Monday, March 4, 2013

The Good and Bad of the Extended High-Speed Guanzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway

Last year in a post describing and showing how I traveled in China from Guangzhou to Macau (including photos of the immense Guangzhou South Station), I pointed out that the high-speed train from Guangzhou only traveled as far to a train station in northern Zhuhai. From there, a long ride in a taxi or a couple of buses were needed to reach the Gongbei Port at the Macau-Zhuhai border. During a later trip to Zhuhai, I posted photos of the under-construction Zhuhai Train Station at Gongbei Port which would provide a more convenient train station for Macau and central Zhuhai.

Those posts receive a regular amount of traffic, presumably in large part due to people seeking how to best travel between Guangzhou and Macau / Zhuhai. A reader's recent query motivated me to see if there were any updates. And indeed I discovered that the Zhuhai Train Station is now open and is a stop on the recently extended Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway. January was the first full month of operation for the new extension and as reported in the Macau News:
The total length of the new line is 177 kilometres, of which 116 is between Guangzhou South station and Zhuhai.

There are in addition branch lines from Xiaolan station to Xinhui, 26 km, and from Zhuhai to Zhuhai airport. It will have a maximum speed of 200 km per hour.

It passes through the main cities of the southern Pearl River Delta, including Foshan, Shunde, Jiangmen and Zhongshan. It has a total of 27 stations. Passengers will have the choice of 46 minutes non-stop from the two termini or 76 minutes with stops at each station. The current journey time by bus is about 90 minutes from Gongbei to Panyu.

The line between Guangzhou South and Zhuhai North opened on January 7, 2011, with a journey time of 41 minutes. Guangzhou South is in Panyu, a suburb of the city. Passengers there can catch high-speed trains to Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Wuhan and Guizhou. To reach other parts of Guangzhou, they must take a subway.
For what it's worth, convenient and more direct ferries travel between Macau / Zhuhai and Hong Kong / Shenzhen. Also, the Macau News was a bit "optimistic" in its claim you could travel from Guangzhou to Guizhou by high-speed train. That line won't be in service until at least next year. And the high-speed line to Hong Kong won't be completed until 2015 (there is currently a slower high-speed line in operation from Guangzhou East Station).

It's also worth noting that the Guangzhou South Station is far from Guangzhou's central districts. For example, it took about 40 minutes on the metro for me to reach the station from where I last stayed in Guangzhou. From the airport it would take about 70 minutes (handy site for estimating Guangzhou metro travel times here). In either case, there are far closer places to catch a bus to Zhuhai. The travel time by bus between the two cities is about 1.5 - 2.5 hours. Where you're departing and arriving can make a big difference in times.

And there's another potential pain point for people who want to take the train. As noted in the Macau Daily Times, some are critical of the ticket prices:
...according to local media reports, many city residents complained that the tickets are set at unreasonably high prices [RMB90/70 (first/second class) for a single journey], which are over 50 percent higher than the prices before the Intercity was extended to the current stop at Gongbei. It was pointed out that at an average of RMB0.598 per kilometer, tickets of Guangzhou-Zhuhai Intercity Railway is even dearer than that of Guangzhou-Shenzhen Intercity Railway (RMB0.58/ km), and is the “most expensive Intercity Railway in the whole country”.

Coaches between Guangzhou and Zhuhai are operating at around RMB60-80 for a one-way ticket and some of the companies are cutting passenger fares to compete with the new Intercity link.
So it depends on your personal situation as to whether the rail line is a major plus and worth the cost. Despite all the potential drawbacks though, the extension certainly makes it more convenient to travel by train between Macau / Zhuhai and Guangzhou or cities further north such as Changsha and Wuhan.

My next wish would be for another extension connecting Guangzhou South Station, central Guangzhou, and the airport. I'm not aware of any plans for one though. I suppose even China has its limits for high-speed rail growth.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Scenes of People Pedaling in Phnom Penh

In the same spirit of yesterday's post of people riding motorbikes, here are some photos of people riding bicycles or cyclos (cycle rickshaws). Like before, the scenes can serve as a glimpse of the life and environment in central Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

young women carrying baskets while riding bicycles

women riding as passengers in a cyclo

woman wearing a hat riding a bicycle

man carrying boxes on a cyclo (pedal rickshaw)

kids riding bicycles at a traffic circle

two girls riding a bicycle by a sign which reads "ARTillery Cafe. Organic. Fresh. Homemade."

two young women wearing face masks while riding bicycles

man pedaling a cycle rickshaw with a woman riding

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Street Scenes of People Riding Motorbikes in Phnom Penh

The busy streets of central Phnom Penh present an excellent opportunity to see people going about their daily lives in Cambodia's largest city. In that spirit, I will share several posts with photos of people riding some of the vehicles common there such as motorbikes, bicycles, and rickshaws.

In this post, I will share the photos of people riding motorbikes. The photos not only capture people on the go, but the life and scenery around them. You may want to focus on the motorbikes, the styles of clothing worn by people, the number of people riding a vehicle, who is and who is not wearing helmets, the architectural styles of the surrounding buildings, the activities of people on the street side, and so on. There's much to discover in these scenes, and they provide a striking contrast to those I've recently shared from Cambodia's countryside here and here.

two men and a boy riding a motorbike by a market

young woman with an angry birds bag on a motorbike

men sitting on motorbikes at the roadside

man and four children on a motorbike

young woman with dyed hair on a motorbike

man, woman, and three children on a motorbike

young fashionable couple on a motorbike

man on a motorbike

young man and young woman on a motorbike

man with four children on a motorbike

monk as a passenger on a motorbike

several motorbikes driving next to a car

two men on a motorbike

woman stopped on her motorbike

small girl sitting on a motorback and holding the waist of the driver

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Another Taste of Pollution in China

There are several notable recent stories about China's pollution. I don't think this is a topic that can grow old. In so many respects, pollution presents a major challenge for China. And some of its impact will be felt throughout the world. You might not be in Beijing, Shijiazhuang, or Changsha to taste the air, but here is a taste of the news:

1. Often the focus is on air pollution, but air is not the only issue. For example, soil pollution is an area of concern. How bad is soil pollution in China? Well, it's hard to say since as Tania Branigan reported in The Guardian:
China's leading environmental watchdog has refused to disclose the results of a major national soil pollution study on grounds of state secrecy, according to a lawyer who requested the report's disclosure...

Beijing-based lawyer Dong Zhengwei told the state-run Global Times newspaper that he had requested the findings of the five-year, 1bn yuan (£100m) study because he believed soil pollution could be a serious safety threat.

But the ministry of environmental protection told him it would only release some details because the full report was a state secret, he said...

"The environmental ministry has been releasing real-time information about air pollution even though the air in Beijing was so bad last month. In contrast, soil pollution is a 'state secret'. Does this suggest that the land is contaminated much worse than the air?"
Read the article here for more details about estimates of soil pollution in China and signs of growing public concern about pollution.

2. One man in China had a creative idea for how to draw attention to the pollution in a nearby creek: he challenged local officials to swim it. As Tom Phillips reported in The Telegraph, the man received more attention than he bargained for:
Mr Chen, a farmer who has spent the last decade fighting pollution, posted his challenge on the internet, hoping it would trigger government action.

Instead, his daughter says he was severely beaten by a gang of baton-wielding men at around 6am last Sunday.

"My father was alone at home," said 32-year-old Chen Xiufang. "Some 40 people turned up in plain clothes, some holding batons. The only thing they said was: "[You] used the internet, you always use the internet!"

"The whole thing lasted four or five hours until the police arrived. My father got hit in the head by six or seven people, with their fists. He is now feeling dizzy and sleeping all the time," she added, claiming the attack had been orchestrated by local officials.
Read more about Mr. Chen's plight here.

3. Fortunately, some government officials are responding to the concerns about pollution. In fact, officials came up with what I think is safe to call a "unexpected proposal": banning outdoor barbecues. As Minnie Chan and Li Jing reported in the South China Morning Post, at least some Chinese citizens are skeptical of the plan:
"Does anyone believe the smog will be easily controlled after a barbecue ban?" one internet user commended. "We are not fools like some leaders."

"What is [the Ministry of Environmental Protection] going to consider next?" another user asked. "Will they ban cooking, too? My family still uses a wood-burning stove."

Other online comments suggested that the ministry was targeting average citizens because it could not come up with pollution-reduction measures that were acceptable to the industries most responsible for pollution.
Read more about the barbecue ban proposal here.

4. Articles about "massive nitrogen pollution" in China, Beijing's air pollution yet again reaching levels "beyond index", and other variations on the pollution theme are out there as well.

And I expect more will be coming.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Snacking on Spiders

During my visit to Cambodia several years ago, I was eager to try a variety of local dishes. However, there was some hesitation mixed in with my eagerness for one item I ate.

cooked tarantula spider, peanuts, and a glass of beer

As seen in the photo, a large glass of beer helped me prepare to eat a spider. It worked (a little), and I managed to eat everything except, as advised, the abdomen. The experience was most similar to eating a soft-shelled crab. In fact, I would have enjoyed it if I had not known I was eating a spider. But that fact was hard to ignore. Despite the repulsion I had to overcome, part of me was able to enjoy the spider's subtle and unique flavor.

At a more upscale restaurant in Phnom Penh I recently had the opportunity to try spiders again.

a gourmet dish of tarantula spiders

Several spiders were provided in the appetizer dish, but they were smaller than the previous spider. Most remarkable to me was that I didn't feel like I was overcoming any strong inhibitions this time. Although the dipping sauce was flavorful, the spiders had no distinct taste themselves--just crunchiness.

So based on my experiences, my advice is to try the larger spiders. Maybe they're tastier.

And if it's your first time, ordering a beer might not hurt.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Mobile Phones for Sale in Nanchang, China

Just two scenes from a little more than a year ago of people selling mobile phones on the sidewalks of central Nanchang--the capital of China's Jiangxi province.

people selling mobile phones on the sidewalk

people selling mobile phones on the sidewalk

Monday, February 25, 2013

The Facebook Ice Cream Store in Cambodia

Last year I shared my "discovery" of the Android Store in Zhuhai, China (see here). Even though in addition to Android phones it sold non-Android phones, including the iPhone, I saw it as a sign of Android's growth in China. It was also reminiscent of the numerous "fake" Apple stores I have seen across China (see here).

I haven't noticed any similar Android or Apple stores during my brief time in Cambodia, but at a shopping center in Phnom Penh I did notice a store that prominently made use of the Facebook brand. Since Facebook is an online service, it may not be obvious how one could use their brand for a store. The answer is simple: you sell ice cream.

Facebook Ice Cream store in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
The person holding the ice cream sure doesn't look like Mark Zuckerberg

Croatian designer Tomislav Zvonarić has already created a concept for a Facebook ice cream bar—Facecream (H/T Mashable). But I'm not aware of any Facebook Ice Cream stores other than the one I saw in Phnom Penh.

After stumbling upon the store, I felt compelled to go inside. A friendly ice cream server greeted me.

server at the Facebook Ice Cream store
I did not ask if she receives Facebook stocks as part of her compensation.

Excited to try some Facebook ice cream, I placed my order.

inside the Facebook Ice Cream store
Imagine the lights flickering between "Face" & "Ice" and "book" & "Cream" for a fuller experience.

No Facecream was available. Instead, they had a variety of common (for Cambodia) ice cream flavors, drinks, and some non-dessert food, including chicken wings and french fries. I chose the taro ice cream.

cup of taro ice cream with the writing "I choose the pink one cause I love pink!! Fashion Update"
Nothing like receiving a fashion update with your ice cream.

I'm not sure whether the ice cream had a Facebook flavor to it. I'll just say that the cookie sticks were my favorite part.

Facebook is available in the Khmer (Cambodian) language, but I was told the store does not have a Facebook page. That seems like a marketing blunder, although maybe they were concerned about receiving any attention from the folks at Facebook.

I have seen other signs of Facebook's presence in Cambodia (maybe more about that later). None of them were as striking as the Facebook Ice Cream store though. That's all for now, but I'll be sure to provide an update if I see any ice cream stores using the brands of Facebook's competitors.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Watching the Sparks Fly in Phnom Penh

Today in Phnom Penh, a scene at a market reminded me of a metal cutter I saw in Shenzhen. In the earlier post I wrote "safety precautions common elsewhere are not always practiced [in China]".

At least the welder [brazer?] I saw in Cambodia was wearing a form of eye protection.

little girl watching a metal cutter
At the Orussey Market in Phnom Penh

The sparks were denser and flew farther than what is seen in the above photo, but they were not reaching the young girl who stopped nearby. Even where I was standing farther away, though, their extreme brightness made them rather uncomfortable to watch.

And for those of you who attend to details, yes, that is Vietnamese writing on the umbrella. It is for Văn Dũng 1111 coffee.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A City Scene in Cambodia

View from the Sorya Shopping Center in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

This is my way of saying that I am no longer in Kampot, Cambodia. At least one more Kampot-related post is on the way, but Phnom Penh, the capital of Cambodia, will provide a change of pace from the recent rural scenes.

More (not just about Cambodia) soon...

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Shoe Shining in Hengyang, China

Although more from Cambodia and Malaysia is on the way, China themes will continue. For readers who crave another Chinese scene, here is a new one:

a shoe shining on a sidewalk in Hengyang and several people looking at me

In this case, I received a significant amount of attention from people nearby. I suppose it's not everyday someone photographs a shoe shining in Hengyang, Hunan province.

For more scenes from Hengyang see my earlier post here.

Not Fighting Hacking With Hacking

It seems "hackers from China" is a common news story these days, but a fascinating article on the The New York Times added more perspective and details based on a recent study:
An unusually detailed 60-page study, to be released Tuesday by Mandiant, an American computer security firm, tracks for the first time individual members of the most sophisticated of the Chinese hacking groups — known to many of its victims in the United States as “Comment Crew” or “Shanghai Group” — to the doorstep of the military unit’s headquarters. The firm was not able to place the hackers inside the 12-story building, but makes a case there is no other plausible explanation for why so many attacks come out of one comparatively small area.

“Either they are coming from inside Unit 61398,” said Kevin Mandia, the founder and chief executive of Mandiant, in an interview last week, “or the people who run the most-controlled, most-monitored Internet networks in the world are clueless about thousands of people generating attacks from this one neighborhood.”
The full article can be found in English here and in Chinese (simplified) here.

The AP reports on a possible response:
As public evidence mounts that the Chinese military is responsible for stealing massive amounts of U.S. government data and corporate trade secrets, the Obama administration is eyeing fines and other trade actions it may take against Beijing or any other country guilty of cyberespionage.

According to officials familiar with the plans, the White House will lay out a new report Wednesday that suggests initial, more-aggressive steps the U.S. would take in response to what top authorities say has been an unrelenting campaign of cyberstealing linked to the Chinese government.
The full article can be found here.

I'll refrain from commenting on the hacking incidents other than to say they don't sound good and China is not the only country connected to large scale cyberstealing. But the U.S. not "fighting fire with fire" and instead responding with other measures to deter hacking has inspired me to share a personal experience.

While living in a college dormitory many years ago, I became the owner of a new top-of-line computer. I think it had more than 100 MB of hard drive space. Many of my friends thought I would never be able to fill it up. Ah, the good old days...

It was not long before I discovered signs someone had inappropriately accessed my computer and caused some minor mischief. I could not fully control access to my shared dorm room, so I added a layer of security to my computer. But I soon discovered that someone had found their way through it. I then had a suspect in mind since there was only one person living in my section of the dorm who had both the skills and the mindset to do it. When I saw him next, I asked him to stop. Although he did not explicitly admit to it, his response left me all the more sure he was the culprit.

Not having faith my request would have the desired effect, I added yet another layer of security to my computer. However, it was not long before I discovered it too had been "cracked". I then researched other possible security measures and came to a disturbing conclusion: even I could imagine a way through the best security I discovered. Securing my computer seemed impossible, and I had no desire to engage in a hacking battle.

Clearly, it was time to "think outside of the box".

In this case, what first came to mind as a nonconstructive immediate response provided the seed for a possible solution. I walked down the hall and into the room of the suspect. I explained to him that I was not aware of any security for my computer that could stop him from accessing it. And in a tone that left no doubt about my seriousness I added, "If you ever touch my computer again, I'm taking a hammer to yours."

He looked stunned. I walked out.

I'm not saying this provides the blueprint for the best response, or even a feasible one, in all cases. But in this case...

I had no more problems.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Scenes From a Bike Ride North of Kampot, Cambodia

A few days after my long walk in the Cambodian countryside south of Kampot, I headed in the opposite direction but this time on bike. Again, some of what I saw and a few of the people I met:

Small lake at the Chinese built dam

Most of the roads I saw that day were paved.

The girl excitedly removed her hat for the photo, and the woman displayed what they are farming.

Watching TV at the restaurant

More specifically, watching an infomercial for a broom (I think the "Super Sweeper")

When I stopped to buy some bottled water, the girl in the center was in charge of the small shop.

The man was eager to speak with me. Unfortunately I don't speak Khmer (Cambodian).

More people watching TV

Other bike riders

A small stream