Travel


 

Beijing Hutong Rickshaws, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

(Texas Mike here)

Well, the countdown is almost over. The Summer Olympics are about to start, and China can have its calculated re-emergence to the world. But will we be seeing the new and improved China, or just a beauty pageant?

From cleaning up the air (temporarily) to controlling summer weather with rockets, and more notably, hiding it’s neighborhood eye-sores with walls, will the world really see a true China?

This article from the New York Times talks about the massive number of walls recently erected to cover up poverty-stricken neighborhoods and nastiness. I guess it’s easier than cleaning it up, right?

As we traveled Beijing, the locals talked of the trees planted along the highway from the airport, which were meant to hide the shanties from Olympic visiting eyes. I feel lucky to have traveled there and off the beaten path to get a real glimpse of this fascinating culture and contributor to the world. I hope the media exposure to the country over the next few weeks gets past the make-up and smiles too.

GO USA!

As the Beijing Summer Olympics get closer, the media coverage of life in the country is in full effect.  It provides us great recollection of how foreign the culture is in every sense of the word.  We experienced some very memorable and strange things as we traveled through, which we chronicled right here (just click on the China category).

One of the main sources for adventure was eating in China.  From hot pot to hello banana to tea houses to what-the-heck-is-that-and-is-it-cooked.  Well, this article from Trend Hunter illustrates the (sad) trend and often overlooked elements of an Olympics effect on the host country: the watering down and smoothing over of culture shock.  In this case the food.

In the interest of feeding the incoming hordes, the organizing committee for the Beijing Olympics have had to deal with the translation of restaurant menus into English. The process was contentious, requiring many rounds of discussions in order to come up with an official translation list for restaurants in book form. Nationalistic ire has already erupted over the bland linguistic makeovers. One internet commenter said “I don’t like this new naming method, it’s abandoning Chinese tradition. There are many stories in the names of these dishes.” Indeed.

If they were going to spend some effort here, I’d rather see them dial up the quality of things like, you know, running water – which even the citizens of the country can’t drink without boiling.  Yeah tea!

Ran across this video called Sounds of Chinatown on Rocketboom while surfing my Feed Reader.  Reminded me how great it is to simply listen to the sounds of life around you, especially when you’re traveling.  

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Ok, Oprah I’m not. Maybe Stedman. Regardless, I have been exposed to some pretty cool things this year. Things that affect my life and get me talking. Plain and simple. In no particular order, here they are:

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1. Senuti

This free software freed MY music, yes mine, from my iPod. Until now, iPod accepted music as a one-way street. Computer -> iPod but not vice-versa. As I’ve gone from work computer to work computer, my digital music library has shuffled around quite a bit and in some cases been lost. Who has time to upload it all again from disc? Thanks to Senuti (or Floola for you PC users), this software simply extracted the music files from said iPod back to digital storage for safe keeping. Took about 5 hours to transfer 5,000 songs. I ate Thanksgiving dinner while it did the work – good deal!

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2. Google Reader

I’ve never been so in-the-know. Erin introduced me to this free feed reader calling it “Tivo for the internet.” Instead of having to repeatedly go to 20+ websites and hunting each for new info, now my Reader searches my usual bookmarks automatically and brings all new posts to me, in one convenient location. You simple scroll down, reading the headline, a key paragraph and a photo for each entry – ordered chronologically by time received. If you want to read more from an entry, simply click on link. For most, you’ll just keep on scrolling to the next item, with your brain growing exponentially. Awesomeness.

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3. Lifehacker.com

I also owe my Reader for finding me this gem of a website. In fact, Lifehacker brought me Senuti (see, we’ve gone full circle on the list now) and so many more helpful products and tips for making life easier and more fruitful. Features life improvement tips beyond software, too. Like, how to open a clam package with a can opener. OR, how to make a bottle opener out of a single piece of paper. (it’s like McGyver, only more geeky…)
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4. The T

Yeah, you know how much I like my Truck. It brings me much joy. It also brings me much used furniture and much trash for the dump. I suggest you get one.

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5. Real Men of Genius telephone greetings

The marketing dork in me made me do it. It is quite funny and original for a birthday greeting.

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6. My LG camera phone

Nothing is safe when you have a CU500v. It has a very convenient 1.3 megapixel camera. More importantly, the camera has a swivel, so you won’t even know when I’m taking a picture of you picking your nose. Well, unless it is dark, because there’s no flash. Next time.

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7. The neti pot

I credit this crazy India-inspired product with keeping my nasal passages humming. It’s like a tea pot, only you use it to pour water in one sinus cavity and out the other. I was reluctant when Erin first brought it home, but tried it the next time I got some sniffles. And as sure a chicken tikka masala… it cleared me right out.

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8. Tripadvisor.com:
It wouldn’t be a post without something travel related. At this time last year we were trekking through New Zealand. Without Tripadvisor.com, we wouldn’t have found some of our better destinations. The forum section is great, where real folks give you real tips, and usually answer your questions real quick. Search the section for your city and list your specific inquiry. Help is on the way.

I’m sure there are more, but these are top of mind. Hope you’ve had some wonderful discoveries that made 2007 a great experience in stuff.

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Oh, wine country – Napa and Sonoma. We like ourselves some wine, but not totally “Sideways.”

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I really just wanted to see what the whole experience was like – wine and beyond.

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I expected it to be quite a beautiful and posh experience. I would have to say the beauty was there. The row crops of vineyards adding textures to the valley along with the changing tree leaves.

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The pacific ocean and Russian River vistas just an hour away.

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The quaint little towns with boutiques and fresh food.

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Fine art and museums.

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Reacquaintance with nature (and a petrified forest to boot).
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Lots of beauty… but it was the posh that was lacking.

Most places in the valley felt kind of hollow in that tourist trap kind of way. Like a ski resort town, where it lacks that authenticity that anyone really lives there. Where the mix of store fronts is strongly in favor of wine shops, restaurants or art galleries.

Now I’m not saying I’m totally surprised. But, the nice side of the stereotypical tourist destination is the service you receive as said tourist. I figured a world-reknown region would be up on its service game, especially during its busiest time of the year – “Crushing Season”

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Take this sign for instance.

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At first glance, it’s just a parking sign right? Well, like the quality of service we received, it’s misleading. When’s the last time you saw a sign posted using the number 24? Naturally you think “24” hours as you drive by searching for any parking spot, right? Whose idea was it to make these meters 24 MINUTES? Why not 25, 30 minutes… something that makes sense…

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Or Avis at SFO who falsly advertised the luggage capacity of our convertible. Sure, bags might fit, but you have to keep the top up. What’s the point? And let me say, they were VERY polite and helpful with arranging our other ride (a caddy cruiser). I’m turning my preferred Avis card in.

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Our hotel in Sonoma – granted it was a Best Western, but like the priciest one ever. The front desk couldn’t have cared less about the quality of our stay. AND we’re staying IN Sonoma. What the heck? Tourists must grow on trees.

Or the hot air balloon company that had us drive an hour at 5am only to get stood up when they canceled due to weather. We were the only suckers that showed, b/c we were the only ones that didn’t get a call. “Every attempt was made,” our company rep squeaked on the phone from the comfort of her own bed.

The incidents keep stacking up. Restaurants, wineries, etc. It’s not that I expect everything to be perfect, but this destination is lacking.

We didn’t let it get us down. Good times. Good people. And the wine – not too shabby.

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weird shrooms, originally uploaded by espeedy123.

Michael and I recently returned from a few days in Napa Valley. We took a break from debating whether there was more gooseberry or redcurrant in various wines to follow a farm trail. We encountered some odd people along the way.

This stop was at an exotic mushroom farmer. I learned you don’t need a lot of space to grow these. This little hut was about 8 by 12 feet. There’s the farmer on the right explaining to a really interested lady about those oyster shrooms.

This was right before he pulled out a mushroom brick from the back of the shroomhouse. He stuck it up in my face and said if I touched one I might get pregnant. That’s about the time we moved on to the next farm.

I’m a little behind on my blogging, but last weekend Erin and I spent a few days in our favorite city, New York, to celebrate our 1 year anniversary. My how time flies. As luck might have it, I also had a business trip to the region following the weekend, which made for a longer visit. Good times.

Erin left early in the day on Friday, and I was going to meet her in Manhattan after finishing work in Dallas. But the storms intervened. I knew I was in trouble when Erin called to tell me her earlier flight landed in another city because LGA was closed. At that time, there was no word my flight would be delayed. So, I got a head start to the neighboring Friday’s while everyone else awaited the inevitible announcement. TGIF…

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Bellied up to the seating area with about 2 hours to kill (at least). It was Friday; my mind was spent from a long week; what to do?

So I decided to do nothing. Turned off the iPod. Ordered a beer. And thought it might be fun to simply track the ambling of my mind.

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So, interesting or not, here are the headlines in order for the trip my mind took on Friday in terminal C.

– Do I look that goofy with my bluetooth earpiece on? They are getting smaller and snazzier, looking more and more like decorative accessories than tech tools. The airport is full of them. And no matter how small/snazzy they get, it still makes anyone look pompous and self-important. Maybe I shouldn’t use one. Honestly, it makes talking on the phone much more pleasant. Perhaps I should implant one inside my ear, and just pull on my earlobe to activate…

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– Why does this ad for the Razr bother me so much? It’s really goofy. I mean, the Razr and the cut tie – fine, I get it. But the model – what’s up, Moto? The vending machines, adorning this ad, offers airport goers instant communication devices. Pick your phone, bluetooth or charger, all ready for talking. Good thing too – we’re all stuck at the airport…

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– There must be some serious demand for metal detector and scanner repair at airports. My last 4 trips to DFW have featured at least 1 broken scanner AND detector at security. Not a big deal, UNLESS the broken contraptions are 1 of 2 in the major airport artery. It’s nonsense. Get it fixed. Perhaps that’s my big idea – emergency repair service. ITT Tech, I’m calling.

– Will the 70’s ever go back out of style? I hope not. I wish she was our attendant – but wait, we don’t have a plane…

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– Are airports the ultimate melting pot? Look at all the people from different walks of life. Lots of languages; lots of dress; lots of everything walking this terminal. Only one could be better – the NYC subway. It’s a slice of life world-over in one car:

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– Cabbies in major cities are pretty good for brushing against the world too. Would I have spoken to anyone from Senegal otherwise, if not my fortunate cab in Chicago at 4:45 am last week? He as very nice and loved himself some Texas. Houston was his lone experience. Poor soul.

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– Why can’t restaurants have airport departure screens? Got get my lazy butt up to see if we’ve been delayed further. I like using Orbitz.com – they send you a text for every gate/time change. Oh TLC, gotta go back to that.

– Have I ever met a fried food that I didn’t like? It’s the most wonderous way to turn anything edible and uniquely tasty. Like “sweetbreads” (animal innards) at York Street with the Johnsons during restaurent week. Or, my fried mac and cheese. TGIF.

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– When did we all get so fat? It’s getting to the point where you can point out Americans from other world travelers walking down the terminal. Maybe it has something to do with my comment on fried.

– Nice hummer backback, kid. It’s like a small hummer drove up on your back – wheels and all. I would love that if I was a kid. And some call it shameless marketing. I bet his classmates don’t think so.

– What a sad state of affairs for our society. Suing flowers.com for accidentally outing your affair by sending a you a thank you note for your order. Next time, pay cash, loser. Or better yet, don’t have an affair. Mental anguish – I credit the ambulance chaser for getting creative.

At that point I decided to be productive. Turned on some music and read some stuff. More to come. Thanks for riding with me.

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