Thursday, December 27, 2007

The New International Terminal

Houston Intercontinental Airport's international terminal is not very old. In 2007, I've flown into the new terminal twice, and have to say that it is a vast improvement over the old. It is spacious and orderly, and the staff is very efficient. And what I like best, the staff is also very polite. In the 15 years I've lived overseas, I've used many points of entry into the US, and "polite staff" isn't a comment I've often made. Quite the opposite, in fact. So, it is very refreshing to meet polite staff in an international terminal at a US airport.

The good service at the George Bush Intercontinental Airport makes a huge difference to jetlagged passengers arriving in the country after a long, tiring journey. There is nothing worse than meeting with pushy, rude customs officers. It is bad enough for me, a citizen of the US and someone familiar with the culture and accent. It must be horrible for foreigners coming into the country. In fact, that is exactly what I have heard from many of my friends from overseas who have traveled to the US (with LA ranking as the airport with the rudest staff — Minneapolis being a close second, from reports I've heard from many travelers). It is a shame that this is the first face many travelers meet upon their arrival in the US.

So, kudos to the people in Houston who make arriving in the country not only palatable, but convenient and comfortable. And also to those who put together and maintain the excellent new facilities.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

Changi Beach

Changi Beach is a great place for cycling, a nice walk, or just about any other sea sport.

When I was there on my bike recently on a nice windy afternoon, I saw several people out on the sea kiting. It was a great day for the chute-powered wakeboards, with the high winds out on the sea. I spoke to one of the guys who was kiting that afternoon, and he said it is a difficult sport, but one that offers quite a thrill. That was certainly the feeling I got from watching it.

I have not gotten to give it a try yet, but I think it is something that I would enjoy a great deal, and if I can find the time (and energy!) to give it a shot one day, I might just do so.

If you are interested in joining the kiters at Changi Beach, you'll have to do a little training first. The fellow I spoke to on the beach gave me a number for the guy who does the training. You can contact Nasir at 96620354 if you would like to find out more about lessons. Try to get to it soon. This is really the season for kiting, with the high winds that you'll find on the sea right now. After the monsoon season ends, you might still can kite, but it won't be as fun, even on the days when it is possible.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Feng Jing

Feng Jing is one of the many "ancient water villages" that surrounds Shanghai. It is not one of the more famous ones, which is nice because it means it is not crowded with tourists.

There are several things worth seeing in Feng Jing. The cartoons on the walls of one of the old houses are very amusing, and worth browsing through. Outside of that same house, there is a "4 century old tree" that is really creates some fantastic views, especially in early winter (or late autumn, I would imagine). The leaves that sit at the base of the tree right now are a bright yellow, and create a perfect atmosphere for the old village.

Also of interest in Feng Jing are the remnants of a panic-driven era several decades ago. There is a large underground bomb shelter, big enough to hold hundreds of people if needed. According to the signs posted there, only about 10% of the place is presently open to viewing. I cannot imagine the extent of the shelter, as the portion I saw was already quite overwhelming. It made me think of the bomb shelters that many families in the US built in their back yards during the 1950s. It's rather telling, isn't it? In the US, each shelter was built to house a single family. In Feng Jing, the place is big enough to house the entire village for a prolonged period.

Other signs of a more paranoid, ultra-patriotic time still survive in Feng Jing too. There are countless Mao buttons hanging in one museum, many propaganda posters that are very dated, ration coupons for various items, and even a small fighter plane that the village helped purchase. The sign beside the plane reports that it was responsible for shooting down 3 planes of the "US agressors" during the Cold War days.

Feng Jing is a place worth spending a day. It is pleasant for walking about, and it certainly gives you a feel for a China of days now past.

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Travel Insurance

It is a sad thing when bad things happen to holiday-makers, but it isn't all that uncommon an event. I've heard lots of stories about people meeting with mishaps while traveling, anything from the inconvenience of lost luggage to the more serious problems of permanent physical damage due to accident. I've known people who have experienced the small inconveniences many times, and have one friend who is permanently wheelchair-bound due to an accident with an airline.

It is for this reason that so many people choose to buy travel insurance before they set out on their journey. For reliable Australian travel insurance, underwritten by Allianz, it is as easy as an online purchase. That makes it very convenient in the midst of the rush of planning for a trip.

Best of all, you can find very cheap travel insurance at this website, allowing you to choose from some very competitive offers. No one likes to think of unpleasant things happening while traveling, but they can and do happen. Travel insurance allows travelers to plan for any eventuality.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Lao Beijing

Lao Beijing, in Plaza Singapura (#03-01) is a great place for a night out. The menu features a wide array of China specialties (not just dishes from Beijing), the atmosphere has captured the feeling of China well, and the staff is efficient and friendly. We started off with the Peking duck, and it was done just right. The skin was crispy, just like it is supposed to be, even though the meat was cut a little thicker than you normally see for Peking Duck.

With all of the dishes we had — including Hunan prawns, popiah, shark's fin soup, shredded pork rolls, guo tie (fried dumplings), and a mango dessert — there was not a single one that missed with our group. Lao Beijing is a perfect spot for a family outing or a dinner with friends. There are also branches at Novena Square and Tiong Bahru Plaza, but I have heard that neither is as nicely decorated as the Plaza Singapura location.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Some pretty pictures

I'm going to be out of town for the next few days (nearly 2 weeks, actually). I don't know how much computer access I'll have, so I thought I'd put a bunch of pretty pictures up for now, hoping they can stand in here till I get back.

The city is not normally thought of as a place for experiencing natural wonders. But Nature's beauty isn't so easily hidden (no matter how hard we try). These pictures were all taken from my neighbourhood in Singapore. I've elsewhere referred to it as

over 300 masterpieces
framed in concrete each year
for your viewing pleasure

See you soon!

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

Travel Resources for Alumni

I just came across and interesting concept at iContact. The North Carolina Central University Foundation is offering a new service to alumni and friends. They've launched a travel site containing some of the best deals and travel information, available just for alumni and friends. The system pulls together the resources from several other online travel sites, and makes it all available in one spot. Users can use the FareBuzz system to search for the best prices across the whole range of sites available at

That's a pretty handy resource to offer to alumni and friends. (I wish my alma mater did that.) If you'd like to know more about it, you can read the details here.

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