Sunday, December 30, 2012

Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur

During a long walk today in Kuala Lumpur, I stumbled upon Bazaar Baru Chow Kit. Although several years ago there were hopes this market would become a tourist destination, my experience was similar to another person who shared their experience. I didn't notice any obvious tourists today, and overall the market did not feel touristy.

It might not be the most Malaysian of markets since it is in the midst of a large Indonesian community. But for me, it was still interesting to see how it compared to the wide variety I have seen in China. One of the more noticeable differences could be found in the aromas emanating from the foods and spices. One food stall proved particularly alluring, and I was tempted into enjoying a tasty snack of noodles.

I can't share the nostril-catching smellscape, so I will share a few photos instead. They provide a sense of the diverse visual scenes at a lively market in Kuala Lumpur.

aisle at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

magazines for sale at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

archway at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

people eating at tables at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

spicy peppers at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

man blowtorching cow feet at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

cow and goat heads at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

meat for sale at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

lizard on a wall at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

woman sitting next to vegetables for sale at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

variety of colored crackers for sale at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

sleepy girl being carried at Bazaar Baru Chow Kit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Saturday, December 29, 2012

A Monorail and Twin Towers not in China

After seeing my previous post about the vehicles at Xiamen's and Hong Kong's airports, readers familiar with China may have assumed that my ultimate destination was not in mainland China. One reason to make this assumption is that flying from anywhere in mainland China to Hong Kong requires passing through Chinese immigration in the departure city. This is similar to the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen and the border between Macau and Zhuhai. There are visa-related reasons a foreigner might deliberately do it, but in general Hong Kong is not used as a layover when traveling between two locations in mainland China.

And my case was no different. After departing Hong Kong, I was destined for somewhere warmer to spend the New Year's holiday.

monorail in Kuala Lumpur
Jeep and Sony advertising on the monorail

The above photo I took today provides some clues about my current location. If it is not enough, maybe a pair of iconic buildings will help.

Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
The Petronas Towers

In coming days, posts will probably cover a mix of topics. Some will likely be "light", but I'll try to refrain from only commenting on the wonderful food in Kuala Lumpur, the federal capital and largest city of Malaysia.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Comparing Airport Vehicles in Xiamen and Hong Kong

A couple of days ago I made use of various forms of transportation: a taxi from my hotel to the bus station; a bus ride that I expected to take me from Quanzhou to Xiamen's airport; the unlicensed "black" taxi I had to take to get from where the bus actually dropped us off to the airport several miles further away; two flights; an express train; and a monorail.

There's much I could opine about, but I will restrict myself to two scenes from the airports at Xiamen and Hong Kong.

The Dragon Air plane I boarded in Xiamen, Fujian province

The Cathay Pacific plane I boarded in Hong Kong

The smaller vehicles in the two scenes particularly caught my eye. You can click on the photos for larger versions, but I will also share here a cropped version of the photo from Xiamen.

Not cropped to highlight the van

The difference in the smaller vehicles at the airports in Xiamen and Hong Kong reminded me of a comparison James Fallows made in his "illustrated version" of the "Flying Blind Through the Mountains of Hunan" excerpt from his book "China Airborne". In that case, he used his experiences at airports in China and Japan to highlight a broader difference he saw between the two countries. I don't think the same lesson holds in this case, but the vehicles are indicative of other differences between Hong Kong and Chinese cities such as Xiamen in Fujian province. The most obvious is in the typical transportation methods available. Although a variety of three-wheeled vehicles are commonly seen on the streets of several cities I have visited in Fujian, I don't recall having ever seeing similar vehicles in Hong Kong. In later posts I will share scenes of transportation in Quanzhou and Putian--both cities in Fujian province. Plenty of tricycles will be included.

For now, I am just happy that my airport experiences weren't as adventurous as those of Fallows. For a great read with insights about China, check out the links above.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Quanzhou Church and Police on Christmas Eve

On the evening of December 24, I was walking down a street in Quanzhou, Fujian province, and noticed a church. Given the Christmas Eve celebrations, it was rather active, and like many other passersby I decided to take a closer look.

inside a church in Quanzhou, China
A view from the upper balcony

Although the evening service wouldn't start for another 90 minutes, people were already taking seats. Several people told me it was safe to say the church would soon fill to capacity. Fortunately, plenty of staff was around to assist everyone.

shirt with the words "Jesus Love You" in Quanzhou, China
Back of the shirt worn by some of the church staff

I observed some preparations for the service and saw several people dressed up for the occasion.

One of the rooms underneath the main prayer area

I didn't attend the service, so I have nothing to say about it. But at least I can share a photo of the church's exterior.

church with police standing outside in Quanzhou, China
A benefit of a wide-angle lens

Some readers might now be wondering about the police who just happen to be captured in the photo. I counted more than 30, and I suspect there were others. I first observed them when three entered the church to take photographs. When I caught one of them trying to photograph me from the side (ah, peripheral vision) I decided it was a sign to leave even though I did not expect there would be any problems.

The large number of people attending this open church service and the large police presence reminds me of a statement I made last year in a post about Easter in China:
The issue of religion is an example of how China can be open and free in some ways and yet so controlled and censored in other ways.
I will leave it at that since I'd only be rehashing the earlier post.

Anyways, it was a striking scene to me. People attending church, people stopping by just to look and have a photograph of themselves taken, and police keeping an eye on all of it. Just another Christmas Eve in China...

Monday, December 24, 2012

Students Selling Christmas Apples in Quanzhou, China

Tonight I met five college students at a popular shopping street in Quanzhou, Fujian province.

five female college students selling apples on Christmas Eve in Quanzhou, China

They were all selling apples in paper bags with various designs for about 10 yuan (US $1.60) each. Why? Because it was Christmas Eve.

One of the ways some Chinese celebrate Christmas Eve is to give apples to their friends. The explanation usually given is that the Chinese word for "apple", "píngguǒ (苹果)", sounds somewhat similar the word for "peace", "píng'ān (平安)", and "Christmas Eve", "píng'ānyè (平安夜)". The apple simply represents goodness, happiness, or safety, and like wearing a Santa hat, the Christmas eve tradition has no religious connotation for these students. The apple giving practice is an example of how a Western holiday has been "localized" in China.

As I spoke to one of the students, further evidence of the tradition appeared when a young woman who was selling clothing nearby received an apple as a gift from her friend.

two young woman and a Christmas Eve apple gift in Quanzhou, China

The students weren't just selling the apples to help others celebrate the holiday. They were all members of a business club at their university. Like many other students I have spoken to, they are concerned about gaining the "real world" experience they feel their school does not provide. The club helps to arrange such opportunities, even if it involves selling apples on the street and avoiding the local chengguan (城管), urban management officials whose responsibilities include cracking down on unlicensed street vendors. The occasionally appearing chengguan weren't perceived as a significant obstacle, but the students still found their job to be rather difficult. It didn't seem that many passersby needed a tastefully packaged 10 yuan apple. But at least the students had already sold 15 that night, including 7 to one woman alone.

In a later post, I will share a religious aspect to the Christmas holiday that I stumbled upon in Quanzhou. I didn't see any apples or chengguan involved, but there were plenty of police.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Christmas Holiday in Putian, China

It seems to me that every winter there are more signs of the Christmas holiday in China. Most of it appears to be commercially oriented, and for many Chinese, it has as much religious meaning as Halloween does in the U.S. In fact, I often hear people refer to it as an American holiday. For me, it is simply another example of Western culture's impact in China.

The holiday is not only found in well-known Chinese cities such as Beijing and Shanghai. This year, I even saw signs of it in Putian, Fujian province. For example, there are places selling Christmas supplies.

Christmas supplies for sale at Walmart in Putian, China
At Walmart

And several Christmas-themed dioramas can be found in the central shopping district.

Christmas diorama at a mall in Putian, China
At a shopping mall

Christmas diorama at a mall in Putian, China
At a larger and more upscale shopping mall

The most common sight, though, is employees wearing Santa hats.

Two woman wearing Santa hats in Putian China
At a department store

Three young men wearing Santa hats in Putian, China
At a shoe shoe and athletic wear store

young woman wearing a Santa hat in Putian, China
At a mobile phone store

young woman wearing a sparkly yellow Santa hat in Putian, China
At another mobile phone store

However, I think it is safe to say that in most places in Putian, you wouldn't be aware it was Christmas. So some employees still wear their usual hats.

four woman working at a pharmacy in Putian, China
At a pharmacy

And some businesses still use their giant inflatable panda.

giant inflatable panda next to a road in Putian, China
Outside a furniture store

For more, see last year's post here. I shared some personal experiences, a video report by The Christian Broadcasting Network, and some scenes from Wuhan, Hubei province--no giant inflatable pandas, though.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Historic Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

Xiaoshan Street runs alongside a canal in a central district of Shaoxing, Zhejiang province. Although it has a distinctive style and is at the southern edge of a historic area frequented by tourists, the bustling activity amidst the old buildings there reminded me of some busy-but-not-so-touristy "old streets" elsewhere in China. I will say and share more about the nearby historic area later. But first, here are some scenes from Xiaoshan Street.

Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

man walking at Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

man walking by mannequins at Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

woman pushing a tricycle cart at Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

man pushing a bicycle rickshaw at Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

dead ducks hanging at Xiaoshan Street in Shaoxing, China

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Outdoor Cards in Old Shaoxing

It's been one of those unexpectedly "interesting" weeks, and I've had to pull back on posting. But I plan to ramp things back up soon. For now, here is another photo taken in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province:

people playing cards outside of Chinese traditional style homes in Shaoxing, China

Later I will share other scenes from this old neighborhood. They can make it seem all the more striking that this city of over 4 million people just a couple of hours away from Shanghai was once claimed by Symantec to be the malware capital of the world.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Two Speedy Rides in Shaoxing, China

Around 7 this morning I waited for a taxi. I had plenty of time to make it to my destination.

But I waited.

And I waited.

And I saw no available taxis. I realized if I didn't figure something out soon, I would have to make significant changes to my plans.

But then, over the horizon, or actually the hill of a bridge, a possible solution appeared. It wasn't what I had been looking for, but... it might do. So when the driver approached I asked him how long the trip would take.

If he was right, I had a chance. I had no other options, so off we went. After telling him to please hurry, I felt a pang of guilt. But then I considered he probably found this to be a good deal since I had quickly agreed to pay him more than US $1.50--much more than the usual price for this ride.

As he promised, we made it to the station in time. And he didn't even seem out of breath.

So thank you, sir. Your opportune appearance and speedy service ensured I could make it onto another vehicle of speed.

high-speed train arriving at the Shaoxing Train Station in China

Fortunately, I was in a place where you could take a cycle rickshaw to catch a high-speed train.

man with his cycle-ricksha in Shaoxing, China

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Rural City Scene in Shaoxing

a country-like scene in the middle of Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, China

After taking a peak through an open door in a park's back wall yesterday, I saw the above in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province. The park and this scene both felt like another world from the denser parts of the city nearby.

More on Shaoxing and other topics soon. I have some catching up to do, especially since I will be on yet another high-speed train tomorrow. Fortunately, the ride should provide an opportunity to get some more work done when I'm not gazing out the window.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Weapons Matter When Children are Attacked

Students returning to school after lunch on a peaceful day in Ganzhou, Jiangxi province, China

As you may already know, there has been a terrible attack on children at a school:
A man with a knife has wounded 22 children - at least two of them seriously - and an adult at a primary school in central China.

The attack happened at the gate of a school in Chenpeng village in Henan province.

Police arrested a 36-year-old local man at the scene.
It is not the first knife attack at a school in China. And there are worries it won't be the last. As noted on NPR:
"People are saying that this demonstrates their real lack of mental health provisions in China," [Louisa Lim in April 2010] said on All Things Considered. "And also the fact that the social security net has broken down because people are moving around a lot as well. There is a real lack of social and psychological support."
Despite the problems, there is a silver lining. The attackers did not possess guns. Otherwise, China would be even more similar to the U.S. and probably doing more of this and this.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On the Bus Again in China

Due to some sleep deprivation, yesterday morning I enjoyed some coffee with my tasty xiaolongbao, a style of steamed bun/dumpling* famous in Shanghai.

Starbucks coffee with xiaolongbao in Shanghai
My way of doing "fusion"

Later in the day, I departed Shanghai not by high-speed rail, but by bus, because I hoped I would get to cross the Hangzhou Bay Bridge. However, the bus took another route, and the scenery often included the high-speed rail tracks. Oh well, at least I got to ride shotgun.

view of road and nearby high speed rail tracks from a bus in China
The bus driver was a fan of "proactive honking", a practice I have noticed more often in other regions of China.

One obvious difference from riding the train was stopping at the Xiasha (下沙) travel service center. Unlike the service center I visited on the way to Wuzhou, it did not have a restaurant "inspired" by McDonald's.

Xiasha, Hanghzhou service center
I don't think this experience justifies putting Xiasha on my list of visited places.

After arriving at my hotel in Shaoxing, Zhejiang province, I asked the manager to recommend a place for dinner. He provided one and said I should take a taxi there. But I later discovered that available taxis were not plentiful at the time. So I improvised, and based on an earlier glance at a map I figured heading east would be my best bet to find a worthy restaurant. After walking for 10-15 minutes, I was surprised to see the street mentioned by the hotel manager. And about 5 minutes later I found the recommended restaurant. Sometimes it all works out in the end.

Zhuangyuan Lou Restaurant at night
A good recommendation -- Zhuangyuan Lou Restaurant

In addition to my meal, I enjoyed a bottle of Shaoxing's famous huangjiu or "yellow wine". If you like Manischewitz wine, you might love this stuff.

bottle of huangjiu in China
A good way to celebrate arriving in Shaoxing

As I walked back to my hotel, I watched a bit of night dancing at a public square.

dancing at a square in China
Earlier I saw a large group of older women dancing to American hip hop music.
Unfortunately, it was too dark to record a video.

And that's all for this light travel-bloggish post. I'm still sleep deprived but I hope to resolve that issue now. More later...

*Whether it should be described as a bun or a dumpling can be a deeply religious issue for some people. Perhaps I will touch on this debate of taxonomy and translation another day.