United business class

For the past year and a half, I've been spoiled by the excellent Cathay Pacific (and Bain's financial support). Every now and then, I visit NYC and I have to venture away from world's best airline.

I had the fortune to travel on United's new business class on my latest trip to Chicago (on to NYC). They have the new flatbed service that's now so prevalent in premium airlines. Some quick comments... as consultants, we have to break everything into framework... so I submit my own: bed, seat, TV, food, service:
  • Bed: Excellent! I've actually never been on a flat bed before and I really like it. Bottom line: it's easy to fall asleep on. Chairs that recline to the Nth degree are not bad... but the positioning of your feet really affects how well you can sleep. Flat bed solves that problem. The only caveat is that sleeping sideways will be difficult if that's the way you sleep... you've be facing the side of the chair which can be disturbing.
  • Chair: Call me silly, but I love the United buttons. There's a button for take off and landing so I don't have to fidddle away with different buttons to get my seat upright. Comfy and no complaints. Seats are either forward or backward facing (none of the ridiculous diagonal facing Cathay seats with all the stinky feet sticking out in the hallway). Me being me, I was seated at a backward facing seat that looked straight into economy. It's a bit weird during take off when the large white lady kept staring at me wondering why Asian parents spoil their kids with business class and her kids wouldn't upgrade her. (Thanks, Mike, for the wonderful seat) Not bad though... sitting backwards gives you a new perspective on how the engine works though. You have to see it.
  • On-Demand TV: Well, put it this way... the screen is bigger than the TV PNGF uses in NYC. Nice TV. I played around with all the functions, including the Audio book (not going to work, but good try) and games (might elbow the passenger next to you... it's still fun though). The only problem I had was that the programs weren't that great. Whereby Cathay economy had shows such as 24 (all episodes!) and some of the latest and greatest movies (I saw Iron Man, Hancock, Hulk, Cars, Blood Diamond, and Indiana Jones during roundtrip to NYC last October), United's lineup paled in comparison. Maybe it's January and all the blockbusters have expired. I ended up watching Clone Wars, Wall-E, and Vicky, Christina, Barcelona (review another day). On the flip side, for TV, there was House, Entourage, and Desperate Housewives (just kidding). Ultimately, since I'm using the TV to pass time, this will do.
  • Food: Honestly, I can't remember any of it. I guess that means a passing grade. I wish there were ice cream on board though. (Cathay didn't have any... nor does United. But DragonAir from HKG to Shanghai always did)
  • Service: As usual, US service cannot compare to Asian services. Some would argue the American service levels are "more friendly"... I say it's more of a lack of attention to detail and formality. For example, don't try and pour water into an empty cup while it sits on the arm rest. Take the cup, place it on your tray, then pour water. Will reduce spill risk to zero. I'm just saying.

The worst is Continental. I don't want to ever think about it. Bed: N/A. Seat: bad. TV: Almost N/A. Food: bad. Service: very bad.

Cathay economy is surprisingly good. It has on-Demand TV and that's all I ask. The seat is kind of plasticy but it slides just enough for me to sort of be comfortable. Not that I really have to though, thanks to the TV. Bed: N/A. Seat: pass. TV: excellent. Food: pass. Service: good.

United economy is in between. It's more comfy than Cathay but the lack of TV hurts it a lot. 10+ hours on a plane and you realize how nice it is to have something distract you. Anything. Without TV, it's a grind to complete the the trip, especially with a transit in Chicago. Bed: N/A. Seat: good. TV: Almost N/A. Food: pass. Service: pass.


Thoughts on Shanghai

Alas, I've been stationed in Shanghai for almost three months... or is it four? I'm loosing track. Took some pictures around Shanghai to share with my 3 readers (Mom asked to be included in the reader list... so, if you are counting, it's Bro, PNGF, and Mom).

Smog is part of every day life in Shanghai. It starts when the sun comes out and ends when the sun sets. I've been staying at the Le Meridien facing the Bund most of the time. I think there's one morning (in three months) where I've felt good about looking outside my room.

This is not one of those mornings.
Speaking of the Le Meridien, it's quite a nice hotel. The staff all know me by Mr. Lam and they start saying things like "welcome back" and "same old, Mr. Lam?". Somewhat disturbing, me thinks, when strangers start to know all your habbits... such as my morning office destination and that returning at 1130pm is "you're home early". Just to clarify: NOT early. NOT home.

Here's a picture of my Shanghai "home" from People's Park

More pictures from People's Park
And the aforementioned (in a previous post) about the marriage advertisements. This is the small crowd that I felt comfortable taking pictures of. There's a MUCH bigger crowd nearby...
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I've noticed the increasing prevalence of using the "quotation marks" in the media lately... like this past year or so. Very odd. I'm not sure what the rules are for using quotation marks, but I'd like to find out. For example, currently, on CNN headlines:
Or on BBC headlines:
For the ones where someone is quoted, such as Former Pakistani president cry baby Musharraf's claim, sure, quote the exact word to reflect what he meant. Or the one on Zimbabwe. Those seem like genuine quotes.

But how does "human shields" and "scam" deserve quotation marks? "Most fun"? "Kills 15 militants"? "Painted"? Why not put "painted faces" in quotes? Why just "painted"?

In the Travolta story, the word "scam" doesn't even appear in the article! And in CNN, they reported Two held in Travolta extortion plot. Someone needs to put a stop to this "" non sense. Use them when your news piece cannot accurately articulate the meaning of your report. Otherwise, please don't use quotation marks to "draw attention" to a particular word that "may or may not" have any weight in the story.


Obamera? Obamania?

I tried to stay up to watch the inauguration. No such luck. I fell asleep when Joe Biden spoke. Somethings never change.

And so the Obama Era begins. I wrote about "you win, and then?" back in November. I hope he succeeds.

I actually quite liked his inauguration speech (replay), which was a far cry from the arousing campaign speeches he has given. A much more sobering note. Fitting for the current environment, actually. It's time to put all the talk away and start getting your hands dirty. And so he did, on his first day. Suspending Guantanamo Bay, drawing the line between his staff and lobbyists, salary freeze... yes, it's always easy to fix the home. Now it's time to fix the country.

By the way, I did not like the CNN coverage of the inauguration. It seems like only African Americans are attending the celebrations. I understand their emotions are more moving and more TV-worthy... but there are white people there too who are just as thrilled with the new president! Interivew them too! Please! (Sadly, it almost felt like the TV channels were trying to discredit Obama by only showing his African American supporters)

As usual, some idiot in China has decided that the speech needs to be edited for the common Chinese. Uh... it's called the Internet... you can't edit this stuff out.

No. You. Can't.

Yes We Can.


Sharing tons of pictures...

By timing (Can you tell I'm on a roll with my blog entries? Power of New Year Resolution, I say!):

One day visit to Beijing's Forbidden Palace, National Theater, and the pretty good tourist restaurant 大董 (typically, Chinese food don't make for great pictures... this one is different)。

Christmas vacation to Malaysia's Sabah region - hiking up Mount Kinabalu and then spending a relaxing time in Sandakan. See older posts part I and part II (leech).

And PNGF and my culinary experience at Zuma in Hong Kong. Green Tea Banana cake. Yummmm. Review here.

Extended business trip in Luoyang to visit the Longmen Grottoes as well as nearby attractions (first time taking advantage of a business trip!). Earlier posts on weird signs and trip.


Fail blog

In honor of fail blog... oh, and I somehow took all these pictures at Luoyang.

At my hotel... the"Fire fighting and life saving masks" are sealed behind glass... smash through with hands first... I wonder if they have a first aid kit somewhere (No, they don't, I looked)
I don't see the obstacle... what obstacle?
Not sure if I should be laughing or crying. Miss Universe competition comes to Luoyang! And they are posing with GuanYu in their Bikinis; GuanYu would have probably chopped off their heads had he seen these girls. Not good times. Note to Miss Universe: bikinis are nice... but not universal for all locations and occations.
From a high end department store. Due to prevelance of counterfeits, this department store posts a short description of its brands. They focus on the origin (most are Korean... to my surprise) of the product and it's target audience. Here's one for Crocs... except that they didn't copy and paste the brand name.
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Ancient capital of China

At the tail end of a business trip, I took the liberty to stay an extra half day at 洛阳 (Luoyang) to see the relics and sites. It's a city that doesn't have the same reputation as another ancient capital Xian (of Clinton fame). Nonetheless, it was the capital of 13 ancient Chinese dynasties, including the all important Tang dynasty (that's where Chinatown's Chinese names, Tang ren jie, comes from). The Tang dynasty is when Buddhism entered China and became prominent.

Hence, the 龙门石窟 was born. Basically, they carved huge buddhas on the side of the cliff over the river banks. A truly magnificent site... the only problem was the RMB 80 entrance fee + 50 for a personal guide. I guess they've decided they could milk the foreign tourists and shut out locals from learning about Chinese history. (A guide is absolutely necessary... as well as good walking shoes... and gloves... and patience...)

Longmen (Dragon Gate) Grottoes

By the way, if you are wondering why there isn't anyone there, it's cus its low low season and its about freezing temperature outside. Good for picture taking though.

I know pictures never quite do justice... but if you take a few steps back and take a picture from across the river, you realize how big this structure is. Remember, they did this some 1500 years ago! Truly amazing. It's too bad the even more ancient Xian gets all the attention, because these grottoes should get their due.

View from across the river

关林 Guanlin is a temple/ monastery/ forrest combined to commemorate the great general Guanyu 关羽 from the Three Kingdom period. Legend is that his head is buried in this building. General Guan (no relationship to the General Gao's chicken... seriously, someone asked) was a mere mortal but was given the emporer treatment and then the god treatment due to his tenancity on the battle field and righteousness/ loyalty off it. He's especially worshipped by mob members due to his loyalty to his god brother Liubei 刘备.

Guanlin (Guan's Forrest)
Lastly, I also visted the ancient tomb museum near the airport. I was the only visitor at the complex at the time and it was kind of creepy to walk through ancient tombs by yourself. Anyway, I wish I had more time to explore the place. Somehow, the curators have picked out some 20-30 perfectly preserved (structure wise, Lara Croft took most of the relics) tombs from 1500 to 800 years ago and moved them to this museum. Each tomb can be carefully examined and each offer a different lesson about the ancient times. Layout may reflect changing importance of women, for example. Or the height of the ceiling to reflect the jump in architectual technology. Or this painting on the walls, reflecting the official rank of the deseased...

Wall painting, indicating that a gov official was buried in this space
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Worthwhile city to come back to at some point...!


Today I learn about hovering

Instructions for this blog post:
  1. Check out this hilarious set of ads from Gizmodo (Below is the focus of this study)
  2. Note the bathroom part, second to last row
  3. Proceed to discussion below

I was quite amused the girls actually hover over their toilets due to sanity issues. I've always imagined the girls bathroom to be much cleaner than the guys and much more pleasant to step into. Apparently not so. But then study the graph carefully...

When you think about why a guys bathroom is dirty, it's a matter of being able to aim. We don't pay attention, so we create a mess. But girls... they don't need to aim. They just sit down and deposit. Why would it be dirty at all when the route is straight down? Gravity will take care of everything and all the dirty stuff should be in the toilet only.

Now I know. It's hovering. Left hand side 2 pictures of the 2nd last row on the girls side. Study that carefully and ask: doesn't hovering create a dirty toilet in the first place??? As I mentioned above, there's no reason for a mess to be created in the lady's room. Unless... you hover above. When she hovers, doesn't she compromises her aim? Doesn't that mean there's a chance to make the toilet dirty? Doesn't that mean the next user will have to do something about it? Doesn't that mean more hovering? Doesn't more hovering mean more dirty toilets? Why am I asking so many rhetorical questions? My head is spinning...

Ladies: stop hovering, save the toilet. (Hero style)


Food reviews...!

I think my last food review was probably half a year ago. Shame on me. Per my "new year resolution", I need to blog more. Here goes:

Zuma: Japanese fusion restaurant in Hong Kong that was left off the the HK Michelin guide. For a good reason, me thinks. The sushi and sashimi were ordinary - better than average Hong Kong only. There were a couple of cooked dishes as well, but I have long forgotten its taste. I'll skip right to dessert where the green tea banana cake more than made up for the otherwise unspectacular food. Banana and green tea, who knew?

(Note: the restaurant is quite well laid out and the utensils were excellent. Good atmosphere that made you think that you are not in the middle of Hong Kong for 2 hours. I'd pay for that.)

Slightly recommended. Get dessert.

"Food stalls" in Shanghai

There were two fairly famous cheap eats in Shanghai and are conveniently located right next to each other. Both are dumpling places even though the dumplings were different. The first is a fried one and the second is a steamed one. Both have long lines though, at 3pm, the desire to eat seems to be less for most people (not me, I just woke up at 2pm). And both are dirt cheap at a few dollars for their signature dishes.

This is Xiaoyang Shenjian. Their fried dumplings are quite good. The inside is pork with a very tasty (and super hot, ouch) soup. I found the inside to be very good but the skin was a bit too oily and think. Locals will tell you that is the point of the friend dumplings, and that you should enjoy every bite into a slightly burned wrapping. I find it difficult to savour the after taste of burnt dough... anyway, I stuck to the non-brown parts and it was very good. Just be careful with the soup. Very yummy. Highly recommended if there were no line.

JiaJia Tangbao is right across from the friend dumpling shop. I've attempted to visit this place twice and both times they were sold out of their dumplings. This time, at 3pm, it had one type left: their most popular type, pork and crab. I ordered a dozen.

Usually, with steamed Xiaolongbao, you have to be very careful with the soup. The dumpling is delicate and if it breaks, the good stuff is all gone. If you just bite into it, the hot soup spills and your burnt tongue will not feel the next 10 bites. So... as always... I approach with caution. The key is to bit from the top and leave the hot soup at the bottom. Once you've pierced the top, slowly suck the hot soup inside and cool the whole thing down before devouring it in your mouth.

Except this was a bit different. I put on some excellent (and I do mean excellent) ginger sauce and took my first bite from the top. Surprisingly, the soup didn't seem that hot. But the rush of the smell of the meat made me want to gallop the whole thing. I tested the soup again. Okay to put the entire thing in the mouth. Excellent combination of wrappng and meat: thin wrap, big and juicy meat, tasty soup.

And the best part: you can put the whole dumpling inside your mouth without cooling it down! Major kudos to the cook. Highly recommended. Wake up early.


We visited this particular restaurant near the Kota Kinabalu Le Meridien (thank you, Starwood points!) FOUR times during our stay there. Chili crab was the best.

Along with all the other fresh seafood...

Highly recommended!


Movie (experience) review - 非誠勿擾

Well, let's talk about the movie first. Simple and predictable premise: decent man posts ad about looking marriage, meets girl who isn't really interested in him, conflicts between the two, (eventual) happy ending. It's actually a much better movie that what I described, but since it is quite straight forward, I'll skip the details.

Good performances from former best actor (China) 葛優 and former super porn star 舒琪. It's a very calm movie with nothing over the top and totally believable (more on this later).

Anyway, I said the review was on the movie experience, as I have never seen a movie in China. Or maybe my friend who bought the tickets has a cruel sense of humor:
  • All the seats in the theater were two-people love seats, with no handle bar in the middle
  • My two friends sat together...
  • ... so I ended up sitting next to a burly man who slept and snored lightly watching what essentially is a very good date movie
I sincerely hope other theaters are different, or this may be the last time I watch one in China.

I said "more on this later"... "this" being the marriage advertisements. Today, I was taking a nice stroll in People's Square when I saw a massive crowd gathered for... none other than marriage advertisements! While there were a few people who were advertising themselves, most of them were parents advertising for their sons and daughters. I wish I could tell you how fascinating it was, but I didn't want to be too rude to take a picture.


And the answer is...

To my earlier post on interpreting a sign...

Happy new year by the way! Let's review my performance...
  • Number of posts in 2006: 173
  • Number of posts in 2007: 173 (I kid you not, it was not intentional - shows you that the frequency of my mind striking my keyboard is quite consistent)
  • Number of posts in 2008: 100
Which brings me to my "new year resolution"... I've never quite believed in new year resolutions, only because of the timing. Why can't I have a birthday resolution? Or a Chinese new year resolution? Or a moon cake festival resolution? Xmas resolution? I don't celebrate much during new year eve besides telling the people I love that I love them and happy new year. There's nothing really special on Jan 1. Nonetheless, this year, I did feel the urge to post some resolutions.

I often wonder why suddenly I did so. Maybe because I didn't accomplish anything in 2008. Maybe because my weight is going up. Maybe because 2009 is the year of the bull(shit). Maybe because I was bored. Or perhaps I felt empty in some parts of my life and that my resolution could fulfill that emptiness. Um... I'm going for the last reason. Without further ado:
  1. Blog more (100 is despicable, I apologies to my 2 readers - hi James, hi PNGF)
  2. Read more
  3. Connect more
That's it! Happy 2009! (Ah the irony that I blog on Jan 10 about the new year... by the way, I'm on pace for 110 posts right now)


Malaysia, Part 2

So you want to know why there are 2 posts for the same subject?? Because Picasa annoyingly only does 4 pictures at a time. Arg. You'd think Google would have sorted this out by now.

Anyway, on with the Malaysia trip.

The Urangutans were cute, but they were still not entirely wild. Here's a wild proboscis monkey ready to make the leap... um... the school of proboscis monkeys were fleeing from us tourists. A moment ago, they were all enjoying a quite morning eating leafs and tree bark. Then one boat spots them, 5 ram up the engines and congregate around the tree, and the monkeys flee from their comfortable rest stop into the dense forest behind. Yup, wildlife tourism. It's great.

Fleeing monkey

All of us have heard about leeches. Here's one that allegedly latched on to my pants, made its way onto PNGF's thigh (to her absolute absolute horror... and to my absolute amusement). This also made my 2nd biggest regret on the trip: not taking a picture of leech on PNGF thigh. Dang it! Nonetheless, my kindness of not squishing it in toilet paper (PNGF Buddhist speech) gave the leech a second life.

And here it is in the morning, climbing the shower curtain in search for more blood.

No trip to a third world country is complete without a native dance. Here's a (fake) headhunter.
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Malaysia, Part 1

Well, when I first told PNGF that we'd go hike Kinabalu during our Christmas break, I was met with skepticism: "You mean climb?"

Let the record show that she's right. It was climbing. As in hold on to that rope or you will fall to your death climbing. Or a broken limb. Or whatever. Yeah, the websites did tell me that Kinabalu was "one of the easiest mountains to climb"... I guess I should have read that carefully. It didn't say hike.

I'm not sure if I will be writing a travel blog (I didn't in Korea... sigh... and has been taken over by some unknown Japanese assailant) this time, although the thought of continuing to fill my world map remains highl motivating for me. Anyway, here are the pictures.

Summit of Kinabalu, without Mountain Guide

That's where we were 8 hours ago
Orangutans enjoying a meal (the one on the left is a homosapien)
You can tell that this one will be trouble
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