Friday, December 14, 2007

A Day Like Any Other

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A visit to the Port of Hong Kong is a surreal experience. An average of 11 container ships leave there each day, carrying roughly 7000-12000 containers each. Containers are stacked 6 tall and 20 deep as far as the eye can see.

When I first started buying from Asia I felt that the 30 containers I move per year were Big Time. Come to find out there are companies like Phillips/Magnavox that will move 80 containers of a single item PER DAY.

The sheer mass of stuff departing from this port alone (the 3rd busiest in the world) is mind blowing.

The process to load one of these ships is amazing. One guy sits at a computer in a building and selects which containers will go on his ship. The cranes are all automatic and will go out to the "yard" and pick the applicable container and ferry it to the ship. The average transfer time is 1 container per minute and they assign 6-8 cranes to a ship in order to get it loaded and out.

Maybe the most impressive thing to me was the casual execution of a seemingly overwhelming task. The workers are very competent, well trained, and very efficient. Maybe our ports could take a page out of their books.

Monday, December 10, 2007

A Day Off

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For many Filipiano women, Hong Kong is the Land of Opportunity. Almost every household of moderate or greater means hires a woman from the Phillipines as a housekeeper.

These women come to Hong Kong by the thousands and work for money that most of us would consider insulting, putting in 12 hour days, Monday thru Saturday.

When Sunday comes it is time for them to let loose and kick back. The scene from this picture is common on any flat surface in downtown Hong Kong. Blankets are layed out, picnic lunches are distributed, and for 10 hours these ladies sit and enjoy the company and the language of their fellow country(wo)men.

I was amazed at the sheer volume of these ladies or all ages spread throughout the city. On the few Sundays I have been able to walk around I have encountered tens of thousands of these small gatherings, always talking, playing cards, or just napping on their small island of cloth.

I am always impressed by their good humour, their lively discussions, and their desire to be around each other.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Banned in China

I grew up during the Cold War. The word Communism evoked visions of bread lines, Gestapo-style police tactics, checkpoints, and harsh oppression. I pictured all Communist countries to be like Moscow in Firefox.

My first entry in to China was exactly as I had pictured. We were taking a private car across the border between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. At the border we all had to get out of the car and walk in to a large processing building. Inside were armed guards and lines of people getting there Passports and Visas checked. Unlike 90% of the world, to visit China you need to apply for and receive a special Visa. This requires letters of invitation, etc... and you are limited to how many entries you can make in to Mainland China (most Visas are only good for 1 year).

The real shock comes once you are processed and are actually "in country". When you walk out the back door you are greeted by huge billboards for every kind of product and service.

I never really got a feel of being behind the Curtain, so to speak, until I went to visit some of my favorite Blogs.

China has a very high-tech Censorship group. Yahoo and Cisco have both been accused of 'helping jail China writer' . I was also aware that certain things were "edited" out of the web, specifically any reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square Riots. What surprised me was that the enitre Blogger domain is blocked as well. I tried to go to a few sites that I KNOW contain no references to anything political, but to no avail. This was the first time that I really understood that I was "inside" the belly of the Beast. I would be reminded of it again in the very near future, during a visit to Tiananmen Square, but that's another post.

So, for all of you who use Blogger, you can proudly say that you have officially been "Banned in China"

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Hong Kong

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I have been to Paris, London, Tokyo, Seoul, LA, San Francisco, etc... and in my opinion there is no more "International" city than Hong Kong.

This picture was taken on the Kowloon side, which is a peninsula attached to Mainland China. From here I am looking over the harbor to Hong Kong Island. The ferries in the foreground are from the Star Ferry line. For the rate of $5.30 HK (.70 US) you can take a ferry between the 2 sides, worth every cent I promise.

Hong Kong boasts 4 of the 16 tallest buildings in the world, even though it is roughly the land mass of LA and half the population. Thanks to it's designation as an SAR (Special Administrative Region) Hong Kong has become a hub for international businesses. Almost every major bank has offices there.

From a Tourist perspective there are a few solid days worth of stuff to see. Check back here as I detail out some of the sights I have visited (and new ones I will add on future trips).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Asia Travel Handbook

When I first found out I was going to be travelling to Asia I went out of my way to try to consume as much literature about the region that I could find. Books on China were scarce at my local library and I was forced to turn to works of fiction that took place in the Pacific Rim. To my surprise I stumbled across a book that has become a Must-Read at our company for any new employees traveling to Asia.

Tai-Pan (Sequel to Sho-Gun) is a book by James Clavell that starts out with the founding of Hong Kong. It details a few months in the life of Dirk Struan as he founds the Noble House, a trading/smuggling company in the new Colony.

What makes this book such an important piece (in my opinion, of course) is that Clavell has done a great job explaining the interactions between the Chinese and the Westerners. There is a lot of attention spent on the concept of "face" (as in "he lost face") and how important it is in that society. It is also very interesting to read about the longevity of the Chinese culture and how they consider all Westerners "Barbarians"

This book is a work of fiction, but for anybody interested in the East-West relationship I highly recommend this book. If you are up to it read the entire Saga (in Chronlogical order) But Tai-Pan can be taken completely on it's own and still be an outstanding read.

Check out your local used book store, where you can probably buy this for $1.00, and immerse yourself in the rugged and rough history of Hong Kong.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Wonder of the World

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After my last post I wanted to make sure that I had the chance to show the other side of traveling to China. Never in my wildest did I ever think I would have the chance to see the Great Wall of China. Then a random business trip got me to Beijing. Just couldn't resist taking a day and hitting the big attractions (Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tianenmen Square)

This photo was taken on the Badaling section, North of Beijing. You can see the large Olympic sign in the background. I took this picture with the anticipation that I would see this same shot (or some like it anyway) every day during the 2008 Olympics.

I will do a future post on my visit, just wanted everybody to know it isn't all Squid Head in China

Squid Head, Anyone?

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This is one of the more exotic things i have eaten. It is Squid and instead of eating the tentacles you slice the head in to strips and eat it. Not bad, but a little much

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Frequent Traveler Rewards

The first thing I learned when I started to travel for business was the value of joing every traveler program I could.

Many of the programs have such high minimum stays/miles/days that the average vacation traveler never hits any rewards, but one short trip can earn you more than you think.

First, Airline Miles: this seems obvious but you would be amazed how many people I travel with that aren't members of any program. Due to our limited flight options from Wyoming I mostly fly United. Many of their services are average (at best) but as soon as you meet their first "Elite" goals (35,000 miles) then you automatically get seated in Economy Plus, with no extra costs. This is a luxurious 5 extra inches of legroom. For a 6500 mile Hong Kong flight it may be the difference in sanity and craziness. Hint: Always ask which "Alliance" an airline belongs to. Don't make the mistake of getting a United and a Lufthansa FF Card since they share you can use 1 for both, but cannot combine later (I will do a more detailed entry on this later)

Second, Hotel Rewards: I made the early mistake of choosing Miles instead of Reward Points when I stayed at Mariott. Because I stay there so often I lost a lot of free nights, and ended up with a few thousand measly miles out of it. I still have a few programs that I have set to miles because I stay there infrequently. But if I plan to stay more than 3 nights a year at any chain I choose rewards so I can earn free nights

Last, Rental Car: This is by far the easiest. Sign up online to become a "preferred" member and you will get special service from your first rental. This usually includes express check-in (which has saved me many hours), free upgrades, and sometimes special covered loading areas. The rewards themselves are a little slow to rack up, but you can usually earn miles and rewards. I am a member of the Thrifty blue chip and I get a mile per $ spent and 1 free rental every 11 rental days. Since most my travel is to Asia I don't rent much, but when I do I am rewarded for it.

*Remember, your company cannot take your miles, or any other rewards you earn. These are yours to keep and use for PERSONAL travel.

After only 3 trips this year I have enough rewards to take all 4 of us on a domestic trip (includes 4 flights), 2 nights of hotels, and 1 car rental.

Lastly, I have 1 airline that I only aquired 3,600 miles on this year. Doesn't seem like that's worth anything, but I can redeem as few as 900 miles for subscriptions to some of my favorite magazines, that makes it worth about $20 per subscription, not bad.

Excellent Engrish

Engrish - (also known as Chinglish) - Bad english found in China (or anywhere is Asia)

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I found this sign in our Hotel Lobby in Yiwu, China.

Welcome to HuFlungPoo

This is my new Blog, HuFlungPoo. This comes from one of my favorite "sounds like chinese but means nothing" sayings. (Yes I am sure you all got it already, but it's Who Flung Poo, as in "Who threw the poop?")

I want to make this a site about my travels to Asia. I will post pictures, comments, tourist and business travel ideas, and any random crap I feel like. I suppose I could use my Myspace page, but we'll try this for awhile...

I hope to really get started soon, so please mark my page and come on back...