Friday, January 15, 2010

Destination ASIA Has Moved to a New Address

Pardon the long hiatus. I have been busy with work and I have been working on a new layout for Destination ASIA. I realized that I am definitely not a techy-person. A number of people have been requesting me to continue the blog and for that I am flattered. So here's the new address Enjoy!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

CHINA: Wandering the Streets of Shanghai


Wandering the streets of Shanghai was our introduction to China and, my, what an introduction it was. What stood out the most was how quickly Shanghai was progressing. The city kept growing vertically with buildings soaring to kiss the sky. The public transport system was efficient, on-time and well-placed -- one can reach almost any part of the city by just the subway system. The people, I reckon, found coping with the rapid development a bit challenging. I remember seeing this woman in her 40s hitting the subway turnstile with her umbrella because it wouldn't let her pass. She didn't know that she had to use her subway ticket on the machine! The Chinese in China are totally different from the Chinese here in Manila or in any part of Asia for that matter. They cut in line, shove you off your place, and spit on the marble floor (even inside the subway)! And, boy, do they love to make that throaty gurgling sound before spitting, like cocking a shotgun before firing a full load, or what? The longer and the louder, the better. Most of the Chinese we met were grouchy and unfriendly but I guess it's because of their poor English skills or because they're so used to foreigners already.

Don't even think about it!

The Chinese were suspicious of foreigners especially over internet access. Internet cafes would ask for our passports whenever we wanted to go online. An Ecuadorian friend of ours sent an email to her family in Spanish. In the letter, she ranted about how much she disliked China because of the mean people and the strict authoritarian rules. Her family didn't receive the email at all and my friend's email was blocked from access until she left China. I have heard rumors that their government censors email exchanges by hiring people who can understand different languages to report malicious emails. With all this hoopla about Google succumbing to China's demands regarding censorship, I wouldn't be surprised if this were true.

I was floored! It even used the same font!
Made in China? 

They sell soya bean milk and pancakes! 
It's based in Singapore.

The sellers in Shanghai are one of the most hardcore salesmen I've seen in all my life, seriously. We went inside a bazaar and, upon seeing that we were tourists, an army of Chinese shopkeepers rushed to us. They carried a menu of their products -- counterfeit Gucci shoes, LV bags and dubious Rolex watches -- and pulled each of us by the arm towards their shop. Little did they know that we were poorer than rats! One time, our Mexican friend named Pollo (/Po-yo/) disappeared in the thick crowd. We had a train to catch so we desperately looked for him by shouting, "Pollo! Pollo! Where are you Pollo?" The shopkeepers heard us and immediately answered in broken English with a thick Chinese accent, "Pollo? Pollo? You want Pollo? I have Pollo in shop! Please come, no need buy Pollo! Just look my Pollo!"

Sample products from the bazaars

That's Pollo in the white jacket

When bargaining, some people follow this rule of thumb: Always bargain 50% off the initial offer then try to meet half-way or 75% of the original price. Jose from Ecuador, however, decided to deviate. He wanted to buy a pair of gloves and the first price offered was 100 yuan (about 14.50 USD). He refused and said, "Give it to me for two yuan (0.30 USD)!" After 20 minutes of bargaining and joking around with the young shopkeeper, what do you know, Jose got the pair for three yuan (0.45 USD). The shopkeeper was even happy about it. I guess it's no holds barred when it comes to bargaining, especially in China!

East Nanjing Road
No. 1 commercial street in China

Bye ship-themed hostel!

Off to Beijing!

Monday, November 30, 2009

CHINA: The Bund


Amidst the suffocating smog and the constant honking of motorcycles in its narrow streets, Shanghai stands proud and tall as China's largest city with over 20 million people and as the commercial and financial center of the Middle Kingdom. Shanghai conjured up images of New York City in my head -- the crowded streets, its cosmopolitan population, and its skyscrapers that made me realize how tiny I was. The city was perpetually busy and everyone seemed to be rushing to go from one place to the next. Most of the people I met were unfriendly and snobby which is probably why I didn't like Shanghai as much as Beijing, the next city we visited. Nevertheless, Shanghai is a lovely city -- busy and serious at daylight but hip and chic at night.

Busy Shanghai


Rice for cash?



No, that's not a spaceship behind me. 
(L-R: Raf, Jose, Ayyoub, Nathan)

To tourists, Shanghai is particularly known for The Bund, an area by the Huang Pu river that showcases a number of buildings of various architectural designs -- Baroque and Gothic, to name a few. The skyline at night reminded me of Tsim Shah Tsui in Hong Kong because of the bright lights juxtaposed with quaint buildings that reflected on the river. The temperature was about three degrees when we strolled The Bund that night. At this temperature, you have to wear at least a few layers of shirts, a jacket, a bonnet and a pair of gloves lest you lose your limbs to the cold. In spite of that, we had the smart idea to eat a McDonald's sundae cone for dessert. That was the only time I've seen ice cream stay frozen that long! We ate while watching the choreographed lights show from the gigantic building in front of us. Brrr!

Ice Cream!

Brain freeze galore!

Lights Show

More lights

What next?

Didn't see that coming!


The spaceship-looking tower is called the Oriental Pearl Tower, completed in 1995. Attracting about three million tourists a year, this tower is actually a television tower with some observation decks at the top. A concert was also held here some time back. It looks like an alien mothership that could take off to space at any moment. Up close, it's candy-like colors and the beams of light from its base made the tower into a contemporary masterpiece on the night sky canvass.

Pudong Skyline

Walking around The Bund

Floating Restaurant

Like Tsim Shah Tsui

The base of the tower

3, 2, 1...Houston we have a problem.

The moon as its spotlight

Drinking a cocktail after a long day of sightseeing while hearing the hustle and bustle of people rushing home never felt as relaxing as the first night we spent in Shanghai. With the Pudong Skyline in view and the rest of China to discover, we raised our glasses for a toast.  More stories about Shanghai in the next entry!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

CHINA: Forty-Hour Ferry Ride

SEA OF JAPAN (Between Japan and China)

My friends and I took a forty-hour ferry ride from Osaka, Japan to Shanghai, China. Since we had time to spare, we took the cheapest option available which was to cross the Sea of Japan by boat. Our group was composed of nine people - two Moroccans, three Americans, one Brazilian,  one Filipino-American, one Ecuadorian and one Filipino. The ship, named CHINJIF, is actually a cargo ship that links Osaka-Shanghai, its only route. There were only about four private rooms and a common sleeping area for the passengers. I guess the shipbuilders realized they had extra space so they made cabins for low-budget passengers like us. We traveled during the peak of winter with temperatures dropping to as low as  five degrees on a sunny day.

China group

Hanging out at the ship lounge

Jose from Ecuador outperforming the Chinese karaoke master

The food they served on-board was crappy. The spring roll was too oily, the dumplings were cold, the vegetables looked rotten and the porridge was thin and tasteless. I almost finished half of the soy sauce into my bowl. Well, we got what we paid for! But at least there was coffee.

With the boat constantly rocking from side to side, seasickness started to settle in our stomachs. A few hours into the trip, I felt my legs turn into jelly. I couldn't stand straight and my vision started to spin. Almost everyone had it save for Jose from Ecuador who apparently runs a fishing business back home. We felt our stomach constantly turning and vomit trying to break free from our throats. I spent the next 30 hours just lying down on the bed lest I make a regurgitated mess. A group of Chinese ladies suffered the same fate. Some couldn't keep it and just let go in the hallway. The corridor smelled sour.

Dying from seasickness

Cabin talk

How was the beef? It was OK.

Ship food. Not good.

It was chilly outside and the wind was so strong that it was it took all my strength to pry open the door to the main deck. After I let go, the thick metal door instantly slammed shut and banged the door frame. It was like a dynamite explosion that shook the whole boat. The night was terrifying to say the least, like a scene taken straight from Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger. In our room, there was a small window from where we saw the bluish sky which glowed with moonlight and starlight. Midnight struck and the gleam of the sky suddenly whithered into complete darkness. The ferry entered a thunder storm that roused the peaceful ocean into an angry mob of waves. Rain and sea water splashed on our cabin window. Every now and then, a flash of lightning would illuminate the sky. From the window, I saw the horizon wobble from one side to the other with each flash of light. I heard the metal cargo containers slide and hit the walls as the ferry danced with the storm and winds. I grabbed on to the bedpost, closed me eyes and forced myself to sleep. Thirteen hours left before Shanghai.

The following day. Is that land I see?

Heaven's Gates are opening

Shanghai Bay

The Space Needle

We made it!

It had been a grueling forty-hour ride but the sight of Shanghai Bay and the Oriental Pearl Tower made it all worth it. From afar, we saw the thick gray smog that covered Shanghai. Smoke-belching cars and a million motorcycles greeted us as we stepped foot on China. Almost everyone had sea legs -- this makes you feel like your feet aren't actually touching a flat floor but a rounded surface. Just when we thought we've had enough of ferries, the hostel we ended up in was ship-themed! With bunk beds, sailors' uniforms and lifesavers as decorations to match!

Ah, China, at last! And the journey is just about to begin!


Due to popular demand, I will start to include a more "practical" section to each entry. In this new section, I'll include the cost of living in each place and the route I took. More details will be posted as soon as I find them!

For the China trip, the route was:
1. Ferry from Osaka Port to Shanghai (40 hours)
2. Shanghai (two days) then train to Beijing
3. Beijing for (four days) then train to Xian
4. Xian (three days) then train back to Shanghai
5. Shanghai (one day) then ferry back to Osaka

Monday, November 23, 2009

THAILAND: Under the Bodhi Tree


Have you noticed that there are so many types of Buddhas all over Asia? I've seen fat and jolly Buddhas in China, thin and semi-serious Buddhas in Thailand, and  meditating (in the lotus position) Buddhas in India. I found out that there are three main types of Buddhism -- Mahayana (China, Korea, Japan), Theravada (Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia) and Tibetan (Tibet, obviously). Yet, despite the different "sects", all of them believe in Buddha as the teachers, the Four Noble Truths, the Eight Fold Path and Nirvana. There's also a kind of Buddhism that is blended with some Hindu beliefs. I have two Thai Buddhist friends who can't eat beef because the mother of the Hindu god they worship is a cow. I wonder which category of Buddhism that falls into!


Long earlobes

Fingers like candle sticks

Gallery of Buddhas in a temple in Phuket



I visited Wat Pho (Wat means "temple" in Thai) in Bangkok which is famous for having the most number of Buddha images and the largest reclining Buddha in the whole of Thailand. The reclining Buddha was huge and its presence was intimidating. The Buddha's eyes were slightly shut but his pupils still peered through his eyelids. As I walked under the Buddha, I felt as if his eyes were following me like how the moon does when you walk on the streets at night. On one side of the hall were small steel pots. Visitors can get some coins at the entrance in exchange for a small donation for the temple. They drop one coin in each pot all the way until the end to get a wish from Buddha.

You can't see me!

Funky Hair


Pattern on the walls

Here's another one

Buddha and I

Start dropping the coins here

Another Thai Buddhist ritual is placing golden leaves on the Buddha. This is considered as a sign of respect and a means to receive merit for requests from Buddha. This gold leaf is actually made out of real gold pounded to a sheet 0.000005 inches thin. When you enter a temple, the caretaker will give you a small square sheet of gold together with some incense and, sometimes, a lotus flower as well. You peel the gold off the sheet and stick in on any part of the icon.

See the healthy Buddha in the background?

Four-cornered jewelry

This entry barely scratched the surface of Buddhism in Thailand. And Buddhism is just one of the many religions in Asia! Undoubtedly, the different beliefs, icons, images, and teachings brewing in the melting pot that is Asia make the experience of traveling a whole lot richer.