Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Omarama, New Zealand

On the South Island, on the road between Lake Tekapo and Wanaka, lies the small town of Omarama. The name means "Place of Lights," and it is aptly named. The sun plays games in the sky over the mountains there that casts the heavens in colors that will take the breath away. And the longer you stand watching, the more amazing the game becomes. The lights are always shifting, choosing new angles from which to shine through the clouds, lighting the mountaintops differently minute by minute.


I spent about an hour standing in the fields watching the sunbeams in their dance high over my head. Time flew by too quickly... I think I could have watched for another hour easily. The surrounding countryside was already beautiful, with the snow still resting atop the mountains. But the real beauty was in the sky that day.




And that night too. When it got dark, we bundled up and went out star-gazing. My then 3-year-old godson asked a question. "Why does New Zealand have so many stars, and Singapore has none?" We explained to him about how the lights of the city in Singapore make the stars invisible to us. I don't know if he understood or not, but he still remembers the stars in that place of lights. Once in a while, on a clear night, we'll see a few stars even from our city view here. My godson always points them out, but never fails to follow his cry of "so many stars!" with the pointed observation, "but not as many as New Zealand. New Zealand has lots of stars."


Day or night, Omarama, small town though it be, has a never-ending light show. This one isn't manipulated by lasers and such things, like you might see at some city-slicker's light show. This is all natural, and it is awe-inspiring.

To read more about my stay in Omarama, read my review here



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Sunday, February 25, 2007

Chingay

Chingay is an annual parade that takes place during Chinese New Year in Singapore. The word "Chingay" was used as early as the 19th Century for various processions around the region of Southeast Asia that focused on the welcoming of Spring (Chinese New Year is also called The Spring Festival). It appears that Chingay parades were born in Penang, Malaysia, and spread throughout the region.

Singapore's annual parade is now held on Orchard Road during the Chinese New Year. During the 1970's and early 80's, when Chingay became a regular affair, the parade used to tour the residential neighborhoods. The parade was made an annual event in 1973 when firecrackers were banned during New Year celebrations (and any other time) in Singapore. Many Singaporeans grumbled about the institution of the ban, saying that it would dampen the Chinese New Year atmosphere. The government then began hosting Chingay, in an effort to keep the spirit of New Year lively and exciting.

Each year, the parade is a huge event. Acrobats, lion dancers, pugilists, and all sorts of performers and entertainers make their way down Orchard Road. Chingay is the only day of the year that Orchard Road will be closed to traffic, and the atmosphere on that day can be a real thrill to any who go and partake in the celebrations.

You can view photos of Chingay at their website.


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Friday, February 23, 2007

Keeping the Lines of Communication Open

I've been living overseas, away from my family, for a very long time now... just over 14 years. I live on the other side of the world from them, and only travel home (is it still called home after this long away?) once every 2 years.

When I first moved overseas, my family and I were not online users at all. We kept in touch the old fashioned way... letters, aerograms, and phone calls when we could afford it. A lot has changed now. We manage, these days, to keep in touch every day. And we do it using VOIP (voice over internet phone). We've been using it for about a year now, and we all love the way it works. Wherever I travel to, and I travel often, this technology has been great for keeping me in touch with loved ones back home.

Cisco has a lot of great products available that make this sort of communication easier, all used over secure networking connections. It has been wonderful for my family and I to keep in touch, and has made working with my counterparts overseas easier than I ever imagined it could be. It's great now, when I need to be in touch with the home office, that I can set up conference calls or Video Conferencing.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Tomorrow Square



Tomorrow Square in Shanghai, China, houses the J W W Westin hotel. It is situated on the west side of People's Square, and towers high above all the buildings around it.

The hotel begins way up on the higher floors of the huge tower. Its lobby overlooks People's Square, offering a view across the river of Pudong.

Tomorrow Square is an odd building. It appears, from certain angles, to be narrower at the bottom than at the top. From other angles, it appears narrower at the top than the bottom. This is achieved by a skewing of the rectangluar shaped building about 2/3 of the way up to the top, exactly where the hotel's lobby sits.

I am not sure whether I think the building beautiful or not. I have a hard time deciding quite what to think, though it's a question I've asked myself before. It is, however, an interesting building. It makes me think, and it grabs my attention. And it is definitely something worth looking at and visiting. And of course, the quality of the hotel and its service is nothing short of stellar.



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Monday, February 19, 2007

The Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC

The Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC is probably the first place I remember feeling a sense of awe. I was 5 the first time I visited the Lincoln Memorial, and the signs instructing guests to be quiet, the lighting in the hall, and the heavy feeling of history hung closely about, making me feel an awe of something I couldn't quite put a finger on.

I've been back to the Lincoln Memorial a number of times since then. It's generally held for me that same sense of quiet mystery. It is a melancholy place for me, for reasons that I can't quite explain. Perhaps my favorite visit to the Lincoln Memorial was when I went alone one afternoon a few years ago. It was a cold winter afternoon, with bright sunny weather. It was a perfect spot just to sit and think, and to soak up the quiet.

It's especially lovely to sit on the steps of the memorial in early evening, looking across the manmade pond to the Washington Monument. The serenity of that spot, right in the middle of downtown, is hard to beat.



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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Staying In Touch on the Road

A friend of mine in Shanghai likes to tell me that "a smart rabbit always has three holes." She says that referring to the fact that I more or less have 3 homes, one in Singapore, one in China, and one in the US. I guess that makes me a smart rabbit.

Keeping in touch all the time with all 3 homes can be a bit of a juggling act, though. For the most part, I manage by using a very good roaming service with my cell phone plan, but when I had to give up trying to keep my favorite of all the cell phones I've ever owned working, I had a little bit of a difficult time finding the exact phone I wanted to use that would offer me the features I want while still keeping it low-tech. The most difficult was getting all the right roaming features.

I finally replaced the old Sony Ericsson Z200 with a Z300, but it didn't roam the way I needed. Most of the other new cell phones that I see have more features than I want, getting too high tech. I have been going back and forth between one phone and another, always just short of satisfied with the service they offer, for about a year now. I miss my Z200. It was the perfect companion for traveling between my 3 homes. I just came across some information on the W300i that looks like it may be the phone I should try out to replace the old model.

At any rate, I've managed to keep in touch in my travels, though not always as smoothly or easily as I would've liked. Having a good roaming plan is the most important thing. But making good use of prepaid plans is also important. I am able to keep a separate number in each of my 3 homes this way, while still managing to stay in touch via my main line with the other 2 homes, wherever I happen to be at the moment. Many other travelers ask me about how best to stay in touch on the road, and I always recommend a combination of a good roaming service and a wise use of prepaid plans.

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The Yu Hua Tai Martyr's Museum, Nanjing, China

Nanjing is a city with a long, sad history. It has seen more bloodbaths than any city should.

Serving at one time as the capitol of China, Nanjing was seen as a strategic site which a party could not easily afford to lose. In the previous century, it passed hands several times when the Communist Party, the Nationalist Party, and the Japanese were all vying for power.

Nanjing is probably most well-known for the massacres that occurred there at the hands of the Japanese, commonly known as either The Rape of Nanjing or The Nanjing Massacre. In the city today, the place that tourist cannot miss visiting is the Yu Hua Tai Martyr's Museum. It is a sad place to visit, unusually quiet for a tourist attraction in China. I couldn't help but feel both sad and puzzled, though, over the level of propaganda present in the museum, and not least because many of my friends who had formerly visited the place seemed so ready to swallow the representation whole.

Because, when you get down to the numbers, more Chinese were killed in Nanjing by other Chinese than were ever killed by the Japanese. That is truly sad. The whole horrific history of the place is sobering, and the museum is one of those places worth a visit, even if it is nauseating too.


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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Gondola Ride

A gondola ride through the canals of Venice. It is every bit as romantic as it sounds, as the mind imagines. The boatman's voice ringing out over the waters, singing his tunes of romance, is something to be rememebered.

Italy is a place that captures my imagination like few others can. It is somewhere I would love to settle for a period of time, and soak up the atmosphere and history there. Italian properties are a hot commodity at the moment, making my dream of living in the land of romance all the more attractive.

Who knows... maybe one day.

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(Perhaps the funds earned will be put towards a property in Italy!)


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The Animal Safari, Bogor, Indonesia

Many years ago, I went to Bogor, Indonesia, for a conference. It was a great conference, and I loved the quiet jungle setting where we were hosted.

On afternoon, the organizers planned a tour to the Animal Safari in the surrounding areas. At the "safari," it was set up so that you could walk in quite close to the animals and even have your picture made sitting next to a big cat of some sort, or whatever other animal of your choice. It was a sad sight, though. The animals were heavily sedated so that visitors could venture close enough to them. They sat blinking their bleary eyes at us, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for them. I also wondered if it wasn't perhaps a bit more dangerous than advertised. Sedated or not, a provoked animal won't be tranquil forever, and there was very little in the way of controlling how guests treated the animals.

But, the pictures others had made seemed to turn out nice.



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Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Dubai

The Palm Dubai and The Palm Deira are the world's largest manmade islands. Dubai began its project of erecting these man-made islands in 2002, and the project seems set to sustain Dubai's tourist industry as a world-leader. The islands act as breakwaters, and they house luxury hotels, water parks, and other places of interest for tourists to visit. They also hold many luxury residential properties that are a key part of Dubai's booming property market.

Dubai is continuing to develop additional man-made islands, and the current development is intended to host a theme park that will not only rival Disney World Resorts, but will be twice its size.



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Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Bridge Over the River Kwai

When a seminar I was attending was scheduled in Kachanaburi, Thailand, I was excited because I would get to see the bridge over the River Kwai, where that famous story had taken place. And when I got there, I wasn't disappointed by the place. It is a beautiful setting, with a tropical jungle feeling all about.

The river itself is a muddy brown color. The bridge is a black steel, which contrasts with the jungle colors of life.

I was able to visit the museum on the opposite side of the river from where I stayed, and to walk across the bridge back to the hotel. I visited the cemetery in town where many British soldiers had been buried, killed upon foreign soil.

The romance of the story is strongly felt in a visit to that spot. The suffering of the POWs who put together that bridge, and the whole of the Burmese Railway. It was torturous, and the museum there shows just how mangled their bodies became in the process.

It is a spot worth visiting. It is a sobering experience, as is a visit to many of those sites that make one aware of the bitterness caused by war in Southeast Asia.



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Thursday, February 08, 2007

The Tea Party, Singapore

The Tea Party is a great little tea house situated on Bt. Timah road in Singapore, right after the Sixth Avenue turnoff, if you are heading north towards Woodlands from downtown.

The Tea Party has a large selection of specialty blends coming from all over the world, including some special blends of their own. There are over 100 varieties available, and the menu provides a good description of each.

The place is nicely set up, with comfortable seating. It is a perfect place to spend several hours with friends, chatting it up and sipping a specialty cup of tea. It's even a good spot to sit in the afternoon working on the laptop using their wi-fi connection, when the space is fairly quiet.

The staff is a friendly bunch, and they are always willing to help customers make a good choice for a nice pot of tea. They're equally willing to explain all the finer points of properly enjoying a cup of tea.

The scones with cream cheese are an excellent accompaniment to most of the fine blends of tea at The Tea Party. The other desserts look good, but I've never pulled myself away from the scones long enough to try them.


Monday, February 05, 2007

House of Flour, Shanghai, China

While most people might not think of China as a place to get really good bread, The House of Flour seeks to overturn that notion. Located at the Zhang Jiang Metro Station, The House of Flour has a really good menu. When I ate there, it was cold outside, but the warm soup and bread provided a great way to escape the chill. And the cheesecake was out of this world.

The owner/manager team brings an international feel to the little eatery. One hailing from Malaysia, and the other from Seattle, they bring a unique feel to the Shanghai dining experience. Both are very friendly chaps, and can hold a good conversation with guests, whether in English or Mandarin.

Right inside the door to The House of Flour, I was thrilled to find a shelf full of books with the Bookcrossing label on them. I picked up a collection of fantasy short stories to take with me, and will surely leave something else there when I next visit the place.