Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Photo finish

There's one little detail about my trip that I left out in my last post about Singapore. When I was walking past the Victoria Theatre I noticed this poster.

I did a double take when I saw this because I could hardly believe that I was lucky enough to be in Singapore at the same time Pinchas Zukerman would be performing and conducting at the Esplanade. That night I booked a ticket online and eagerly awaited my chance to see the concert.

It turned out to be a wonderful way to finish my trip. Zukerman played Bach's Violin Concerto No 2 in E Major and then conducted Brahms' Serenade no 2 in A major and Schubert's Symphony no 3 in D major. I rather wish he had played more than he conducted, but it was still quite an impressive concert. Apparently I wasn't in the only person in the office who was thinking this, because at the end of the evening everyone called for an encore. Zukerman responded by leading the audience in a brief rendition of Brahms' lullaby. (Yes, leading the AUDIENCE! He asked us to sing along.) Clearly he was ready to go home.

Of course I didn't want to go home quite yet, so I took the opportunity to do a little bit more sight seeing.

Before I went into the Esplanade for the concert I snapped a few pictures from the nearby waterfront. Here's one that was taken just before the concert, when it was still light outside.

Singapore really does have a nice skyline! Down in the lower left quarter of the photo you can see the Merlion fountain while the rest of the picture is dominated by the skyscrapers of the business district.

Of course, much of this wouldn't be possible if it weren't for the port traffic in Singapore. If you look just a little to the left of the skyscrapers, the cranes from the container port are visible from quite a distance.

The really beautiful view, however, comes when the skyscrapers light up the night! (taken immediately after the concert)

And I couldn't resist getting one more picture of the Esplande Center. (Please pardon the soft focus and overexposer. I really love the impressionist feeling it gives the picture)

And with that, it was back to the states!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Writing tips

1. Verbs HAS to agree with their subjects.

2. Prepositions are not words to end sentences with.

3. And don't start a sentence with a conjunction.

4. It is wrong to ever split an infinitive.

5. Avoid clich├ęs like the plague. (They're old hat.)

6. Be more or less specific.

8. Parenthetical remarks (however relevant) are (usually) unnecessary.

9. Also too, never, ever use repetitive redundancies.

10. No sentence fragments.

11. Don't use no double negatives.

12. Proofread carefully to see if you any words out.

Monday, May 29, 2006


This was the second time I've gone to Singapore, so when I arrived it didn't take long for me to start touring the town.

Despite it's location, Singapore is a surprisingly Western city. I was staying at the edge of the orchard shopping district, which is full of department stores and high end shops. It's typically bustling from 10AM until midnight; something which can be said about much of Singapore.

Of course, if you're looking for something a bit quieter, there are a few less commercial areas you can visit. In fact, right in the middle of the shopping and business district, there's a large park built around Fort Canning. This site, which was originally established as an ammunition and supply depot eventually became home to a British barracks.

No longer needed for it's original purpose, it's now home to a dance theatre company and a culinary school.

It's really situated in a picturesque location. I'm not the only one who thinks so. I accidentally walked into the background of a photoshoot while I was our early on Sunday morning. (If you get Asian fashion magazines, look for a guy in a big white hat standing in the background) Of course the nice scenery isn't just a recent thing. Earlier in the life of Fort Canning, the British erected 'the cupolas' on the hill by the fort's center. There's no potential military purpose for them, but they would make decent places to relax and enjoy the greenery.

Near here is the edge of the Fort Canning Green there is a memorial wall with tombstones from the old Christian cemetery that was located here.

With little concern over the need for military action in the middle of Singapore, the only weapons left guarding the fort are about 200 years old. This cannon is too old to have ever been used here at Fort Canning, but does make a nice ornament amid all the landscaping of the fort.

If you want a little bit more excitement you can go down to the riverwalk where there are quite a few people enjoying the shops and cafes. You'll also find a few interesting bits of sculpture on display.

Near the mouth of the Singapore river you'll find the Victoria Theatre; one of the many bits of architecture that reminds us that this was once British territory.

If you noticed the statue in the picture, that's Sir Stamford Raffles who is credited with playing a key role in the founding and development of Singapore.

Traveling further to the south you'll find Chinatown which it's assortment of shops, street vendors and malls.

After the shops open up there's a wide assortment of gifts, clothes, souvenirs, and any sort of food available on the street. I picked up a very nice, super-compact umbrella for 10 sing$ here. I suspect the price would have been a few dollars lower, but I didn't think to buy the umbrella before the rain began.

That covers the various sights I enjoyed on Sunday. There's a little more, but it'll have to wait until later.

Lest we forget.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Do you smell anything?

Well it isn't quite that bad, although this does remind me of a little incident back in school. (Sound familiar Bo?)

It appears that the main hard drive on my desktop has crashed. I haven't found out exactly what's wrong, but it won't boot anymore. Looks like it's time to start loading everything into a brand new tower. After I'm set up I'll have to try to salvage the old drive. Hopefully the autopsy won't reveal anything too shocking...

...but who knows?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Morning in the Arctic

I'm back home again. I'll be recovering from the time change, but look for the rest of the travel photos over the next few days.

Across the border

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, and in this day and age it will probably end with a bad case of jetlag.

I knew I had gotten over my jetlag last week when I felt like taking a nap after work. Now I’m headed home again, so I’m looking for ways to re-set my body’s clock. So far the best way I’ve found is to match myself to the proper time zone a day ahead of time. Usually that means exhausting myself before the flight so I’ll get plenty of shut-eye on the plane.

Why am I telling you this? Because I’m flying out at 6:45AM local time and I need to keep myself awake until then or else I will be awake for all 18 or so hours that I’ll be in the air.

Seems like the perfect time to cover my time in China.

Shenzhen, the city with the main border crossing, didn’t seem that much different from the bustling city environment in Hong Kong, but the further out we went, the more things began to look different.

I didn’t take many pictures after I crossed the border from Hong Kong, because I felt rather out of place waving around a camera in most of the places I went. The reason why should become clear very shortly.

My destination in China was Huizhou, a city which is considered to be a rising financial star of Asia. A considerable amount of industry has moved here over the past several years as labor prices Hong Kong rose. Apparently having industrial facilities tends to drive local economies at impressive rates, because most factory jobs give people a chance to make considerably more money than they would farming.

The factory where I went to work was fairly similar to the other facilities I have seen in my job. It was surprisingly clean, very orderly, and aside from having equipment which was made before I was born, could have been any other factory I’ve visited.

It’s when you go outside that things start to look different. The streets aren’t as tidy as in Hong Kong, despite the workers in high visibility vests cleaning along the road and sidewalk. I noticed that the ornamental pieces of the factory’s metal gate had been broken off as though someone had pried them off in a hurry. I wouldn’t be surprised if these little bits were being sold off for their value as scrap metal.

The hotel was another experience altogether. Upon my arrival at the Kande International Hotel I was surrounded by bell hops trying to help me carry my bags despite my insistence that I didn’t need or want help. The desk staff spoke very clear, if somewhat akward English, and was incredibly respectful.

When I got to my room I felt a bit stunned. I could describe it, but the pictures do a much better job.

Before you get too jealous I should mention that I rarely stay at places this nice. Usually a Holiday, Hampton, or Comfort Inn would be customary for my business travel. What is interesting about this place, is that it’s actually cheaper per night than most of the low budget hotels back in the states.

Still feeling a bit surprised I started to set up my computer to check my email. When I began looking for the network cable I found this.

Now this is almost too swanky.

I proceed to open the drapes to check out the view.

It’s quite a nice little cityscape, isn’t it? (please pardon the dirty glass)

Looking straight down I see the lovely pool 21 stories below.

Not bad at all. Then I looked a little to one side of the pool and things started to get interesting.

Now perhaps it becomes clearer why I didn’t want to walk around with a camera in front of my face. I already stick out in a crowd here, just because I’m one of very few Caucasians running around the city. Walking into a neighborhood like this one with nice clothes and a big digital camera would probably draw plenty of attention down there.

Pickpockets, purse snatchers, and other thieves aren’t uncommon here. There are places where I was told specifically to watch out for people on motorcycles grabbing my gear and riding off. The people on the street may look reasonably benign, but when you’re a stranger in a strange land, it’s best not to make a target of yourself. Don't get me wrong and think that I'm accusing people of being theives and muggers because of their appearance. I just think that poverty seems to increase desperation, and it's best not to add temptation to the mix.

Let’s take another look at that view. Did you notice the waterway in the earlier pictures? That’s actually part of West Lake; a very dominant feature on the map of Huizhou. There was a significant amount of boat traffic on the water whenever I looked out. There were several little boats like this one, with its clean, fresh look and plenty of room for cargo or people

I saw some smaller boats like this one. I must say, whoever rigged up the motor on that boat deserves a bit of respect for ingenious use of limited resources

Then there were boats like these.

It may be tempting at first to make some kind of pun involving the word ‘junk’ (as in a style of Chinese watercraft,) but there’s something I would like to point out. If you look a little closer it appears as though people are actually living on these boats.

Both vessels have seen better days, and one looks as though it’s just one gentle breeze away from falling to bits, yet someone calls these things home. It was a sobering realization.

Something else I noticed while I was here, is that most of the buildings I encountered were relatively new (less than 40 or 50 years old.) True, many of them were decaying so rapidly that the looked ancient, but there was very little old architecture. It was mostly just old concrete and steel construction in a stiflingly boring box like configuration. As I understand, older styles were essentially abandoned (or even openly shunned) during the cultural revolution, so that there was no risk of people ‘looking back’ to older ways.

I will leave you to contemplate that. I know this trip has given me many things to consider, and many images which will not soon be forgotten.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Runnin' on Empty

I'm just about out of energy folks. I think it's time I go home.

I can almost see it now.

I'll post more travel pictures once I've made it home. I have some good ones this time.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Breezing through Hong Kong

During my brief stay in Hong Kong I didn't actually spend any time on Hong Kong Island. Instead I stayed in a nearby region of the country called Sha Tin.

While it may look a bit dreary at 6AM, I can assure you that this place is bustling and teaming with life during the day and well into the night.

Hong Kong is known for having one of the highest population densities on the planet, and I can believe it. Across the street from m hotel there was a shopping mall (on two sides of the hotel no less.) On top of the shopping mall there was a swimming pool, a tennis court, and a playground for little kids. But why put all of that on top of a shopping mall? Well, mostly to entertain the people who lived in the three high rise apartment buildings built on top of the shopping mall. I don't mean small ones either. These things stuck up at least 20 to 30 stories over the roof of the mall.

As I mentioned earlier, the weather was lousy during most of my stay in Hong Kong, so I've shamelessly stolen a picture from

I can't say that I'm really crazy about cities, but hopefully I'll get to spend some time exploring Hong Kong in the future.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Road to Singapore

I left off after my last post without saying much about where I was going or what I was doing.

After leaving Japan I caught a flight over to Hong Kong. My real destination was a manufacturing faucility in Huizhou but because I didn't have an entry visa, I couldn't go straight into China. Fortunalty it is possible to get a visa in 24 hours or less if you happen to be in Hong Kong. So I spent a day in Hong Kong.

Now don't get the idea that I was slacking off. My employer, hence to be known as The Company I Dare Not Name, happens to have an office in Hong Kong. In fact they used to have a factory there too until prices got so high that they moved it across the border. (No it's not just a problem in America.) So rather than go running about the town I went into the office, made a couple phone calls and took care of some work.

That evening one of the people from the office took me out to dinner at a place where we could enjoy the skyline of Hong Kong. The skyline there just goes on and on!! And to top that off, they routinely have a light show where the building lights flash in various patterns and lasers flash from the rooftops. Sadly, we were on the edge of a typhoon so I didn't bother to take pictures.

By the time I made it back to the hotel, my visa was in so the next morning I crossed the border into China. Details will follow in a later post.

A couple days later I crossed back into Hong Kong, caught a flight and now I'm in Singapore. I'll be here for at least a few days. After that, who knows? Maybe I'll be going home.

Stay tuned for pictures and more details.

Friday, May 19, 2006

My time in Japan (the long version)

Warning: Some of these photos have not been re-sized. Click at your own risk.

Arriving in Tokyo at the end of Golden Week* was nice because I was able to get a flavor of the festival environment that surrounds a holiday in Japan. (Golden week is essentially a week long holiday caused by the accumulation of different holidays in close proximity to each other.)

In particular there were many gatherings around Shinto shrines and small parades with Shinto floats. Apparently a typical festival will involve displaying one of these floats (practically shrines in and of themselves) along the side of a road. People will gather to share food and games and otherwise be sociable.

Frequently they will form a parade where float is carried through the streets, accompanied by music (often drums) and chanting.

Around Shrines you may see a spectacle like this one, in which vendors sell food, toys, or have carnival like games.

In this atmosphere the shrines will likely attract plenty of attention, with a constant flow of people coming there to pray.

Even in the rain, there was a steady stream of people to this shrine, and the constant beat of drums in the background.

I spent most of my time in Oyama where I had meetings for several days. Naturally it was a smaller town than Tokyo, and some of the locals claimed it was too small and boring. Still, it seemed like quite a bustling place to me.

After the meetings I took a little time to visit with Lt. Mike, who is spending his time in Japan courtesy of the USAF. He's spent much more time touring the country as he has spent several months here. He has kindly provided several pictures from a trip into the more rural sections of Japan. These were taken near Lake Towada which is up near the northern end of Honshu Island

On one peninsulas into the lake there are some lovely shrines, some of which require a nice climb to reach. It's easy to see how people can enjoy visiting places like this, because they combine the peaceful, wilderness setting with some amazingly ornate architecture.

As is the case with any country, there are some things which simply seem out of place. In this instance I'm referring to the 4 story tall replica of the Statue of Liberty. That's right. Misawa has it's a replica of this lovely green lady in New York. Apparently the statue stands at the same latitude as the original. I have no idea what the backstory is on this bit of sculpture, but it must be interesting. (again photo courtesy Lt. Mike)

Eventually I took some time to explore Tokyo on my own. Considering how densely populated this place is, it's surprising how much space is devoted to parks. I visited the park near Ueno station and found plenty of room to walk around without feeling like I was deep in such huge metropolis. The park isn't really dissimilar to parks anywhere else. You have statues, fountains, and plenty of greenery. For instance, here you have a statue of Prince Akihito, who was considered a hero in many parts of Japan for his service in the Samuri Rebellions and the first Sino-Japanese War.

The park also contained various museums and attractions including the Tokyo National Museum, seen here at the opposite end of the great fountain of Ueno park. (Sadly, the fountain was not running, so it's more of a reflecting pool in this picture.)

The National Science Museum is located here as well and, it has a lovely old locomotive on display at the entrance. (If there's a steam locomotive around, I can usually find it.)

I did notice one interesting thing about this locomotive. While American locomotives typically put the engineer on the right hand side of the cab, the controls here are reversed so that the engineer is on the left. I suppose this shouldn't be much of a surprise as most cars in Japan have the driver on the opposite side compared to American cars.

Once you step outside of the park boundaries you are immediately reminded that you are in a bustling metropolis. There are many shopping districts so crowded that you practically have to push your way through the crowd to get anywhere.

My time in Tokyo was nice, but in the end too short. On Monday I was off for another adventure in another country. That's it for Japan on this trip. I'll post more about my traveling as time permits.