Tuesday, October 18, 2005

China Trip I - Inbound Travel

You guessed it, I was super excited to begin the journey back home. Not because I was dying to get back to the grind in Chicago, but for the premier flying experience that I would once again be entertained with. I have such crazy passions, but what to do...

At most other international airports (the US included), the procedure for getting onto an international flight is: manual check-in at the airline counter (where immigration takes place, stamping of passport by airline agent), security and then you're on the flight. When you arrive, you go through immigration (state official), collect your bags, go through customs, and you're home.

In China, getting onto an international flight required a slightly different approach: first thing you did was go through customs with all your luggage, check in at the airline counter, security and lastly immigration with a state official, before you got onto the concourse. At least there was no trouble anywhere along the way. They're probably being extra cautious with what gets taken out of the country, as most other nations are worried with what's being brought in.

All the various airlines that fly to Beijing

The airy and modern-looking International concourse at the Beijing Airport

The Club Lounge, very well serviced with some good food for breakfast and WiFi

Plane parking lot - a hold for planes waiting to fly back to their home country. You can make out a United 747 (non-stop to Chicago) and an Ethiopian Airlines 767, which stops in Delhi on the way back to Addis Ababa.

A Singapore Airlines 777

Air China tails along with an ANA (All Nippon Airways) flight from Japan

Morning rush hour - planes lined up for take off. Notice the ongoing construction. They're building two new terminals, which'll probably be ready in time for the Olympics in 2008.

The endless runway. Oh what fun this would be on my bike...

Onboard: a little snack of Japanese crackers and nuts before brunch

A Japanese lunch. BTW, I love Miso soup.

Business Class on the Japan Airlines Boeing 767. It's not as spacious as the AA 777 flight, as this is a short haul route (less than 5 hours, intra-Asia).

Landing in heavy rain at Narita Airport in Tokyo. The spray of water near the engines is the Thrust Reversers, which are used to slow down the plane by deflecting the thrust sideways from the engine instead of straight back.

Arriving at our gate

American flies only to Tokyo in Asia, but they have about 6 daily flights to the states: 2 to Dallas, 1 to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and San Jose.

A Korean Airlines Boeing 747-400 getting prepped for the short flight to Seoul.

An Air Tahiti Nui Airbus A340-300 just arriving from Papeete where the skies are bound to be clear and sunny.

The entrance to the American Airlines lounge

Out flight getting ready for hop across the Pacific and Canada into Chicago.

Onboard: Japanese dinner. I forgot exactly what everything was, but I ate most of it.

The International Terminal at Chicago O'hare Airport: British Airways, Swiss, Air India, Star Alliance (Lufthansa), United and American.

Business Class on the AA 777 with my lovely Flight Attendant

In the cockpit of the Boeing 777. I was so thrilled. I hadn't been up to a cockpit since I was a kid and thought it wouldnt be possible post certain events 4 years ago. But the captain was real nice about it, and what could go wrong with the plane on the ground and all the passengers deboarded, anywayz. I hope to get my Privates Pilots License in the coming few years. So many things to do...

My first trip to China was amazing. I loved it. The food, the kind people and the luxurious traveling. Sure, I love to camp out and sleep in the wild, but I also love to be treated like a king and sleep in fluffy beds... I can't wait for my next trip over there and hopefully I'll get to see the Great Wall next time and learn some basic Chinese before the trip.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

China Trip I - Night Life

There were a ton of bars right next to the hotel in TEDA. All catering to the foreign businessmen and upper middle class Chinese. Every bar had a cover band to entertain the crowd. The funny thing we found out is that all the bands are from the Philiphines. The bands vary in what talent they have. Some only sing to tracks like karaoke, while others played every instrument in the song. My favorite band was at the Datura Pub within a 2 minute walking distance from the hotel.

Firstly, the singers were hot. Secondly, they had amazing musical talent. The covers of the songs sounded very convincing. They did rock, hip-hop, pop, oldies and some Chinese too. Here's a sample:

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These girls sure knew how to put on a good show. They were rocking the crowd and looked like they were having good fun while performing. They also encouraged the patrons to come up and dance with them.

Did I mention that they were hot:

The cool thing about this band was that every member played at least 3 instruments. The girls (Wenny and Kathy) would rotate and play the drums or the keyboards, while the drummer (Raffy) or the keyboardist (Tony) would rotate and play the guitar or the sax. This offered a variety of voices and musical feel. The band mingled with the crowd during their breaks and we really hit it off with the band. We all became good friends towards the end of the trip.

After I mentioned that I played the sax way back in highschool, they were pushing me to play something with the band. I dont know that much and would have been an embarassament. But Raffy offered to play Careless Whisper, which I've been dying to learn how to play.

Wenny, lost in the moment of a song of the A1 Band at the Datura Pub in TEDA, Tianjin

The A1 Band

Brian dancing with Wenny on stage

Me and Wenny

Anwar (another colleauge) with Tara, singer from another band

Dancing on stage with the singers

The group: Mike, Wenny, Joy, Anwar, me and Tara

Wait, this was supposed to be a business trip? Haha, it was very much - work hard, play hard. We'd be at the factory from 8 am to 7 pm, head back and try and catch happy hour at the hotel, then get some dinner and hit the bars and clubs, coming back around 1 or 2 every night, even during the week. What a great time.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

China Trip I - Sight Seeing

We arrived in Bejing at night and were taken by private taxi to out hotel in TEDA. Being night, I didnt get to see much except that the roads looked fantastic and looked just like modern highways of any other first world country. There were exit signs and other info clearly marked on the highway. There were also toll roads, which had the punch-in punch-out style of toll booths, like in Indiana and Ohio on I-90, where you get a ticket when you get on the tollway and pay when you exit the tollway. Toll for 200 kms was about $5. The cars were also quite modern. Volkswagen, Audi and Buick all have plants in China and these cars are the majority on the road. Audi A6's are as common as Toyota Camry's back in the states. Our taxi was a new VW passat, very comfortable.

They might have modern roads and cars, but their driving skills are terrible. Road rules are merely a suggestion, indicators are to be used when you feel like it (but that's just like anywhere I guess), stop signs can bascially be considered as yield signs and overtaking on the shoulder is perfectly fine. I think the main problem is the lack of law enforcement. I can't believe I'm saying this after all the shenanaginin that I do on my bike and avoid the coppers back home. But, law enforcement sure does make people follow road rules and thus make driving a safer activity. I didn't see a single police car issuing a ticket or pulling someone over for the number of violations that were taking place. The only time I saw police cars was during accidents or while helping a stranded motorist.

In town, the cars drive all over the lanes. And standard motorcycles and scooters are used abundantly for transportation, along with bicycles. Mix this in with lawless traffic and accidents were bound to happen. But, suprisingly, there were not that many accidents. Everybody yields and is braking all the time. If someone cuts out in front of you from a side street, you slow down to avoid hitting them and carry on. No swear words or road rage, it's just part of the flow here. We'd be crossing 6 lanes of traffic and praying that we wouldn't get t-boned in our little red taxi.

Along with the modern foreign cars being built and imported, there's always your China knock-offs. I saw quite a few "fake" cars, old Audi 100s, Mitsubishi Lancers, Toyota Echos (of all things to copy) and various SUVs. Some are made by the legitimate Chinese car company, Xiali, while the others are pretty good copycats.

I was really looking forward to the food after all that I was told that Chinese food in America doesnt really compare to the authentic stuff. And I wasn't let down. The food was great, but I didnt get too many pictures of the local food. Next time. For the number of foreginers that visit TEDA, it's not suprising to see the numerous western restaurants around. The other Americans that I was on the trip with, most definitely wanted some "home" food and some couldn't even stand the local food. Tsk tsk.

Niko's, an excellent little local restaurant where we frequented. Knowing the amount of foreigners that visit TEDA, many of the menus have pictures of the items, so one can bascially point and get around.

Fajitas at Delights, a western restaurant. These were some amazing fajitas.

I mean, just take a look at this delicious sliced chicken breast, mmmmm

I had one free weekend when I was there and could only manage to make it up to Beijing for a day. Brian and I decided to take the local train from TEDA to Beijing. No one from Motorola had done it before, but we were feeling adventurous. We got the concierge to write down in Chinese what Beijing and TEDA looked like and found the similar characters on the train departure boards and boarded the right train. We couldn't buy assigned seats on the double decker, so we kept getting booted out of our seats. No problem, we got to mingle with the local crowd.

Sign board on the train telling us which one to board

The double decker train. It looked very modern on the inside and was quite clean.

One thing to mention though is that the Chinese people that we came in contact with didn't smell the best. I dont mean this is any offending way, but I've been told that the Chinese in general dont take showers everyday. That's cool, nothing too bad about that. But the engineers in our facility also wore the same clothes for the whole week. I'm not for washing my clothes everytime I wear them, but I wont wear them the next day continously for a week. There was a smell about the place, like body ordour and it emanated throughout the work office and even in the factory. So, taking the train, we obviously came across the smell again. But, I think we were getting used to it, as it didn't bother us during the ride.

A couple embracing at one of the train stops, as the authorities look on.

I couldn't really tell that we were in a communist country. I hardly ever saw the police or any image of communism. There were girls with mini skirts, loud techno blasting from cars, all kinds of public displays of affection and very suggestive billboards. Might have even passed for a democratic country. Who knows, maybe China's even more progressive than conservative America. Ooh, did I just say that out loud... There were no signs of human rights violations or communist propoganda. Or at least, I came never came across any during my stay. I hear that the media is all that the communist party can control and they're also trying to censor the internet.

Beijing Railway Station, a sea of people pouring out.

Newly weds and a wedding party at the China World Hotel

View from the top of the China World Hotel

Tiananmen Square

Crossing the road to the square. A rare site in busy Beijing. A brief lapse in the chaotic traffic.

Me at the square

It's strange to think that this is where is all went down in 1989. There were many Chinese and foreign tourists wandering about, buying snacks and little trinkets, having their pictures taken and probably not giving a second thought to the tragedy that fell on these stones. Pretty ominous feeling.

The gate to the Forbidden City

Inside the Forbidden City. It's free to wander about in the beginning stages of the city and you have to pay to go further inside.

The army boys taking a break. I found this funny that they would do this out in the open where the public could see, and not in the back somewhere. Doesnt really put on a good image for the state.

A pathway adjacent to the city walls

A corner tower of the city

Very relaxing landscape surrounding the Forbidden City

This shot basically captures the transportation industry in China. The Audi A6, Jeep Cherokee and VW Jetta are all made in China and are abundant on the road, especially those Audi A6's, in black that too. Oh, dont forget the bicycle. I dont remember if this chap made it across the Audi or not...

We came across this abacus at a shop in the train station on our way back.

To show the price of a product, the store keeper usually punches the number in a calculator and shows it to you. But, for the elderly that come from the village and dont know how to read roman numerals, they use this true and tried abacus. You read it from Left to Right and each bead on top counts for 5 and each on the bottom counts for 1. So, the number displayed is 3 2 8. We were having quite a blast with this storekeeper after she managed to show us how to use it, all in sign language. She would put a number in her calculator and I would quickly display it on the abacus. What a hoot. By the way, I was a math geek in school. No shame.

How cool, a cell phone charging vending machine at the train station. You put a few coins in to get a few minutes of charge to your cellphone. I heard they have this in Europe, as well.

Silk Street in Beijing. A mall full of fake goods. Yes, it's completely legal in China to sell knock offs. You have to see these fakes to believe them, they're amazing. The store keepers haggle you to buy something and then throw a fit when you start bargaining prices. You can usually get something for 1/4 the asking price.

A busy intersection in Beijing.

The yellow and green car is a Hyundai Elantra and is an official taxi of the city. They provide a receipt and have to run a meter, unlike the little red taxis. A cab ride of about 10 minutes might cost $2. Not many cabbies speak English, but most restaurants have a business card with a map and directions in Chinese that you can hand to the cabby and pray that he doesn't take you in circles. Of course, you'll have to first get the business card. Luckily, a colleage who visited before shared a few with me. The hotel concierges are also very helpful in explaining where you want to go to the cabby.

Towers of concrete and glass. They're putting up sky scrapers so fast that they say the national bird of China is the crane. Not the bird-type, but the construction-type.

Peking Duck in Beijing. It was like roast duck on stuffing, that you put in the little soft tacos. Wasn't really that amazing, but tasted good nonetheless.

This was at the South Beauty Restaurant next to the China World Hotel. They place a pyrex bowl with hot oil and stones to contain the heat. Then they dump tender beef and veggies into the oil. It's deep-fried right in front of you and settles down in a minute. Tastes excellent.

Our private taxi to the airport, a VW Passat.