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!