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July 2006 Archives

July 3, 2006

mirador mansions: the study of a warren

on the 10th floor of the mirador "mansions" (similar to the infamous chungking mansions), where i'm staying for a few days while in hong kong, there are a ridiculously diverse number of businesses. in other to illustrate my point about warrens, i took a small survey of the business on the 10th floor, where my guesthouse is located. here is a complete listing of what i found:

21 Unlabelled Doors
3 Tailor Shops
3 Retail Stores (with names such as "Perfect Shop")
1 Guesthouse
1 Hotel
1 Clothing ("Fashion") Company
1 Professional Services
1 Grace of Jesus / A.O.G. (A church, i believe)
1 House of Branded Perfumes/Cosmetics Store
1 Handicraft store

the entire interior appears to be crumbling very slightly, little offerings of trash sit on the ground against the walls at irregular intervals (such as the wine box spilling out chicken bones), laundry hangs to dry from the corridor ceiling, elevators only go to random subsets of floors (conjuring up dystopian images of a post-apoclyaptic apartment building with abandonded floors whose only tenants are feral inhabitants fighting over chicken bones), doors are apparently puurchased by their occupants so each one is compelely different than the one before, indian, pakistani, african (and a few british) people mingle with chinese people in the halls and shops on the ground floor.

the sheer density and diversity of mirador mansions is hard to believe. I've never seen any place quite this before in my travels, and it seems to somehow be uniquely hong kong. as someone mentioned in the wikipedia article on chungking mansions, it does seem to evoke the ghost of the now-destroyed kowloon walled city.

my evening in macau

"BEM-VINDO A MACAU / WELCOME TO MACAU" beckoned my arrival card upon my ferry's docking at the main terminal. one of my first sights after clearing immigration was a 3G cellphone SIM card vending machine. i had come to macau on a half-day trip to check out this country about which i knew almost absolutely nothing.

while i was staying in hong kong, i thought i'd take advantage of the opportunity to take a short ferry ride across the water and visit the former portuguese colony of macau (which only reverted to china in 1996). the streets here still bear their colonial names, such as "Rua Ciudade De Evora", which contrast sharply to the British colonial street names in Hong Kong, such as "Rumsey Street", a name which makes me think of old school ties and gentlemen reclining on overstuffed chairs in a private club's library. however, unlike hong kong, i did not see any actual portuguese people remaining in macau, and i read in wikipedia that the current portuguese / macanese population of macau is less than 5% (which, of course, means it must be true).

the cost of the ferry itself was ridiculously low, and similar to the low-cost shuttles at las vegas airport, the casinos provide free shuttles that pick you up at the ferry terminal and whisk you away to their various gambling-houses.

the casinos of macau are famous, and especially so for their baccarat tables. being a long-time enjoyer of the game of baccarat, with its mystique, the strange crowd it draws at the tables in vegas, and the extremely good odds (the house advantage on regular [non-tie] bets is 1.06% - 1.24%, according to wikipedia)

The casinos here are continuing to blossom as well -- a large sign at the ferry terminal announces the opening of the Venetian Macau in 2007, and the new Wynn Macau will be opening in just a few months, in addition to existing casinos like "galaxy waldo".

the almost transparent system for clearing customs and immigration, the street names, and the large parks that dominate Macau are all very evocative of the fictious Freeside from William Gibson's Neuromancer. i spent time exploring the backstreets of the old quarter, seeing beautiful colonial buildings, enjoying thick strips of dried meat jerky, and discovering the only cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon I'd seen since my trip began.

one of the first casinos i stopped in at, an old-school casino called "Casino Lisboa", was a far cry from Vegas. i'd gotten used to the standard "features" at Macau casions: metal detectors on every door, armed security guards eying the crowds, dealers UV-scanning every bill to check for forgeries (and the cashiers doing the same to their chips when you cash out), but the Lisboa took things to the next level, with armed guards standing on raised pedestals surveying the room, and a sign advising its readers "No Spitting" and "Beware of Pickpockets". No bar appaeared to be available, and VIP rooms consituted a huge number of the potentially available tables, so the actual space where the neophyte could gamble was somewhat limited.

By contrast, the Sands Macau (my last stop of the evening) was Las Vegas-style modern and fairly plush, had a large bar and floor show, but the losses of my first few hands of baccarat, and the rather dubious advances by an overly friendly woman hassling single men (like say, myself) at the bar, were my cues to move back to the ferry docks and catch the next boat home to my not-so-spacious guesthouse room in Hong Kong.

July 4, 2006

happy 4th

it's 11:30pm, i just arrived at my friends' apartment in shanghai after a hectic day of getting packed up in hong kong and then catching the evening flight out here. after a long taxi ride, i've arrived at their place just in time to celebrate the last 30 minutes of the 4th of july with my friends from the states.

this year there aren't any fireworks or hot dogs to be had, but there is a bottle of veuve clicquot from the airport duty-free store, and excellent company to share it with. i couldn't ask for much more.

July 6, 2006

lost filling!

last night, while eating dinner with my expat friends living in shanghai, a horrible moment occurred: i felt a slightly painful shift both on top of one of my teeth. a filling had come loose, and was starting to fall out.

after a quick call to my travel insurance company to verify my coverage (which turned out to only cover half the cost of the filling replacement), and a medicinal Pernod on the rocks at a local bar, i went to sleep.

the next morning, my first stop was a quick visit to the US Consulate in Shanghai to get a list of recommended western dentists (there's nothing worse than the feeling of either not being able to communicate clearly with someone who's about to start using a drill on your teeth, or not being fully confident in their training). this involved cutting through a line of several hundred Chinese people waiting in line for (presumably) work or tourism visas, and heading into the unoccoupied U.S. Citizen Services area, where I was speedily provided with a list of local doctors and dentists recommended by the consulate. I have to say, having never used the services at any US consulate before, I was impressed by the way they quickly got me the information I needed -- props to them for moving fast!

by that afternoon i was in the chair of an excellent chinese dentist who did her training in Oregon and spoke flawless english, and after an x-ray and evaluation, had the filling repaired and was out of there before i fully knew what happened.

hopefully that will be the only medical emergency on my trip -- and if anything else does happen, i hope it gets resolved as smoothly as this did!

how to use a china mobile recharge card

i recently bought a pay-as-you-go china mobile SIM card (for 100 yuan, or around $12 USD) at my local convenience store. while trying to get it to work i ran into a few problems, so i thought i'd share my solutions in case anyone else has a similar problem (the cards are not very intuitive to use if you can't read chinese, and i found the voice menus to be pretty difficult to understand).

1.) buying the card: despite the fact that most countries use scratch-off paper or plastic cards to give you the phone recharge code, and indeed many stores in china have plastic china mobile recharge cards in their display, don't panic if you get a blue-and-white piece of paper with holes down the sides. this is also a recharge 'card'.

2.) reading the card: everything in the instructions is in chinese, and to add to the fun there are several strings of numbers on the inside of the recharge card. don't panic. your 'recharge pin' is the long number beginning with '09' (or it may start with a different number, such as '19'). this is all you need to know.

3.) using the card: dial 13800138000 (yes that's an extra '0' at the end) from your mobile phone, then dial 2, then 2, then 1#, then 1, and then enter your recharge pin followed by the # sign.

4.) you should hear 'please wait a moment', then a success message. that's it! your card is now recharged.

if you need additional help: as difficult as the recharge cards are to use for people who don't speak chinese, the chinese/english bilingual china mobile customer service operators are VERY helpful. dial 11086 (note: this number used to be 1860. if the new 11086 number doesn't work for you, please let me know!) from your phone for assistance -- if you get an unhelpful operator or you can't get through, just hang up and call again, and you should get promptly connected to another (and hopefully better) operator.

thanks to the helpful reader David who also added that the number to dial if you want to check your prepaid China Mobile balance is 10086.

hope this helps someone else trying to do the same thing!

my complete itinerary now available

to give a little more information about my 'gone living' trip on this site, i've been working on adding some new sections to the site. last night i added my itinerary for the entire year-long trip to the site, along with a very primitive (but handy) nav bar near the top of the page to let you switch between my blog, the itinerary, photos, and videos.

also note i removed the youtube module my homepage in favor of the text link to 'videos'. this is because the youtube website badge is pretty primitive (iframe instead of javascript), and loads thumbnails for *every* video of mine, instead of just a few, so this should make the frontpage of gone living load faster as well. enjoy!

July 7, 2006

the bund sightseeing tunnel

this video footage is of one complete trip down the bund sightseeing tunnel in shanghai.

quite honestly, this has to be the most unintentionally surreal, psychedlic form of public transportation that i've ever seen. kudos to shanghai for having this delightful (and apprarently irony-free) "ride"!

sleeping in airports

while doing research on my upcoming flights to south america in january, i was looking up whether or not the lima airport would be a good place to spend the night (since i have a layover there from 12am-5pm, which really isn't long enough to deal with a hotel), and i ran across the sleeping in airports site. and bam, there is all the information i need about spending the night in lima's airport, and learned vital information like "If you are staying overnight, head to the cafe called the Air Bar. It's on the second floor at the arrivals end of the airport. There were lots of long couches to stretch out on and after 11 the restaurant clears out and you have the place to yourself."

i would never have guessed that such a site existed. but it does. and this is a wonderful thing.

July 8, 2006

reroute: from soft sleeper to maglev train

i had a "soft sleeper" train ticket booked on the night train tonight from shanghai to beijing, so i could have a few days exploring the sights in and around beijing before heading off on the train to mongolia and beginning my journey on the trans-mongolian railway (as per my itinerary).

but every now and then i cut my timing a little too close and miss my connection. it doesn't happen often, but when you're making this many flights, trains, buses and boats, sooner or later it's bound to happen. tonight i managed to arrive about 90 seconds too late to catch my train, and realized that rebooking for tomorrow probably means missing one of the "must see" sights that i'd been looking forward to in beijing.

but i'll be damned if i'm going to let one night of poor scheduling keep me from seeing the Great Wall of China, so after some quick internet searching, i realized that:

a.) none of the major US-based online ticket websites appear to handle internal china flights very well (if it all). UPDATE: i did some more research, and it looks like kayak.com actually does have good coverage on chinese internal flights.

b.) there is a great chinese website called Ticket.9588.com that is excellent at booking internal china flights, and even is available in english!

so a few minutes later using Ticket.9588.com, i have my flight booked for tomorrow morning from pudong airport, and i'll be in beijing in time for lunch. hopefully i'll get to take the maglev train to pudong airport!

July 13, 2006

serious culture

it seems that i've arrived in the land of the improbable, and i'm glad to be here.

i arrived in monoglia yesterday afternoon after about 36 hours on the first leg of the Trans-Mongolian train from Beijing to Ulan Bataar. i shared a 4-bed "hard sleeper" compartment with 3 mongolians who were university students studying abroad in china. as i quickly learned was par for mongolians, they were extremely friendly and helped me translate my scribbled notes on my mongolia hostel into a mongolian note for the taxi driver in case i needed to take a taxi from the train station.

my friend martin (coincidentally in mongolia from his usual home in new york) met me upon my arrival at the ulan bataar train station, and after unloading my gear at the hostel that he'd reserved for us a few nights earlier, we headed out to eat "mongolian barbeque" at an american-founded chain restaurant that both had nothing and everything to do with mongolian tourism. packed to the rafters with western package tourists, it was a surreal experience that neither martin nor i had been expecting.

that night i heard tales from people at our guesthouse (located in a communist-era apartment block that evoked memories of similar buildings i've seen in romania and hungary) about fights with aggressive drunk mongolians, an old woman attempting to sell a live baby eagle by the side of a road, sitting reading on top of a traveller's bus trapped in a river, beautiful sheep-fur lined coats purchased from shamans, and other improbable experiences.

we spent the afternoon watching the wrestling matches at the stadium today which are part of the Naadam celebrations (now in their third and final day), trying various pieces of mongolian food, and preparing for our departure on a 8-9 trek through the gobi which we will be departing for tomorrow if all goes as planned.

July 23, 2006

back in the city

And it's finally only in the woods you get that nostalgia for "cities" at last, you dream of long gray journeys to cities where soft evenings'll unfold like Paris
Jack Kerouac, Big Sur

after my 9-day trek through the gobi desert and around mongolia, I'm now back in Ulan Bataar for a few days to see museums and do "city things" before heading out on the rails once more. I've got a train ticket for the 24th to Irkutsk, Russia, which will further my journey on the trans-mongolian railway to Moscow.

more updates to come in a few days, including back-dated gobi desert posts and information on my adventure with the great 4-window mongolian train ticket purchasing system.

July 26, 2006

fresh off the train

i've just completed the second leg of my trans-mongolian journey, and arrived today in irkutsk, russia, from ulan bataar, mongolia.

i've made a ton of notes on the journey that i'll turn into longer writing pieces later, but suffice it to say that i am in love with the way that i am winging it through this trip with plans that firm up at the last possible moment, and everything works out ok regardless.

the ride itself was excellent. i booked a bed in a 4-bunk "kupe" or 2nd-class compartment, and ended up with three more-or-less friendly Russians in my car. after having a few conversations using whatever common ground we could find between their english vocabulary, and my 4 words of russian, they disembarked after the first day, which left me with my own private train compartment for a day!

being the intrepid partier that i am, i spent a fair amount of time napping and listening to old Love and Rockets songs off my iPod while watching the Siberian countryside stream past the window.

i have a few days here in scenic Irkutsk, and then on the 28th i board the trans-siberian train for an epic 4-day train journey to Moscow! i'll be packing lots of groceries and vodka to fortify myself for the journey.

that's enough time spent writing for now, it's time to go explore this fascinating new land where cars obey pedestrain crossing signs and don't constantly use their horns to signal their presence to the world. stranger in a strange land, indeed.

July 28, 2006

heading out on the trans-siberian

i am a few minutes away from heading off to the train station to catch my 88-hour train to Moscow, which involves travelling thousands of kilometers across Russia and crossing five time zones. given the extremely high cost of a kupe (2nd) class sleeper ticket, i've opted for platskartny or 3rd class, which is described by lonely planet as a "refugee camp", and my handbook as "not advised for long journeys", but it's the mode of transport that most backpackers are now favoring, given that it's 20% of the cost of a 2nd-class ticket. and i hear good things about it, despite the bad press from the guidebooks.

there won't be any blog updates for the next 4 days until i reach Moscow. looking forward to experiencing one of the world's most famous train journeys, and the longest train journey of my life!

About July 2006

This page contains all entries posted to gone living in July 2006. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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