Heading Back to the States

I’m taking off for the states tomorrow for the next two weeks. I’ll be spending most of the time in San Francisco and Seattle for work, but I’m taking a few days off to see my sister in San Diego.

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Seven Day Work Week

Next week is the May Holiday in China, one of the three seven day long public holidays that exist here. They basically take all the little holidays and roll them up in to a few longer holidays. The reason is since a lot of people live away from their home towns people often travel by train back. Some of the folks from are team are travelling over 20 hours each way to get to their homes and this is not uncommon.

The side effect of this is the State Planning Commission for the Glorification of the Worker or something like that makes people work on the weekends. For the Chinese New Year holiday, they made us work the Saturday before and the Sunday after and for this holiday we have to work both Saturday and Sunday this weekend and then get seven days off. It’s really strange.

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Photos from Vietnam and Cambodia

I’ve finally finished uploading all my photos from the vacation to my site. Uploading 900 pictures from Shanghai to San Francisco takes a long time but they’re all there now. They’re listed below day by day, with some of the more interesting pictures singled out, especially at Angkor Wat.

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Xujiahui, Shanghai

The area in which I work, live and spend most of my time in Shanghai is called Xujiahui (徐家汇). The translation for the name roughly “Xu’s House.” One of my co-workers, Lois, translated on her blog the first few chapters of a book written about the history of Shanghai people and Shanghai culture and it starts with the history of Xujiahui. It’s an interesting read to see the cross cultural heritage of this region of Shanghai.

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iPod Photo Importer

When traveling I carry my iPod with a Belkin Media Card Reader to copy the pictures from my digital camera to my iPod so I can free up space on the camera’s memory card. It works really well except when it’s time to move the photos back on to your computer. When you connect up the iPod, all the files show up in the DCIM style format, under folders such as 103APPLE and 104APPLE, etc and not under the “Rolls” in which they appear on the iPod. I’m pretty sure it’s a PC only problem, but it’s incrediably frustrating when you’ve copied things in to the iPod and they’re organized by the rolls.

Thus I wrote a little tool that can import photos off of your iPod and preserve the roll information. It’s quick and dirty but it works. No warranty, guarantee, this is out there as-is. To use it, download the zip and there’s an EXE (it’s a command line tool). It’s build in .NET 2.0, but you can recompile it in 1.1 since there’s nothing 2.0 specific.

iPhotoPhotoImporter <<iPodDisk>> <<destination>>

If your iPod is on your F: drive and you want to put the photos in your c:vacation folder, then:

iPodPhotoImporter F: c:vacation

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And I’m Back (in Shanghai)

Back in Shanghai now after a delayed, yet uneventful flight. Considering my flight was at 1:30am I can’t really understand what would have caused the delay (of 1/2 hour), but I got some sleep on the plane and on the cab ride to my apartment. Now it’s time to get back in to the grove of things here until my next sortie. My password for my work email has expired which means I’ll have to drop in the office to reset it. Argh.

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Cholon in Saigon

Today was a very lazy day spent around District 5 of Ho Chi Minh City, known as Cholon. The area has a large amount of Chinese imigrants, thus giving it the monikor of Saigon’s Chinatown. It’s also well known for the various Buddhist pagodas that are in the region, and we spent quite some time exploring them.

In the morning, we found a couple of moto drivers and hired them for the day to take us around for the few hours we had until the first of our flights. The first pagoda we saw a large, very ornate, Chinese style structure with characters, carvings and gilded gold everywhere. It’s supposed to be the most active of all the pagodas in the area. It wasn’t really anything impressive, just looked like a regular pagoda (they all start to look the same after a while anyway).

After the first one, we made our way to the Cholon Market. Given a market is a market is a market after a while in Asia, you get to be a bit jaded but this one was pretty interesting. We go there around noon-time and all the vendors were taking their lunches in little seats in front of their stores. It was really quaint. Plus, the market itself sold all sorts of crazy goods, from silks, to odd looking fungi, to bowls, to dishes, to etc, and more etc. Pretty eclectic set of goods. The building the market was in was so run down it was a sight in and of itself. The escalators to go up were completly non-functional and the base where the belt would have looped was cracked open and unhinged.

Later in the day we saw one more pagoda, the oldest in Saigon. The building was made totally of wood and it lent to a very dark and quiet interior that contrasted with the loud horns of the motos outside. I liked this pagoda quite a bit as it was a lot less tacky and felt like it preserved the reverance of a religious site well.

Following that pagoda, we took off back to the hotel to pick up Ami’s bags and I dropped her off at the airport. I’ve spent the rest of the evening (there are 9 hours between her flight and mine) walking around this backpackers area and spent some time writing. Now, time to get some dinner and find some other hours to kill until my flight. It’s sad to see this vacation now over, but I’ll be glad to go back to the norm of life and luckily I have a trip to the states coming up soon, so I’ll be happy to have that come up soon as well.

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Mekong Delta

We spent today touring around the Mekong Delta, where the Mekong River empties out in to the South China Sea. It was a three-ish hour bus ride each way and by now, I’m starting to hate on busses.

After our coaches reached the city of Cai Be, we got on a motorized boat that took us through part of the canal/river branch network of the river till we reached a shop where they were making candies from coconuts. They’re produced for both sale in Vietnam and exported to some of the surrounding countries and as far as Germany and the US. Tasty little bites. After that workshop we then were back on a boat for another workshop on the river/canal/tributary/etc that made another set of candies from puffed rice. Watching the process of puffing rice and the production of the candy was pretty interesting, but I ended up spending a lot more time taking pictures of the peoples homes who lived in the area.

We then got back on the boat for a while and headed to the town of Vinh Long, where we had lunch and we spent some time talking to a couple from San Francisco. They’d been on the road thru SE Asia (Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia) for 3+ months and it was interesting to swap tips and perspectives with them. Truthfully, I can’t really imagine traveling for that long but I can see the appeal.

The boat cruised around some more in the Delta and gave a really good perspective of how huge the area really is. There are homes, houses, islands and markets all on the river. Given the size of the network in the Delta, it makes a very convenient transportation network as well. There were plenty of barges, large and small, transporting goods. In one part of the Delta, where a market was, little boats would be selling types of fruit or vegetables. You could tell what each boat was selling because it had their produce stuck in the air on the end of a stick. In one other area we saw rambutan arriving via a little boat then being packed in styrofoam boxes for export to China. Really interesting. Also, the river has four tides a day, every six hours. During the dry season, it ranges from three to four feet high while in the wet season it’s over double that. There were a few times when our boat hit sandbars in the water due to the low depth.

In the evening, we had dinner at the acutal Sinh Cafe, ordering bowls of vegerarian pho. Now, finally, I know what I’ve been missing. I’ll need to find a place that sells pho that’s not made in a meat broth in the states. Tomorrow we head out back for home. Since our flights are late, the plan is to spend the day in the Cholon district of Ho Chi Minh city looking at the temples and enjoy the last of Vietnamese food.

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Back in Ho Chi Minh City

I’m back in HCMC, at the same internet cafe as the first night I was here (same hotel as well).

In the morning, we had a lazy day in Siem Reap and hung out a cafe for most of the morning until our flight to Saigon. The Siem Reap airport was small and ‘cute’ but on the way out they charged a ridiclous $25/pax airport fee which was nearly an extra 35% on top of what we’d already paid for the ticket. A real rip off considering the facility. Even the price for Cambodian nationals was $20, which seems evil.

Also at the airport we met a few random people. We all ID’ed each other by our American passports as there arn’t many Americans in this part of the world. All three of them were on their way to Thailand (a couple and a college guy), the former for Bangkok and the latter for some full moon party on the beach. Sounded pretty intense, it sounds like it’s worth checking out in a few months. I gave the college student the Thailand book we’d bought in Siem Reap — street vendors sell all the Lonely Planet books of the region on the street for a few bucks. When you open them up, they’re obvious photocopies of the real thing, hence the price.

Flight to Saigon was uneventful, a quick 45 minute hop. Compared to the over land route I took from Saigon to Siem Reap — 7 + 6 hours in a bus, plus one night in Phnom Phen — it was blisfully quick. As soon as we landed we made our way to the Vietnam Airlines ticket desk to see if there were flights avaiable to either Hue or Danang and bingo, there were two leaving in 90 minutes. As my hopes built up of being able to visit central Vietnam on this trip, they came quickly crashing down with the complete lack of seats on the flights back from either city on Saturday. There was one seat available in business class, but only one. Even the price for that seat was in the budget, but given the lack of a pair of them it was a no go. So, no Hoi An for me on this trip, perhaps next time. It is a bit disapointing, but it is what it is.

Now we’re in Ho Chi Minh City and we’re probably going to head to the Mekong Delta tomorrow for some sights and to check out the river and some the villages along the Delta. Saturday will probably be spent in the Cholon district of HCMC, as there is supposed to be some picturesque contemporary temples in the area or perhaps one the nearby beaches. My flight back to Shanghai is at 1:30am Sunday and work thereafter! It’s hard to believe it’s near the end of the week already and this vacation is drawing to a close.

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Temples, Temples and a Water Village

We started the day off by getting our plan tickets out of Siem Reap sorted out. Originally we’d wanted to head over to Bangkok for the rest of the trip but given the prices of hotels and the plane ticket cost we decided to short cut it and head back to Vietnam. Not quite sure what we’re going to do in Vietnam, but hopefully make a trip to Hoi An, Hue or the Mekong Delta, depending on prices.

After the tickets were bought to SGN (plane tickets, mind you — another 13 hours of busses on the way back would make me want to kil myself), we went and rented a tuk-tuk driver for the day to take us to the east side of the temples we hadn’t seen yet. For $10, our driver stayed with us the whole day and took us around to a lot of the quiter and less seen temples. It was so much faster via tuk-tuk compared to our bikes from the day before. Again, I don’t have the list of temples we say (the bag is back at the hotel) but again they were beautiful, charming and imposing. One of the ones we saw today was in the middle of a set of concentric pool that used to be filled with water and another was a 15 minute walk from one side to the next. I’ll have to post a comprehensive list of temples when I get my notes in front of me for my own sake.

We started to feel a bit templed out and called it a day and headed back to Siem Reap for lunch and some refreshments. Having the rest of the afternoon avaiable, we took one of the side trips out of Siem Reap to a floating village on the Tonle Sap Lake. We hired the same tuk-tuk driver (he’s become quite our friend by now) for the 45 minute drive out to the boat launchers. The trip into the lake was nice, but given the price of the boat rental, it probably wasn’t worth it ($10/pax). There were two villange on the water — and I mean litteraly — one Cambodian and one Vietnamese. The former seemed a bit more permanent while the latter felt more like boats anchored in close proximity. The village was complete with TV antennas attached to homes, dogs running and juming between platforms and a boat-housed Catholic church. Some the pictures I managed to get were fantastic.

In the evening we did some gift shopping then had dinner at Khmer Kitchen again (yet again, the best curry evar) and now I’m at this internet cafe on the Pub/Bar Street.

Our flight to Saigon is at 1pm tomorrow, so I plan to spend a little bit of time exploring the city of Siem Reap itself. Tomorrow is Khemer New Years Eve, which is supposed to be chaotic and avoided if possible (due to the crowds and chaos). Hopefully I’ll just a taste tomorrow before we leave. Then it’s off to the aiport and who-knows-where-in-Vietnam. Worst comes to worst, we’ll stay in Saigon but I’m really hoping to make it up to the UNESCO christened Hue or Hoi An.

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