Tuesday, October 30, 2007


It's good to be home, but my head is still partly in Asia. I dream of exotic places and traveling with a large group of people. A huge tour bus is always a fixture in these dreams, and there's often something odd about it (one time it was full of water, and the seats were floating inflatable pool chairs). And several times I've seen someone on the street here in Richmond and thought it was someone from the tour group.

Have, unfortunately, picked up some kind of bacterial infection (the severe abdominal pain kind, not the vomiting kind, and not the SARS kind, either), which manifested itself over the weekend. Am on some wicked antibiotics and feeling better. My main complaint right now is that I haven't been to a restaurant since I got back, and I've been SO looking forward to being able to read every word on a restaurant menu again!

Blogger is having a technical problem and images are not uploading properly. After several tries, this is the only one I got up so far:

Sunset from the plane window.

Still want to post on my exploration of the Imperial Palace Gardens, right across the street from our hotel, on my last morning in Tokyo, but that will have to wait. In the meantime and for the record, here is my pitiful bird list:

Common Myna (saw this one all over southeast Asia)
Olive Backed Sunbird (Singapore)
Spot Billed Duck (in the pond at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo)
Mute Swan (ditto)
Great Cormorant (ditto)
Common Raven (ditto)
Black Kite (saw this many times in Hong Kong and Shanghai, apparently it has adapted well to big cities)
Cattle Egret (many sightings in southeast Asia)
Oriental Magpie (Hong Kong)
Red Billed Blue Magpie (Hong Kong)
Rock Dove (can't have a big city without pigeons)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

We Are Not the Backstreet Boys (Thank God)

Arrived back in Richmond about 5pm yesterday (10/23). Brian picked me up at the airport in Dayton and took me to Friendly's for some ice cream before we headed home. Mort very excited to see me, Violet feigned indifference. Peteena in denial, wants to know when room service is coming.

Have lots of processing to do, and pictures still to post. Will try to put some order to my thoughts about this amazing trip over the next few days (am also doing some on-line research in an attempt to verify a very short bird list). In the meantime, here are some further shots of Tokyo -- an extremely polite, orderly, beautiful city that seems to have one thing on it's mind: shopping.

Tokyo Station - a very dangerous place. If they don't run you down and leave you for dead in the train station on the ground level, you could wander until you drop dead in the endless series of connected shopping malls under ground.

Or, you could run into these guys. three self-described "drunken" men who attached themselves to me and couple of female colleagues who were looking for a currency exchange where they would take my Chinese money (which the hotel would not touch). Two of them spoke a little English. They were quite charming, but apparently had been drinking all afternoon, and their breath would just about knock you down.

The IIE fair in Tokyo was held at "Sunshine City," a huge convention center/shopping mall/hotel complex where, instead of having signs or a marquee to tell you what all is going on that day, they have actual live people (usually young, and usually female) wearing white gloves and holding up signs advertising these events. This is the view from the plaza outside where the fair was down to the street.

Live entertainment in Sunshine City. A very animated guy with a very listless money doing the kind of spiel where the monkey does everything except what the guy tells him to do, and the guy pretends to get frustrated and angry, and then the monkey placates him, etc. etc. Yeah, it was pretty depressing.

You could have a four-course meal at the crepe stand in Harajuku, because you can buy any conceivable foodstuff in a crepe (and there are pictures of all it on the front of the crepe stand).

Then, of course, there's the absolutely disgusting steaming bin of unidentifiable meats at the Seven-Eleven. Seven-Eleven is everywhere in Asia, but only in Tokyo did I see this. You grab a pair of chopsticks, pluck out the nasty tidbit that you want, put it in a cardboard cup and pay for it. Another pic that you all are very fortunate cannot be accompanied by its aroma.

Motorcycle parking in Tokyo. Each space is equipped with a lock you can rent. You plug coins in like a parking meter and lock up your bike.

The crown of photographers and other press people who were waiting for the arrival of the Backstreet Boys when we arrived at Narita airport on Oct. 20.

The rock garden next to the bus pickup at the airport.

The Palace Hotel (where we stayed) is right across the street from the Imperial Palace (hence the name). Spent a couple of hours there on the morning I left Japan, wandering the grounds. Will post on that in the next day or so, it was truly amazing.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Two More Planes

Must check out soon to get on one last bus (to the airport) and then two more planes (Tokyo to Chicago, Chicago to Dayton). Will (hopefully) get home about an hour and a half after I leave, thanks to the international dateline. A few preliminary pics from Tokyo, and a more complete post from home.

We are ready for our farewell dinner.

The restaurant was in Harajuku (a crazy, crowded shopping district? In Tokyo? NO!)

Interesting signage abounds.

Self portrait on final night of the trip.

Our Fortunes Improve

We have been taken out and fĂȘted by a lovely and exuberant (if somewhat sparse, for what we merit) group of people in an enchanting little club. They seem to be celebrating something, or taking fond leave of each other. Much drinking and delicious, exotic food. Perhaps we are about to be re-installed to our former glory, so recently snatched away from us!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Get On The Bus

My second night in Tokyo and I haven't posted about Shanghai yet. As the end of the trip draws near the pace gets even crazier, if that's possible. We left Shanghai yesterday morning and arrived in Tokyo late afternoon. Will try to do some justice to Shanghai tonight and post about Tokyo before I leave. I had to backspace just now, I originally typed "before we leave" but for the first time since Sept. 27, I'll be getting on a plane alone on Tuesday. I think I'm familiar enough with airports, immigration and customs by now that I can negotiate it comfortably solo. It'll be nice not to have to wait in long lines (we make our own long lines with our group, if they weren't long before we arrived), but kind of scary not to be able to look for people you know to make sure you're going in the right direction.

So, about Shanghai...

On Saturday night I went to the Bund with Geisa from La Sierra University and Maria from Creighton University (right). The Bund is a strip along the waterfront, and has a lot of old western-style buildings from the 1800's. It was like Chicago's Navy Pier on steroids (pics two and three). Neon everywhere, people everywhere, people selling stuff or begging everywhere. We had Chinese food at the New Bund Restaurant, and it was really, really good.

Shanghai was not nearly as dirty and unpleasant as I expected (which doesn't mean it wasn't dirty, and sometimes unpleasant). It was quite raucous and pushy, though, especially compared to Seoul, which we had just left. At the IIE fair people would push in front of each other and talk over each other at your table, which was kind of startling after so much extremely polite behavior for so long. Some of my colleagues were quite put off by this behavior. It didn't bother me too much, but it was exhausting to have to talk non-stop (and really loudly, and with a language barrier that was sometimes rather high) for four hours . Not the greatest way to spend an evening when you're getting over a cold, but I got through it.

Shanghai is huge and sprawling, the exact opposite of Hong Kong, which is compact and vertical. One of our school visits was about an hour's drive out from our hotel (which I would say was downtown, except that "downtown" Shanghai is so huge as to make the term almost meaningless) and as we were driving out there we passed countless new housing developments under construction. At just one of these was a group of at least 50 high-rise apartment buildings (I counted ten rows of buildings as we passed, and could see five or six buildings in each row), and each one of these buildings was in roughly the same stage of construction, they were building them all simultaneously. And this was only ONE construction site that we passed. In some places, where we were fairly high up and could see out over the city, you could look out and see two dozen or so cranes, near and far, in every direction. It was truly staggering.

And then there was the airport, which is so big that they load everyone into buses at the gates and drive you out to your plane (we drove for nearly fifteen minutes to get to our plane, and in the end there were three busloads of people brought to it, all packed in like sardines). There's a constant stream of people going out each gate and onto buses. And speaking of buses, I must say that I'll be happy if I never have to get on another bus in my life, especially a tour bus (even though our tour bus in Shanghai was a very pretty blue and had cranes on it).

We all fall asleep on the bus coming back from a school visit.

The view from my hotel room in the Shanghai Hilton.

The view in one direction, standing on a pedestrian overpass, about a block from the hotel.

The view from the other direction, same overpass.

The fountain in the lobby of the Hua Ting Hotel and Towers, where the college fair was.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Lazy Saturday

Violet had another lazy day...

Violet Lazy Saturday 001
Originally uploaded by splaestro

While Mort was possessed of a vague feeling of unease...

Mort Lazy Saturday

But once he discovered the mushrooms in the yard, he felt better...

Mort with Mushrooms

We had a couple of rainy days this week, and they've sprouted up all around the base of the maple tree.

Mushrooms 002

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Losing Weight in Shanghai

I quite liked Seoul, actually, once I got over my disastrous first night. Got out Wednesday morning and walked around on my own a bit. Seoul is a big, bustling city but not as overwhelming as some we've been to, it feels more manageable to me. You can be on a big busy thoroughfare and turn off onto a side street and be in a totally different (and much more traditional) world.

Plus, you've got to love a town where you can pass four Dunkin' Donuts in fifteen minutes on foot (though the Bostonians among us insist on calling it "Dunkies," rather than its proper nickname, which everyone knows is "Dun-Do's"). Starbucks is everywhere (as is, interestingly, 7-11) but Dun-Do's I have only seen in Seoul.

There is less signage in English in Seoul than in any other town we've been to so far, and when you're going for minimal wordage it leads to some very succinct messaging. Even at the hotel, a lot of people have minimal English, though everyone has been very friendly and helpful.

There is a beautiful waterfall outside the lounge of the Lotte Hotel in Seoul.

This street vendor was selling whole, individual, deep-fried fish.

The JS Texas Western Bar (too bad I didn't know about this the night before we left!)

There is a truly staggering number of bakeries in Seoul, and they sell some of the most beautiful-looking confections I've even seen.

Arrived in Shanghai late last night. Unfortunately we do not have a lot of free time here and I'm fighting a cold. Marathon day today: left the hotel at 8AM for two school visits, then had a short break mid-day and then a big IIE fair this evening (lots of MBA, but some MFA, too, huge preponderance of people looking for graduate programs again). Got back to the hotel around 9:30 pm and went out for a late dinner with some colleagues to an Indian restaurant across the street, where we had a fine meal. There is a shopping foray afoot tomorrow evening, am hoping that I'll feel up to it.

I'll have to watch it, though, because I hear that the Shanghai airport is a stickler for making people (especially us Americans with our mammoth suitcases) stick to the baggage weight limits. There are two questions we frequently ask each other: "How are you today?" (a sincere query, and one having to do specifically with how you're holding up on a given day) and "How much do you weigh?" (by which we mean how much do your bags weigh?). I got dinged for excess baggage in Ho Chi Minh City ($28 US for 4 kilos - even the airport in Viet Nam asks for US dollars!) and have been on a weight loss program since then. I jettison my leftover materials at the end of each city stay, because I know there will be more waiting for me in the hotel when we arrive at our next destination. Shipped a box home from Taipei, and have been shifting things back and forth to or from my carry-ons according to how much the bags I'm going to check weigh. Fortunately, most of the hotels we stay at have scales in the rooms.

Need to be less than 25 kilos when we go to the airport, which should be no problem; among the women in this group I'm actually one of the lighter ones. Have to watch the shopping tomorrow, though! More from Shanghai soon.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Update from home

The Morty Playlist has been updated with footage from today's exciting activities... a bath. Haven't gotten around to uploading the Dayton Pug Meetup files yet.

We Are Somewhat Mollified

Dearest Legions of Fans:

We have had many trials and tribulations since our last communique. Some vast conspiracy caused us to be whisked from the Land of Smiles and spirited away, apparently in the baggage compartment of a large cargo vessel. We are assured by our "manager" that everything is fine and we will be home soon. We begin to suspect, however, that our travails are but mere sport to those around us. Any of our Legions of Fans who can pinpoint our whereabouts are urged to rise up and rescue us immediately.

In the meantime, we went on an interesting trip a few days ago. First, we sailed on a boat, from which we could gaze upon a vast city.

Later, we were carried up a mountainside, where we were introduced to a figure of apparently great local importance.

The kind gentleman assured us that all will be well if we will but accept what comes our way with equanimity and grace. Which is not our natural inclination, but we're willing to give it a try. Must have new wardrobe soon, though, and full access to hotel minibars if we are to tolerate this continued abuse.

Rude Awakening

So far I'm not loving Seoul. Fell leaving the airport and banged up my knees. Developing a bad sore throat (actually bagged a school visit this morning, first time I've done so the whole trip, but we have four hours of college fairs later today and I really need to be able to make it through that). And my room at the Lotte Hotel Seoul went off like a car alarm at 3am - all the lights went on and a man started yelling at me in Korean from under the bed (turns out that's where the radio speakers are, everything is controlled from a display panel on the bedside table).

Apparently (and yes, there was a note about this on the desk when I checked in, which I read) they were doing an inspection of the power system, with outages expected, and when the power came back on everything in my room came on with it. This effect, which happened three times between 3:00 and 3:20 a.m. today, was NOT mentioned in the note.

Have no idea if this happened to anyone else, as I haven't seen anyone yet today. Have no pics yet to post from Seoul, so here, in no particular order, are some of my faves that didn't make it onto the blog earlier.

And, a note to my birding friends: I have no bird list to speak of, because I have had no opportunities to get out and do any birding. Probably it was naive of me to think I would be able to do any. Sincerest apologies.

My Linden Tour "buddy" Jenae Schmidt of SUNY Binghamton. Your buddy makes sure you're there and don't get left behind when we leave schools or go to the airport. Jenae is a seasoned traveler and a neat person and has been a great buddy.

The Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur at night. This was a lucky shot out the back of a taxi cab window while stopped at a traffic light.

A shrine at the Bangkok airport.

Ho Chi Minh City. The bus was moving; I think this is the severest example of that particular type of visual distortion that happens when everything is in motion that I have.

A crazy building in HCMC (there are lots of crazy buildings in HCMC).

The Hong Kong skyline, seen from the Star Ferry from Kowloon.

Outside the Grand Formosa Regent Hotel in Taipei.

Patricia Perrier of Clarkson University, perched on her luggage at the Ho Chi Minh City airport.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

No Rock Climbing

There is way too much fun to be had in Hong Kong. It's a very compact city, and easy to get around, and there are tons of things to do.

On Saturday afternoon, we took a ferry to Lantau Island, where (according to our guide) no one wants to live because it's too hard to get to, even though it's much cheaper than the city itself.

A tour bus picked us up from the ferry, and drove us to a fishing village. This village has a huge parking lot to accommodate all the tour buses that go there. It certainly was picturesque, with open air stalls filled with all manner of fish and fish products.

Each of these baskets contains a different kind of live sea creature. They run garden hoses into the tray they are all in to keep them alive. These pictures are really not complete without the smell, but fortunately I cannot provide that here.

Then we got back on the bus and went to see the largest bronze Buddha in Asia. It's way up on top of a mountain, and no matter how you try to shoot it, it's backlit. Treo camera simply not equal to this challenge. This is my best shot of it. For more info. and pics of the Tian Tan Buddha, click here.

There are many shrines and displays, along with two gift shops, inside the Buddha.

These signs abound on the mountain where the Buddha is.

I guess everything goes better with Coke. Through the archway you can see one of the six female figures who surround the Buddha. Each one offers him something different (a book, a cup, a bird, a flute, etc.). I'm happy to report that none of them actually offers him a Coke.

This is the view coming down the mountain from the Buddha. There are 206 steps. The monastery is the building in the upper right.

This is one of the many shrines in the monastery. They were incredibly elaborate and beautiful. We could hear the monks chanting. Some in our group saw them, but I spent too much time up on the mountain (OK, and at the gift shop) and had to run to make it back to the bus.

This is the most incense I've ever seen. There are a variety of sizes of it, including huge sticks over an inch in diameter There's a warning sign on the cauldron that says something like "Beware of Pot of Hot Incense." (That's not an exact quote, but it's very close.)

Then we got back on the tour bus and headed back to the ferry, where we saw the most bicycles I've ever seen (last photo). At right is one of my colleagues trying to get a last shot of the Buddha.

More school visits tomorrow, then we head for Seoul on an afternoon flight.

(NOTE TO PETEENA'S LEGIONS OF FANS: Peteena has been quite upset and disoriented since we left Thailand. She's convinced there's been a coup d'etat in the land she was born to rule and that we are in hiding. I took her with me yesterday, though, and she had a long talk with the Buddha. Hopefully, she will be feeling well enough to post soon.)