Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Where have I landed?

Back in school!

University professor Ward Churchill was fired this last July on some controversial accusations of plagiarism and fabrication, defenders said it was retaliation for his September 11 comments.

More recently, today a freshman from Illinois was attacked by some crazy dude who wanted to slit his throat. When the police arrived the dude thought the smartest thing to do was to stab himself. Both boy and attacker survived.


Summer Days End

Finally! I am officially caught up! and I am sure I just wasted some invaluable minutes of Steve's life for making him read this ;-)

When you are coming down in a plane to land in Hong Kong, you will probably think you are landing in Japan or better yet, YOU'VE JUST TRAVELED INTO THE FUTURE. At least I hope so, I hope all the cities in the world one day look like Hong Kong. I want them all to have green areas and mountains, gigantic bridges, thousands of commercial boats coming and going, skyscrapers, and I am telling you it all looks good together, it's like it all matches. Kudos to Chinese urban planners, we should send them all around the world fixing up cities.

Wednesdays are free museum days in Hong Kong, so we visited the Hong Kong Museum of Art, the Science Museum (which was a freaking blast, there are tons of things to play with), and the Space Museum. In the HKMA we saw an exhibit entitled The Pride of China which exhibited the famous painting "Along the River During QingMing Festival".

Like the bird market in Indonesia, there is a goldfish market in Hong Kong. They don't just sell gold fish, they have all kinds of fish and ocean flora.

One evening Rodrigo and I went out with his friend Raymond from Hong Kong, we had a few beers and he told us a few interesting facts about life in HK. For example, did you know that when you buy a car you have to pay 200% of its price in taxes? it is so to encourage people to use the public transit system, which by the way is almost flawless. The subway trains are synchronized and are open from 6am to 12:30am, while buses run 24 hours a day.

In the couple more days we had left we simply walked around, ate some delicious foods and went shopping. On the last day the city issued a city wide typhoon warning (a typhoon is the same as a hurricane, only it occurs in Asia) and everything closed down and people were sent home. I say the subway is almost flawless because it was clearly not prepared to evacuate the millions of people trying to get home. My brother and my dad were stuck in a subway station for 45 minutes trying to get on a train. I saw it later in the news and it looked as packed as a rock concert, with a few people here and there crying out for help because somebody next to them had passed out.

I just realized we didn't really take that many pictures in Hong Kong....

Indonesia Mon Amour

Our next stop was Indonesia. Talk about tropical paradise, after a full two weeks in hot and humid weather we get to Bali, where the sun shines yet the breeze is cool. Most of Indonesians are Muslims, but in Bali they practice Hinduism and so we went to visit the Sacred Temple of Besakih, the largest one in Bali.

Bali was very cool, everybody was so laid back and welcoming. We visited the town of Kuta and the infamous Kuta beach, popular amongst backpackers and hippies back in the 60's. We also visited Dreamland, which is a surfing beach with huge waves and hot Australian surfers. It was definitely one of the most beautiful beach spots I have ever been to (and I've been to a few!). Oh, in case you are wondering, no I don't know how to surf, but it was cool just hanging out.

Also in Indonesia we visited the city of Yogyakarta in the island of Jawa (or "Java"). We went to see the Sultan's Palace and the bird market. Indonesian's favorite pets are birds, and they sell all kinds: chickens, pigeons (some of them trained to do stuff), every color of parakeet, even owls and bats! They also sell bird food such as live grasshoppers and crickets. In the surrounding areas of Yogyakarta we went to Parambanan and Borobudur, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites and the latter one was one of my favorite places out of the entire trip. The temple of Borobudur was built around 1300 years ago! it is a temple for Buddhist pilgrimage and there is so much detail and symbolism that went into its construction. There are 10 levels to the building and the first 7 contain murals and carvings that represent the life and different reincarnations of Buddha.

Indonesia was so great and I wished we would have stayed there longer, I really wanted to go to the beach again :-)

The Kingdom of Siam

This is the second chapter on L's summer vacation series....

Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok is probably the largest airport I've ever been in. Thailand, formerly Siam is governed by a constitutional monarchy. this system is something like a monarchy where the head of state (the King) is bound by a constitution, so it is not like he can do whatever he wants, and a prime minister is usually also appointed.

On our first day in Bangkok we got to visit King Bhumibol Adulyadej's Royal Palace (where he does not live in anymore) and a few Buddhist temples, the first of many. I won't go into the historic and religious details of these temples, but I will share my impressions with you: Thai people are very religious and they have lots of rituals! I don't know how they remember them all. The lotus flower is a very important symbol in Buddhism and people offer these to Buddha along with fruits, meat, money, and other kinds of flowers.

One of my favorite things about Bangkok was the street food. You can eat delicious kinds of meats, fish and vegetables rolled into balls and deep fried. There was some kind of sweet banana that was superb and we also tried a pork sausage that was to be eaten with a really hot chili pepper (I didn't get to far on the pepper). At the night street markets you will find the pirated version of any and all famous brand names in the world, whether it is clothing, purses, shoes, jewelry, movies or music, they have it. No software though... that I saw. Did I mention there is a Thai beer called Leo?

Although illegal, prostitution seemed very common, and some of the girls on the street were quite young, probably in their early teens. Bangkok by day is much like any capital city with its hotels, museums, bridges, shopping centers and temples. By night it turns into sex shows, muay thai fights, food venues and illegal markets (all of which are flooded with tourists) .

After Bangkok we set out on a trip by land to visit many smaller cities in Thailand: Ayutthaya, Lopburi, Pitsanuloke, Sukhothai, Lampang, Chiang Mai, Tha-Ton and Chiang Rai. We got to see temples, ruins, big Buddhas and small ones, pagodas, and even monkeys!

In Chiang Mai, which is the second largest city in Thailand, we visited the zoo there and an elephant "farm". The elephants were unbelievably smart, they could play sports, dance and even paint! We got to ride in them and that was really exciting too :-D

We have lots more pictures and stories of things we did, but I am going to leave it at this, otherwise I will never be done with my post.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Memoirs of a tourist in Shanghai

(I’ve been traveling around on holiday, which is the main reason for my brief disappearance from this website. I will try to slowly catch up on my adventures)

I first visited Shanghai in the year 2000 and sadly I didn’t remember much. I remembered being inside a tour bus and stopping for a couple of minutes at every photo opportunity or market. I remembered the city’s skyline and fancy hotels and some of the delicious (and abundant) Chinese food.

During this visit I saw so much more. For starters we were on our own so we walked everywhere. We rode the maglev, the subway and took cabs. The first impression I got was: this city is huge… and trendy. It looks much more modern, there are lots of parks, people are dressed nicer, there a lots of malls (there are malls dedicated to technology alone) and street venues, I mean NEW YORK CITY BEWARE. And the food, the food is so cheap! My rant isn’t making much sense but that is only because I am really excited to tell all. There weren’t many English speakers in Shanghai, the hotel clerks barely got by and we pointed at places on a map in order for the cab to take us there. By the way cabs are very cheap as long as you are not stuck in traffic, they can take you many places for $2-3.

Among the things that we visited that are a MUST-SEE are: the Shanghai Art Museum, here you can spend the entire morning looking at calligraphy, bronze, jade and porcelain sculptures, furniture, dresses and all kinds of Chinese art. There is also the Shanghai Institute of Urban Planning (this one is truly mind blowing) You’ll learn a lot about how much and how fast the city has grown. At the institute there is a small scale model of the whole city and you can take a virtual tour of it in a 360 degree video room.

This time of year the sky is cloudy and it is extremely humid (110% humidity on the day we arrived) the temperature is hot and you sweat a lot, which is why I bought a small cheap Chinese fan to try to stay fresh.

When there I recommend eating Dim Sum, these are delicious little buns or dumplings and you can try many kinds of fillings in one sitting. Tsing Tao beer was rather tasty too, it is a lager with a very light, crisp, and refreshing taste. I tried the bubble tea in a couple of places but it was crappy, not slushy at all (EVO’s is a thousand times better).

Only one criticism about Shanghai, and that is web censorship. You cannot access wikipedia, which for me is a tragedy, what kind of life is that? and there is some funky-looking censored version of facebook too :-(

(I accidentally lost many of the pictures we took in Shanghai, thus the lack of graphic evidence in this post)