a British performer to break into the US scene. There has been a lot of press lately about Leona Lewis having a hit in the US. For those of you that aren't up on who she is, she won X Factor recently (that's the British version of American Idol complete with Simon Cowell).

Looking for a taste of some British music check out some of these songs and artists:
Scouting for Girls
Scissor Sisters
Amy MacDonald
Kaiser Chiefs
The Feeling

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Turmoil at Terminal 5

Yesterday was my first venture to the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow. I was a bit wary as it has been plagued by all sorts of issues since opening the end of March. I have since heard that during all the run-throughs they did prior to opening many problems were uncovered and none of the trials went smoothly, however this didn't stop them from opening on schedule.

Things did not bode well for me as we approached the terminal and were redirected away due to an accident. Not sure if there was another way to the terminal but my taxi driver certainly didn't know of any so I was taken to Terminal 5 to get the train to the terminal. There are no direct trains from T4 to T5 which means taking the train to Heathrow Central then getting a connection to T5, luckily this didn't take that long.

No major issues at security, maybe it was because many people couldn't get to the terminal. The only issue I had was while standing there I was absolutely blinded by the sun. The terminal is completely glass while that is pretty it is not practical as the sun is rising.

The next minor glitch was in the elevator to the train to the departure gate. There is a sign next to the buttons that says -2 for trains, -4 for something else. The buttons however are labelled -3
and -5. For future reference button -3 takes you to the train for the gates.

Surprisingly after all the delays I still had a few minutes to spare before my flight so I decided to grab a bite to eat. As a responsible citizen after I was done I looked around for a garbage can to dispose of my trash but none could be found anyway near the gate. I guess having rubbish bins around would take away from the new sleek look of the terminal, much better to have empty coffee cups, and food wrappers lying around on the tables and chairs.

And on a parting note I was a little surprised when the driver told me the fare would be 25.50, the fare to Heathrow has always been 18.50. Unfortunately I only had a 20 on me so he had to deal with that. I called the company to find out why I wasn't told the fare to T5 was more than all the other terminals and the response I was given.

"T5 is 5 miles further away from T1. All other car services from Richmond are charging 30 we're the cheapest" That didn't really answer the question as to why when I booked the dispatcher did not tell me the fares would be more than I normally pay. I was finally told that the dispatcher made a mistake and I should have been told that it would cost more. Personally I think they are a bunch of shysters to charge more for one terminal than any of the other 4. Why they use T1 as the marker for distance between terminals is beyond me, probably because T1 and T5 are the furthest apart from each other so they feel justified charging more.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

On the Road Again

After having almost 2 months at work with no travel, I am on the road again today heading to Barcelona. Luckily the flights to and from Barcelona have not moved to the new and improved Terminal 5. Of course the term new and improved may not really apply here. Terminal 5 has been plagued by issues since it opened on Thursday. Many flights have been cancelled, luggage has been separated from its rightful owner for days. Even though I'm not leaving from Terminal 5 I'm not taking any chances and only have hand baggage for my flight today.

This post has been brought to you by free wi-fi access at the British Airways departure lounge in Terminal 1. (The perks of the frequent traveller).