If there is one place you want to be to celebrate the new year in Asia, it is definitely Taipei. Who has never seen the famous Taipei 101, the mighty skyscraper depicting Taiwan's capital city, light up with fireworks when the countdown gets to zero? On my first NYE since my relocation to Asia, and no plans to fly back home this year, I had to fly to Taipei and join #party101 celebration!
What better reason to travel than raising funds for a good cause? Last weekend, Anita and I flew to Siem Reap to take part to the 23rd Angkor Wat International Half-Marathon. Since 1996, this internationally recognized half-marathon raises relief for the victims of antipersonnel mines in Cambodia. In addition to its charitable vocation, what makes this great international race so special is that it takes place inside the ruins of Angkor Wat, a World Heritage Site.
Almost exactly one year later, I am back in Bangkok. My first visit was in a professional context, as I have flown from Nuremberg on what would be my last business trip with my team before relocating to Vietnam. That trip was memorable for different reasons, but mostly because I made it a cultural trip while avoiding everything Bangkok is reputed for. This time, it was a totally different story. This time, football brought me here, and it drifted me all the way to the other end of the spectrum.
I flew to Guangzhou for a week-long of meetings for the 2018 Product Creation Technologies Summit. As usual, I decided to extend my stay over the weekend to explore China a bit further (as if I hadn't explored it enough already, but it's such a vast country!). Only this time, I have decided to stay in Guangzhou and see what the Cantonese megalopolis has to offer. Believe it or not, despite countless business trips there, I have never paid Guangzhou the proper visit it deserved.
In the blink of an eye, I found myself in Phu Quoc. Indeed, the flight from HCMC to Phu Quoc is only 40 minutes. We barely had time to get comfortable into our seats that the captain announced the cabin crew to prepare for landing. Such a short flight makes it convenient for a weekend getaway on what is reputed to be Vietnam's paradise island.
One of the greatest joys of living abroad is the ability to meet friends around the world. That's precisely what happened on this particular weekend, as my friend Wanwan asked if I'd join her on a weekend trip to Beijing. As you know, I never miss out on an opportunity for travelling to China. So I accepted the offer with a lot of excitement! Having already been to Beijing a year ago, there were both new areas I was yet to explore, and ones that I've visited already that were worth a second look. Only this time, with a little help of an insider's.
This post is not about the recently released blockbuster rom-com titled ‘Crazy Rich Asians’, but about the city where the movie took place: Singapore. The Island of Singapore is one of the Tigers of Asia with great financial success on the international scene. Consequently, does not enter who wants in this extra-clean larger than life sovereign city-state, as everything is extremely expensive! You have to be of a certain class if you want to sustain a descent standard of living in the Republic. A social class I have conveniently named after the coinciding movie: “Crazy Rich Asians”.
Coming back from Nuremberg for a short four-day trip, I barely had time to touch base for 12 hours in Ho Chi Minh City that I had to head back to the airport for a business trip to Guangzhou, China. It’s funny how every time I plan vacation, there is always a business trip that places itself right after. Some might find it exhausting, but I actually enjoy flying and am always happy to travel. What gave it away, right? Besides, I haven’t set foot in China since last year’s short term assignment. I was quite excited to reconnect with the country that hosted me for three months in 2017. Despite all the beautiful places I had visited last year, there was still one on my list I had yet to discover.
As the 2018 edition of the FIFA World Cup in Russia is approaching its end, this also means the most watched sporting event around the globe will soon reach its climax and crown champion the federation that will win it all. Over a full month, 32 teams and 736 played several matches. In the fashion of a traditional Kalinka, the tension kept amplifying round after round, eliminating teams one after the other until there were only two. The golden ticket to the final match will give the two federations a title shot to the almighty FIFA World Cup Trophy (as per its official name). For this occasion, I am could not miss this chance of attending to the ultimate experience for any true lovers of the beautiful game. This was my second time to attend to a FIFA World Cup.
On the occasion of yet another long weekend in Vietnam - for three days this time - I decided to fly North to Halong Bay. The UNESCO World Heritage Site. Max - a colleague from the headquarters in Germany and based in Vietnam for a three-month short-term assignment - and I decided to pair up to visit this magnificent sight that is known for its emerald waters and thousands of towering limestone islands topped by rainforests. Our very ambitious initial plan was to combine Hanoi, Ninh Binh, and Halong Bay in three days only. This itinerary was proposed by another colleague of ours who had been through this journey about a month ago. When Max first told me about this plan, my immediate thought was that this was simply not doable. My normal travelling style requires that I visit fewer locations, but in much more depth. Quality over quantity!
I just landed in yet another country for the weekend, as I am in Sri Lanka for the Regional Project Management Conference 2018 - organized by PMI Colombo Sri Lanka Chapter - under the theme of "Transformational leadership for project success". Indeed, I was invited to deliver a keynote titled "Scientific Project Management: The Horizontal PMO Concept". How did I end up being a headliner for such a highly regarded event in the Project Management international scene? Aliki (Aliki en route) from PMI Montreal whored me out on the international scene like fresh fish at the early morning market. All jokes aside, Aliki visited Colombo a few weeks back. While she was here, she was asked to deliver a presentation which went super well. When Ganesh W - President of PMI Colombo Sri Lanka Chapter - asked her if she could come back for the regional conference three months later, she unfortunately couldn't fit this trip into her itinerary around the globe. On the other hand, who has two thumbs and has experience talking in front of large audiences of hundreds of people ? This guy!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This weekend calls once more for adventure as I am travelling to Xi’an for two full days. This time, I rejected the option of commuting on a night train given my far-fetched experience from two weeks ago. Although, this well-thought-out change of strategy made me learn at my own expense that Chinese flights are rarely on time. Indeed, it is not uncommon to have flights delayed several hours.
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.
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).
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.
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.