Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Traveled 7 Asian countries: Taiwan/China/Vietnam/Cambodia/Thailand/Nepal/India in 3 months

My 3-minoh Asian trip highlights include (1) hiking for 7 days in Annapurna Sanctuary, Nepal, (2) visiting the Halong Bay near Hanoi and a virgin cave in central Vietnam; (3) experiencing cultural shocks in Delhi, India; (4) being victimized by a gem scam in Bangkok, Thailand, and (5) attending 23-yr college classmate reunion in Taipei, Taiwan. You can click on the post titles on the right to browse specific content, or click "older post" at the end of this webpage to browse more content.

 My solo-travel world adventures began in Fall 2011, when I took a three-month leave from work and travelling Argentina/Chile/ Colombia/Ecuador/Peru to experience Latin American life style. http://southamericajt.blogspot.com/

Here are the links to my later trips:

   Fall 2013 Middle East (Greece/Turkey/Georgia/Armenia/Iran/Spain) http://jtmiddleeast.blogspot.com/
   Summer 2014 Cuba/Mexico/Guatemala/Honduras/Nicaragua/Costa Rica http://centralamericajt.blogspot.com/
  Spring 2015 to Taiwan, Indonesia, and the Philippines. http://jtseasia.blogspot.com/
  Summer 2015 cycling with a group across Virginia along the Transamerica trail in 10 days http://cyclex-us-jt.blogspot.com/
  Fall 2015 UK, Poland, Czech Republic, Austria, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Netherlands  http://easteuropejt.blogspot.com/

  Summer  2016 to Italy, Vatican City State, Greece, Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia, and Germany.   http://italyeasteuropejt.blogspot.com/ 

Summer 2017 to Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Chinese Silk Road, Taiwan. https://jtsilkroadcentralasia.blogspot.com/


See you around the world soon.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The cleanest and prettiest place I visited in India

Guess where? The Delhi Intentional Airport. On my last day in India, I woke up early to catch up with a 7:20 am train from Jaipur to Delhi. It was a struggle to drag my heavy bag of gifts for 0.5 km from the hotel into the train station. My 2.5-month travelling stuffs weighed less than 8 kg, yet the gifts I bought in Jaipur weighted 18  kg. The AC cabin in the train had better air quality so I did not wear the air mask and barely cough. The Delhi Cantt train station was as dirty yet less crowded as the New Delhi train station.

An Indian young man guided me to a short cut out of the station so I could walk less with my heavy bag of gift. He also volunteered to get me a taxi to the airport. He tried three times but could not negotiate down the taxi fare. I thanked him and got to the taxi to escape to the airport. I really like this airport because it provides free and advanced luggage carts, attentive and polite guards at many spots, electronic charging stations everywhere, full services of shopping, hotel/transportation booking, many money exchanges/ATM, fee massage/nap/shower facilities, etc. I was told that I can get in the departure section only within six hours of my flight. So I got into the visitor lounge to rest and eat lunch. The air quality in the airport is best in all places I visited in India. I felt so safe and relaxed here.

I met an government official from Kenya who is visiting some Indian pharmaceutical facilities to ensure standard compliance. She asked me how could I travelled 3 months without working, and I shared with her my tips of having my money working harder than me. She invited me to visit Kenya next year. Although she is a pharmacist with a governmental job, she does not have much saving. The interest rate is 12% or above in Kenya, but the inflation rate is very high so most people live for just today without concerning of tomorrow.

I later run into a Thai girl chatting with a Taiwanese girls, and we discussed our different travel experience in India, Thailand, and Cambodia. They two enjoyed India very much and could not wait to spend more time in India. I am totally opposite, and could not wait to escape from India.

I waited from 2 pm and finally passed via the security check and arrived at the United Airline (UA) lounge at 7 pm with a one-time pass. After taking a hot shower, I ate dinner, drank brandy, and used wifi. I had a great time before my 22-hr 3-flights back to Washington DC. The UNITED EXPRESS turboprop from Newark to PHL had a mechanical failure so UA canceled the flight and agreed to fly me directly from Newark to Washington DC. My luggage could not catch up with the changed flight, so it arrived 2 hrs after me and I ordered a free delay-baggage-delivery to send it to my house. As such, I took Metro home and was spared from dragging the 18 kg luggage of gifts via Supershuttle or texi. The luggage arrived my house 9:20 pm. My trip finally ended.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Last Day Touring in India

Since I was defeated by the polluted air, street garbage and vendor harassment in India, I decided to cut short my visit in India and fly back to the US on 11/19. As a visitor, I can only accept what is there or walk away if unacceptable. People there will initiate changes when they need it. The problems of the polluted air, street garbage and vendor harassment are rooted in poverty which is a global issue. Some people believe "they" need "our" help, in the form of a few coins in a jar, which does not appear to me as a long term solution.  Business, technology and trade may work better than grants, aid, charity.

On my last day as a tourist, I walked all the way to the central park and the Birla Temple. The central park was surprisingly green.  The Birla Temple (aka The white Marble Temple) is located below the well known Moti Dungri fort. It is a relatively new temple made of white marble with beautiful carvings. It covers a vast area in Jaipur city is built in a contemporary manner. Birla Temple is completely constructed with finest high quality white marbles.

I then went for final shopping for all the gifts for my friends. On my way walk back to my hotel, I run into a liqueur store and picked up a bottle of beer as my final tribute to a country. It turned out to be 8% alcohol content and made my fairly tipsy. I barely made my way back to the hotel, yet ripped a small hole on my silk shirt when passing by a vegetable stand.

I got a good dinner and finished packing for my 36 hours trip including train plus flights and transfers. I will fill up the missing posts as soon as I get home. The new version of Blogger does not support the OS of my iPod touch, so I had to wait for uploading the photos when I get back to the US.


Saturday, November 17, 2012

Shopping Bazaars in Jaipur

I visit the bazaars in the city centre a few times. An evening visit was fun to see the colours, the sights, the sounds and the smells. There are different specialist zones, whether it's food, flowers, textiles, carved statues or plumbing. While you should always be wary, be sure not to completely close yourself out to the locals as one of the highlights of Rajasthan is the chance to interact with the people.

Nothing comes 'fixed price' in Jaipur, even in the self advertised as 'fixed price' shops & emporiums. Almost everything, from food to to transportation to handicrafts, even accommodation can be bargained down up to a 60% discount on the quoted price. The lowest rates were found in the bazaars. Even here, I compared several shops - each one had a different price for the same item.
I felt weak after not eating any meat for 2 days. There was no non-vegetarian restaurants in the city center. I was forced to eat once in McDounld (in Delhi) and once in Domino Pizza (in Agra), because all other available options would have given my stomach issues. One new friend met in Jaipur introduced me to eat heavily spiced meat at a BBQ store.

For my friends that receive the tea gift set from me. 'Masala' means 'a blend of spices', and 'chai' simply means 'tea.' Consumption of black tea in India remained low until an aggressive promotional campaign by the (British-owned) Indian Tea Association in the early 20th century. Here are the instructions for preparing Masala Chai Tea:

Masala Chai Tea makes one 8 ounce serving
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons loose black tea leaves
3/4 cup milk
1 to 1/2 peanut size of Masala spice power
Sweetener, to taste (I prefer honey or maple syrup)
In a small pot, put in the water and loose black tea leaves boil for 5 minutes; pour into one cup through a fine mesh sieve, and discard the leaves; add milk and simmer for 1 minute; add masala spice and sweetener, to taste.

Later on I listened to Tedtalks by photographer Lisa Kristine who has traveled the world, documenting the unbearably harsh realities of modern-day slavery - including forced prostitutes in Nepal, kidnapped labor in Indian textile factories -- illuminating the plight of the 27 million souls enslaved worldwide. I felt guilty of promoting such slavery via purchasing the products produced by the slaves. You can learn more about the slavery at http://www.ted.com/talks/lisa_kristine_glimpses_of_modern_day_slavery.html

Friday, November 16, 2012

Touring Amber Fort & Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur

Amber Fort is located 11 km North of central Jaipur, so I took a local bus #5 from Hawa Mahal. This massive fort-palace complex built in hybrid Hindu-Muslim style and was the royal palace of the Kachwahas from c. 1600-1727. The fort is named after the town of Amber, in turn named after the goddess Amba.

I toured the site with three Japanese young men and we took photos for one another. The main sights within the fort include the Sheesh Mahal, adorned with thousands on thousands of mirror tiles on the walls and ceiling. The fort/palace grounds are sprawling. It's a bit of a walk up from the town, so some tourists hitch an elephant ride to the top. I did my elephant ride in Nepal, so skipped it this time.

Since there is no bus to Nahargarh Fort, I tried to find alternative transportation to get there from the Amber fort. However the tourist police told me that it is about 19 km from Amber Fort, which would cost me a fortune to take tuktuk.

As a hard-core budget backpacker, I am determined to always use the cheapest possible transportation when the time and riding conditions are tolerable. So I took a bus back to city center and planned to 4 km upto Nahargarh Fort. When back in city center, I run into a Taiwanese fellow and had a soda (the only affordable item for me) in the famous and expensive restaurant in the LMB Hotel, while my new friend ordered a humble vege lunch. We shared travel experience and exchanged my extra Indian Rubbes with his US dollars. He taught me how to select masala tea and I couched him some career options on our way to Nahargarh Fort. The economic downturn has led many people to lose their jobs. The telnet outflow issue is very severe in Taiwan, because the average salary there is even lower than Indonesia now. My new friend has been working in Singapore for 5 years.  Some young people started their own e-business. Maybe people can get inspired by Stephen Ritz, a teacher growing green/jobs in the South Bronx, New York, to create food/jobs in their cities. http://www.ted.com/talks/stephen_ritz_a_teacher_growing_green_in_the_south_bronx.html

Nahargarh Fort has excellent views over Man Sagar lake and the vast sprawl of Jaipur. The fort also houses the (relatively) compact Madhavendra Bhawan palace. Portions of the movie Rang De Basanti were shot at this fort.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Touring Hawa Mahal, Jantar-Mantar, & Albert Hall

Jaipur is the largest city in Rajasthan and was built in the eighteenth century as India's first planned city. Currently, is is building a subway system.  Jaipur belongs to the tourist Golden Triangle of Delhi, Jaipur and Agra. It hosts several attractions like the City Palace, Govind Dev ji Temple, Vidhan Sabha, Birla Temple, several massive Rajput forts and so on.

Hawa Mahal (Palace of Breeze) is a five storey high red sandstone structure complete with over 950 windows, and it was built in 1799 as part of City Palace. It was an extension of the Zenana (women) chamber, to allow royal ladies to observe everyday life in the street below without being seen. The breeze circulates through these windows giving the palace its name. This demostrates a great injustice, the oppression of women globally. When women in developing countries have equal access to education and economic opportunity, all human resources can be fully deployed. Major challenges for achieving gender equality in India include persistent and endemic violence against women, widespread poverty, hunger and restricted access to resources for women.

Jantar Mantar is an UNESCO world heritage site, and it is the largest of five astronomical observatories build during the period 1727-1734 in north India. The observatory consists of fourteen major geometric devices (or yantras in Hindi) for measuring time, predicting eclipses, tracking stars in their orbits, ascertaining the declinations of planets and determining the celestial altitudes etc. There is signage providing elaborate explanations for the use of each device.

Central Museum (Albert Hall) is the oldest museum of the state and functions as the State museum of Rajasthan. The building is situated outside the city wall opposite New gate and was opened as public museum in 1887 and has a huge collection of miniature paintings, costumes, folk art, woodcarvings, portraits and jewelry from Jaipur royalty and Rajasthani tribesman alike.  It is named after Albert Edward, during whose visit to the city.