Saturday, December 12, 2009

Tianjin, China - Smog

My job involves a lot of travel (whodda guessed, right?), and although I do get to go to some great places, there are some places that I go to that are simply wretched. Often filled with good people, but.... wretched. One case in point is Tianjin, China. Tianjin is a large city close to the Chinese capital, Beijing. It is also a major manufacturing center, and you can tell this the minute you get off the plane. As soon as the plane door opens, one breath tells you that you are in a place where you don't want to stay too long. My chemist's nose tells me that the smell has that "bacon and eggs"-ish odor of sulfur dioxide, but overlaying this is something that you can just label "dirty".

The first time I visited Tianjin, I landed at Beijing (Peking) airport and took a cab into Tianjin. As we drove along the road, the driver went from hell-for-leather fast, to snail's pace, as conditions went from poor visibility to zero visibility: the road intermittently draped with listless wraiths of white sulfur dioxide smoke that stings the lining of the nose. In winter, there is no wind, and it is usually very dry, so weeks can go by with only rumors of a white glowing ball in the sky that seems to be associated with daylight.

My colleague, Michael Qiu, says he has been to Tianjin many times, and never seen the sun. I think I must have gotten lucky, because I HAVE seen the sun there once. After a brief overnight snowfall that must have nucleated and precipitated the atmospheric particulates, we were rewarded the next day with hazy sunshine. The people seemed happier on that day.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Eating out - Penang Style!

On Sunday, Damian took me out for some Hawker food. That is: food sold in small quantities from a circle of vendors who deliver to your numbered table, and you pay on delivery. There's always a huge variety to choose from, from Indian to Chinese to traditional Malaysian...

1/ Roti Jala: Chicken curry with a kind of bright-yellow fried bread that looks like a fishnet made from cooked spaghetti. They make it by putting the liquidy dough into a device like an upside down pepper-pot and dripping it into the pan, so you get a web of just-cooked fried dough. Very nice, and good hand-food.

2/ Chicken clay pot: chicken and rice with bacon and some kind of fish-sauce to make it brown. And a fried egg on top. And Spam (no: just joking about the Spam).... and for pudding...?

3/ Rojak: sounding like a Japanese version of a device for preventing your car being stolen, it looks nice enough: sliced and diced fresh fruit covered in a brown sauce of some kind. Usually there is a mix of fruits in there, but this time it was mostly some kind of hard, not-very-sweet pear thing. "The best Rojak comes from Penang, everyone says that" quoth Damian, so I knew I was in the culinary epicenter. I got out the toothpick I was given and picked a piece up and ate it. Mmmmm...non-nom-nom.... bluuuurrgghh... a familiar taste was coming out. "Wass in this, Damian?" "Umm. Fruit. And shrimp paste. With chili sauce... " OK: it wasn't the worst thing I have ever eaten in my life (which I may Blog about at some point) but it will definitely be filed under N for "never again". Just for the record I ate a fair bit of it trying to "acquire the taste". I never did.

August is part of the rainy season in Malaysia: which means it rains every so often, usually in a torrential downpour, but they just put the blinds down and business goes on as usual - see photo.

Later that night I just walked a hundred yards from the G hotel down Gurney Drive to the well-known Hawker market there. I think well-known weird-food arsehole Andrew Zimmern did a show on Gurney Drive - may have been where he barfed the durian. Hahaha....
Safe travels! Des

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What am I?

I need to get this off my chest and am looking to see if I am alone in feeling this way.

Talking to my friend Irene (the one who calls me the "Crazy Ang Moh"), she asked me why I was so unlike the other Westerners she had ever met. I know she meant it in a good way, but it got me to do a bit of soul searching. I was born and raised and very well-educated in the UK, but I've also lived in Japan and have spent most of the last fifteen years as a permanent resident of the USA. I really like traveling and seeing new places and trying new things, but part of my ability to adapt to new things is that I am essentially rootless. And I don't think that's a good thing.

A child of military parents, I never spent more than 2years in any one place until the age of 12, and many friends have been forced to buy new phonebooks to fit all my addresses in. When people ask about my "home", the answer I give depends on the questioner. An American stranger hears my accent and assumes my "home" is in England somewhere: even my American work colleagues also make the same mistake. My Asian colleagues know my home is in the US, but also know that my heart often isn't.

My other thing I like to do is at least learn a little of the language and culture of each place I visit, even if it's "thank you" "hello" and "goodbye", and I have a strong resentment of those Westerners who pride themselves in their failure to fit in: "I've never even learned hiragaaaana" as one pompous ass told me after living 20years in Tokyo. Even yesterday, a senior executive for an automotive company I'd been chatting with presented himself at the hotel counter and said "Ni hao: that's all the Chinese I know". Buddy, you know the Ugly Canadian very well. You shave his face every day.

So what am I? An Anglo-American? A citizen of the world? A rootless freak? Is anyone else in the same boat? How do you answer the question "Where do you come from?".

Safe travels! Des

Durian: Yum!

"Why you so crazy for durian? You are Ang Moh. I scratch my head."** A couple of weeks back, my Singaporean friend Irene (and yes, that's pure Singlish she's speaking) asked, when we were talking about what has been called the "King of Fruits", the durian.
Looking like an overgrown lime gone punk, this incredibly spiky (yes: you can be killed by one of these falling on you) fruit, with notable exceptions down the ages (mostly English, I am proud to say) bisects two peoples into the 1/ "love it" (South East Asians) and 2/ "blaaaarggh...barf" Westerner categories. Notable food hard-man Andrew Zimmern being one of the latter (snigger...."Fairy!").
The smell of the thing is very pungent, and the first time I encountered one, my chemist's nose was physically assaulted by an aroma I was trying to put names to, but is most reminiscent of a chemical factory. After a few seconds of trying, I realized the thing's overwhelming odor is a result of a huge amount of strong fruity (ester) components, so what you are getting is the BIGGEST fruit smell you will ever encounter. At which point your brain will either reject the smell ("Aaagh it's too much!") or (as mine did) say "YUM!".
The ones I tried on this trip, and there are hundreds of varieties were a bit grey-looking, not the usual bright green, and the skin on the white seed pods was a little chewy. "It's the end of the season" said Sehar, so we were not in for a huge treat, but the creamy/custardy flesh with its slightly nutty, fruity, mildly sweet taste was still pretty good to me.
Another colleague and I tested out a well-known myth that "If you eat durian and drink alcohol, you will die". The folklore being that alcohol and durian are both "heating" and you will explode and fry your brains.... or some such shit. I'd already committed suicide in Singapore by doing this: according to my friend who has my immense respect as a scientist, but gets an 'F' in biology. As you can imagine, I am typing this from beyond the grave...Woo! Spooky!!!
Safe Travels! Des
**Trans: "Why do you like durian so much? You're a white guy? I'm perplexed."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Onigiri - Japanese Snack Food

In Japan, and Japanese influenced-countries like Taiwan, you can get sandwiches at the ubiquitous Lawson Stations or 7-11's, BUT you are missing out on a treat if you just stick with the Western food. Try an onigiri for a light, healthy and very tasty treat. About the size of a baseball, the standard triangular onigiri you can get in convenience stores is also an incredibly well-designed feat of packaging.

The central rice "ball" has a small amount of filling: in this case, if I read my Chinese right, it's creamy shrimp(?) - please correct me if I'm wrong here. But the crispy nori wrapping goes soggy if it touches the rice. Several years ago, Japanese design engineers came up with a way to keep the nori on the outside separate from the rice by a two-layer packaging design. You pull the tab (top dead center of the triangle) out and around, splitting the package in two, then pull off the plastic wrapping from each of the other corners, and voila - crunchy nori wrapped around the riceball. It's like the magician's trick where he pulls the tablecloth off the table and leaves the crockery intact.

Try two different flavors and a drink and you've got a great lunch for around USD$5.

Safe travels! Des

Saturday, August 22, 2009

G Hotel, Penang, Malaysia

I'd stayed at the G Hotel one night before, and wasn't too impressed with this self-consciously odd hotel. However, this time round I was in for a treat. As per last time, the vast open entrance hall was gently booming with ambient jazz, which starts off very soothing, but drives you crazy after a while. The same three odd chords ( a minor 13 / an augmented 9 etc...) repeated endlessly over a hip drum track. You get the picture.

"Sorry: you have to check in on the 15th floor." Oooo. Kay... So up we went... and were served ice-cream (rather nice apple-soybean ice cream) while I got checked in (little hiccup with the credit card - note to self: tell yer credit card company where you're going before you make the trip). After this got sorted... "We've given you a free upgrade to an Executive Suite." A... ha! Time for a little luxury after some of the dives I've been stuck in over the years.

360RM** for an "Executive Suite": two huge rooms that would have made six separate hotel rooms in Singapore: at twice the price. OK, the view was of the apartment building next door (and a bit of the sea), but the room was very luxurious. Free soft drinks in the fridge: admission to the Executive Meeting room (free breakfast: free BEER), and from said Executive Meeting room, what has to be one of the best views of the Malaysian mainland and Penang out to Batu Ferringi. You are not supposed to bring friends in and drink the fridge dry of beer, but they smilingly overlooked this (plus Damian is a charmer). All this and a rubber duck in the bath, too!


Safe travels! Des

**About USD$110 at time of writing.

Penang, Malaysia

Almost missed the connection at HK. Thought 70minutes would be long enough, but only JUST: with yet another x-ray and hoards of mainland Chinese in the way and jumping the line. I did make it to the plane (second Cathay Pacific flight I'd been on that day) to find the seats on this one were just as awful as the last flight. Lots of leg room, but there was a bit at the back of the bottom seat cushion that chafed my rear end for the entire flight. Quite a contrast to the Business Class upgrade on the flight from Taipei to Seoul, which was SWEET! Nice smiley service, but even my jaded color palate rebels against the batik-inspired turquoise and green of MH.

Malaysia has a colonial history, which may be apparent from this roadsign. Which placename does not fit with the others, children?

OK: it's Malaysia, so the immigration forms were the usual ones cunningly psychologically designed to weed out miscreants. "Are you bringing in illegal drugs?" Why would anyone with a greater than room temperature IQ (and yes, I am talking Celsius) even ASK that question? A different KIND of "stupid" is required to ask this one: "Have you visited any countries that the WHO has designated as centres for H1N1 virus? Yes or no? If you are caught lying you are liable to imprisonment." WTF?? YES or NO??? I am on a plane in mid-flight: I can not "phone a friend", nor look it up on the web. So what to do? Hmmm... I just put a big "?" in the middle and said I had no clue, as I was not a member of WHO, and listed the countries I had been in, in the last seven days. Seemed to work. This was a recurring theme throughout my trip: customers doing a quick thermometer check of the forehead or ear, and asking in a big form if I had stayed in "any countries that the WHO has...". Again, I don't have Peter Townsend's phone number, plus by the end of the trip, the local death toll from H1N1 went from 18 to 36, and I was pointedly writing "Malaysia" down as my guess at a WHO designated flu hotspot.

Anyway: got out of customs in Penang with no issues, and met my old friends Dave and Damian who had booked me into the G Hotel on Gurney Drive, Penang. More anon.

Monday, August 17, 2009

I'll Have the Ummmm...: Korean Language

After Taiwan and Malaysia (some English spoken and English ubiquitous, respectively), Korea was a bit of a shock. Maybe it was too much MASH as a kid, or the thought that there were thousands of US troops still stationed there, or the belief that, as a civilized nation - it would be expected that..... but no. They don't speak English. At all. The colleague I was traveling with is fluent in Hokkien, several dialects of Chinese and English (OK: Singlish), and with me in tow, we can get through most foreign encounters OK, but this was off the scale. "I can't really leave the hotel" she said, exasperatedly. "There is one restaurant just down the road where they know me, and I point at the pictures on the menu." The picture shows one example of the problems you face.

The written language (Hangul) is completely unlike any other script on the planet, and is claimed to be the most logical script on earth, since each combination of sticks and balls even gives you instructions on how to pronounce it! The reason for the logic is simple: Hangul did not evolve naturally over time: it was created at the instigation of Emperor Sejong in 1406, who wanted a unique script for his country instead of just half-borrowing from the Chinese (like the Japanese did).

Since Korean is only used in South and North Korea, there is not much call to learn the language, and unlike Japanese, learning the written language does not even help you with other languages. As always, I found you can go far with the usual politeness things : Kamsamnida (Thank you) and Annio-Hassio (Hello), but that's as far as I got.

Safe Travels! Des

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Korea: Three Days

I'm typing this on the KAL bus from the Coex Hotel to Incheon Airport with a head full of memories from my three day whirlwind tour that took me from Seoul in Northern South Korea down to the South and also points East and West. This time it's proving difficult to pin down my experiences in a few words, but I'll try.

I got out of Taiwan just as Marokot was about to hit the island. After a two month long drought and (see previous post) the highest temperatures in 40 years this was a particularly cruel irony.
OK: Korea. Let's start as I did, at the HUGE Incheon airport, recently voted # 1 in service beating out Changi (Singapore), where I waited on line for immigration for what seemed like hours getting hotter and hotter simply due to the temperature. Meanwhile, heat-sensing cameras were checking everyone for fever: but my problem wasn't fever, it was that PHEW. It was too hot! I quickly found out that air-conditioning in Korea is just that: the air is treated like an honored guest, being gently conditioned to a temperature 1 degree below that of the stifling outside air.

The hotel I was staying at, the Coex Intercontinental (Seoul) had the friendliest check-in lady I have ever met in my life: Joy Moon. I've met a lot of good and helpful hotel workers, but she should be a national treasure! She and I crossed paths at check-in; when I forgot my key card; and at check-out. "I remember you!" she beamed, and didn't even check my ID.
August is the rainy season in Korea, and everywhere you looked, there was greenery. Not the sterile austerity of grasslands, but trees. Lots and lots of trees. Covering (according to my friend Mr Park) 70% of the country. I'm used to the rolling hills of upstate New York, but Korea is similat but different: real mountainous hills, all covered in forest. And startling clusters of large apartment buildings. As we drive from the North to the South of the country, we would drive through wooded hills and beautiful mountains to find BAM!! a cluster of 50 identical apartment buildings. Right in the middle. More later.

Safe travels! Des

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Taoist Temple: Hsinchu, Taiwan

Right behind the inglorious bulk of the Ambassador Hotel, Hsinchu is this gaudy but beautiful Taoist Temple. I'm sure there must be a lot of them around, but this is the only one I can recall ever seeing. It's in use (you can see the lady in the shadows burning incense).

I got back from the long walk (about 3 hours) dripping with sweat and mildly subburned. At dinner that night, my colleague Tommy asked if I'd stayed in the hotel all day. No: why? "It was the hottest day in 40years in Hsinchu: 39.4C". That's 103degF: no wonder I stopped at every 7-11 on the way to drink Kirin Afternoon Tea! [Note that Kirin Afternoon Tea is the official tea drink of the Joys of Travel Blog until someone pays me to say otherwise].

Safe Travels! Des

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Hsinchu, Taiwan

Finally, 30hours after starting off down the road, I got to my hotel room in Hsinchu and managed to get a good 4-5hours solid sleep, which is not bad. Up at 5: a little B2B blogging and email, then out into the heat of the day at around 8am...
One of the eponymous "joys of travel" in foreign countries is that every step can bring you a new experience, even after 20 or so years of global travel. Just stepping out of the hotel, there was clearly some kind of wedding car thing going on... but what was the box in front of the bride's car? Pop! Bang! Yup: Chinese celebrations mean fireworks.

Only mad dogs, this sweaty Englishman and 1,000's of Tawanese people were out in the noon day heat. It was 37C at 11:00am (for those of you used to the Fahrenheit scale, this equates to "Sweet Jesus, that's hot!"). Scooters everywhere; and tucked away behind the huge Ambassador Hotel was the Dayglo austentatiousness of a lovely Taoist Temple, which will feature in my next posting.
Safe travels! Des

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Narita Airport Stopover

After nearly missing my connecting flight from Washington Dulles to Tokyo (D'oh!! Note to self: check before assuming a very similar flight is a codeshare!), it's now 24 hours since I started my journey to Taipei. Where better to lay over for a couple of hours than my old stamping ground, Japan? It's a good chance to practise language skills: if they answer you in English you have failed - play him off, Keyboard Cat! And the perfect opportunity to get some real Japanese food. The restaurants where I live in the US are labeled "Japanese food" but are run by Chinese people...meaning they're about as Japanese as I am. 2500yen at Narita Airport gets you one of the many Kansai soul foods - Unajuu (broiled eel layered on rice).
How authentic is it? Lemme see... Square lacquered wooden box with a lid on it? Check. Eel liver soup in a wooden cup - also with lid on it, and the eel liver actually present? Check. Eel nicely arranged on top of rice and not smothered in nori-flakes and/or sesame seeds? Check. Taro (sweet soy sauce) added in a small quantity to the eel just before grilling, not dumped on top of it like barbecue sauce on a 4th of July hamburger, destroying the flavor? Oh yeah!. Good stuff.

No cellphone signal (so no change there) but I can take a nice picture of the calligraphy at the restaurant with the cellphone anyway. If you read the hiragana, you can see the way they've made the eel into the "U" character for Unagi.

Only one real "beef": the airport shops have inspired a haiku:

At home waits my fridge.
Refrigerator magnet:
Are you in Japan?

Travel safe! UncleDes

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Leg Wallet = Must Have!

I travel in some fairly uncertain places at times, and I always like to know where my most critical stuff is. That's why I rely on a leg wallet (got this one for SGD$20 in Singapore).

I carry multiple currencies (about $20-$50 worth of nine different ones, last time I counted) and a few hundred USD$ plus my passport, Green card, spare credit card, medical card and so on. I wear it all the time, except when showering, and I get a few odd looks from people if I have shorts on, but I always feel secure. I used a pair of scissors to taper the Velcro ends - as if you don't align them, they can irritate after more than 24hours on a plane or traveling.

Another tip: a few years back, I had to leave my laptop bag in a dodgy hotelroom in Guadalajara, where someone had already tried to get in while I was snoozing. I just hung the entire bag by its strap behind the curtains, up against the wall, but with the curtains open. If you didn't look for it: you wouldn't know it was there.

Safe Travels!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Tijuana Trip

I've been to Mexico (Mexico City, Guadalajara and Chihuahua) many times before, and have never had any difficulties in getting into the country; even doing some development work for a short time over there. However, two months back, I had my first time being driven into Mexico, via Tijuana. I had not anticipated any difficulties, after asking our local rep firm the week before "Will there be any problems?".
The first hint of trouble was when we could not find anywhere to park, to go through the documentation procedures. "They've gotten rid of all the parking spaces!" said Rick (the driver), so we parked in a zone where it was clearly marked "Do not park here", and Rick coughed up $10 to a shifty-looking guy who held a sign saying "I will watch your car and make sure nothing happens to it". The art of the grift: and we were just 100feet into Mexico! Then we found out (with Mexican immigration's poor English and my awful Spanish) that I needed a "Letter of Invitation" from the company I was visiting. We finally got one faxed through and 2 hours later were on our way. During my time in the office I noticed that all the notices were in Spanish, except for the one taped to the table saying "Non-US citizens must have a letter of introduction", but since you would have to come here to read that it was hardly a pair pre-warning.
Anyway, $23 each got of us a short-term visa and on we went into Tijuana: which was as poor and run-down as anywhere I've been in Mexico. The cops were going round in pairs, since the recent arrest of a druglord had angered the local cartels so much they had started shooting up police stations. Godspeed to all those non-corrupt, hardworking Mexican cops.
Lunch with the customer was interesting: Mexican version of Chinese food (wantons like dried vermicelli). I had to warn one of my companions, as she was about to put ice in her glass and fill it with soda. "Just drink it out of the bottle". A lot of people make the same mistake - avoiding the tapwater like crazy, but forgetting what goes into the ice, and what is used to wash the glasses.
Later that day, we drove back fine into the US: slow but no real hold-ups. I also noticed for the first time all the carefully-bilingual signs and notifications on the way back, paid for care of the US taxpayer.
Safe travels! Des

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Lost in Translation (Part I)

I will try not to overdo these, I promise.

But sometimes you just see things and realise that the person designing the message clearly has no idea of the effect on the intended recipient. For your viewing pleasure...

- Hotel room in Suzhou

- Milk from a store in Shanghai

Safe travels!

Soul Food: Malaysia (Singapore Style)

As part of the ritual of getting acclimatized to a new country, I always try to get as much of the local food into me as soon as possible. Depending on what I learn from my local colleagues or on the web about food-hygiene concerns, I either eat well-cooked food, and drink coffee or hot tea (e.g. in Mexico)... or just tuck into whatever is going (e.g. in Japan). The only time I have been ill from eating food was in Suzhou, China - it was Western-style food with Third-World style preparation.

One place you are very safe and can eat pretty-much everything is Singapore. You may need to take out a second mortgage if you want to drink the beer, however. ["Tiger, tiger, burning bright / holes in your pockets on a drunken night..." Apologies to Blake.] The pictured meal was the Grand Plaza Park Hotel's slightly off-kilter, but very enjoyable, version of the Malaysian soul-food "Nasi Goreng". The Grand Plaza threw everything but the proverbial kitchen sink into this one:

- Chicken satay
- Dried fish (similar to Indian "Bombay Duck")
- Chicken wings
- Shrimp and veggie fried rice
- Prawn crackers
- Vegetables with hot sauce on top
- Lettuce and tomato salad
- Fish sauce on the side
- Fried egg on top Spam though. Which is always a good thing. Bloody vikings!

Safe travels!

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Snow Clouds over China: Feb 2008

Some of you may remember the heavy snows from February 2008 that brought most of China to a grinding halt, with railway stations and airports crowded by thousands of stranded passengers. I got alerted to the situation by my Suzhou-based colleague just before flying into Beijing, and so spent a couple of days warming my heels in Singapore before changing my flight plans completely and flying to Japan. On the flight over, I took these photographs of the view from above the chaos, just as the sun was setting. They looked even more spectacular in real life, as the photos can not do justice to the way the clouds were layered one on top of the other. I'd never seen anything like it before.

Safe travels!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

What is Wrong with this Picture?

Actually: nothing wrong with it, or the camera! One of my top twenty buildings in the world, the Renaissance Hotel, Zhongshan, Shanghai is one you will never forget. If you've had a couple of beers and see it on the horizon; the thing looks like it is either twisted round or about to fall over. Illuminated at night by simple blue strip lines along its edges it just screams "wrong!!". The dramatic effect is caused by the building being sloped gently backwards, so the top floors must be just that little bit smaller. It's several miles from the de facto center of Shanghai (i.e. the Bund and Pudong) but being near the quite large and attractive Zhongshan Park, and about 1 mile from a highly-recommended "face-changing" cabaret/restaurant (the name of which I have completely forgotten), the area is a good place to spend a weekend and relax. Plus it's right near the Shanghai Tube.

Also note the lady sweeping the street with nothing more than a tree-branch in front of this marvel of modern architecture. With this image, I was clearly trying to say something about the juxtaposition of the old and new China, but probably ended up just saying "UncleDes isn't very good at photography". Hey ho...

Safe Travels!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Jet Lag and All His Friends

What is it?

Jet lag is basically tiredness compounded with the confusion of your body and your brain disagreeing with each other about what time it is. If you’re not used to it, it can be the most disorienting feeling you have ever had: one horrible memory I have from 16 years ago, was waking up in the dark on my first trip to Asia, with absolutely no clue what time it was, or what country I was in (Hong Kong: 3:00am, just in case you were wondering).

How do I deal with it?

Firstly, forgive yourself for being human: it’s perfectly natural to have jet-lag. It will wear off in 2-5 days, and the main skill (and there is a skill to this) is to absolutely forget what time it is in the country you just left and focus on the one you are going to. The more you travel internationally, the easier it becomes. The body slowly follows the mind on this one, so the sooner the mind is convinced, the sooner you’ll feel at home. It’s impossible to describe the mental ability to program yourself like this, but it’s a kind of “deliberate mental-detachment” from your environment. Once learned it is never forgotten.

The way that works best for me is the following. The minute I get onto a plane on a long-haul flight, I set my watch to the local time at the destination and just act accordingly. Don’t set your watch before the plane leaves, or you may end up missing the flight as I nearly did once in Denver. Even if it’s 10:00am – try and get some sleep: this should not be too difficult as traveling is stressful and you may not have slept well the night before. Even the kind of low-grade skip-napping that you get on board a plane is much better than nothing.

Don’t drink too much alcohol. It’s a good general rule, but the air on an airplane at high altitude is very dry (low humidity), so steering clear of booze and salty food is wise as it helps to prevent dehydration. Drink lots of other fluids, too: you may not be allowed to bring them on board a US plane any more, but you can at least bug the flight attendant every hour or so for a glass of water or juice.

Taking a single melatonin tablet at around midnight either on the plane, or once you hit your destination, can help to get your body rhythms adjusted (I normally get drowsy within 20-30minutes of taking it) but, as always, consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Safe travels!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

How Malaysian are you?

Take this test and find out if you’re just a lumpy tourist or are on your way to becoming a citizen.

1. Kopi-o is:

a. The name for Kinko’s in Malaysia
b. Undrinkable
c. The only way to start the morning

2. The best way to eat a mangusteen is to:

a. Hit it with a very large mallet while wearing your best white suit, then eat it
b. Take a big bite out of it and chew the rind slowly
c. Carefully crush it in your hands and eat the juicy white bits

3. A durian is:

a. That band from the 80’s, right?
b. Inedible
c. Absolutely delicious

4. The technical term for people who play catch with a durian is:

a. Durian durian
b. Durian athlete
c. Masochist

5. The ISA is the…

a. Indonesian Subway Army
b. Internal Security Act
c. Hahaha… I love all religions, and so do you

6. The police found your camera…..
a. In the hotel gift shop
b. By the side of the road
c. Priced at 200RM on Cheapside Road

7. Complete the phrase: “We saw monitor lizards…
a. In the zoo”
b. In the sea”
c. In the zoo and in the sea”

8. Feringgi is..
a. One of those guys from Star Trek with the teeth, right?
b. A multicultural paradise
c. Malay for “tourist trap”

9. “Watch out for the bloody kangaroo!” is something you might hear:
a. In the Outback of Australia
b. On the roads in Penang
c. Both

10. “Baik” means
a. Put it in the oven for 60minutes
b. Thing with two wheels
c. Good


Mostly a. : Good morning, President Bush
Mostly b. : Enjoy your short stay in Malaysia
Mostly c. : Selamat datang!

Safe travels!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Suddenly: I'm not that Hungry

As you may know, it's pretty common when traveling overseas to come across mis-spellings or mistranslations of dishes that bring a smile to your face, or a look of horror. A couple of years back at dinner in Shenzhen, China, with colleagues, we were treated to:

- Chicken saliva
- Explodes fries the fish seed
- Raises the face aloe
- Small bamboo shoots meat froth
- Tile crisp stomach
and a myriad other poorly-translated delights.

Much less common to find inedibles this side of the Pacific, but Illy's in JFK airport was trying their best. Check out the middle selection....

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Must Haves (Part I)

Every traveler spending a little downtime at the airport has been through the humiliating experience of protracted outlet shopping because their cellphone or laptop is out of juice, or just about to be so. Here is the simple and obvious answer: everywhere I go, I take one of these with me (see picture).

For a $1 outlay, I can get plugged in EVEN WHEN EVERY SINGLE SOCKET IS OCCUPIED. Just go up to the person using the already plugged in, and ask if you can borrow the outlet. You may also get a smile and a "Neat Idea!" comment from your fellow-traveler, as I did at the beginning of the year when I first started doing this. Tell 'em you got the idea at this Blog, too.

Safe travels!

How was the flight? Well....

Jet Blue Flight 173 from JFK to SJC last Sunday night (June 14th, 2009) was pretty memorable for all the wrong reasons. It's always a bad omen when the pilot tells you "We'll be 10minutes early into San Jose" before we've even taken off. Naturally, we sat on the tarmac for another 30minutes. About 20minutes into the flight, one of the passengers went from the front of the plane to the bathrooms at the back: nothing unusual about that, right?

Then the smell started... Said passenger had managed to leave little drops of (ahem) "fertilizer" all the way down the aisle, which the poor flight crew tried to clean up, and mask with some flowery-smelling powder they put down, but it really didn't mask the smell. So for the first time in my life, we had to turn around about an hour into the flight and go back to JFK. Once we landed, they got the poor bugger off the plane quickly, but the rest of us had to sit there while decontamination crews cleaned up the aisle (see picture). After deplaning and waiting another hour to get on another, cleaner, plane we took off again without incident and got into SJC at around 1:00am - 3.5 hours later than planned.

The Jet Blue team did a creditable job of keeping us informed without embarassing the sick passenger, but it was overall not an experience I would choose to repeat. If you are feeling unwell and still considering traveling: please don't!

Someone asked me the next day: "How was the flight?" and I could answer honestly "Well... frankly, it was pretty sh...."


Risking the solipsistic intro that will alienate many readers, I'll start by telling you a bit about me, so that you know that I am speaking from years of experience. I work as Product Manager for an electronics materials company and have global responsibilities that take me all over the place. I get to Asia a lot, and mostly enjoy the food, and have a reputation for eating and enjoying things that others won't, although I don't eat beef or pork: if that makes any sense to you(?). I speak enough of several different languages to get by almost anywhere, and generally find that wherever I go: 90% of the people are friendly and helpful, and 10% are idiots, independent of race, creed, culture or economic status.
I also try (as far as possible) to "fit in", as far as a blond 5'10" Westerner can, with the local culture. For example: the Taiwanese have the Japanese fear of disease, so when I got a cold while traveling in Kaoshiung two years back, I wore a mask (see picture) to prevent contaminating my customers. Whatever works! In the background that's the Taiwanese high-speed rail (THSR) that is the Taiwanese version of the Shinkansen (bullet train) that used to run only from Taipei (in the North) down to Kaoshiung, and I understand now actually runs to Zuoying.