Archive for May, 2011

You Meet The Nicest People


I had the day off on Monday, as did most of you, and wanted to go do something outside.  I had done some research ahead of time, but I left the hotel feeling a bit low.  For a couple weeks I had been thinking I’d hike up Wutong Mountain; it’s the tallest mountain in the Pearl River delta, at over 900m.  I thought it would make for an exhilarating hike, but was having difficulty finding any information on exactly where to start the hike.  I read lots of posts online that talked about how it was a great place to hike, etc. etc., but nothing that said how to find the trail head.  I think I found it via Google Maps, but when I talked to the concierge at the hotel yesterday morning, they thought I was crazy to be hiking up there.  They said it would take an entire day, despite the 5 hour (rt) estimates I’d been reading.  And he was careful to warn me that there are no roads up there, so I would need to remember how I got up there, so I could find my way down.  I’m not worried about my land nav skills, but I was having second thoughts about my plan.

So the other thing I’d been reading about is their botanical garden.  It’s supposed to be “the most beautiful garden in China”.  Not that I’ve been to a lot of Chinese gardens, but that seems pretty high praise considering the size of the country!  Given that I wasn’t sure how to get to Wutong, and the concierge thought it was a really bad idea, I headed off to the botanical garden.

As it turned out, I had a great time!  The map they gave me at the entrance had English in the title, and nowhere else.  And their signs were an absolute joke.  So I wandered around somewhat aimlessly, finding some cool stuff.  Then at one point I stopped to pull out my map and a young family walked by.  One of the guys said, “Come on, we’re going this way!”  I laughed and said “Oh yea?  Where are ‘we’ going”?  They said they were headed for the temple (which does exist there).  They seemed like nice enough people in the 2.4 seconds I’d “known” them, and I figured…what’s the worst that could happen by walking off into the woods with a group of people I don’t know, in a land where I don’t speak the language?  Right?  LOL

I had a great afternoon.  Jimmy and his family let me tag along behind them like a lost dog for about 3 hours.  We visited several sites in the park that I might never have found.  Good times.  Photos to come soon.

New Friends

You Tired Yet?


It’s now 11:00 at home, and I’ve been on this plane for 8 hours already, with another 8 to go.  While you’re sleeping in your own bed, I’ll be going in and out of consciousness in 7D.   Thankfully I’m in a lie-flat business class seat, so I’ll manage just fine.  It’s kind of like sleeping on a very firm couch, which is infinitely better than being propped-up in coach!  :)  Y’all rest well, and I’ll check-in tomorrow morning from the other side of the planet.

PS  Even after doing this many times, it still blows me away that I can get on a plane, watch a few movies, sleep a bit, and wake-up literally on the other side of the world (12 hours ahead).  I’m looking forward to a time when make the trip even faster, but these long-range airliners are truly modern marvels!

Heading to the Tropics


No, I’m not going to Destin, or on an Caribbean vacation.  I’m headed to China and Japan for a week.

Here’s the plan…Atlanta to Hong Kong (via Detroit), Shenzhen to Wuhan, Wuhan to Tokyo (via Shanghai), and finally Tokyo to Atlanta (via Minneapolis).  That’s 17,438 miles, on 7 flights, with 44+ hours of scheduled travel time.  Yea, that’s an entire weeks work for most people, just in the flights alone.  Ah, the glamorous life, right?

Red = Day 1, Blue = Day 4, Yellow = Day 6, Green = Day 8

But don’t get me wrong.  I love this part of my job.  Working directly with customers in challenging environments is what really drives me in my job.  Plus, I don’t expect any sympathy since I was able to upgrade the long-haul legs.  On the way over I’ll be on a 777-200ER, in Delta’s new lie flat seating.  It’s a window seat and and aisle seat all in one!

Photo courtesy of Delta

World’s Worst Airports


Bing Travel did a piece on the world’s worst airports, and since I’ve flown through many of them I wanted to share my thoughts. I also noticed that America has 7 of 15 on the list. I’m not sure whether to be proud of that or not. haha

Worst weather: Chicago O’Hare International

It’s true; O’Hare can get some nasty weather. And being such a big airport, weather makes a big mess. Avoid this by flying through Midway instead. It’s closer to the city, and a much better traveling experience.

Worst delays: London Heathrow International

I’ve only flown through here once, but had the opposite experience. I was flying from Brussels back to ATL. In order to get a reasonable fare, I had to fly through London by going into Heathrow and out of Gatwick. The weather in London was terrible; as foggy as one would guess it to be, and thus there were many delays…but not for us. I’ll never forget looking out the window of the plane as we were descending, with the air so thick I could barely make-out the wing tip. As we were dropping, I kept waiting for us to break-out of the clouds. I looked back inside the cabin for just a split second and SLAM! we were on the ground.  Even as we’re moving down the taxiway, you could hardly see past the wing; no joke…pea soup thick.  The pilots landed using an instrument approch and I heard that the plane had some kind of infrared camera that’s used on planes that make a lot of trips to London. We skipped to the front of the landing line, since lots of planes weren’t equipped with this gear and had to circle. Score! Since I flew out of Gatwick, I don’t have any idea what the departure delays looked like from Heathrow.

Worst delays: Newark Liberty International, N.J.

I travel to Newark a lot, and the delays are legendary. The first problem is air space. You’ve got Newark, LaGuardia, and JFK all within a 10 mile radius. That’s just not enough room for three airports, two of which are major international ports. Plus you’re right on the coast, so you get the weather associated with that. Flight time from EWR-ATL is 1:40, but flights are usually scheduled for 2:30 because everybody knows you’re going to taxi for a minimum of 30 minutes.

Hardest to navigate: Phoenix Sky Harbor International

Sky Harbor was a completely un-memorable experience for me. I went with a pretty big group (Hi, Adrian!), which might lead to issues…but I seem to recall coming and going pretty easily. If you can read a map, you’ll be fine.

Hardest to get to: Beijing Capital International

I’m confused by this one. Yes, PEK is out away from the city a bit, but they have a nice highway that’s a straight shot into the city. It may be time consuming, but it’s not “hard to get to”.

Dirtiest: Jakarta International, Indonesia

“…all the same problems as Moscow’s airport — and it’s in the tropics, so everything festers.” LOL I think I’ll try to avoid that one.

Most crowded: Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International

Being my home airport, maybe I’m numb to this. Yes, it’s crowded. But I think the layout works well for managing this. They complain of long lines that I’ve just never experienced.

Ugliest airport: McCarran International, Las Vegas

The slot machines really are a bit insane.

Worst overall runner-up: John F. Kennedy International

You know the stereotype of rude New Yorkers that you see on TV? That’s who runs the airport. Need I say more? OMG What a ridiculous excuse for a modern airport! The layout is terrible, but could be manageable if the employees were helpful or the signs were informative. I fly through JFK because it’s easier to get international upgrades through there than flying directly from Atlanta. But the reason the seats are empty is that nobody else wants to fly through there either!

Worst overall: Paris-Charles de Gaulle

Can I get an “amen”?!?! CDG is indeed terrible. On my first trip to Europe, I was headed to Stockholm, with a connection through Paris. Our Delta flight from Atlanta was running late, but we hit the ground about 30 minutes before the Stockholm flight. Both legs were codeshares with Air France, so they knew we were on-board. There was a group of six of us all on the same itinerary, and we literally ran through the airport and got to the gate 10 minutes before the scheduled departure, only to find that the plane was GONE. They hadn’t just closed the doors. The flight had apparently left 10 minutes before we got there….a full 20 minutes early. Everyone else was there, so they figured they’d just move on along. They knew that six customers were on the way and would be there in time for the scheduled departure, but they left anyway. Thanks for that! So after a 9 hour flight, we had to wait 5 hours for the next flight to Stockholm. The Air France customer no-service people were obnoxious. They would pretend not to speak English so that they didn’t have to talk to us. They refused us access to the Air France lounge, telling us to go sit on the metal benches for 5 hours. And to top it off, they lost my luggage. I got it the next day, but after that experience I vowed to avoid CDG at all cost. So now unless I’m stopping in Paris, I fly through somewhere else. I guess we’re all happy; I don’t want to be there, and they clearly don’t want me there. :)

World's Worst Airports

The Rickshaw


If you ever find yourself in Beijing and need some good Mexican food, The Rickshaw is where it’s at!  Open 24/7, this tiny free-standing bar caters to expats, and is a welcome reprieve.

The Rickshaw is a Mexican restaurant, in China, owned by an Aussie.  Oooook.  Regardless, they have a great burrito, some outstanding nachos, non-Chinese beer, as well as American and Aussie sports on the tube (can I say that since everything is flat scree now?).   Being open all night is a godsend!  My flight to Beijing gets in near midnight, so by the time I get to the hotel is pushing 01:00 local time…but that’s lunch time when my body is still on Eastern time!  Thankfully, The Rickshaw will hook me up with some comfort food, and some beer to help me sleep.

PS  The Comfort Inn & Suites is right by The Rickshaw, and I’ve stayed there several times.  It’s MUCH nicer than a Comfort Inn in the US, and I’d highly recommend it.

Trusted Traveler Program


Atlanta area consumer advocate Clark Howard is speaking out in support of a trusted traveler program, following the recommendation of Tom Ridge, former Secretary of Homeland Security. I’m 100% behind this! As a nation, we’re spending 8 BILLION dollars per year year on the TSA, and they’re spending the vast majority of their time and resources searching business travelers, 6 year old boys, and elderly women. We need to adopt a system that will allow travelers to submit to a thorough background check, then be allowed to move through security much more quickly, with none of the invasive body scans, pat downs, etc.

A “trusted traveler” should be able to put all their stuff on the x-ray belt and walk through a magnetometer. If you don’t set the thing off, there’s no need for further scanning the person. Their luggage should go through a scanner (with liquids still in the carry-on and laptops still in their case), and if they don’t see anything alarming, off you go to the gate.

The reality is that even if Joe Business Guy did put a pocket knife in his luggage, or smuggled along a full size can of shave gel *gasp*, you still don’t need to worry. He’s not a terrorists, and isn’t going to do anything with those items.

Here’s a link to Clark’s video. What do you think?

Mini Tripod


The simplest thing most folks could do to improve their photography (travel or otherwise) is use a tripod.  Motion blur is a huge problem for most people, and a tripod holds the camera still, so that you don’t get blurred images from your hands shaking.  In addition to the stability offered by a tripod, the other reason that photos tend to improve with their use is that you’re forced to slow down.  With the camera mounted, you’ll take more time to properly compose your images.

Cheap compact cameras have small lenses that can’t gather much light.  This means that the shutter has to stay open longer to grab the image.  The longer the shutter is open, the more opportunity there is for your shaking hands to blur the image.  You can get by pretty easily in broad daylight, but when the sun starts to set, you’re in trouble.  Tripod to the rescue!

For many years I carried an Ultrapod.  It’s small, lightweight, and highly versatile.  It will sit on a relatively flat surface, or can even be strapped to a pole, fence post, etc.

Ultrapod by Pedco

99% of the time I used it just like you see here, and I did occasionally strap it to something.  For me, the only deficiency at all was the fact that I couldn’t turn the camera vertical.  When I would try, the weight of the camera would tip the tripod over.  I could get by in those cases by using my hand to hold down the leg opposite the camera, keeping it from tipping, but this is less than ideal.  Here’s a link to the Ultrapod at B&H Photo.

Then one day I was on a road trip with some friends (hey Ed & Stu!!!), and saw Stu using this great tripod by Giottos!  The Ball Pod is cool for several reasons.

  1. It folds almost flat, with just the screw head poking up.  This means it’s small enough to fit into the front pocket on the Lowepro case I carry my G9 in.
  2. It’s short.  It’s only 4.5″ when folded.
  3. The legs extend!!!!!  The 5-section telescoping legs go from about 3″ to almost 7″.
  4. The longer legs mean I can rotate the camera into portrait orientation without tipping.
  5. The individually adjustable leg lenghs mean it handles uneven surfaces better.

Giottos Ball Pod

Here’s a link to the Giottos tripod at B&H Photo.

Regardless of which tripod you choose, you should also consider using a timer. Most cameras have a self timer built into them, with options of something like 2 seconds and 10 seconds.   The 2 second delay works well to let the camera stop moving after you press the shutter release, and the 10 second delay gives you enough time to run get into the photo yourself.

Delta Adds “Economy Comfort” Class Seating


Delta has announced a new Economy Comfort Class of seating for international routs.  The seats have  “up to” four inches extra leg room, and let you recline 50% further.   I’ll be curious to see how this works out.

Economy Comfort Seating

4″ is only about the width of your hand, but at least this means someone 6′ tall won’t be hitting their knees on the seat in front of them. The extra recline sounds nice, and will probably be very helpful when trying to sleep on international flights. The seat also comes with free spirits, in addition to the beer/wine that are already complimentary on international flights. This, too, will help with sleeping.  :)

They’re going to let you board early, which doesn’t seem beneficial on a long flight. For domestic flights, overhead space is at a premium, and you need to grab it early. But I’ve never had problems with overheads on international flights. There’s already more space up there,  and people tend to check their bags for such a long trip.

I’m planning a trip to Asia soon, and hope to be able to find upgraded seats on my trans-Pacific flights…but if not, these Economy Comfort seats should a step-up from cattle class.