Wednesday, February 11, 2015

An update on Sylhet

If you read my post on Battling Bangladesh, you'll know that I was curious to find out more about the relationship between Sylhet and the UK. I don't know what I didn't think at  the time to just look it up. With the Internet, there's really no excuse to wait because it's not like you have to go and find an encyclopedia, but in any case, here I am posting about it several months later after reading through my post and reminding myself that I was curious about it. I'm not so fond of using Wikipedia as the most accurate source of information, but for general information, it's usually pretty good. So I found out that Sylhet is a lot more significant than I realised, historically speaking. And it isn't a floodplain, although there are definitely more things produced there due to their supply of water and the climate of that part of the country. An interesting read, and I highly recommend taking the time to do so--just because it's fun to know!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

First time in mainland China

Chrysanthemum tea
So I finally made it to the other most populous country in the world. It's vastly different from India, whose billion plus people all seem to be out in the streets; China appears to be so controlled and not chaotic at all. You don't get a real sense of the enormous population, though I supposed if we were in any event that draws a large crowd, it would be different. But I'm glad I finally got to go. Back in 2006, when I started blogging about my travels and travelling extensively alone, I was planning to go to China since my cousin lived there at the time, I had a friend living in another city teaching ESL, and yet another friend that was backpacking around Asia and was in China at the time. But I had issues with the Chinese Embassy giving me the runaround, so I never got a visa to go. In some ways, when you think of the human rights issues and what not, I wasn't interested in going to the country. On the other hand, there's good reasons to go and see a country with such ancient roots. I do want to see the western part of the country, specifically Urumqi and the Silk Road area. Maybe some day :o)

In any case, I didn't get a chance to do a lot of sightseeing there, being that I was on a work trip, but I did get to see a few things. I really enjoyed myself more than I imagined, and I found people there to be really warm and welcoming. The food was totally fine without anything too weird by my standards. In fact, I even found Shanghai area food to be a little dull and bland, though it wasn't un-tasty.

One new experience I had this time around was getting cheated royally by a taxi driver. Not that I haven't been taken advantage of before like most tourists in some parts, but this one was different. We were actually scammed. When we went to The Forbidden City, we grabbed a taxi to get to Tienanmen Square. That will always cost more because the drivers take advantage of the fact that you're desperate to find someone there. The driver wanted us to pay a ripe sum of RMB30, which is about $6, so we paid it knowing that there wasn't much we could do (most distances of 15km or more would cost us only about RMB20, and this time we were only going about 5km, but what can you do). So we hopped in. I sat in the front seat, and the driver gave me RMB70 in cash, I guess assuming I was going to give him a 100 bill. I did, and he checked it for validity in a UV light he had because counterfeit 100s are a big problem in China, as we were warned by the currency exchange kiosk in the Vancouver airport where we got our money. The driver told me it was a fake, and I told it couldn't be, and despite our argument, he insisted I give him the other 100 he saw in my wallet, so I did, and he told me it was fake, too. So my co-worker did the same thing with two 100s with the same result. I finally just gave him 30, which I had initially intended to do, and then we left when we got to our destination.

At that point, we walked around a bit and then went into a student art show where students from some university were selling their works. I don't know if they were for real, but the paintings were nice, so I bought a set of 4 hanging ones. My co-worker bought a small picture and tried to pay with her cash, and the people in the venue noticed they were fakes. And later when I tried to use one of my hundreds to pay the taxi driver back to the hotel, the driver told me my 100s were fake, too. We were baffled as to how it could have happened because our cash was good when we got it from the currency exchange. The driver actually spoke great English and explained to us that the other taxi guy probably gave us the old switcheroo and somehow exchanged our bills for fake ones with some slight of hand trick. I was not amused because I lost $40. If I had lots of money to spare, I wouldn't have been as annoyed, but that's a fair amount of cash, in my opinion. Regardless, it was too late. And I learned my lesson the hard way.

Outside of that, I really enjoyed my first trip to China. I also took advantage to find good quality tea and even developed a taste for puerh tea, which is different for me because normally I only enjoy black teas these days, but I've learned that if you have a really good quality tea, non-black teas can be great, too.

After China were stops in Singapore and Hong Kong. Not much to see there for me since most of it isn't new, so not too many photos from there. Above is a photo from one of the bays in Singapore that I never saw before. It's quite pretty when it's lit up at night, and we walked around after our event since it was outside the venue.

Here are the albums from my trip. Make sure to click on them to see the larger photos and not just the small thumbnail.

China 2014

Singapore Dec 2014

Monday, January 12, 2015

It's been a while...

I haven't posted much for quite sometime. I actually switched jobs, which still allows me to travel, but most of my trips were such that I didn't have a lot of time to take photos and really reflect on much. I've been to San Francisco and London and Asia so far. I'll do a separate post on Asia but just wanted to add a quick note about some of the things on my mind regarding people you meet when you travel.

While flying back from San Francisco, I had a layover in Phoenix and was seated next to a very talkative man from Fresno on his way to meet his girlfriend in San Diego after a series of cancelled and delayed flights and being rerouted on my flight. He was an interesting guy, telling me about his life growing up with his grandparents because his parents were in and out of jail on gang-related charges, both parents being members of a Mexican gang. He was the first of anyone in his family, since they immigrated from Mexico 3 generations before, to go to college, achieving not just one, but two degrees, all while living with a gay uncle and the partner of that uncle during his college years in the city where he went to school. (And if you're wondering why I know all this, it's because I have that look on my face that makes people want to tell me their life stories.)

Since the economic crisis hit the US, he's been underemployed when not unemployed and has had a hard time making ends meet. But when he was disembarking from the plane, he pulled out a Michael Kors handbag and told me it was a gift for his girlfriend. I asked him if it was a knock-off, and he confirmed that it was the real thing. It reminded me of a comment a friend made somewhat recently in that "luxury" has lost some of its meaning. We are told to believe that we all deserve a little luxury in our lives at any cost, and I think it's true that his is happening to us. Almost every female seems to have a designer label purse these days, regardless of her socioeconomic situation. I began to wonder if I was one of the few without such an item. I have some designer shoes that I bought at discount stores, which I think charged me a maximum of $60 because I would pay no more than that. And I once bought a knock-off Burberry purse in Indonesia that turned out to be crappy quality (though many aren't and probably depend more on where you buy them) because I liked the size and felt the colours were neutral enough for me to use it year round. I'm just not into purses.

In any case, it saddens me in a way because luxury is so relative. I look at the house that I live in, that I was able to buy last year, and know that I have electricity, plumbing, and heat. I've got lots of blankets and food and even a fireplace to keep me warm if the heat and electricity fail. And I have a yard that allows me to grow fruits and vegetables and a climate that is temperate enough that I know these plants will produce. If I think I'll have a period of no rain, I can turn on my tap and plug in my hose and water my plants if I need to. I may not have a Coach or Louis Vuitton handbag, but I do have what half the world doesn't, a life where many of my wants are met, let alone my basic needs. About 2.8 million people in the world live on less than $2 a day, according to the UN. If you're able to read this blog, it's probably because you are a millionaire like me, relative to what this other population has available to them. If that isn't luxury, I don't know what is.