China – part 5 (of 20)

The Chinese have been wielding chopsticks since around 1200 B.C., and by A.D. 500 the slender batons had swept the Asian continent from Vietnam to Japan. From their humble beginnings as cooking utensils to paper-wrapped bamboo sets at the sushi counter, there’s more to chopsticks than meets the eye.

Capable of reaching deep into boiling pots of water or oil, early chopsticks were used mainly for cooking. It wasn’t until A.D. 400 that people began eating with the utensils. A population boom across China sapped resources and forced cooks to develop cost-saving habits. They began chopping food into smaller pieces that required less cooking fuel—and happened to be perfect for the tweezers-like grip of chopsticks. As food became bite-sized, knives became obsolete. Their decline—and chopsticks’ ascent—also came courtesy of Confucius. As a vegetarian, he believed that sharp utensils at the dinner table would remind eaters of the slaughterhouse. He also thought that knives’ sharp points evoked violence and warfare, killing the happy, contended mood that should reign during meals.

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Different cultures adopted different chopstick styles. Perhaps in a nod to Confucius, Chinese chopsticks featured a blunt rather than pointed end. In Japan, chopsticks were 8 inches long for men and 7 inches long for women. In 1878 the Japanese became the first to create the now-ubiquitous disposable set, typically made of bamboo or wood. Wealthy diners could eat with ivory, jade, coral or brass versions, while the most privileged used silver sets. It was falsely believed that the silver would corrode and turn black if it encountered poisoned food.

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Throughout history, chopsticks have enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with rice. Western long grain rice (often highly processed) offers individual grains, whereas Asian rice’s short or medium grains release more starch during the cooking process, offering a gummy product which can easily be picked with chopsticks.

Chopstick etiquette:

  • Do not make noise, draw attention or gesture with it
  • Do not use chopsticks to impale or spear your food
  • Do not leave them standing upright in any food
  • Serving chopsticks are used to take food from serving dishes and should be returned once you served yourself. They are often in a different colour from the individual chopsticks
  • Do not rub your waribashi together (those wooden chopsticks that you need to break apart). Some people rub them together as a matter of habit, but this is only needed if they are so cheap that they are splintery. Doing this with good quality sticks is thus deemed an insult
  • If you are supplied with chopstick rests, use them

If you have mastered the art of using these seemingly straight forward (mind the pun) utensils – consider yourself lucky. Chinese children are taught from the age of 3 to use them!

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Continue reading China – part 6 (of 20).

China – part 4 (of 20)

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If you compare population density to life expectancy, can one deduce that loneliness kills you off faster??

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With so many mouths to feed, one cannot blame the Chinese for having some ingenuity when it comes to available protein and the presentation thereof.

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This could also be considered as being innovative. Why would one want to eat a scorpion or a spider? This is however only weird to us. In some Chinese regions, they are considered a snack or street food. Hamburgers – perfectly normal ‘food’ to Westerners – has only been around in China for the last couple of decades. McDonalds opened its first store as recent as 1990. At least when you eat a crunchy fried creature on a stick, you know what you are consuming – the same cannot be said for many items on the Golden Arches’ menu.

The consumption of food depends on personal taste and cultural upbringing. Haggis – a Scottish dish consisting of a sheep or calf’s offal mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally one made from the animal’s stomach – is a delicacy and dear to many. Personally, I find it as off-putting as lobster or crayfish (apart from size, the former lives in saltwater and the later in freshwater), but that does not make it weird. As a matter of fact, referring to food as ‘weird’ refers more to the speaker’s own prejudice and intolerance, than to the customs and habits of other people, or cultures. It is often the stark differences between us, that makes people interesting.

If numbers are your thing, checkout some interesting numbers from their Progress Report on Human Rights 2013.

Continue reading China – part 5 (of 20).

China – part 3 (of 20)

Did you know?

  • Like chop suey, fortune cookies are an American invention?
  • China is geographically big enough to qualify for 5 time zones, but since 1949 they only have 1 … based on Beijing’s time.
  • National Day is on 1 October and heralds the start of Golden Week (decreed 17 years ago to stimulate domestic tourism). It is strongly advised that foreigners try to avoid this 7-day period, as the country’s infrastructure buckle under the sheer domestic migration numbers. Similarly, if crowds are not your thing, avoid Chinese New Year.

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China is a vast country. It is more populated towards the east, than the west. One can debate some of the Communist Government’s decisions, but for most it was in our experience a peaceful, civil obedient (taxi drivers, of course, excluded) and a crime free (!!) society. Two weeks is a too short period to get used to the amount of people and the scale of things. Five of the world’s top 10 biggest cities in terms of most populated, reside in China. Their 5th biggest city (Baoding, 11.5M people) is completely unknown to the Western World.

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In comparison, South Africa’s 5th biggest metropole – Soweto – only has 2M people. However, Johannesburg + Cape Town + Soweto combined, is the same size as Shanghai (China’s biggest city, 14M).

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The government has a tight control on all information accessible to its subjects. Tiananmen Square (which can hold 1 000 000 people – talk about scale!) was the backdrop to civil unrest in Beijing’s recent history. The iconic photo (below, liberated from the internet) – later dubbed “The power of one” – taken on 5 June 1989, is well known in the West and completely unknown within the country itself. Most citizens are unaware of the protests that took place around the Square and the senseless massacre that followed.

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The government achieve this level of ignorance by scanning every internet search phrases and only allow “approved” search results to return. Naturally, Facebook and Google are not accessible. Yahoo! survived fine for a while, but it now appears as if they will possibly also be exiting the Chinese market soon, due to constant government interference.

Continue reading China – part 4 (of 20).

China – part 2 (of 20)

From its humble beginnings in 1985 with only 2 aircraft, Emirates received its 100th A380 in September 2017. Today, they fly the world’s biggest fleets of Airbus A380s and Boeing 777s.

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The Dubai-Beijing flight on the Airbus A380-800 was much of the same: drink towel food towel drink towel food. Rinse repeat. The production of the show is just bigger, as it concurrently plays out over two decks. It is a daylight flight, but we are not aware, as our blinds are closed. After dinner, everyone slides down for a nap. PF and myself checked out the bar at the back and decided to go and say ‘hi’ to his sister downstairs. What a yin & yang. Their blinds are open. The masses formed unions and there is a riot looming. Flustered cabin crew tries to bulldoze trolleys down the aisle, whilst remembering their evacuation training. Plus, it is noisy. We stayed only long enough to be polite, then retreated to the now familiarity of upstairs.

There are only 4 seats in a row compared to 10 downstairs. We sat in the middle next to each other, but being served by different waitresses. Due to the inconsideration of other diners, it often happened that PF’s glass got topped-up before mine. Naturally we felt this impacted on the experience and on our return leg from Hong Kong to Dubai (also on an A380) we requested to be served simultaneously. As Emirates is so eager to please, our booze pushing waitresses got replaced with ballet dancers and we got Swan Laked with every meal. Now this is classy – perfect synchronization one can only execute with years of soulless training in a UAE desert camp. Giselle who was pirouetting me, did lose some marks as the Olympian who was serving PF presented him with his mattress a good few seconds before I got mine. Obviously, she was immediately punished with another cocktail order.

Checkout the gorgeous selection of Emirate’s food below. For perspective, you will spot a few Chines domestic economy flight food pics as well.

Continue reading China – part 3 (of 20).

China – part 1 (of 20)

For the most part society is weird, if not nonsensical: you can turn any age and most people simply congratulate you, but beware turning 40 (in 2015), then everyone – without fail – would like to know when and where the party is going to be. As such I knew all along that I will not be around when this date arrives – there is simply just too much to explore and to experience out there and whilst I have time and good health on my side, hell why not?

We wanted to go to Disney World in Florida long ago, but ABSA at the time suggested that we rather consider going to Thailand. Subsequently we have changed to FNB and with a little bit of financial discipline we planned and executed a great holiday to the best Disney theme park in the world (2013). They say if you do something long enough, it becomes a habit. Thus, gearing up for China was not difficult at all.

But why China? The Orient intrigues me. It is an unbelievably old civilization, yet we know little about it. They are the manufacturing hub of the world and they use a complicated language. Why not visit them and try to demystify it a bit? Oh, they also have the Great Wall and then there is that thing about the terracotta army.

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With all my travels, I have never flown business class – I suppose it says a lot about my choice of employers. LOL. Not really. For the most part, flying is overrated and workwise I am happy to stay put and operate via email/phone. However, flying internationally in economy is a sense of community I can do without. The masses and the cramped space is simply enough to rather watch YouTube videos about all the great and marvelous places out there … but behold, if you are a good customer then eBucks Travel opens a world you never knew existed. Or let me rather say, I knew it existed, but always though it is for other people. Indulge with me, if you like.

What a pleasure travel has become – flying economy might now be spoiled for me. Emirates pick you up from home. There is one car per ticket, thus if we wanted, Pension Fund (“PF”) and myself could have traveled separately, from home to the airport. You get dropped at the door and it is really a short walk from there to the non-existing queue of business class check-in. The staff seems a bit friendlier and helpful and issue you with a voucher to get into the lounge. After good coffee, some refreshments and Wi-Fi, you join reality again, but wait … you queue in a separate line that gets to board first. We waited in line long enough just for me to feel almost sorry for the sea of miserable faces that knew they will be emotionally and physically abused for the next nine odd hours to Dubai by a relentless team of fake yet very professional cabin crew that will pretend to care about you. At least that’s how it felt to me in the past.

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Entering the Boeing 777-300ER, and we get to turn left! OK fair, business class is left and right, but the front section only holds 14 seats (two rows of a 2-3-2 configuration). There is no need to fly better and still feel crowded 😉 No sooner have you arrived at the warehouse allocated to you, and there is a waitress forcefully trying to part with booze. They even address all the alcoholics by surname. There is no fluffed-out earbud, but instead a proper mini-me pillow, complete with cotton pillowcase. The gauze-like ‘blanket’ made way for a proper blanket with cotton on one side – for you to decide on your level of comfort. Oh my word, here she is again. Smile. Took second glass. I am so going to get drunk. There is no fighting for overhead storage. My carry-on bag flew in isolation.

Remarkably the catering staff leave you in peace. There is no German matron marching up and down commanding you to sit down, strap in, sit up straight and be quiet. In comparison, we are being pushed back from the building and the enabler is at my seat again offering a top-up. One doesn’t want to be labelled standoffish, so naturally you nod.

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The real class discrimination starts once we are airborne. There are 11 cocktails (ignoring the selection of aperitifs, beers, mocktails, spirits, cognac, vodka, gin & rum). Some liquid poison arrived with hot roasted salty nuts … on a small ceramic plate, I have you know. A large part of the flight is consumed with faffing and decent dining. How many hot towels can one person possibly need during a nine-hour flight? I liked the tablecloth idea and the ability to use proper knives and forks. There are no trolleys. Everything is personalized. And enough with the booze, I want to try out the seat that can go flat and see if I can fall asleep myself, but “dear, do bring me another cappuccino please”. (had 3 during the flight CPT-DBX)

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Just as I was suitably intoxicated and conceivably bloated, with my seat down (and not being able to touch the seat in front of me with my toes – I tried) and blanket over me, I was told by the Alcohol Fairy to undo and sit up. Did I miss anything? Could there possibly be another course after my cheeseboard and Hennessy? I did turn the page to check, but it was in Arabic. OK, if I am not allowed to sleep, I will take two Tums then. Nope. PF plotted with Emirates in advance and it was time for an early birthday surprise!! Due to bureaucracy ‘happy birthday’ was not available, but ‘bon voyage’ was. Same effect. Out comes the cutest of cakes and more Kir Royal – had it earlier. Not bad. Next, there is an Instamatic for a memory moment and a photo bomber (see below). How do you expect me to sleep after such excitement? Oh well, might as well order another cocktail.

en route

Before landing in Dubai you receive a ‘fast track’ ticket. It basically means you get to go through the security screening via a separate (and shorter) queue, while more souls and will-to-live is being extorted from the economy test subjects.

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Continue reading China – part 2 (of 20).

Disney – part 13 (of 13)

Let’s wrap this up, some of the rides we have been on during this trip …

Curb-side check-in: By the time you enter the airport building, your luggage has been booked straight home and you have your boarding pass in hand. Clever. All things considered, really a great holiday! We could have bought a small car perhaps, but instead now we have 3 319 photos and 50 short movie clips to preserve our memories.

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Places we visited, for the google mappers among you:

  • Animal Kingdom, WDW
  • Magic Kingdom, WDW
  • Epcot, WDW
  • Hollywood Studios, WDW
  • Universal Studios, Orlando
  • SeaWorld, Orlando … Kraken and Manta made it worthwhile.
  • City of Winter Park … adorably quaint atmosphere, a taxi ride from Orlando.
  • Busch Gardens, Tampa … Sheikra was particularly thrilling.
  • Sunset at Pier 60, Clearwater
  • Kennedy Space Centre, Cape Canaveral
  • Airboat ride, Middle of Nowhere (LOL)

As per always: Starbucks will be sadly missed.

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Epilog ~
I’ve mentioned earlier, that at some point one thinks it is quite OK for a grown man to wear a Disney character t-shirt? Well, here is the problem. Back home, it is not that cool any more. I found someone that transformed 3 of my t-shirts to pillow cases … for the Magic to live one and in the process gave it a second life/purpose:

(my assistant was adamant to be in the photo)

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LOL. Chances are those t-shirts were made in the East. Want to read about China?

Disney – part 12 (of 13)

Penny from TV’s The Big Bang Theory worked, in the earlier seasons, at the Cheesecake Factory. Thought it was a made-up name. Who knew?

I clearly do not get out enough. Vending machines as I know them, serves up snacks and beverages – not electronics. As seen at Orlando International.

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They still work on GST (general sales tax). I prefer the VAT (value-added tax) system, as you are not surprised at checkout to the total value of your purhcases – took a bit to get used to. The way they advertise their discounting however, remains misleading.

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Who-hoo, half-price sale, the sign says so! Nope. You buy the first item at full price and get 50% off the 2nd item. Then to top it off the discount is on the cheapest item. Remind me again, how is this is sale?

So did you really think you can escape Orlando, without Disney doing a last attempt at the airport to convince you to part with some more money?

Continue reading Disney – part 13 (of 13).

Disney – part 11 (of 13)

The outing to the Kennedy Space Centre was truly educational – let alone a bit surreal to stand close to things you have only seen on TV before … for example: Shuttle Atlantis is big, but not as titanic as one would have imagined. Also, I always thought that National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Kennedy Space Centre and Cape Canaveral is really all one and the same thing. Nope. Trust politics to be involved.

All the Apollo launches took place at Cape Canaveral, which is controlled by the military. NASA has about ten sites in the USA, and they launch from the Kennedy Space Centre. Thanks to the then president, the Lyndon B Johnson Space Centre (often referred to as Mission Control) is based in Texas. From there then the popular saying
….  “Houston, we have a problem”.

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Atlantis ended the Shuttle Programme when it landed on 21 July 2011. Atlantis alone made 33 flights, carried 191 space fliers, spent 307 days in orbit, circled Earth 4,848 times and put 125,935,769 miles on its odometer. During the 30 years of the Programme, NASA lost 14 crew members (Challenger (1986) going up, Columbia (2003) on re-entry) and 7 during training. As funding for the Programme was stopped, 4 000 employees at Kennedy Space Centre was laid off on 22 July 2011. The lack of funding was visible as we stood eerily on the side of the launch pad where the smoke and water vapour normally feverishly escape during a launch – only to witness weeds growing in the cracks of the concrete. Somehow on TV footage this site looks so pristine and clinical. Of the two launch sites, NASA will lease 39A to South African born Elon Musk’s SpaceX to be used for unmanned missions to send supplies to the International Space Station (among other- Mr Musk dreams big).

The Florida area is scattered with swamps, which offers another experience worth chasing: an airboat ride. It is a flat-bottomed boat, powered by a mighty fan. This thing goes comfortably over water, vegetation or land. An itsy-bitsy scary ride (no safety belts or railing), plus there are some nasty looking reptiles sneaking up everywhere.

Another item ticked off from my bucket list, thank you,  but I am not going to do this again. I can swim, thus falling overboard is not the issue, but sharing the water with these lovelies is not really my thing.

Continue reading Disney – part 12 (of 13).

Disney – part 10 (of 13)

Completely over-stimulated and exhausted, we moved on to Universal – which is closer situated to Orlando than WDW.

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Already on day 1, we are terribly missing Disney’s free wi-fi access and the utter convenience of the magic bands – for the first time in 8 days we had to start carrying wallets again.

We stayed in a “value” resort in Disney, but we went swanky for Universal’s 10-night stay and for a reason. If you reside in one of their on-site hotels, you get an ‘express pass’ ticket, which translates that you take the express queue to the start of each ride. Why stand around for hours if you can buy your way to the front of the queue?

Universal consist of only 2 parks – Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – and their rides yield a higher thrill score than Disney’s more family orientated attractions. We attended a very fun and comical Horror Make-Up Show and during the performance one of the cast said (as a joke) “This is not Disney, I do not have to be nice to you!”. True. The rides were fun, but lacked the story telling that one experience with Disney. For example: Disney will not let you queue forever, without some form of entertainment along the way to keep you occupied.

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The Macy’s Holiday Parade (subsequently renamed to Universal’s Holiday Parade), with their floating balloons, was refreshing and a great exhibit to bring one back to reality, from the magic of Disney. Suffice to say, if Disney supervised this somewhat incoherent show, loads of staff would have received final written warnings afterwards.

Continue reading Disney – part 11 (of 13).

Disney – part 9 (of 13)

Some random trivia/observations:

  • All vendors in WDW only do card or magic band transactions, otherwise they need to keep a cash float … too much hassle.
  • Thanks to Teddy Roosevelt, the residence of the US president, is called the “White House” and not the Executive Residence … to him it was just a house, a white house.
  • 600 horticulturists maintain 500 plant species. They work mostly at night (with headlamps), to ensure all the flowers and plants remain healthy looking.
  • By ‘modern’ standards Disney is not very PC: they still do “merry Christmas” and I do not know where Halaal or Kosher guests will eat.
  • All the cast members dealing with the public are of above average looks and appearance. It was only during the backstage tour that we saw “normal” looking employees. Discriminate much?
  • Bars and Restaurants in the Orlando area need to close at 02:00, as per Disney. This is to prevent guests leaving WDW in favour of partying elsewhere. Rightly so I suppose, given that thanks to Disney, Orlando became a city.
  • Cast members in character costume – due to the weather – only spend 20 minutes in public (“on stage”). They will always have a plausible in-character reason for quickly leaving (eg. Woody needs to go and check that Bullseye has food to eat). Meanwhile a second cast member in identical costume is waiting behind the scenes to step in and continue the show.
  • Cast members are chosen for costumed characters not by gender, but by height and body type. (inside, Mickey can thus be a girl or a boy)
  • Disney searches your bags as you enter the parks. One morning, the security found my iPad and told us “This is for photos only! Remember you are on holiday!!” Sweet.

If you travel with children you can either schlep your own stroller (“pram”) around, or rent one from Disney. Close to each ride entrance there is stroller parking space. It is such a bizarre sight. Often it literally looks as if the parents left everything behind and merely grabbed the kid to do the ride … (bags, shopping etc. are left inside the strollers).

At the happiest place on earth, anyone can be a princess …

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WDW hides for the die hard fans “Hidden Mickeys” all over their parks. It is basically three circles arranged to the likeness of this famous mouse’s head. We have managed this find only three … this one was during the Jungle Cruise ride.

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Continue reading Disney – part 10 (of 13).