Saturday, February 23, 2008

Tennessee, the Best Basketball State ?

Who would have thought that the State of Tennessee would have three Division I college basketball teams in the top 20 in the nation (or even the top 16 depending on the pole you like).

Tonight my alma mater, the University of Memphis is #1 and takes on the University of Tennessee which is ranked #2. Vanderbilt University is either #16 or #20 depending on the pole.

Its a great night for basketball in Tennessee!

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Beihai Park in Beijing

I took a Saturday afternoon and made a trip to Beihai Park in Beijing in early September 2007. Beihai means "North Sea" but it is really a lake. There is a Buddhist temple on an island in the middle of the lake. There is also a fancy Chinese restaurant.

There is a boat ride across the lake to the island.

Approaching the island.

The sign said there are 435 images of Buddha.

Images of the lake on the other side of the island. Note the many lily pads.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Dr. Strangelove in Beijing

The Beijing Hilton has some interesting Cold War-era Chinese porcelain on the second floor. This one reminds me of the scene in the movie Dr. Strangelove in which Slim Pickens rides the H-Bomb down to global destruction.

Perhaps on e of Chinese friends can tell me what the Chinese writing says on the side of the missile.

This one is a little tamer but the happy workers raising the Little Red Book seem out of place in the increasingly capitalist city Beijing in a five-star hotel catering to Western business travelers like me.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Great Wall at Simatai

I did not climb the wall at Simatai but the bus I was on drove over there to pick up hikers who made the four-hour trek from Jinshanling. Here are some pictures from the bottom of the mountains there.

This section of the wall is away from Simatai and away from Jinshanling towards a section which as not been restored. At some point in this direction the wall is closed because of safety concerns. A few climbers at fallen to their deaths where the wall was in disrepair and it was only a couple of feet wide on a steep cliff.

A zoom shot of the same section

There is a nice area of restaurants and shops at Simatai and I took this shot from the second floor patio.

Another zoom shot.

The Great Wall at Jinshanling

I had the good fortune to get to go climbing on the Great Wall of China on Saturday. I had been once before back in January to a different section of the wall but I must say the view was better this time. We got a nice day albeit a hot one and the mountains on the Jinshanling section of the wall were beautiful and green.

Here's a picture of me sweating under the July heat after hiking uphill for about an hour.

Here's the view of the wall back behind where I'd been climbing.

Here's the view up ahead of me about where I stopped climbing and turned around to go back to the bus.

another shot back in the direction I came from.


The view way out in the distance ahead of me.

This is close to where the trail from the parking lot joins the wall from the right-hand side.

A lovely Chinese bride was getting wedding pictures taken on the wall. At one time the photographer was trying to get a shot with the wall and tower in the background and yelled at the tourists (in English) to please move on up the wall to get out of her picture.

A view along the wall.

A few pointers and suggestions for tourists who might make this climb in the future.
  • Buy a hiking stick before arriving at the wall. The steps are steep and sometimes difficult and putting a stick into the rocks can help your footing. However, they were 100 RMB near the parking lot and I was able to buy one 3 hours away in Beijing for 30 RMB.
  • You don't have to carry too much food and water. There was a tower with a snack and drink vendor about 1 hour into my climb. I was told there was someone selling drinks about every five towers between Jinshanling and Simatai.
  • Don't be surprised if a Chinese person follows around. One of the shops at the foot of the trail assigns a person to each Westerner. They help you know where to step. Help you get up the steepest sections, fan you to cool you off when you stop to rest, and hope to sell you a picture book of on the Great Wall, a "I climbed the Great Wall" teeshirt, a fan, or something. Several in my party tried to give tips instead of buying something but they seemed only interested in selling something.
  • It is possible to hike/climb from Jinshanling where I started to Simatai, the next starting/ending point for Great Wall tourists. I didn't try to do that but five of my party did and it took them about four hours.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Rock-n-Roll, Burgers, and Being a Target Market in Beijing

I walked down the street from my hotel to the Beijing Hard Rock Cafe. I was approached on the way by a 35ish looking Chinese woman who wanted to know if I wanted a massage in pretty good English. I guess I looked like a Western businessman with money in his wallet spending a Friday evening alone. (For the record I love my wife and I am a Southern Baptist Sunday School teacher.)

My hotel is in a good part of town believe it or not. Many diplomats and Western executives on international assignment live on the east side of Beijing. I guess that means the woman selling massages was figuring her odds of success were pretty good if she walked up to every Western-looking man walking alone in the area.

When I declined she persisted to tell me she had a "younger girl" nearby and that "she looks good". I kept walking and went inside. I was pleasantly surprised to see there was no wait for a table at about 8:30 pm on a Friday night.

Sitting alone inside the Beijing Hard Rock Cafe under a replica of Billy Idol's Gold Record for his album "Whiplash Smile," I listened to a Chinese rock band (I think called "Tiger") singing American "top 40" type rock oldies in English. They had pretty good voices but very un-Chinese looking frosted hair. After a while, the band took a break and a projector showed several music videos and I found myself singing along to one of my favorite songs as a teenager, Lynard Skynard's "Free Bird." I ate a very respectable bacon cheeseburger and fries in the process. The price of the bacon cheeseburger was a little steep at 86 RMB or about $11.50. With a Diet Coke and chocolate ice cream for dessert to total bill came to 126 RMB or about $16.80.

As I left the Hard Rock Cafe I was approached by a second 30-something Chinese woman who repeated the same "massage-younger girl" script in English. I continued to the hotel and right before I got there, I was approached at the street corner by two young Chinese women together who also asked me if I wanted a massage. As I declined, they tried to push business cards with color pictures of a scantily clad Chinese girl and a phone number to call. "She's a beautiful girl." I guess they get a commission if they refer a paying customer. I quickened my pace to get onto the hotel property and they returned to their street corner.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Corrupt Chinese Official Gets Death Penalty

My hotel in Beijing gives me a free English lanaguage newspaper, the China Daily. The front page story this morning is "Ex-official gets death for graft". Apparently the former head of the Chinese State Food and Drug Administration was convicted of taking bribes equivalent to $850,000 from eight pharmaceutil companies for "approving untested or substandard drugs and medical devices."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An American's Recommendations in Beijing

Beijing Hotel Recommendations

Loong Palace Hotel and Resort – Large, luxurious hotel with large rooms and several restaurants. On the northern edge of Beijing near the 5th ring which can be a long distance from tourist areas downtown. Relatively close to the Badaling portion of the Great Wall. Slow internet connection. Has normal amenities plus a bowling alley. Free breakfast that is very good. The hotel disables the AT&T calling card access number in China to try to get you to pay for their expensive international phone service.

Beijing Hilton – I have not stayed there myself but a friend says it is great and I hope to try it on next trip to Beijing. This is within walking distance of the Hard Rock Café in Beijing.

(added May 31, 2007) I've spent two nights in the Hilton and it is very nice. The staff has been great and there is live music. As a Hilton Honors Gold member I get a free breakfast. The internet has been good, especially early in the morning. The American restaurant has steak but it is expensive.

Shangri-LaNorthwest Beijing near the 3rd ring and close to the Summer Palace. Just feels luxurious and has great service. Even the bathroom mirror was heated to keep it from fogging up. Rooms are smaller than the Loong Palace Hotel and Resort but the internet is faster. Nice walking area in nearby park along a canal behind the hotel. The canal goes all the way to the Summer Palace. The only option for breakfast is a wonderful breakfast buffet for 197 RMB. Near the Beijing zoo. Has a relaxing walking path around a hotel garden.

(added 5/26/2007) I have been told you can get breakfast for half price if you join the Shnagri-La frequent stay program.

Crowne Plaza Parkview Wuzhou – A very nice hotel on the north side of Beijing near the site of the construction of the Olympic Stadium. The breakfast buffet was 143 RMB but it was possible to order from the menu. I had good success with the internet connection. Several restaurant choices including Brazilian cuisine.

InterContinental – A luxury hotel near the financial district. I have not stayed there but my friends have and enjoyed it. They also reported a fast internet connection. Breakfast buffet was wonderful but over 300 RMB.

Chinese Food for Westerners in Beijing

Southern Beauty – An elegant Sichuan restaurant on the 3rd floor of the Pacific Century Plaza. Kung Pao Chicken made with cashews.

Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant (Wangfujing Branch) - Very nice, mult-story restaurant with good service. We were able to get in on a weeknight without a reservation. There are several branches under the same chain.

Western Food for When You’re Really Tired of Chinese Food in Beijing

Peter’s Tex Mex – More than just Tex Mex. Also has steaks, burgers, apple pie, and milkshakes.

Hard Rock Café – I had a very good slab of pork ribs. A Chinese band was playing American top-40 hits from the 70’s and 80’s.

Outback Steakhouse – I had nice rib eye. In the Beijing Hotel near the famous Wang Fu Jing shopping district

TGI Friday’s – Good American food and if I remember right it is close to the InterContinental.

Cell Phone Service

GSM phones will work but you will have to get a SIM card to have a local phone number in China. SIM cards are sold in baggage claim at the Beijing airport.

CDMA phone service is relatively new. in China. My Verizon phone worked great calls to my cell would forward to China. However, you had to get Verizon customer service to turn on international roaming before you leave the US. My cell phone service cost $1.29 per minute in international roaming charges. Incidentally, this cell phone international roaming was cheaper than the Loong Palace's international dialing with better sound quality.

English Language Church Services

Beijing International Christian Fellowship – 3000 members, 70 nationalities, and 10 languages with English being the biggest service. Must have a foreign passport to enter. The congregation meets in the auditorium at the 21st Century Hotel. The 11:30 am Sunday service features a different speaker each week and contemporary Christian music. See also Beijing International Christian Fellowship.

Beijing Haidian Christian Church – Recently started an English language service at noon on Sundays

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Starbucks in the Forbidden City

On my recent trip to Beijing, I heard about a minor contreversey. It seems that Starbucks, the American chain of upscale coffee shops was allowed to open one of its coffee shops in the Forbidden City. Apparently, a fair number of Chinese felt that a foreign company had no business being in business on the grounds of their national landmark. It isn't obvious, but the Forbidden City Starbucks is below. If you click on the picture to get the larger image, you should be able to make out all the people with coffee cups in their hands. I guess not everyone is that upset of about it.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Lama Temple, Beijing

I visited the Lama Temple in Beijing, China on March 31, 2007. Here's a picture of sign giving some of the history of the Temple.

Summer Palace, Beijing, China

I got to visit the Summer Palace in Beijing on March 31, 2007. It was a beautiful but slightly chilly day. The trees were just starting to bud and bloom.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Freezing in Toronto

A couple of weeks ago I made a trip to the Toronto, Canada area. It was 7 degrees farenheit the night I landed and no telling how cold it felt with the wind chill. Here's the view taken the next morning from inside the Hilton in Markham.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

I'm Podcasting!

I have enjoyed listening to podcasts on the iPod I got for Christmas so much that I've begun an audio version of this blog. Check out the links down the right-hand sidebar.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Olympic Panda in Beijing

This is a picture of a Panda figure in the parking lot outside of one of the Beijing 2008 Summer Olympic stadiums under construction. Picture taken in January 2007.

Bug on a Stick at the Night Market

One night on my recent trip to Beijing, China we wandered around downtown at night and took a peek at the food offerred at the Night Market. Here's a picture from my cell phone which is blurry but I think you get the idea. It had many different booths selling food to people walking by.

Here is a sample of some of the more unusual foods for sale... not for the faint of heart.

In the upper right you see pretty normal looking fresh strawberries and kiwi. Other items include some kind of grub or other insect larva, locust (grasshopper), seahorses, beatles, lizzard, and some other stuff I don't recognize. One of the vendors saw my white face and yelled out in English "deer".

Pictures taken in January 2007.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Phil's Random Observations and Commentary on China

Just in case you're planning your first trip to Beijing, here is what to expect.
  • Yes, there are young men who play guitar and sing for money in Chinese subway stations.
  • I heard that approximately 40% of the worlds concrete and steel are being consumed by China’s construction boom.
  • China is not producing dull, boring, utilitarian new buildings. The stadiums being built for the 2008 Summer Olympics are extremely modern and unusual looking. One technology park building catering to software companies features a UFO-looking structure covering the open space between buildings.
  • There are churches in China but they are supposed to be registered with the Bureau of Religious Affairs. Registered Protestant churches are called the “Three Self Partriotic Movement “
  • You are expected to bargin with shop keepers and street vendors. There is no bargining at Government operated shops, however.
  • The Chinese will still line up to view Chairman Mao’s body and leave flowers.
  • Thousands of bus drivers, taxi drivers, and people with other tourist-facing jobs are studying English to prepare for the many tourists coming for the 2008 Summer Olympics.
  • The new money in town can buy million dollar American-like luxury homes in gated communities with golf courses.
  • Hyandai cars are very common but I also saw many VW Jetta’s, a few Buicks, a Jaguar, a few Mercedes Benz, a few mini-van looking vehicles, and a couple of SUV-type vehicles.
  • The technology workers coming and going from the new technology parks in the northern suburbs seem very young and are high educated
  • You do see people who appear to be squatting on property on the side of the highway in shacks made of whatever material they could find.
  • There are some beggars on the streets.
  • I was approached to see if I wanted to buy bootleg copies of pornography DVD’s.
  • Aggressive entrepreneurs will try to sell you watches with the image of Chairman Mao, copies of Mao’s Little Red Book, and Red Army Hats.
  • The air is quite polluted. The air pollution hangs like a fog on winter nights.
  • The Chinese carry fancy cell phones.
  • The mens restroom in large buildings will often have both a western-style toilet and the hole-in-the-floor type.
  • Well educated and otherwise brilliant Chinese professionals really do eat duck feet but they are de-boned first. They also eat duck tongues, farm-raised bullfrog, eel, and more.
  • There are enough Muslims in the Beijing area that it is common for company cafeterias to have a separate line for their Muslim workers. I believe this is so they have meal options which do not include pork.
  • You can buy cigarettes from the same vending machine as Coke and candy bars.
  • It appears that most vending machines take one yuan coins, five yuan bills, and ten yuan bills. Why do they not take the one yaun bills?
  • Every restaurant I stopped at had either regular Coke or regular Pepsi. Almost none of them had Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi available.
  • When I ordered a pizza in an Italian restaurant in my hotel (which caters to western business travelers), the waitress brought me a bottle of traditional American Tobasco Sauce from the McIlhenny Company, Avery Island, LA to go with it. I've never eaten Tobasco Sauce on pizza but there it was.
  • Paper napkins are usually small.
  • "Hole in the wall" restaurants that locals frequent seem to cook a portion of their food on grills on the sidewalk out in front of the restaurant.
  • You can get bread in Chinese restaurants much like the bread in Indian restaurants back in the US.
  • Bicycle mechanics will set up shop on the sidewalk along busy streets.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Life Outside the 5th Ring

Originally uploaded by gville_architect.
Outside the 5th ring (highway loop) around Beijing, China there is construction everywhere. Most of the vehicles on the roads out here seem to be trucks carrying construction materials. China is making a huge investment.