Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Traveling with …NON Travelers

No pictures I’m afraid…just some observations from the Zoo part of the airplane.

Corey and I are headed to Beijing to meet Mair and Stew. 

I can not tell you how very excited we are for this trip.  Corey needs the time off as he has flown 20,000 air miles in the last month…yes, we ARE taking a plane…but at least there is touring on the other side. 

SO…Tourism in ALL forms in China is new.  The things we just take for granted are ALL new…so, for those of us who have…I don’t know…been on a plane, been on a train, been more than 10 miles from our home…are new to Mainland Chinese.

You think I’m racist.

I am not.  This is a fact.  The wealth, expansion and freedoms granted to Mainland Chinese has opened the whole world. Until six or seven years ago, they could NOT travel b/c of government restrictions!

HOWEVER…the world has things it takes for granted.  The world has knowledge it takes for granted.

Those NEW to the world are new to the knowledge.

Let me elaborate. This is a serious list…and I’m typing this at 40,000 feet.

Corey and I are in an exit row.  The crew CHEERED.  Yes, we have been in an exit row before.  You will see why they were happy in a little bit.

As we got on the plane we moved back to the 40th row.  Rows 22 to 39 were relatively quiet.  People were getting in their seats, settled.  No issues.

We moved to the next section.  The sound level increased 100 x as the crowd got found their seats. It was mayhem finding overhead space.  In fact, finding the seats themselves was a novelty  We were informed by the staff that this area of the plane is normally reserved for tours.


Let’s just say it was SO bad…that the flight crew shared they not only needed a break…they wanted ear plugs. And we hadn’t even left the ground.

After the obligatory “China” delay (China airspace is controlled by the military so it is closed at a whim), we take off.

We taxi.  It’s all good.  We take off.  It’s all good. THEN, Corey says; “Just watch” We are not in the air 2 minutes and people are out of their seats….moving about the aisles.  The flight attendants yell and they sit down…but not for long.

Seat belt sign?  What is that? 

I will say that airlines in Asia do turn the seatbelt sign off much earlier than US airlines.  Once the sign goes off I ran to the bathroom.  It was a smart move.

The bathroom.  I am going to skip over the usual stereotypical bathroom stuff.  Let’s go straight to the lock.  This crowd is NOT used to “red light = stop Green Light = go”  In fairness, I’m not sure there is a red light/green light expectation.

Remember rows 22-39? THEY know how to open, close and lock the bathroom door…Rows 40+ (except for four of us – me and Corey included) do not.  In fact, the green button …or red button…means nothing.  If the button is green…there is still waiting outside…if the button is red..there is pushing on the doors. Then, once they actually get IN the restroom…they do not lock the door…so others are barging in.  WOW

Seat belt signs.  NO CLUE.  See above referenced note about leaping out of the seats the minute we were off the ground.  The seat belt sign coming on during the flight…that is ignored…completely.  The flight attendants were constantly putting people in their seats..and then when the attendant left the person popped up again.  It was like Kindergarten for 60 year olds.

Because people kept using the restroom WITH the seatbelt light on, finally, the restroom door was locked by the crew.  It stopped no one from trying to enter, but the staff was pretty quick in putting people in their seats.

But…people kept escaping. There were plenty of folks standing at the locked doors…thinking there were people inside…yea , no….but what fun it is to watch!

I guess the best story I can share with you to let you know how NEW all of this is to the Mainland Chinese is this: 

A friend was shopping in Shenzhen,  This is an area in Mainland China but so close to Hong Kong we can get there by train and quite honestly, from where I live, is a stone’s throw.  Kowloon (my neighborhood) is attached to China (so why can’t I get China’s info on ProPoints?  I don’t know!!)  SO, while she was there…the authorities were conducting “queuing” lessons.  What is a “queue?” A Queue is a line.  The authorities were having lessons on how to line up.  She said it was pretty funny.

The US is scorned because only 15% or so have passports. In fact, the US people were just voted the worst tourists on the planet.  REALLY?  Who was voting?   I beg to differ.

However, because of our every day experiences, when the travel bug hits…there are certain things we know….like the fact we should lock a lavatory door.

SO…here is my other “however”.  The people on these tours (in the zoo part of the plane) are 99.9% guaranteed new to travel..even down to “red means occupied and green means open.”  Seat belt signs…most probably never really been seen before.

I leave it to Cathay…Dragon Air and ALL of the other Mainland providers to add these little touches into their safety videos. 

It is only by repetition and experience that all will become seasoned travellers.

It is only by repetition and experience that the flight attendants will WANT to keep their jobs!

Be nice to those flight attendants, they deal with a lot of crap.

Lastly, the next time you are in a line and someone is being slow or asking questions remember they what you just know, they most probably do not.  Take a breath.  You will get there!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Kate’s the name…Tourism’s the game


Yep.  I’m a tourist.  I’m darn proud of it. 

I’m one of many and that’s ok too.

Big Red Bus?  Yes

Walking Tours? Sure!

Trip Advisor? Frommers?  Rick Steves?  I search them, have them, use them, read them, LOVE them. 

Don’t look down at us. 

Help us!  Guide us!  You don’t HAVE to embrace us…cause that would just be weird!

My final day in Singapore saw the sun come back!  Corey was feeling better (just in time to get on the plane, but that’s ok…he turned the corner).

On a tip from a friend, I went out to the Singapore Zoo and had Breakfast with the Orangutan's.

A van picked me up from the hotel across the street. Mine wasn’t listed but no great shakes, it was all of a 4 minute walk and that included waiting for lights.

I was taken to the collection point…where all vans drop those going on tours for re-distribution to the proper buses.

This spot was right where we were the day before.  Singapore has a large “wheel” thing…I guess like the London “Eye” though I am not sure if I can call it that without insulting someone British.

IMG_2713’s a Ferris Wheel with GIANT pods…so you and 24 of your closest friends can take a one hour spin.  There are “special” tours you can take…Champagne and chocolate (yes please), or maybe dinner with your own waiter…which I think would be strange – wine NOT included.  You can even get married up there! IF you get married…you get to SKIP the Queue…isn’t that kind of them??

IMG_2714 Here’s an “arty” shot of one of the pods

OK…back to the tour.

This tour group LOVES stickers.  As soon as I got there a brown “zoo” sticker was slapped on me.  I soon found out this was my admittance to the breakfast.  THEN. after we got to the zoo…we got another sticker…that meant we paid to get in.  Yea…I didn’t think about moving them to my shoulder until AFTER the pictures had all been taken.  Well, if I’m going to be proud of being a tourist…I might as well be branded as one!

As soon as our group got to breakfast, the Orangutans came down to the staging area.  We were warned in advance that AFTER breakfast…beware of the peeing Orangutan! The Singapore Zoo has an area where they can roam free and swing from vine to tree to platform.  SO…after breakfast and they make their way back to their places…yep…look out below!

Much like the Panda experience in Cheng Du…the animals are kept happy by being fed…constantly. 

We were not allowed to touch them b/c they don’t like strangers.  I saw one bite a handler…duly noted.

IMG_2725 There were six or so that came down to see us.  They spent quite awhile with us…but as you can imagine, it is hard to control them.

IMG_2722 Here is the picture the Zoo personnel took for me…They had my camera and a PROFESSIONAL camera…they did not understand why I did not fork over $35 Singapore Dollars ($30 USD) for this lovely shot.

Him:  “You don’t like it?”

Me: “No”  (Maybe if ANYONE besides me was looking at the camera I might have been convinced)

He was genuinely shocked I did not jump at this picture. 

One couple I met from Australia got a pretty decent picture…she was enthralled with this experience so I’m glad her picture came out well!


Here are a couple more I grabbed when the crowd settled down.

Then…out came the Python!  It wasn’t a very big python…I think his name was “Paul”

IMG_2735 I liked Paul. 

The Australian lady offered to try to get one decent shot of me…Here we go

IMG_2739NOPE let’s try again!

IMG_2740 Yea…time to give up.  But hey…that one in the back with his hand out reminds me of people I know!

I took the tram ride oround the zoo and hopped out because there was ONE thing I wanted to see more than anything

IMG_2775 White tigers.  They were very snoozy when I first got there.

IMG_2779 I LOVE this shot…the markings are so cool.

I lost…found these guys:

IMG_2784 IMG_2767

Made my way BACK to the Tigers and VOILA

IMG_2793They were sort of awake

IMG_2799 They were definitely hot.

IMG_2812 Soon enough it was time to wander off.

I was happy to have made it back to see them up.  Such beautiful animals!

I finished my tour…and headed back to the bus. The bus waits for no tourist.

But wait…before I go to the hotel to check out and hang by the pool to absorb just a few more rays I leave you with this picture:

IMG_2752 This little one was all tied up …and the thought of him made me smile all day.

My next time in Singapore or Dubai…I won’t have to be quite the tourist…but I’m so happy I had the opportunity to do it this time.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Home … Gone … Singapore


This has been a crazy few weeks for travel.  Home from Dubai for 30 hours and then we were off to Singapore.

This has helped me get a little taste of what Corey’s real life is like.  Pack, travel, unpack, pack, travel, home.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

Now..let’s be fair. For me…it’s not a chore.  It’s vacations.  Lather, rinse, repeat.  I know I’m lucky.  I really hope I thank Corey enough.

ANYWAY.  This time we were headed out to Singapore.  Another first for me. 

Upon landing, the warmth and humidity hit me head on.  Quite honestly, YAY. Hong Kong has been just dreary these last few weeks, so I was ready to bake.

See me in 3 months when it’s SUPER humid and hot here…but for now…I will take the sun and run.

We took a quick ride to the hotel, and what struck me is how much Singapore reminds me of Maui.  Singapore is SO incredibly tropical…not hard since it is just this side of the Equator.  

Singapore had done an amazing job of keeping green spaces, parks and trees in its city center. 

We checked in and after Corey did his cardio workout and I did my weights (I HATE cardio so I gladly gave up my IPod to Corey who forgot his), we headed out to the pool.

We shared laughter and cocktails with our traveling companions and then went out to a great dinner.

Sunday started early with Corey becoming deathly ill.  NOT an auspicious way to start our trip.  Sadly, he was down for most of the trip.  He did manage to make it to his trainings, but it did put a damper  on our time in Singapore together. I spent a quiet Sunday supporting him..bought meds, hung out in case he needed anything.  It seemed only right and nothing is worse than being  sick in a hotel room.

Monday dawned and Novella and I (while the men worked) started our walking tour of the city.  We were headed to the Marina Bay Sands Hotel and areas around it.  We did want to see the Titanic exhibition, but time ran out.

IMG_2655 Not a very clear day.  At the very top of this hotel is an Infinity pool at the top…VERY cool!

IMG_2664 Me at the top. 

The whole area where the Marina Bay Sands Hotel is being developed.


IMG_2658 Here’s Novella.  She navigated while I spotted the buildings on the map.  It was a good team effort!

After having a drink at the top (I had a beer…it was HOT)…we made our way to the Singapore Botanical Garden where we went straight to the Orchid Gardens.


OH…one BIG rule at the Gardens:


Again…I am searching for that “perfect” picture (maybe I should take a class??)  ANYWAY….here are a few flowers that caught my eye:



As we made our way out of the Gardens we passed …Swan Lake!


We headed back to the hotel where Corey and I sought out some soup for dinner and then we watched the Academy Awards on DVR.  I managed to go the whole day NOT knowing who won.

Thus ends the day.

Friday, March 2, 2012

The richness of Dubai does not stop at the Gold Souk


My second day of touring started slightly later than the first.   I was continuing on the Big Red Bus (BRB)…but moving to the “blue” line which included the beaches, fabulous buildings and lastly, Atlantis…the copy resort of the one in the Caribbean…a pink palace with an aquarium, dolphin experience, waterpark …all perched on the edge of Dubai’s “Palm”  A man made land fill shaped like…yes…a palm tree.

Once again the Big Red Bus departed from WAFI…same things applied:

IMG_2517 Pick a language and

IMG_2598 Sit the heck down!

Well, I remembered so off we went.

The tour today was all beach and mall venues.

While yesterday’s tour was “old” Dubai, today would show the wealth and growth and newness.  Being a history major…I can’t say today’s tour would be as “interesting” but it sure would be beautiful.

The whole bus ride today was to make our way toward "The Palm”  I was happy because the winds died down and the “chill” was this made it tolerable to sit outside.

IMG_2599 This is Saks Fifth Avenue.  I just like how it looked written in another language…like it’s not pretty enough in English!

Next, we come to one of the 8 zillion 5 star hotels in Dubai.  Trust me…there are tons:

Here are a few:

IMG_2606 This is the Burj Al Arab. It is designed to look like a sail. The prices on these rooms go from $1,000 to $27,000 USD per night. Rumour has it that this is really the only 7 star hotel in the world!

  If you look at the helipad at the top of the building (the round thing)…you will see where Tiger Woods drove a golf ball off the top of the building and 2 tennis stars actually played a game!


Incoming helicopter…this is an optional way to the hotel from the airport.  I’m sure there is an extra charge!

If you don’t  want to be in the “Sail” hotel….you can be in this one that has the “Sail” hotel as a backdrop! This is Al Qasr.  Stupid gorgeous. 

IMG_2615 IMG_2616

Al Qasr takes a page from Venice…canals and all!  Each of these hotels have beautiful beaches within a stone’s throw!

This is Jumeirah Beach:  The water has the loveliest shades of green and blue.  I really do not have the words to describe it.  Well, I have one word:  Breathtaking!

IMG_2608 IMG_2603

The bus continued on to Atlantis: I was going to Atlantis to see their Aquarium. It is called The Lost Chambers.  I’m really not sure why…it’s not big enough to get lost in…but it was a good visit.

IMG_2622 I was greeted by “river” rays.  They are tiny…and very cute.

IMG_2628This is a catfish!  HUGE!

I was most impressed by the jellyfish!  I was really working to get some great shots of them…but the little suckers just kept moving…here’s what I got:


IMG_2638I have actually flipped these…see the first picture?  They are normally bulbous side down…  If my camera had not had a low battery…I would have tons more shots.

I am forever looking for the next “best” shot.  This is what I think is my best shot…2 days after I got my camera:


I love this picture…I framed this picture…I want another “untouched” picture that looks like this!  I keep snapping. Thank you digital cameras!  Snap, delete, repeat!

ANYWAY…I finished my tour and headed back to the bus.

We toured more malls.’s the deal.  I live in a city where we have malls. LOTS of malls.  Too many malls to count.  You can bet that if there is an MTR station, there is a mall close by, so I wasn’t SO impressed with the malls.  I did NOT get out to see the ski slope at the Mall of Emirates. THAT might have been something. 

We made more stops…and then…the bus “voice” told us to ready our cameras for what is a great photo “opportunity”

This is the Burj Khalifa…the tallest tower in Dubai…and one of the tallest in the world. 

I always have my camera out…so as we moved by I zoomed in:

This is what I came up with:
IMG_2641 I feel pretty lucky to have gotten this shot. 

Take a second and open this one up.  The sunlight reflecting off of the top…natural. I’m sure some camera guru would tell me all that is wrong with it…but I don’t care.  I think it really speaks to what Dubai is.  A desert that has been converted to an oasis and the Burj Khalifa is the centerpiece, almost the spokes-building for all things Dubai.

As part of the tour, we also got a boat tour of The Creek. I can’t say how much I think the BRB was a good value.

The tour was on an older boat, used at night for dinner cruises.  I’m glad our tour only lasts an hour because quite honestly, due to the tours I had taken over the two days, I had seen a lot of the waterfront:

IMG_2644 If you look in the bottom part of this building, you can see the reflection of our boat…it is the kind of dark line right at the top of the reflection of the water in the building.

IMG_2643 They even have “Duck” tours in Dubai…those vehicles that do land and sea tours. 

IMG_2648 IMG_2649

and lastly:

IMG_2650 Crop shirt guy…he is the last thing I remember from my waterfront tour…he did not get the memo that this look left in the 90’s

Dubai is a pretty complex place…old, new, rich, poor.  I loved it.  Once again, I would like to spend more time there…and just re-visit and absorb.