Weeks: #37: China and babby

2014-09-08 09.59.02So Monday morning it was up early and off to China.

2014-09-08 10.55.27As “nutritious” as this might have been, I couldn’t quite bring myself to try it.

2014-09-08 12.23.16-2I was flying to Chongqing via Guangzhou. Visiting Chinese airports starts to hint at the size and scale of China – there are so many different airlines that you have never heard of (all domestic Chinese) going to so many different cities, most of which you hardly can recognise. Sometimes it is a jolt to remember that even though China is a country like Australia is a country, the size and scale of it is so far beyond what we are used to it is virtually incomprehensible.

The views from my hotel windows in Chongqing did nothing to change that sense of incomprehensible size. Chongqing is one of the strangest places I have visited just because of its scale. The municipality of Chongqing has around 30 million people and the apartment blocks go on for ever and ever. With a monorail and roadside greenery, it was rather like a 1980s vision of the future. Weird. 2014-09-09 13.02.10-1

While there, as well as meeting with the municipal government, we visited a couple of training providers.

It was stupidly hot – Chongqing isn’t known as one of the “Three Furnaces of China” for nothing.

2014-09-09 14.55.05One of the more extraordinary sights was visiting the second training provider where we found massed students outside. For one terrifying moment I thought I was going to have to address them.

2014-09-09 15.57.56Instead they were actually marching in place, turning around and generally following the commands being given to them over the microphone by an army dude at the front. Apparently all first year students have to do two weeks of “military” training and this was part of it. It was bizarrely an image which one almost expects of China.

Chongqing is the home of the hot pot, so we went to a local hot pot place to try them out. We all had to don matching aprons and then had an individual hot pot on an individual burner and then cooked all the foods in it. My hot pot was half chilli, half non chilli and wholly delicious.

Note, Chongqing is also the home of a lot of chilli. A very large amount. Most of our food (other than breakfast) had chilli. By the time we left Chongqing, I was starting to suffer slightly from Too Much Chilli – which for me, is a lot.

We also visited a lift factory. Around China last year 600,000 sets of lifts were produced and the market has apparently grown 20% year on year. This tells you something about the economic growth in China. It was a really interesting visit – elevator installation is highly skilled and the company – Eastern Elevators whose home base is Sydney – struggle to keep skilled staff because there is so much poaching. Also of course, it is well known that I love to visit a factory. Who can resist a hard hat?

2014-09-10 14.24.35So we said goodbye to Chongqing and flew to Beijing for two days of meetings.

This was all I got to see of the Forbidden City and Tienanmen Square as we did a drive by. Such is the business trip.

Some other photos from the backs of cars of interesting architecture and the smoggy smoggy sky – the first building is 78 floors high.

Our meetings went well though, even if we did learn that over-warm meeting rooms and long monologues are integral to Chinese meetings. Sometimes I was very grateful for the endless supply of tea provided by the silent uniformed tea women who haunted every meeting room.

2014-09-11 18.13.26We also got an hour at the Silk Market for some shopping. I don’t think I bought anything that was actually silk.

2014-09-12 13.26.37And we found where New Zealanders had brought Antipodean coffee stylings to Beijing.

Finally, Andrew (who was travelling with me) and I found that at the very end we had a spare hour before we had to go to the airport. So it was time for some speed tourism with a visit to the Lama Temple. It was very impressive, and got more impressive each gate you passed through. The final destination – the 18m high statue carved from a single piece of sandalwood (not pictured because photography not allowed) was definitely worth the visit.

The actual flight home was a bit of a nightmare. Well, not the flight so much as the airports. When we went to check in, we were told our flight from Beijing to Hong Kong was already delayed, and that it therefore c0uld not get us there in time for our flight to Australia – for some crazy reason our travel agents had only given us 55 minutes in Hong Kong. There was an earlier flight, and they were going to try and get us on it, but because it was a Friday night out of Beijing to Hong Kong, we had to wait for standby til the last minute, get down graded to economy and then run for the plane. Once on, doors closed, the pilot then told us the flight was delayed. At least I had Veronica Mars on the entertainment system to keep me company. Eventually the plane took off, but ten minutes after our original flight had been scheduled, so we knew it was going to be tight in Hong Kong. Which indeed it was – we ended up running the length of Hong Kong airport following a diminutive Dragon Air agent. We had to traverse a bus, lifts, escalators and a train as well as any number of long corridors, fortunately arriving in time to buckle up before take off. It took a while for the adrenaline to subside. Unsurprisingly, our bags didn’t arrive in Sydney with us.

I felt I earned my gin purchase. Quite like the new Tanqueray 10 bottles.

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So it was lovely to be home after a week and a half away and watch the boys fight it out in the sunshine in the back yard.

The other pleasure of the weekend was going to visit Sarah and finally meeting Isaac. Welcome to the family.

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Weeks! #36: dragons and other things in Canberra and Hanoi

2014-09-01 18.45.31It is always busy a week that I go overseas, but at least if I bring my work home I can do it while drinking a g&t.

Some more family D&D. They aren’t quite up to fighting dragons yet – more like orcs.

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James and I went out for breakfast on Wednesday at the new cafe 80/20 in Braddon. Very nice, if a *lot* of kale on the menu.

2014-09-03 17.43.56Wednesday night was the first leg of my trip. Off to Sydney. I was pleasantly surprised by the chicken and leek pie at the Qantas Business Lounge.

2014-09-03 21.42.29-1View from my first hotel room of a trip that would involve four different hotels.

2014-09-03 20.34.03It was a long day. I spent from 8.30pm to nearly 11.30pm doing emails and still hadn’t completely caught up. It was good to take the shoes off and get on the bed.

It was up early and across to my favourite pre travel destination, the Qantas First Class Lounge at Sydney airport. Sadly, my flight left before the spa opened, but I had time for a pleasant breakfast.

In flight photos. I flew Cathay Pacific from Sydney to Hong Kong, then DragonAir to Hanoi. Good flights. I like Cathay, particularly because Business Class features the capsule-like individual seats. After four movies, I also discovered they had Veronica Mars Season 1 on their entertainment system and that was hard to resist rewatching, having recently seen the movie.

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Here is the compulsory view from my hotel room window. Somehow I managed to score a room on the 22nd floor with some pretty spectacular views.

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Pho for breakfast? Why indeed not?

I was in Hanoi for the APEC Human Resource Development Ministerial meeting, so the APEC drill of sitting behind the Australia sign (still love that), and putting on the headphones for simultaneous translation.

2014-09-05 14.08.48-1There was also an exhibition on vocational education on and I spoke at the opening ceremony. Which also involved a very interesting “ribbon cutting” moment complete with glitter gun.

2014-09-05 14.11.46I love seeing the promotional materials for vocational education – especially as promoting skills in Australia is now part of my job.

2014-09-05 19.37.17We had a meeting at one of the Ministries – I was thrilled to see Ho Chi Minh in the meeting room. He’s one of my favourite revolutionaries of course. I wonder what he’d think of modern Vietnam. As a nationalist first, and a pragmatic communist second, I think he’d probably be pleased to see the independence Vietnam now has and the way it is developing. But I imagine that he’d have concerns that some of the consumerist and capitalistic aspects of some of that growth might end up leaving some of his people behind.

2014-09-06 08.38.17And here’s the President of Vietnam opening proceeding for the actual Ministerial meeting day on the Saturday.

2014-09-06 15.01.19Today it was pho for lunch. And chicken this time, not beef.

2014-09-06 16.27.31I had time for a quick walk at lunchtime. I was a bit horrified by the electrical cabling. These kinds of things make you think that training in electrical standards (plus some regulation) would probably be a good thing. I also have clearly been doing my job for too long when these are the things I take photos of.

Before the official dinner there was time for a quick sunset swim.

The official dinner involved traditional Vietnamese entertainment and a Vietnamese feast including these curious looking long necked clams. Delicious. I ate a lot of Vietnamese food in Vietnam.

2014-09-07 09.54.22Having barely escaped the hotel for the first two days of my visit, I was delighted that my schedule gave me all of Sunday off to have a wander about. I naturally tried to cram a lot in.

First off I wandered down to the lake which legend has it someone threw a sword into and used to be inhabited by giant turtles. Turtles are one of the four legendary animals of Vietnam – the others being unicorns, dragons and phoenixes, so as the only actually existing Vietnamese animal icons I imagine they carry a bit of a heavy symbolic load. I went and looked at the temple over the red bridge and was also delighted to spot roller bladers (sadly no quad skates) on one of the squuares near the lake. I also ventured a little into the old town, to do a little shopping – I mostly was keen to find some old propaganda posters, a mission in which I was quite successful.

2014-09-07 12.53.48After a brief water break at the hotel (it was stinking hot walking around) I caught a taxi to the Temple of Literature.  A Confucian Temple considered to be the first university in Hanoi, it has quite lovely grounds and some well preserved buildings.

Also, some cool dragons.

I then went across the road to KOTO which was established by an Australian Vietnamese man who wanted to help provide training and income to street kids. Food was delicious and very reasonably priced.

2014-09-07 15.03.13I then went and had a massage (75 minutes for $15) and the taxi ride there let me see Ho chi Minh’s tomb and the Presidential Palace and the big lake as I passed by.

In the evening I walked to the Metropole where I was meeting colleagues for dinner. I loved seeing these kinds of juxtapositions on the way – I think I took the two above photos from the same spot.

2014-09-07 21.16.24A cocktail and colonial style dinner to end the day, and pretty much my brief visit to Vietnam. It has been nearly twenty years since I was in Vietnam, though I didn’t actually make it to Hanoi last time. Some things have changed radically – the presence of Western advertising and products is the most noticeable. There was still much of the same feel about the place though and more bikes and scooters than cars and things like that.I imagine it will be completely different again in another twenty year – although hopefully I will visit again sooner than that.

Atlas: Vietnam

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Another opportunity for international cuisine, this time Vietnam.

As usual the food was excellent – and the hot weather led to the appropriate background atmosphere.

We started with rice paper rolls and then Rachel fulfilled her role of bringing us the dumplings of the world with a delightful steamed Vietnamese version.

From there it was to a profusion of food including a roast chicken, BBQed chicken and chilli and lemongrass chicken, rice pancakes with prawns other deliciousness and caramel pork.

Dessert featured coconut creme caramel and chocolate fudge.

Yum!

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