Category Archives: interesting but not travel

Style in China – Different…?

Style in China

I have been amazed by the rapid pace of development in China.  Me and everyone else, I think.  But one things that continues to baffle me is the style approach taken by many developers and builders in China.   

It is very strange (at least to me) that the same country which is able to construct in no time a science fiction looking city like Pudong

China Shanghai Pudong

is having major trouble keeping up a straght line when installing wall plugs, light switches,…and in the case that we observed today – a whole array of thermostat controllers

China Thermostats

Isn't this surprising?   Why would you install these units in such an obvious disarray?   It really boggles my mind… And the second surprising thing is that I see this in many places in China…. In 5-star hotels…and other fancy places.

Can anyone explain it?  May be it is a strange kind of Feng Shui?


Voss Water – Crazy Expensive

Voss Water

I thought I had seen it all – not really – but an interesting saying nevertheless… Voss water shocked me.  A couple of weeks ago my family and I traveled to the Bay area.  We stayed in a Marriott hotel, downtown San Jose.  This was all uneventful until I came across a bottle of water, for sale, in the hotel suite we stayed in.

What is special about this water?  Nothing, based on what I understand….except for the PRICE!  Please see the picture below

Voss Water

So, what is on the photo – the PRICE of $4.00.  Yes, the water is transported from Norway.  But still…!  $4 for 500ml 

Now, what does this translate to – well, to a humongous price.  Let’s compare it to price of gasoline.  In the US, the price of gas is about $2.5 per gallon.  OK, in California it is $3.5 per gallon.

So, do the math…. This 500ml bottle of water is approximately 1/8 of a gallon.  Therefore 7-8x the price of the bottle of Voss will be the volume of a gallon of gasoline.  7-8x $4 is $28~$32 per gallon!  –> so the price of VOSS is about 8-times higher than that of gasoline!

What a great deal….NOT!

Well, I am not buying it.  But then, that is the beauty of market pricing.  There must be enough folks who are willing to pay….Good luck!

Crowd Reporting – Speed of Information in the Digital Age

Crowd reporting – it is real and happening all around us – whether the traditional media likes it or not…Pundits argue on its objectivity, but I believe many of us encounter it very frequently.

I was at the DFW (Dallas-Ft.Worth) international airport recently (less than a week ago) waiting for my flight in the Admirals’ Club — it was an early morning and the club was filling up with the business traveler crowd quickly…As I was waiting all of sudden a distant smoke caught my attention — it looked like something was burning at the edge of one of the runaways.

Dallas Admirals Club View of Runaway

By the time I decided to get closer to the windows in an attempt to see what was going on, a crowd of people with smart phones poised to take pictures had already gathered.  Soon enough we decided that this was most likely a training exercise of the local fire department as we can see a whole bunch of emergency vehicles and a badly burnt (from many such exercises we figured) air plane frame.   So all was well – no need to sound the alarms.

What amazed me though was the speed with which people gathered, camera phones went out and everyone was ready to record and report…

Which makes me wonder – can information nowadays travel any faster…Has this been a real emergency – the photos and information would have gone out to the community within minutes…

All in all, I believe this proves how powerful community information sharing and exchange can be and that we are really living in a digital age of information…


Fall Colors of Austin, Texas

The Fall Colors of Austin — This week the weather in Austin was very nice – a great opportunity for going out with the mountain bikes and enjoying both the exercise and the colors of the Fall.   Admittedly, Austin is no New England – the colors of tree leafs changing in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine, New York are spectacular, but the local ones in the Austin Hill Country are interesting enough for us to enjoy..!

Well, all I can say is judge for yourself – here is my latest gallery of snaps from one of the trails in Austin, Texas, Thanksgiving, 2014


Park Plaza Hotel Wangfujing, Beijing – Not quite a hotel I would recommend

On a recent stay at the Park Plaza hotel in Beijing I realized why I tend to stay in hotels I trust….The hotel room was OK — I stayed at the club floor, but I guess they did not have enough guests there as the breakfast and nightly happy hour was held in the 2nd floor restaurant. That was not so bad — just not as convenient as I would have liked it. But the real surprise came on the last day / evening. My wife and I wanted to check out so my wife went downstairs to get the bill as we were going to leave very early the next morning on a flight to the States. When we got the bill later that evening we noticed that the hotel had “conveniently” calculated for us the final charge in US$ except in a exchange rate that was significantly below the official one. As a result the bill was $60 higher than it needed to be in RMB.

I went downstairs (no — I could not get that done in the club floor business center — there was only the machine downstairs that can handle my receipt — weird) and complained. The clerks downstairs were very surprised that I am complaining. Long story short I explained to them (and to the Manager I quickly asked for) in Chinese that they must be joking if they expect me to pay the sum they had charged us…..The manager proceeded to calculate what the sum should have been — and of course arrived to the same conclusion I did — we were being overcharged $60!!!

Then she (the manager) started apologizing that the computer had done this mistake 🙂 I love that !!! The computer did the error!!! I pointed out to her that it takes a person….and also pointed out to her that they must have been collecting nice overcharge from multiple unsuspecting customers as per the manager “No one else had complained”

I will stop at this point — we had the charges reversed and charged over again in RMB, My advice to you — if the hotel asks you if you want to pay in US$ (this is a weird one — no one had ever offered that to me in all my years in China) or in local currency be AWARE — if you select US$ the hotel sets apparently their own exchange rate !!!

So always select the RMB option — that is by the way what the bills have always been in my multiple cases of staying in hotels all over China.

Happy Travels!

Buying a mountain bike, assembling it, re-assembling it soon after that…

So my wife and I decided that we needed to buy new mountain bikes — after all we were living in the country where they all are assembled — whether they are Giant, Marin, Trek, Cannondale… appears that they are all (with some small exceptions) are made in China. So we drove with our minivan to a bike shop in Shunyi (Beijing) and started going through the options. We had been biking since the early 1990s — our first bikes were Giant Iguana (mine was green and my wife’s blue). The Giant Iguana was a very strong, maneuverable, and nice to ride on bikes…. Actually I think they may have started the history of Giant in the US — I mean the Iguana may have been one of the first models to be sold in the US market…

At any rate, we had been using those (older) bikes for a long time and had them with us in Beijing – to use for the occasional errand — not that there is a good place to bike inside the city 🙂

So we decide to buy new bikes — and sure enough the bike shop in Shunyi in Jinshun Lu had Giant bikes too. After some deliberation (not too long) we settled on two Giant ATX750s – bright red bikes (and a small Giant bike for our daughter). The sales guys in the store did the assembly of the bikes and soon after that we loaded them in the minivan and headed home.

The next part will actually amuse you — believe it or not it took me a couple of years (tells you how much we rode the bikes) to notice that my bike actually was assembled wrong. I just purchased my new serious mountain bike — and one of the reasons was that the Giant ATX750 never felt the right size for me. Then I suddenly figured it out — the clerks in the store in Shunyi had assembled the front fork of the bike incorrectly – it was mounted backwards. As a result the overall bike wheel base was about 3 inches shorter, the front wheel was closer than normal to the frame and the peddles… all sort of issues.

I disassembled the front and reinstalled the fork — something that took me all in all 15 minutes. But it made a big difference. Then I thought about it — how come the Chinese guys in the store did such a poor job assembling the bikes? After all these were no low cost items — the bikes were about $500 each…! Quite a bit of pocket change for Beijing … But at the end of the day I told myself — “Don’t be surprised — this is just another example of how things are done here”. We have seen examples of such “high quality” work in many instances in many occupations – whether is fixing the wiring of the house, fixing a leaking roof on an additional room / veranda in the house, or as it turns out assembling a mountain bike. Many of the Chinese employees just do not care — they do half baked (I do not want to write a harsher word) job and just move on….
The other possibility is that the shop employs assistants that have actually never ridden a mountain bike, do not have the experience of assembly and are just cheap to employ….(that being their main asset).

So enough of that — the moral of the story is ALWAYS DOUBLE CHECK ANY WORK THAT YOU HAVE DONE ON YOUR ITEMS (HOUSE, CAR, BIKE, CLOTHES….) AND DO NOT TAKE THIS LIGHTLY 🙂 as you will most certainly have problems.

Side note: I have had issues with tailored clothes too — once I had to return a new two piece suit to the tailor 3 times until it was done properly….Oh, well, the nature of the society an the economy in China!

Happy Travels and Happy Experiences – Enjoy!

Mobile phones, Tablets and the Wave of Innovation

It was just recently that the media was shouting loudly how the low cost designs coming from Asia companies (HTC, LG, Samsung) will swamp the brands and products offered by companies in the West…. It certainly seemed inevitable. I was surprised to see a bunch of new articles in recent Business Week magazine issues showing both polar opposites of the situation being true.
First — in South Korea — local consumers are adopting the iPhone!!! Given its global pricing it certainly is not due to low price 🙂
This is described in more detail here but in summary the reason is INNOVATION!

At the same time the Chinese OEMs are promising to flood the market with sub-$100 smart phones…..Here is the article on that. So all in all exciting times ahead. Although, judging by the behaviors of consumers on both sides of the Pacific — in the US and in China —- the innovation and style brought in by Apple continue to drive the market and command the minds and wallets of the buying public (whether business or personal use)

So who is next — will it be HTC? Or Apple? Or Brand X? Comments?

My bet is on a whole new design category…. but which one it is ? It is yet to be defined.

In the mean time, what is your favorite communications device while traveling?

Who Says Austin, Texas Does Not Get Snow — Look at the Photos

Well, I was on the flight to China, while in Austin, TX suddenly the winter brought a white surprise — SNOW!!! The tail tail signs of the snow started while I was in the plane on the tarmac at the Austin Airport waiting to take off for Dallas…. We were delayed to take off….because…..of having to have the plane deiced!!! By the time I hit Taipei about 26 hours later, I was emailed photos of our yard in Austin covered in SNOW! And a snow that stayed for more than 24 hours. Take a look at the photos — I think they are pretty neat. Especially the blooming jasmine bush covered in snow flakes 🙂

Compact Digital Camera Wars: Lumix Vs. Coolpix

Recently, we found ourselves in the market for a new compact digital camera to be able to use on trips where our beloved Nikon D90 was not an option due to luggage space constraints. Our local Costco had a good deal on two promising looking compact digital cameras: a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZR1 on sale for $179.99 and a Nikon Coolpix S570 discounted at $149.99. The two cameras had a similar basic feature set–both had 12 megapixels and a 2.7 inch LCD display. The Nikon was slightly smaller and had a sleeker appearance…and I have to say, based on our favorable experience with the Nikon D90, we were initially predisposed toward the Nikon Coolpix. However, when we delved a bit deeper into the camera specifications and read some online reviews, our ardor toward the Nikon Coolpix began to cool slightly. While both the Coolpix and the Panasonic Lumix got favorable reviews, the Lumix’s were a bit better, and it clearly boasted a more upscale feature set. The Lumix has a 8x optical zoom, compared with the 5x on the Nikon, and its slightly larger size allows it to have a considerably longer battery life–330 pictures, as opposed to the 220 pictures that the Nikon Coolpix is supposed to have. The feature that really tipped the balance for us, however, was the faster continuous shooting speed for the Lumix, which has 2 frames per second as opposed to 0.6 frames per second for the Nikon Coolpix. The icing on the cake was the Lumix’s HD video resolution (1,280×720), as compared with 640×480 for the Nikon Coolpix.

After trying out both cameras, it was obvious to us that the Panasonic Lumix ZR1 was the clear winner. The shooting speed was a standout difference between the two cameras and the Lumix seemed to have a more easily viewable LCD in bright sunlight. The extra $30 for the Lumix was easily justifiable.

Some helpful online reviews of the two cameras:
CNET review of Panasonic Lumix ZR1

CNET review of Nikon Coolpix S570

Very detailed Amazon user review of Panasonic Lumix ZR1