It’s a tough choice

Cubiks . Newsweek . TIME .

Ewan McGregor & Charley Boorman.
Odessa research.
There’s just too little ‘me’ time.
Catch up time is tough.
I can’t imagine if there were more than just me to please, at the moment.
That would be tough.
Solution – for now:
7 minutes 40 seconds Cubiks practice – not like I’m training for the Cubiks competition. 
But it can get quite addictive.
I don’t suppose I want my brain scanned.
It’ll probably mirror that of a nicotine dependent person.
Besides, it’s far from cool to have a diagnosis that spells out: Cubiks addiction.
And I wonder why I have insomnia.
The brain sees orange, yellow, cobalt, red, green, spinning and the fingers in a semi-sleep like state still moves.
This is replaced with flight patterns, paths, time and cost.
Various permutations of the best.
Interestingly I was informed that the cheapest KUL-LON return option with accommodation thrown in for good measure is now Air Lanka. I don’t know for sure. I don’t fancy flying Air Lanka.
It’s the typhoon season in Hong Kong. 
I remember being swept across the university lawn almost the same time last year.
I remember seeing smallish Chinese workmen working at robotic fashion and incredible speed and determination putting up perspex along the pedestrian paths that links the buildings. Not an easy feat.
I remember dancing in the rain only to walk into Grand Hyatt with my drenched Tod’s that refuses to dry throughout my 3-days stay, cheapening the otherwise over the top ostentatious bath of black granite and gold fixtures.
I remember the surprised look on the concierge face when I ordered a car to Happy Valley – aahhhh… good memories.
I somehow am strangely missing the typhoon!
My eyelids weighs a tonne.
My brain wills me to read McGregor & Boorman … I’ve a long fascination for bikes. Big bikes. Big bikes on long trips.
I smile as I fall asleep recalling the one thing I have in common with Boorman; him drying his rain soaked riding boot with a hotel lamp bulb in Italy … me doing the same in Grand Hyatt Wanchai – very classy of us both – ;p

too old for a cool Trans-Siberia trip

.screen shots of Vodka Train website.
There’s something about their website that’s just terribly captivating.
Loud. Colourful. Vibrant. Youthful. Fun. Energy … 
I’m captivated.
The top bits which is scrap-book-ish ‘speaks’ to me.
The fuchsia, lemon yellow, valencia orange and olive green are just my favourites colours – teal and turquoise would have soared my soul to heavens … but they did alright.
I had always wanted the challenge of planning my own Trans-Siberia / Trans-Manchuria / Trans-Mongolia. Bottom line is I wasn’t too fuss about which route I ended up taking and didn’t mind doing Mongolia as a country separately if need be. I mean, they have dinosaur bones. Real ones just lying out there in this huge mass of red coloured land. Now, that is enough reason for a visit to Mongolia and I’d put up with Ulaanbaatar’s shanty cowboy town feel. 
The excitement of planning my own trip was really in getting the logistics and route timing perfect to have the least hassle with Russian visa issuance. My Russian by now is dismissible to say the least and translating the VISA form was enough to set the migraine going.
Anyways, that aside, we all know Russian train sucks.
And if you’re unlucky enough to end up in a tram car with the worst conductors – drunkard and abusive (as I did last year), it’s always good to have at least one friend (preferably male) along with you. The ideal situation of course is to have 3 other known companions to fill-up the cabin. But this I have found almost impossible over the last 4-5 years of my attempts to plan for a trip. 
Well, firstly all 3 of us have different psychological acceptable “budget” (not talking about affordability here, but what one would pay for a cup of coffee versus the other, or how one prioritizes a premium seat at the Moscow Ballet versus a decent hotel room).  
Secondly, I just don’t care when I go, as long as it uses my annual leave allocation and public holidays in the most economical way.
One of my potential travel partner wants to cross Siberia in the depths of winter.
The other says, “no freaking way am I doing furry hats!” 
Thirdly, there’s the various trip options in terms of length, stops and ultimately cost.
The question of: should we do the super-quick non-stop one? Or the short 12-15 days trip with two mandatory stop at a ger camp in Mongolia and Lake Baikal? Or the decent length ones of 21-24 days with numerous stops? Or the “mother of all” with a combination of non-stop Vladivostok-Moscow, a short trip to St. Petersburg, followed by the leisurely 24 days from St. Petersburg to Beijing. The rationale that follows is: allowing the body to adjust to jet-lag.
Speaking of jet-lag, here again we have differing views.
One of my potential travel partner feels we should do it in the eastern direction; i.e. travelling from Moscow to Beijing to allow optimal adjustment by the time we’ve completed the journey.
The other of course says, “screw jet-lag. Why should I be nursing one on my holiday when I can bloody well do it while on the job and paid!”
Yes, just when you thought it was the women who were difficult.
Technically, I’m still sort off ok with either one of the potential traveling partners as long as my criteria of time off optimization is met. So, naturally the “mother of all” choice is out of the question … and it’s almost impossible for all 3 of us to be unemployed at the same time.
With that and patience wearing thin after 4 years (close to 5), I decided I was either going to ‘betray’ the pact of doing Trans-Siberia / Trans-Manchuria / Trans-Mongolia with either one of them, or both, by going with VodkaTrain this November, maximising the Deepavali and Awal Muharram (I think) public holidays with a short 12 days trip; not inclusive flight time and some 3 days in St. Petersburg which I’ve never stepped foot in.
Just as I was about to put my transfer through with the assistance of a really lovely guy – Stowie – I realised that Moscow will be 0 degrees Celsius in November … and I stumbled upon these photos in their gallery:
. .photo gallery of travelers from Vodka Train website
For someone who has put off Iceland twice now for the Northern Lights and experience of living in the ice hotel, I thought why not the Huski Ruski trip in January/ February 2013?

The sub zero temperature of -40 degree Celsius shouldn’t faze me … I’d be warm and toasty in the heated train cabin with a good measure of vodka. The latter is of course a given, given that Russian trains generally sucks… hence, the insulation is questionable, though I cannot say for sure as I’ve not experience a sub zero temperature journey on one (yet?)
The occasional fresh air would so kill me ……BBut.. I’ve been told by my glacier trekking friends that it does get rather hot and warm in the day with the sun reflecting thereby giving you a nasty and quick sunburn. I’d also been told that with the right clothing and all the adrenaline, I’d be sweating like a pig. And besides, I reasoned it sure beats lying on packs of snow in the middle of the night with my neck cranked up at 70 degrees looking for a chance of spotting the Northern Lights which I no longer have any camera gears to capture with should I be so lucky to spot it at all.
And thus, the Huski Ruski was it until I read the fine prints on the Terms and Conditions.
There’s an age limitation and I am too old!
Stowie, recommended sheepishly that I considered their affiliated travel company since I had marginally passed their “expiration” date …
sheepishly, as my immediate respond to him as I looked at the affiliated company’s photo gallery was:
oh gawd! that’s like traveling with my parents!!!
No way am I going to go on one of the few epic journeys on this earth with those weird looking people in the photos …
Funny though, I won’t be feeling this way in another 2.5 to 3.0 decades when I will amazingly by the Heavenly God’s will look like one of those people in the photo… and somehow it will seize looking weird. And there will be someone in my shoes reacting in the similar fashion.
But right now, it’s back to the drawing board with Trans-Siberia / Trans-Manchuria / Trans-Mongolia plans …   


Travel Diary: seeing Shanghai my way; with some Penelope panache

Seriously, no disrespect to Buddha.

But what’s the deal about seeing one cast out of a big jade?
That’s the must see Jade Temple, which I conveniently skipped.
Now as I type this out, maybe, just maybe I should have gone there … maybe then, my Tibetan Permit may just come through. But I’ve given up on divine intervention by now … and yet, not take into the seriously comical Uncle Mao propaganda stuff {embarrassed, but I collect them}.
And thanks but no thanks, I can do without the Yuyuan Gardens.
I mean, so what if the garden is 400 years old?
Frankly, I don’t know how to break it to the persistent tourists and tour guides, but it ain’t 400 years old as it had suffered massively during the bombardment of the Opium War and yet another trashing during the French reprisals for attacks on the nearby French Concessions by Taiping rebels.
Hence, what you get is not the original Ming Garden that took 18 years to be nurtured by one that took 18 minutes to be destroyed and 18 months to be restored. So, the only original structure in the entire kitschy place {if you include the Bazaar in} is the overpriced Huxingting Teahouse.
For me, Chinese gardens are Chinese gardens, Ming period or otherwise.
And thus I refuse to walk mechanically in a queue of chattering and easily excitable Japanese, brash local rural Chinese, obnoxious French, loud Americans or impatient assortment of backpackers who should source a cosmic high via substances than zen gardens!
What’s amusing about Shanghai’s Old Town Yuyuan Garden and Bazaar though, is the snake line for the shio long pau – arguably one of the two most famous in Shanghai – and a square dedicated to the western tourist with Dairy Queen, Haagen Daaz, Starbucks and Subway.
Oh yes, I did whisked through the Bazaar whilst I was spending time in Longtang (alleyway) around the area with my first “anthropology subject” and those who shaped her life.
Being a woman, issues such as contraception, one-child policy, gender equality and a whole host of other women issues, many of which revealed not only factual discourse but those seen through the eyes of 3 generations (her grandmother, mother and herself) were discussed alongside her fears and hope for her only child.
© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
Typical scene of longtang in Shanghai
© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
A favourite past time and pet… some cost a year’s supply of hand pull noodles!

.© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
Enjoying the rare treat of hand pull noodles (a dying trade) for only RMB 5! in one of the eateries in the longtang despite the lack of sanitation and amidst the slurping and snorting sounds emitted by other customers until I realised the warts on his hands!!!

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
What “anthropology subject”? you asked.
I’m referring to my earlier blog HERE, where I went on a personal mini sojourn of finding Panda Huggers and Dragon Slayers amongst the normal working classes or commoners of Shanghai – the lao bai xing (‘Old Hundred Names’) by engaging the services of :
  • a personalised tour guide only to tell her that I had no interest in everything she suggested but would like to take the day accompanying her on her journey down memory lane from where she was born, bred, lived, shopped, schooled, played, dated …etc.
  • private Advance English tutor who thankfully was very opinionated and had 40% of Murakami’s flair of imagination.
  •  a struggling artist who was obsessed with Dante!
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Arguably, the most exciting and enjoyable day was with the artist; putting aside the fact that I had to keep company with someone who spots hipster styled bell bottoms, kitschy retro large white plastic frame glasses without any lens on them, a ring nose that must have been the possession of a cow when Pudong was still a farmland, unruly curly hair {definitely courtesy of some ammonia and hot curlers} tamed by a Maoist looking hat in bright red.
His ability to weave in Dante quote at the slightest sight of an opening is truly remarkable. 
When he uttered the first two quotes in an art gallery, I had thought I stuck gold with this young chap that seems so profound and studious in his observations and appreciation.
However, by the time lunch time came and he utteredThe path to paradise begins in hell” as we walked down a shanty alley, it all suddenly came to me. Dante! Dante Aligieri.
Unable to contain myself, I burst out laughing, bending almost into half, clutching both my stomach and my back {which is still not amused with my tendency to forget and overstretch the spine} and shamelessly wiping tears off my eyes with the back of my hands.
How foolish have I been!
.In response to his grimaced face and one of mock confusion, I offered: 
“Abandon hope, all ye who listens to you.” an obvious deviation of “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” I suppose my laugh and hand slapping the fella on his back helped eased the tension and he too took it in good humour and was not insulted by me mocking him.   
And so in that way our relationship was sealed and we spent the remaining hours relaxed, poking fun at atrocious body of works and making up interpretations of our own that draws references from a broad range of fields as we make our way through Buildings 3 and 5 in Tianzi Fang at Taikang Lu (Tai Kang Road).
Tianzi Fang – the Art Street – at a glance features a mix of old and refurbished brick houses with wet clothes, mops and plants clinging on to bamboo poles above my head, and the occasional group of cosmopolitan Shanghainese yuppies and fashionistas lazing around some cafes dotted around the area, intently drawing on their cigarette. 
Closer observation reveals that this is not your typical hang out for tourists and expatriates developed by over zealous and opportunistic developers in their attempt to pass off their financially driven intentions as ‘noble’ act of refurbishing old buildings (“shikumen”) and Shanghai’s heritage; like Xintiandi. The lanes in Tai Kang Lu in fact provides hope to many artists and local designers, be it contemporary, kitschy, or traditional works of design, painting and photography.

.© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved – Tai Kang Road
Amongst the many dwellings (both on the ground floor and above) are funky outlets featuring works by local artists, knick knacks and collectibles, as well as cafes. The bunny with his middle finger stuck out is arguably one of the most photographed subject along Tai Kang Road.


Art aside, I was fortunate to view and appreciate a few great Chinese photographers, some with a very unique ‘eye’ of seeing their own part of the world.
My top two recommendations would be: 
Deke Erh Art Centre which was opened by Deke Erh himself that holds his catalogue of published books on Shanghainese interior design and art decoration as well as Western architecture in Shanghai. It also houses pieces by local artists in Shanghai that is up for sale.
© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved
Illegal from the waist shot of Deke Erh Art Centre {website: Han Yuan) at Tai Kang Road, Shanghai, CHINA
Rui Yuan C Photography that features and sells the works of freelance photographer Rui Yuan – a member of the prestigious ‘Shanghai Photographers’ and a member of the Fujian Photographers members who take active interest in developing and encouraging youth in photography. 

© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
Illegal from the waist shot of Chen Rui Yuan’s Gallery (Rui Yuan C Photography) at Tai Kang Road, Shanghai, CHINA
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


The Advance English tutor walkabout started all wrong with a hopelessly boring and ridiculous trip to Duolan Road in search of dead literary geniuses, followed by visits to bookshops that I am sure had I been able to read the horizontal and vertical strokes would have brought the house down.
© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
180 degrees panoramic view of Duolun Road, Shanghai, China 

© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved 
Shanghai’s Outdoor Bridal Studio? – Duolun Road, Shanghai, China 

The problem with Duolun Road is it feels as if you have stepped onto a very cheap unrealistic 1900s movie set; very much like Xitiandi minus the expatriates sipping Chardonnay and Pinot Noir at sidewalk cafes and al fresco restaurants.
Instead it is swamped with wide-eyed local tourists and every blessed Shanghai-nese wedding couple and their photographer barking instructions impatiently for the brides to mimic slutty Shanghai ladies of leisure poses while their husbands dutifully carries a ‘vintage’ suitcase.
Other than the Hongde Temple (which is a Christian church) and the Moorish-looking Kong Residence (complete with Middle Eastern tiles and windows) at the end of the pedestrian street at the north end, Duolun Road has little to offer and can be best described as a life size wedding studio prop.
Personally, the attempt to provide colour movies by painting the reels of old Chinese films at the Old Film Cafe and the suspect ‘art’ hanging on the Shangai Duolun Museum of Modern Art makes Duolun Road all the more distasteful despite the fact that it was home to some Kuomintang generals – a point that would normally arose my curiosity.
The tutor must have picked up my extremely subtle reaction at the mention of Kuomintang and CCP for much of the preceding hours were spent on hunting Uncle Mao down!
© p.{Haque} – All Rights Reserved
From the real thing – CCP Office, Propaganda Museum to the streets … I hunted Uncle Mao in Shanghai, China 
Had it not been my Uncle Mao craze, the girls day out trip would have come in second. Now, they both tie at the second spot.

the Bund?
yeah of course I saw the iconic Bund. It’s a 3 minute stroll from my hotel.
I’ll blog about it in another post.