Tuesday, January 27, 2009

2009 Project 365

Karen and I did a 2008 Project 365 and are continuing into 2009. For those who do not know what a Project 365 is - you take a picture every day.
This year we are giving ourselves challenges on a monthly basis. January is Curves.
It's been fun finding Curves to photograph.
Now I'm trying to think up a creative way to post them here.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

2009 is the Year of the Ox,which is also known by its formal name of Yi Chou. 己丑

  1. There are three ways to name a Chinese year:
    After an animal (like a mascot). 2009 is the Year of the Ox.There are 12 animal names; therefore, year names are repeated every 12 years.

  2. By its Formal Name (Stem-Branch). 2008 is the year of Wu Zi.
    2009 is the Year of Ji Chou.

  3. In the 'Stem-Branch' system, the years are counted in 60-year Cycles, so that the Name of the Year is repeated every 60 years.2009 is the 10th year in the current 60-year Cycle.
    A "Cycle" is analogous to a "century" in the International Calendar system which is 100 years long.
    2009 is Year 4706 in the Chinese Calendar.

Famous people born in the Year Of The Ox? They include President Barack Obama, actor George Clooney, boxer Oscar De La Hoya, Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai, and soccer star Wayne Rooney.

Born in 1924, 1936, 1948, 1960, 1972, 1984, 1996, 2008.
MICE: You are imaginative, charming, and truly generous to the person you love. However, you have a tendency to be quick-tempered and overly critical. You are also inclined to be somewhat of an opportunist. Born under this sign, you should be happy in sales or as a writer, critic, or publicist.

Born in 1925, 1937, 1949, 1961, 1973, 1985, 1997, 2009.
BUFFALO: A born leader, you inspire confidence from all around you. You are conservative methodical, and good with your hands. Guard against being chauvinistic and always demanding your own way. The Buffalo would be successful as a skilled surgeon, general, or hairdresser.

Born in 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010.
TIGER: You are sensitive, emotional, and capable of great love. However, you have a tendency to get carried away and be stubborn about what you think is right; often seen as a "Hothead" or rebel. Your sign shows you would be excellent as a boss, explorer, race car driver, or matador.

Born in 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011.
RABBIT: You are the kind of person, that people like to be around affectionate, obliging, always pleasant. You have a tendency, though, to get too sentimental and seem superficial. Being cautious and conservative, you are successful in business but would also make a good lawyer, diplomat, or actor.

Born in 1916, 1928, 1940, 1952, 1964, 1976, 1988, 2000, 2012.
DRAGON: Full of vitality and enthusiasm, the Dragon is a popular individual even with the reputation of being foolhardy and a "big mouth" at times. You are intelligent, gifted, and a perfectionist but these qualities make you unduly demanding on others. You would be well-suited to be an artist, priest, or politician.

Born in 1917, 1929, 1941, 1953, 1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013.
SNAKE: Rich in wisdom and charm, you are romantic and deep thinking and your intuition guides you strongly. Avoid procrastination and your stingy attitude towards money. Keep your sense of humor about life. The Snake would be most content as a teacher, philosopher, writer, psychiatrist, and fortune teller.

Born in 1918, 1930, 1942, 1954,1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014.
HORSE: Your capacity for hard work is amazing. Your are your own person-very independent. While intelligent and friendly, you have a strong streak of selfishness and sharp cunning and should guard against being egotistical. Your sign suggests success as an adventurer, scientist, poet, or politician.

Born in 1919, 1931, 1943, 1955, 1967, 1979, 1991, 2003, 2015...
GOAT: Except for the knack of always getting off on the wrong foot with people, the Goat can be charming company. Your are elegant and artistic but the first to complain about things. Put aside your pessimism and worry and try to be less dependent on material comforts. You would be best as an actor, gardener, or beachcomber.

Born in 1920, 1932, 1944, 1956, 1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016...
MONKEY: You are a vary intelligent and a very clever wit. Because of your extraordinary nature and magnetic personality, you are always well-liked. The Monkey, however, must guard against being an opportunist and distrustful of other people. Your sign promises success in any field you try.

Born in 1921, 1933, 1945, 1957, 1969, 1981, 1993, 2005, 2017...
ROOSTER: The Rooster is a hard worker; shrewd and definite in decision making often speaking his mind. Because of this, you tend to seem boastful to others. You are a dreamer, flashy dresser, and extravagant to an extreme. Born under this sign you should be happy as a restaurant owner, publicist, soldier or world traveler.

Born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018...
DOG: The Dog will never let you down. Born under this sign you are honest, and faithful to those you love. You are plagued by constant worry, a sharp tongue, and a tendency to be a fault finder, however. You would make an excellent businessman, activist, teacher, or secret agent.

Born in 1923, 1935, 1947, 1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019...
PIG: You are a splendid companion, an intellectual with a very strong need to set difficult goals and carry them out. You are sincere, tolerant, and honest but by expecting the same from others, you are incredibly naive. Your quest for material goods could be your downfall. The Pig would be best in the arts as an entertainer, or possible a lawyer.

Which signs are compatible in the Chinese zodiac?
The 3 animals which are evenly spaced from one another in the zodiac circle are generally considered to be good matches. Rat, Dragon and Monkey ; Ox, Snake and Rooster ; Tiger and Horse and Dog ; Rabbit, Sheep and Pig are suitable for one another. Matching symbols on the Zodiac chart indicate compatible signs.
The signs that are opposite each other in the Zodiac Circle chart are poor matches. Generally a Rat and Horse; Ox and Goat; Tiger and Monkey; Rabbit and Rooster; Dragon and Dog; Snake and Pig will not get along with each other. These signs make poor partners in love and in business. Family members who have opposite signs may experience friction and disharmony in the home.
Each person is a combination of the sign of the year they are born in as well as influences of the time of day and the larger cycles of the zodiac. You may find that even though a person was born in a year that would seem to make you a poor match, the other influences that you share balance the ill effects of incompatible signs and make for a very good relationship — or cause problems in even the most compatible signs!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

An express train takes you from the airport direct to downtown. The airport express is very well set up, with lots of room for suitcases, spotlessly clean, and very modern. (The stop indicator not only indicates the next stop, but also the train’s progress towards that stop!)
At the Central Station, you can even check in your luggage. It takes less than 30 minutes to reach the airport. And all for 90 HKD one way. When you arrive at the airport express train station downtown, transfer to a free airport express bus. Although the train station is connected to the subway line, it was easier and faster to take the buses. The buses ferry airport passengers to various big hotels in Kowloon, where we will likely stay.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Air Canada

The airline you love to hate. Now they're screwing around with our flight schedules. Instead of a direct flight to Beijing they want to connect us in Vancouver. But then that isn't even final because they also said they'd be revising schedules again in March.

So I have written to the prospective tour companies we are thinking of using advising them we are not able to confirm our arrival times as yet.

I've also asked them to revise their itineraries and pricing as Alan has an acquaintance in Hong Kong who has offered to show us around and include a day trip to Macau.

Took my passport in for renewal on Monday, quite painless with the new quick form.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

ATMs - Beijing

Super cool atm machine! Suzhou's guan qian jie

Beijing is a very ATM friendly city. There are many banks with many ATMs. Unfortunately only about 50% of these accept foreign cards. Still, this is still far better than supposedly modern cities like Tokyo, Japan.
The main foreign friendly ATMs are controlled by the Bank of China. Bank of China ATMs work in both Chinese and English (depending on your card), use the latest equipment, and are pretty easy to find. They do have a habit of being over-used though, so sometimes they are out of cash, receipts or whatever. Also, the connection to the overseas banking network tends to have a high down time.
Bank of China logo (above). External style ATM (right). 24 Hour banking facility with card-swipe access (left).
If you are told by a Bank of China machine that your transaction has been declined and to contact your bank, do not panic. This often just means that the International network is unavailable. You should try the other two banks mentioned or return the next day.
China Merchants Bank logo on advertising billboard (left) and internal style ATM (right)
If the Bank of China ATMs are not working for you, the next best bet is a Merchants Bank outlet (pictured above). Their network seems to be a bit more stable, and seem to run out of cash less. The problem is that Merchants Bank branches are few and far between. Finding one is often difficult.
ICBC sign (above). An advertising video plays whilst a transaction is being processing in an ICBC ATM (left). Internal style ATM (right)
Just recently another bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, has opened up most of its ATMs to the international network, allowing VISA transactions.
ICBC is a very common bank in Beijing and seems to have branches almost everywhere. These banks are very popular however, and you may end up waiting in line to use one of these ATMs.

Using the ATMs (nothing to fear)
When you put your foreign bank card into a Beijing ATM it should give you the option to display English, or display both Chinese and English. There are various different methods the banks employ to let you select language. The Bank of China ATMs give the password screen in both languages, then on the select account screen, the options are given in two languages, English to the left, and Chinese to the right (pictured below right).
On the select account screen (pictured right) it is essential that you use the left buttons to select your account as this is what determines the language you will be using from that point on. If you mistakenly press the buttons on the right, you will be in Chinese from that point onwards.
Other banks, like ICBC, have a separate screen near the beginning of the process which lets you select your desired language (pictured below left). At the end of some ATM transactions you will be given the option to continue or take your card (pictured below right). This is because the transaction limits on most bank accounts is set pretty low. The maximum you will be able to withdraw in one request is about 2500 RMB, sometimes as little as 1500 RMB. You can press the continue button and try to get more cash out up to the ATMs daily limit. Most USA banks allow you about 5500 RMB per day, but this is controlled by your own bank.
As a result of the limits set on Chinese bank accounts and ATMs, you will often experience the hell of Beijing / China ATM usage. You will join a queue of people at the ATM with maybe one or two people ahead of you. However, each person will probably do multiple transactions, and often use many cards from many different banks before they have withdrawn their ideal sum of money. This can be very frustrating, or amusing, depending on how much sleep you've had.
There are a couple of other banks which may accept foreign cards around Beijing, namely HSBC and Citybank. These ATMs are extremely rare however. Other internal Chinese banks almost certainly will not process your overseas transaction.
The ATMs mentioned here dispense Chinese RMB currency. The money will be taken from your foreign bank account. It will be converted to your home currency at a quite reasonable rate usually. The commission and transaction charges will be dependent upon your own bank's policies. If you are using an ATM / Debit card, usually the charges are comparable to drawing money in your own country (e.g. Bank of America charges $3 per transaction, which is the same as if you used a non-Bank of America ATM in the US) If you are using a Credit Card, you are usually talking about a "cash advance" which can be extremely expensive depending on your bank and how long you take to pay back the money.

Also mentioned in a travel blog:

"I have had the best luck with the Bank of China ATMs... make sure your card has a Cirrus and PLus sign on the bank. Also, don't wait until you really need the $$ to withdraw more bc the ATMS are often out of cash, especially in the smaller cities and towns. "

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Chopstick Etiquette

Blatantly plagarized from elsewhere.

1. Don't put your chopsticks recklessly on the table. Always rest your chopsticks properly and evenly. If you put them heedlessly on the table, you will bring bad luck to all the diners eating with you. Old-timers would link your unwitting error with misfortune, or even death, since "3 lengths and 2 shortnesses" (三長兩短) is a Chinese colloquialism referring to coffin (made by 3 long and 2 short pieces of wooden board before the top is covered up).
2. Don't "curse on the main street" (罵大街). Old-timers in Beijing would say you're cursing on the main street if they saw you using chopsticks with your index finger pointing out. It is even worse to point at someone with your chopsticks -- the Chinese take of giving the finger to someone.
3. Don't lick the chopstick. While it is perfectly appropriate to put food into your mouth with chopsticks; it is impolite to lick your chopsticks before you use it.
4. Don't beat the bowl with your chopsticks. Only beggars do this to draw the attention of others. It has long been regarded as a sign of poor upbringing.

5. Don't clasp the dish while your bowl is still loaded with food. This will be a sign of greed and audacity. Select a new item only when you've finished what's in your bowl (relax, the rice doesn't count).
6. Don't rummage around the plate. One of the most annoying mistakes is to rummage around the plate in an attempt to look for what you want. No one wants your leftovers. So be decisive. Aim, pick and leave.
7. Don't water the tablecloths. If you really have a hard time in picking up the dish with chopsticks, bail yourself out with a spoon. It is perfectly alright better than making a fool of yourself by dripping all the contents of the dish on the table, or worse, on other dishes.
8. Don't clucth food with the wrong ends of the chopsticks. Always use the sharper ends.
9. Don't poke at the dish with one chopstick like a lollipop. It's only cute if you are a toddler. Again, try to catch the food with the aid of a spoon.

10. Don't stand the chopsticks in the rice or dish. It looks like the incense sticks burning in front of a tomb. Diners around you would say you're putting a spell on them.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


I confess, I can't use chopsticks. I know I will practice before we go though.
In the meantime I did find this handy dandy utensil.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Toilets 2

A looong walk to the toilet!!!

Yes, it appears I am fixated on the subject, however, I was the only one who encountered one in Egypt so I am scarred for life on this topic!

I am copying this article from http://gochina.about.com/od/tripplanning/ht/How2_Squat.htm

Note to self - buy some of those hooks available for hanging purses.

The "western" toilet is making inroads into China and in big cities and airports, you'll find a few of them in the row of toilets in the bathroom. However, there are still lots and lots and lots of squatty potties and likely as not, you'll venture into one. It's not as hard as it seems, but it's good to know what you're getting into before you go...
Difficulty: Average
Time Required: Variable
Here's How:
Pack Tissues. Before you even leave the hotel, make sure you've got portable toilet paper with you. Lots of public restrooms don't provide it. Wet wipes and hand sanitizer are also good to have along as if there's a sink, there may not be any soap, and probably no towels either.
Plan Your Business
1. "Preventive Peeing" or going before you go is a good way to avoid getting caught in a place that won't have a nice toilet. (Nice doesn't necessarily mean Western by the way.) Pretend you're all five years old and make sure everyone goes before you leave the house.

2. If you're going to be out and about, think about where you'll be and try to plan some pit-stops in between. Especially in big cities, international hotels, upscale restaurants and shopping malls will have clean washrooms with most of the amenities (toilet paper, Western toilets, soap and towels).
Places to avoid using the bathroom: large markets (especially outdoor markets), street-side public bathrooms (though they're improving), tourist spots.

Bag Hand-Off. If you can, hand any unnecessary bags to a friend while you use the washroom. There are generally no hooks and you'll need your hands to balance, to dig around your purse for tissues and to hold on to the door if the lock is broken.

Queuing Up. If you find yourself outside the comfort of your hotel, don't panic. It won't be unbearable. Queues in China don't work the same way as they do in the States. Women generally line up in front of a particular stall rather than hang back as one opens. This can create a free-for-all so it's best to stick to one door and keep your eye on it. If it happens not to be a Western toilet, better to get in there than re-queue. Many times, doors have pictures or signs indicating Western or squat-style toilets. Also, check the lock, if it's red, then it's occupied. Green means free but always knock.

Pants Check. I don't want to scare you but some washrooms are rather wet - either from splash effect or the toilet maid (usually there is someone assigned to sit in the washroom and clean it) running amok with her mop. Either way, it's not moisture you want on your new linen trousers. If it's wet, roll them up, especially if you're in line for a squat toilet. If you see other Chinese ladies rolling, then be sure to. They know something you don't.

The Squat. OK, well, you've found yourself in a squatty potty. It's really not that bad and many argue it's actually healthier to go this way than sitting down. Whatever, if you're not used to it, squatting can be really difficult. Face forward and try to let your pants down while ensuring that the ends are up (hopefully you've rolled) and not touching the floor. There are grooved places for your feet on either side of the toilet. Try to get somewhere in the middle, feet flat on the floor (you don't want to fall in, believe me) and aim for the potty.

Paper Discard - Not in the Pot! Chinese plumbing in public restrooms generally doesn't handle paper. If you can remember, please put anything other than #1 or #2 in the basket. Try as hard as you can NOT to look at the basket, it's usually open and teeming with things on which you'd rather not lay eyes.

Finish Up. Out you go, you accomplished squat toilet user. Unroll your pants, wash your hands, if you can, and find your friends waiting for you outside.

It's really not that bad once you get the hang of it and isn't it better than hovering over a public toilet seat?
A note on the trough. As hideous as this sounds, there are places where there are still troughs in public bathrooms. In these types of public toilets, there are usually door-less stalls facing up to a long trough with water running down from one end to the other. Folks back up and squat over the trough and everything floats away. These types of toilets are going the way of the dinosaur, but consider yourself warned.

China's reputation for horrible public bathrooms used to be well-deserved, but these days, the government is doing a lot to improve the state of the facilities. You'll often find public toilets rated with stars. There's a lovely 4-star public toilet on the Sacred Way outside of Beijing, for example.

Have a few coins (1-2rmb) with you for use in public restrooms. There's usually a charge and toilet paper will be given with the fee.

Try not to freak out about the squat toilets. Likely as not, you won't have to use one and if you do, it's all part of the experience.

What You Need:
Toilet Paper (e.g. pocket tissues)
Anti-bacterial wipes or gel
Handkerchief for drying hands when towel isn't available
An open mind and a sense of humor

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Toilets in China

Just came across this device for women and am gobsmacked! http://p-standingup.com/
Talk about brillant!!

Mags, shall we buy some?????

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Goofing Around

I haven't read the Lost on Planet China book as yet but John and Maggie have. And they both have favourite stories from it.
Have spent today putting my 2008 Project 365 pictures up on for viewing. There is a link in my blog below to it.
Also updated the Flickr slideshow.
Sent a link to a few selected friends who may be interested in reading the blog.
Also managed to squeeze in some housework.
We still need to get back to the short list of tour companies with some questions before we make any choices.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Selecting a Tour Package


Planning our trip to China has begun in earnest as of yesterday.
Currently we have booked our tickets (May 2009), bought our tour books - DK of course, and submitted many requests for itineraries and prices.
We spent New Year's Eve with our travelling pals - Maggie and Alan, at their house.
Decided on having lots of munchies .

Had many laughs and drinks!

Watched to Ball drop in New York.

(John and I went to NY right after 9/11 to see the Ball drop at New Year's - glad we did it - got it checked off the list).

At some point we decided maybe we didn't want to do the Yangtze cruise based on some TripAdvisors' comments about the 3 Gorges Dam project ruining the sights.
Got to bed at 3 am!! At least we did! Maggie and Alan stayed up until 4!!
Needless to say we slept in until 11! Got up and Alan cooked a great fry-up. The plan was for us to go home around noon - that didn't happen! Then we took our coffee into the living room (or as Mags says "sitting room") and decided to read through the itineraries and weed out the ones we all agreed we didn't like. At some point the Yangtze cruise came back on the schedule. Then the internet came out to check flying distances between cities.

One thing lead to another and it was time for drinks - bloody marys, beer and wine. Then an afternoon wasted (but fun) watching various videos on Youtube. Then it was time for dinner - pizzas. We finally left and got home around 8:30pm.
BTW we then watched a great movie - Vantage Point.