Newstand in Fuzhou

I love these newsstands scattered throughout Fuzhou. They are reminiscent of what I have seen in Paris and to a lesser extent Hong Kong. Unfortunately they have largely been transformed into places to buy cigarettes and/or water, and in what I have seen in Paris, they remain to sell items for tourists. What a good opportunity these represent as a community hub where you can have an opportunity to meet people or connect with someone who sees the comings and goings of the neighborhood. Maybe if they offered free wifi and a charging station it might entice people to linger.


Travel Tip: For the love of God, stand at least 10 feet away from the luggage carousel at airports when awaiting your luggage. Avoid human pile-ups. Respect your fellow travelers and only approach when you see your bag. Occasionally, you’ll catch the glance of another observant traveller and just nod in silent frustration.
Jamie Rupp, Founder/Designer, Relwen


Haneda Skylounge

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I am sitting in the Skylounge at the Tokyo Hanaeda International departures terminal waiting for a transfer to Toronto. $10US gets you access to a quiet environment with plenty of power outlets, and all you can drink bad coffee and other non-alcoholic drinks. Considering the cost of a coffee on the concourse is about $5 it’s not a bad deal. There is no food inside, so by coming inside you miss the Japanese fast food, which though over priced has a decent selection.

There are few people inside, the whole terminal itself is not at all crowded, and you basically have the run of the place.

The only downside was that while I could connect to wifi via my phone, my laptop can not. So I am forced to do real work vs. procrastinating by reading the news (later it turned out to be a DNS issue and procrastination ensued).

Hanaeda is a weird transfer point enroute to Canada. The first time I flew through here I had the kids with me and was a bit concerned about arriving without a boarding pass. There are no ticket counters or customer service people from Air Canada to answer your questions. They issue your boarding pass at the gate so it’s useful to book your seats ahead of time unless you like getting squeezed in the middle of a narrow 4 seat row.


Sometimes travel can show us how our life is… Or can give us a glimpse of how it can be. Being untethered, I could float away, lifted to a great height where everything is new, and I could look back on my life with new perspective and go, ‘Oh!’
Lucy Knisley – “An Age of License”. Via Ruk.


Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport

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I arrived in Bangkok late a few nights ago via Taipei. Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport arrivals section seems quite unfinished or is it supposed to look like this? If you like a dull modernist aesthetic, than you will love this airport, but for one of the warmest and friendliest cultures anywhere is it a fitting way to greet guests? So cold and uninviting. The departures section has some of the best bread I have tasted in an airport, certainly a world a way from the best bakeries south of Taipei. The cost of course has the usual airport mark-up but compared to what awaits you in cattle class it might just be worth it.
The structure is impressive but I somehow miss the old one – inefficiency and all. Why don’t they design airports with a sense of warmth? For the frequent flyer this airport must look just about the same as every other – lots of gray, glass, and stainless steel with the odd cultural artifact thrown in the aisles. Thai. culture is full of colour but you won’t see that at the airport.
It does stand in stark contrast to the newly renamed Taoyuan International Airport in Taoyuan (Taipei) Taiwan. I recently had to take a flight out of their new ‘D’ wing and it has the look of something thrown together with little thought or aspiration. With all the airport expansions in the region Taiwan just can’t compete or doesn’t really care to. It’s so amateur that there really isn’t anything to be critical about. But it does work – they get you in and out as quickly as possible. Which is likely the objective most people visiting Taiwan will have. It takes a some time to appreciate the good things here and certainly there is little help organizationally to make the experience any different.


Laos and Thailand

I have been spending the last couple of days recovering from a 16 day trip in Laos and Thailand. I’m still getting used to “have to get up for work” sleep patterns and bland tasting food. Bland food is a welcome respite after a 3 day bout of mild food poisoning from eating spicy squid off the street.
One of the highlights of the trip was the surprise of eating such amazing food in Luang Prabang. My God it was good. Here I was in this sleepy tourist town surrounded by jungle, river, and mountains, eating mighty fine French cuisine for the price of some small weird western concoction with rice and cheese here in Hsinchu. And the bread! You can see the French influence as the bread was lovely, fresh, and as God intended it to be – not sweet! Ate excellent pizza. Perhaps one of the best pies I have ever had. The Lao food was fresh and interesting. With my limited culinary vocabulary, I can only describe it as a milder than Thai. or perhaps a cross between Thai. and what I have eaten in the wilds of Taiwan. Naturally some of he food was unique to the area. Lao beer may not win at the World beer cup but the wheaty beer certainly quenches your thirst after a long day of walking. It goes down smooth and before you know it 3 large bottles have been emptied. Though the city deserves to be on some culinary tour of Asia list it I certainly had to do something work off all those calories. I had some great walks through out the town, had some really interesting conversations with some young monks, and a wicked game of badminton with some kids at a remote Wat. I’m already thinking about the next trip.
Most of my time on this trip was spent in Thailand where I am constantly amazed by how kind, friendly, and gentle the people seem to be. After spending time here I found that my all too familiar serious expression was replaced by smiles, laughter, and relaxation. I felt more balanced, much like when I used to play music, and how it would lift my spirits. Naturally, it’s easy to be happy there when you meet the right people. On this trip I met some amazing people who will influence my thinking about life for some time to come.
While in Thailand most of my time was spent in Bangkok – with some time in Pattaya, Chiang Mai, and a short trip to Petchaboon. A bit of a change or me as I usually spend my time hiking in the North. But the sedate activity of siting at a computer all year has made me soft and fat. I thought best to just hike up escalators instead of jungle trails this trip. If you are ever in Bangkok and you have some extra cash you must eat in the restaurant at the top of the Banyan Tree. The views are absolutely incredible and the food is fine. Just don’t wear a hat as it tends to be a bit windy. Pattaya lived up to it’s reputation as a party and girls meca. All of which I just observed. Really. Chiang Mai never seems to change much, which is part of it’s charm. I had my obligatory dinner at the Riverside, a restaurant with westernized Thai. food and live music, drank Singha at ba ba bo bo, and felt like a king as I was pampered with between 2 – 3 hrs of massage a day.
All around a good trip.


It all costs as much as Hong Kong

Another good one from Travel Intelligence.
“From its early days as the capital of the Kuomintang Republic of China, it has become used to being the Gorgon of Asian cities. One look at it and one is turned into a grey block of four-storey concrete.”
“Taipei is a young keen city with a smudge on its face and dust on its shoes. It is heyday Manchester or Pittsburgh with newer, smaller Chinese bones. “

Read: Taipei – wish you weren’t here by Stuart Wolfendale


Cities and Signs

“Of all the changes of language a traveler in distant lands must face, none equals that which awaits him in the city of Hypatia, because the change regards not words, but things.”

” I realized I had to free myself from the images which in the past had announced to me the things I sought: only then would I succeed in understanding the language of Hypatia.”

“True, also in Hypatia the day will come when my only desire will be to leave. I know I must not go down to the harbour then, but climb the citadel’s highest pinnacle and wait for a ship to go by up there. But will it bo by? There is no language without deceit.”

– Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino


Back from Thailand

I made it back safe and sound from a wonderful trip to Thailand. Chang Mai is great. Everytime I go I don’t want to return. The only downside was the actual flight to and from Taipei. No fun at all. Mandarin Airlines has the only direct flight to Chiang Mai and they primarily serve group tour companies. If you have travelled on flights with Taiwanese tour groups you will understand why it could be annoying. If you haven’t, just take my advice and avoid these routes.


School and Travel

I received word today that I have been accepted to the M.A. program at National Chiao Tung University. I think I am the first English native speaker in the program I have enrolled. It’s a great opportunity but a daunting challenge.

I leave for Chiang Mai early tomorrow morning. Its the annual Chinese New Year pilgrimage to anywhere other than Hsinchu. Should be a fun trip. Spending some time trekking through the northern part of the province and taking a Thai cooking course. Of course no trip to Thailand would be compete without a few sessions of the tortuous local massage. Be back on the 16th.