Wednesday, March 30, 2016

China/Korea 2009: days 20-22 (Seoul)

Seoul days 3-5: Saturday, Sunday, Monday 10/17-19/09
Here are the photos from Saturday, Sunday, and Monday

Took a bus back from Daejeon to the Seoul airport on Saturday morning, then caught the train back into the center of town. I checked in at another Ibis Hotel (a sister property to the one I had stayed in the previous weekend) and went back out to the Namdaemun Market. I love local markets and seeing how similar and different they are from what I'm used to. I didn't really have much on my list of things to do for the weekend except enjoy it.

The one big thing I had, though, was the Texas vs Oklahoma football game. I had made arrangements with the local Texas Exes alumni group via email to meet up, as they were going to be watching the game at a bar that was going to stay open past normal hours, and watch the game over the internet from someone's Slingbox back in Detroit. Due to the time differential, the game started at 1am on Sunday in Seoul, and I left around 5am. Made it back to my hotel to see the sun rise around 6:30.

Didn't mean to sleep the whole day away, but I woke up around 4:30pm on Sunday, having slept the entire day. The only thing left on my list to do was to go up to the Seoul Tower, which I had planned to do during the day, but oh well. There's a park at the base of the tower where the kids were playing in the laser light show, and wireframe models of people flying that were illuminated after dark. Had dinner at Cibo Cima for Italian, then made my way via metro over to the Hongdae area for drinks and a look around the night life part of town.

Monday morning was a travel day. Off to the airport and my long flight back to Atlanta, about 14 hours - though due to the time changes, it would only be an hour or so after leaving ICN that I'd get into ATL. On the flight out, I was stuck in the middle on the left side of the plane (a 747 in 3-5-3 configuration), on the flight back it had improved slightly to be the #2 seat in the middle section, with one guy on my left and nobody on my right in the #3 seat (but couldn't move there because the #4 and #5 seats were occupied). So at least I had an armrest to myself. Had the Korean food option over the American option, for one last Korean meal. My flight from Atlanta to Houston at least gave me an aisle seat with nobody in the middle.

China/Korea 2009: days 15-19 (Daejeon)

Daejeon days 1-5: Monday 10/12/09 to Friday 10/16/09
Here are the photos from this week at the conference in Daejeon (10/12 and 10/13-16)

This week was spent at the 60th International Astronautical Congress (IAC), venturing out only at night for dinner. I stayed at the 007 Hotel, whose neon sign was the James Bond 007 logo.

China/Korea 2009: day 14 (Seoul/DMZ/Daejeon)

Seoul day 2: Sunday 10/11/09
Map of my Seoul and DMZ stops, this day in blue; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Placeholder until I get my notes together:
  • Left the hotel around 8am, drove up to Imjingak and saw the Memorial Altar and the bridge that used to bring North and South Korean families together. Saw the Dorasan train station, which will eventually link up to the North and allow rail travel to the Trans Siberian Railway and the Trans Chinese Railway. At the DMZ, there was an overlook to see into North Korea, and we visited the 3rd Tunnel built from the North into the South in preparation for an eventual invasion. 
  • Drove back to Seoul for lunch and some time to explore the Namdaemun Market and a bit of the surrounding city.
  • After a few hours drive, we made it to Daejeon and I found my hotel, dropped off my stuff, and went out for some hot pot for dinner and a quick tour of the area nearby.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

China/Korea 2009: day 13 (Seoul)

Seoul day 1: Saturday 10/10/09
Map of my Seoul stops, this day in blue; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Through the International Astronautical Conference (IAC) planners, I booked a side tour of Seoul for the weekend immediately preceding the conference (which started Monday 10/12). I flew into Incheon Airport from Hong Kong on the overnight flight and went to the area set up by the IAC to handle travel arrangements. They set me up on a bus going into town that would drop me off at the hotel. The tour picked up at the IBIS Gangnam hotel, so I figured I'd stay there anyway on Saturday night, we'd have a day tour on Saturday of Seoul and then Sunday we'd go off to the DMZ and then be dropped off at the convention center in Daejeon. Our van only held about 15 people so it was a comfortable size. And it was no state-run tour to fleece us out of money, like in Beijing.

The first stop was the Gyeongbokgung Palace, built in the late 14th century. The palace was very Chinese-influenced, from the shape of the pagoda-like roofs and their totems on the roof edges to the archways and interior design. Since I had just come from Beijing's temples a few days earlier, the similarities were obvious. Nearby the Palace is the National Folk Museum of Korea, where we spent about an hour. A few minutes away was the next stop, at the Jogyesa Temple, which is the largest Buddhist Temple in Seoul. Inside there are three giant golden (colored?) Buddhas, and it's an active temple so there were a number of people inside praying. We stopped for a hot pot lunch in a restaurant at the top of a tall building that had a panoramic view of Seoul. Hot Pot is a popular style of eating where the meat ingredients are boiled in oil and then mixed with other ingredients (vegetables like onions and lettuce, kim chee, etc.) and eaten in a lettuce wrap. 

After lunch we went down to Insadong and were given an hour or so to walk around. Insadong is a very crowded, very popular street market with everything from dried squid and other street food to antiques and calligraphy sets. I picked up another box of bandages, as my feet were still blistered from so much walking, starting back in Shanghai two weeks before. With the boat and bus trips in Hong Kong, plus a lot of driving in Seoul, my feet were finally getting the rest they needed but I wasn't totally healing yet. Next up was the Cheonggyecheon Stream, a public recreation space in downtown Seoul that was part of an urban renewal project just a few years before. Nearby is an exhibit with flags of all nations that took part in the allied forces with the South during the Korean War. The river is sunken down from the ground level, with shopping and businesses at ground level. There's a JS Texas Bar that I sadly did not get a chance to go to but would totally have gone there based on the name alone. 

Back at the hotel, I rested for a bit until I was hungry, then went wandering the Gangnam area til I found something that looked interesting. I settled on a place called Scarlett The Shrimp Restaurant that had, well, a lot of shrimp dishes. I had a shrimp Caesar salad and some sweet & sour shrimp with rice as I was in the mood for something I was familiar with.

Scarlett restaurant (shrimp & modern American), grilled shrimp Caesar salad and chili shrimp w fried rice.

China/Korea 2009: day 12 (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong day 3: Friday 10/9/09
Map of my Hong Kong stops, this day in purple; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Because I had to buy a new camera, that took up the part of the morning that I was going to try to do something else. Even though I mapped out all 3 camera shops, I couldn't find any of them, and of course I ended up getting ripped off by the shop I did go into (Intelligent Camera on Nathan, don't shop there). Basically, it was a bait-and-switch. They had the camera I had found online, and it was significantly cheaper than in the US (like a $300 camera for $200). They used an old carbon-copy credit card machine to get my number, but then they said I had to wait while they got the camera from another of their stores. While waiting, they upsold me to a different camera which looked to me like it was better, but I had not researched it and knew nothing about the specs. I did like the new one better, so they ripped up my carbon receipt and sold me the other camera for $300. When I got back to my room and looked it up, I found the camera listed for about $175 in the US. I got upsold to a cheaper camera! Nothing I could do about it, though, except admit I got suckered. 

Did my Blue Bus tour on the Kowloon side, which took us to a number of places for walking around and shopping, including the Temple Street Night Market, and the shopping districts for electronics, sports wear, and ladies fashion. I got off at the Jade Market, a couple blocks from the Night Market, and I spent a couple of hours shopping and sightseeing. The Night Market, of course, wasn't really open much in the daytime, but I got to look at the daytime farmer's market and the Tin Hau Temple. The bus drove down the west side of Kowloon over to the southeastern coast near the Coliseum. Then with my new camera I retraced my steps a bit to get pictures of the things I had lost yesterday, including the Space Museum, and Tea at the Peninsula which I had accidentally taken with my old camera's internal memory instead of the flash card. (Note: they strongly prefer that you don't take movies inside the Peninsula.) 

Then for some relaxation (finally!) I took the sunset cruise of the Harbour on the Star Ferry. A really nice place to watch from, and you can catch it from either the Central or Kowloon stations. I went back to the terminal at Central to grab a bite to eat and wait for the special nighttime cruise, which is on the water in the middle of the Harbour at 8pm when the light show starts. You get to do a tour of the Harbour and watch the show, so it's like twice as long. Bring extra camera batteries and flash cards. Both tours are definitely worth it, but in retrospect I would have done them on different days instead of back to back. After the cruise, I went back to my hotel to pick up my bags (having checked out that morning) and head to the airport for my flight to Seoul after midnight.

The main things in Hong Kong I had marked off that I wanted to do but didn't get to were Stanley Market and Aberdeen, which I could have done with another half day. Oh well, next time!

China/Korea 2009: day 11 (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong day 3: Thursday 10/8/09
Map of my Hong Kong stops, this day in green; no photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

I lost my camera at the end of this day, so I'm going by memory, pamphlets, and limited notes on my iPod since I don't have my photos with their time stamps. 

With only a couple days left in Hong Kong, I started going through my list of things left to do and prioritizing and organizing them. I went to the Space Museum again, this time it was open. It was relatively cheap and had some cool stuff but being in the space business some of their info was dated. They did have more on the Chinese space program than I had known before, though. East along the river from the Space Museum is the Intercontinental and the New World Center, and on the east side of that is where a bus tour starts. I saw the bus on my first day, but already had my Peak and Macau trips planned out, so I waited to do my city tour at the end of the trip rather than the beginning (of course, I should have done this first) and after picking up the pamphlets the night before at the Star Ferry terminal, it had many of the things I wanted to do. It's called The Big Bus Company, and they have a Kowloon bus (the Blue Bus) and a Hong Kong bus (the Red Bus) tour. You can buy both but you have 24 hours to use them. I did the Red Bus tour this day, which started at Central. It's a hop-on, hop-off double-decker bus, with an audio tour playing from included earpieces. Mine never worked, so I used my iPod headphones which have the same plug. Go to for more info, but I'll hit the highlights of what I did. 

The Red Bus drives around all the major buildings on Hong Kong island, talking about the history of them, the unusual architecture (like the IFC, HSBC, and Bank of China Buildings), the Convention Center, the differences between how things used to be under British rule until 1999 and how they are now with Chinese rule (like the PLA HQ building), the Cross-Harbour Tunnel, and stops at the Peak Tram and Lan Kwai Fong. I got off at the tram stop and went up to the Peak so I could see the skyline in the daytime. Still spectacular. Afterwards, I took the Star Ferry back to Kowloon so that I could head up to the Temple Street Night Market (which is several blocks long) for dinner and shopping. That is a giant flea market where they sell everything from power converters to knockoff purses to fresh fruit to sex toys, and there are hole-in-the-wall restaurants all over the place. I had dinner at a place where I pointed to pictures on a menu for what I wanted to eat (English subtitles, I got Vietnamese stir fry). 

By 11 or so I was ready to go back to the hotel, so I found the Yau Ma Tei metro station and took it back to the Tsim Sha Tsui station. I had just exited the station going up to the street level when I realized I had left my camera on the metro. The guard told me I'd have to leave my contact info with lost & found in the morning. Adios, camera! Now, if you're going to buy a new camera, Hong Kong is a great place to do so, but you have to know what you're looking for and how much it costs. If you don't know, they'll rip you off. On my way back to the hotel I saw them filming a scene from a TV show that I was told is like a Hong Kong version of CSI. At my hotel, I spent a couple hours online looking for cameras and figured out what I wanted and how much it cost, and found the locations of 3 shops who were known to be reputable.

Shakeys pizza. Pineapple chicken salad, penne carbonara, mango daiquiri. Dinner in temple st night mkt, Vietnamese stir fry beef noodles w egg rolls. Lost camera on subway, saw scene from HK Police Force (CSI)

China/Korea 2009: day 10 (Hong Kong & Macau)

Hong Kong & Macau day 3: Wednesday 10/7/09
Map of my Hong Kong stops and my Macau stops, this day in yellow; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

This was the day for my trip to Macau. Bring your passport, they stamp you leaving Hong Kong, entering Macau, leaving Macau, and entering Hong Kong. There are two companies that travel between the two island cities, New World First Ferry which leaves on the half hour from the Kowloon Ferry Terminal, and Turbojet which leaves every 15 minutes from a special ferry dock just west of Central on the Hong Kong side. They're only a couple dollars apart, so whichever one you take depends on timing and location. Make sure you get a copy of the departure schedules, you don't want to be stuck overnight in Macau if you don't have to be. I bought a one-way ticket on New World, since it was on the Kowloon side, but their last boat leaves at 2230 and I wasn't sure if I'd be there or not. Turbojet leaves around midnight for their last boat. 

It's about 1h15m ride from Kowloon to the Macau Terminal. Customs each way isn't bad. Despite my problems with unofficial guides in Beijing earlier, I hired one in the terminal to take me around the island. There are loads of bus tours, but I was willing to pay more for a personal tour, and although it was a total crap shoot as to who I got, I lucked out and picked a good one. We negotiated a price of about $100 US for 3 hours in the car, and he drove me around. I had a couple of maps and a guidebook so I had an idea of what I wanted to see, but he covered everything and then some, so I was very pleased. We pretty much stuck to the central peninsula area, given our time constraints, but I don't think there's really much to see outside the central peninsula area. In some cases he'd drop me off at point A and said to meet him at point B in 45 minutes and I could walk around the area at my leisure. I didn't leave Kowloon until noon and by the time I was finished with lunch (a local pub called La Comedie Vous Café, where he waited outside for me to eat) it was after 2, so I only had 4-5 hours anyway til dark; I suppose I just would have done more wandering around sightseeing had I had more time. 

We started out going through the downtown/casino area (there are 5 US casinos like Wynn and MGM and about 20 Chinese), and then went to the Macau Tower at the southern end of the peninsula, which was an extra fee. The view from the top is amazing, and they've got a glass floor to look down. They also have a walk outside the tower (tethered) and a bungee jump, which you might have seen on The Amazing Race. We drove south across one of the bridges to the southern island of Co-Tai and rode around a bit, showing off the casinos (like the Venetian) and sights, then back north across one of the other bridges and up to the Largo de Senado area, an oddly European style plaza in the midst of the Chinese. I had about 30-45 minutes on my own here, but could have lasted longer. We drove a few blocks over to the Ruins of the Church of St. Paul, dating back over 400 years, for a free tour. During the trip, the driver (who spoke excellent English) gave me a history lesson, pointed out interesting sites dating to Colonial days, and was in general very good. [His name is James Kan, (853) 6686-8909.]  

He dropped me off at the MGM Grand Casino, where I played for a little while, and then went to the Wynn where I won enough at blackjack to pay for dinner. (However, blackjack and craps are almost non-existent over there, it's all baccarat, and I mean like hundreds of tables.) I went to the Grand Lisboa casino to see a non-US place, and ended up eating at The 8 for Cantonese. I finished dinner around 10 and made it back to the terminal after the last boat on New World First left (2230), so I took Turbojet back to the Hong Kong/Macau terminal near Central. I got in too late for the ferry so I took the metro from Central to Tsim Sha Tsui Station on Kowloon and went back to my hotel.

Macau ferry, private tours at terminal for $600 ($73) for 2 hrs. Lunch at La Comedie vous cafe. Good tour, add 90 for tower and 200 for extra hr in Cotai. Drop at MGM, lost 160. Wynn looks just like Encore, won 385. Dinner at Grand Lisboa - steamed crab claw w ginger in wine, shredded chicken with pomelo and a honey lime sauce. Dessert a golden crunchy 8 cake w chocolate, Cointreau sauce, Graham cracker

China/Korea 2009: day 9 (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong day 2: Tuesday 10/6/09
Map of my Hong Kong stops, this day in red; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

​Up late, laundry, lunch at patisserie, space museum closed, Peninsula tea, flash card, taxi to ferry, 2.3 for ferry, 9.8 for bus to Peak, L side of bus has views on ascent of hill early. L16 slow. Bathrooms at Felix overlook the skyline. Ning Sling while arguing over Swiss in EU. ​

Laundry – R out of hotel, then L, cross over to mall, go R then L, go L at fountain, inside Japan Home Center, hrs 830 to 2100, $30 for 1st 7 lbs and $2/ half lb (HK$). Delifrance.

I needed to run some errands and sleep a little late, so after lunch at a nearby Delifrance patisserie and stopping at a laundromat in Ocean Centre I went off to see the Hong Kong Space Museum – which, unfortunately, was closed on Tuesdays. So I wandered off towards the next thing on my list, but got sidetracked and went to the Peninsula Hotel for afternoon High Tea instead – very British. Then went to the Star Ferry across the river to Central (less than a 10-minute ride), and from there I planned to go up to Victoria Peak (aka "The Peak") via the tram in late afternoon, stay through dusk and nightfall, then head back down. 

From Central, I walked to Hong Kong Station, which has an Airport Express stop, a bus station, and the huge International Finance Centre Mall. I got lost inside the Mall, and it took me about a half hour to get from Central to the bus. To get to the Peak, I took the 15C bus (exact fare or they don't give you change) and get out at the Peak Tram Lower Terminus. I somehow missed that tram stop (or I got on the wrong bus) and ended up taking the bus all the way to the top of the Peak (inadvertently saving some money), a 45-minute ride but with a great view on the way up the hill (if you do this, and it's a nice trip, sit on the left side of the bus).

At the top is the Peak Tower and the Peak Galleria, both of which have shopping and food. The top of the Tower has an observation deck you can pay to go up to, or just off to the right you can see the cityscape from a pedestrian road for free. I got there about 20 minutes before dusk and got to see the transition from day to the lights coming on to nightfall. Seeing pictures doesn't do it justice, it's really breathtaking from up there. I got some dinner at the L16 restaurant (good food but slow service) before the 8pm light show, which is a computer-controlled laser/spotlight show among many buildings on the Kowloon and Hong Kong sides of the river. As I found out later, it's not nearly as spectacular from up there as it is at the water level, where you are in the middle of it and you also have choreographed music. 

Around 9pm I bought a ticket for the Tram down, then took a cab over to Lan Kwai Fong, which is a big party area with tons of bars and restaurants. Had a couple of beers and wandered around, and walked back to the Central terminal and caught the 10:30 ferry back to Kowloon. I walked down the riverside promenade taking pictures of the Hong Kong skyline lit up at night. On the suggestion of Richard, I made my way to the Peninsua Hotel to the Felix Bar at the top for a couple of drinks overlooking the skyline, a Ning Sling while at a table listening to a bunch of Europeans argue the merits of whether Switzerland should be in the EU or not. I made it back to my hotel around 1am.

China/Korea 2009: day 8 (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong day 1: Monday 10/5/09
Map of my Hong Kong stops, this day in blue; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Early but uneventful cab to the airport for uneventful flight to Hong Kong.

Monday’s newspaper says 1.5 mil people were at Tiananmen Square Sat and Sun, police overwhelmed at limits. Mid autumn festival, 8 day holiday. Tiananmen Square closed for weeks prior for rehearsals. The 56 pillars at the Square are new and represent ethnic minorities in China, 1st addition to the Square since Mao's tomb on 1976, but possible bad feng shui.

Flew into the HKG airport and bought a round-trip train ride on the Airport Express. You can take it to Kowloon Station and get a free transfer to a bus that will take you to your hotel. It's fast (only a 20 minute train ride) but more expensive than the bus or regular rail. After dropping my stuff off at my hotel (The Butterfly on Prat) I grabbed a late lunch at King's Noodles & Dumplings, a typical HK noodle place. Walked down Chatham to the waterfront Avenue of Stars (think the Hollywood Walk of Fame, only for Hong Kong and Chinese movie people) right outside the Hotel Intercontinental, and watched the people fishing, biking, and being tourists. Got there around 4:30 and stayed through dusk around 6:15 and after sunset around 7pm. Wandered up Nathan St. and around the Kowloon area til about 10, then stopped in Genki Sushi inside the Ocean Centre Plaza for dim sum (sushi on plates on a conveyor belt). Took pictures of the neighborhood til about 11.

China/Korea 2009: day 7 (Beijing)

Beijing day 4: Saturday 10/4/09
Map of my Beijing stops, this day in purple; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

At lunch the day before, my Great Wall buddies told me that when they visited the Forbidden City, they hired an English-speaking tour guide outside the gates. Basically you pay for their admittance and a set fee for their time. They told me they had a great experience so I figured I'd try the same. There are lots of unofficial guides outside waiting for tourists and who knows what you'll get. My guy took me on a tour that only lasted about 2 hours and only showed me maybe a third of the place. He also took me to a "special" store where one of two nephews of the last Emperor (who would be the Emperor if they still had one) had an office where, as he's a noted calligraphy artist, I could get a "deal" on something custom made. I spent a little more than I wanted but did get something nice looking. But after that my guide left me and I had no maps, only my guide book (for some reason they didn't have maps or audio guides inside, only outside). 

I spent another 3 hours on my own doing the rest of the tour. As it was my last day in Beijing, I opted to do the Temple of Heaven over the Summer Palace due to travel distance. That was about a half hour cab ride, which gave me under 2 hours to see it all (it closed at 6pm). I did, however, rent the audio tour, which was GPS-based and would automatically start when you got to the right location, and kept track of which spots you'd been to. I exited the park on the west side and the metro stop is on the east, so I had to take a cab (my feet were hurting and cabs are cheap). The plan was to go to Makye Ame, a Tibetan restaurant (in what I didn't realize until later is the embassy section of the city), so I took the #5 to the #1 and got out at the Yonganli station. However, right there was the Silk Street Market, a 4-story building that's a haggler's delight, with everything from real stuff to knockoffs, at any price range. I got a couple of silk shirts there and after checking the place out, I was too tired to go down to Makye Ame so I hit up Café Flat White right outside, a New Zealand restaurant, for some pizza. Cab back to the hotel.

China/Korea 2009: day 6 (Beijing)

Beijing day 2: Saturday 10/3/09
Map of my Beijing stops, this day in magenta; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Got up and wandered down Wangfujing St, was going to catch the metro at the end of the street and go up to the Temple of Heaven, but I spent too long meandering and neglected to note when the Temple closed, so I missed it. Ran into a couple who I had met the day before on the Wall tour and they treated me to lunch near their hotel – it only cost about $3 and was filling but good. Place was called Merry Home. Wangfujing is mostly a pedestrian market on the southern half, with supermarkets, clothing stores, jewelry stores, fast food, pretty much everything. Near the end is the Night Market with all the nasty food on a stick, like scorpions, larvae, and starfish. It's all great for people watching and just wandering.

Made a right on Xichangan St which passes between the Forbidden City on the north side and Tianenmen Square on the south, and after a few pictures with Mao's portrait I crossed over and went into the Square. The National Day parade had been just two days before, and the Square had been closed to the public for practicing for weeks; all of the floats from the parade were parked in the Square, so the Square was jam packed with people celebrating. I bought some flags and medals to get into the spirit of it. On the east side of the Square is the National Museum and on the west is the Great Hall of the People, which I think is where their Assembly meets. Didn't have time to go into either, and for some reason Mao's Tomb was closed due to the holiday. Spent about 4 hours there, which covered daytime, flag lowering, dusk/sunset, and darkness, so I got some really good photos. Went souvenir shopping in the mall nearby (where I had dinner the night before) and at dinner at a hole-in-the-wall place in the hutongs nearby. Cab back to the hotel.

China/Korea 2009: day 5 (Beijing)

Beijing day 2: Friday 10/2/09
Map of my Beijing stops, this day in cyan; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Parts of the city and the metro are still closed off, so I had to play it real-time to see if what I wanted to do was available. I did the Ming Tombs and Great Wall tour. They pick you up from your hotel and take you out. My tour first took us about 2 hours to a jade factory which, while impressive, I had read that you shouldn't buy from there since the prices are marked up, but you should still look at what they've got so you can get ideas on what to buy later and get an upper price range for what it costs. Stayed there about 45 minutes, with a 15 minute drive to the next stop. We went to the Ming Tombs which was really cool but we only had time for a cursory stop of an hour, not enough time to even read much of the placards in the exhibit halls. They took us to an Eastern medicine "hospital" where they diagnose your "ailments" and recommend that you buy their "cures". That wasted an hour, then they took us back to the jade place for lunch (which was included in the cost of the trip).

60 km to tombs. Picked up at 8:05. Royal pagoda view. Driving in city, see hutongs. 5 hrs N to S. Pleasant day, great vis. Stop at govt Jade store, quick pass of sights then get to showroom, 9:15-9:45. Longevity tomb 600 yrs old exactly. More animals on roof is more important. Tomorrow is full moon ceremony. Walk around negative gate, thru positive gate. Ghosts can't climb over step. Wish we had more time. Concubines home into nursing home. ​Herbal spiel. Group consists of people from Australia, China, Italy, Russia, Belgium, US (9 of 14). Done w/ lunch 12:30. Thai Disneyland mistake. ​

After that was the Great Wall at Badaling. We had about 3 hours to ourselves. Tips: bring lots of water for the climb, I drank 3 bottles and needed my 4th that was on the bus. It's very tiring and remember that as far down as you go, you have to come back up, and there are some very steep sections. As I mentioned, there was no haze so I could see to the horizon, which was very unusual (I learned later that they shut down roads and factories to minimize pollution for National Day).

Walking on the Chinese wall. Compare to Uluru. Steep vs shallow parts. Done w/ wall 3:30, more than 2 hrs is a lot. Squat toilets with BYO TP.

On the way back, you could tell the bus driver where to stop as long as it was on the way, so a few of us got out at the Beijing Venture Plaza (don't know what that is, but that's where the stop was) right near the Olympic Stadium around 5pm. The stadium stops selling tickets at 5:30 and it closes at 6pm. I went inside the Bird's Nest stadium but forgot to stop at the gift shop before it closed at 6 also. The plaza is open til late, and I got there before dusk so I got to see the stadium and the Water Cube at sunset and then at night with all the lights. 

Wanted Peking Duck for dinner, all the guidebooks recommend Qianmen Quanjude Restaurant. Took the following Metro lines: 8 to 10 to 13 to 2 and get off at Qianmen station, which is the south entrance to Tianenman Square. There's an outdoor mall there to the southeast, the restaurant is somewhere in there. It took about 90 minutes to go on the subway (half of which was transfers between lines at the stations), but it's cheaper and probably faster than a cab. Took another 45 minutes to get to the restaurant after wandering through the mall, and my dinner (Peking Duck) didn't arrive until 10pm. Took a pedicab back to the hotel.

China/Korea 2009: day 4 (Beijing)

Beijing day 1: Thursday 10/1/09
Map of my Beijing stops, this day in green; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Got up at 5:30 and out the door at 6 for Hongquio ("hong-shao") airport (SHA), the smaller, older one that handles mostly domestic flights. No idea how long it would take to get to the airport due to National Day activities closing some roads, but it turned out there was no problem and it only took 15 minutes. Everything on the ride there was new to me. The city is so big that 3 days only scratches the surface, and I only did the stuff that the tourists do. Too bad there's so much construction, I hope the city looks great for next year's Expo. The cab ride was only 65 RMB – 11 for the first 3 km, and 1 for each 0.3 after that, which means that it was 19.2 km (11.9 miles) for just $10. Try that in a cab in the US! There were cameras taking pictures of every vehicle coming to the airport, but no traffic at all until the queue to drop people off. Once I got in the right line to check in, they told me that there was a problem and I had to go to the Hainan Airlines help desk, which sadly didn't open until 8am (it was only 6:45am). The fact that no flights at all show up on the departure board before 11am is not a good sign for me, and I got confirmation that my flight was cancelled. Unfortunately I chose a bad day to fly to Beijing, it's their National Day and the Beijing Airport is closed until noon, and there's all sorts of traffic issues from blocked roads to closed Metro stops.

While waiting, I talked to a couple of backpackers on their way around the world whose flight to Beijing (connecting to Tokyo) – two German girls just out of high school, taking a year off before starting college, staying at hostels in the various cities. Their future plans included some places I've been, so I was able to pass some info on Sydney, Cairns, and Santiago. The help desk finally rebooked me on the 11:55 flight, only 3 hrs late, which isn't bad in the grand scheme of things. Gave me a chance to borrow the snack bar's wifi to download email and upload some pictures.

Spent the time catching up on email and uploading pix. Special economy class vs ??? People watching the parade on tv. Watched a guy text in Chinese, no idea how that works - looks like a lot of multiple keystrokes and predictive text. Boarding at 11:25 means get on a bus and wait til 11:41. Surprisingly not full, I expected it to be packed to overflowing but 1st class is empty and there are even aisles and bulkheads open. Safety video in both written and spoken Chinese and English. Delay announcement at 12:01 for "traffic control" for approx 1 hr, but at least we have AC. Flt attendants wearing red Chinese dresses. An hour later, time for takeoff! Smartly, they serves lunch on the ground (beef w/ noodles or chicken w/ rice). Wheels up at 1:21. Why show a 2 hr movie like Shawshank if you're not going to be able to show the whole thing? No inflight magazine. Down at 3:05.

Finally, Beijing!

On the one hand, I was blessed with awesomely good weather, absolutely clear to the horizon with no haze. On the other, it was National Day holidays which led to some transportation issues. Before I left the airport, I bought a tour ticket for the Ming Tombs and the Great Wall. If you get it at the airport, it's cheaper than if you book it through the hotel (by about $15 or so). The state-sponsored tours are cheaper than the private tours, but you have to suffer through a trip to the state-run jade factory (with marked up prices) and a state-run Eastern medicine facility, and you're on their schedule.

Got luggage and went to info desk to arrange tours and airport transfer. But since this the single worst day of the year to visit Beijing, traffic is beyond fucked up. Can't take the shuttle to the hotel, the driver is stuck in traffic somewhere with no ETA (normally 1300). A taxi would be astronomical due to waits. Spent at least a half hour with them trying to work something out, best they could come up with was airport shuttle bus 16 to Dongzhimen, then transfer to subway line 2 for 2 stops, then maybe catch a cab inside the ring or walk the 2km. Bus trip was 1718 to 1745. Feel somewhat helpless because I don't speak or read the language, but like I said before I left it’s all part of the experience. Another part I'm not fond of – noticing eyesight issues with small print. Took the subway without incident, started walking 1820. Saw a butterfly.

I got a great hotel in a good location on Wangfujing St, just east of the northeast corner of the Forbidden City, called the Prime Hotel. It's inside the 2nd Ring, but because of the holidays they weren't letting traffic pass from one side of the Ring Road to the other, and so the shuttle bus couldn't pick me up from the airport. I had to take the airport express bus as far as it would go (Dongzhimen Station), then take the #2 metro (blue) to the #5 (purple) and go south to Dongcheng, then either get a cab or walk the half km to my hotel. I ended up disoriented inside the station and walked east instead of west, til I stopped some soldiers and asked for directions. They hailed a cab for me and pointed me in the right direction. Once I got to my hotel it was around 7pm so I could only walk a few blocks from my hotel before I hit more blocked off areas on Wangfujing. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

China/Korea 2009: day 3 (Shanghai)

Shanghai day 3: Wednesday 9/30/09
Map of my Shanghai stops, this day in yellow; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Got up and saw that it was raining, so I brought my waterproof windbreaker, but it wasn't really good enough so I bought an umbrella for 15 RMB (it was worth what I paid for it) and took a cab to the Yuyuan Gardens & Bazaar. The gardens were as lovely as the bazaar was tacky. The gardens had lakes, a huge variety of trees, fish, and flowers in addition to pagodas. I'm sure it's much better when it's not raining. The bazaar is in the "ye olde China" style with everything you can imagine for sale, cheap. I'm convinced that the world's surplus of Mont Blanc pens, Rolex watches, and Louis Vuitton handbags are being dumped cheap here in Shanghai for the tourists. I spent a couple hours wandering around, visiting food stalls, taking pictures. Had lunch at the famous Nanxiang Dumpling Restaurant inside the Gardens. 

I was going to go to a recommended place I found in the guidebook for lunch that also had an internet café, but when I got there I found that the restaurant was no longer there. Fortunately it was in the Times Square area, so walking a couple blocks led me to a computer store (where I was able to check my email) and the main street – when I realized I was only a couple blocks from the Renmin Square area anyway. After waiting for a cab and not being successful at picking one up, I walked up to the Square area and was going to wait for a cab to take me to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel (50 RMB round trip), and go see Pudong; however, I ran into the Metro stop first, where I changed my mind and decided to go straight to Pudong. Took a little bit to figure how the system works: you buy a ticket for how far you want to go (3-7 RMB), then validate the ticket and get on the train. I only paid 3 RMB to go to the Liujian station but figured why not head all the way down to Longyang and ride the Maglev round trip (I took the 8 to the 9 to the 2 and rode 2 to the end). When I got off the train, I ran the ticket through the scanner and it said I owed 1 RMB before I could leave. Bought the Maglev round trip to Pudong Airport for 80 RMB and got on the last train that goes 430 km/hr (265 mph); on the return trip, it maxed out at 300 km/hr (185 mph). Most surprising thing: the airport snack shop doesn't price gouge, the cost of a bottle of water there was the same as back in town. 

Got on the train back to Lujian at dusk and went up to the 88th floor observation deck of the Jinmao Tower. I lucked out and had some clear weather to take some city view pictures in a 360 degree panorama before the clouds started coming in and out. Chose to go up in the Jinmao Tower with its pagoda-influenced shape over the Oriental Pearl Tower because it was less than half price, plus you can see the TV tower from the observation deck (better view). By the time I got down, the last river tour had left, so I missed out on that one. Got back just before 11 via Metro to People's Square and taxi to the hotel, and missed being able to take pictures of the Pudong skyline by a few minutes. Time to pack, review Beijing activities, and sleep. The bell man said I should leave around 6 for my 9am flight; it can normally take up to an hour, but with the National Day activities tomorrow, who knows what it will be like? I hope I'll even be able to leave at 9.

CNN says tonight that Beijing is virtually shut down for the National Day celebration tomorrow. Lovely. They said the fireworks are expected to rival those for the 2008 Olympics. I'm close enough to Tianenmen Square and the Forbidden City that I should have a good view.

China/Korea 2009: day 2 (Shanghai)

Shanghai day 2: Tuesday 9/29/09
Map of my Shanghai stops, this day in red; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

Got up early (for me) at 8am, wanted to get to the Shanghai Museum as early as possible to avoid any crowds and to be finished in time for lunch. Took a cab there, much quicker and easier on the feet than walking like I did yesterday. Free admission to the museum (but a 40 RMB charge for the audio guided tour), where they have several permanent and a few rotating exhibits. The permanent ones are Chinese sculpture, bronzes, porcelain, calligraphy, watercolors, name stamps, coins, and jade, with the visiting exhibits including Colombian gold. Briefly talked with a guy and a couple of girls outside the museum while I was taking pictures of the surrounding skyline, they invited me to have tea with them (a classic scam), but I hope they weren't real people disappointed that I turned them down instead of scammers. Finished at the museum a little after 1, and bought a Museum t-shirt at the gift shop, then waited for a taxi. And waited. Finally got fed up, started walking back towards People's Park and still never caught an empty one. 

I checked my email since I was all the way over at the Radisson which has free wifi, then finally found a cab. The cabbie couldn't figure out why I didn't want to just walk the 1.5 km to Xintiandi in the French Concession area. That's a much higher class shopping area in a much higher class area, with older houses and tree-lined streets, though with the shopping for blocks on either side of the street, it felt more like a typical outdoor shopping mall in the US (except these guys close at 7 pm). First order of business was lunch, though it was around 2:30 or so. I went to the Crystal Jade Restaurant for some dim sum (2nd floor, SW corner of Zuhong and Madang), and had shrimp dumplings, duck with noodles, BBQ pork buns, and a pot of jasmine tea. Outstanding. The whole thing cost about $12 (78 RMB). After lunch took Xingye over to Fuxing Park, a century-old park with everything from couples taking dancing lessons, old people doing tai-chi, statues of Marx & Engels, guys playing Go and other board games, a big group of people playing cards, statues, flowers, kids playing, and people walking backwards. Left the park going north on Sinan to the main road Huaihai and went west a couple blocks to Maoming checking out the stores before turning around and taking Huaihai back towards Xintiandi, killing time by walking around until I got hungry for dinner. Huaihai was all decorated in lights at night, presumably for National Day, although who knows if they'll stay up through next year's Expo, but with the drizzle that had started coming down making the roads slick, the wet roads helped light the area. Fortunately the Chinese have embraced coffee bars with free wifi like we have, though theirs is still filtered by the Great Firewall of China and I can't get stuff like Facebook, Twitter, or even some news articles that the government here doesn't want us to read. Caught up on email while resting my feet, then headed in to the Xintiandi area to see what's for dinner. 

Walked around the mall and decided to go with Din Tai Fung which has outlets all over the far east (Hong Kong, Singapore, Jakarta, Kuala Lampur, plus places like Sydney and LA, but new to this location). Pork and crab dumplings (they had to give me a card on how to properly eat them), drunken chicken (marinated, with skin and bones, in rice wine), hot and sour soup, and some red bean paste buns for dessert which were actually pretty good. Stopped on the bridge to take pictures of the Oriental Pearl working girls in the hotel bar. Things I miss: being able to drink water from the tap, ice in the drinks, and soft beds.

It's starting to strike me that I'm really a foreigner here. Every other place I've gone, I'm a tourist, but here I'm a foreigner. Western culture is new here, and though they're embracing Starbucks, KFC, and Gucci, their whole system is just different, non-European. Everywhere else I can at least read the words, and in many cases figure out what's going on if they speak slowly enough. But not only do they not share an alphabet, they use pictograms and combinations of them to mean other things. If I were to read "man mountain snow happy" how am I supposed to know that means "ice cream"? (That's totally made up, by the way.) But I digress.

China/Korea 2009: day 1 (Shanghai)

Shanghai day 1: Monday, 9/28/09
Map of my Shanghai stops, this day in blue; here are the photos from today. Yellow highlights in the text correspond to flags on the map.

I flew into PVG, Pudong International Airport, from Seoul. I got in very late, around 11pm, so I had to take a bus then a cab to my hotel (trains and Metro were closed). I stayed at the Broadway Mansions Hotel based on location (Joe suggested I stay near the Bund area). Woke up at 11:30, after a nice long 9.5 hr rest, fully adjusted to Shanghai time. Left after a much-needed shower and walked around the neighborhood a bit. My hotel is at the end of Wusong Rd, on the other side of the river across the bridge from Zhongshan Rd which is what runs along the waterfront in the Bund area. Walked down Daming Rd to where they're building the Xinjian Rd Tunnel (Shanghai's motto: We're Under Construction for Expo 2010) under the river to Pudong. Came back along Dongchangzhi to the hotel and then down Zhongshan. Unfortunately the park is closed for renovation, though you can see the main part from the road. The park extends a long way down Zhongshan so all you see from the Bund area is giant walls blocking the renovation and construction equipment. Wandered all the way down to E. Yan'an Rd, looking at the all of the 75-100 year old buildings housing banks and high-end shopping, before turning around and coming back to E. Nanjing Rd. (In retrospect, I should have continued down Ya'an to the People's Park and then come back via Nanjing, instead of doing it the way I did.) The #2 Green metro line runs under this road. 

The first few blocks of Nanjing Rd are hotels and some shopping, but then it turns into something resembling an outdoor flea market/shopping center, with everything from KFC to Cartier. Toy stores, tobacconists, souvenirs, fast food, clothes, jewelry, etc. all over. Every 10 feet, it seems, someone came up to me asking if I wanted shoes, watches, jewelry, t-shirts, or lady massages. With all of the "lady massages" you'd think that half the population was a prostitute. And they're aggressive, too, they hardly take no for an answer. Just avoid them and keep walking away, eventually they'll give it up and go to the next person. Bought my lunch from street vendors, fried dumplings and chicken on a stick. The water isn't safe to drink, so there are lots of places who sell bottled water and sodas for 3-5 RMB (roughly 50-75 cents). I ended up drinking about 5 bottles of water over the course of the day, plus a couple bottles of soda and two Tiger Beers. Not sure why I was sweating so much, it was only in the upper 70s; maybe it was the humidity. Met three ex-pats (2 from South Africa, 1 from England) while having my beers, they were taking pictures of people taking pictures. I left them at 3:30 and they were still there three hours later when I came back. Kept going til the end of the shopping road at People's Square (Renmin Square), which has a number of nice hotels in the area (including the Radisson New World, where I was able to check my email but not Facebook or Twitter, which are blocked in China). 

Passed by the Shanghai Grand Theater and the Shanghai Museum (which is on Ya'an Rd, so I could have walked through the park and then headed back along Nanjing). Walked back to the river along Nanjing, passing the 3 ex-pats from earlier, still drinking beer. They recommended dinner at any of the restaurants a couple of subway stops down back towards Renmin Square, but I was not really hungry since I had been munching on street food all day all day. Walked back up to Nanjing Rd and back east towards the river, but the restaurants had either too much food (I wasn't that hungry) or it was too expensive (or I didn't like it), so I walked back down Nanjing and got some fast food. Back to Zhongshan (no wonder my feet hurt!) and then I took the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel (at the corner of Nanjing and Zhongshan) under the river to Pudong. There's a trippy light and sound show was you move in the car, which brings you across in just a couple minutes. The tunnel exits at the Convention Center, and I happened to be there right near the river when fireworks went off and kept going off. Went to the river walk area and watched the last 5 minutes of the show, which was a rehearsal for the National Day festivities on 10/1 (this Thursday). Spent about an hour in Pudong, then came back across and walked back to the hotel about 11. They turn the lights on the buildings out on the Bund and Pudong at 10pm so I'll have to plan accordingly for pictures. 

I got blisters on my feet from all the walking I did on this day, Sept. 28th. (My feet didn't start to heal until I was in Korea on Oct. 12th, after several days of sitting on buses. Ouch! I went through a couple boxes of Band-aids.)

China/Korea 2009: day 0 (Houston to Seoul to Shanghai)

Here's my map for 3 days in Shanghai: blue for day 1, red for day 2, and yellow for day 3.Mostly written as sentence fragments in a Notes file on my iPod Touch, not so narrative yet.

Got up at 4:45 for the taxi ride to the airport. Got there at 6, plane to ATL left at 7. Food court lunch, nice that the international terminal has free wifi. Why was it free there and not elsewhere? Checked in at the KE counter, turns out that my aisle seat that the company booked for me on Delta (code-share with Korean) wasn't valid, so they stuck me in a middle seat for the 14-hour flight which left at 1. They ran out of Coke 2 hrs into the flight, then Sprite 10 hrs into it, only Diet Coke left. The girl at the window seat on my left slept the whole time and didn't use her armrest, the guy on my right was doing his thing and didn't use his either, so I got both armrests for the whole flight. Only a bit awkward when meals served, I had to tuck in my elbows. Food not bad, had the beef (vs some Korean dish) for the first meal and then the pseudo-lasagna (vs chicken) for the second. Since traveling west, we stayed in the sun all day, no sunset until after I landed in Seoul. All the windows on the plane were shuttered, so I didn't get to see any of the landscape through Canada, Alaska, the Arctic, Russia, Vladivostok, Japan, and into Korea. The international terminal in ICN rocks – in addition to all the duty free shopping, they've got lounges, free wifi, free showers, a transit hotel, free push carts, comfy lounge chairs, etc. Ate dinner at the food court, had a Korean spicy pork and rice dish with a Coke. Exchange rate is about 1150 KRW to the dollar, so I have to get my iPod calculator to figure out how much stuff is. I slept a couple hours on the plane so I'm tired, I think that I'll sleep well tonight in Shanghai and I might even be good tomorrow. Flight to PVG gets in around 9pm, and with getting my luggage, clearing customs, and getting to the hotel, it could be midnight. A noticeable number of people wearing masks to avoid the flu.

Uneventful flight on Asiana from Seoul to Shanghai, some chicken thing for dinner. Left 20 min late, got in 5 min late. People don't understand the concept of "stand on the right, walk on the left" on the moving walkways. Got my bag (it went through!), went through flu screening and customs, changed some money, bought a bottle of water from Burger King, and got help from the information desk on how to get to my hotel (take the #5 airport bus to People's Park, then take a taxi to the hotel) and wrote it all in Chinese so I can show the drivers. I probably got shafted on the exchange rate with commission, my $100 came out to 626 RMB; I should be getting closer to 7 for the dollar, but I needed the cash to pay the taxi and bus, and I didn't see the ATMs until afterwards. The airport and the bus don't seem to be big on air conditioning. The bus was 20 RMB, and the cab was 17 RMB (don't have to tip). Couldn't take the maglev, it stopped running a couple hours before I got there. Fortunately an English-speaking lady on the bus noticed that we were at my stop. I hadn't even made it in the door to the hotel before a pimp asked me if I wanted a lady, and I wasn't in the room for more than an hour before I got the "do you need a massage?" phone call.

Plugged in my computer with an adapter, plugged in the iPod and cell phone to recharge. The room is amazing, looks gorgeous. Can't figure out why the internet isn't working, it's just a LAN cable to plug in (or maybe it's not free? No wifi, in any case. I'll check it out later. Room comes with 2 bottles of water (don't drink from the tap!), I'll bring the unopened one with me tomorrow. The bed is relatively hard, which is unfortunately how the Chinese like them. Give me a plush pillowtop mattress any day! Finally went to bed at 2am, which is just like back home, except 2am here is noon there. I think I slept for 2 hrs on the plane, and 3:15 the night before, so maybe 6 hrs of sleep in the last 50 or so I expect to be over my jet lag tomorrow

China/Korea 2009: intro

Being an account of my trip to Shanghai, Beijing, Hong Kong, Macau, and Seoul in fall 2009.

In early 2009 I submitted a paper to an aerospace conference in Daejeon, S. Korea to take place in October 2009. Once it was accepted, I decided that since my company was going to send me to east Asia, I may as well take advantage of it and spend a couple weeks in China as a tourist. I was locked in to whatever my company gave me for the flight from Houston to Seoul, and from there I was on my own. For budgetary reasons it was better for me to see Shanghai, then Beijing, then Hong Kong, before going back to Seoul.