Hong Kong: Sunday: Departure

While I did spend some of Sunday in Hong Kong, it was effectively a non-existent day from the perspective of exploring the city because Di Yin spent the morning sleeping, recovering from jetlag. Later, led by the family friend who owns the apartment where we were staying, we left the apartment (in the Western district) around 11:30am and walked a block to a Cantonese place in a nearby mall for lunch. It was a typical enormous, bustling Cantonese restaurant.

Incidentally, I was lucky I did my exploring on the previous two days -- this day it rained, sometimes strongly.

After lunch, we headed straight to arrange a shuttle to the Shenzhen airport. Passing through HK and Chinese customs, we made it to the airport easily in time for our plane, only to learn it was delayed two or so hours. (It hadn't yet left Shanghai!) We killed time by wandering the airport and by eating dinner (which we did shortly before boarding the flight).

On the way to board the flight, I noticed Shenzhen airport has a couple of holographic TV screens--screens that seemed to present things (mostly commercials) with depth. Neat!

The airplane was comfortable (though again the food on it was bad). Di Yin and I sat at one end of the middle row of 4. The plane was in a 2-4-2 arrangement that had two armrests side by side in between the middle seats in the middle row, thus insuring that everyone not at a window or on an aisle had at least one place to put his or her elbows. Smart. (Incidentally, I didn't actually need the extra armrest because the other middle seat next to me was empty.)

I took some scattered pictures today, mostly of my meals.

Hong Kong: Saturday: Kowloon

On Saturday, I criss-crossed the Kowloon peninsula in Hong Kong, walking this route.

As always, I took pictures on the way.

Starting at 8:30am, I walked by two old buildings, then spent an hour or two exploring Kowloon Park, another of Hong Kong's nice, sizable parks. By nice, I mean varied greenery (flowers, trees, and more), lakes with fountains, swans, ducks, geese, pelicans, and koi, and an attractive design. Like the parks I visited the day before, this one also has aviaries! Huh. But, unlike the others, this one has recreational facilities.

I was up early enough to enjoy seeing many people practicing tai chi in the park. I took some pictures as samples.

Within the park, I visited the Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Centre. Its one exhibit is comprised of portraits of famous buildings that've been restored. I found it interesting to learn how the approach taken to restore each building depended on the budget, the final purpose of the building, the amount of disruption allowed to current activities in the building (and neighboring buildings), and also the particular conservation techniques employed.

Upon exiting the park, I stumbled on the Haiphong Road Temporary Market. The vegetable and meat section felt like any other Asian wet market (e.g., in Shanghai), but this market was exciting because it has a feature markets in Shanghai don't have: a cooked food section. Yes, I found a hawker centre (a la Singapore) in a market in China (well, Hong Kong)! I didn't know they exist in this country.

Then, as I explored more of Kowloon, I wandered through a Singapore-sized series of malls called Harbour City. Now hungry, I began a long hunt for food. I hate having to choose a place without researching and planning beforehand. I have trouble making a decision, as you can tell from the zig-zagging that happens at this point on my walking route map. Eventually I ended up at Joy Cuisine, a dim sum joint near my hotel where I almost ate breakfast (but didn't because I figured I'd find a nicer dim sum joint because most opened later in the day).

After lunch, I went to the Hong Kong Museum of History. It's a quality museum that starts with Hong Kong's geology, flora, fauna, and environment, and traces Hong Kong's history through its early prehistoric inhabitants, and through its evolution over the course of China dynasties, through to British occupation of Hong Kong (including the wars and the Japanese occupation), all the way until the handover. It also presents the cultures of the various different groups of Chinese who moved to Hong Kong in its early days, including displays on marriage rites and ancestor worship. One large display is on salt making; I didn't realize its importance to Hong Kong's history. Now I understand why I see so much dried fish for sale.

In general, the museum has a lot on daily life, including models of early buildings: tea houses, post offices, banks, pawn shops, etc. It also covers daily life during the British occupation, showing Hong Kong's currency, postal system, trade, and even early postcards.

I spent two hours in the museum, more or less.

Walking more through Kowloon, I bought two snacks and a drink, finally ending at the Hong Kong Museum of Art. It's a decent museum, taking me 1.5 hours at a rapid pace. (I knew I had to hurry to see it and meet Di Yin on time.) Though much of the museum didn't speak to my interests, there was one section I thought was awesome. I'll save description of that for last. :P Much of the museum is devoted to antiquities (e.g., purses, snuff bottles, headwear, things made of gold). Though often pretty, I wouldn't call this stuff art. The museum has a big section on ceramics (vases, statues, bowls, etc.), including pieces from all over China, done in all the various styles, and produced during all the different Chinese dynasties. Also, the fine art section is devoted to Chinese paintings from the 80s and 90s. I didn't like it. Another exhibit is of experimental art by HK residents. It was fine.

Another exhibit has scroll paintings (Xubaizhai Collection), all donated by one collector. I liked most of the landscape ones and, in general, liked the detailed background given about each artist. This exhibit also has a series of pretty-cool panels deconstructing the features (style and content) of a landscape scroll.

By far the best aspect of the museum was the special exhibit in traveling to Canton (Goungzhou), a province in the south of China. In particular, the exhibit pretends to be a travel guide for Canton written in the early 19th century before the opium wars. Illustrated by paintings and documents from Canton at the time, each plaque covers topics for the tourist: sites to see, safety issues, food, lodging, health, sanitation, legal concerns (e.g., foreigners were under many restrictions, though some were not regularly enforced), etc. Some plaques were snarkily written--a few were laugh-out-loud funny--but all had that kind of twinkle in the eye that the best travel guides have. I read every plaque, as it appeared so did everyone else who I saw in the exhibit. I left not only feeling educated about Canton from many angles but also with a grin on my face. If only all exhibits could be as well done as this one... I liked it more than any museum exhibit I can remember.

From the museum, I walked rapidly down the Avenue of Stars and back to my hotel, where I met up with Di Yin. After a little discussion and showing her the restaurants on Kimberley Terrace, we decided on a nearby Cantonese restaurant, Kimberley Restaurant, that's highly rated on Hong Kong's version of yelp. We were nervous because the restaurant is inside a hotel and because it was empty, but we shouldn't have been--it was the best meal I had in HK this trip.

After dinner, we walked to the Temple Street night market and browsed half of it. Its stalls sell a variety of goods: trinkets, small statues, clothes, undergarments, bags, sunglasses, basic electronics such as shavers and adaptors, Chinese new years goodies, knickknacks, key chains, early PRC kitsch, ... lots of stuff. For food, some hole-in-the-wall joints expanded with tables into the streets; such places are called dai pai dong. The first dai pai dong we passed had food that looked good, especially a prawn omelette that Di Yin and I caught each other eying. We sat down for a final dinner course.

After exploring the market a bit more, we hiked back to my hotel, picked up my luggage, walked to the metro, took it into Hong Kong island (my first and only metro ride on this trip), and headed to the family friend of Di Yin's where we were to stay the night.

Hong Kong: Friday: Central (business) District

On Friday, I decided to explore "Central", a district on Hong Kong Island. As the region's main business district, I figured a weekday would be a good time to explore it. I took a bunch of pictures this day and also recorded (by hand after the fact) a google map showing my walking/ferry route.

I was out of my hotel by 9am after switching rooms. The hotel also upgraded my room this day (as on the previous day), this time to a premium floor (which was a smaller room than the suite but nevertheless supposedly larger than room I'd reserved).

It was overcast, as it would remain for the whole trip.

I grabbed breakfast at the directly named "Relax for a While".

After breakfast, I walked straight to the ferry terminal to go to Hong Kong Island. Although the neighborhood, Kowloon, near my hotel on the peninsula has many tourist sites, I ignored them this day, deciding instead to explore it on Saturday and exploring the business district on this day, when it would be busy and active. On the way to the ferry, I walked down Nathan Road, passing many electronics and jewelry stores, and passing many well-dressed Indians promoting tailors or watch sellers. Hmm. I then walked down the nice waterfront promenade, passing signs promoting the Shanghai Expo :), until I reached the ferry terminal.

Once on Hong Kong Island, I walked a lot. My adventures are well documented by the pictures.

At one point, I stopped by the substantial Hong Kong Park and explored its Museum of Tea Ware, which was fairly well done. It covers many aspects of tea culture ranging from how people in different Chinese provinces take their tea to how tea drinking has evolved in the last few millennia, and also how tea cups and teapots have changed designs and manufacturing techniques over time. Additionally, the museum discussed (of course) the various types of tea and their flavors and supposed effects. However, the museum wasn't my cup of tea (so to speak), probably because I don't regularly have one, so I didn't stay long. (If you didn't understand that last sentence, read it again.)

I also wandered through the park's conservatory and its cactus garden and humid plants garden.

I also explored the park's good quality aviary. Obviously, as a single aviary, the area was not as big as Singapore's bird park, but that's a place that specializes in birds.

A bit later, I wandered through the Hong Kong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, which turned out to have many more aviaries in addition to many cages of primates and a greenhouse. I went through all this fairly quickly, as I was getting sick of nature and wanted more of Hong Kong's culture, its urban scene.

As I walked through Central and especially its busier nightlife spots, I kept noticing a variety of restaurants. In Soho, for instance, I easily found Nepali, Mexican, British, Lebanese, Vietnamese, French, Italian, and Greek. It's a very international neighborhood.

At one point, I visited the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Museum. Although it has information (illustrated by photographs and videos), it lacked anything that could not be easily copied and put in a duplicate museum (i.e., it has no physical artifacts). I'd call this poor. I guess this is what happens when China decides it wants to have Dr. Sun Yat-sen museums everywhere.

In the evening, I grabbed two dinners (because the first one was an utter failure).

At night, I was struck by how pretty Hong Kong's skyline is, which I'm sure is one of the world's prettiest. The buildings are artistically lit, often with animated colored lights. It's quite a panorama.

I ended up making it back to my hotel at 9:30pm after a long day spent hiking up and down both Hong Kong's hills and the stairs to its elevated walkways.

Hong Kong: Thursday: Arrival

I chose the longer but less expensive way to get to Hong Kong. It turned out to be even longer than I expected yet also easier than I expected. The only hitch happened early on the journey when, upon arriving at Shanghai's airport, I learned my plane was delayed. I ended up leaving two hours late.

From Shanghai, I flew to Shenzhen, a city in Guangzhou just across the border from Hong Kong. I took a shuttle bus to Hong Kong. Finding the shuttle was as easy as I could've hoped. The ride to Hong Kong is a bit over an hour, made slightly longer by a stop in the middle to pass through customs (which was also a cinch).

Incidentally, the temperature was in the mid-60s when I landed, and it would remain so for my entire trip.

My bus stopped at only a couple places in Hong Kong, but one happened to be about a ten minute walk from my hotel, the Stanford Hillview. It was a pleasant night and a nice walk.

The hotel was out of rooms of the type I reserved so they upgraded me to a suite, complete with a living room and two bedrooms. That meant, however, that I had to switch rooms the following day.

I took movies and pictures to document aspects of the journey.

Hong Kong: Overview

I spent Thursday, February 4, 2010, through Sunday, February 7, in Hong Kong. I spent about half my time on Hong Kong Island itself and half in Kowloon, the peninsular section of the Hong Kong administrative region that's closest to the island. This entire region is commonly considered "Hong Kong" and, yes, was ruled by the British for a time.

Because this was such a short trip and I know I'm visiting H.K. again in March, I'll write only about my overall impressions that I think aren't going to change. Because I'm visiting again, I postponed some top Hong Kong sites for my next trip. Thus, I may omit describing major attractions in these posts describing this trip to Hong Kong. Forgive me. I'll see more sights on my next trip.

Hong Kong is in many ways like what Shanghai likely will become as it develops and internationalizes. Indeed, I can believe that Hong Kong is the future of Chinese cities. This is not a bad thing; it's a decent major city.

My three strongest, most distinctive memories of Hong Kong will be its pedestrian walkways, its skyline, and the look of its streets. On Hong Kong Island, in the densest part of the city, elevated walkways are widespread. You can get many places without having to cross a road. Indeed, I once walked fifteen minutes from a hip neighborhood in the hilly part of the island to the ferry building without having to wait to cross a major road. (The only times I wasn't on elevated walkways, I was crossing minor streets, often without traffic.) Also, subways (underground tunnels to cross major roads) also occur and are handy; these are more common on the peninsula side of Hong Kong.

Two, Hong Kong Island, as seen from the peninsula, has one of the world's prettiest night skylines: many skyscrapers, all outlined in lights, with some playing animated light shows on their faces.

Three, of anywhere I've been, Hong Kong has the most signs/advertisements hanging over the street. It's remarkable. (You'll see what I mean when I link to my pictures.)

Returning to my comparison of Shanghai and Hong Kong:

Like Shanghai, Hong Kong is crowded. I think in many places it needs wider sidewalks. Hong Kong also had many smokers, like Shanghai, though in Hong Kong the places they're allowed to smoke are much more restricted. For instance, restaurants and parks are generally smoke-free. In Hong Kong it's also easier to find people who speak English. Furthermore, the city feels international; there's simply more diversity in food and shops than Shanghai. For instance, while in Shanghai one can with work manage to track down a particular type of food, in Hong Kong international restaurants are common. Indeed, any hip restaurant or nightclub neighborhood seems likely to have more non-Chinese non-Hong-Kong restaurants than Chinese/Hong-Kong restaurants. It's easy to run into choices, ranging from Vietnamese to German to Indian to Mexican, that one wouldn't find in Shanghai without searching.

Continuing to compare Shanghai and Hong Kong, in Hong Kong people respect the rules more, whether this means keeping a car in its lane or not jumping the queue.

As in Shanghai, in Hong Kong I can feel the pollution in the air, though to a lesser extent. Also, like Shanghai's Bund, central parts of Hong Kong Island have significant amounts of construction and corresponding construction noise. But, a welcome change from Shanghai, throughout the Hong Kong region there are large, green parks one can use to escape from the noise and crowds of city life.

In some ways, Hong Kong feels like a cross between Shanghai and Singapore. Both have big shopping malls, and Hong Kong does have the Western influence one feels in Singapore (though it's stronger in Singapore). And I even found a hawker centre and a freshly blended juice stand in Hong Kong (though only one of each). (These are common in Singapore.)

Neat observations:

  • There are many handy signs pointing out the direction of various landmarks. Good! But it's too bad street signs themselves are hard to come by -- some intersections don't have even one.
  • Many handles have signs "this handle is disinfected every x hours." Also, signs discussing cleanliness, especially as in regards to bird flu, abound.
Neat facts:
  • Hong Kong wasn't all on a 99 year lease -- only part of the region was. While Hong Kong Island and Kowloon, the part of the peninsula nearest the island, were ceded to the British in perpetuity, much of the rest of the peninsula, referred to as the New Territories and the outlying islands, were on the famous 99 year lease. But, the British didn't feel as if they could keep the parts ceded in perpetuity without the other 9/10ths of the colony (including, say, the airport). Instead, they returned the whole colony to China with the stipulation that China shouldn't force a change to the colony's way of life for 50 years. This means, for instance, Hong Kong keeps it own tax system, rough government structure, legal system, currency, etc.
  • Hong Kong's tax system, by the way, is both amazingly simple and generous: profits are taxed at up 16.5%; salaries are taxed at 15%; there are no capital gains or sales taxes.
  • Many parts of Hong Kong (10%?), including the airport and Disneyland, are built on land reclaimed from the sea. A substantial portion of government revenue (25%?) comes from these land development activities.
For future reference, openrice is Hong Kong's equivalent of yelp.

Shanghai Expat: January 2010

This post is a bit less coherent than usual. The majority of this post is brief snippets (in chronological order) of various outings we did this month. These should be read simultaneously with the pictures I took, which provide more detail, mostly on the food. (Note: there are minor outings the pictures cover that aren't mentioned in this entry.) Some snippets in this blog post also describe things that couldn't be photographed: e.g., aspects of the conversation, or a summary of a dinner party where photography would've been awkward. The only topic this post has aside from the outing reports is a few brief reports on some unusual behaviors we observed in Shanghai. These oddities are listed at the end of the post.

Returning from Singapore on January 2nd, we stopped for dinner at the previously visited ramen place in the basement of the Japanese mall by Jing'an Temple. In spite of my past delicious experience with a fried noodle dish there, I stuck with the ramen this time and was pleased.

The next day, a Sunday (January 3), we had failed to restock our fridge by lunchtime and thus were forced to eat out. We tried an (okay) soup and dumpling shop nearby. For dinner, both Di Yin and I cooked good dishes. Details about the day are as usual in the pictures. Often I don't take pictures or record what we cook at home. This meal wasn't unusual -- rather, I simply was in a photo-taking mood.

On Monday (January 4), one of Di Yin's friends D (who I met at dinner on Christmas Day) came to stay with us while en route from Hunan back to the U.S. Di Yin cooked some more, plus we had leftovers from Singapore that we brought to Shanghai. To top it off, this friend brought us some Beard Papa desserts, so we could try a few of the flavors they have here in China. Notes (though not photos) are in the pictures page.

Tuesday (January 5) was another day to meet one of Di Yin's friends who happened to be in town. In this case, that meant meeting A, an art history graduate student, his parents and brother, and two of his friends. Over dinner in a small private room in a upscale Shanghainese restaurant, Xin Jishi (New Jesse), we heard tales of what it's like to be a judge in Hong Kong and of attitudes toward judges in China (versus Hong Kong), and stories about amazing negotiating skills (21,000 RMB down to 500) and about how some museums sell fakes.

It was a good meal. Sorry, no pictures; they would have been impolitic. Because of our party's size (8), we ordered a lot of food (16? dishes). I'm not going to attempt to describe them all (otherwise I'll be writing a ton), but I'll mention the menu included the twice-cooked pork belly that we really enjoyed at Jishi (Jesse) (which is, I believe, the original restaurant in this chain), dates stuffed with glutinous rice, and crystal shrimp. We also had a Shanghainese dish I hadn't seen before but quite liked. It was a dish of gingko nuts, rice cakes, chicken, and perhaps other nuts and maybe bamboo shoots in a thick, spicy-sweet sauce. (The "and maybe" is because the items were hard to recognize under the sauce.) Di Yin says this is the only traditional Shanghainese dish that's spicy. Its spicy-sweet sauce reminded me American-Chinese food; it tasted like home. We also had yet another Shanghainese dish that I hadn't seen before. Imagine a bowl of pot sticker dumplings. Replace the dough wrapping with egg, making an egg dumpling with meat inside. Neat!

Leaving the restaurant, we were confronted with beggars ... persistent buggers too (they followed us around and got in our way so we'd have to repeatedly walk around them). I suppose it's because this part of town has many pricey restaurants. I saw more beggars that night than I've seen in total before in Shanghai during this trip.

On Wednesday (January 6), Di Yin spent much of the day with the friend A. I joined them in the evening to hang out for a while and then head to dinner. We returned again to How Way restaurant near Jing'an Temple where I, as on our previous visits, was impressed by our meal. Details are in the pictures.

On Friday (January 8), Di Yin and I cooked enough novel dishes that I thought the evening was worth documenting photographically. We tried three new items, all of which turned out well! :)

On a rainy (but warmer :> ) Sunday morning, I went out to explore a market I'd never previously visited and to buy breakfast. I had a pleasant walk in the rain and also discovered a large park, Huashan Park, not far from our apartment. Even though it was too cold to sit in the park, it looked large enough that it might be worth strolling in on a drier day. (Indeed, I returned some weeks later on an unseasonably warm day. It is a nice park: trees, fields, a pond, streams, plazas.)

That evening (January 10), we walked in a slight rain to a large mall for dinner (Grand Gateway Plaza / Ganghui Guangchang, in the shopping district of Xujiahui). (This mall isn't the Japanese one near Jing'an Temple which we frequent; rather it was one that we ate Korean bbq at before.) After walking by the mall's restaurants--malls in China often have many respectable restaurants--, we selected a Macau restaurant named Lisboa Restaurant. Though our meal was tasty, if Macau food is this greasy, I'll have trouble eating much there. As usual, see the pictures for details.

One evening (not photographed), we went to a large gathering of some of Di Yin's family's friends and their relatives at a restaurant Xiao Shaoxin. It was a relatively ordinary evening; the only surprising event was one dish: sweet and sour chicken (complete with pineapple). This was definitely the most American-Chinese dish I'd seen in quite a while.

Another evening (January 14), we tried a small restaurant not far from our apartment (near our nearest green market) that specializes in noodles and fake meats: Godly Vegetarian Restaurant. It's a small outpost of / spinoff of a restaurant with the same name I visited last summer. It's a warm, welcoming place with, oddly, a flat-screen TV playing dramatic Chinese soap operas (probably for the waitress's enjoyment). Di Yin and I liked this neighborhood joint and plan to go back. The food was light and healthy, yet we left comfortably filled. As usual, details of the food are in the pictures.

For lunch on Saturday (January 16), I returned to Godly. Though only half the customers were white, the only language I heard was English. I wonder if this is the usual clientele for vegetarian restaurants in Shanghai. Anyway, the restaurant was similarly good as my last trip. I again left satisfied and not stuffed. See the pictures.

One Saturday night (January 16), with Di Yin's prodding, we returned to the smoky all-you-can-eat-and-drink grilled meat place and proceeded to eat ourselves into a stupor. See the pictures.

One evening (January 21), to celebrate Di Yin being short-listed for a fellowship, we went to "Sapar" Uygur Restaurant. The Uyghurs are the ethnic group in northwest China, near the borders with Kazakhstan and Mongolia. They're mostly Muslims. The food was decent. Also, we enjoyed the way the waiter and the food runners/cleaners played with language. (Being Uyghurs, they're not native Mandarin speakers.) The details are in the pictures.

One evening I went out drinking with some co-workers. The bar we picked was abandoned at 9pm but, by 10pm, it was filled with people, most of whom were white except for the (generally younger) Chinese women. The crowd danced, or attempted to talk (as I did). The crowd also smoked quite a bit.

Another evening, Di Yin and I returned to Charmant, the Taiwanese place we first visited in December. Details are in the pictures.

Near the end of the month, on January 27, 2010, Di Yin and I had dinner at a friend of mine B, with his girlfriend K and an assortment of his other friends. Seeing his place was enlightening. I knew he lived in a nice place near Xintiandi, the super-fancy shopping strip with old-style buildings, but I didn't know how nice. His place is actually named Richgate, and it's expansive and furnished with numerous high-end (and sometimes high tech) decorations. The building's like a four star hotel, with marble floors and everything.

Hairy crabs were the excuse for the dinner; he bought some that came from a lake substantially north of Shanghai. These crabs had furry claws and thin golden hair scattered around the rest of their body. The hairy crab species with golden hair is said to be the best quality; previously all I had were gray-haired crabs. These were pretty good though too much work to pry open. I'm slower than everyone else at dismantling and eating crabs.

As for the rest of the dinner, B's ayi (household helper) knows how to cook meat well; the other stuff, not so well. We had lightly fried non-breaded chicken, a silky beef and tofu dish that Di Yin loved, a dish of celery with pork, a plate of a stir-fried green Chinese vegetable, bowls of congee, and a delicious chicken soup. The meal ended with two types of eggs--one a salted hard-boiled duck egg, the other a thousand-year (preserved) eggs--as well as nasty cheese, and donuts a friend brought (a sad reflection of donuts found in the states). The thousand-year egg, which is made using lime, was a dark, semi-translucent, forest green (see pictures online).

Mid-afternoon the following day I was to fly to Beijing (see other posts this month). Hence, I needed a big mid-morning lunch to carry me over for dinner. Di Yin and I got lunch at a diner, Long Kee Restaurant, in the Japanese mall by Jing'an Temple; I had to be in that vicinity anyway to catch the bus to the airport. Details are in the one picture I took at the meal.

My first full day back from Beijing, we tried a Hong Kong restaurant, Hengshan Cafe, near our apartment for lunch. Again, see the pictures for more information.

We often see clothes hung outside to dry. We usually do the same when we run out of space within the apartment to dry our clothes. One day, we saw meat hanging on the clothing lines in the courtyard in front of the apartment. It looked much like the ham hocks I've seeing hanging, being cured, at the markets in Barcelona (and elsewhere). Nevertheless, this was a surprising addition to our apartment's courtyard.

After returning to Shanghai from Singapore, in the first two taxis I took this month, the taxi drivers were listening to radio dramas (one light-hearted comedy, one capitalist drama). How come I never run across taxi drivers in other countries listening to stories or books?

One day I walked by a shop that, instead of a carpet outside the entrance, had a large sheet of bubble wrap! (Sorry, it was too dark to take a picture.)

Beijing: Saturday: Company Retreat

On Saturday, I awoke early to get breakfast and catch the company shuttle to the location of the day's activities. It was a boring day. In the morning we had talks. After lunch, we went to Hot Springs Leisure City, a large indoor pool park with a large wading pool, other pools, slides, spas, saunas, medicinal baths, etc. After looking around, I relaxed in a reclining chair for a while, then left, bored. Soon thereafter (in early evening), I managed to get to the airport for an uneventful flight home. Getting to the airport was a mess, however, as no one knew where the company's airport shuttle bus was going to pick people up, and, when we managed to actually find it, learned it was going to leave about like thirty minutes late, which would've been too late for me. After a long taxi hunt later, during which time we declined three unlicensed cabs, I made it to the airport in time.

I took two pictures this day, both of meals.

Beijing: Friday: Forbidden City and vicinity, and Company Party

Due to last-minute schedule changes, company events didn't start until 3pm. I had most of the day to explore Beijing! :)

I got up at 6:30am, took a shower, ate breakfast at the hotel, and was soon on my way with some coworkers to explore the Tian'anmen Square, the Forbidden City, and more. First though, I reveled in the hotel's extensive breakfast spread, eating many American items I hadn't touched in months including raisin bran cereal and banana bread. And it'd been very long since I had fresh pineapple. When I left the hotel, the temperature was cold (-2 C / 28 F) but I dressed warmly and thus being outside the whole day wasn't unpleasant.

I took numerous pictures this day, partially because I was walking around with a coworker who is a photography enthusiast. Had I been walking around alone, I probably would've only taken perhaps half as many.

After spending a while walking through the enormous blank expanse of Tian'anmen Square, we headed into the Forbidden City (a.k.a. the Imperial Palace). Aptly named, it's enormous and could fit a town. Part of the city is composed of large, palatial, expansive halls and plazas, alluding to the vastness of the sky and the world and clearly designed to impress by their sheer scope and magnitude. Another part of the city is composed of similar halls but felt less monumental; these were the emperor's and nobles' residences. Another part of the city has smaller buildings connected by long lanes. Concubines, housekeeping staff, servants, and secondary government officials lived there. I didn't greatly enjoy any of these buildings. Rather, the gardens are the part of the Forbidden Palace I liked the most. They're not actually particularly nice, but what can I say: I like trees and nature.

We also looked through the various museums/exhibits in the Forbidden City. The Treasure Gallery contains crowns, hairpins, tiny wine vessels, ewer flasks, tributes from provinces (mostly high-quality art or jewelry), royal accessories, jade sculptures, and palatial furnishings, all made with fine craftsmanship. We also went to the Clock Museum and an exhibit of jade carvings. The Clock Museum has clocks, all elaborate, made from various regions throughout China, as well as some imported from foreigners and some made by Western-influenced Chinese clockmakers. Of the China-local clocks, I liked the ones from Guangzhou the best.

After the Forbidden City, we walked up and through the neighboring park, Jingshan Park, then walked to another nearby park, Beihai Park (yet another park formerly considered part of the Forbidden City), grabbing lunch on the way (at the first place we saw after we left Jingshan Park).

In mid-afternoon, we returned to the conference center and hotel to do company-related things. In the evening, I attended the elaborate, extravagant company New Year Kick-off Party / gala banquet. When I say extravagant, I mean it: two large projection screens hung from the center of the hall on which were projected images from the party as multiple cameras, including one on a crane, roamed the scene; the front stage was illuminated with multi-colored lasers and spotlights like a concert; an A&V team in the back managed it all.

As for the party, there was an award ceremony, a number of performances (dancing, singing, etc.) by employees, and even an imitate-the-professional-dancer competition (in which dancers were thrown out one-by-one by judges and, near the end, by SMS voting), and more. I, however, found the evening rather boring, and not because I don't speak the language.

Beijing: Thursday: Arrival

Checking-in at Shanghai's Hongqiao airport, I saw a security measure I'd never seen before. Security guards ran a swab on about a dozen people's various items of clothing and carry-on items. Security kept these people in a separate, roped-off area while the swab got tested for chemicals, which took about thirty seconds, then released the whole group when the test came back clean. Then it's time for another group of about a dozen people and another swab. It's a nice compromise between efficiency (analyzing batches of people at once) and specificity (being able to easily identify the infiltrator), as the vast majority of swabs will come back clean.

On the plane, I ate oranges I brought. I didn't expect to be fed on the one-and-a-half hour flight. Nevertheless, the airline provided a sizable snack (a roll (with anonymous meat), fruit, raisins (from California!), and peanuts (overly salty), but I didn't particularly like most of it and was glad I had the oranges.

Upon landing in Beijing, I took a shuttle for ten minutes to meet some co-workers who landed at a different terminal. (Some terminals in the airport are quite a drive apart!) We then took a taxi to the hotel, during which time we were introduced to a Beijing-rush-hour traffic jam. The hotel didn't have my reservation, one item among many that showed this company event was poorly planned. After spending much time sorting it out with the help of some bilingual co-workers, I ended up getting myself placed in the room with the extra person on this trip (the person who happened to be assigned as only one person to a two-person room).

A big group of coworkers walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. I have nothing more to say about the dinner because, despite the number of dishes, I wasn't enthusiastic about any of them. (No, it wasn't the style of cooking; it was simply the quality.)

My hotel room had a cool feature. I'm sad I forgot to take a movie of it. The wall separating the bathtub from the bedroom has a large window with wooden blinds. At the touch of a button, they angled open or closed, or slide up or down. A bit creepy if you were in the room with someone you don't know well, but nevertheless very cool to watch.

Beijing: Overview

I visited Beijing on January 28-30, 2010, for a company off-site / kick-off party in honor of the new Chinese year.

Because this was a company event, I had only two-thirds of a day to myself in Beijing to go sightseeing. I did get a bit of an impression of the city from the short time. First, at least judging by these three days, Beijing's sky is clearer and bluer than Shanghai's, perhaps due to lower humidity. The temperature, though colder, doesn't feel substantially colder (again, maybe because it's less damp). Second, the center part of Beijing has some large, nice, pretty parks: good for walking, and some with hills with decent views. Shanghai doesn't have large parks in the city, and I miss being able to take long walks in nature.