Some more travellers tales

Friday, Nov 28, 2008 at 18:32

takenbyaliens (Life Member)

The old bump and grind………

is the only way to describe not only the Friday flight from Delhi to Kuala Lumpur but also the Monday flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. As both these were midnighters, not much sleep was had by many…I suspect those that got any had bombed themselves out! I tossed and turned, wondering how the Chief Minister of the Delhi Government can survive with a name like Shiela Dik bleep ( I have the photo from the newspaper folks as evidence! )…yes, well…the mysteries of Indian politics again.

Sandwiched in the three days between these flights was an inbound/outbound Singapore trip on Monday,,,destination Singapore Sports School. Words fail to adequately describe this school. Its role is to develop sport in Singapore…to do this the Government has spent $75M ( and still spending ) to provide among other things:

• Eight track synthetic 400m
• Indoor netball/badmington stadium
• Outdoor netball courts
• Fully lit, synthetic grass soccer pitch built to World Cup Quarter Final standard
• 2x50m state of the art undercover Olympic pools ( to be used by Team USA for 6 weeks pre Beijing 2008 )
• Undercover 3 lane 200m straight running track
• Badmington training hall of 20 courts
• Competition Table tennis hall of 32 tables
• Sports science institute staffed by bio-mechanist, physiotherapist, nutritionist, sports trainer, doctor
• 90 m long strength/power gymnasium including a 30m plyometric track
• 90m long endurance gymnasium
• fleet of sailing boats
• 600 bed student hostel with ensuite per two rooms
• 24 ensuited staff units
• four meals a day plus snacks on demand
• approximately 20 small group conference/meeting rooms equipped with digital projectors etc
• numerous classrooms similarly equipped
• great spacious staffrooms with meeting rooms/kitchens
• expert foreign coaches
• recognized excellent teachers

Still to come this year:

• 12 lane indoor bowling alley
• Jacuzzi/spa recovery complex of around 10 units

The school currently has an enrolment of 250 and will max out at 600. Last year they had 1200 applications for 150 places. Those selected are the cream of the crop.


Tuesday …Beijing…0630…2C…tired. Crash for three hours of restless sleep. I have a dinner meeting so make a booking the restaurant in the hotel. Somehow, somewhere in the dinner I get the dreaded capsicum. Tuesday night is very ugly! My reaction gets worse each time and even the medication I now have to take struggles. I have a meeting at 1000 but know I cannot contemplate a ¾ hour taxi ride and the possibility of having to use the Chinese squat toilets! Graciously my Chinese friends understand so they come to me….and after three hours we go to lunch. It is absolutely no use arguing…to refuse outright would cause insult so there is nothing for it…I just have to make sure I eat relatively bland food and some rice.

There are many different Chinese cuisines. The most common I guess are Cantonese and Sichuan. However every region has some distinctive dishes or style of cooking. Today we were going Hangzhou. I passed on the donkey meat, smoked duck head in sauce, snakehead fillet ( actually a fish ) and settled for shrimp in tea ( very fresh, simple and unadorned ), chicken and chestnut, sliced pork and green beans. The other three shared these and added sizzling whole weaver fish in tomato sauce, marinated pork and preserved vegetable and mushrooms ( Chairman Mao’s favourite dish and from the hometown of one of those having lunch ), steamed whole young bamboo shoot cut into 6 inch long pieces ( with a free set of gloves as this is very messy dish…had some, quite tasty ), pork soup and steamed rice. If you have not already guessed it, food is very important in China. Menus are incredibly extensive offering sometimes hundreds of dishes. Selection is a consultative process between not only those sharing the food but those preparing it. Elements can be added or subtracted from the meals, yet expanding the offering even more.

Thursday is to be extremely important. After 385 days and nearly as many hours we get final agreement on contract terms with our Chinese partner school. We now need to move forward and deliver the program. They have have just completed yet another building. This one will house staff and foreign, mainly South Korean, students.

By now the wind had picked up considerably…westerly blowing off the vast ( and cold ) inland. Coming back from the school late in the afternoon it got colder and by the time that I was picked up for dinner that night, it was very bitter indeed….today ( Friday ) I bought some gloves! I have just returned home from a celebratory banquet hosted by the school at the Friendship Hotel…perhaps Beijing’s most famous. After some deliberation between the Bacui personnel I have been given a Chinese name – Xiaodi – which means ‘little brother’ and assured of a warm welcome at any time.

As I continue this I am now on my way home…the 13th flight of this trip…some 32 days away from my family living out of a suitcase in hotel rooms. The result of the aforementioned banquet was calamitous…violently ill and no sleep. This was difficult as I had to leave for the airport at 0630 for a flight to Dalian ( a city north of North Korea on the Chinese coast ). An 0200 antibiotic/immodium bomb had to be supplemented by further imodium at 0300 and 0400 to enable me to get on the plane. More antibiotics at 1200 after I landed. .. needless to say I spent Saturday afternoon catching up on some sleep. This is the third bout in a very short time and the body is reeling. Sunday was committed to preparation for a meeting with City officials on Monday morning and then it was back to Beijing late Monday afternoon. Out of Beijing early Tuesday morning to Kuala Lumpur and then the second 0500 wake up in a row to do this last flight.

In the five months since I was last in Beijing, some 450000 new cars have taken to the streets…there is no error there…3000 new cars per day get added to the Beijing traffic. Across China in the same five months the total is well over 1.25 million new vehicles…the expectation is for 3 million plus this year. However, still only one in four families owns a car…I hate to think what the traffic jams will be like come 2008! Many drivers are poorly taught…it is not surprising that road deaths in China last year were 107000…a touch under 300 per day.

Many people still ride bicycles or derivatives…small motor powered ones, tricycles etc. Dominoes deliver their pizzas via bicycles…I would think that otherwise no one would get a warm one!

Beijing is working hard to be ready for the 2008 Olympics. It is bare and leafless now in winter but come May the City will again be green. Whole forests have appeared since last I was here. The residents say it is much better in the City…less pollution etc. Well, it is still far worse than you or I would be prepared to accept in Brisbane but I guess I have to confess it is slightly better. Of course, the flurry of construction at thousands of sites across the city as areas are renewed, add to the problem. On the outskirts even more buildings consume land once farmed….200000 hectares will go under new suburbs/factories putting 2.5-3 million farmers off the land and into the cities…the great urbanization of China is underway. The economy is booming at 9% growth although a ‘slow down’ to 8% is predicted for the next few years but this only adds to the fire of urbanization as rural incomes fall further behind those in the cities. Where this will end up no one is sure….but it can’t go on forever.

That’s all…until next time….


Hello from the closet…more tales from the tarmac

7 October
Well hello from the closet…..otherwise known as Room 123 Pembridge Palace Hotel, Bayswater, London. Firstly one needs to address the name issue… “Palace” is a slight exaggeration, actually a big exaggeration. It occupies an old Georgian building that has been converted into a hotel. There must have been some sort of challenge to see how many rooms can be fitted into a small space. I am sure that some of those ‘rat in the maze’ experiments were carried out here. It is as basic a hotel as I have ever stayed in but as the saying goes, what you pay for is what you get!

Upon check in one discovers that it is an all Russian affair. Now I have nothing against Russians…it is just that they bring a unique style of social interaction with their clients which is characterized by gruffness ( should I say rudeness?? ) and this is as you arrive!!!
The welcome lecture of what is allowed and at what times these things happen is followed by the admonishment that entry to rooms can only take place after 1300 so bags must be left in the foyer…which explains the six foot tower of bags sitting just behind me!

And so to the room….you soon learn how to maneuver yourself around…going into the broom cupboard that has been converted into a bathroom/toilet requires one to either go in sideways or backwards…a full turn around is out of the question. In attempting to get jeans on I actually managed to tuck the shower curtain into them…now that is a first for me.

Further evidence that the Russians had been doing the rat experiments came when the ‘clean’ towels smelt like….you guessed it…the aftermath of a rat party!

Breakfast is a real hoot…Chaos Theory exemplified. It is a B&B hotel….so about the breakfast. The room seats about 50 and is in the old ‘downstairs’…the basement. It is just that there is about twice as many guests as chairs and of course everyone wants to eat at the same time. I’ll let you figure out how long the line is at the ONLY toaster. The Russkies do a good spread too…hard boiled eggs, sliced soap posing as cheese, bread and cereal. Tea and coffee comes as well but only in stained, cracked or chipped cups…probably from a seconds sale. So all in all it’s sort of like musical chairs with food…or another version of Russian roulette??

12 October
It’s about a week later. Yesterday I drove 4 hours from Belfast to Dublin in heavy rain having an appointment with a travel agent on arrival, a school presentation in the afternoon and a coaches meeting at night. ( The only joy in the day was to get a free upgrade from a manual Ford Focus to a brand new Audi A4 diesel…I want one! ). Now and I am on my way Dublin>London> Los Angeles>Kuala Lumpur>Beijing… a sweet little trip beginning on Wednesday morning and ending on Saturday afternoon with just one break in KL. I’m on a Virgin Atlantic flight to LA so it’s full of Americans. Harvey and Lynn are sitting behind me. Harvey has so far wrecked the monitor locking mechanism and declined moving ( I think unfortunately ! ).

Of course all roads have led to here….South Africa again provided me with the opportunity to drive a few thousand kilometers as I trekked between Durban and Swaziland ( 600klms in a day ), then repeat the dose up to Thulamahase in Limpopo Province ( remember that old saying about being ‘up the Limpopo’ ), another 500klm day across to Johannesburg and then up and back to Pretoria. ( Lynn’s monitor is too bright…now here’s a problem! ). Add the k’s around Capetown and Jo’burg ( including one memorable day when I ‘detoured’ into downtown Jo’burg… jeez I wish my wife could read a map!!!…I just kept driving as there was no way I was going to stop there ) plus the numerous meetings and presentations during the day and evening and you have one tired little black duck! ( “How do you get the table down?” asks Harvey. “ There must be a button” says Lynn )

Also memorable was my little car chase…..now the border area of Mpumalanga Province near Swaziland is well known for car hijackings, a lot of which are perpetrated by bogus policemen. ( “Miss, my table doesn’t work,” says Harvey….”oh, that’s how it works…..Isn’t that clever Lynn. Can you work yours?” ). The drill is they chase and pull you over and then rob you and take your car. Coming out of the border checkpoint back into South Africa I noticed, sitting on the side of the road, a ute ( in SA a bakkie ) with three policemen in it. As I passed it turned to follow me alarm bells began clanging in my head. Were these real cops or were they hijackers??? ( “ Have you got your chicken yet Harvey?” ) This part of the world is isolated…paper company pine trees for miles…no habitation…next town 30klms. ( “What did you get? Oh..the steak.” says Harvey…”Have a taste Harvey” ) I never knew that a 2WD Nissan X Trail could do 170kph but I do now….the little jump I got on them over the first hill was enough to get a bit ahead and with the foot to the floor…the heart certainly did beat faster though for some time. It does exemplify however the continual need for vigilance and care for personal security in South Africa. ( “ Harvey, my monitor’s still bright” ..”Well, what do you want me to do Lynn??...OK..OK…I’ll turn mine off too..I can’t stand this…Miss, can the monitor brightness be adjusted?.....No huh. ).

The UK has also provided valuable driving experience! What seems a short distance on the map ( and in actual distance is ) can in fact take much longer than expected. Once off the motorways speed averages drop quickly. ‘A’ roads are slightly faster than ‘B’ roads but by Australian standards both are slow due to the close villages with reduced speed limits and to agricultural machinery ( or cows, sheep etc ) on the roads. Traveling from Glasgow to North Wales in a day is seen as some sort of miraculous feat ( mind you it did take 7 hours ) by a people who are not used to the long distances as we are. ( “Well Lynn I just can’t do anything for you…how am I supposed to know about monitors? “ “ Well you’re a goddamn know it all about everything else.”…I sense things are rocky for Harvey and Lynn. )

Still 12 October
Won’t this day ever end??? Woke up at 0500 GMT, take off in Dublin at 1100 GMT. I have been on the go for 23 hours and it’s still only 2100PT in LA…4 more hours until I get on the plane for the 13 ¾ hr flight to Taipei, 1 ¼ hrs on the ground then 3 ¾ hrs through to Kuala Lumpur. By the time I get there I will have been moving for around 46 hours.


14 October
Finally a new day!! In fact 13th didn’t happen for me as we crossed the dateline. I am back on a plane again heading for Beijing. I managed just three hours sleep last night in Kuala Lumpur as my body kept flying…ever had that experience??? Travel in a car all day and if you get straight into bed your body is still in the car…the feeling is the same but worse with extended flying hours. By the time I hit the bed tonight I will have been moving for close on 80 hrs, landed in three different time zones, flown through heaven knows how many and had 10 airline meals ( sometimes a challenge in itself ).

15 October
bleep tered! Absolutely and unbelievably! I managed another three hours of hallucinogenic and restless sleep last night and have just woken up from a one hour Kindy Kip ( Nana Nap…call it what you will ). I woke up absolutely panic stricken…I did not know where I was or what I was doing wherever I was….only the sight of my bag made me realize I must still be ‘on the road’. I don’t think I have ever been so tired.

24 October
What a week! I am all ‘meetinged’ out. It wasn’t until about the end of Tuesday that I began to feel human again. In my zombie state on Monday I managed to flood the bathroom…doesn’t water spread along way??…and a real lot of water spreads a real long way even in China! Yesterday ( Sunday ) was also a work day with a parent presentation to parents who are interested in enrolling their child in the English Language course. Today I will finalise the attendance of our first Chinese soccer team at the Tournament in 2006 and tomorrow is my last day before I head home after weeks on the road. It will end with a banquet…I just hope it does not go too late as I have an early morning flight…however as a ‘special guest’ I guess I cannot use the old ‘I need to go to the washroom’ disappearing trick.

One thing is for sure in China….one is never alone!! Far from it ! On Friday afternoon I was taken to the Fragrant Hills on the outskirts of Beijing. An hour walk up a hill on a path busier than Queen Street Mall saw us at the top…along with many, many thousand Chinese. I was told that there were only about 35000 visiting the mountain today and that the next day, Saturday, would see the school students join 90000 ( yes 90000 ! ) on the climb to the top. Big day that one….the autumn colours touching the maples is significant so many people go there. Walking the streets at night coming back to the hotel after dinner is also an experience. Apart from the fact that the sidewalks are packed, much street stall activity goes on until late into the evening. Food vendors selling e-coli on a stick or Beijing belly burgers abound…yep people actually eat and live to tell the tale…but then they also live here and drink the water too! ( even the water in the Crowne Plaza is not potable and everything has to be done with bottled water…and you don’t open your mouth in the shower either! This aspect does become a nuisance after a while. ) A lot of the street stalls are run by Tibetans…they seem to run this aspect of the black economy. And black it is too….I have seen or been offered tiger and leopard skins ( some fake by the way but others certainly genuine ), bear paws, skulls and horns of every description and sundry body parts ( internal and external ) of numerous animals guaranteed to cure everything suffered by humans.

And finally…a word about Chinese car names. How would you like an SY6480A1BG-ME or would you prefer the E model? Or a TJ 7100 or maybe the TJ 7104 model is more to you liking? Personally I like the CA 7200E3…much more stylish, larger and available in…well, black actually. Some creativity needed here I think……
According to modern astronomers, space is finite..a very comforting thought particularly for people who can never remember where they left things
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