Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Bad Planning.

I thought last week at work was hectic, on deck from 8am till midnight most nights, and one night until about 2.30 covering some design work that needed to be ready for the team at base camp (Auckland) to pick up and order as when they got into the office (they're 5 hours ahead).

Naturally, I got sick. Slept most of the weekend. That messed up my sleeping patterns, so Sunday and Monday nights I couldn't get to sleep.

I'm now recovering, but I just found out half an hour ago I need to be in Taipei tonight. That means I have to pack and get to Pudong by taxi this evening (a menacing trip in it's own right), fly to Hong Kong, then dogleg back up to Taipei.

Taipei is only a couple of hours away from Shanghai as the crow flies, but the crow has to land in an intermediate country (S. Korea also works if you can't get a flight through HK) for reasons outside the scope of this blog... I am going to be a wreck by tomorrow. All in a night's work, fun fun fun.

Monday, 25 February 2008

Ah, what a great country Thailand is....

...I think to myself, as I sit in my cold hotel room in China remembering where I was two weeks ago. Somewhere warm, with fresh air, spicy food, and the odd passing sawngtaew.

I went white-water rafting in the hills just out of Chiang Mai the weekend before I flew back to China, with some friends from the factory I was visiting. We took a sawngtaew ('two-seat' taxi). It's a utility/pickup with two parallel benches (with padding, if you roll high) and a canopy fitted. It's great, because it only has open windows, so you get a good view around the town/countryside. You get pretty dusty, but that's just Chiang Mai for you. You get in from the back, and there are steps and handles to help you in. You can also just stand out the back and hold onto the rails for a better view, if you're keen.

Anyway, it looked something like this:

Most of the locals don't bother with tourist transport, preferring the comfort of the unadulterated pickup.

One day, when my hair is graying and free, I might just feel like wearing a pink shirt with 'Modern Punk' on the back too. But not yet.

This is one of my favourite snaps from around Chiang Mai, taken from the sawngtaew on our way out of town.

The dirt road up into the hills was rough and bumpy, we joked (to distract from the cries of our bruised rears) that it would be smoother coming down (we weren't far off the mark as it happened. Apart from a few hairy rapids, it was plain sailing).

On the way up I stood on the back with my (rather heavy) camera in one hand and a dubious-looking handrail in the other. As we went over bump after bump, my feet momentarily leaving the platform every so often.

We drove past an old dude with a walking stick, and a questioning look on his face. Questioning why normal people would endure all this only to jump into a river with just a little rubber between them and the elements (some of which were solid and hidden under the dark green water, as I discovered). And why one of them in particular chose to risk being tossed over the cliff at the next bump (camera and all), just to take pictures of him. I'm sure he rightly concluded that in fact, normal people wouldn't do that, and went on his way.

The keeper of this roadside refreshment stall probably had concurring sentiments towards us. Or perhaps she didn't care, or even see us...

The journey back to Chiang Mai lead us through gently winding backroads, past small villages, and banana groves. It was quite relaxing after a hard day's play.

By the end of the day I was battered and bruised, but worst of all I was horribly sunburnt. Having only a few minutes to prepare (I got a call at 7am that morning, SUNDAY MORNING!, and was picked up 20 minutes later) , I didn't think to bring any sunblock. In fact I don't think I even had any. I'd just been in China for a month and hadn't seen the sun for most of the time I was there (it was usually overcast, smoggy, or snowing). The organiser was Thai so didn't think to bring any either (he didn't need it).

Back to reality. It's past 1am, I'm in China, and I have to leave for work in less than 6 hours. Whatever was keeping me awake three hours ago, I sure doesn't do it again.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Don't sleep under this overpass.

I'm in Thailand again, sheltering from the madness that is CNY coupled with China's extraordinary weather.

Every day I drive from Chiang Mai to Lamphun ('lampoon'), a town the size of Christchurch. You can read about it here.

I drive beneath an overpass on the superhighway. It resembled this during construction some time last year:

And then one day it looked like this:

D'oh. I drive under very quickly.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

It's a....blog!

I've been meaning to do this for a long, long time now. No more putting it off! No more scribbling notes on receipts and napkins only to leave them in my pockets where they inevitably go through the wash and end up in little pieces stuck to my clothes. I hate it when that happens.

Right, let's get to it. I can't guarantee my blog entries will be in any kind of order (chronological, geographical, or otherwise), but don't let that spoil your fun!

I just left China where I spent the last month visiting some factories for work. By the end of January it had started snowing a little bit in places it doesn't usually snow, like Jiaxing:

Suzhou had it worse, and I forgot to bring my snow chains so got stuck:

By Chinese New Year it was snowing heavily. Highways were closed, utilities were failing, flights were being cancelled. The country was buckling under the pressure of millions of people trying to traverse the country in the worst weather to hit in 50 years. System Overload, Core Melt Down Imminent...

Many Chinese work 20, 30, or even 40 hours away from their hometowns. Lots of people queued all day for tickets home on New Year's Eve to find all the trains were full. Chinese New Year is one of only two weeks the Chinese get off every year. It's the most important, for many it's the only time of year they see their families.

I was very glad it didn't mean anything to me.

The laowai failing to blend in made his escape and hot footed it out of there, heading for the warmer shores of Thailand.