Saturday, October 31, 2009

Beijing to Hong Kong

Phil packed while I futzed with the computer. Then I packed, and we had breakfast. We read and made sure we had all the info we needed before the trip. Shanliang rang the bell about 10 until 10 and we were off. Except he had left the change from the bill on the counter and had to go back. The driver even gave us a gift of a teapot.

We were surprised that there were no news shops in the departure area. Only expensive places where we managed to spend almost all of our Mainland China money.

Air China gave us lunch (pork rice) and an ice cream ball thing covered in a gummy sugar coating.

We got to the Hong Kong airport and couldn’t make the machine take our money for train tickets, so we stood in line and somehow got a ticket which was $20 HK cheaper than had we bought them at the machine. The train to free hotel express bus worked great.

I had trouble checking in because I did not have a voucher. The clerk had me go back in the office with her where I went through my email and printed our the message from Orbitz. It was not exactly what she wanted but it worked. Our room was an upgrade to a full harbor view. The hotel, the YMCA Salisbury, was under massive construction in its lobby area as was the surrounding street area. However, our room was perfect with a phenomenal view.

We unpacked and went across the street to the Cultural Center where we got Starbucks coffee and split a curry beef pie sandwich. We hurried to the waterfront for the Symphony of Lights show where the harbor side buildings in both Kowloon and Hong Kong had a light show orchestrated to music. It was really cool.

As it was Halloween, lots of people were dressed in costumes and people brought their kids to be photographed near a host of illuminated figures set up in the area to celebrate the East Asia games that will be in Hong Kong in December.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Temple of Heaven Beijing

Our final touring day took us south east to the Temple of Heaven. The weather had turned cold and threatened rain, but we had a grand time watching all the people in the park. Groups of older adults were dancing for exercising, playing games with balls, singing with a band, playing dominoes and cards. We toured the temple and then looked for a geocache on the grounds. It was good I had re-looked this one up since it was moved just the day before!

Then we walked to King of Old Beijing noodle Restaurant but Shanliang didn’t know where it was, so we had to call the driver. Then we went to the Hong Qiao Pearl Market where Jane Prey had told us to go. We went to Sharon’s Store and bought pearl necklaces. Avoiding the persistent salespeople in the market while we waited to have the pearls strung and clasps put on was nerve wracking. We didn’t buy anything else, although we certainly should have. Since nothing was priced it ws too much work!

We decided not to do anything else. We think Shanliang was happy to have the day off. We did walk for wine and snacks and then had a light supper of beef and mushrooms with rice and broccoli for supper. Once again the only beverage was hot water.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Beijing (The Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square)

Breakfast and the driver picked us up at nine to go to the Forbidden City. We came in from the north and all the signs assume you’ve come from the other way. However, we missed most of the crowds and it was absolutely peaceful and beautiful in the Empress' Gardens. Once again we found the virtual cache near the temple of enlightenment. We had to take a picture of a stone. I was astounded by how large the compound was. When we exit through the huge throngs of tour groups we were across the street from Tienanmen Square. We crossed under the highway and came up in the squire. There were two of the biggest TV’s I ever saw celebrating the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. We had our picture taken in front of the monument near Mao’s tomb as part of a geocache. There was a huge queue for te mausoleum but we didn’t want to wait. The square now is decorated with red pillars for each of the 50 some odd ethnic groups that make up China.

Then we were off to Wangfujing Street, a big shopping street, where we took pictures of each other sitting in a rickshaw as part of yet another cache. Then Shanliang took us to the “most famous” roasted duck restaurant, Quanjude, where we ate the 1,4803,657th duck they have served. The duck came with a certificate number!

Phil and I shared less than half the duck which was carved and then we made little burritos like wraps as we ate it. Shanliang ate the rest of the duck – probably ¾ of the wholoe thing!

Meanwhile back to the hotel. As if we hadn’t walked far enough, we set off for a geocache in a park about 1.3 miles away off Huangsi street. It was a gorgeous park , Liuyan Park, filled with willows. It cost us 1 yuan to get in and we found the hidden cache but there was a guy playing a video game right near us. Hope he didn’t see. It was dark on the way back and we walked on the side with lots of construction so we ended up in the street with the bicycles for much of the way. We stopped at the store for wine, snacks and Pepsi for Phil.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Beijing (excursion to Badaling and the Great Wall)

Up early to go to the Great Wall. It was a little over an hour’s ride to Badaling. When we got there, it had clouded over and was very cold. Our driver thought we would want to take the cable car up, but we convinced Shanliang that we preferred to walk. I wanted Starbucks coffee, from the shop right by the wall. We also convinced him to go left when he preferred right, because the geocache said to go left. Turns out the crowd was much less to the left. The sun came out and it was a beautiful day. But the walk was STEEP! We couldn’t find the monument for the cache. They moved it for the Olympics and I misunderstood what had happened so Phil and Shanliang did a lot of dangerous bushwacking around the porta potties. On the way up we bought a pounded slate artwork of the wall from the artist. On the way down, Shanliang reimbursed us the amount of my visa and Phil bought himself a baseball cap and a t-shirt.

When we got back to Beijing, Shanliang wanted to take us out for roasted duck. Our timing was just wrong. We stopped at about 5 different places and the driver and Shanliang gave up and went to a hot pot place that was both fun and good. We boiled our food – thin sliced beef and mutton and veggies in broth. Phil and the driver had the spicy one and Shanliang and I had mild. Once again no dinner for us.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Beijing -- Peking University and Summer Palace

Shanliang must have accompanied Rich to the airport very early. We had breakfast in the hotel – donut like sweet rolls, cucumber and sprout salad, sticky buns and warm real milk.

Then it was off to Peking University for my talk. Only two professors and one student came. A lot of money and work for that! I did meet a female prof who had to teach. One student, Mr. Wang, came as did the representative from i-Group who brought brochures about ACM. Despite the small gathering, I think the talk was a success.

Ming took us to observe a class on CS theory and then on a walking tour which included seeing the site of the 2008 Olympic table tennis games. We had lunch at the Peking University Hotel. It was very good. We had crunchy pork spareribs, duck, a whole fish and the assorted veggies. Afterwards we walked about the entire campus which was very park-like. I gathered it was the location of the old summer palace of the emperor.

Back to our hotel to change and then Shanliang and the driver took us to the Summer Palace. We walked up and up to get to the temple at the top. It is called Longevity Hill. The dirt that was dug to put in a lake made the hill.

We then scrambled to find a geocache hidden among rocks in the woods below. Phil spotted it and then let Shanliang find it, too.

We walked about the grounds and saw an old guy on an outcropping play an instrument while a girl sang with the accompanying loudspeaker. We walked up to a temple of a god with lots of arms and then took the covered long walk (Phil says there were 14,000 paintings on it) to another park gate where we were met by the driver.

Phil and I explored the area by walking toward a geocache and stopping a little supermarket where we bought a bottle of Great Wall wine. We had a drink of it with leftover airline snacks before dinner. We just had rice and soup for dinner because we were full from lunch.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Chengdu to Beijing

We had to leave very early, being in the lobby at 7am. Ming and Shanliang accompanied Rich and us to the airport and took the same plane. We had breakfast at the airport. Shanliang ordered spaghetti and it was served with Tabasco and Kraft Parmesan. Rich ordered the Japanese dish. The rest of us just had coffee.

I worked a bit on the changes that Ming wanted me to make to my talk for her department at Peking University. On the plane, we were served a light meal – tuna and cucumber sandwich, I think.

The Beijing airport was beautiful. We were met by a driver who took us to our hotel. Boy was I wrong about it. It was not the Jinma but the GaoJiaoJinMa, a small hotel run for the Higher Education Press with few of the standard hotel amenities. The carpet had not been swept before our arrival so I found a maid and had her vacuum it.

At Shanliang and Ming’s suggestion, Phil and I stayed in our room while Shanliang took Rich to the Forbidden City and out for Peking Duck. Phil and I had dinner in the hotel restaurant.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Chengdu trip to Du Jiang Yan

We had breakfast with the conference again. Shanliang called to say the van that was to take us to Du Jiang Yan had something wrong so we would leave later than planned. Rich LeBlanc, Phil and I joined Shanliang and our driver, a tiny man who clearly had no idea about the area. He had to ask passers-by for directions to even leave Chengdu. Because of the late start, it seems we wouldn’t get to see the pandas. I was disappointed by Rich didn’t really want to go see them.

When we got closer to Du Jiang Yan we saw more and more evidence of the earthquake that hit this area in 2008. We couldn’t follow the signs, and again the driver had to keep asking how to get to the historical site of an irrigation and flood control project that was build in 200 BCE. We parked in a muddy lot and walked to the site entrance and waited while Shanliang bought tickets for us. The site is a world heritage site and the gardens were quite lovely. I had made first experience with a toilet-paper-less non-western Chinese commode. We walked to the river walk where we could see evidence of the early construction. We had to cross a swinging suspension bridge that kids made worse than it was. I really felt wobbly when we got off. We walked the length of an island and then decided to take the path back on the opposite shore which involved a lot of climbing. However, we had great views and went to several small temples. The damage from the earthquake was quite evident.

At the end of the trail we came to the Temple of the TownGods which was full of 6 fanciful characters and had a holy water pool at the exit. We walked through the old town meet our driver. Shanliang said the restaurants near the river wouldn’t be “healthy” and thye would cheat the tourists, so we drove toward Chengdu and stopped at one that he thought would be ok. We had the ever present lazy Susan banquet and this time with a large steamer of rice. It was Sichuan after all and the food was very hot. The restaurant was filled with small parties in the rooms off the main eating area. In one the toasts were going fast and furious and a guy got roaring drunk. He could barely stand when we left. As we exited the restaurant we saw employees squatting down doing the dishes outside with a garden hose!

Leaving the town was exciting – since the roads had been destroyed and not all repaired we went in back streets and followed a cab to get out through muddy pavement-less alleys. Turns out is was a dead end. The cab was merely going for gas!

Long Zhang had requested that Rich and I meet with him and Ming at dinner to talk about cooperation with the conference and answer questions about curriculum with other educators. It was a buffet like the first night.

We began our packing to leave. Phil packed first so he could help me. This was very smooth.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Chengdu Conference -UFCFCS

When we walk the circuitous route from the elevators to the conference venue we pass a delightful statue of a woman knitting, a boy playing a video game on a laptop and a man reading a paper. There was also one of a girl that reminded us of Chloe.

Breakfast was an interesting mix of foods. Our host ate corn on the cob with chopsticks!

We went to the conference opening where I sat in a fancy chair with my name in front of me. Phil sat behind me in the audience, We went for photos where the whole conference was photographed.

Then Rich Leblanc gave his presentation on CS2008 and I gave mine.

We went to the lunch for the speakers and dignitaries at an absolutely amazing tea room. The decoration was of old Sichuan and the food superb. This was our first introduction to the banquet toasts. The servers pour thimble sized glasses of wine and then someone makes a toast. This goes on and on. You don’t have to drink if you are not included in the toast.

After dinner we went to the old town of Chengdu and walked the "Wide Street" and the "Narrow Street". A young Chinese woman asked to have her photo taken with Rich and me in front of the Starbucks!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Hong Kong to Chengdu

In the morning when Phil took a shower, he was surprised by the angle of the shower head and managed to soak yet another shirt! I ironed that one partially dry. It took us forever to re-pack and be on our way to the “real” China.

I thought Phil looked rather dashing in his new clothes for our trip to Chengdu. We had breakfast in the Hong Kong airport – eggs, ham, roll and coffee for about $3 US dollars each! I didn’t get wanded in security in Hong Kong, a rare occasion. But they sure do make us fill out a lot of forms.

I worked on note for my talk on the flight to Chengdu. We were the only American on board a full flight and Phil was the only bald man. They served lunch –some kind of fish rice, an English style tuna salad and unripe melon but good Chinese tea.

Going through immigration and customs in Chengdu was really fast. All the officials wore both masks and gloves to handle our documents. We got our bags and were met by Shanliang from the Chinese ministry of higher education press, who had come from Beijing about an hour before us but waited to escort us to the hotel. It was a long, ride into the center of town. As we got closer to the center the traffic was dizzying – bikes, motorized bikes, 3 wheeled cars, pedestrians and no clear indication of the rules of right of way. The hotel entrance is beautiful, as is the hotel (the California Garden Hotel), although slightly worn.

We didn’t really have time to unpack, although I couldn’t find my black slacks and tried to call the Novotel. It took several attempts to discover why my phone wouldn’t work. The international calling numbers are different. Instead of + followed by the country code as it had been for me all over the world including Hong Kong, the Chinese provider needs 00 then the country code, Bottom line was my slacks weren’t there, but I had left some medicine.

Shanliang and Ming (our host from Peking University) took Rich LeBlanc, Phil and me in two cabs to the Jin Sha Museum. It was a fabulous place. In 2003, a huge archaeological site was found here including artifacts from the Shang Dynasty about 1600 BC. They found piles of elephant tusks, gold, jade, all for ritual use indicating the site had been a temple through many eras. Then next door they had recreations of the site as it had looked, and actual relics artfully displayed.
Potted plants

I was fascinated by the potted plant displays only to discover them everywhere in public places in Chengdu.

Phil decided to use his bed as a dresser!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Georgetown to Hong Kong

October 21 Georgetown – over the Pacific.

Up early and off to the airport for our 9:35 flight to DFW. First class doesn’t make much difference on that leg but what a difference on the next one!
At the DFW Admirals Club we had pre-flight mimosas even though it was slightly before noon.

The flight from DFW was on a 777 on which Phil and I had side-by-side “pods”. The chairs did everything – swiveled to a desk, reclined into a flat bed (mine broke and only went back so far), all kids of lights and gadgets. Truly fun.

We had champagne to start and then chose the Japanese food. Closer to landing we had yet another meal. I actually chose pizza—mediocre but Phil had a cold scallop salad.

In Tokyo we hung out in the Admiral’s club and I posted to Facebook. We certainly didn’t eat anything. Phil like the mock ups of food at the airport restaurant.

I slept well on the 4 hour flight to Hong Kong even though this time we were in business class and the seats didn’t recline all the way. I didn’t even wake up to see what the food or wine was.

We were really tired when we got to Hong Kong. Cleared immigration and customs and found where to get the shuttle to the hotel, Novotel Citygate. Our room was on the business class floor but the clerk was quick to point out that it didn’t include the amenities of that floor. When we began to unpack we were uset to find many of our items and both our bags soaking wet. It was raining when wpe left Dallas and the bags must have sat in puddles. We rigged up a clothes line and totally destroyed the ambiance of the elegant hotel room.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

SIGCSE Board Meeting

I looked at a map and organized the SIGCSE Board meeting that would involve the least amount of travel for the folks involved. We met in Newark, NJ, near the airport. Being thrifty, I also found an inexpensive hotel (not all were pleased with my choice).

We did have a good meeting, though and found time to eat some super food. I even got to watch a bit of the OU-Texas game during lunch.