Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Thai food

The food in Thailand was delicious, and I did try to stay away from eating pad thai or anything I could get in the US. Unfortunately, I was so busy figuring out what everything was that I forgot to take many pictures. This is all I got. It's a roasted chicken (I know, not that interesting, but very tasty.)

Asian city tour - Stop 3: Bangkok

I’m staffed right now on a project with an associate from Thailand. Since it’s such a long flight to go back to Shanghai, I took him up on an offer from him two weeks ago to show me Bangkok one weekend instead of flying home. Here are my impressions:

Bangkok is a lot more developed than I expected. I’m not sure why, but I expected concrete buildings a la Beijing, without the sprawl. In fact, it’s a really nice city with top notch hotels, good shopping, and terrific food. It had a certain friendly Southeast Asian feel to it that I get from Singapore, just not as clean or orderly.

Thailand is wicked hot. It’s not just broiling hot, but disgustingly humid as well. It’s a good thing everything is heavily air conditioned. I don’t know how anybody lived in the area before the discovery of refrigeration and freon gas. I sweat a lot to begin with, but I probably lost a quart an hour walking the streets of Bangkok. It doesn’t help matters that most temples and the national palace don’t admit people wearing shorts. The picture next to the Buddha above was taken just an hour after the picture at the beginning of this post. I wish I could say someone splashed my shirt with water, but they didn't. It's sweat. I know - gross.

It’s not sketchy in an in your face strip club way. It’s definitely there; a night market that we went to was surrounded on two sides by strip clubs and bars. But I think it’s more discreet than the Mexican guys who push strip club ads in your face in Las Vegas.

All in all, it was a fun trip. I much of spent Sunday in my firm’s Bangkok office (which is gorgeous compared to our second rate digs in Shanghai), but saw a lot nonetheless, thanks to my friend. He took me to a number of temples, the palace, a few street markets, and shopping centers. If it weren’t so ridiculously hot, I could see myself living there for at least a few months.

Blogger is back in China

As Ingrid pointed out to me, my blog is now available again in China. The Great Firewall has decided to open access to Blogger. I believe this action has coincided with recent changes in positioning toward requiring "real name" registration of blog owners in China. Read up more online to get the full details. Basically, the Chinese government would like to allow people to post content to the web, just as long as they can track down the people who say things that are not inline with government positions. There is no such thing as anonymity in China. Not sure why they decided to unblock Blogger, since as a foreign service, Google is not (I hope) requiring our real names.
In any case, the net impact should be more frequent posts as I will hopefully be able to access the site more often.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Food is good

I’ve been asked to write more about the food in China. I’ll be sure to pay more attention to the culinary aspect of my journeys going forward.

I’ll start off with Taiwan, since as I already mentioned, it’s a great place for eating. It seems like everyone in Taiwan is a foodie. It’s not always the best food in the world, but there is such a wide variety of really interesting and tasty things to eat in Taipei that it’s been hard not to get fat. For example, for breakfast the other day, I had a red bean and green tea bun. (Katie: eat your heart out) It wasn’t as good as a “hot out of the glaze waterfall” Krispy Kreme donut, but a well done tasty treat combining multiple Asian flavors.

Asian city tour - Stop 2: Seoul

As I mentioned in a previous post, I took a weekend trip from Taipei to Seoul. The flight was just over 1 1/2 hours.
Once on the ground, I was pleasantly surprised. I first took a “limousine bus” offered by Korean Airlines. It cost me $13 for a 70 minute bus ride on an enormous leather seat. It dropped me off at my hotel. I checked in at the front desk where I was greeted with fluent English.

Seoul is so different from the other cities I have been to in Asia. There is a distinctly American feel to it. People drive SUVs (Hyundai and Kia of course,) wear clothes without huge brand names on them, there were actually tree-lined streets, and people line up for the elevator instead of just push. I didn’t have much time to explore the city, but I did get to see a few really cool things: Dongdaemun market, Gyeongbokgung Palace, Namsam Tower. Unfortuntely, I had to skip a bus tour up to the DMZ due to work.

The best part about Seoul was the food. Taiwan has some great food, but Korean food is uniquely tasty and savory. If you can eat kimchi, you can pretty much eat anything there. I saw lots of meat on the menu, including Kangaroo and Ostrich, but I stuck to the basic bibimbap. At Dongdaemun, I grabbed a stick that held what I thought was just a lump of french fries, but it turned out to be even better. It was actually a corn dog with fries mixed into the batter. If only Katie could have been there to help me finish it. The market also had some delicious red bean crepe-like things served in a paper cup. I skipped the Mado goat ice cream being sold at the Namsam Tower, but I was definitely intrigued.

The worst thing about my trip was that I only had 24 hours to be there. I would definitely plan a trip to go back sometime. It may not be worth a 14 hour trip from the US just to go to Seoul, but it would be a perfect 3-4 day side trip from Tokyo.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Shanghai to Taipei

I flew to Seoul a few weeks ago and managed to take a picture of our flight path. We flew right past Shanghai and arrived in Seoul in less than 2 hours. How come it takes me nearly three times longer to get to Shanghai?

I just calculated my average flight speed from Shanghai to Taipei to be 77 miles per hour. It takes me just about 5 1/2 hours (not including transit time to and from the airport) on a good day to cover the 423 miles between the two cities across the strait.
Why? Because I have to fly through Hong Kong first, which is 700 miles from Shanghai and another 500 miles from Taipei. To draw a US analogy, I am flying from Washington to Chicago to get to Cleveland. I am forced to go endure this ridiculous roundabout journey because the government of Taiwan will not allow direct flights between Taiwan and mainland China in the name of sovereignty. Instead, airlines such as Dragonair and Air Macau have made millions, if not billions, of dollars simply ferrying mainlanders to the tiny island nation. Like its reaction to the Olympic torch, the current administration in power on Taiwan feels that if it gets too close to China, it will lose its identity and claim to be a separate nation. There are rumors that if when a new president is elected next year, things may change. I’m not going to hold my breath.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Asian city tour - Stop 1: Taipei

I have been spending quite a bit of time in Taipei over the past weeks, so I thought I'd share my views of the place.

Taipei is an interesting city and a great place to be for a project. It’s quite unlike any other city I’ve been too. While densely populated, it doesn’t have the throngs of people like on the mainland, or the tall buildings of New York City. It features the tallest building in the world (Taipei 101) standing only a few bocks away from concrete structures that were put up hastily in the 60s when the people of Taiwan realized they weren’t going to be taking back the mainland anytime soon from the communist party. For me, personally, it’s been a lot of fun being here. My parents grew up on Taiwan, so it’s nice to see get a better feeling for where they came from. But in addition, it’s just simply a comfortable place to be for the following reasons.

1) Most people speak English. The level of fluency is much higher in Taiwan than in mainland China. Many Taiwanese residents have relatives and friends who have moved abroad to the United States. There are also a higher concentration of American businessmen in Taipei (versus a mix a Americans and Europeans in Shanghai). Furthermore, the success of the Taiwan electronics and computer industry has demanded a level of literacy in English to communicate with the rest of the world. In Taipei, even many taxi drivers can speak enough English to have a simple conversation.

2) Most cities claim to have great food, especially in Asia, where everyone loves to eat. Taiwan can’t claim to have the best restaurants in the world like New York, or London might. It doesn’t have the variety of cuisine that you could find in Hong Kong or San Francisco. What it does have is consistently delicious and interesting food from the classiest Japanese restaurant to the corner beef noodle stall. Taiwan residents have seemingly made a profession out of discovering foods from other corners of the world and bringing it back to Taipei. Shanghai soup dumplings, Japanese teppanyaki, Macanese egg tarts, Italian espresso – it’s all here and done to perfection. As a testament to this, the Taipei restaurant Din Tai Feng has made itself famous by bringing its version of Shanghai dumplings back to Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Singapore and LA. Japanese tourists now flock to Taipei to enjoy this treat. I can’t imagine New Yorkers flying to Minneapolis to enjoy Texas barbeque, but that’s basically what’s happening here. This doesn’t even include more homegrown foods such as bubble tea, stinky tofu, and shaved ice.

3) The night markets in Taipei are the best place to sample the variety of foods that Taipei has to offer. Some unimaginable foods like pig blood hot pot, chicken feet, smoked duck wings, buns wrapped inside buns like a set of Russian dolls are all available at these street markets that don’t even open until 5 PM and hit their stride past 11 PM. Combined with a carnival-like atmosphere, it’s a must-do experience for all visitors.

If there is one drawback to Taipei, it’s that it is not easy to get to from the mainland due to the political realities of strained relations between the Taiwan and China. But I’ll save that for another day.

The Great Firewall strikes again

The Great Firewall of China has been extended to block out Blogger. I have not been able to access this blog from Shanghai for over a month now. At first I thought it might have just been my own blog, but then I noticed it was all sites within the domain. Now that I have been traveling to Taiwan on a regular basis, I can actually post with relatively few problems.

The only issue I have now is that no matter what I do to my browser settings, or blogger account setup, the blogger page displays in traditional chinese. It's a good thing I remember the layout of the buttons, because I don't even know what the word blog is in Chinese.

Also, I can't add images, because I don't know the buttons for that. However, as soon as I get this figured out, I'll add some photos.