Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bad Christian

Wow... I totally didn't realize it was Easter Sunday today. I guess thats what happens when you live in a communist country that is officially atheist.

Happy Easter to all, and thank you Christine for reminding me.

Oh, btw... I have a new phone number. 610-624-3135. It is a Philly number and will count as a local call for many of you, but instead of calling a phone it will call my computer and you can talk to me as long as I am signed on. If I am not on, please leave a voicemail. I can also call you back for really cheap! If I take a while to respond it is only because I am super busy right now and barely have time to do anything but work.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Guangzhou Fair

I am currently down in the CantonFair in Guangzhou, more correctly known as the China Commodities and Exports Show (or something like that). From what I understand, it is the world's largest trade show. I cannot begin to describe how immensely large it is, but when you consider that most of the the things that you can purchase on our planet are manufactured in China and that this is the main show for Chinese factories to find overseas clients, everyone in the manufacturing world seems to be at this show.

Andrew (my Chinese colleague) and I left Yantai on Wednesday afternoon to travel to Guangzhou, a good 2500 km away. We were dropped at the bus station, took a 4 hour bus to Qingdao, and met our travel agent at his office. After a while he took us to our hotel for the evening and said he would come by in the morning with out train tickets. Normally our train was supposed to leave at 9am, but a few days ago there was a train crash (actually the exact same train that we were supposed to take) that killed 30 people. In true commie fashion, the Chinese media only reported 2 people being killed in the accident, but as our company had some people on the train that could tell us the truth, we found out that actually 30 people had died. Needless to say I was a little nervous about taking the same train along the same track only a few days later, but I made it without derailing.

Anyway, after 35 hours of sitting on a train and being the local attraction for all of the Chinese passengers in my car, we finally arrived in Guangzhou at 1am (only 13 hours late). After waking my boss Max up at 2am (yes, I am sharing a room with the CEO), I unpacked my things, and went to bed. We woke up in the morning, had a quick breakfast, and went to the show. I spent the whole day walking around from vendor to vendor giving the same schpiel (sp?) and getting catalogues from people... I know it doesn't sound very interesting, but it really is pretty neat to see the huge variety of things that are produced in this country. You can buy anything from diaper making machines, to miniature motorcyles, to marble countertops, to citric acid, to forklifts, to hardwood floors, to traffic lights.

Anyway, I am sitting in my room now with the boss, having a conversation with him while I write this... which means I should probably go now because I think my responses to him are starting not to make sense.


Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Appearing on the Preston & Steve Show

Sweet... I made it onto WMMR's Preston & Steve Show. Last week I emailed the show telling them that I listen to the show over the internet at work. On the April 4th show Preston mentioned my email on the air and thanked me for listening from so far away. Since I was listening at work with headphones on, I suddenly shouted out, "Yes!" and then had to show the others in the office what I was listening to.


Raining bowling balls

I thought I would share a fun story about something that happened at work a few days ago. Our factory and offices are located approximately 200 yards away from the road. Between us and the road is a section of land with some very large boulders on it, maybe 15-20 feet tall each. This section of land is owned by the local government whom recently decided to remove these stones.

They decided to do this by blowing them up. (You gotta love the Chinese).

Well, the time came for the destruction and everyone in the office peered out of the windows in anticipation. And then it came... bam... bam!...Bam!....BAM!

It seems that the "demolitions experts" (and I use the term loosely) had SLIGHTLY over calculated the amount of explosive they would need for the job. We stood at the windows watching large, basketball sized rocks shoot 80, 90, 100 feet into the air. As we watched, we suddenly became aware that some of the smaller stones we were watching we getting closer and closer to us. Before you knew it, everyone was very quickly backing away from the windows with some people ducking behind furniture. Suddenly, baseball and football sized rocks started landing in our parking lot, hitting our roof, and breaking our windows. We were really that no one was outside at the time or someone could have gotten really hurt.

Still... it was GLORIOUS to see albeit a little scary.

Rest of my SE Asia Trip

I know I haven't posted much recently and I never finished posting about my SE Asia trip.  I guess I should do that.  Its just that lately I've been so busy with work, the last thing I want to do when I get home it to write a blog post.  So I've found a way around that... I will write it from work! (Don't worry, Max... I did it during lunch).  Max is my boss, btw.

Well, I guess I should go ahead and finish  talking about my SE Asia trip.  I forget what I already wrote, and I am to lazy to look back at my previous posts, so I will just go ahead and write what comes to mind.

After a wonderful time at home, my parents dropped me at the Trenton train station and I caught a train to NYC.  As I think I mentioned once before, the subway from Penn Station to JFK airport took me much longer than I thought it would and I missed my flight!  Fortunately, the wonderful people at Cathay Pacific arranged for me to fly the opposite direction around the world, make it to Hong Kong in time to catch my flight to Kuala Lumpur, AND upgrade me for the trans-Atlantic flight.  Harvey luck is awesome.  On top of which, the staff at the ticket counter felt sorry for me and fed me Valentine's Day cupcakes.  Yum!

So, I flew from New York to Kuala Lumpur via London and Hong Kong.  It only took 30 hours of flying!  And i thought the 15 hour flight when I first came to China was bad.  Anyway... I think I've said this before, so moving on.

Kuala Lumpur/Hat Yai/Krabi

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur and dropped my business luggage at one of those paid left-luggage areas.  Because it had my brand new briefcase and laptop, I was very nervous to leave my things behind, but there was no way I was going to haul a suitcase and briefcase through SE Asia.  I took the KLIA Express train into the city, bought a train ticket to Thailand, and spent a few hours walking around Kuala Lumpur.  I had always wanted to go there, but unfortuantely didn't have much time to see it.  The first thing that struck me when exiting the train station was the unbelievable humidity.  It felt like you were swimming through the air.  I suppose it didn't help that we had just had multiple feet of snow in the US before I left... not quite used to sub-tropical weather.

The sleeper cars on Malay trains weren't quite so nice as the ones in China, surprisingly.  I spent a good portion of the trip killing small cochroaches with the spine of my book.  The beds were smaller, and you had no place to put your bags other than on the bed itself.  If you had a massive hiking packpack like most of the backpackers on the train, then this didn't leave too much room for yourself.  Oh well.  Lights out and I went to sleep.

The next morning, we arrived at the Malay/Thai border.  As we were waiting to get off of the train, I started up a conversation with a Canadian couple whom I became quite close with.  When we got off the train, many people left their things on board, but I though better about this and decided to take my pack with me.  Then, as we stood on the platform waiting to go through customs, the train pulled away and seeming left! Half of the people on the train were panicking because their stuff was still on board.  Luckily for them, when we got through customs, the train had merely pulled around to the other side.  Still glad I brought mine with me though.  Many people found later that they were missing cell phones/camera/etc.

We finally arrived in Hat Yai, Thailand.  It seemed quite a bustling city, but merely just a lauching pad for backpackers to other parts of Thailand.  The Canadian couple (Andrew and Jenn) and a British couple (Sarah and Greg) and I got a tuk-tuk (like a little taxi where you sit in the back on a bench) to the bus station.  We got our tickets, sat and had a beer or three, and got to know each other a little better.  Andrew and Jenn were from Vancouver and were traveling together for a few weeks.  Andrew works in the Canadian film industry as a camera operator which allows him to take long trips between jobs.  He had recently been traveling around Japan and Jenn came out to Malaysia to meet him.  Sarah and Greg were nearing the end of a year long trip around the world.  I was really glad to have some people my age to talk to on the trip, and we were all heading for Ko Phi Phi so I knew we would have a fun week or so together.

We took a 5 hour bus to Krabi and I made the mistake of sitting in a window seat.  The Thai sun was beating down on the the whole trip and by the time we got to Krabi I felt like I was in an oven.  We disembarked and wandered around the town looking for a place to stay, finally settling on a more expensive, but air-conditioned, hostel.  The five of us then went out looking for dinner and I had my first authentic Thai food in Thailand.  Of course I had to try Pad Thai as it is one of Thai cuisine’s most famous dishes, but I also had some spicy lemongrass soup that was fantastic.

Ko Phi Phi

We checked out of our respective rooms the next day and took a short bus ride to the ferry terminal. The boat was packed full of college-aged backpackers, mostly from Sweden it seemed. After an hour and a half, we pulled into Ton Sai, the small port on Ko Phi Phi. The five of us had already decided that we didn’t want to stay in town because of the loud, constant party atmosphere. Instead we opted to take a longtail boat around the island to Rantee Beach where we had heard there was a beautiful private beach, secluded from all of the noise (and drunken mayhem) of town. We negotiated the taxi fee and in 20 minutes were stepping foot onto the most beautiful private beach I could have asked for.

Over the next 8 days or so (I was on Thai-time… that is how the locals operate… time ceases to really matter and you loose track of it almost entirely. Things cannot be rushed in Thailand, because you are operating on their time schedule. I think this is true mostly on the islands) I spent my days lounging on the beach, trying to decide which of the two restaurants to eat my meals in. I was faced with tough decisions such as, “Should I go snorkeling in the crystal clear waters, have a tropical fruity drunk under that palm tree over there, or read a book in the hammock on my beachfront cabin?” Really, a tough life.

The second day we were there, Andrew and I decided to make the hike into town. An alternative to the longtail boat, there was a trail that went up and over the ridge separating the two sides of the island. I use the word “trail” loosely. Yes, it was a trail that cut through dense jungle, but at times it was more like a vertical wall. Using your hands to hold onto trees was common and at times we had to mark our trail because we weren’t sure which was it went. I saw plenty of reptiles including skinks (like I used to have in college) and we could hear monkeys around us, but could not see them. At the top of the ridge there is a trail that goes to a lookout. It was hard work getting there, but the view from the top was incredible. I’ve never been on an island that you could see all sides of before,… it was spectacular. After resting at the top for a while, I was down the mountain to town.

The town of Ton Sai was awful. Suddenly we were not on a remote, tropical paradise, but in the middle of a giant fraternity party. Yes, I know that may sound strange coming from me… and goodness knows I’ve done my fair share of partying, but I did not come to this tropical paradise to revert back to college and drink my face off. Well, apparently everyone else in the world did. There were bars everywhere, advertising fire dancing, Thai boxing, etc. The shear number of backpackers was daunting, especially when there were only about 10 people on our whole side of the island. Don’t get me wrong…. We decided it would be a blast to come into town for one night, but it certainly wouldn’t have been a nice place to stay. The rhythmic thumping of the disco beats alone would keep you awake all night long. Although, I guess that is the point…

Andrew and I took advantage of the shopping in town and picked up some necessities (sunscreen, etc). When you have the complexion of a pair of Hanes cotton briefs like I do, it is amazing how much sunscreen you go through. I also found a dive shop that could do my PADI Open Water scuba diving course, although it meant that I would have to be in town every morning by 8am. Since the boats weren’t running at that time, it meant a tough hike bright and early every morning. Still, I wanted to learn how to scuba and I figured that one of the best dive locations in the world might be a good place to start, so I signed up and gave them my deposit money.

With the exception of the scuba diving (and one night out which I’ll tell you about later) the rest of my time on Ko Phi Phi was pretty uneventful. Each morning I would wake up, have my banana pancakes at one of the beach restaurants, hike into town, and spend the first half of the day diving. Afterwards, I would check my email somewhere, take a boat back to our private beach and my afternoons were spent relaxing in paradise. I couldn’t imagine a better place to relax than Rantee Beach and I fully intend to go back someday.

In the middle of the week Sarah and Greg moved over to the town because there was some cheaper accommodation there. I never really got to say bye to them. When it finally came time for Andrew and Jenn to leave, I was really sad because I had become quite good friends with them. The three of us spent most of our time together and I really enjoyed their company. They invited me to visit them in Vancouver one day and I am sure I will. So, my last few days on the island were spent by myself.

What not to do when Scuba diving

I signed up for the PADI course at a shop called Viking Divers, and sure enough it was owned and operated by a group of Norwegians.  I was enrolled in a course with a British guy named Matt.  Matt was in the Royal Army and had been sent down to Ko Phi Phi to become a certified Divemaster.  He had never been scuba diving before and was enrolling in a month-long course to obtain the highest cert in PADI.  Not a bad work assignment.  I got along with him as best as I could, but he was a stereotypical army meathead… the kind of guy that goes out looking for a fight just because.  I HATE people like that.

The first day was three hours of classroom lectures and videos.  Overall, very dull.  The only godsend was that it was in an air-conditioned office.  Afterwards we went over to the beach for our basics instruction.  This was were we first got to don our scuba equipment and go through fun drills like having the instructor shut off your air underwater and practice sharing your buddy’s air supply.  Not nearly as hard as it sounds, and the only part I really didn’t like was having to take of your mask and swim around without it on before putting it back on and clearing it.  Ok, so… Day 1 not bad at all.  As we left the office that day the owner strongly advised us not to go out drinking that evening as, “it will make tomorrow miserable for you.  I’m serious, not even a few.”

I am sure you can see where this is going.

Andrew and Jenn met me in town that night for dinner at an all-you-can-eat sushi place and after we walked around for a while we found that we were stuck in Ton Sai because the waves were too big to allow the longtails to make the trip around the island.  I was of the opinion that making the trek through the jungle in the dark would be suicide, so while Andrew and Jenn took off across the ridge, I went and found myself a second hostel for the night.  Afterall, I had to be back in town at 8am the next day, so it would save me the hike in the morning.  So… here I am stuck in a party town, with an entire evening to kill, surrounded by bars and disco, and nothing else to do.  Yes I had a couple.  I had made the decision to have two drinks for the evening.  Not much, just enough to lubricate the senses and have fun for the evening.  I failed to take into account the effect that a Thai bucket has on you (read: erases the “sense” from the term “common sense”) and before I knew it I had had a few more than two.  I partied in an Irish bar with some Swedes, saw a Thai kickboxing match (quick side note… ultimate fighting has NOTHING on these guys) with some Australians, and played a few rounds of pool with some Thai tattoo artists.  I eventually ended up in a bar that was giving away free buckets at 2am so I had another one of those.  I would like to point out the obvious to the people reading this post right now…


I woke up in my room the next morning 20 minutes after the boat had left for the dive site.  I ran to the shop, with my head throbbing and with tounge-in-cheek told the owner that I had just hiked up over the hill.  He knew that I knew that he knew I was full of it, but he smiled, called a longtail boat for me to get to the dive site, and wished me a “fun dive”.  If only I had known what that had meant.  The owner must have know the torture I was in for… and I deserved every second of it.

When you dive underwater, every 10 meters is an additional atmosphere of pressure on your head.  The small pockets of air in your ears and sinuses change size as this occurs and you have to equalize the pressure by blowing your nose while pinching it shut.  Normally a very easy thing to do.  Now imagine doing this with a hangover.  I don’t think I have every sworn off alcohol more in my life.  Between our two dives for the day, I went into the head on the boat and puked my guts out.  I hadn’t felt sick underwater, but once on the boat for our lunch, the motion of the waves quickly turned me green.  Afterwards I felt better, but on my second dive the acidity from my being sick and the dry air from the air tank cause my lungs to feel as if they were on fire.  Really extremely unpleasant.  To top all of this off, when we got back on the boat I dropped my camera on my toe, thus breaking it.  And as if the day hadn’t been terrible enough (I know, my own fault) when I got back to the beach I found that someone had stolen all of my money from my wallet when I was underwater.  That day was awful.  Oh, and when I was on the boat back to my beach, I lost my hat, one sandal, and my new polo shirt over the side.  I was being punished for my shear stupidity.

Thankfully, the next day of diving was the exact opposite experience.  They gave me fewer weights on my weight belt so I wasn’t constantly sinking like I was the day before.  I wasn’t sick, I was able to control my breathing and hence my buoyancy.  The two days couldn’t have been in greater contrast to each other.  After those two dives I was a qualified PADI diver and I can now dive anywhere in the world within my qualification.  I have been snorkeling before, but this is SOOOOOO much better than that.  You get to float through the world like a weightless astronaut and see so many things you can’t see by just snorkeling.  I was so happy I had done it.  

Also, lesson learned… Listen to Norwegian guys named Sven. They know what they are talking about.


I left Ko Phi Phi and took the boat to Phuket. Despite all of the destruction that Phuket and Ko Phi Phi received from the tsunami, it was not very apparent. The Thai people have done an amazing job rebuilding. Anyway, I went to Phuket airport, and after a few nail-biting hours of standby was able to get a flight to Bangkok.

I spent three days in Bangkok visiting my cousin Alistair, whom I had never met. I felt a little awkward and nervous waiting in the train station where I was to meet him. I had basically contacted him and said, “Hi, I’m your second cousin once removed. I know you haven’t seen my father since you were 7 years old, but can I stay at your place?” Alistair and his Thai wife Hassanna were kind enough to let me sleep in their living room and show me around Bangkok. We went to a crocodile farm, they showed me Kho San Rd (the main backpacker area) and took me to Hassanna’s mother’s birthday dinner. They were incredibly hospitable and I can’t thank them enough for how kind they were to me. On the third day, Alistair and I took a train to Ayutthaya, the ancient traditional capital of Thailand and visited the ruins there of the ancient city dating back to the 12th century. I have some amazing photos from both Bangkok and Ayutthaya. I still can’t believe I was there. Alistair drove me to the airport the next day and I flew to Kuala Lumpur, picked up my luggage which I had left a few weeks before, and then flew to Bali to find the Bamboo Lady.