Archive for February, 2009

Today’s Video

I discovered this video nearly a year on YouTube and thought it was delightful and charming.  In the time that has passed, it has been viewed nearly 2.5 million times.  So I guess other folks have found it amusing, too.  It’s called, Jerry Dog, and features a cute miniature dachshund playing with tennis balls.  I hope it brings you a smile.

Source: You Tube

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Today’s Quote

“We are all here for a spell.  Get all the good laughs you can.”

  — Will Rogers

 To go to previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.

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The Day The Music Died

 

This month, Virgin Megastores announced the closure of three of its six remaining stores in the USA, including the iconic store at Times Square in New York City, the Union Square location in New York City and the Market Street store in San Francisco.  The fate of its remaining three stores in Denver, Los Angeles and Orlando is unknown, but the signs are definitely not good. 

I know I’ll particularly miss the huge, three-level store at Times Square, where it was possible to roam the music (and DVD) aisles for hours.  According to reports published this week, the prime Virgin Megastore space on Times Square will be occupied by Century 21, the discount designer and major-brand fashion retailer.

In 2006, Sacramento, CA-based Tower Records shut its 89 USA stores in a final, sad liquidation sale that ended the chain’s colorful 46-year history.

What’s left?  Well, of course, there’s iTunes, Amazon downloads, and online music sharing.  But in order to roam the (physical) aisles and browse music CD covers, we’ve now got Borders Books, Barnes and Noble, Best Buy, and (yikes!) Walmart, as well as the few, heroic remaining neighborhood independent music shopkeepers, who are probably counting down their final days right now. 

And where do we go for comprehensive selections of independent, international, and niche music that was available from Virgin Megastores?  I don’t think you’ll find it shopping at Walmart.

It’s sad.  Music retailing has been dying for a while now.  And so today is just the latest day the music died.

UPDATE: 3/4/09.

The Los Angeles Times published an article today confirming that the three remaining Virgin Megastores in Denver, Los Angeles and Atlanta will close by Summer 2009.

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Agent Orange

If you’re ready for a change of pace from pometinis and cosmos or just looking for a fresh, fruity cocktail alternative, try the Agent Orange.  Plus, it’s loaded with Vitamin C (well, not really).  In any case, it’s tasty and refreshing!

INGREDIENTS:

1-1/2 oz Vodka
1/2 oz Grand Marnier
1/4 oz Cointreau
1 oz Fresh Orange Juice
Orange Twist or Orange Slice, based on preference

DIRECTIONS:

1.  Combine liquids and shake vigorously with ice;
2.  Strain into a chilled cocktail glass;
3.  Garnish with orange twist or slice;
4.  Serve, enjoy, and repeat, as needed, until desired effects are achieved. 

To go to other cocktail recipes from previous posts, click here.

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Try The Perrin Post

Today’s website/blog is The Perrin Post, a travel blog written by industry veteran Wendy Perrin, who also is the Consumer News Editor of Conde Nast Traveler Magazine, one of my favorite travel publications for over 20 years.  In her blog, Ms. Perrin provides interesting and often humorous observations on the joys, challenges, and periodic frustrations of leisure and business-related travel.

The blog is a light, easy read and I almost always find something that is both entertaining and useful in some way.

To go to the Perrin Post, click here.  To order a new subscription to Conde Nast Traveler, click here.

 

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Happy Mardis Gras!

Today is Fat Tuesday or Mardis Gras Day.

Credit: Animated GIF from Wonder Clip Arts

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Today’s Quote

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. 
The second best time is today.”

   -  Chinese Proverb

To go to previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.
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Farewell, China

After amazing stays in Beijing, Xian and Shanghai, the Adventure in China comes to an end. 

I spent my final day in China as a guest at the Sino-Swiss Hotel, located near the Beijing Capital International Airport, where it began to lightly snow before dusk.  Overnight, the snow continued to fall and there was a fresh, beautiful blanket of snow everywhere in the morning– a wonderful sight to start the day.

Above and Two Photos Below:  Views of the Sino-Swiss Hotel, located near the Beijing Capital International Airport.  By morning, everything was covered with a light blanket of snow from the prior evening’s light storm. 

At the spectacular Beijing Capital International Airport, I enjoyed the warm hospitality of the Air China Business Class Lounge, which offered an amazing array of services and amenities, available to Star Alliance Gold members and United Red Carpet Club members:

*  over a dozen complimentary Internet terminals;
*  hot meals, including soup, dim sum, pan-fried noodles, as well as made-to-order noodles in soup;
*  cold sandwiches, fruits and appetizers;
*  complimentary beverages and full bar;
*  complimentary re-charging stations for mobile phones and PDAs;
*  a selection of large, comfortable seating areas;
*  free wi-fi:
*  six private “sleeping pods” with a bed (available at no charge)

Way to go, Air China!

Above and Two Photos Below:  The Air China Business Class Lounge at the Beijing Capital International Airport offered lots of comfortable seating, as well as hot meals and snacks. 

Finally, it’s boarding time on United 888 for the 11-1/2 hour non-stop flight to San Francisco via their B-777-300.  For now, it’s farewell, China.

Below: After boarding the aircraft, it’s time for a final look at Beijing before saying goodbye.

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Photos taken: 2/17-2/18/09

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What Things Cost

During my visit to China, the U.S.A. dollar (USD) was equivalent to roughly 6.83 Chinese yuan (CNY).  Here’s a sampling of prices for goods and services in USD:

*  Small cafe latte at the Forbidden City Coffee Shop (formerly Starbucks) inside the Forbidden City, Beijing, $3.80;
*  Lunch and Chinese beer for 3 persons at a popular, local 24-hour dim-sum restaurant in Beijing:  $11.00;
*  Admission to Terracotta Warriors and Horses Museum, Xian: $6.00;
*  Grey Goose Martini at Lobby Bar at Crowne Plaza Hotel, Beijing:  $17.25, including service charges;
*  Buffet breakfast at Sofitel Xian on Renmin Square: $35.00 including service charges, per person;
*  Laundry service for one pair of blue jeans at Radisson New Word Hotel, Shanghai: $12.00 including service charges;
*  Local taxi service within Beijing, $2.00-$5.00, typical
*  Taxi service from Downtown Shanghai to Pudong Airport, around 22 miles (45 mins): $24.00;
*  Admission to the 100th Floor Observation Deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center: $22.00 per person;
*  Domestic letter-rate postage stamp: $0.14;
*  Five course Chinese dumpling lunch and beer at popular, local restaurant in Chengde: $12.00;
* 1-liter bottled of purified (still) water at local convenience store, Beijing: $0.41
* Flat-rate fare for Beijing Subway system: $0.29

What Seemed Expensive?   1. Meals at hotel and fine-dining restaurants.  2. Imported wine.  3.  Cocktails at higher-end bars/lounges.  4.  Western-style desserts.

What Seemed Inexpensive?  1. Taxi rides.  2. Public transportation.  3. Meals at restaurants catering primarily to local residents.  4. Over-the-counter medications.

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On The Bund

Nothing better illustrates the staggering transformation that has taken place in Shanghai (and China, in general) than the dramatically contrasting views on the opposing banks of the Hangpuo River, near The Bund. 

On the west side of the river, along The Bund, there is the familiar view of the historic buildings (built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries) that originally housed Shanghai’s major banks and trading companies.  One the east side of the river is the burgeoning Pudong New Area, which has been dramatically developed starting in the 1990’s. 

Today, Pudong is home to China’s two tallest buildings (the Shanghai World Financial Center and the Jin Mao Tower), the iconic Oriental Pearl Tower (the third tallest tower in the world), as well as numerous high-rise office, mixed-use and hotel buildings.  The new and still evolving skyline of Pudong has recently eclipsed The Bund as the visual symbol of Shanghai.   The Pudong sykline will be dramatically altered in 2014 when the Shanghai Tower, now under construction, is completed and becomes the second-tallest bulding in the world, behind Burj Dubai.  

Above:  A classic view of The Bund, taken from the pedestrian promenade along the Huangpo River in Shanghai.  Below:  A view of the world-famous North tower (formerly the Sassoon House) of the Peace Hotel, shown covered in green construction netting, is currently closed for remodeling and scheduled to reopen in 2010 as the Fairmont Peace Hotel Shanghai.

Above and Below: Additional views of The Bund, along the east shore of the Huangpu River in Shanghai. 

Above and Two Photos Below:  Views of the Pudong New Area and its dramatically changing skyline.

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Photos taken: 2/15-2/17/09

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Today’s Video

Among the winners at the 81st annual Academy Awards held last night in Los Angeles, CA, I thought 35-year old TV and film Writer/Director/Producer Dustin Lance Black delivered the most memorable and heartfelt speech in accepting the award for Best Original Screenplay for “Milk,” a film based on the life and times of politician and activist Harvey Milk, which was directed by Gus Van Sant, and filmed in part in San Francisco.

An estimated 800 million people worldwide watched the broadcast of the Academy Awards show.

Milk won two Oscars, including Best Actor in a Leading Role for the remarkable performance by Sean Pean.

To watch the official trailer for the movie, Milk, click here.

To review previous posts in the “Today’s Video” category, click here.

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink? 

This beautiful martini, poured in a tall, modern-shaped cocktail glass, together with an olive on a smartly-twisted bamboo skewer, was served at the stylish Patio Lounge, located in the Grand Hyatt Shanghai, on the 56th Floor of the Jin Mao Tower, in Shanghai, China.  The Patio Lounge occupies a spectacular space at the bottom of an amazing, 33-story atrium in the central core of the upper portion of the Jin Mao Tower. 

The spacious lounge is filled with comfortable, residential-style furniture and accessories in a vibrant color palette that draws its inspiration from a large mural occupying the double-height wall at the central core of the building.  Above the mural, customers get a magnificent view of the soaring atrium, one of the world’s largest. 

The lounge is open from 11:30 AM to midnight, daily, with live entertainment during the evenings.

Above:  On the evening of our visit, an ensemble was performing a fusion of Asian and western music using traditional Chinese instruments.  Below: From the Patio Lounge, you can get a great view of the enormous 33-storey atrium that soars to the tower’s crown.

You can visit a related post on the Cloud 9 Bar in the “Where is that Drink” series by clicking here.

To go to previous posts in the “Where is that Drink” series, click here.

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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet today?

The feet are pausing to admire the amazing, timeless beauty of the Yuyuan Gardens, located in the historic Old City of Shanghai.  Established in the mid-16th Century as a private garden for an official in the Ming Dynasty, the five-acre garden was declared a national monument in 1982 and is one of the most-popular visitor attractions in Shanghai.  The six, structured areas of the garden represent some of the best surviving examples of Chinese landscape design and craftsmanship, including a spectacular 40-foot tall rock garden.

Above: A view of one of the several beautiful pavilions located on the grounds of the Yuyuan Gardens.  Below: A view at the entrance to the Yuyuan Gardens, where I am pausing to touch the foot of the one of the most-cherished symbols of Chinese mythology and lore.

 Above:  The walls of Yuyuan Gardens are guarded by dragons, one of whom is show in the photo above.  Below:  A view of one of the many carefully and expertly shaped miniatured potted trees that were beginning to blossom throughout the Yuyuan Gardens.  Is Spring here?

Above:  A map of the intricately-designed Yuyuan Gardens, which creates an astonishing array of remarkable spaces within its tight 5-acre site.  Below:  A view of the popular tea house, located outside the Yuyuan Gardens, which was colorfully decorated for the Chinese New Year and the celebration of the Year of the Ox.

Two Photos Above and Below: Two views of the colorful and crowded shopping bazaar in the area immediately surrounding the Yuyuan Gardens.  The colorful decorations from the Chinese New Year and Lantern Celebrations were still in place throughout the city.

 To go to previous entries in the “Where are the Feet?” category, click here.  

Photos taken: 2/17/09

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Today’s Quote

“If I keep a green bough in my heart, then the singing bird will come.”

   — Chinese Proverb

To go to previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.
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New Shanghai Tower

In December 2008, ground was broken on the foundation of the new Shanghai Tower, a 138-story, mixed-use building that will rise in the Pudong district of Shanghai.  When completed in 2014, the $2.2 billion tower will measure 2,073 feet in height, making it the Tallest Building in China and the world’s second tallest building, behind the massive Burj Dubai in the UAE. 

Designed by San-Francisco-based Gensler in the Structural-expressionism style, the tower is organized as nine cylindrical buildings stacked one on top of the other with a double-skinned layer on the outside.  The outside layer is triangular shaped and swivels as it climbs.  The complex will include office space, a five-star hotel, nine sky gardens, retail space, and a new Shanghai Metro stop.

Above and Below:  Artist’s renderings showing the graceful, spiraling Shanghai Tower, now underconstruction in the Pudong District of Shanghai.

Above: Artist’s rendering of the Pudong skyline showing the Shanghai Tower (right) and the neighboring Shanghai World Financial Center and Jin Mao Tower.   Below:  Drawing showing the profiles of the new Shanghai Tower and the existing Shanghai World Financial Center.

 Credits:  Artist’s renderings by Gensler, Architects; Drawing from Skyscraperpage.com

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink?

This well-chilled martini, served in a handsome cocktail glass and garnished with an olive, was served at the popular Cloud 9 Bar, located on the 87th floor of the five-star Grand Hyatt Shanghai in the Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai.  Cloud 9 is reportedly the Highest Bar in the World and is one of Shanghai’s best-known bars, famous for its dizzying views of Pudong and Shanghai.

The Grand Hyatt Shanghai occupies floors 53 to 87 of the Jin Mao Tower, with 555 guest room and suites, all featuring a great view of Shanghai and the surroundng Pudong area.  The hotel also offers 11 restaurants and bars.

 

Above and Below: The terraced seating in Cloud 9 offers each guest a spectacular view through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

 

Above:  The striking, futuristic architecture in Cloud 9 is complemented by comfortable seating and dark wood surfaces.  Below:  The mezzanine lounge provides a great place to survey the room and to enjoy a view of the Shanghai skyline.

Built in 1998, the Jin Mao Tower (pictured above), is an 88-story Shanghai landmark that stood as the Tallest Building in China until it was overtaken by the neighboring Shanghai World Financial Center in 2008.  The post-modern building was designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill of Chicago and is widely considered by architecture critics as the finest example of modern “Chinese-style” architecture in the world.  The octagon-shaped tower is a modern interpretation of a traditional Chinese pagoda, gently stepping back to create a rhythmic visual pattern as it rises.  The 88 floors are divided into 16 segments, each of which is 1/8th shorter than the 16-story base.  It is topped by an elaborate and striking spire. 

In addition to housing the Grand Hyatt Shanghai, the Jin Mao Tower includes office, retail and public spaces, as well as an Observatory on the 88th floor.    

To read more about Cloud 9, visit the official website by clicking here.  If you wish to make a reservation at the Grand Hyatt Shanghai or learn more about the hotel and its services, click here.

To go to previous posts in the “Where is that Drink” series, click here.

Photos taken: 2/16/09

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Radisson Shanghai

In Shanghai, we’re guests at the Radisson Hotel Shanghai New World, which is conveniently located on famous Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s top retail street, and directly across from The People’s Park and the Shanghai Subway.  The hotel, built in 2005, features 520 guest rooms and suites in a 47-story tower that is topped by a distinctive two-level revolving restaurant and lounge.  The hotel is situated a few steps from the Nanjing Road pedestrian shopping mall and a short walk from some of Shanghai’s top visitor attractions, such as The Bund and the Shanghai Museum in People’s Park.

Many of the rooms on the upper floors of the hotel offer excellent views of the Pudong skyline, while other guest rooms on lower floors provide nice views of The People’s Park, Shanghai’s largest park and public gathering place.

The hotel’s signature international restaurant, Epicure on 45, offers a panoramic view of the entire city of Shanghai from the revolving dome on the 45th floor.

Above: The Radisson Hotel Shanghai New World boasts a terrific location on Nanjing Road, just steps away from the busy and world-famous pedestrian shopping mall.  Below:  A view of the hotel’s main, 47-story tower that is topped by a two-level revolving restaurant and sky lounge.

Above:  A view of the hotel’s main entrance on Nanjing Road.  Below:  A view of the marble-clad Main Lobby.

Above and Below:  Room 2001 offered comfortable, attractive furnishings in a nice (if somewhat small) room.  One of the unique features in the room is the motor-controlled shade contained in the glass wall separating the bathtub from the sleeping area. 

Above and Below:  The room’s large window offered a nice view of the Pudong skyline in the distance.

Above and Below: Two views of the hotel’s 24-hour restaurant, called Windows on the Park, which offered a comprehensive breakfast buffet of Asian and western-style dishes.

 

Below:  One of my typical breakfasts at the hotel includes dim sum, dumplings and noodles in soup, and eggs, with fruit, juice and coffee.

To learn more about the Radisson Hotel Shanghai New World or to book reservations, visit their official website by clicking here.

Photos taken: 2/17/09

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink?

This classic vodka martini was poured into a generously-sized and wide cocktail glass, garnished with two olives on a twisted bamboo pick, at The Living Room on the 87th floor of the Park Hyatt Shanghai, which occupies Floors 79 to 93 of the Shanghai World Financial Center, China’s tallest building and the second tallest building in the world.   When it opened in September 2008, the Park Hyatt Shanghai took over the title of Highest Hotel in the World from the Grand Hyatt Shanghai in the neighboring Jin Mao Building.

The Living Room, one of three watering holes at the Park Hyatt Shanghai, features an overall design that is sophisticated and serene, with residential-style furnishings in a muted, monochromatic color palette and subtle Asian design touches throughout.  The focus of The Living Room is the breathtaking view of Pudong, the Huangpo River, and The Bund through their floor-to-ceiling windows.

Above:  The Park Hyatt Shanghai has its own private entrance and porte-cochere in the Shanghai World Financial Center.  Below:  A view of the Shanghai World Financial Center, where the Park Hyatt Hotel Shanghai occupies floors 79 to 93.

Above:  The calm, serene design of The Living Room, located on the 87th floor, makes it an excellent choice for cocktails or a light snack anytime throughout the day.  Below:  The nearby Main Bar is open daily from 5:00 PM to 1:00 AM. 

Below: A close-up view of the elegant, beautifully-designed spire of the neighboring Jin Mao Building, which previously held the title of Tallest Building in China, prior to the opening of the Shanghai World Financial Center.

Read more about the Park Hyatt Shanghai in the November 2008 edition of Travel & Leisure by clicking here.  To make reservations at the Park Hyatt Hotel Shanghai, visit their official website by clicking here.

To go to previous posts in the “Where is that Drink” series, click here.

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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet today?

The feet are standing on the clear, glass floor of the 100th Floor Observation Deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), located in the Pudong district of Shanghai, China.  The Shanghai World Financial Center is the tallest building in China and the second tallest building in the world, behind Taipei 101, located in Taipei, Taiwan.  The SWFC is comprised of 101 stories above ground and is 1,614 feet tall.  The building includes two floors of underground parking, three floors of retail space, commercial office space on Floors 7 to 77, the luxury Park Hyatt Shanghai Hotel on Floors 79 to 93, and an Observatory on Floors 94, 97 and 100.  The Observatory on the 100th Floor is the tallest observatory in the world, at 1,555 feet.

The building, developed by Mori Building Co. of Japan and designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates, is a post-modern structure with an elegantly-tapering tower and a trapezoid-shaped opening at the top.  The building has been nicknamed “The Bottle Opener,” because its shape resembles a bottle opener, particularly when viewed from a great distance.  The building was originally designed with a circular opening at the top; however, as a result of significant protest by the Chinese government that the circle resembled the “rising sun” on the Japanese flag, the design was altered during mid-construction.

Ground was broken for the building in 1997 and construction stalled for several years due to the Asian financial crisis.  Construction finally resumed in 2003 and the building was inaugurated on 8/28/08.  When it was originally designed in 1997, the building was planned as the tallest building in the world; however, Taipei 101 claimed that title when it opened in 2004.

The Burj Dubai in Dubai, UAE, will claim the title of World’s Tallest Building when it is completed in late 2009.

Above:  A diagram showing the composition of the Shanghai World Financial Center, China’s tallest building.  Below:  A rendering of the building, as constructed, with the trapezoid-shaped opening at the top, which is used to reduce resistance to the high winds in Shanghai.

Above and Below:  The observatory on the 100th Floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center is the highest observatory in the world.

Above:  The 100th Floor Observatory features a 180-foot long, glass-floored and glass-walled promenade the stretches the width of the building, offering spectacular views of the Pudong area and Shanghai.  Below:  A view of the elegant spire of the Jin Mao Building (in the foreground) , which was China’s tallest building prior to the construction of the SWFC, the Pearl Tower (with the brightly-colored sphere), and the Huangpu River.

Above: A view of new housing constructed in Pudong, as seen from the 100th Floor Observatory of the SWFC.  Below:  A view of the towering Shanghai World Financial Center, shrouded in mist, taken in the early evening from the porte-cochere of the Grand Hyatt Shanghai in the neighboring Jin Mao Tower.

The SFWC Observatory is open from 8:00 AM to 11:00 PM, daily.  Ticket prices are roughly $21 for admission to all three floors of the Observatory.

If you want to read more about the world’s tallest buildings, visit Skyscraperpage.com or Emporis.com.

To go to previous entries in the “Where are the Feet?” category, click here.

 

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink?

This great-looking cocktail, the well-known “James Bond Martini,” was served in the dining room of M on the Bund, the stylish and incredibly popular Shanghai restaurant located on the 7th Floor at 5 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, at The Bund.  Now in its tenth year of operation, M on the Bund is a Shanghai legend and one of the city’s best-known restaurants, with stunning views of The Bund and the futuristic Pudong skyline across the Huangpo River.  M on the Bund is widely credited with launching the new wave of Western-style, ultra-glam restaurants in Shanghai and helping transform The Bund into a more upscale destination, which is now filled with designer boutiques, bars and lounges, and fashionable eateries. 

The large restaurant features a bar, expansive dining area and private dining rooms, along with an outdoor terrace overlooking The Bund.  The restaurant is located on the top floor of the historic Nissin Shipping Building, built in 1921, and is designed as a “contemporary interpretation of the luxury interior of a 1930’s ocean liner,” according to their website.

M on the Bund was rated the top restaurant in Zagat’s 2008 survey of restaurants in Shanghai. 

 

To go to previous posts in the “Where is that Drink” series, click here.

To go to a previous post on the James Bond Martini, known as “The Vesper,” click here.

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Hello, Shanghai

   

The City of Shanghai, which covers over 2,000 square miles and includes a metropolitan population of roughly 18 million people, is regarded as China’s center of finance and trade.  The two Chinese characters in the name “Shanghai” (shown above) mean “up,” “on,” or “above” and “sea,” respectively.  Together, one translation (among many different translations) of the word Shanghai means “upper reaches of the sea.”  Shanghai is also commonly called Shencheng and has been known by various English nicknames as well, including ”Paris of the East” and “Pearl of the Orient.”

The Port of Shanghai, situated at the mouth of the Yangtze River, where it meets the East China Sea, is now the world’s largest port, based on overall cargo tonnage.  

Shanghai has a rich and colorful past, and was the city where China first met the West.  It’s still a frontier town in many ways, obsessed with rapid modernization, bold architecture (including some of the world’s tallest structures), fashion fads, and technology.

Since the mid 1990’s, Shanghai has undergone significant redevelopment, with most of the major and more dramatic construction taking place in the new commercial district of Pudong.  Today, Shanghai boasts one of the most interesting and recognized skylines in the world.

During my first visit to Shanghai in late 2002, I declared it my “new favorite city.”  (Of course, I’ve also given that title to other cities– Bangkok, Hong Kong, Rome, Venice, London, New York– at various times over the years.)  It’s still an incredibly vibrant city, with a fascinating but rapidly disappearing mix of “old” and “new” China.

 

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Leaving Xian

After four great, activity-packed days in Xian, it’s time to say farewell and to move on to Shanghai, China’s largest city and one of the biggest metropolitan areas in the world, with a population of roughly 18 million people.  Shanghai is situated on China’s eastern coast, at the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River, the world’s third longest river.

Before leaving Shanghai, we want to acknowledge and thank Clarence Guo, our tour guide in Xian, for his expert views on the City of Xian and the Terracotta Warriors Museum, in particular.  Mr. Guo has studied the terracotta warriors for many years and published a book on the topic in 2008, which he kindly autographed for us.  If you’re traveling to Xian and need personal guide services, you may contact Clarence Guo at clarenceguo@yahoo.com or via mobile at (0)13519197819.

Below: Our tour guide Clarence Guo, pictured on the beautiful grounds of the Xianyang Museum in Xian, China.  Thanks, Clarence, for your expert services and for helping us truly enjoy our experience in wonderful Xian!

To get to Shanghai, we’re taking a two-hour flight from Xian via Shanghai Airlines Flight 3136, in one of their B737-800 aircraft.  Formed in 1985, Shanghai Airlines is China’s fifth largest airline based on fleet size, and is one of the newest members of Star Alliance.

And now, onward to wonderful Shanghai!

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Photo taken: 2/11/09

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Terracotta Warriors

One of the highlights of the trip to China was a visit to the Qin Shi Huang Museum of Terracotta Warriors and Horses, located 22 miles east of the city of Xian.  The museum, and its world-famous collection of ancient, life-size terracotta warriors, is one of the most popular visitor attractions in China.  According to the museum, the warriors were discovered by village farmers in 1974 while digging a well.  Within a few years, the Chinese government had completed an extensive survey of the entire surrounding area and had recovered several thousand artifacts.  The discovery was heralded as one of the most important archaeological finds of the 20th century and quickly thrust Xian into the international spotlight.  Residents of Xian frequently refer to the discovery as the “Eighth Wonder of the World.” 

The terracotta army is a form of funerary art buried with the First Emperor of Qin (Qin Shi Huang), who declared himself the first emperor of China in 221 B.C.  Construction of the mausoleum was started around 246 B.C. and took 11 years to complete, with over 700,000 laborers.

The museum is comprised of several different structures that have been built over time since the museum’s official opening in 1979.  The largest of the structures is called “Pit No. 1,” a hangar-like building that is roughly 3.5 acres in size and can accommodate two football fields.  Pit No. 1 houses an estimated 6,000 figures, including warriors, chariots and horses, of which roughly 1,000 have been restored to date.  ”Pit No. 3,” which was opened in 1987, showcases 68 warriors, a war chariot and four horses.  The final pit, “Pit No. 2,” containing 1,000 figures of cavalrymen, horses, infantrymen and 90 wooden chariots, was opened in 1994.

Excavation and restoration work is still actively in progress and there are examples of the reconstruction work on view within Pit No. 1.  With only a few exceptions, all of the life-size warriors were found in heavily damaged and fragmented condition, requiring painstaking and time-consuming work to re-assemble and restore.  According to our guide, Clarence Guo, there are still many objects that intentionally have been left unearthed in order to keep them preserved until restoration techniques are developed to help retain their original bright colors.  Apparently, the original vibrant color on the painted terracotta begins to fade within a few hours of exposure. 

The discovery of these ancient terracotta figures has always fascinated me, and it was a thrill to be able to view them in their home setting in Xian. 

A traveling exhibition of 20 terracotta warriors and 120 related smaller artifacts was mounted by the Chinese Government in 2008, with visits to the British Museum in London and the Bowers Museumin Santa Ana, CA, where the show was greeted by record-setting crowds.  The exhibition is currently on view at the High Museum in Atlanta, GA, through mid-April.  The exhibit will then move to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and the National Geographic Society Museum in Washington, D.C., before returning home to China in 2010.  Time Magazine declared the show, called “First Emperor: China’s Terracotta Warriors,” one of the Top 10 Museum Exhibits of 2008

Above:  A layout of the museum complex, showing Pit #1 (which houses the original finds), Pit #2, and Pit #3.  Below: An exterior view of the exhibition hall containing Pit #2.

Above and Six Photos Below: Views of the massive Pit No. 1 showing the scale of the discovery and close-up views of the remarkable, life-like detail of the warriors.

Above and Below:  Close-up views of one of the warriors in an enclosed display.

Photos taken: 2/10/09

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Today’s Quote

“Do not anxiously hope for that which has not yet come; do not vainly regret what is already past.”

   –  Chinese Proverb

To go to previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.
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Where are the Feet?

Where are the feet today? 

The feet are resting at the Ancient Silk Road Monument, located in Xian, China, which commemorates the founding of the “silk road” in Xian (previously known as Chang’an).  Dubbed the “silk road” by German geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen in 1877, the silk road was an extensive interconnected network of trade routes across the Asian continent connecting Eastern, Southern and Western Asia with the Mediterranean world, including North Africa and Europe.  Established in the 2nd century B.C., during the Han Dynasty, the silk route eventually encompassed a network of land and sea routes spanning over 5,000 miles. 

Above:  The sign at the Ancient Silk Road Monument, in Xian.  Below:  A map showing the land (in blue) and sea (in red) routes of the Silk Road.

Three photos Below:  Views of the Ancient Silk Road Monument in Xian, China.

To go to previous entries in the “Where are the Feet?” category, click here.  

Photos taken: 2/11/09 

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Xian’s City Wall

During our stay in Xian, we had an opportunity to visit the historic City Wall of Xian which was originally constructed during the Tan Dynasty (618-907) and substantially enlarged and reinforced from 1374-1378, during the Ming Dynasty.  It is the most complete and best-preserved surviving city wall in China, as well as one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. 

Following its expansion in the Ming Dynasty, the wall stands about 40-feet tall and 40 to 45 feet wide at the top and 50 to 60 feet wide at the base.  It is rectangular in shape and roughly 8.5 miles in circumference, with a deep moat surrounding it.  Every 400 feet, there is a rampart that extends out from the main wall.  All together, there are 98 ramparts on the wall, which were built to house a sentry who could defend Xian against enemies attempting to scale the wall. 

Today, the Xian City wall continues to dominate the central portion of the city.  It serves as an important landmark as well as a major public gathering place where residents and visitors can get a spectacular view of the city.  At the time of our visit, the annual Lantern Festival was still underway and the walkway along the top of the wall was crowded with colorful New Year and Lantern Festival displays, together with booths selling food and gift items.

We rented bicycles in order to get a better view of the wall and to see some of the older sections of Xian that are within the city walls.

 

Above:  A map of Xian showing the ancient City Wall, in red.  Below: One of the magnificent structures of old Xian, located at the Eastern Gate of the City Wall.

Above and Below:  Views atop the ancient City Wall of Xian, with rented bicycles. 

Above and Below:  A few samples of the brightly-colored decorations for New Year and the Lantern Festival, which was still underway across China.  At night, the decorations are brightly lit and the wall is crowded with celebrants and merchants selling food, crafts and souvenirs.

Above and Below:  Two views of the moat and surrounding area, taken from atop the City Wall.

Below:  The feet are taking a brief rest after the bicycle ride.

To go to previous posts in the “Travel” category, click here.

Photos taken: 2/10/09

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Where is that Drink?

Where is that drink?

This superbly-chilled martini, in a fun and funky cocktail glass, has just been served at the Bar Bambu, one of two great bars at the Sofitel Xian on Renmin Square, located in Xian, China.  The stylish bar features large, high-back upholstered chairs, which are perfect for relaxing and conversation after a long day of sightseeing in Xian.  Bar Bambu serves cocktails, light snacks and appetizers daily until 1:00 AM, with live entertainment nightly.  Click here to go to a previous post with additional details on the Sofitel Xian on Renmin Square.

To go to previous posts in the “Where is that Drink” series, click here.

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Today’s Quote

 ”Be careful what you water your dreams with.  Water them with worry and fear and you will produce weeds that choke the life from your dreams.  Water them with optimism and solutions and you will cultivate success.  Always be on the lookout for ways to turn a problem into an opportunity for success.  Always be on the lookout for ways to nurture your dreams.”

   –Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher; Founder of Taoism, 600 B.C.- 531 B.C.

 To go to previous entries in the “Today’s Quote” series, click here.

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Sofitel Xian

During our four-day visit to Xian, in Shaanxi Province, we are staying as guests at the Sofiten Xian on Renmin Square, an Accor Hotels and Resorts Property, which is conveniently situated in the central commerical district of Xian, within the old city walls.  The 432-room hotel, built in 2005, features guest rooms in two twin buildings, as well as four restaurants and two bars.  The hotel shares a large, sprawling and beautifully-landscaped compound, called Renmin Square, with its sister hotels, the Grand Mercure on Renmin Square, the Mercure, and the historic People’s Hotel.

The distinctive, curved “S-shape” of the two building creates interesting interior spaces, particularly in the corridors on the guest floors and within the guest rooms.  Our guest room (Room 5808) is spacious (400 square feet) and well-finished, with light wood paneling, wallcoverings, marble-clad bathrooms, wall-to-wall windows with window seating, and triple window treatments.  Other nice touches include a large work desk with ergonomic desk chair and task lighting, step-in closet, recessed ceiling lighting, overhead rain shower in separate, enclosed stall, deep soaking tub, separate enclosed lavatory, oversized, plush bath towels, robes and slippers, and a wide assortment of toiletries. 

Above and Below: Two views of one of the twin towers at the Sofitel Xian on Rinmen Square in Xian, China. 

Above:  An exterior view of one of the towers at the Sofitel Xian on Renmin Square.  Below: A partial view of the stylish and spacious lobby of the West Tower of the Sofitel Xian.

Above:  A view of the main lobby in the West Tower of the Sofitel Xian.  Below:  A view of the guest room (Room 5808) with comfortable beds, wall-to-wall windows and nice furnishings.

Above:  The guest room was well outfitted with a functional desk, ergonomic chair, task lighting and desk accessories, such as clock, calendar, paper clips, stapler, etc.  Below:  The window seating provided a nice city view of the commercial area surrounding Renmin Square.

Above and Below:  The bathroom was well-equipped wih separate tub and enclosed shower, glass-bowl sink, oversized towels an lots of toiletries and amenities.

Above:  The bathroom also included a separate, glass-enclosed lavatory.  Below:  The step-in closet included four bathrobes (two each of two different styles), slippers, and a large safe (capable of storing most laptops).

Above and Below:  The all-day dining room, Azur, provided a large buffet breakfast with a wide assortment of western and asian dishes, including made-to-order omelets and freshly prepared Chinese noodles in soup. 

Below:  A view (of a portion) of my typical breakfast at the Sofitel Xian– Chinese noodles in soup, eggs, dim sum, fruit, juice and coffee.  What a nice way to start the day in Xian!

Our thanks to the friendly and professional staff at the Sofitel Xian at Renmin Square for their hospitality and wonderful accommodations.

To read more about the Sofitel Xian on Renmin Square, visit their official website by clicking here.  To explore or make reservations at other Accor Hotel and Resorts worldwide, click here.

Photos taken: 2/9-2/12/09

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Zai Jian, Beijing

After six terrific days in the new, New Beijing, it’s time to say zai jian (or “goodbye”) and to head to Xian, the capital of Shaanxi province and one of the “Four Ancient Capitals of China.” 

Before leaving Beijing, I want to thank Natalie Xing, our friendly and knowledgeable guide and driver for sharing her insights with us about Beijing, as well as introducing us to some great restaurants.  I was referred to Natalie via several posts from travelers on TripAdvisor.com who had recommended her services from their own previous visits to Beijing. 

Natalie served as personal Beijing tour guide to Today show co-host Matt Lauer and his family while they were in Beijing for NBC’s coverage of the 2008 Summer Olympics.  Additionally, Natalie was interviewed on camera by Matt Lauer and appeared on the Today show.  Go, Natalie!

If you’re traveling to Beijing and need a guide, Natalie can tailor a sightseeing itinerary to meet your schedule and areas of interest.  You can reach her via email at pekingguide@yahoo.cn or natalie.jj@hotmail.com and via mobile at 86.13810355498.

Above:  Here’s a photo of Natalie Xing, our Beijing tour guide, as we admire the stunning view from The Great Wall at Mutianyu.  Get in touch with Natalie if you need a guide in Beijing!  To get to Xian, we will be traveling from Beijing via Air China #1209.  The flight aboard their B737-800 takes about 2 hours.  Air China is a member of Star Alliance.

 

 

To go to previous posts in the “Travel” category, click here.

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