Sunday, April 30, 2006

Raw photos - Singapore 2nd Half

Here are the rest of the unedited photos from Singapore:

Link to Shutterfly

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Sunday Morning Walk - Urban Gardens and Filipino Housekeepers

A quick note while I transfer 150 photos to my computer hard drive before we reconvene for lunch. Ed was up at 5:30, I was up at 6:30, so we ended up meeting in the lounge for breakfast at 7. Cousin Nick kept on sleeping, and had just woken up as we got back. He puttered around the room (and posted below) while Ed and I did a little exploring.

It worked out well, because there was a lot of climbing which I'm not sure Nick's knee would have liked. We took a taxi to Star Ferry - the cabbie gave me back change on my HK$17.4 (US$2.50) fare. We walked from there through City Hall plaza. Sunday is the only day off for most domestic helpers (mostly Filipino) and I think all of them were in the square. We're talking 99% females, all just sitting on benches and on the ground picnic style, extremely orderly, just having fun and socializing. One group was dancing, another group seemed to be doing some religious singing.

From there, we ascended into Hong Kong Park. It's truly amazing, as it's cut into the hillside and juxtaposed against the skyscrapers just blocks away. It turns out that the back of the park exits, of all places, right into the entrance to Pacific Place!! That makes the Conrad a fantastic location even for business travel, as you can get out and get some good exercise between your meetings.

I took a tremendous number of photos. Now that the files finished transfering to my hard drive, I'm going to load some of them into shutterfly, and meet Ed/Nick downstairs for our taxi-ride to lunch at Whampoa Place.

Thoughts from "The Other Nick"

Sorry it took so long for me to post, gang, but I've been busy trying to shuck the shells off all the seafood they serve around here (I've looked high and low but can't find a Red Lobster anywhere).

Seriously, this has been a great trip so far. Some general thoughts:

-- The plane trip was pretty painless, considering how far it was (14.5 hours to HK, then almost four more hours to Singapore). I was also astounded at the routing -- right over the North Pole. A few hours after we took off from Chicago, I looked at the map on the airplane to see where we were and I asked Nick, "Why the hell are we flying over Thunder Bay right now?" Not nearly as exotic as Russia and Mongolia, which we hit a few hours later.

-- Singapore is an absolute delight, once you get accustomed to the heat and humidity. It's unbelievably clean, and the people are unfailingly polite, contrary to what I've heard about Asians in general and their reactions to Americans in particular. The food is good, hearty and cheap. Public transportation is quick and convenient. I had been told three days there might be a little too much, but Nick and I agreed we could spend at least two more days there and not be bored (and maybe three, if you make sidetrips to Johor Bahru right next door in Malaysia and Bintan Island right next door in Indonesia). I definitely want to go back someday.

-- Singapore has four official languages (Chinese, Malay, Hindu and English), but English is the main language everybody speaks and also is the one on all the highway signs, advertisements, etc. There's an election going on there next week, and I saw a TV interview with the very Chinese-looking prime minister. He spoke English as if he just stepped out of Trafalgar Square, accent and all.

-- We've only been in Hong Kong less than a day, but I think I'm going to like this place, too. It's a pretty crazy city; imagine New York on steroids. But it's in a much more beautiful setting, with the harbor and the mountains. People here aren't as conversant in English as they were in Singapore (this in spite of English being an official language), but they are just as friendly. I tried my limited Cantonese on the cab driver last night on the way back from dinner -- simply "thank you" (pronounced "m'goy"). The guy reacted as if I'd just told him he won the lotto, high-fives and all.

-- I'm planning a sidetrip to Macau tomorrow. I've heard it's the Las Vegas of the East (and, in fact, will become busier than Vegas at some point next year, according to media accounts). Macau was a former Portuguese colony, so I'll be looking for some decent Port wine, as well as maybe a hot blackjack table. I'll let you guys know if I get comped for dinner.

-- One more thing -- Nick has (as usual) been an excellent traveling partner and has put up with me gracefully. His only problem is that he doesn't like to slam beers as much as I do, but Nick's friend Ed has arrived from Wichita (how many people, do you suppose, have flown from Wichita to Hong Kong over the years?) and seems to like a bit of the brew himself, so it's all good. :)

I'll probably be checking in again later. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blogger.

A Study in Contrasts: Tiong Bahru and the Raffles Hotel

After the Fort Canning Hill tour, we struck out for one of the neighborhoods west of town. One of my friends had been taken their by one of her Singaporean friends. We got off at Tiong Bahru, and thought that we were following the signs to the local food center. But we couldn't find it...

It turns out that the food center is right in the middle of the BAO Crescent housing complex, and being just a little wary, I kept on leading us around the edge of it! Anyway, we made the food complex at 1pm, which was sub-optimal as a number of the stalls had closed. But enough were open for us to make some choices. We each picked a different noodle stall, and paid a combined S$5 (US $3.20) for our lunch! To put that in perspective, the four train rides (two there, two back), cost S$3.50... Lunch was excellent, although the portions were small by US standards. I had some noodles with pork with a side of wonton soup, and Cousin Nick had some other noodle dish.

After that, we headed back to the city. Cousin Nick went straight to the Raffles Hotel to rest his knee and get out of the heat, and I went to Chinatown. I was in search of a particular store, but the address system confused me a bit, the heat got to me, and after about 20 minutes of searching, I just didn't care enough! Instead, I walked to the Raffles from the Chinatown area. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but the heat and humidity had kicked in, and I was dead by the time I got to the Long Bar.

The Long Bar is very nice, and given the atmosphere and history, reasonably priced. The beer was expensive, but all liquor in Singapore is heavily taxed. But they had free peanuts (well, not for me as I'm allergic), and we ordered some bacon rolls for a snack. Well, they brought out nine huge stuffed rolls! We gorged on our first and only western-style food in three days, and then walked to the mall across the street and took a taxi to the hotel. The taxi was a bit of an issue: there are over 40,000 taxis in Singapore, and they could probably use another 50,000. The line (about fifteen people in front of us) took twenty-five minutes.

The amazing thing to me was the contrast: In Tiong Bahru, we might have been the only Americans to have been there all year. From there cut to the Raffles, where the only locals were the ones serving us. People who visit who just stick to the comfortably safety of the 5* hotels and the massive shopping centers and the half-day bus tour... they're losing out.

We cleaned up and took a nap, and then met my friend Mark for dinner. Mark is an American who is going to graduate business school at INSEAD, split between Singapore and Fountainblue, France. We took a taxi (which was much easier to get from the hotel) for Indian food at Tandoor, in the Holiday Inn Parkview. We had a great meal and a great conversation. Afterward, taxis were too difficult to find, so we walked back to the nearest MRT stop and took the ten-minute trip back to the hotel. Our wakeup calls were for 4am, as we had a 6:45am flight to Hong Kong.

Fort Canning Hill Walk

The next day (Friday), we went on our second Signapore Walks tour. This time, we went to Fort Canning Hill, site of various incarnations of Sinaporean rulers. It was an incredibly bright sunny day, but the temperature stayed just under ninety degrees. Fortunately, the walk included a number of shaded areas. Savita was our guide again, although she was substituting another guide. The walk included a mix of information about the history of several sets of rulers over the centuries, as well as information about some of the nature of Singapore. The walk was not quite as enjoyable as the Kampong Glam walk, but that's an awfully high bar to clear... it's still a must-do for anybody in Singapore on a Friday morning.

Back to Thursday Night: The Night Safari

After resting up from our Kampong Glam walk and lunch at Zam Zam's, we headed out to the Night Safari. The Night Safari is part of the Singapore Zoo, and is possible because of the consistency in temperature and sunlight.

Getting there was incredibly easy: for S$8 (US$5), a shuttle bus picks you up from one of a half-dozen Orchard Road area hotels (including the Sheraton), takes you out to the Safari, and brings you back three hours later. The ride also includes an opportunity to save S$1 on the admission (S$28).

There are three parts to the safari, of which we did two:
- A 30-minute tram ride, with suitably hokey narration for the kids;
- A couple of walking trails, which we skipped as Nick's knee was killing him and I was just a bit tired; and
- A 30-minute animal show, which was a lot of fun.

There's also the obligatory souvenir and food stands (Ben and Jerry's, anyone?). The only downside was the incessant heavy-handed moral messages about conservation. Yes, we get it!! But again, I think for the kids, it's important, so I just shrugged it off.

Zam Zam's was so filling that we never ate dinner. When we got back at 11pm, we headed over to the Newton Food Market. But it's under renovation, and the temporary relocation site required climbing a high flight of stairs in each direction over a highway, so we decided to bag it and go back to the hotel. I dug into my stash of Blue Diamond Smokehouse Almonds, and called it a night.

So much to catch up on...

but Cousin Nick is asleep here in Hong Kong, so I'm going to take my laptop downstairs where there's no internet connection, do some writing there, and post a little later.

But we had a great remainder of our time in Singapore, and a great first day in Hong Kong. The view from the Executive Lounge at the Conrad HK is fantastic. We took the Star Ferry over to Kowloon, came back and crashed in the lounge for a few hours until Ed showed up from Wichita, and went out for dinner.

The evening ended with a late night drink at "Dan Ryan's Chicago Bar & Grill" (I kid you not...) in the mall under our hotel.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Orchard Road

After Kampong Glam, we took the MRT over to the Orchard Road area.

I don't shop. Cousin Nick shops less than I do.

It's very attractive, and can compete with 5th Avenue, Rodeo Drive, and the Champs- Elysees, but I just couldn't care less. We were out of there in less than an hour.

Having said that, the architecture of several of the buildings were stunning. The selection of stores was awe-inspiring in a "Sex and the City" kind of way. The road itself is great, with towering trees lining both sides of the street right at the curb, and a big broad promenade-style sidewalk for people-watching and being watched - even nicer than Las Ramblas in Barcelona, which is my standard for that kind of thing.

But in the grand scheme of things, you could close your eyes and open them and be in ten other cities in the world. If I had a fourth day, I'd probably spend more time people-watching. But we have more to do...

We're back in the hotel cleaning up, and heading out at 6:40pm to the Night Safari, with the Raffles hotel after that. I might not be online at all on Friday; internet access in the room is S$28 [US$18] for 24 hours), or what lunch cost at Zam Zam. There were several places on Stamford Road with internet access, so I think I'll at least check in for a few minutes. If not, I'll be back Saturday from the hotel in Hong Kong.

Kampong Glam walking tour and lunch at Zam Zam's

At 7am, it was a beautiful sunny day. At 8am, it was pouring. At 8:30am, it was back down to a light drizzle. All of this caused the turnout for the 9:30am Singapore Walks tour of Kampong Glam to have a very low turnout, just six of us. And did they miss out...

This was a three hour long tour that covered maybe a dozen blocks. It wasn't so much of a walking tour as a strolling tour - very easy to do even for the elderly and frail. Our tour guide was Savita, a Singaporean of Indian ancestry, who was full of energy and stories. The tour was an interesting mix of elements:

History: We learned the stories of not only how the British got their foot into Singapore, but how the foot eventually kicked out the Malay ruler Hussein. And how Hussein unfortunately got himself into both positions.
Malay culture: Savita took us into several shops in the district around the royal Mosque. This was not to sell us stuff, but instead to show us a representative sample of items from the Malay culture. This included some antique daggers, spices with medicinal purposes, sarongs, and gear for those heading on the Haj pilgramage to Mecca.
Islamic mosque and related culture:We spent probably a half hour in the mosque talking about the mosque and related issues.

And somehow, Savita never told us the story about how she managed to avoid getting stoned to death.

The tour added a depth of character to the city. Part of the discussion was about the soul of Singapore, or perhaps the lack thereof. Tours like this one are what help show a city's soul.

After that, we followed a recommendation of my friends Willie and Dave, and went to Zam Zam's. Upstairs at Zam Zam's is airconditioned, which was very welcome. We followed Willie's menu choices from his last visit: Two orders of Mutton Murtabak (mine without eggs), a side of Prawn Marsala (with prawns that had to be 3 oz. each), and a side of Biryani. Add in two cans of Coke Light for me and a bottle of water for Nick. Total bill: US$9 each. We are so full four hours later that we're skipping dinner.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Day 1 (Wednesday 4/26) in more detail

We didn't get started until about 10:30 because we got in late last night. I got up at 8:30 and got my backpack organized and stuff like that. We took the subway to Chinatown and spent about 90 minutes walking around and checking out the various markets as well as an interesting Hindu shrine. Then we walked about seven blocks to the financial district and had lunch at the "Lau Pau Sat" center. Think big open-air version of a US food court like the Ogilvy Center. I ended up not eating the first thing I ordered (a noodle soup) because there turned out to be a fried egg in it and I couldn't get the egg specks out of the broth. Oh well, a whole US$2.40 wasted. I ended up going back to the place where Nick got his lunch and got a pork
and potato dish with steamed rice that was pretty good. I wasn't incredibly hungry, so it was just enough to fill me up and I left most of the rice. (My blood sugar seems to be ok with the time change and the rice-heavy diet, probably because of all the walking.)

Then we walked north up to the Fullerton, which is one of the historical hotels, and to a statue of a mythical creature which guards the river. That's when I fell, trying to get a better photo. We walked about six blocks to a big downtown shopping center, where I bought the brace and sat for a while. (Finding the pharmacy was fun, because the pharmacy was in a basement annex of the shopping center and nobody could give us decent directions).

We then saw a former cathedral called Chijmes which had been coverted into a dining mall, and the outside of a new cathedral when the skies darkened. We decided to head back to the hotel early, and it started to rain while we were on the train. Rain isn't the word for it, it was a classic summer thunderstorm. We waited it out for about fifteen minutes at the train station three doors down from the hotel, and got back maybe an hour earlier than planned, and sat and talked for a while, then split up for an hour to go get ready for dinner.

Our dinner destination was No Signboard seafood in the Geylang district. Geylang is about 20 minutes away by train. It also happens to be where the semi-legalized prostitution is allowed to occur, which made for some interesting sights on the way to the restaurant. (There's a branch of No Signboard down in a city center mall for those who don't want to be around the locals). The customer mix was probably 85% local, 15% tourist. It is, to use the phrase my dad would use, "a factory." Tanks of huge live lobsters, an open-air kitchen, outdoor seating under a tent, and just a highly organized chaos.

We had been told by friends to try the chili crab and pepper crab, and since both of use are crab lovers, we had no problem with that. We also ordered some fried rice, which had much less egg in it than the US version. The crab was great, but I could have just had the chili sauce and a loaf of bread. The chili sauce had flecks of crabmeat in it, looked almost creamy with a tomato base. Of course, trying to crack crabs open with one good hand is a challenge! In retrospect, we should have gotten one crab dish and one prawn dish.

At this point, Cousin Nick's knee was killing him, as he had reaggravated an existing problem earlier in the day. So instead of going off to Orchard Road as originally planned, the walking wounded retreated to my suite for another hour of talking (and loading photos up to Shutterfly) before calling it a night.

More about the flights

There was a plug adapter right under the desk...

Our flights yesterday went by amazingly quickly. I attribute a lot of the reason for that to the fact that we were on the upper deck of a 747-400. With only 32 seats upstairs, it is an extremely comfortable and quiet environment. The Chicago-HK flight went out with just a few empty seats in Coach; it had been listed as sold out earlier in the morning. The HK-Singapore flight was half-full.

The food was very good on both flights. I had the filet with chitpotle sauce on the first flight, and the tandoori chicken wrap on the second. The service on the two flights, however, were diametrically opposed. The Chicago-HK flight's upper deck crew had the attitude of "we are not going to do more than minimally required" while the second crew was friendly and outgoing. The first crew wasn't mean or anything; I chatted with one of the flight attendents in the back at about the 10-hour mark for about ten minutes. But they didn't really try too hard, either.

Message to United Airlines: For a 15-hour flight, it'd be nice to give customers a glass that holds more than 10 ounces of liquid in it before ice. Even American gives out 16 ounce water bottles. Fortunately, we had bought four one-liter bottles of water from the pizza stand across from our gate. We should have bought six.

I have no idea what the entertainment options were, because I brought my own. I had my iPod nano, and a bunch of DVDs for my laptop. I watched about four episodes each of The Critic and Sports Night over the course of the first flight, and did a little review of my Singapore guidebook.

The Hong Kong airport is very nice, but they really should turn on the air conditioning a little higher. I felt very dehydrated while I was waiting in the Red Carpet Club, and used up some of the powdered Gatorade which I had brought with me. On the second flight, I was asleep before pushback, and woke up only to eat. I was a little worried that I wouldn't be able to sleep at the hotel, but it only took me about 45 minutes to fall asleep, and I got six good hours in before waking up before the alarm. In retrospect, the sleep on the second flight was a really good thing, because I'd only slept seven hours in the previous forty-eight.

Raw photos from Tuesday/Wednesday

Shutterfly Photos

These photos are unedited from yesterday and today. The basic order is something along these lines:

- Hong Kong airport
- Singapore airport
- Singapore hotel room
- View from hotel
- Newton MRT (subway) station
- On MRT train
- Chinatown/Pagoda St.
- Chinatown/Chinatown Square
- Chinatown/Hindu Temple
- Chinatown/Islamic Mosque in Chinatown
- Lau Pau Sat hawker center
- Fullerton Hotel and Merllion
- Rainstorm from outside Newton MRT station
- Geylang streets
- No Signboard seafood, Geylang location

Day 1 summary

More later once I find a plug adapter that can do 3-pronged US to 3-pronged UK/Singapore. Highlights and lowlights of the first 18 hours:

Highlights
1. Chinatown is very interesting. We visited a cool Hindu shrine and a "wet market" with produce and fish.
2. The second dish I had at the Lau Pau Sat hawker market and Nick's first dish were both very good.
3. The touts for businesses are very polite. They don't argue with you if you say you're not interested, and
4. I was upgraded to a nice two-room suite at the Sheraton, and the Sheraton is only a block from the train station.
5. The heat and humidity are doing wonders for my bronchial system.
6. Everything is VERY clean.

Lowlights
1. While photographing a statue of a mythical creature that protects the Singapore River, I managed to miss a step and catch it with the corner of my shoe, go flying forward and land face-down on the concrete. I'll survive, but I have a big bruise on my left hand where the thumb and index finger meet. It's going to be sore for a few days, and i picked up a brace to immobilize the area. (Highlight: it was the same type of Futuro brace which I used when I had some wrist issues a few years ago)
2. The 60% chance of thunderstorms came through, and cut our sightseeing about an hour short.
3. My friend Mark from Flyertalk who is going to school here found out that he has a conflict for dinner Friday night. Hopefully we can reschedule for late on Thursday.
4. The first dish at Lau Pau Sat had an unadvertised egg in the soup. Bleh. Fortunately, I only wasted US$2.50 on it. :)


Anyway, we're off to No Signboard seafood in Geylang for dinner.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Arrival Hong Kong

We survived the 15.5 hour flight to Hong Kong, and are currently sitting in the Red Carpet Club on our 2.5 hour layover to Singapore. I didn't sleep much, as I had a bit of an upset stomach for the first third of the flight. I probably got about four hours total. Cousin Nick got closer to seven.

Just a few thoughts while we're both a bit dehydrated in the club lounge. We bought two 2L bottles of water each for the flight, but the flight attendant service was rather poor. They made no attempt to do much of anything between the end of the first lunch service and the beginning of the second lunch serice. No water bottles like American does in business, so you had to bother them every time you wanted ten more ounces of water. Also, no diet soda that was caffiene free (in the US, they have Diet Sierra Mist or sometimes Diet 7-Up).

HK Airport is not air-conditioned. That's probably not helping. But we have a table full of 16 oz. bottled waters here, so I suspect we'll be fine in a couple of minutes.

The upper deck of the 747-400 is wonderful. I hate window seats on most planes, but I absolutely fell in love with my seat (16A). It had about 4 extra inches of legroom compared to some of the downstairs seats, but the bigger thing is the ledge and storage bins. The combination makes getting access to your things during the flight insanely easy.

Blogger/Blogspot having troubles

Blogger and blogspot (the hosts of this site) seem to have a major database performance issue on Monday. I couldn't get any new posts to work from O'Hare. I hope that they have resolved the problem.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Mr. Chicken doesn't like us

For those of you who fly United a lot... United has moved almost all of its checkin to "Easy Check-in" or as it's semi-affectionate called by some passengers, "Mr. Chicken." The Business Class line had regular agents, but it also had everybody going to Japan and China on paper tickets, so the line was very long. So we jumped over to the regular frequent flyer line.

And Mr. Chicken got completely confused. See, my cousin and I have the same first and last names, different middle initial. Mr. Chicken couldn't figure out who's ticket was who's, even when I put in my United Mileage Plus number. (That's odd, since why do they ask if they can't validate against it?)

Fortunately, an agent came over and helped us, and now we're in the Red Carpet Club waiting out the last hour before boarding.

And we're off!

8:38am.. Taxi is due here at nine. Flight is at 12:23, and is completely sold out (F0C0Y0). Everything's packed, and I'm just now starting to fade from being up since 8:45pm.

Now the interesting thing is going to be what they'll offer us if the flight stays oversold. Right now, it's oversold to the point where they won't even sell a walk-up First Class seat at over $4000 one-way. There's only one Business class seat available via Tokyo, but there may be another one blocked off for an operational upgrade. If they make it worth our while... but neither of us is willing to delay the trip by a full day.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

And now, I own a new camera

I've been having trouble with the battery system on my Canon S400 digital camera for a while now. I've gone through two international battery chargers and three batteries. A couple of weeks ago, I charged up both remaining batteries. Yesterday, I tested the camera, and the low-battery light came on. So, I thought I forgot to do that one, and recharged the battery overnight. Put it in the camera this morning, no problems.

Today at Easter dinner, I took about four photos, and the freaking light came back on. Now, I'm 90% sure that it's either that the batteries don't last, or that the chargers have shorted out. But there's no way I'm going to go to Singapore and just hope for the best. Or waste precious vacation time the first day looking for the best deal.

I had been planning on getting my mom a 4 megapixel digital camera with a 1GB storage card for her birthday in June. So, I bit the bullet, went to Fry's after dinner, and picked up a new 6 megapixel Canon SD600, and a second OEM (Targus) battery. Same user interface, half the thickness. It uses an SD card instead of a CF card, so I had to drop another $20 on a 2GB SD card. And the charger does 220, so I just need a plug adaptor.

Total damage was $440. I'll deal with the S400 battery situation when I get back.

Updated weather forecast for Singapore

From weather.com:

  • Wednesday: 60% chance of scattered T-Storms, 89/79
  • Thursday: 60% chance of scattered T-Storms, 90/79
  • Friday: 60% chance of scattered T-Storms, 90/79
  • Saturday: 60% chance of scattered T-Storms, 92/79

At least we're missing the heat wave on Saturday. ;)

Best Buy stupidity

Can somebody explain the following paradox at Best Buy:
  • A USB male A to male B cable (I lost mine for my SanDisk CF reader) costs $35!
  • A new SanDisk CF reader, with cable, costs $19

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense.

In the home stretch

Well, the idea to wake up three hours earlier every day was a good one. Except that I forgot that last night I'd be at my parents' house until 1:30am because it's Orthodox Easter. So the "wake up at 2:30am on Sunday" part went out the window! I decided I needed six hours of sleep, or I wasn't going to get through today.

To answer Ken's question: I wish we could fly Singapore Airlines in business. Unfortunately, the choices were Singapore in coach from SF/LA, or United in business all the way with an upgrade. Thus, we are flying United.

My original plan was to do award travel on Cathay Pacific out of Toronto in first class. But JAL had not joined the oneworld alliance (American), American won't let me have stopovers in various countries unless I use a oneworld award, and a oneworld award needs three participating airlines. So instead, we ended up buying coach tickets on United and using miles to upgrade. The bad news is that my ticket cost $2200. The good news is that I only needed 45,000 miles to upgrade instead of 60,000 (because I bought the return in a near-full fare class), and I get a status bonus for the fare class. (If you don't care about upgrading, you can get tickets for our itinerary for about $1200). Cousin Nick's ticket was $1750, but he had to use 60,000 miles to upgrade.

Between this trip, my London trip in February, and a bunch of work trips to Sacramento, I'll almost certainly end up with 100,000 status miles by the end of the year, so I'll hit United's "1K" tier and get a bunch of upgrade certificates. Those are worth more the $2200, so it's a reasonable deal.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Why is everybody sick?

It's that time of the year when everybody gets sick. I visited my employer's headquarters last week, and several people were in one day, then out with various bronchial illness, including pneumonia. Family are sick, friends and co-workers here are sick.

I've been fighting it for about nine days now. It comes and goes, tonight is "comes." Feels like somebody had tightened a drawstring bag across my shoulder blades. But that's it. No coughing, no fever, and about 90% of my peak airflow on my meter. So essentially, I'm fine. Huh?? I'm basically just beating it to death with my asthma meds and some Mucinex.

I happened to be at the doctor on Thursday for something else routine, and he listened to my chest and confirmed that I'm essentially fine. But since two of my co-workers had pneumonia (one is still out sick as of yesterday, so a week and a half), he wrote me a prescription for an antibiotic. We agreed on the terms: fever, funky colored stuff coming out of my chest, or a serious loss of airflow. I figure if I can survive the 19 hours of air travel to Singapore, the humidity there will help keep it in control.

I feel much better having that with me. I just wish I didn't have to worry about it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

It finally feels like we are really going.

Friday. We're inside 72 hours. I took yesterday off to get in the vacation mood, go to the doctor, etc. This is my last day at work for two weeks, and fortunately most of the fire drills have subsided (and one can't be resolved before I go because a key person is on vacation), and I have time to do things such as clean my office.

All the clothes are packed, I'm down to electronics (laptop, camera, phone, ipod) and paperwork (airline and hotel confirmations, hotel award stay certificates, printouts of email from friends and website screen captures with ideas, telephone numbers as I won't have my regular phone with me, etc.).

Tomorrow, I start switching over to Singapore time. Wake up 3 hours earlier on Saturday, another 3 hours earlier on Sunday, and finally 3 more hours earlier on Monday (actually Sunday night).

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Why start in Signapore?

We're starting in Singapore for a couple of reasons.

1. Ed has been there already, and since he only has a week it lets us center Hong Kong and Tokyo in that week.
2. From a distance Singapore seems like orderly chaos. Tokyo seems like unordered chaos. Better to put that last.
3. Who really wants to fly 9500 miles at the end of the trip? Get it out of the way while we're still fresh.
4. They sort of speak English there.

On that last point, the dialect of English (referred to by most as "Singlish") has substantial influences from neighboring countries. This link provides an interesting glossary of common terms.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

We're bringing umbrellas

10-day weather forecasts from today:

Singapore: the same every day... 60% chance of scattered thunderstorms, high between 84-88

Hong Kong: 30-60% chance of rain on eight of the next ten days, high between 69-81 (it was 90 yesterday at midnight, then suddenly dropped to 72 in the morning)

Tokyo: Minimal chance of rain (only one day > 30% chance), but cold, highs between 51-69.

Sumo - we're going to just miss it

I'm bummed out. A friend of mine had told me that there is sumo wrestling in May. Unfortunately, the Offical Grand Sumo tournament starts May 7, the day we leave.

Nihon Sumo Kyokai Grand Sumo Homepage

There are six tournaments a year, each of which last fifteen days (three Sundays).

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Hong Kong Tourism Board web site

Here is the web site for the Hong Kong Tourism Board. It turns out that we will be there during a "Culture and Heritage Celebration," including the birthday of Lord Buddha on one of the outer islands, and the Temple Fair right in the center of things.

The site also has a very cool Dim Sum Guide which lets you browse a typical dim sum menu and print out a customize menu of the things which you'd like to try, so you can communicate easier with your server. As somebody with a peanut allergy, this is fantastic.

Singapore Guided Walking Tours

I am a big fan of guided walking tours in foreign countries, ever since I took my first one in London in 1991. Since one of the main attractions of Singapore is the diversity of neighborhoods, I was very pleased to find a company called Singapore Walks, a derivative of the London Walks concept. They have a 2 1/2 hour walking tour every weekday at 9:30am, with a different part of the city each day.

I am looking forward to taking the Thursday morning tour of the Kampong Glam area, and the Friday morning tour of the Fort Canning Hill area. The morning tours cost S$18 (approx US$11.50), and reservations are not necessary.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

GSM and Prepaid SIM cards

I took a GSM phone with me to London and Dublin over Presidents Day. There is no way that I'd ever go overseas without a cellphone again. Well, except when I get to Tokyo, where they have their own wacky phone system.

Unfortunately, the unlocked Sony T38 phone I bought from Overstock.com had a defective microphone, so I could only talk using my Bluetooth adapter. But it was a refurbished phone, and I had it more than the return period, so I was SOL. So, last week, I bought a new phone. This time, however, I went for an unlocked Sony T68i, and I'm very happy that I did. It is a much nicer phone in terms of form factor.

My buddy Dave from Flyertalk has lent me his SingTel SIM card. I tested it out and it turns out that I could get free incoming SMS messages even in the US, and to boot there was a page at the SingTel site to send free text messages. Then I put in my Virgin Mobile card from the UK and wasted $1.70 to call my dad and make sure that the microphone worked on this phone!

Two weeks!!

Well, almost. Two weeks on Monday.

Sad news is that our friend Mark had to cancel out due to too many work obligations. We'll just have to take lots of pictures and brag about how wonderful the trip was. :)

Nick and I met for dinner in Indianapolis (I was on a work trip, he was just passing through) the other night and worked through a lot of the trip logistics. Ed called for a little while but he was stuck at the Denver airport so he didn't stay long.