HOI AN: A TALE OF RED LANTERNS

It's 6:30am on Saturday morning and I am sitting in the waiting area of the Saigon Airport. My friend Chau had insisted on bringing me to Hoi An on the occasion of the four-day weekend celebrating both the Vietnamese Reunification Day and the International Labor Day back to back. Since I am.new to the country and only had the chance to spend time in Ho Chi Minh City during two business trips, Chau insisted on showing me another face of Vietnam that is has a more traditional flavor to it. Getting the local experience is not an occasion that presents itself every day. Therefore, I seized the opportunity as it came. Although, I must admit I have hesitated before accepting this tempting offer. In the Western culture, bringing semi-acquaintances over to their parents does not happen precociously. Especially not in my family. Believe it or not, I have childhood friends who have never set foot in my family's house until my farewell party before I moved to Germany.

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THE RELOCATION STATE OF MIND

Here I am, back in Ho Chi Minh City for the third time. Although, this time is not only for a short business trip. In fact, I recently accepted a position based in the megapolis I have learnt to love over my first two visits here. How did I end up here, and what happened since my last post? I know it's been a long time since you've heard from me, but in my mind it all happened in a split second. Things seemed to have happened so fast that I must take a step back and reflect on the series of events that brought me to relocate to yet another country in three years only.

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BANGKOK: THE UNTOLD STORY

This post is not about ladyboys, hookers, snake blood or massages with a happy ending. It’s about that other stuff. Things people rarely talk about as they remain in the shadow of the good old recipe for sensationalism: sex, sports, and blood. There is more to Bangkok than the well-known Hangover picture stereotypes - an untold story I find much more interesting than basic tourist attractions and that’s exactly what I was hoping to find out.

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BALI (PART II): EXOTIC SHENANIGANS

Cath and I had spent our last afternoon walking around Gili T comparing prices between boats that would bring us back to Bali while Sophie and Joanie would pursue their adventure to Lombok. This time, our plan was to explore the southern part of the so-called “Paradise Island” that we are still yet to encounter after a very deceiving first leg in the center and north part. Our best bet to access Bali South was to cross the sea back to Padangbai and ride on a minibus to Jimbaran - where we have found a clean and cheap accomodation. Cath and I are not of the “glamourous” type and perfectly fine with getting regular accomodation, as long as it’s clean and strategically located. We had estimated that from Jimbaran we could access all major sights within 15 to 30 minutes by taxi.

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GILI TRAWANGAN: THE BEAUTY AND THE BEAST

The so-called Gili Islands are composed of three tiny islands: Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air. The term “Gili Islands” is a pleonasm on its own as “Gili” is the exact word-to-word Bahasa translation for “Island”. Nevertheless, the popular term used to describe the region in different sources of documentation still refers to this archipelago as “Gili Islands” (if you ever need to look them up online). Despite the reputation of “party island” Gili Trawangan has, we still chose it as our only destination out of three for its amazing scubadiving sites, an activity that was definitely on our to-do list while in Indonesia. For my part, I’ve been a certified Open Water Diver for 9 years. Cath did not seem so thrilled about sacrificing a full vacation week studying day and night to get certified. On the other hand, Sophie and Joanie made it their mission.

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BALI: LOST (ITS) PARADISE

After two hours of delay for our flight from Malang, we finally arrived in Bali. We have been up since midnight. That's 18 hours straight with substantial physical activities including a hike up a volcano. Landing in Bali already gave us a different taste of Indonesia. From the tarmac, we could notice the large road signs advertising some of the most beautiful sights on this very touristy island. Pictures of impressive resorts with swimming pools offering a stunning view on the Indian Ocean made us understand very quickly that our time on the so-called "Paradise Island" was meant to be very different from what we have experienced so far in Indonesia.

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EAST JAVA: FROM DUSK TILL DAWN


After eight hours spent on a train, we finally arrived in Malang, a city Cath and I judged to be the best access point in order to climb up Mount Bromo - one of the volcanos in East Java still active today. Malang and Probolinggo were the best suited options to access the volcano. Only, we had to think ahead about our next move in order to choose our destination wisely.

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CENTRAL JAVA: BAHASA BIRTHDAY BASH

With all the travels I have made this year, it's quite hard to believe - even for myself - that in this fourth quarter I am finally taking my first vacation. For the occasion, my good friend Cath and I have decided to meet in Indonesia for a full three-weeks of adventure with nothing planned but a first flight from Jakarta to Yogyakarta. I met Cath in Montreal during my first master's degree in Project Management. With her still living there and my short term assignment in China brought to a term, we coordinated both our flight schedules to minimize the waiting time at the airport before officially kicking off vacation season.

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HO CHI MINH CITY: BONUS TRACK IN SAIGON

Just like a rap album from the early 2000's, a bonus track was added to the regular listing. Indeed, I learnt last week that I would spend a few days in Vietnam to visit a newly settled factory around an hour driving outside of Ho Chi Minh City. This business trip within a business trip was not originally planned and I only had a little amount of time to figure out the visa, flight ticket and accommodation. Alls well ends well, I managed to book everything on time and off I flew from Guangzhou to the city locals still refer to as Saigon.

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MUTIANYU: THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA

Alejandro was a Mexican-American from the southern state of Georgia. He was on a two-month travel through Asia which started in Seoul a few days ago. He then made it to Beijing the same day I met him. He entered the hutong cantine the same way a Bandolero would step into a saloon in a Western Spaghetti. We shared a look and nodded at each other - a sign foreigners share between themselves while in an area predominantly frequented by locals. In China, although a lot of tourists come to see the wonders of this beautiful country, we foreigners are still highly outnumbered by the local population. Therefore, whenever we cross a "Western" (as they call us), we show some kind of acknowledgement.

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BEIJING: THE FORBIDDEN CITY

As my short-term assignment is coming to an end, I finally got the chance to travel to Beijing. I only had two main sights I absolutely wanted to visit while travelling to the North Capital: The Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City. Based on my previous experiences while travelling through China, I knew that visiting the main sights during the Chinese summer vacations would guarantee large crowds, which would prevent me from fully enjoying my travel.

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ZHANGJIAJIE: THE FLOATING MOUNTAINS OF PANDORA

Zhangjiajie is about 12 hours away from Lushan - where I am currently located. This means the optimal way to get there was again the train. The first part of my commute was between Nanchang and Changsha and only took two hours on a G-Train - the Chinese bullet train. The second part was about 8 hours and left from a different train station. So I took a cab from the Changsha Railway Station to the Changsha South Railway Station for 30 minutes and 27 Yuan - a tiny detail which will be helpful toward the end of this post.

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HONG KONG: A GATE TO THE PAST IN THE FRAGRANT HARBOR

Just as stated in my previous post, Hong Kong is a city within a city. Therefore, I thought I'd tell another story within the same location as I literally opened a gate to the past during my weekend spent in Hong Kong. The main purpose of my visit was to reactivate my Business Visa which - although it allows me to enter the People's Republic of China through multiple entries - needs to be reactivated every 60 days. As a first-timer visiting the Fragrant Harbor, this was the perfect occasion to discover the city over a weekend.

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HONG KONG: URBAN JUNGLE

The sun is setting on the Cantonese skies of Shenzhen as I am saying my last goodbye to the factory team who have treated me like nothing but a king during my stay at their facilities. We have just finished dinner in a local joint nearby and I am now sitting in the back of an SUV - with the "itis" hitting me hard - while my driver is bringing me to the Shenzhen Bay Control Point to cross the border to Hong Kong.

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SHANGHAI: SCAM CITY

On my first evening in the "City Above the Sea", a few guys I met at the hostel and I decided to team up for some sightseeing around the Old Town. On our way back from a full day of exploration, we decided to walk along the Huangpu River. As we were discussing while enjoying the skyscraper view along The Bund boardwalk, two ladies disturbed our friendly conversation by complimenting my outfit and uncommon haircut.

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SHANGHAI: MIDNIGHT EXPRESS TO THE PEARL OF THE ORIENT

I should have known that I was in for a crazy ride when I decided to go for the cheapest option possible to get to Shanghai for the weekend - a night train in 2nd. Class. In my defense, I am neither aware of the different commuting options in China, nor of the gap that separates First Class from "the people" (lower case).

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WHAT I'VE BEEN TOLD ABOUT CHINA

I finally made it to the People's Republic of China despite a rocky preparation. As you know from my previous post, I am here for a Short Term Assignement of three (3) months to work closely on improving production with our suppliers. I have just completed the first part of my assignment at the first factory, so it's the perfect moment to reflect on my first impressions about The People's Republic of China.

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MURPHY'S LAW VS. THE WORLD

This month, I had the opportunity to travel to China for a short term assignment at work. Murphy's Law being always faithful to itself, my preparation for this STA was far from easy. Of course, things being what they are in a large global organization, no one was really aware of the process to follow to support me in this preparation. Fingers were crosspointed at each department (e.g. home location pointing at host location and vice versa). On top of that, I am sure you can imagine how complex the administrative process to obtain a Chinese visa could be. Add to this the good old German bureaucracy and you got yourself a very elaborate cocktail of mayhem.

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