Out and About

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Beef bacon, Turkey ham, and Chicken sausages have been the week's breakfast menu - one of the side effects of visiting Malaysia. I spent last week there saying the same thing 100 times a day, as the company I work for was exhibiting at a trade show.

As a Muslim country, Malaysia attracts visitors from the Middle East. It's strange to see couples on holiday at the hotel, where the man is dressed in shorts, T-shirt & sandals, but the lady has on the full head-to-toe black outfit, with just the little letterbox cutout for the eyes. Then as another contrast the local Muslim ladies commonly wear jeans & shirts and a colourful head scarf.

What else to notice about a week in KL ?
- The spoken Chinese dialect is most commonly Cantonese, which means you can pick up all sorts of useful things in meetings. Now I'm in Singapore, where Cantonese is rare to hear.
- Oh, as well as the "No smoking" logo in the taxi to the airport, they also had a "No kissing" logo !
- The Chinese food is so-so, despite our hosts pride in their choice of restaurants. I'd save Chinese food when you're in HK, and enjoy the satay and rendang instead.
- Traffic jams... Allow plenty of time for travel between meetings, as the city is pread out and the roads get chokes.
- The fake DVD store had better service than a real store in HK ! All the disks laid out in alphaabetical order, advice on what disks where good quality, and which were the ones to avoid, and all sales run through a computerised point of sale system.

Only two days until I'm home again. Business trips have certainly lost their appeal since the arrival of BabyB.

MrB

Re:Out and About

I had a good veggie curry at Singapore airport this evening, a Masala Dosa similar to the ones at Brantos in Hong Kong. Another travelling Brit was not so happy though. His conversation at the counter was short and to the point :

Brit: Chips ?
Staff: Pardon ?
Brit: Chips ! Do you sell Chips ?
Staff: Sorry, no we don't.

Brit exits left under a cloud.

Curry overtook Fish & Chips as Britain's favourite fast food some years back - often eaten with chips instead of rice. You could almost see the thought bubble "Curry but no chips? Can't they do anything right? How much longer til our flight home..."

MrB

Re:Out and About

Hi Mr B!
Where is Brantos in Hong Kong? I've been to the JO JO's messclub in Wan Chai and loved it. How does Brantos compare? Do you think it is child friendly?

Have a safe flight,

Re:Out and About

Brantos, Jo Jos and more are listed at : http://www.batgung.com/hong-kong-curry

Is Brantos child-friendly? Hmm, hadn't thought about it really. No alcohol is served, so it's family-friendly place that way. I think all the food is Indian though, so you'd want your children to be old enough to be ok with curry. Mr Tall, have you tried taking Toddler Tall there ?

MrB

Re:Out and About

Since I'm pretty much a NUG (New Useless Guy) , can you expand on why I should make sure the kids are ok with curry? Is it a "temperature" thing? or is there something inherently dangerous about good food? I know here in the states most food gets watered down or Americanized, but my munchkins (so far) are relatively ok with new food. Oddly enough only when we go out, if mommy makes a new dish at home it is usually rejected for the first 2 or 3 times it is served. Go figure?
Actually I was more interested in child booster seats, room in the isles, child friendly cutlery, that sort of thing. I have a 2-1/2 and a 5 year old who I expect to have come with me for 6 months in February.
I read in one of the articles here you were/are expecting. Has the blessed event happened?
cheers

kids n'curry

Greenasgrass,

Some kids are very particular about food, especially strong tastes.

My kids pick the garlic and ginger out of their stir-fried veggies. My son (age 6) finds peppermint chewing gum and candy canes to be be "too spicey" and spits them out. So, when I've brought them to Indian restaurants, they end up w/ tandoori chicken and lots of pappadum & nan and mango lassi.

It depends on the kids and their tastes. My daughter (eight) rejects things w/ chile and wasabi, but she will eat lemons whole (which is too sour for me).

Re:Out and About

Thanks!
I am a little worried about too many "new" things at once, home, people, bed schedule, food, etc it will be interesting to see how they (or US for that matter!) handle it.

Re:Out and About

Good morning Seattle.

Work brings me here two or three times a year, and I have yet to take the drive from the airport to the hotel without seeing some kind of rain along the way.

Jetlag means that mornings two and three are usually early starts, and so we get to see the "infomercial" on American TV - thirty minutes of hard sell on how you can earn a fortune for just $39.95 down. "This is a limited time offer". You'll never complain about miracle foot repair again after you've seen one of these !

MrB

Re:Out and About

Why use one syllable when you can use three? Our Seattle office has just had a sprinkler accident, and this morning we see the building management's sign: "Please excuse any inconvenience caused by the current moisture abatement process".

ie We're drying the carpets !

MrB

Re:Out and About

Is there a word for "the opposite of cross-eyed" ?

The taxi driver from the airport turned to ask me which hotel I was going to, and I wasn't sure where to look. His eyes were looking left and right at the same time, peering out of both side windows at the same time.

It seems to have affected his ability to make a clear left-right decision, as we drove to the hotel straddling the white lines between lanes.

Still, it was a much easier ride than traveling with a busload of oafs.

MrB

Re:Out and About

Taipei taxis win this week's award for in-car entertainment. I was impressed yesterday to get in a taxi that had an LCD screen showing the local TV station. The picture was a bit fuzzy, but still it beats looking at the back of the taxi driver's head.

Then this morning's taxi had two screens, and digital TV reception for a crystal-clear picture!

MrB

Say cheese

British food doesn't have the greatest reputation in the world, but after a few days in the Netherlands I've realised British food is not that bad after all. The Dutch cooking code seems fairly straightforward:
- Preparation : roll food in breadcrumbs and deep-fry it
- The secret of a good meal : you can never have too much cheese

Thank goodness they're all riding bicycles to burn it off.

MrB

Re:Out and About

Personally, its all to be commended isnt it? Fried beats boiled every time. WRT Haloumi is the pinnacle of cheese evolution, its a cheese you can fry without it melting.

Bah, who perhaps should bring his bike to HK next month.

Re:Out and About

Err, make that "WRT to cheese, Haloumi is the pinnacle of cheese evolution, its a cheese you can fry without it melting."

Bah

Boiled or Fried ?

Hi Bah,

You've obviously experienced the "That cabbage isn't cooked until it's been boiled for an hour" school of British cookery :D

I'd leave the bike at home - unless you like hills !

Cheers, MrB

Re:Out and About

Last time I was in HK I rode my bike twice, from the train station to the mid levels, and from the mid levels to the train station. My rims just about melted down the hill =\

This time Ill be in town a bit longer, and I hear MTB riding in the lantau national park is fun, if a bit dodgy. Hills are ok, you go up, and then you go down, its a headwind thats the real bitch on a bike =)

Bah

Jetlag

In the hotel lift yesterday, heading down for breakfast, two Emirates air hostesses got into the lift. The conversation went:

A: Did you sleep alright?
B: No, I was woke up at 4am and couldn't get back to sleep.
A: Sigh. Yes, it's around midnight now in Dubai

I had a momentary feeling of relief that even these seasoned travellers suffer from jetlag, waking up in the middle of the night and having to watch terrible nightime TV.

Except of course they looked bright & perky, and I had dark rings under my eyes and looked knackered.

MrB

Re:Out and About

Home again, and reminded yet again how efficient HK airport is. Last week I was visiting South Africa via Johannesburg, and what a muddle that airport is. I wonder why they let that happen ? It doesn't give a good first impression of a country.

MrB

Why leave HK?

Hi everybody!

The Talls are in Richmond, Virginia at the moment, and it's raining so hard it makes me think of Hong Kong in June. Except that it's a *lot* colder. We've been in the States for over a week, and had only a couple of nice days. Spring has been very late on the East coast.

We've had a great time with family, though, so not all is lost, and things are looking up as we head down the coast tomorrow, to South Carolina, where the forecast is for 22 and sunny.

Will check in again soon!

Mr Tall

Boom-town Shenzhen

We're so close to China it's easy to get jaded about the speed of the growth there. Yesterday's visit to Shenzhen was a good reminder.

I spent the morning visiting a potential customer at their factory campus. Over lunch I heard one man say he had started there eight years ago when there was one factory and 2,000 staff. Now their campus has 130,000 employees.

Yikes, that's a good-size town in many countries.

MrB

Re: Why leave HK?

[quote="Mr Tall"]

The Talls are in Richmond, Virginia at the moment, and it's raining so hard it makes me think of Hong Kong in June.

Mr Tall[/quote]

small world.

it's funny because I live in Richmond, Va and have been stalking this site for quite a while since i'm coming to HK in early june.

-eric p

Coloured Cows

Singapore has herds of coloured cut-out cows set up on their grassy areas. Three people I asked agreed that it was probably a marketing scheme to get people talking, then there'd be an announcement to follow later when all would become clear.

Not sure how well it is working, as two other people denied all knowledge of them. Since they were both driving, and these cows are brightly coloured, maybe it's just their eyesight that needs a checkup.

The final explanation I was given was that it was probably to help with Singapore's bird problem, by scaring them away. Cows? Scary? Well, it was a meeting with a customer so I just nodded.

MrB

Mind The Gap

The new Shenzhen Metro is great, but it's a pity they didn't get the MTR's platform announcements as part of the package. Instead you are told:

"While going on board, watch the slot between the train and the platform"

Maybe they'd like me to do a UK-style "Mind the Gap" in my best BBC voice?

MrB

No Refluencing

I learned a new word yesterday, courtesy of the PRC government. If you look back as you leave the China side of the Lo Wu border, there is a sign "No refluencing". (I had to look it up in the dictionary)

It was also my first trip with my shiny new passport and a 3-year China visa. I've only seen the CTS offer 1-year visas, but I asked for three years anyway (my old passport had a recently-expired 3-year visa). The man at the CTS said he'd ask but couldn't gurantee it, but it turned out ok.

At the time of application I was asked to show my HK ID, a business card, and contact details of the company I visit in China. So, if you are renewing a 1-year visa and have plenty of China stamps in your passport, it'd be worth asking if they can give you a 3-year.

MrB

Re:Out and About

The lift in the Singapore Marriott shows there is the "Belimbing Room" on the second floor. I guess there was a Mr Be at some stage, but it always makes me think of chainsaws.

An old Lai See column reported the opposite problem, where a psychotherapist in Hong Kong found his new stationery was titled "Psycho The Rapist".

MrB

Thailand and backpackers

I recently came across an old post from one of my favorite blogs, 2blowhards in which Michael Blowhard recites a 'litany' of beliefs it seems one must hold if one professes interest in 'the fine arts'. It's very funny and perceptive, and the comments that follow are in places even better.

I was thinking along similar lines on the Family Tall's recent trip to Thailand. We stayed for a few days on Koh Samui, a lovely little island on Thailand's gulf coast. Samui is quite heavily developed along its most famous beach, Chaweng. Although there are some higher-end resorts there, backpacker-bungalows-on-the-beach cheap places are still common. Seeing some of the current crop of backpackers, in their little uniforms of 'native' skirts or baggy shorts, flip-flops, and beaded or dreadlocked hair brought back memories of my adventures as a backpack-toting 'traveler', accompanied by feelings of nostalgia -- and a little embarrassment.

Anyway, I was inspired to compose my own tribute to this remarkably persistent way of 'seeing the world'. Forgive me, Michael Blowhard, as well as the nascent Mr Tall of two decades past. Here is my 'Litany of the Backpacker, in 10 Easy Propositions':

1 If it's cheaper, it's gotta be better.

2 If I got it cheaper than you did, it means you got ripped off. If I paid more than you, mine's authentic and yours is a fake.

3 You got here by paying for the ferry? I hitched a ride to the coast in a shaman's donkey cart, then I built a raft out of palm fronds, floated out into the shipping lanes, hooked on to a fishing boat (I secretly cut its nets to save the fish!) then cast off just in time to catch the riptide pulling me into this beach.

4 Tourists are trashing this place! I'm a traveller so I'm different, and maybe you are a little bit too, because I'm talking to you.

5 I love and totally respect native cultures -- except when they don't want to see me sunbathing in nothing but a thong.

6 Going to Buddhist or Hindu temples, or temples from any other 'cool' religion, will just blow your mind and get you thinking about all kinds of paths to enlightenment and stuff, for at least 15 or 20 minutes.

7 Any non-organic substance you put into your body is poison, man -- except for beer and drugs.

8 Speaking of which, like, do you have any?

9 Starbucks is the manifestation of the evils of globalization, and it doesn't even have banana pancakes, either.

10 Actually, the whole capitalist system sucks -- see, it unjustly distributes money so that some totally undeserving useless parasite people can do really expensive environmentally unsound stuff like travel on jet planes across the whole freakin' world to go lord it over other people who are, like, so poor that they think cleaning beach bungalows is a good job, and -- oh man, my head hurts . . . I think I need a smoke. You really don't have anything?

Perhaps I shouldn't be so harsh. I had a lot of fun backpacking, and I wouldn't wish today's young people to miss out on it. But couldn't they find a few new tricks these days to liven up the whole backpacking show?

Re:Out and About

Mr Tall,

Great list! I was stood in line in at Bangkok airport the week before last, queued up behind a card-carrying traveller with dreadlocks and ethnic everything. I was dressed in shirt and tie, my carry-on luggage rumbling along behind me. I know one of us was looking a little foolish, but I couldn't quite be sure which one.

Last week's excitement was the old "feed the visitor the wierdest food you can find" trick. Dinner with customers in a Shenzhen restaurant, who ordered cooked moth pupae. I can get along with most types of food, but biting the head off a pupa to suck out the gloopy insides... that can wait.

MrB

Life as seen from a taxi

It seems a large part of my last week was spent gazing out of a taxi window. In Thailand we took a short cut to reach the hotel, passing a sign that explained this road was only open during rush hour : 0500-0900. Is there anywhere else that the rush hour starts at 5am?

Then in Malaysia reading a newspaper that had been left behind, I saw a helpful article from the local ISP explaining how to solve common problems yourself: ""In order for you to use the [..] service, you must ensure that your phone line is in working order. To check if your phone line is functioning, lift your phone receiver and check for a dial tone. If you can't hear any tone on the receiver, please call 100 to report". Phone not working ? Call us immediately!

Finally in the cab to the airport on Friday, a small sign on the window boasted "Lowest booking fee - $2 all day!". Followed by the small print "$3.60 from 7:30 to 9:30am and 5-11pm, Mon-Fri". Maybe "all day" means something different in Singlish?

MrB

Re:Out and About

The Talls took a little trip earlier this month to the Big Country. Organized by Mrs Tall's company, the two-day tour took our little group to some highlights of the greater Guangzhou area. The centerpiece was a one-night stay at a 'safari'-themed hotel called the 'Chime Long', and admission to its associated crocodile park, and night safari zoo. Well, we certainly had our fill of crocodiles, along with turtles, snakes, iguanas and other reptiles. The crocodile park also, inexplicably, featured a sea lion show (maybe because both crocodiles and sea lions can swim?), and a huge greenhouse in which were grown -- of course! -- many, many pumpkins.

But the night safari was a bust. In one of those eventualities which seem so common in China travel, it turned out the whole park was 'closed for maintenance' (What? Did the giraffes need curry-combing or something?), starting on the very day we were supposed to see it.

We instead spent what turned out to be an enjoyable evening in the hotel itself, an immense pile of concrete with one of the biggest pools I've ever seen, and built-in glass enclosures with flamingos and white tigers (although, understandably, they're not housed together).

The rest of the trip included a great deal of time cruising around in a tour coach, and brief visits to the obligatory temple, a totally (and obviously recently) rebuilt 'ancient' scholar's house, and the ancestral hall of the great Wong Fei-hung, i.e. the 19th-century martial arts master who's the main character in the Once Upon a Time in China series of feature films. That visit was probably the highlight of the trip, as it included demonstrations of kung fu and lion dancing by students from the martial arts academy currently housed there.

So all in all it was a typical China trip, in microcosm: too much time traveling from sight to sight in a coach; unannounced bureaucracy interfering with your plans; and at least one sight at which you have good reason to doubt the historical authenticity of what you're seeing.

And yet it still was fun -- it's just not something I'd want to do every weekend!

Kuala Lumpur Taxis

If you are visiting companies outside central KL, make sure they send you a map with directions for the taxi driver. The KL taxi drivers tend to specialise in a region, so when you travel outside that they are unlikely to know the way. Combine that with confusing road layouts in the industrial parks and no map-books in the taxi, and you can easily spend 30-90 minutes cruising around trying to find your destination.

MrB

Another China tour . . .

The Talls took another little tour in China over the recent Easter holidays, this time to Shandong province. The main attractions were Taishan, one of the Five Really Major Mountains in traditional Chinese culture, and Qingdao, which turned out to be a lovely coastal city.

I won’t oppress you with a blow-by-blow account of the tour, but I thought I might help out some of you who may be planning to travel in the mainland with a little guide to how Hong Kong-based tours make sport of the very fabric of reality.

Mostly, it’s a matter of semantics. That is, words that we might think have unambiguous meanings in fact go all post-modern with signifiers-at-play when they’re employed to our north. I’ll therefore present my guide as a glossary.

See, as in ‘to see an attraction’ = ‘To exist on the same planet as’.
Our tour’s itinerary said we would see a faux-Gothic church built by the Germans when they held Qingdao as a concession. As the day this was scheduled was drawing to a close, some tour members started asking when we’d be going to the church. Our guide replied: ‘The tour just includes seeing the church. We drove past it this afternoon, so you could see it if you wanted, and if you’d gathered, perhaps via simultaneous extra-sensory perception, the fact that we were indeed passing it.’ This leads to . . .

Tour itinerary = ‘Work of Fiction’.
If you manage to find a Hong Kong-based tour of China in which your group really follows – point by point -- the itinerary you’ve been given in advance, then let me know. I’ve never witnessed this phenomenon.

Four-star hotel = ‘Two-and-a-half-star hotel if you’re cranky like Mr Tall, maybe three-star if you’re sweet and kind like Mrs Tall’.
The first hotel we stayed in had at least some of the features we all associate with four stars: stable walls; several elevators; a buffet breakfast featuring a giant urn dispensing lovingly-prepared instant coffee with lashings of creamer and sugar already incorporated, plus little yogurt cups on ice (unfortunately, these were vacuumed up immediately by a pack of unhappy-looking French persons); and dark wood furnishings that looked as if they’d been poured into our room down a cement truck chute – I don’t know how to explain this better, but do you know how some hotel rooms just look disheveled, even when they’ve just been cleaned and prepared for your arrival? It’s not so much the day-to-day cleaning as the haphazard way in which the room’s been laid out and its fittings installed. Those of you who have traveled in China and stayed at this kind of hotel will know what I mean.

Five-star hotel = ‘Four-star hotel, just barely’.

Museum = ‘Shop’.
One of our scheduled attractions was a visit to a ‘Kite Museum’ in Weifang, a smaller Shandong city that bills itself as the Kite Capitol of the Universe, more or less. Well, it actually wasn’t bad, but if we had expected that we’d be seeing a kite the poor little Last Emperor flew languidly over the Forbidden City in the dying days of the Qing Dynasty, or anything like that, we’d have been pretty disappointed. Rather, this ‘museum’ turned out to be a big, busy kite factory with (it goes without saying) a very large gift shop.

Artists’ Studio = ‘Shop’.

Gallery = ‘Shop’.

Research Institute = ‘Shop’.

Cultural Heritage Experience Center = ‘Shop’.
Okay, okay, I’m making these up at this stage, but I think the point needed to be made.

Famous Restaurant Serving Local Delicacies = ‘Mediocre restaurant offering kickback to tour guide’.

That should help you China travel newbies. Any more I should add to the list, those of you who've experienced this kind of tour?