Friday, February 27, 2009

In China, don't expect...

  • see a western toilet at a restaurant, on a train, in a hotel lobby, or anywhere else you might expect one.
  • have toilet paper provided for you.
  • have liquid soap (public bathroom bar soap = hors de question) provided for you.
  • ...people to cover their mouth when they sneeze or cough.
  • ...people to refrain from spitting on the floor EVEN WHEN AT THE THEATRE.
  • ...people to pass next to you when they can jostle you instead.
  • ...the elderly to blow their nose into a tissue when there's perfectly good ground beneath them.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

In HK, don't expect...

  • Men to hold the door for you
  • Men to let you pass through the door first (or just not run to get ahead of you)
  • To get a seat on the MTR even if you're directly in front of the door
  • To be actually first in line when you're only physically first in line
  • Escalators to always go in the same direction
  • People to spit in private (or even at least into a receptacle)

Photo Series Bangkok Longboat

This was the tour and tour guide from hell. Luckily, the river trip is quite nice, although why would would stop at a menagerie instead of the beautiful Wat Arun is beyond me. Many Bangkok residents live along the river - there were run-down looking places but there were also some very nice, very well-kept houses along the river. There was also a Pepsi barge bringing cases of soda down the river! Talk about local distribution networks.

Photo Series Bangkok Bed Supper Club

After cleaning up we went to dinner at a place suggested by our taxi driver (why??) that was not a good idea, got bitten by a million mosquitos, then went out to what Denise had read on the internet was the HOTTEST club in Bangkok on Tuesday nights. And it was pretty great. The music was hip hop all night long, from 1990 on.
The male portion of the crowd was mostly western, while the girls were mostly asian. It didn't seem like they were all prostitutes (which is what I had been told about all Bangkok clubs), but I did hear one girl tell her friend in the bathroom: "The cops are here, let's get out."
The funny thing is, food in Bangkok was around $1US most places, a 40-minute cab ride was only around $5US, and yet the cover for this club was $20US and drinks were over $15US. It seems a club is a club no matter where you are.
When we left we realized there was another room that had house music - so we went in there for a minute to embarrass ourselves before finally going home. Luckily the major clubs in Bangkok close at 2pm, so we were kind of saved from ourselves.
(This is Denise Odaro's photo.)

Photo Series Bangkok Marble Temple

After seeing the Grand Palace we were tired but decided to keep chugging and make the most of te remainder of the afternoon before retreating to our air-conditioned hotel. So we got into a daredevil tuk tuk and headed to the Marble Temple. When I say daredevil I mean we were on the edge of the wheels a few times, we were weaving between cars in spaces I thought only a bike could clear and we were definitely running reds.
We also got cheated and dragged to a few shops before they finally gave up and brought us to the Marble Temple, as previously agreed.
Although it was frustrating, the temple was worth at least some trouble. It was under construction, but it is in a very nice walled-in oasis with a stream and a monastery, and it was a peaceful end to a long day. Of course, just because the day was over didn't mean we were going to sleep...
(I was out of batteries by this point in the day, so these are Eric Tung's photos.)

Photo Series Bangkok Grand Palace

This was the first site we visited when we arrived Tues at noon, and it took us almost all afternoon. By the end we were sweating like pigs and exhausted, but it was seriously beautiful, even as crowded as it was.
It's the former royal palace and there is a temple alongside it (one ticket gets you entry into both). The king who had these built is, according to our guidebook, credited with beginning the practice of embedding colored pieces of ceramic to create colorful exterior walls. Funny that they would phrase it like that and not that an artist or a period developed this style.
Visitors are not allowed in if they are wearing something above the knee or that bares their shoulders, so at the entrance they will lend you clothing to use while visiting. Included is a pic of my friends in all their borrowed splendor.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sunday in Hong Kong

This is going to sound strange - I didn't believe it until I saw it today - but Sunday is the maids' day off in HK (they're mostly Catholic and can't work then). Apparently everybody but the cleaning ladies have cleaning ladies here, mostly live-in, and they all get the same day off every week.
So every Sunday the streets are flooded with young women, I hear mostly Filippino, who sit on the sidewalk or in the parks picnic-ing or roam the streets picking through the cheapo clothing stores (which, if I haven't mentioned before, are fantastic). There is actually a marked difference in the type and quantity of people on the street on Sunday, this is truly a phenomenon.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Bangkok overview

Just spent Tuesday-Thursday in Bangkok, which wasn't long, but wasn't short either. I have lots of conflicting emotions towards the city and the people, which on reflection I guess is pretty standard for any big city, since I feel a similar way towards NYC and it's my favorite city in the world.

The city itself is definitely worth visiting, don't let anyone tell you otherwise (because they will try, as I found when I poked around for information before going).

It has astounding sites, delicious food, a very different socio-political situation than we're used to in the West, a bustling modern culture and a fun nighttime scene. It is also dirty, with visible cockroaches and ROUSes.

The people are equally double-sided. Some are amazingly helpful and friendly. About half our cab drivers did not speak English, but people on the street (restaurant hostesses, businessmen, food stand cooks, policemen) would always help us by translating, sometimes without us even asking. Our hotel staff was unbelievably helpful and attentive and we were only at a Courtyard by Marriott. When Denise went to get a suit tailored at a place suggested by the concierge they sent someone to walk there with her so she would not get lost - no tip expected. The local restaurant in the alley near our hotel did not speak English so let us get behind the stove and point out all the ingredients we wanted in our dishes - one by one, all 7 of us! Our hired bus driver the last day stopped on the side of the road to buy a specialty dessert for us out of his own pocket.

The other half of Bangkok shamelessly tried to cheat us left and right to the point where we were (ok, I was) raising voices, rolling eyes, and snapping back at the slightest provocation. At the airport upon arrival we signed up for a boat tour the next morning. We were still ignorant and vulnerable, so when they said this was a government-sponsored promotion we fell for it. The booth in the airport looked legit, though. The next morning we left for our 4-hour tour, which started out fine until we stopped at a "famous snake show" that we were stranded at for an hour. We were obviously expected to pay for this show and for entrance to the yucky little menagerie around it. Instead we waited outside while our tour guide got a free breakfast from the zoo (we hadn't eaten anything yet that day since the tour started so early). The boat ride came to an end only 2 hours after it started, although we were told it would be 4 hours. That's when we realized we were hostages. Once we got back into the bus headed back to our hotel the guide said she was going to take us to a "famous" gemstone store. When we said no, with all our sleep-deprived anger, she explained that the promotional price was because this gemstone place sponsors the tours and so she has to bring us there and register that we were there. So we reluctantly agreed to let her bring us there although we stressed that we were annoyed and
were only going to look. Once that trial was over and we were back in the bus she sprung another gemstone store on us. Then a tailor. All in all we made 4 stops.
This same thing happened to us when we tried to take a tuk tuk to the Marble Temple our first day, because these stores apparently pay the tuk tuk driver's daily gas expenses if they bring people to the stores. So we were, against our will, taken off our path and brought to these stores where we were treated rudely once they realized we weren't going to buy anything.
The whole construct was so frustrating. These stores think this is some kind of intelligent advertising ploy, but the tuk tuk drivers are in no way qualified or properly motivated
to determine which tourists are actually potential customers, so instead all tourists are hassled.
We finally stopped taking tuk tuks because we couldn't deal with being cheated any longer. It was nearly impossible to get a reasonable price from them without being brought to stores against our explicit instructions.
Taxi drivers were also a mixed bunch. Half of them were amazing, the other half refused to take us or refused to turn on the meter then quoted us a price more than twice the meter amount for any given destination.

However, we did see some amazing things, which I will include pictures of in the following posts.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I keep forgetting to work this in, so just so I don't forget, Denise's story:
I was saying I was a terrible label whore, and in a fabulously magnanimous moment, Denise told me she used to be so bad that she once bought a Dior fan. FAN. I asked her when the hell she managed to use this object and she said: "In the club."
So glad she lives 2 blocks away from me in HK.

Monday, February 16, 2009


I have 3 bites on my right knee and have convinced myself that they are bedbug bites. Last night I slept less than 4 hours (up late packing and doing laundry then up early to catch my 8am flight to Bangkok - leaves in just over 2 hours!) and woke up 3 times in a panic, thinking there wer things crawling on me. There weren't, but I am still petrified. Thank god I'm headed to a hotel.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Scent of a buddha

Who thought incense could be so amazing - but it is here!! First the huge pillars of incense in Lantau, now these conical incense coils in Macau. These things are sometimes over 7 feet tall/long!!
At these buddhist temples they burn so much incense your eyes sting.

My mother the dinasaur

My mother sent me an email from Nepal that I thought was too good to keep to myself. Jihan was right, she is a funny woman! Spelling and grammar errors aside, this is a bit like poetry!

Hi Val,

Here, there are elect. power only half of a day, noon to 8pm and 4am to 8am (mon-fri), 4-midnight (wekends). I work with Anil till 8pm,eat something at my room, and go to sleep at 8pm and wake up 4am. Can not even go out for dinner because whle neiborhood becomes completly dark at 8pm. also can not trust cooks preparing my food in a dark kitchen- how dirty it can be!
well, the weather is good thou. Patrick came with two french people this time. Yesterday early morning we went to the children home to pick up all the children and climbed up the swyambu- children were so happy to get my attention, they breaded my heair, and retied my scarf a doezen times, they tole me I have so many white hair, and guessed my age to to one hundred years old and on boy guessed one million years old. Well I am a dinasaur for them. The power ois goning out. will send . Make sense of this bad quick writing.


Friday, February 13, 2009

When the east is in the house...

Korean food is totally taking over:,0,4560062.story

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Macau Casinos!

Macau is also, and perhaps most widely known as, a place for gambling. (It is also a free port, a tax haven and an off-shore financial center.) From 1962-2002 gambling was operated by Stanley Ho under a government-issued monopoly license. Stanley Ho sounds like he is the Chinese version of Steve Wynn. He is the the man behind the Casino Lisboa - I added pics of both the old and new casinos, they are right next to each other. There were some amazing Chinese art pieces in the lobby of the Lisboa, but besides that it was a monstrosity. Every surface was a multi-colored disco ball.

Once the monopoly was over the American casinos wasted no time coming, as you can see from my pics. Since I'm not a fan of gambling I spent my time in the Venetian sitting at a bar and eating gelato.

Macau is for sailors

The Portuguese used Macau as a trading port to bring China's goods to the rest of the world. (Interesting fact we learned in class on Monday: during the Qing dynasty, 1600s-early 1900s, China was the origin of 28% of the world's exports - now it is only 6%!) Because of this trading/port culture there are many references to boats in the architecture.
The top pic is a relief from the St Paul's facade, the bottom is from the A-Ma temple.

Macau Sites

Like I said, lots of Portuguese influence in the architecture.
The church facade is the remains of St Paul Cathedral - it's Macau's most famous site. It is so strange seeing just the facade of a church when you're used to them being huge, hulking constructions. It was like a movie set.
The statue is of the Portuguese explorer that founded Macau.
The Chinese temple is the temple of A-Ma, who Macau is named after. Legend says that many centuries ago a poor peasant girl was trying to get across the water to Macau. None of the large ship captains would take her or even pay her any mind, but a fisherman in a tiny boat agreed to help her and take her to the island. As the set out a terrible storm blew in and capsized all the large boats, killing everyone on board - only the fisherman's boat made it safely to Macau. The peasant girl (A-Ma) alighted, thanked the fisherman, and walked up the hill where in a flash of light she ascended to heaven. The fisherman built a temple to honor her in that spot.
This temple is clearly more modern than this story; I think it may have been rebuilt.

Macau Food

So Portuguese food is like spicier European food, or Caribbean food. For lunch we had oxtail, chicken, shrimp, codfish fritters (Bacalhua is one of their main ingredients - it makes pretty yummy salty fried rice!) and chorizo (can't remember the Portuguese spelling). They also make a paella-like dish that seemed popular in the restaurant we went to - A Lorcha, which was very delicious with good service, even for our group of 8.
They also make roasted beef jerky in sheets in many flavors, but there is a stand on my corner in HK that sells that so I refrained.
For dessert they have egg custards that are slightly smaller and chewier than my faves in HK (you can tell the difference by looking because the Portuguese ones have browned tops) and these milk custards in bowls. We got the milk custard with egg flavor and red bean on top - I wouldn't say it was the best thing I ever ate.

Macau Intro

Spent Wednesday in Macau and just now got the photos onto my computer. Macau is a small island off Hong Kong/China that used to be a Portuguese colony (from late 1600s until Dec 1999). Now it is a Special Administrative Region in China, the other being Hong Kong. Among other things this means that it has its own currency (same exchange as the HK dollar - perhaps they're pegged?), its own legal system, and its own customs regulations, meaning we didn't need visas to get in. That's China across the water in the last pic - my very first view of China!!
We met in Sheung Wan at 10am to take the Turbojet ferry, which takes a little under an hour, for around $150HKD each way (depending on the time of day). We were going to walk around since we had a guide book's walking tour map, but it was very sunny and hot so instead we got a 5-hour bus tour for $100HKD each at the Macau ferry terminal. Goldfield travel - the salesman in the terminal was really annoying but the bus driver was very nice and let us determine our itinerary, so all in all it was the right thing to do.
There are Portuguese influences in the older parts of town, so you see European-style buildings and churches, and all the signs are in both languages. Cars there even have two license plates! There was also a great statue near the St. Paul's ruins of a Portuguese boy and Chinese girl, symbolizing the relationship between the two cultures. There was also a large statue in the water on one wide of the island that looked a bit like those huge stone gates in Lord of the Rings in either side of that river. From some angles the statue looks like two separate columns but from others the columns connect at the top forming an arch between the two civilizations - very nice.