Saturday, May 31, 2008

(China) Pictures at an Exhibition

TAIPEI, Taiwan - My trip is winding down at my aunt's house in Taipei, and because of the rain outside, it looks like I will spending my last night in Asia indoors. That's okay, I suppose...although there is apparently a tall building in the city in which you can get a really great view of all of Taipei---and it looks like I might not get a chance to see it for myself this time. Shame, but probably just as well; truth be told, I'm just about all traveled and sightseeing-ed out right now. I barely mustered enough energy and enthusiasm to visit the National Palace Museum in Taipei today, where there are a lot of artworks and artifacts spanning all the way back to the Neolithic Era. (Chiang Kai-shek really made sure to take 'em all before he left China, apparently.)

Anyway, looks like I might have enough time to put up a few pictures from all the major places we visited on our trip. So let's continue on with this photo mini-retrospective, shall we?

Temple of Heaven

I also visited Summer Palace, but I ran out of battery on my Powershot that day sooner than I expected, so I decided to use my mother's EOS camera to take pictures there. Unfortunately, I seem unable to transfer pictures from that camera onto my MacBook. Those will have to wait until after my mother and brother come back with their cameras.

Oh yes, and later that third official day of the tour, I did get a taste of Peking roast duck. It was glorious.

The Great Wall of China

I didn't climb high enough to be considered a "hero" in Chairman Mao's eyes...but I climbed pretty far, as some of my aerial photos hopefully suggest.

My brother, Masao, and I

My mother, the soldier...

Who needs Chairman Mao's approval? I'm my own hero!

No point to the inclusion of this one; I just thought it looked serene.

The goal for me: climbing to the top-most building I see from this angle

I made it! my goal, at least.

Ming Tombs

After three days in Beijing, onward to Wuxi, in China's Jiangsu province...

Lake Tai

Turtle-Head Islet Park

Supposedly, throw a coin successfully on this turtle's shell and you'll get good fortune. I tried twice and failed. Guess no good fortune for me...

From Wuxi to Suzhou

Humble Administrator's Garden


That's it for now; gotta pack up and get ready for the airport tomorrow. I'm coming back to the U.S., readers! More to come...

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Hong Kong Situation

SHANGHAI, China - Today (Thursday) I was originally supposed to venture off by myself to Hong Kong for a few hours. Initially, I had planned on visiting the Wall Street Journal Asia office, just for fun. But then I talked to a few people at work, and they all said that there wasn't really anything special to the office---that it was just a regular office. So what the heck was I going to do for the rest of the five hours or so I was going to be in Hong Kong? Certainly that isn't enough time to take in very many cool sights. Besides, no one in my family coming on this China tour with me expressed any interest in accompanying me to Hong Kong. So I would be going to an unfamiliar foreign area all alone---a rather nerve-wracking prospect for me, despite what I've been told about how "ridiculously easy" it is to get around even for foreigners.

Thus, I eventually realized that it was probably a silly idea to wake up earlier than the rest of the group just to visit an office building in Hong Kong. Only one problem, though: by the time I realized the error of my ways, the tickets had already been bought and paid for, and all the flights had been arranged. And our travel agent was telling my mother---who arranged this whole trip for all of us---that the company backing this tour, Grand Holidays, couldn't do anything about it so late in the game.

My aunt, on my mother's side, is a frequent traveler, and she told us that probably the best way to try to rearrange my flight schedule at this point was to do something like wait until the day of my early-morning flight to Hong Kong to see if there were any other seats still available either on the same evening flight the rest of my family was taking from Shanghai to Hong Kong that day (we're all eventually going to Taipei, and we have to catch a connecting flight at the Hong Kong airport at around 9:15 p.m.) or on an earlier flight. A chancy proposition at best---so we asked our tour guide for the second, post-Beijing half of our 8-day tour to see if there was anything she could do.

Things looked pretty bleak for my chances of joining the rest of my folks on that initial Shanghai-to-Hong-Kong flight. First, it seemed as if we had to go through United Airlines, which is apparently notorious for refusing requests to change flights. Then, when our tour guide tried contacting Cathay Pacific Airlines to see what they could do, they told her they couldn't do much either. No one seemed willing to help us at all; everyone was seemingly referring us to someone else. The situation got complicated, but worse, it got fairly heated. It seemed like every time I opened my mouth to saying something about a sticky situation I caused, my mother implied I was being ungrateful for her help when she said "Shut up, I'm doing the best that I can!" Even more unpleasant, however, were some of the hypotheticals. Worst-case scenario: I would have to take that early flight to Hong Kong and essentially wait around for eight or so hours at the airport before the rest of my family arrived for the connecting flight. That's a scenario I couldn't bear to face, and the thought of it made me so glum that, throughout much of yesterday morning---when we visited the Yue Fei Tomb, West Lake and Longjing Tea Plantation in Hangzhou, China---I pretty much wore the same fixed depressed expression on my face. What had I done? What trouble had I caused, and what undue strain had I put my mother---who was basically trying to clean up the mess I had made---under?

Would this be a repeat of the disastrous end of that Maine trip a couple of summers ago---when, for those who don't remember, an emotionally brutal family argument cut our trip to Acadia National Park in Maine unceremoniously short?

But things are looking up! Our tour guide got a phone call while we were in Longjing Tea Plantation (tasting some delicious organic green tea, by the way) that confirmed that I would be joining my family on that 4:30 p.m. flight from Shanghai to Hong Kong today after all (and also that it would require an extra $100 fee to be paid). I don't know what finally did it, but when my aunt told me that the change had been made, relief swarmed over me the same way that aroma from green-tea leaves eventually swarms over you.

Needless to say, I enjoyed myself immensely the rest of the day, especially when we got to Shanghai and I got a chance to bask in its Times Square-like glitz and glamour. I even got a couple of (bootleg) DVDs out of the evening (I'll probably leave it at that and not mention any specific titles here).

So hopefully there will be no more unpleasant surprises today.


I was going to upload a few more pictures from my trip up to this point, but Blogger seems to be having problems uploading my pics, at least from this particular Internet connection here in Shanghai Guangdong Hotel. I hope I'll actually have Internet access at wherever I'm staying in Taiwan (one of my relatives' houses). Let it be said for now that I have seen a lot, felt a lot, and quite possibly learned a lot. More details will come after I return home.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Days of Being Sleepy

SUZHOU, China - So my initial plan of trying to update every day with pictures of places visited during a particular day hasn't quite worked out, mostly because I've had little time to spend parsing through photos taken for a particular day on my Canon Powershot SD400 and picking and choosing the best (or least embarrassing) ones. By the time we all got back to our hotel rooms in the Great Wall Sheraton Hotel in Beijing the past three days, we've usually had to get ready for bed in order to wake up early (about 6:30 a.m.) every morning for the day's activities.

On the other hand, I might as well have used all the valuable time I wasted tossing and turning in bed the past three nights---trying desperately to sleep but never quite finding the will until, say, around 2 a.m., if I'm lucky (which I was last night...before I had to wake up at around 5 a.m. to pack up and catch a plane to Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport)---to post on this blog. Yes, readers, jet lag has caught up with me with an unexpectedly hard-hitting way, it seems. I expected to have trouble sleeping the first night (I finally got maybe an hour or so of deep sleep before waking up to a 6:30ish wake-up call), but then I spent the next night struggling in bed 'til about 2:30 a.m., and then doing same for about half the night last night. It sucks: after long days of traveling and sightseeing, I feel tired and sticky throughout the day, but then when it comes time to channel all that fatigue into the act of dozing off, I can't seem to do it. These days, then, I seem to be operating mostly on power naps in planes or vans, sometimes in uncomfortably close quarters.

Well, I'm about to hit a pillow here in the Suzhou Grand Metro Park Hotel in a little less than a half-hour, so we'll see what transpires tonight.

In the meantime, here is an extremely brief selection of photos taken from Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, two places we visited on Saturday, with a bit of annotation. More photos will hopefully be coming in forthcoming days, and more details and overall impressions will probably come after I return from China on June 1.

Tiananmen Square

No, no tanks on Saturday, but there was a police presence that forced everyone off the square earlier than expected.

The Forbidden City

This makes me want to finally check out The Last Emperor!

One of the two guardian lions pictured below are male, and the other is female. Can you guess which one is which? Hint: note what's in the paws of each respective lion.

Supposedly you touch this tree below and it wards off cancer.