A Travellerspoint blog

Technology Overload

Thursday, 4 April 2013

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The weather this morning was cold and grey with no visible sun in the sky. We had our regular breakfast in the executive lounge and by 09:30 we headed off for Xiidan station. It was a lot more crowded than what we experienced two days ago. The train looked to be 100% full but despite that hundreds more managed to squeeze in. There was little need for a hand-hold we were packed in too tight to fall. The were eleven stops on Line 4 to Zhong Guan Cun station in the Peking University district. Along the way some people got off and even more got on until we reached the Zoo station when so many got off we almost had breathing room.

The Zhong Guan Cun area is the 'technology' centre for Beijing. Dozens of huge buildings selling every conceivable brand of any electronic item you could want to buy. We were on the lookout for an over-the-ear MP3 player with SD card and FM radio. I figured it would be difficult to explain what we were after so I found an illustration on the web, captured the image from the screen, trimmed it and displayed it on the screen. I then took a photo of my screen and was able to show the item to potential retailers. It took a while but we finally found someone who knew what we were after. We were asked to be seated and someone ducked off and came back with exactly the item we were after. Not a happy ending though, their price was at least twice the on-line price and they were not prepared to drop their price.

There were more mobile phones of more brands than I had imagined were in the world and everyone wanting to sell us one or two!! Along the same line there were more models of more makes of camera and lenses. From monster telephoto to mini compacts. The dominant brands were Canon and Nikon but even if the stall had Canon plastered all over the store they were happy to discuss other brands including Panasonic. I asked for an indicative price for a DMC FZ200, after some time the price offered turned out to be no better than an on-line purchase from Hong Kong. I didn't push the topic as I wasn't prepared to buy at that price.

For good reason, they are not prepared to unwrap stock that is still in its original package, but it is difficult to make a decision on the basis of an illustration on a box. Only a limited range of the most popular items are on display. The stores were heated and the contrast with the outside temperature presented a clothing challenge which we survived better than my paper map which became decidedly limp in my shirt pocket.

Decided to drop into a McDonald's for a coffee and quick lunch. Ordering from an unfamiliar menu in a foreign language turned out to be easier than expected. When I reached the front of the queue she whipped out a miniature picture menu and by pointing at the image and holding up one or two fingers I managed to get pretty much what I wanted. She even helped by selecting the appropriate bank notes from my bundle. The coffee from the McCafe was beautifully presented and gave us access to the quieter part of the restaurant.

Having seen almost the identical range of items in four separate buildings and with no reason for lingering we decided to call it a day and returned to the station and hence the hotel. An interesting aspect of travelling on the subway is choosing the correct exit. The station are frequently located under major street intersections, there are therefore at least four possible exits depending on which side of which street you want to reach. The station we used today has a few more and I found the map, showing where they are, only after reaching the surface.

Spent some time relaxing this afternoon and intended to try for some night-time photography after 'Happy Hour' but it started to rain and that plan had little merit. Looks like the 'Silk Market' tomorrow, will report then.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 03:59 Archived in China Comments (0)

Shop Till We Drop - Beijing

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

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Another chilly morning in Beijing with the promise of temperatures up to about 20 °C. Enjoyed our breakfast again and spent sometime in the 10th floor lounge watching the traffic below. No point heading out until about 09:00, most shops open about 10:00.

We walked North from to hotel and reached what must be the most significant street in Beijing, it has six lanes in each direction and a lane on each side for bicycles and other small traffic. There is no way to cross this, to get to the other side you take a subway. This also acts as the entry to the Metro and also the basement level of the Xidan Cultural Square which is part of a maze of small stalls selling the usual market merchandise.

We continued North and entered a number of multilevel stores and finally found 'Joy City' !! No less than 12 levels of retail including the two basement levels. On level 1 there is an escalator that takes you directly to level 6 where most of the restaurants are. This massive mall has mainly up-market brand outlets and has eateries on just about every floor. While it was easy to get to level 6 it isn't all that easy to get back down. The arrangement of escalators is such that you have to walk around and through shops to find them. I was approached by a guard just after we entered and got the impression that photography was discouraged - pity.

Used one of a number of overpasses to enter a mall on the opposite side of the street where Jenny finally found a jewelry store that had some items she was happy with. We checked out some of the food shops and decided to cross the street to 'Joy City' again. Our lunch today was easier to order as the pictures had some English text. Although we have no idea what "Wiki colorful amorous feelings honey toast" would taste of.

Back towards the hotel and I decided to visit the Beijing Books Building, I was looking for an A4 binder to replace the one that fell apart. We entered this enormous building of some seven floors crammed with both books and people. We found our way to level 3 and noticed electronics and even kitchen appliances along one wall. We wandered over to there and stumbled upon the 'stationary' section and found my binder. Totally by chance.

Back to the hotel by 14:30 and relaxed our feet. I spent time composing this blog and transferring my travel documents to their new binder. Then stretched out on the bed and slept for over an hour !!

Did the 'happy hour' thing again and are now recognised as regular free-loaders. We've even been introduced to the hostess - her nickname is Fiona. Discussed the advisability of visiting the Zhong Guan Cun Electronics district, Fiona said it was boring, her male colleague claims it is the best place for anything electronic. We're looking for an over-ear MP3 player with FM Radio, plenty on the internet - none in the shops. We'll go there if the weather stays OK.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 05:08 Archived in China Comments (0)

Beijing Zoo

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

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Woke to a crisp morning with the temperature in single figures but a predicted top of 20 °C. Makes it difficult to work out what cloths to wear and while layers are a solution you have to have somewhere to carry them. A very enjoyable breakfast in the Executive Lounge, eggs and bacon alongside dumplings and congee.

After breakfast we set off to visit the zoo. Turn right out of the hotel then right again on the big big road and down to the Metro. Buy two tickets for 2 Yuan (about 35 cents) each. Find a train heading in the right direction on Line 4 and get off at the 6th station. Then try to guess the correct exit and walk in the wrong direction looking for the gate to the zoo - woops !! Retrace our steps and line up at a ticket window - they sell a number of options so we settle for a basic entry plus the Panda House - 20 Yuan (AU$3.50) each. I'm just about worn out already !!

The zoo looks old and tired and many of the animals are still in their enclosed winter quarters. We did see two giant pandas but they didn't look to be in the best of health. Wandered about for the best part of three hours and then made our way back to our starting station on the Metro.

Across from our hotel is an old 'hutong' area and we went into one of the streets looking for somewhere to have lunch. There were some very basic establishments that didn't appeal to Jenny so we settled on a rather up-market looking place. We were shown to a table and eventually provided with a picture menu and some English words that provided a hint to the ingredients of the item. None of the staff spoke any English so we shrugged a lot and made signs of helplessness. Lunch turned up in the form of four plates with five dumplings on each. We suspect one plate was vegetarian and the others had some form of meat. Yes, I ate the bulk of them. Total on the bill was 29.6 Yuan (about AU$5). We'll have to find one with better English speaking staff - wish us good luck !!

Back to the hotel to relieve our tired feet and review our photos, not a lot of decent ones to pick from. Spent some time looking at tomorrow's plans and also arranged for a taxi to the airport for next Monday. The staff here have been most helpful and the ones who don't speak English too well try very hard until an English fluent person is found. So far nothing has been a problem.

Went along to the 'happy hour' again and watched the traffic as the sun set behind the tall buildings. Afterwards we visited the Foyer to confirm something on their enlarged wall map. While there we stopped to watch two old gentlemen performing Tai Chi. Nice touch to remind one that we are in China.

Finished off this blog and intend to rest up in preparation for tomorrow's visit to the Xidan Shopping Street. A final check of the email and the weather and that will be it for tonight.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 04:33 Archived in China Comments (0)

In Beijing - Grand Mercure

Monday, 1 April 2013

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Not included in yesterday's blog was the last dinner in the Santa Fe and an excellent show in the theatre featuring Preston Coe, a vocalist with an amazing range covering from Blues to Broadway and Rock to Opera. His Roy Orbison bracket was as good as the original. Great last show.

The cruise portion of our outing ended this morning when we sailed into the port of Tianjin. The fog/mist that has dogged us was with us again. Just enough time for a quick breakfast and then to the assembly area for our 0640 disembarkation. The best laid plans have a habit of going wrong. It appears that Chinese Immigration insisted on viewing each person's visa. There are place randomly in the passport so just finding them created a huge backlog. Our group was finally called at 0730 and we were told to have our passports open at the visa page, that improved the flow.

We collected our cases and looked for the name of the operator that was providing the transfer to our hotel. No sign of her amongst the dozens of placards being displayed. We stood outside and waited a while. Then we took it in turns to recheck all those placards. No joy !! I went back inside the terminal to find a toilet and happened to bump into the lady that had organised the bus, she was looking for us. All worked out and we joined the remainder of the group who had been waiting for us for quite a while.

We set off on the way to Beijing, wide freeways for over an hour with huge multistory apartment complexes being constructed in the middle of nowhere. Similarly there were massive overpasses being constructed in wide areas of reclaimed marsh lands. Tree plantings on both sides of the highway are still bare but there were occasional blossom trees. The fog was at least partly burned off by the time we'd travelled about an hour and a half.

At about 1000 we parked at the "Cultural Street" in the central district of Tianjin. We had 90 minutes to explore the reconstructed 'old' streets - yet another 'market'. There appeared to be a photographic club on an outing. There were a great number of local fork with some serious looking gear and I noticed a number of them aiming their lenses in my direction. I retaliated and photographed the photographers. One lady indicated she'd like me to 'pose' for her. She then explained that my white beard was the object of interest, soon a number of her companions also joined in.

Back on the bus and another two hours on increasingly busy roads and we were in occasional gridlock in Beijing. Our driver took us on an extensive tour of the city, dropping off passengers at 5 other hotels before we were dropped off at the Grand Mercure. Check-in was proceeding well until I questioned the availability of Internet connection. It wasn't included and the hourly rate sounded high so I demurred about signing up for it. Seeing my indecisiveness the young lady suggested an upgrade to 'Executive' level and proceeded to enumerate the many benefits. End result I agreed to pay an extra 300 RMB per night (about AU$50). For this we get unlimited high-speed Internet, breakfast in the Executive Lounge, Happy Hour from 1730 to 1930 with snacks and free drinks and use of the pool and gymnasium. The room on the tenth floor was worth the price without all the other extras.

Checked out the 'Happy Hour' and whilst the snacks were limited the range of drinks was quite extensive. Jenny spent an enjoyable hour watching the antics of the traffic at the local intersection. It has been an exhausting day so we will call it quits for the day.

Will plan our remaining time here in the morning and check out some of the attractions we haven't previously visited. Will report in later tomorrow night.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 04:49 Archived in China Comments (0)

Dalian, China

Sunday, 31 March 2013

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Woke to another foggy day and an air temperature of just 2 °C with a forecast maximum of just 6 °C. Should be a good rehearsal for Beijing !! There is a very old building at our berth and facilities for inter island ferries, other piers are equipped for cargo handling. Just outside the port area there is a large ultramodern structure with no indication as to its purpose.

The Easter Bunny has been overnight and there are large chocolate eggs and other decorations in the Foyer and also in the Horizon Court. We're just filling in time until the first of the rush ashore has subsided.

Jenny has expressed concern regarding our planned stay in South Korea, I've checked the Government Advisory but it hasn't been updated since February. We'll contact the Australian Embassy in Beijing next week and obtain their advice.

Shortly after 0830 we disembarked and with minimal delay were aboard the shuttle bus to the Friendship Store in 'down town' Dalian. The store is a VERRY upmarket department store over 10 floors. Had a quick look around and then went off in search of the Russian Street Markets. With some assistance from friendly locals we found the place but only after Jenny was subjected to another street crossing scare. We got across by walking with a pair of locals.

The Russian Street has a variety of stalls where the prices start off outrageous but they can be negotiated down to something reasonable. Many of the buildings have signs in both Russian and Chinese. Part of the Russian Street contains a mixture of architectures. Jenny bought a set of 'Bubooshka' dolls, she followed this with an aggressive bargain on a pair of leather gloves. I succumbed to the purchase of a small pair of binoculars, a leather cap and a replacement 'bum bag'.

By 1130 we were back at the shuttle pickup point and we were back aboard by 1200. Up to the Horizon Court for lunch and then back to start packing our cases for tomorrow's disembarkation.

Attended the last of the port lectures and then seriously attacked the case packing task. Looks like I'm over 20 Kg but should be able to juggle it for the flight legs.

I'm uncertain about the availability of an Internet connection during our time in Beijing, this could be the last for about 14 days.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 01:32 Archived in China Comments (0)

Last Sea Day

Saturday, 30 March 2013

Woke up late after a busy night and missed the best chance of a possibly interesting sunrise. Up to the Horizon Court for breakfast and stayed a while to talk with a sweet old lady from Mollymook who has sat near us on a number of occasions. I was no hurry as the Patter showed nothing on until a China Lecture at 1130. While we were sitting there we were handed a leaflet advertising a Culinary Demonstration at 1030.

Attended the demonstration in the theatre which was almost deserted, word must have spread and more and more people filed in during the show. Towards the end the Executive Chef introduced the Pastry Sous Chef who announced that the Easter Bunny will be visiting tonight and that there would be eggs to photograph in the morning. We had all but given up that there would be anything to celebrate Easter. After the demonstration there was a quick walk-through of the deck 6 galley. Lots of stainless steel and busy people.

At 1130 I attended the last of the China Lectures, once again there was lots of material but the presentation lacked finesse. I returned to the cabin and was about to head up to the Horizon Court when Jenny returned, she'd already had her lunch and claims the place is a zoo. Ducked up for some Pizza and brought it back to cabin. Still haven't taken a photo today so donned a jacket and took some long distant shots of some ships. With noting much else to target I tried for the ship's bow wave as she forged her way through the slight chop.

Jenny is busy preparing a card for the 'hostess' at the Santa Fe and I'm checking my emails of which there have been thankfully few. Made up the gratuity envelopes for the waiters and cabin steward. Watched a movie on the TV and prepared for the last formal night.

Another excellent dinner in the Santa Fe with many delectable dishes to choose from and only one more dinner before we disembark. We've not been disappointed with either the meals or the service and would choose this venue again should we ever return. After dinner we joined another capacity crowd in the theatre for an energetic production show by the Singers and Dancers. The stage prop was a full-size pink Cadillac convertible, I've no idea where it is stored when not on stage.

Tomorrow is our last port with a short call to Dalian where we're due to arrive at 0700 and depart at 1330. The ship is clipping along at 21 knots and the air temperature is down to 4.2 °C

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 05:18 Archived in China Comments (0)


Friday, 29 March 2013

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Up early this morning but there's nothing to sea as a heavy fog makes it impossible to make out anything but vague shadows. The ship picked up the pilot at 0515 and we've made our way up the Yangsey delta. Over breakfast we were able to see more and more ships and eventually the start of the docks along the Northern shoreline. The outside temperature is only just into double digits.

An announcement from the bridge advises that due to slower traffic ahead of us we will be 30 minutes late arriving. The rules on this waterway prohibit any ship from performing an overtaking manoeuvre. Our new arrival time will now be 1030. We sailed steadily upstream for the best part of 4 hours with the downstream traffic travelling on our Port side. When we reached the impressive new terminal building the Diamond Princess performed a brisk 180° pirouette and with the assistance of two tugs she moved sideways across the line of downstream traffic and was neatly berthed right on 1030.

The independent travellers filled at least 16 buses and there were dozens of other coaches for the ship's excursions. I spoke to a bloke on deck and he was booked on a nine hour excursion. Our bus made good time into Shanghai and dropped us off at the Bund about 1200. We walked South from the drop-off and found our way to the Shanghai Old Street Market area. This is marked by an impressive oriental gate.

We walked back and forth through the many narrow streets and marvelled at the range of goods and food on offer. I tried a number of the items for sale as we wandered back towards the Bund. We were back at the bus-stop by 1500 and back at the ship by 1600. The traffic was crazy but despite the chaotic nature we saw no collisions.

Another excellent dinner in the Santa Fe. There were very few in the dinning room with many passengers staying in the city for the light show. "All Aboard" is at 2230 tonight hence no rush to be back. After dinner we enjoyed the performance of the Zhoukou Acrobatic Troupe. The strength, agility and flexibility of these young people was truly amazing.

Took the camera and tripod up to deck 16 but didn't achieve any worthwhile results. Will have to try again in Beijing. Sea day tomorrow and the last formal night. Will report again tomorrow.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 06:18 Archived in China Comments (1)

The East China Sea

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Late to arise this morning after a restful night with just a gentle rocking of the ship due to strong winds. Decided to have breakfast in the International Dinning Room - full service from the menu. Very elegant compared to the Horizon Court but a bit fiddly and takes a long time. Not that we're short of time this morning, just don't think we'll do it again.

Attended the lecture in the theatre, the last for this cruise. Much of the series has been interesting but there was only this single stream and the presenter whilst knowledgeable was difficult to follow at times. Ventured out on deck and the low temperature coupled with a strong wind made it very chilly. Most of the out-door areas of the ship were understandably deserted.

Lunch at the Horizon Court followed by an afternoon nap and a movie on the TV. The ship is making just over 12 knots because the arrival time in Shanghai has been rescheduled from 0700 to 1100 due to other ship movements in this port.

Another excellent dinner in the Santa Fe and there was even a hint of a sunset before we headed for the theatre. Tonight's act was a duo from the "Four Kinsmen" comprising "Pearson & Harvey". One of them sang and the other one clowned around a bit. A reasonable way to spend an hour.

Despite this afternoon's nap, I'm feeling that it is time to hit the hay. Clocks go back an hour so that’s another hour and the last time we change the clock until we leave China.

No sign of the Easter Bunny on the ship, perhaps tomorrow ??

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 04:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

Busan, South Korea

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

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Totally calm seas again today as we complete our journey to Busan, South Korea. We had good internet connection and I uploaded the blog and my 365 Project image before breakfast in the Horizon Court. After breakfast I sat in a comfortable chair in the Atrium as there was nothing scheduled that was of interest to me.

Just after 1100 we met up in the Horizon Court for an early lunch ahead of an estimated arrival time of 1200. Right on schedule we docked at the International Cruise Terminal which afforded a view of the commercial harbour. The view is dominated by a huge heavy-duty crane against a background of lesser cranes.. Within minutes of our arrival there formed a long queue of passengers waiting to go ashore. Once the 'all clear' was given the queue dissipated very quickly. We were on the sixth shuttle bus into the city and arrived there about 1300,

For the next two hours we wandered the colourful small streets crowded with food-stalls and hawkers of cut-priced clothing. Most of the clothing aimed at the smaller stature local market. Many a laugh when I asked for pants to fit my ample waist. We also found our way to the Lotte department store starting at the basement food hall offering a huge variety of foods freshly cooked and presented beautifully.

All of the usual commodities are offered on one or another of the remaining 10 floors. The building also provides an observation deck at the eleventh and twelfth floor. There's even a kid's playground with rabbits and little pigs to entertain them. Prices reflected the opulent nature of the building and there was no shortage of eager sales staff happy to help.

Back to the shuttle stop for our return trip to the ship. While the queue was quite long we were on our way within 45 minutes and back aboard the ship by about 1615. Just before dinner at 1730 we were treated to a farewell show from the quay by singers and dancers while in the harbour the Coastguard Cutter provided a spectacular water jet show.

Dinner was followed by the International Crew Show in the theatre. It was standing room only with almost 30 minutes to show time. People sat on the stairs and stood along the outside aisles. The amateur performers were quite excellent, especially the young men from the Philippines who sang with great gusto.

Did a quick trip to the gift shop to buy a gift for the 'hostess' in the Santa Fe who has livened up our evenings throughout the trip.

A sea day tomorrow as we head for Shanghai.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 06:33 Archived in South Korea Comments (1)

Kagoshima, Kyushu, Japan

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

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The seas have abated but there is still a solid overcast and distant fog. Watched the ship dock at the cruise ship terminal built on reclaimed land with the Sakurajima Volcano as the backdrop. On a sharp clear morning this would be spectacular but it was much subdued by the mist.

We were scheduled to present to the Japanese Immigration Inspection at 0940 but I started hanging around the area as early as 0740 in the hope of getting in early. My luck was in, there was no queue and they were looking for people to fill the spaces. We were processed, ashore and on the shuttle bus by just after 0800 - fully two hours ahead of my expectation. The very well appointed coach had us in the heart of Kagoshima by just on 0900 and we were off to explore the area. Except for some 7/11 convenience stores there were not many shops open.

We walked to the Terukuni Shrine and made our way back along the arcades and lanes in the central district. By the time we returned to the shuttle pickup point the shops were starting to open. We found a 100 Yen store and Jenny stocked up on a variety of craft materials. With some small change we bought a Coke from the drink machine AND we scored another "Happy Can". We previously received one when we were in Yokohama last year. It is a can that looks and feels like a Coke Can but contains an electronic item, this one is some form of plug-in speaker, last year's was a watch. These "Happy Cans" are a promotional bonus prise. Anyway we were back on the bus by 1030 and back at the ship about 45 minutes later.

We had some lunch and then watched "The Bourne Legacy" in the theatre after which it was time to watch the local drummers play us away. This young woman really put her back into it. At 1600 we pushed off and headed for Busan, South Korea. We were both very impressed with the level of organisation and the friendly nature of the locals. The city was clean, unhurried and easy to navigate. I suspect there will be more visits by Princess ships into the future.

Time for an enjoyable dinner in the Santa Fe where we both enjoyed the braised lamb shank for our main course. After the meal we found seats in the theatre for an excellent performance by Ross Maio and his amazing accordion. With the almost unnecessary backing of the Diamond Princess Orchestra he performed a very energetic bracket of numbers and received a well deserved applause.

Due to the Japanese satellite blackout, I'll have to post this in the morning.

Meanwhile, if you'd like to see my recent images you could try the following link. Recent Images on 365

Cheers ... Tony

Posted by greynomadm 14:54 Archived in Japan Comments (0)

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