Thursday, June 19, 2014

MY TRIP TO CHINA - A Tale of Two Cities - Beijing and Shanghai DAY 1 - The Silk Market and Beyond!

Day 1 (continued from below)

The Silk Market

Despite our long trip, we caught our second wind and decided to set foot into the infamous "Silk Market".  As our China Spree tour was likely going to be jam packed, wall to wall, morning to evening, I wanted to try to get the shopping out of the way asap.  Perhaps the most famous tourist trap for the gritty bartering and shopping experience was the Silk Market which I had noticed in my Lonely Planet guide.  Additionally, my friend had also recently visited and said it was a must see.  I have to agree after going here!  And no, this isn't a market where they sell silk (mind you they do sell some silk but given the parameters of this place, it is likely fake silk actually made out of polyester!).

The Silk Market is a multi-story building lined with stall after stall of merchandise and vendors. The real experience here is that the vendors are known to be quite aggressive and you have to negotiate - hard.  It is not for the faint of heart according to many.  The other claim to fame is that quite a few of the goods here are fakes - fake Rolex, Polo's, even fake iPhones.  Everything looks completely legit, but is completely fake.  Somehow even the electronics are fake even though they work.  Talk about high-tech!

Each floor has a different mix of stalls.  On the first floor it is mostly clothing related, on the second floor more clothing and souvenirs, then the third floor watches, pens, and electronics, and of course there are more floors.  What you quickly will find though is that many of the vendors sell the same thing, especially in the clothing area or the watch area.  You can use this to your advantage for your price shopping because you have an easy reason to just walk away if you don't get the price you want since the next stall over will have the same thing.  The key however is when negotiating, to try to get the price down to about 15% to 20% of their asking price.  

You can get lost in here, both literally and figuratively.  You can plan to spend an hour in here in the morning, only to find that night has fallen by the time you leave.  When you do leave, you will leave exhausted both mentally and physically with your arms full of purchases and your pockets empty, only to find a lady outside selling you even more fake Luis Vuittons for a fraction of the "great deal" you thought you just got inside.  And in some cases, you'll know that you may have left just a little bit of your dignity behind.  But all in all it will be a fun experience if you don't take things so personally!

We had a great time here.  Although it was endless, I identified a few t-shirts, Burberry golf shirts, and other knick knacks like Montblanc Pens that I wanted to buy.  I price shopped and my Dad and I went to work.  Chinese versus Indians.  Kung Pao versus curry.  Cheap versus frugal.  The battle of the two cultures famous for their haggling.  My strategy was simple:  counter their ridiculously high offer with a ridiculously low counter offer.  Ultimately I think we fared well - in some cases I could have saved a buck or two, in others I got them to the point of getting mad.  Just to give you a heads up, we paid about $4US per t-shirt, and about $8 for the polo shirts.  The Mont Blanc pens were also about $8US.  The fake watches were aplenty and boy, the quality sure has changed.  Even the Rolexes, Hublots etc, even have automatic movement and sapphire crystals.  Those varied quite a bit in price but for the better quality ones they could still run you about $100 or so.  If anyone reading has gotten better prices please post in the comments so our readers will know!

Ultimately I can't say the vendors were in fact rude or aggressive, contrary to many things I had read.  Everyone was quite pleasant, and the tactic of walking away worked charms.  They would usually follow you out of their stall and convince you to come back.  Whatever you buy though just assume it is low quality so keep your investment low and keep in mind you won't be able to return anything. Additionally, there is a section on the top floor with tailors.  While you can probably get them to come down in price and probably get a men's suit tailored for around $70US, don't do it!  The material they so certainly promote as wool or cashmere is in fact polyester. Wait until you're in Shanghai which has more options of trustworthy tailors.

Quite the experience spending the morning here.  Yes, I said morning.  We decided to go back to the hotel to meet the German guy and his travel companion at the for more adventures.  Since I loved the Silk Market so much I came back many times before we left Beijing...including later that night where I ran into none other than a certain famous Hollywood actor...but you'll have to tune in for that story.  Stay tuned.

Where did we go next?  What was the subway system like and what exciting people did we meet?  The adventure was yet to start.  Keep visiting for more or subscribe for updates!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

MY TRIP TO CHINA - A Tale of Two Cities - Beijing and Shanghai DAY 1

DAY 1

5:20am - Beijing Airport


Clearing Customs

So we're here!!!!!  Unreal.  We disembark the airplane and walk through the gigantic, beautiful airport, which is so nice it makes every other airport I've been to in the US look like garbage dumps.  My Dad, myself, and Steve the Oil guy walk through the different terminals, following the heard from our plane to wherever customs may be. 

Steve and I engage in a delightful conversation about the cute Chinese lady who gave him her "QQ" number (a cell phone app that many Chinese people use to chat with others and to pickup/hookup).  I was 69% jealous thinking that I should have tried to talk to her but since I saw her with a baby, assumed she had a husband close-by, or she was flying out to China to be with him.  Wrong.  She was divorced, lived in Chino Hills, and was hot to trot.  No offense to Steve, but she must have been longing for some lovin' if she was engaging flirtatious activity with him!

Anyway, we get to the customs area to the tune of a couple hundred others.  Fortunately it is very organized, and since it is quite early in the morning, not so crowded.  As a business-owner, one of the biggest joys of going on such a trip for me is to be away from a ringing cell-phone, and to also not have to be looking out for everyone, something that I tend to do in my personal life, and have to do as part of my profession as an attorney.  Every day I get 50 to 60 calls from people, everyone needing help, asking me questions, and stretching my brain in a million directions.  It is of such joy to me to just have to think about myself and tune out of this practice.  I'm telling you this for a reason:

When we had exited the plane, an Indian lady travelling on her own had tried to engage conversation with me and my Dad, asking if we were Indian etc. What was odd was that she was strategically awaiting for us outside of the plane doors. Well, as luck would have it, while we were standing in the customs line, she approaches us again, very lost, and confused.  At first I thought she was trying to cut the line since we had no relation to her and she just boldly planted herself alongside us despite the fact that we had no relation to her.  It turned out she had a 12 hour layover in China en-route to a different country, no Chinese visa and had no idea what to do.  

I'll be honest here - she really wanted us to hold her hand and help her figure out what to do.  This would be an instance of me being torn - do I invest our time trying to help this lady when we have a tour operator waiting for us somewhere else in the terminal, not to mention we don't really know the customs here?  No. No. No.  Despite her attempts to persuade us surreptitiously and guilt trip us into leaving our place in a very long line, we stayed in line and just pointed her to the information desk and told her they would be in a better position to help her.  It was hard for me to do that but I knew that on Day 1 of my vacation, I could not be figuring out someone else's lack of planning!  Especially when it meant potentially jeopardizing missing our tour operator pick-up.
Lesson 1:  If you're at stake, don't feel sorry for anyone.
My Mom taught me that first lesson when I found myself always feeling sorry for people and often to my own detriment.  We made it through customs flawlessly, bid our adieus to Steve, and met the tour representative.  About 15 other people joined us from the US, and we had a chance to speak with a few of them including an incredibly social man named Peter, who was from Hollywood but of German background.  He was the first to approach us and introduce himself.  Peter would be a very important person on the trip as we spent a lot of time with him.  From the group, he was "that guy" (every group was one), who breaks the ice for everyone.

The China Spree operator was pleasant and organized.  We were taken by a nice bus to our hotel.  The first thing that struck me about Beijing was the architecture and how spectacular the buildings were.  Usually when we look at our buildings here in North America, they often follow a common plan.  Shapes and designs vary, but no significantly.  Take Chicago for example - it is has a fantastic architectural tour pointing out the nuances of the tall buildings.  In Beijing however, it seems like there is no restrictive common plan forcing buildings into a specific prescription.  Their buildings are wild, impossible, beyond the imagination, and some even appear to defy the laws of physics!

The Jianguo Hotel, Beijing, China

 
Checking In

First order of business was checking into the hotel.  Our hotel was the Jianguo Hotel which has been given great reviews on TripAdvisor, earning an #87 spot out of over 5,000 hotels.  Wow, talk about great deal for our money thus far!  You can check out reviews for the hotel here   The potential issue we were to run into was whether the hotel would let us check in this early.  After all, by then it was probably only 7:30am so checking in then would give new meaning to the term "early check-in".  Luck!  The tour guide talked to the front desk and they let everyone check-in!  For me this was a huge plus as after flying for so long, the last thing I wanted to do was sit in a lobby or kill 5 hours - I needed to put my feet up for a few.

The interior of the hotel was gorgeous.  The lobby was ultra clean, modern, and had a beautiful stream flowing through the property.  Our room was excellent as well and came with a welcoming plate of fruit and two free bottles of water.  The room even had this cool double sided mirror in which if you flicked a switch the mirror became a window into the bedroom.  At one point when I was naked I flicked the switch, not knowing what it was - fortunately my Dad was sleeping.  #embarrassing

We took a load off, my Dad and I put our feet up for an hour and I watched some TV.  Since T-Mobile works internationally for very cheap and free if you connect to wi-fi, I called home to let my Mom know we had arrived.  I don't get paid by T-Mobile to say this but if you're an international traveller, their phones are a must.  When you travel, you can text and use data for free.  Additionally, if you make phone calls they are very cheap.  Finally, if you connect to wi-fi, you can make and receive calls from back home for free.  Can't beat that!

 Now time to get out of this room and explore the area!  I had bought the Lonely Planet book highlighting the main parts of Beijing and Shanghai and made a list of the things I wanted to see that were not covered bou our tour.  It is turning out that one of my rituals every trip is to buy the Lonely Planet guide.  Yes yes, I know "the internet" along with Tripadvisor.com in some ways makes a book like Lonely Planet somewhat archaic, if not obsolete, but to me there's something about a tangible guide book.

 Fortunately one of the main places I wanted to visit, the Silk Market was literally beside the hotel. The Silk Market is a multi-story shopping "mall" jam-packed with hundreds of stalls with each stall selling different products ranging from clothing to electronics to sunglasses.  Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that almost everything being sold is a fake?  Fake Gucci, Rolex, Prada, Burberry, Polo...hell, they even had fake iPhones, Beats headphones, Canon cameras, you name it.  I just had to check this place out based on the stories I had read and perhaps pick up a few souvenirs early in the trip.

 
 As we walked toward the Market we noted this the entire area was a very touristy, perhaps expat area as there were many foreigners.  Also, there were tonnes of restaurants including Mexican restaurants, pizza, you name it.  The perfect place for travellers who had just taken a long flight.  My Dad and I walked over to the Silk Market and decided to sit at a nice Cafe outside.  Each with tea and croissant, we did some people watching and relished in the fact that we had finally arrived at this majestic country after almost a year in the wait!   What adventures would await us in the Silk Market?  What completely random things would happen to us later today?  The adventure was about to being!

 Stay tuned for our adventure in the Silk Market....to be continued...

Saturday, May 24, 2014

MY TRIP TO CHINA - A Tale of Two Cities - Beijing and Shanghai

Welcome!  As this five year old blog now morphs into a new stage of it's life, I am excited to start tinkering with new designs for it, introduce more photos, and now talk in detail about my experiences travelling.

We are going to start from the latest trip and work backwards (or forwards depending on where I go).  First on the block:  China!  I had the opportunity to go to China using the tour company China Spree (www.chinaspree.com)  I found the deal through Travel Zoo and quite the deal it was.  We paid extra to go during the season when the weather would be the best and in total only paid about $1,250 USD / per person.  So having booked the trip, and considering the price, the next concern was - what on earth was this trip going to be like for this little money. 

Well here is what it included: flights (LAX to Beijing, Beijing to Shanghai, Shanghai to Beijing, and Beijing back to LAX), hotel (four stars, amazing locations), tour guides, transportation, most of the meals, and all the admission costs to all of the major places.  How on earth the price was what it was is still beyond what I can figure out.  So what was the catch?  Were we going to have to take a flight with thirty different connections?  Was the tour bus going to be a rachety old school bus with chickens walking around inside?  Were the hotels going to be roach motels?  Or my favorite - were we going to arrive, only to get picked up by the tour operator, transferred to a remote location, only to have all of our expensive organs subtracted from our bodies and wake up in a bathtub full of ice?

Let's start from the top:


DAY 0 - Travel Day

Our flight flew out on Friday morning at 1:30am.  Perfect!  We were to fly Air China, leaving LAX and since it left from Terminal 2 instead of Tom Bradley, I have to say that I was very happy.  Anyone who has flown international out of LAX via Tom Bradley knows that you definitely have to show up 3 hours early as the line-ups can be huge.  Additionally, unlike domestic flights, it's not so simple as checking in 24 hours before and walking straight through security as you almost always have a suitcase to check.  Usually when you get to that terminal you will find hundreds of people standing in line with tonnes of boxes, suitcases etc. bringing goods back to their homeland and also making it quite a hassle to just show up and check in quickly.  Fortunately for us in Terminal 2, there was almost no line and we walked through security - from curb to terminal in only about 15 minutes! 

I had never flown Air China before but given how economical this whole trip was, had some slight doubts that it would be a nice or clean plane.  Boy was I wrong.  As seems to be customary with international travel, the plane was super clean, the interior looked brand new and very modern, and of course each seat had it's own personal entertainment system built into the headrest.  As I usually do, I selected seats towards the rear of the plane.  The reason I do this is because many times when boarding, those with seats towards the back are the first group called to board.  Not always, but sometimes.  

My Dad sat to my left, and a hefty gentleman from Bakersfield who drove a truck in the oil fields was sitting to my right.  He seemed quite social and had flown to China multiple times before as his wife lives there.  Apparently the US thought his marriage to her was a sham so they wouldn't grant her a green card, thereby forcing this guy to have to see his wife out in China.   After he showed me a few pictures of her on his phone however, I'm not surprised - she was a looker and he was.....well, anyway the plane was really nice!



Since I thought it would be nice to buy myself something for the trip, I decided for this long haul flight to invest in some noise-cancelling headphones.  As I was a noise-cancelling headphone virgin, I did some research and bought a relatively cheap pair via EBay (about $26 with good reviews).  Aside from being able to hear the movies much clearer without having to crank up the volume, I found them also helped with the engine noise - mind you things have changed and once the plan was cruising it was actually rather quiet in the cabin.

This was a direct flight to Beijing.  Surprisingly, it was only to be a 12 hour flight.  Based on my trip to Vietnam last year, I was budgeting one of those 19 hour jobs, but wow - this was a somewhat quick flight.  The movie selection on Air China was very limited in terms english movies but I ended up watching Rush, something else I can't remember and about half of The Butler.  The food on the plane....well, it sucked.  Normally I would say airplane food always sucks but if you've flown Singapore Airlines then you'll know that's not true!   But hey, I don't like eating much on long flights anyway so it was fine.  My rationale is that if you're in a seated position for that long and putting food in your body, you are setting yourself up for constipation.  Just a guess.

It was a smooth flight and the great part of those late flights is you sleep through most of it and when you wake up, you're almost at your destination.  There was a cute Chinese lady in the row next to us with a little baby.  Before I knew it Steve, the oil field truck driver was hitting on her.  As I would later found out, his rule is that it doesn't count as being married until he's inside of China so anything else is free game.  Can't argue with that.  He was a likeable character however being sat between a 280 - 300 pound guy doesn't give me much room to move!  

All in all, I was very happy with our flight and Air China as well as the air hostesses, stewardesses, eye candy, whatever you call them these days!!!  About 5:15am we touched down!  Steve and the lady next to him exchanged qq info (some sort of app where you chat via your phone, like whatsapp), I kicked myself for not having chatted with her before he did, and we cleared customs.  CHINA HERE I COME.

To be continued.....


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Signs

There are always signs, you just have to open your eyes and listen. Yes, I said that correctly: "open your eyes and listen." Some may doubt the ability of us to shape our universe, or for our souls to perpetuate after the death of our body. What ever you believe to be true, ultimately is true. Therefore, I write this latest post to encourage you to believe in the things you want to be true. Avoid questioning or doubting that which you want.

My latest example involves my wonderful brother and kitten, Mr. T. As some of you who follow this blogAs science and physics indicate, matter can neither be created nor destroyed. Therefore life in the existence of what gives a body consciousness, cannot similarly be destroyed and cease to exist.
know, Mr. T passed away unexpectedly several years ago. We were very close and I felt he is a reflection of me. He died on a late Sunday morning. That whole week was a difficult one for me and my family. My greatest hope was that there was more after death. Whether it was heaven or something to do with our souls continuing to exist after our death, it did not matter. I just wanted to know that Mr. T was okay. Furthermore my mind could not process that a life and soul as kind as Mr. T's could simply cease to exist.

Two supernatural events occurred that week following the passing of Mr. T. Late one night I was listening to an audio book about how our pets' souls do go to heaven and how we see them in the afterlife and that they even visit us from time to time. While listening to this heart warming audio book, I saw a white ball of light rise to the right of me and disappear. No, I do not take drugs, nor was I tired. What was it? It was about the size of a small Christmas globe. Could it have been the sign I was looking for?

I received my divine confirmation and indisputable sign exactly one week later and probably to the minute Mr. T died. It was now Sunday. I regularly attend the Self-Realization Center at Lake Shrine, which has a service every Sunday in which they talk about something spiritual. Every week has a topic, and all topics have been laid out a year in advance. During the week, I had hoped they would talk about death or the afterlife so that I may find some comfort. Unfortunately, when I checked the schedule online, the subject had nothing to do with that.

My Mother and I showed up to listen to the speaker...and he announced that he would be talking about what happens when those we love die.  You may think I am making this up, but I am not!  This was not even a topic for any other week that they had rescheduled - the speaker had for some unknown explanation changed the subject to discuss death, what happens when we die, and how we can even still communicate to those we love who have died.  During the discussion, he even went through what it felt like to die.  I cried quite a bit during this process and felt Mr. T all around me.  I knew it was his sign in shifting the Universe around me to give me this comfort that he would forever be within my reach.

After that day, there was no doubt.  We produce the Universe around us with our thoughts.  Whether negative or positive, whether fantastic or sad, whether unbelievable or bland.  So choose your thoughts wisely, and never, ever, disbelieve that you are your own God.
  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Don't Call It a Comeback, I've Been Here For Years.

So you may be wondering - where the hell did I go?  Well, I've been around.  And NO - I'm not back to this blog because of a breakup, believe it or not.  I actually just got back from a fantastic trip to China after not having gone on a real vacation in over a year and realized how therapeutic this blog is for me.  You see, when we get caught up in the everyday of life and work, it can begin to weigh down upon us and we need an escape.  For me, that escape is going on a trip somewhere and not worrying about clients or better yet, not having clients constantly asking me to fix their lives.  It can be draining and stressful.


You know how when you return from vacation you feel lighter?  You look 10 years younger?  Nothing can phase you and you come home with a great outlook on life.  However, if we are not careful upon our return, it doesn't take long for the stresses of life to quickly catch up to us and wipe that glow off of us.  Although I am very jetlagged, I like the fact that it is 3am, I am wide awake to be with myself, and you all, my loyal readers.

Today was supposed to be my first day back to work but I woke up at 4pm and while trying to catch up on a  million emails realized that I was falling back into a routine which had become old to me.  Compounded with an annoying client who wanted to vent to me via email and voicemails about his problems with the DMV, I *almost* found myself thinking negatively and writing something nasty back to the client.  It is at this point where I realized that this return from China is my chance to do things differently.
We can't change how people are, but we can change how we react to people. 
My goal is to keep my luster, my back-from-vacation glow.  It is mine to keep and to share!  But it is also mine to lose.  I urge everyone to work on maintaining your glow every day.  When you are in a good mood, it is your responsibility to not let others take that away from you.  Some call this glow a "halo" or "aura".  Jesus had an aura which people followed.  Many people who are leaders have certain magnetic auras as well.  Why do you think it is someone can be physically beautiful but not have anyone ever wanting to talk with them, meanwhile someone considered much less attractive (by superficial societal norms), can walk into a room and people flock to their presence?  The answer lies in their aura.

I am going to keep my aura by changing the channel when negative instances occur.  If a client calls that I know will affect my mood or my aura, I won't answer.  If I get an email which I know will stress me, I can choose to simply delete it or read it later.  Each one of you has the power to change the channel.  Your life is your personal TV set, and you happen to be in control of the remote!  

And on that note - I also want to announce that I am going to posting more pictures on this blog as well as talking much more about all of my travels.  I hope you'll enjoy it.  Once you hear how amazing Beijing and Shanghai are I am sure you'll want to pay them a little visit.

Until next time...and that time will be later this week as opposed to months from now.....