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.