Friday, November 30, 2007

Batu Caves

Today we decided that we wanted to make the trip out of Kuala Lumpur up to the Batu Caves and see the site. We have heard great things about how amazing it is to see, and how the 272 steps up into the caves are really worth it.
Luckily when we arrived there were not large crowds climbing the stairs. All of the pictures that we see show the above staircase mobbed with people, trying to avoid these crowds is why we decided that we needed to get there today. Apparently the crowds are really only bad during one Hindu festival when Hindu devotees from around the world flock to these caves.

The caves are impressive and luckily there were hardly any crowds. We wandered abound for a while and then took the local bus back into Kuala Lumpur. A nice start to this weekend trip...
Oh, and they have monkeys....
Monkeys that will steal your food and drink. Any plastic bag they will presume is food. The girl in front of us had a monkey scurry up her leg, around her back, and then steal a plastic bag she was carrying.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

...and now they're gone.

A about a month ago we talked about how our closest neighbors had hired a family to come in and work on their unit. This was when we were awoken on a Sunday morning to the sounds of sledge hammers breaking down walls.

After maybe a month of destruction and rebuilding, the family that was working on the unit moved out. All is quiet again.

We can look over into their unit and see that all the new brick work has all been cemented in and finished off, and that the walls are all painted. The last thing that was done before they left was to tar the floor. One night when I came home I could smell tar the minute the elevator opened, asking Tina she just replied "Oh, it's so much better now..." That smell filled the hallway for about four days.

Now it's been over a week and a half and nothing. We are anxiously awaiting the next family so that we can see what they are going to do next...

That's all we've got for now. Tonight we are off to Malaysia for the weekend, we will update as we can.

Teamwork at Xia Da!

Shortly after our mid-term exams, our Foundation Chinese teacher was starting to become anxious as she believed that we wouldn't have time to finish the lessons prior to the final exams in mid-January. Rightfully so I suspect. She keeps telling the class that "you must work harder." Our class falls into these categories, ones that get it, (parents or relatives of Chinese descendants), ones who care, work hard and still struggle, ( my category) and others who simply don't care.

During break, she came back with good news. She went to her superior who informed her that we did not have to finish the entire book if it was too much for us. You could see the change in her face. She was very relieved to hear that. In fact she was almost giddy with delight, knowing that she no longer had to stress about finishing the curriculum.

Being the kind, considerate students that we are, we assisted her with the timeline of course. A few of us suggested that due to the Christmas holidays, many students would not be attending classes and to schedule the review during this time period. She was most agreeable. A few of us continued giving her a timeline for the rest of the lessons and for the final reviews, pushing back the exam date. It works in everyone's favor including Chen Laoshi. Such teamwork, she declared. As it stands now, I would only miss one lesson instead of four.

Chen Laoshi did inform us that we had another week of classes after the exams and that we would be able to complete the book during that time period.

Who ever heard of more classes after your final exams?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

More on Gulangyu...

Ok, so I read a little in our Amoy Magic book on Xiamen about Gulangyu and it's history. As I mentioned the island is full of these wonderful old mansions, but all of them in varying states of disrepair. Apparently back in the early days of trade with China, and after the Chinese lost the opium wars and had to open more ports, Xiamen was one of the ports that opened. But, the foreigners that came we not allowed to live in Xiamen, or on the mainland, so they all built their homes and consulates on Gulangyu. A U.S. Consulate was built here in the 1930s with bricks that were shipped from the states.

One of the homes in better condition

But in the late 40s all those good times ended and, with money somewhat short, upkeep on these buildings stopped.

On of the crumbling buildings

One of the nice things about Gulangyu, is that it's a nice quiet walking village. There are no vehicles allowed on the island, except for a few electric carts that you can pay to cart you around when you've walked too much. The downside to no vehicles is that everything needs to be carted around by hand.

Carting stone to a construction site.

You see a lot of these carts being pulled all around the island, full of stone, brick, concrete, tools, etc. With the hills, tourists, and the narrow streets this would be a tough job.

Streets on Gulangyu

More old buildings on the island

We took more pictures of these buildings then one would have thought possible, eventually I'll get the better ones put into our Flickr site. There really is not a lot of information, at least in English, on the island, but if you are at all interested you could look quickly on wikipedia or maybe for a little on Amoy Magic.
The island is also known as piano island, as a lot of the missionaries that first came over brought their pianos with them. Apparently it still is the greatest concentration of pianos per capita in the world with one in every five homes. You can hear people practicing when you wander the island which is a welcome break from the noise of the traffic that you normally have. There is also a piano museum on the island, Asia's largest, that we will try to make it to if we ever make it over there on a day less crowded...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Sunday's Entertainment...

Sunday was nice and relaxing, especially after spending so much time walking the hills of Gulangyu. We spent most of the day just organizing the music and photos on the computer for Tina's iPod, which surprisingly takes a long time.

Sunday night we went back over to the shrimp fishing restaurant with Jose, Edlin, and the Mexican's family. We had a large group this time, nine of us fishing, and we were hoping that with it being Sunday it wouldn't be as crowded as when we went with George, Mark and Siew. We were wrong, it was just as crowded, so we ended up having to spilt our group between both pools.

And with the crowds of people, it seemed like there were less shrimp to catch. It took a while for anyone to catch anything, Tina was the first, but eventually everybody except for Laura managed to catch at least one. The only restocked the ponds once too, whereas last time they stocked them at least twice in the one hour we were fishing.

But as suddenly as we got there, the hour of fishing was up, and we had less shrimp then we caught the first time we were there. Not even enough for dinner, apparently you need to catch at least 1 kilogram, and we were 2-3 shrimps short...
That took us while to understand exactly what it was they were trying to explain to us, so Tina befriended a Taiwanese guy that spoke English to try and help us understand. He helped some, but just enough to add confusion and suddenly we had a whole crowd of Chinese around us pointing and talking...

The ordering food was more difficult then expected, especially on top of the underweight shrimp conversation, and eventually I gave in and asked Tina to give Siew a call and see if she could order food for us...
That worked, and we all enjoyed a great meal of pork ribs, a couple different chicken plates, noodles, rice, and garlic shrimp.

The highlight of the evening would have to be when a large carp jumped right out of the shrimp pool onto the deck. That gathered quite a crowd as everyone ran over to see it. Unfortunately it happened to quickly for me to get a picture....

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Saturday on Gulang Yu.

So yesterday we took a trip over the Gulang Yu, which is a small island that is just between Xiamen and mainland China. Tina's been here several times before, and really likes going over to go shopping, as she has called it a bit of a shoppers paradise within a shopping culture.
Sunlight Rock
Being a weekend their were quite a bit of crowds, so we never actually paid to wander up to the top of sunlight rock or any other of the main attractions. We walked around to the back side of the islands, to an area that Tina hadn't made it to in her many trips over, and enjoyed walking the beaches and just wandering streets and parks that we not filled with people.
We did do some shopping, but most of the day was spent looking at all of the old mansions that are throughout the island and being amazed at their varying amount of deterioration. This place must have been absolutely amazing back in it's day, the huge places and high vaulted ceilings take one back to an era of excess and wonder. We will look into the stories a little and let you know more of the islands history and also add some of the pictures of the crumbling buildings.
We stayed on the island, walking the hills and narrow streets, until the evening and we treated to some absolutely wonderful views on the sunset...

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thanksgiving in China.

Last night we wandered over to Jose and Edlin's to enjoy our Turkey day one day late and a half world away. As Tina mentioned, we were requested to make our nachos again. Edlin ordered a Turkey from the hotel, and she made meatloaf, potatoes, cake, eggnog, and flan. The Mexican brought his family and brought beer, oh and noodles.

It did seem odd to have our North American neighbors of Canada and Mexico celebrating our American holiday, and also strange, albeit only to me, to be doing Thanksgiving with a Puerto Rican spin on it. Edlin also invited one of the hotel managers and their Chinese teacher to the dinner, it was truly a fun night with excellent food and good friends.

Being in China, our conversation quickly turned to bathroom talk, and we discussed how we all know the closest western style toilet depending on the area of the island you are at. We did learn that the Pizza hut bay the Carrefour just redid their bathroom with a western toilet. Yes, this is what is important information over here....

A little later in the evening Jose pulls out Edlin's Nintendo Wii, and then the party really got going. The kids played some bowling, tennis, and baseball, while Edlin tried to explain to us that it really is a workout and tiring if you play for a while.

Eventually Jose and Edlin stepped up and showed us how they vent frustration by playing the boxing game against each other.

Jose and Edlin boxing with the Wii

Tina and I boxed each other, she fights dirty, but end the end I was declared the winner. Edlin wasn't lying, it is incredibly tiring to go three rounds in a boxing match, and although the winner, I was sweating and tired. From there we decided that we didn't want to fight, so we went bowling...

Bowling, picking up the spare...

It's fairly realistic, today my wrist hurts from bowling.... I think it's the spin I put on the ball. The spin didn't help, as Tina still easily beat me. Jose also had the higher end baseball that was unbelievable, and somewhere in the evening Tina and I decided that we may have to purchase one of these for ourselves.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving

Though we are approx 14 hours ahead of you, depending on where you live in the U.S., we did want to know that we are thinking of you and wishing we could have some of that turkey you will be eating. While you are all gorging on your feasts, you will be happy to know that Mark and I will also be celebrating Thanksgiving, albeit a day later. This won't be your ordinary Thanksgiving dinner that we are accustomed to, such as turkey or bird of some sort accompanied by mashed potato's with gravy, sweet potato, pumpkin pie, etc. Nope, this won't even have Chinese food on the menu. Our hosts have decided to go with a Spanish theme, and of course our contribution will be the famous Wichmann nachos.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of American family and friends!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007


Milk, that's what the above title reads, or more accurately 'Cow Milk'.

When we first arrived here we didn't notice any milk in the supermarket but we were told that it's in the main aisles next to the juices and other items. It's a little strange to see milk not being refrigerated, but we realize that we only think that because we live in North America, as Nancy reminded us when we questioned buying warm eggs....

So the milk is all pasteurized, homogenized, and irradiated and lasts close to forever, you just put it in the fridge when you are ready to drink it. It taste's close to what we are used to, but not that good. We now only have milk for Tina to use in our instant coffee.

I was talking about milk to a girl at work, and she told me that there are places that have real milk, straight from a cow in glass bottles that you usually buy on the street, but that there are also places that have real milk in the cooler section.

Tina learnt the same thing from classmates, and we hunted down this elusive cold milk. It was better, still not the same as home, but closer. You could buy them in 1 liter cartons and their shelf life dropped down to 5 days.

But suddenly it's hard to find, and we are thinking that there must be a cow strike. Tina asks at school and is told that sometimes the stores will be empty for 3-4 weeks. To the point where people told her that there are times they've frozen milk just to avoid shortages...

Well, now Tina finds a box of milk the other day and came home happy.
This morning she finds out that the above pictured carton is not milk, but yogurt. I do like their slogan of "Fresh and Delicious tasted as the first love", as it seems somewhat risque. Now we realize that the "Active" in front of the milk should have alerted us to it being different. Alas, again no milk..

Today Tina found two small juice boxes of milk, let the hoarding begin....

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Class of "07

Last Friday after our mid-term exams, we had a class outing which meant no school on Friday. It was left to us where we wanted to go for our this field trip, and since no one could agree where the trip should take place, a decision was made for us. Our teacher decided that a luncheon would be best and suggested the Xiamen Hotel. We were more than grateful not to have to go to listening class on Friday, so anywhere would have been okay with us.
I thought I would share with you some of my classmates.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Lazy Sunday.

Every weekend and we get a little more settled into life in China. Yesterday we wandered over and booked tickets for our next trip our of the country, and then spend some time in the little local shops. Then a quick run up to the B&Q, the Chinese version of Home Depot, for some supplies to just put a few finishing touches to our apartment, and finished the evening by stopping over to Temptations to enjoy a bottle of wine with Jose and Edlin.

Our big purchase? A clock for our living room. Not having any idea what time it was really was one of our main issues with the apartment. It's nice and when you push the top button it tells you the time or date in Chinese. We can't understand what it's telling us, but we are happy in the fact the we do understand what our elevator is telling us. Baby steps in the understanding of the electronics in our world....

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Weekend in Mexico?

What better way to spend yours Saturday than at a Mexican party? Our friend René, who just moved his whole family to Xiamen, was having a birthday party for his youngest who was turning five. Excellent, Tina picks out the gift that we will bring - sangria....

They went all out for this party, and the kids had a great time.
Edlin made a pinata for the party.

René and myself with the girls that work at the Crowne Plaza.

Mmmmm, barbecue....
Music and silly string, now it's a party.

Tina's sangria was a hit, even with the Chinese girls who at first didn't like it. Rene, or as we simply call him 'The Mexican' did up a great barbecue of chicken and steak. There was great music and dancing, it was a lot of fun. There were times that you would forget that you were in China, as we realized that we had changed from a world were 90% of the people speak Chinese to where 90% were talking in Spanish.
Next weekend we are going to take the Mexican and his family to the shrimp place that Mark and Siew showed us last weekend......

Friday, November 16, 2007

Whining about wine

Last night we had Indian for dinner, and it was excellent. I'd forgotten how much I enjoy Indian food. Mmmm, garlic nan. There is only one Indian restaurant in Xiamen, Indaino Johns, and we have been trying to get over to it since we heard about it maybe two months ago.

We had been wanting to get there becasue we heard that he had a wine cellar that was stocked with some fine Argentinean malbecs, so when we went the idea of food was secondary to our desire to once again have some good wine. Yeah, so last night he was out of malbecs.....

Well, not out, he had one bottle left which we drank. We sat and talked with the owner for a while, about how he moved from India to China and why he ended up in Xiamen. It was a good night, and he told us that if we buy wine that they willl deliver it to our place if we buy more then six bottles. How's that for service? That is one thing that we love over here, they really do go out of their way to make sure that you get good service.

From there we went back to My Way, the little bar that we found months back, and we sat there playing the dice game with the owner and another Chinese man. We've gotten good enough that we can almost recite the numbers 1-8 in Chinese without even thinking about them....

一,二,三,四,五,六,七,八, ...

If this works well, maybe you'll see us singing.

Today we are going to try something new, attaching video....

This one isn't much, just a film of the kids exercising taken from our balcony. We find it funny because of the music they are exercising to, we hope that you can hear it.

That's right, it's "Jingle Bells". We know that in the States it's time for Christmas music to start being played, but actually here in China you'll hear this year round. You will also hear Chinese songs sung to all sorts of Christmas tunes.

More with the music, on any normal day that you are walking you will suddenly hear a musical tune on the street and think, well at least I do, "Ohh, an ice cream truck". It's not an ice cream truck, it's a water truck that just drives around and sprays down the streets. These trucks play the "Happy Birthday" theme.

Other than that, it's been a relatively quiet week. Tina cramming for her exams and then doing well enough to ruin the grade curve for the rest of the class, and I've just been doing my normal work and trying to stay out of the way of our little student...

And to finish, here is a photo that we took at dusk a while ago. The sky had this really strange purple color to it....

Thursday, November 15, 2007

My week is over....

Today we received the results of our exams. They don't waste a lot of time, do they? We were told that the mid term exams made up 1/3 of our total grade, with the rest coming from attendance and the majority of the grade was going to be from the final exams. That's something to look forward to.

First was the Listening Chinese class. Before our teacher handed back our papers, one of our classmates brought in two carrot cakes that he had made earlier in the day. Nicoli wanted to celebrate the conclusion of the mid-terms. About 1/2 of our class was in attendance. At the end of our class, our teacher advised that tomorrow's classes would be cancelled, due to our luncheon. I suspect that the carrot cakes had something to do with it.

The next class was Foundation Chinese. I was a little bit more optimistic that I would pass Chen Laoshi's class, but not by much. After handing out our papers, we reviewed the exam, and then she taught us a famous Chinese children's song. It's actually sung to Frere Jacque. According to our teacher, anyone late, or has their phone on, moving forward must sing this in class to their fellow students.

It goes as follows:

Liang zhi lao hu
Liang zhi lao hu
Pao de kuai, pao de kuai
yi zhi mei you, yanging
yi zhi mei you weiba
zhen qi guai, zhen qi guai

Two tigers
Two tigers
run so fast, run so fast
one has no eyes
one has no tail
it's so weird, it's so weird.

Oh, and as for my marks, Listening 74%, and Foundation Class, 90%.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Sigh of relief..

At last the mid-terms have been completed and now we patiently wait for our scores. It's nice to have some spare time to catch up with the news, emails, obligatory tasks, phone calls and oh yea, a husband, that I have managed to avoid of late. Well not so much the husband, since he makes sure that he gets his share of attention. He has been a doll, cooking each night while I keep practicing my characters and reading Chinese.

We have the rest of the week, to converse, ask questions and just plain enjoy the downtime. It will be nice to come home and not have homework, though I really enjoy taking these classes. Friday we have our class outing with our teachers and then Monday, the second half of the semester begins. According to our teacher, this lessons will go much more quickly, and will be much harder than the first half of this semester. Can't wait.

Classes will continue over the Christmas holidays, with only 3 days off. I told my teacher that I will be back home during this time, and she smiled and said, " that's okay, we will give you homework so you won't be too far behind".

New Neighbors

We've got new neighbors. Actually they've been there for a couple of weeks, but now is as good a time to tell you about them as any.

I don't know if we fully explained what are place was like back when we moved in, but I'd venture to guess that the complex is 60-70% empty. You've read about us complaining about the amount of construction that is always going on, from about 07:00 to maybe around 20:30 everyday, including weekends.

When the Chinese complete a building, the main construction crew runs electricity and plumbing to each unit, but that is where their job ends. When the new owner buys the unit, they come in to plain concrete walls and exposed piping and wiring, which they then hire a crew to finish into something livable. As we said before, when we looked at our place it didn't have a kitchen yet.

Until the place is sold the main doorway is wide open and anyone can wander in and look around, we did at our two neighbors on our side of our floor. Once they are purchased the owners put a lock on the door.

Well, our neighbor must've finally decided what he wanted to do and a few weeks ago on a Sunday morning we awoke to terrible pounding. Upon exploring the noise, we see next door several men with sledge hammers breaking down the concrete walls. This noise went on for a couple of days and then nothing. The place was empty again.

Over the last few days there has been work next door again, and a big mess right outside our door as they bring in bricks, concrete, plumbing, and all sorts of items. The other night I took a few pictures of them working...

This is from out balcony, showing all the new walls that they built up after knocking all the original ones out.
This is a view from their front doorway as one of the workers is moving more suppliers in from the elevator. It appears that the workers are a family and everyone helps out, there are at least three men, a woman, and a small child of about 6. We see the child out on the balcony often using a small pot as his toilet, we aren't sure where the rest of them go. But it seems like they are living in the unit while they are working on it, as you hear them at all hours and they've got their clothes hanging out on the balcony to day.

We have heard that most of the construction workers are farmers who come into the cities to make more money, and for the big construction jobs they do live right on the job site in specially built housing, or on makeshift wood beds an small tents.

It will be interesting to see what it is like when it is all finished, and it will also be nice when they are finished to have a little more peace and quiet. It does seem like there has been a flurry of work going on in these building since we moved in, hopefully we get at least a few months near the end where all of this construction is completed.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Fishing for our dinner.

Thoughts of childhood came screaming back to me when we were asked by our friends Mark and Siew to like to go for dinner with them. One catch, you have to fish for your dinner. Okay, this brings back memories. I remember when I was once a young lass, and my brother would take me to Mt Pleasant fish hatchery to go fishing with him. I attempted to put the worm on my hook, and from that day forward I decided, I would leave the fishing to my brother and only go with him when he wanted company.

I digress, we head out with with Mark and family to go fishing to for our dinner. We arrive at the restaurant, and were directed to the two pools where you would then get a fishing pole, and something that resembles a chicken heart to place on your hook. We were fishing for prawns .The beauty of this place, was that the gals would bait your hook and then you just placed your rod in the water waiting for the prawns to bite.

We didn't have to wait long and before you knew it, Mark and I had 11 between us. The rest of the group also did well and we ended up 20 prawns for dinner. It was a great way to spend an hour, chatting with friends over a cold beer. The beauty of it, was that the gals would remove the prawns for you. The dinner was excellent, and we will certainly do this again.

We know where we are taking Willy when he comes to visit.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Crossing the line

Yesterday we ended us a lot busier than we expected, but we also slept in so that did cut into our day quite a bit. The sleep was worth it, so I'm not going to complain.

Other then the small errands that we had to do, yesterday we went to a movie screening with Jose and Edlin, a new wine store which had wine and for some reason nacho chips, then dinner, and finally drinks at the Oriental bar over by the Marco Polo where all the ex-pats drink.

The movie we went and saw was put on at the Sofitel and the producer was there to share some stories and answer questions. Crossing the line is the name of the movie, which is a documentary about an American soldier who defected to North Korea and his story of the life that he has lived over there. It was an excellent movie that I'd recommend to everybody.

After the movie people asked a few questions about the government in North Korea, what it's like to film there, how happy the guy really is with his life there, all sorts of questions that the movie makes you think about. The four of us discussed it pretty much throughout our dinner.

When Tina and I went over to the Oriental bar, we figured we'd stay for a half hour or so, it was maybe 20:30 and there was only a handful of people in there drinking. We ended up there until 02:00, as the producer from the movie and some of his friends showed up to drink. We sat there and talked with them more about the movie, how they ended up in Xiamen, and all sorts of things. It turned out to be a good group of people from all over the world, really a fun night.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Short lived..

Next week our exams begin and I thought I need to relax a little before I have to endure hours of speaking and writing Chinese characters next week. Why I’m stressing about this is beyond me? I’m not finishing the course due to the length of time it takes to get this degree, and chances are that I will probably forget most of what I learned here since the opportunity of using China in North America will be slim.

So I decide that I deserve a well needed Chinese foot massage. This afternoon I met up with Edlin and we proceeded to have the famous Chinese foot massage to ease my tensions. As we posted earlier, the massage generally lasts 100 minutes and includes your back, legs and arms. I could feel every knot as my masseuse continuously kneaded every knot that I had in my back. Ouch it hurt, but this time we had a nice bottle of wine to help enhance our experience and take some of the pain away. Yes, Em, we did think of you.

After a relaxing massage, we proceeded to our little place around the corner to get a pedicure to top off our day. After chitchatting, one of the gals asked us a question in Chinese and this is where my dreams of becoming a Chinese interrupter come to an end. Okay, so I never really had that dream but…

I was explaining to the two young ladies that I was Xiamen University, learning Chinese. I said it maybe 4 or 5 times. They had no idea what the heck I was talking about. That’s odd I remark to Edlin, everyone including my teacher understands me. Edlin replies I understand you, but we couldn’t get the two gals to understand. I finally wrote down and they finally understood.

Here’s my issue at the moment. My teacher understands me, but the locals don’t and if I speak the way the locals do, than my teacher corrects me.

Now you know why I’m stressed.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

More Saturday night in Bangkok tales...

Yes, the nightlife in Bangkok is well known, and centered mainly around the sex industry. The night market that we were wandering through is jam packed with strip clubs and other venues, and you are constantly being approached by guys with little cards that list off a bunch of odd acts that you can see, and if you follow them you can have free entry into their club. Between the guys, girls, and ladyboys trying to direct you into a club you are also approached by guys that could be bums that will flash you a little card that only reads "CD - DVD - SEX" like those items are of equal value back in whatever alley they wander out of.

That makes for a fun night, and we opted to hit one of the open patio bars in the middle of all this and just watch the fun. I was thinking that we would be able to quickly spot the guys really looking, and then we could place bets on what type of venue he would enter. But, and I'm thinking our dinner had a part in this, I decided to become a cheapskate and found the 100 baht drinks at all the bars surrounding the market too expensive. So we left the market and started walking back towards the hotel.

That's when we found it, a tiny little food/drink stand on the corner of a fairly busy intersection. Drinks were much cheaper at only 60 baht, and the workers were really friendly. The talked and joked with us and then brought us over a connect four game to play....

Now that's a fun night out, and we still had our fair share of prostitutes and johns walking towards the market area for us to make fun of. Tina tired of the game quickly, but the staff was more then willing to show me how good they were, with the one girl boasting "you can play, but I never lose." She was right, and by nights end I walked out of there with an 0-20 record against the bar staff.

Finally Understood

After climbing Wat Arun, Mark and I headed towards the Grand Place to continue exploring Bangkok. Ah, but after the hike up those 90 degree steps, a rest was warranted before we continued our exploration of Bangkok. We stop at this little store/restaurant close to the Grand Palace.

We were enjoying our beers when we heard this young lady repeating the word,ma . Naturally curiosity took over and we looked over to see what she was trying to say to the two older women sitting next to her. They started to giggle and she explained that she was Chinese living in Thailand and teaching her mother and aunt some Thai words. I spoke to her in my limited Chinese and lo and behold they all understood me. Even Mark was impressed. Usually when I attempt to speak Chinese in Xiamen, they have this quizzical look on their face as to say, are you trying to speak Chinese or are you speaking English? I explained that I was going to Xiamen University, taking Chinese classes and finding the written language difficult.

Yup, I made new friends. Mom and aunt asked if they could get their picture with me before they continued sightseeing Bangkok. It's nice to know that if English fails when communicating, you can try to use Chinese and chances are someone will understand you.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

One day in Bangkok

Saturday in Bangkok, we wake up early so that we can get a full day touring and visiting the many Wats that are scattered throughout the city. We wander down from the hotel to the river and hop on their boat to take us up the river to some of the temples.

Looking across the river at Wat Arun

The first river boat drops us off just across from Wat Arun, and we then have to pay 3 baht each to get across the river, now that we know the proper conversion this is about 9 cents. From the distance Wat Arun looks like a big grey mass of concrete, when you get up close it is truly amazing in the amount of color and detail that it contains.

Closer view of the central praang

View of the Kinnari holding up the temple

Looking back across the river to the Grand Palace

Another view of Wat Arun

From there we take the boat back across the river so that we can tour the Grand Palace. When we walk up the palace appears to be closed. Huh. We presume that we walked up to the wrong entrance and proceed to walk around the outer wall taking time to look at some of the junk that the street vendors are selling. Junk being cassettes, members only jackets, Sony Walkman, and other items that I haven't seen since the 80's. It really didn't make any sense.
While wandering a guy approaches us and explains that the patch embroidered into his shirt means that he's a government employee and only here to help tourists. "That's OK, we are fine, we know where we are going." That didn't work, as he just kept talking and telling us how lucky we were to be there today, as there is a Wat further north that's hardly ever open but it is today.
"Palace closed now, closed until 2. Now you go to Wat Sam Phraya, is very lucky you are here today. Here, take this tuk tuk, I tell him where to go, he only charge you 20 baht. Don't pay him until he returns you here otherwise he will leave you. I only here to help, you no pay me."
Seriously it worked like that, he never shut up and just walked us over to a tuk tuk. We did listen to him though, and we didn't tip him anything.
Why not we figured, we've got all day. We get dropped off at a little temple somewhere in some neighborhood, and the driver points us to the entrance and says "I wait here for you."
Ok, another Wat, it's nice. Not decorated as extravagantly as some of the others we saw, but it's got a giant gold Buddha. When wandering around a man stops and starts talking to us, "You Buddhists? No? Then how you know about this place? You very lucky, should have come at 8 this morning when it was full, very special is this Buddha. I came with my new bride today from out of town, I came back now for more luck."
Ah, we think, it's a perfect sunny day and apparently we are super lucky in the weekend we chose to come. We are feeling good about that.
Our new friend then continues "Also you very lucky, this week only you can buy sapphires and all our gems without paying any tax. They will give you receipt of authenticity, very lucky They only sell like this one week a year to get people to come back to Thailand. I bought a big gem on my credit card and will sell it on my honeymoon in Australia. With sale my trip will be free and I can pay off my credit card, it is that good. You are very lucky to be here now, you can buy very big gems and make a lot of money."
We still haven't figured this scam out. The tuk tuk does take you to a gem shop and a tailor before taking you back, but he also explains that he gets a gas rebate if we just look in. We talked him down to only pay him 10 baht, so basically we got an hour tour to the city streets for 30 cents. Maybe if we knew gems we could tell you if there were good deals or not, but we just had this feeling that everyone in the city conspires to try and get tourists to part with as much money as they can. The whole thing seems shady, but it doesn't add up. What does the man at the temple get out of it? He must know the guide and tuk tuk driver along with the tailors and gem dealers. We did try to look up the one Wat on the internet and see when it is open, but we couldn't find anything. That and the embroidered shirts? A lot of people have them and you can buy them in almost every corner store.

But if was a fun little tour and we didn't buy anything, we got dropped off right outside the main gate to the Grand Palace, where we had been walking to a little more than an hour before.

What? Tourists? Inside the Grand Palace

More of the Grand Palace

Bad photo, all I got was Tina's forehead

Yaksha, these are at most of the entrances

The grand palace is amazing, and just over the top in the amount of detail that is on every temple, statue, and gateway. It was full of people which was a bit of a bother, we really have been lucky in that we hardly ever have to deal with other tourists, but this was worth seeing even with the crowds.

From there we went back to the hotel and inquired about someplace that we could sit outside and watch the sunset. He picked a restaurant for us but told Tina that she needed to put heels on and told me that I couldn't bring my camera bag. Ok, Tina in heels, that'll happen. We just figured that we would walk over and see anyway.

The restaurant was on the 9th floor of the State Building, they did have signs downstairs stating "No backpacks, No T-Shirts,..." and the such, but we had no problems getting in. The views and the sunset were perfect.

The view when we first got upstairs

The view as the sun set

We were a bit shocked from the wine prices, which we were calculating at $120 for a bottle we usually buy for a little over $20 in Chicago. An Aussie group next to us told us never to drink wine, too expensive, and to stick with the mixed drinks. Better, a gin & tonic only really set us back $16. The wine was actually only $75, again my bad conversion skills, but still expensive.
After we enjoyed the sunset we wandered over to the Padpong area which was the story we gave you yesterday....

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Thai Police

"No, you stay right here, I'm calling the police on you." he sternly instructed us, and then grabbed my arm to hold me there as Tina just shook her head in what can only be described as wonder and amazement.

Ah, the wonders that are a foreign country, their customs and their wacky antics. We think that he meant it to put some fear into us, but instead we laughed and later said "Well, I guess we know what story we lead in with on the blog." It's nice when the world can conspire to help us overcome this small bout of writers block that we felt we had run into.

This being somewhat detained and informed that the police were being called on us, that happened on Saturday night in the Patpong area of Bangkok. This is an area of streets that is packed full of street vendors selling fake merchandise, and nightclubs that cover the full range from sex shows to Irish pubs. We wandered through the stalls trying to barter with the different vendors, but they were out of their mind expensive, and were adamant that we were crazy in the prices that we were asking for.

Tina at one point was looking at a pair of Puma sneakers and we calculated that the lady was asking for almost $100 for them. That's crazy we tell her, we can get these for $80 in Chicago, and those are authentic. We offer $15 and then go up to $20, but she refuses to drop that low for us. We do this with numerous times with the vendors and finally just assume that they must get enough tourists to pay their high asking price, so we pass on the shopping and decide that we need to get something to eat.

We wander around a little more looking for a place to eat, check out a few menus and then finally decide to try this seafood restaurant. Quaint little restaurant with a nice menu, we have some trouble deciding what to eat but eventually figure on shrimp cocktail and crab cocktail appetizers and scallops and a crab salad for the main meal.

Apparently our first mistake was ordering seafood at the restaurant, as they didn't know how to prepare the appetizers. The shrimp were warm and limp, like they had been out all day and the crab meat was all dried up. We mentioned this and they took them back and microwaved them. Ok, that's unacceptable, forget the food we will finish our drinks and just leave. Oh, our food is done and you are sorry about the appetizers, ok we will try it. The scallops were alright, but Tina's crab salad is just more of the really dry crab meat.

One of the managers takes it back without a problem, but tells us "If you wanted fresh crab you need to order the live crab, this had been sitting out all day." Really? We noticed that, that's why we are sending it back.

The fun comes when we get the bill and all of our food is on there, the one manager had said "Sorry about that, no problem." which it now appears that the other manager interpreted as - yes, no problem as long as they pay for everything. We tell him to take the appetizers and Tina's meal off the bill and he leaves grumbling.

He comes back with a new bill, this time without the food we didn't eat, but now with a 40 baht charge for napkins. No, we aren't paying for napkins. You can't charge us for something that we didn't have an option of ordering. This is when he decides to state "You no pay? I call the cops, then you pay. I go call cops now."

"Yes," we tell him "call the cops, let them explain why we have to pay for napkins. Go, we will wait." That's where we were lying, as we didn't want to wait, and it became obvious that he wasn't going to call the cops as he just backed away and waited for us to pay the bill. So we decided that we would pay it, just we weren't going to add in the 10% service charge because it didn't make sense to pay for the rude service.

That's what set him off, he counted the money and just had this odd quizzical look on his face for a few seconds, then "No, this is not enough, you pay all or I call the cops." "We are not going to pay for no service, it was either service or the napkins and you want to be paid for the napkins. We have to go." That's when he grabbed my arm to hold me, but then let go when a new group came into the restaurant. No sense in letting them see an argument and then leaving, this is where I was actually surprised as it had seemed like he was angry and wanted to make a stand over this new charge for two napkins.

So, we left and laughed about it. What a nice dinner, part of me would have liked him to actually call the cops. It didn't really sink in for me that the napkins weren't on the first bill until later, that would have been a good rebuttal from us too. I think he though he was really getting us, but without his tip they actually lost more then had we paid the tip and not the 40 baht for the napkins.

Additional information tied to our Saturday night in the street markets -

When we left on Sunday, we learnt that our currency conversion numbers were wrong. I had been using 20baht/1$ when it is actually around 32baht/1$. We got the wrong conversion from the airline when you had to pay for drinks and they charged an inflated baht/yuan conversion, which we then butchered in adding it to our already slightly off yuan/$ math.

All those vendors that had insisted we were crazy were right, Tina actually talked the sneakers down to $12, and was only offering her $9 thinking that we were at $15. Our poor currency conversion skills probably saved us from spending around $40 on junk we don't really need.....

Friday, November 2, 2007

Another month already?

Yes, we've been in China just about a month since our last trip and now we need to leave our new home yet again. With Emily coming in for a week this month flew by even quicker than one would have expected. So, that said, tonight we are off to Thailand, Bangkok to be exact.

Once again I am relying on the expert travel planner that is Tina to plan a good trip, and I figure that since she's been here a couple of times she has the inside scoop on exactly what we need to see. Granted, she keeps telling me that it's been 16 years since she was there and there is a slight chance that things might have changed, but I'm looking forward to a good quick weekend of sightseeing and entertainment...

Being that this is a quick trip, we are not bringing our computer with us, so you'll all have to wait until we get back on Monday to see all of our photos. We will try and publish some quick stories, but that totally depends on if the hotel has a working internet connection.