Easily one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen…
Kota Kinabalu part II, a day of lounging ended with one of the most dramatic setting suns ever… you can see in the photos how the sky changed colors, it was quite spectacular to say the very least.
What made the experience all the more surreal was that this boardwalk was closed off (just to the right of the above image), secured from public view and guarded by the United States Navy. We were talking to one of the guards, a older gentleman telling us of his previous tours, who then warned us for the possibility of a not-so-quiet night ahead, as it was the first off-duty time for over 4000 Navy military personnel from an American aircraft-carrier docked just off the coast. Wonderful.
In the last two images you can see the restaurant/market I mentioned in my previous post (yes, we ate there again). After shooting and dinner, we went to a bar for a drink… and I felt like I was at some sort of strange frat-party with an South East Asian twist… the Navy kids had swarmed the small downtown area and were yelling, screaming and drinking (then puking) everywhere in sight. It really made me not miss living in the US. Shame that people behave that way, especially when you are a guest in a predominantly Muslim country!
I ordered a bucket of beer and watched the mayhem from a bar balcony, while my girl ordered a margarita (but they had ran out of tequila), then ordered a mojito (but they ran out of rum), so she got a vodka pineapple. Luckily the obnoxious Cinderella’s had to be back aboard their “carrier” before midnight, letting the town of Kota Kinabalu lull back into tranquility (albeit with the stench of alcohol and vomit still lingering a bit).
The next morning it was off to country number 30something for me, bye bye Kota Kinabalu. hello Brunei Darussalam!
The Shanghai Stock Exchange (the square donut shaped building in the center above, from a strange photo I took back in 2009), is the 5th largest stock market in the world.
While photographing an executive training group from the Recanati Business School, I got the chance to see the insides of the Shanghai Stock Exchange. And although I had been warned not to expect too much, I was still quite disappointed. I have been to the NY Stock Exchange, which is pandemonium… masses of people running around and yelling, so I expected something somewhat like that. This was very much the opposite… as you can see in the images, it is just several people sitting behind computers!
Slightly hungover but very much content, we took a van from Pattaya to Bangkok… what a crazy [good] city.
We were staying with a friend out in Lam Luk Ka, and the first night (01/01/12) we went into the city’s chaotic center… visiting the enormous Chatuchak Weekend Market (largest market in Thailand; 5000+ stalls; 200,000 daily visitors; covers 35 acres). Where we also ate dinner at some dodgy-looking street vendor-type restaurant (pictured with the tuk-tuk’s), which, naturally, was delicious. We then hopped on to the brand new Bangkok metro, more precisely the BTS Skytrain Sukhumvit Line from Mo Chit to Victory Monument (which is exactly where the van from Pattaya had dropped us off earlier in the day).
To be honest, I found Bangkok a little dirty… but being a true city kid, I could live there no problem. I like real cities… gritty cities… cities that have a soul and a feeling that you can just sense. BKK totally had this (Shanghai for example, doesn’t really have this). However, with all the litter and muck around, I could not, and would not, like to see what it was like during the flooding (only weeks before our visit). Let’s just say I’m happy they caught all the loose crocodiles.
Saigon AKA Ho Chi Minh City (locals still refer to the city center as ‘Saigon’, while using ‘HCMC’ for the larger metropolitan area… I just use Saigon because it sounds cooler), boasts a population around 10 million and served as the capital of South Vietnam leading up until the end of the war… so, lot’s of history. Although I wasn’t alive at the time, I have the images of the helicopter evacuations from the roof of the US Embassy branded into my brain… as well as the VPA tank crashing through the gates of the Freedom Palace, which pretty much marked the end of the American occupation of southern Vietnam.
At first glance the traffic is BONKERS. Saigon has 6 million registered vehicles… of which 5 million are motorbikes. Thank god they pay attention to traffic lights… mayhem [somewhat] averted. I’ve traveled my fair share and had prepared for the worst (from everything I’ve heard/read), but the Vietnamese people definitely have some common sense and general understanding of efficiency when it comes to dealing with traffic situations (very much unlike the people I’m currently surrounded by, who are utterly clueless in these regards). The relentless convoy of bikers does offer a challenge to those new to the game, but I found that as long as you went with the flow (which there certainly was, and everyone followed), it wasn’t as bad as I’ve heard others complain about. That being said, I rented my very own motorbike to cruise them mean streets of Saigon! (more on that later)
Day 1 saw the first excursion to get a grasp of the city, walking from my hotel located a good 30min from the city center, getting my first proper Vietnamese meal (a mean bowl of pho… oddly enough at the very same restaurant Bill Clinton visited some 10 years earlier), then visiting the Ben Thanh market and eventually finding myself at the Saigon Notre Dame next to the amazing Central Post Office designed by Gustave Eiffel, where I sent a postcard to Mom.
Well, the 2010 Shanghai World Expo opened last Saturday May 1st… 6 months of crazyness now commences. Our first taste of “Better City Better Life“ occured immediately after, when our local government gave everyone in Shanghai an extra 2 days of holiday (+1 day for Labor Day). I took the opportunity to hit up the Yu Yuan Garden shopping area.
It was a zoo.
Yu Yuan Gardens (Fuyou & Lishu Road) is a tourist hot spot for buying (and haggling) for handicrafts… everything from traditional calligraphy brushes and chopsticks to ”new jade” (fake) bracelets and statues. I also happened upon a “2 Kuai Shop”, which is like the 99Cent stores I am familiar with in New York City, only difference is that 2RMB is equivalent to about $0.30!
Definitely worth a visit, just keep an eye on your valuables (tourist hot spot = pickpocket hot spot), and prepare to bargain hard. There is a Line 10 metro stop close by (“Yuyuan Garden“), but at the time of this writing this line is still in test phase, which means it only runs in the mornings, so keep your eyes peeled, or just walk from Line 8 Dashijie station.
I managed to hook up a sweet fake Zippo with classic Mao propoganda art on it (+ fluid & case) for 9.9RMB. Also don’t forget to stop by the infamous dumpling spot, but be prepared to wait in line.
Shengjianbao, a type of Shanghainese baozi (dumpling) with pork, which when cooked melts into a soupy liquid, which effectively makes it a soup dumpling with the soup in it. Delicious.
I had read this CNN article (“Worlds’s Greatest City: 50 Reasons Why Shanghai is #1“), and number 29 suggested Yang’s Fried Dumplings on Wujiang Lu (map). So we hit it up (and who knew it was right outside Windows Underground?!) and goddamn they were good, good thing I read their tip first too: “Don’t dive into these shengjianbao all at once. Carefully suck out the soup before you devour it.”
On our way to Yang’s, while walking across People’s Square, we came across a large group of older people holding photos and flyers, all in smaller groups having heated discussions with each other… yup, we had stumbled upon the “marriage market”.
Parents and grand parents arrange dates (and inevitable marriage) for their offspring (many of which don’t even know). Weight, height, etc, and a sort of life resumé… some even have a price tag. I can only imagine the lady my grandmother would hook me up with.
For Christmas Day, a friend and I headed down to the Shanghai South Bund Fabric Market (and had some street dumplings right out side)… and I kind of wish I had known about this before. Just think, having custom-tailored suits, coats, and shirts at a fraction of the price as the pre-made mass-produced and over-priced articles you find in shops (they even have official Boss, Armani, etc catalogs for “help” with your design). You just got to know how to bargain, which I can’t say I’m too good at, but I think we got a decent deal on our “kungfu-style” shirts (I refer to it as my “Chinese pimp shirt“), for 160RMB each. After walking around the market (it’s 3 full floors inside a building on 399 Lujiabang Road) and doing some research, typically suits go for 400-600RMB and dress shirts around 100RMB… all of course depending on size, material, and quantity you are buying.
After the Fabric Market, we followed a tip of a nice (and free) view of the infamous Pudong skyline, located on the roof bar/restaurant of the Captain’s Hostel located just off the Bund (which has been closed entirely for renovations since I arrived here). [sorry, those pics will have to wait another day or two]