Archive for June, 2011

A Little Too Much Time In Tokyo


2011
06.23

On my way home from China I stopped-off in Tokyo for one day of meetings. It’s an awesome place, filled with great people.  But that’s another whole post.

We stayed at the Hotel Villa Fontaine Roppongi, which was nice.  It wasn’t the most convenient to get to from Narita, though.  I took a $38 bus ride followed by a $24 cab.  Ouch!  Coming from China where you can take an hour long cab ride for $10, $60+ really stung!  If our flight had landed earlier we could have taken the bus closer to our hotel and saved the cab.  But the hotel was nice.  The room was a nice size by Japanese standards.  Fast wired internet was included, and the room was very comfortable.  There was a nice HDTV with lots of HD content…none of which was in English.   Oh well.

A comfy bed and a desk...all I really need.

After meetings on Friday, I went out to eat with our local salesman.  We decided on a grill-it-yourself place.  We walked into the small restaurant and all the staff started shouting something…I’m guessing it was akin to “Welcome to Moe’s!”

We ordered some Asahi on draft while he perused the menu, which was all in Japanese, without a single picture anywhere.  Good thing I trust the man!  Below, from top right:

  • Beef – It was marinated in something like a teriyaki sauce, and was quite delicious.
  • Horse – there were three cuts (neck, belly and leg), and all were consumed RAW.  Yea.   I had one sliver of each, and that was plenty.  The leg actually tasted pretty good, but no thanks.
  • Beef Tongue – I’ve had this before, and it’s not bad.  The trouble with grilling your own food, though, is that you’re probably not as good a chef as…well…a chef.  Plus tongue should be cooked “wet” (covered in water, etc), not grilled.  So it was quite tough.  The flavor isn’t bad, but it seemed an odd choice for this kind of restaurant.
  • Chicken – I don’t think they did anything to it at all, but at least it was a good piece of white meat.
  • Beef Intestines – I’ve had pork intestines, and I can now attest that they taste just like beef intestines.  Both taste exactly like what comes out of them.  OMG…I don’t understand why people do this to themselves!

Dinner, before we cooked it.

You cook things in the center, then move them off to the edge where they’ll cool a bit, but stay warm.  It’s actually a nice system for quickly cooking bite-sized bits.

personal grilling

There was a distinct lack of vegetation.  We had a small bowl of potato salad to share, and that was it.  Not even rice.

So that was Friday night, and I was headed home on Saturday.  My flight didn’t leave till 4pm, so I had some time to kill in the morning.  I got up, and had a quick breakfast.  They have a buffet literally in the lobby of the hotel.  It was a bit odd, but the high-top tables worked well.  Looking for something light, I just grabbed a bowl of cereal; corn flakes to be precise.  I wanted a little sugar on top, and there was a bowl right next to the cereal.  What I didn’t notice was that the bowl of white crystals was also next to the boiled eggs.   I took a bite and thought “these are the nastiest corn flakes I’ve ever eaten!!!!”  Doh!  Salt!  Take 2.

I checked-out of the hotel and walked down the street to the ANA Intercontinental hotel, just a couple blocks away.   As I walked out of the VF, I saw their glass walled smoking booth outside, with this sign.  I have no idea what those two people are doing, but I don’t think they’re smoking.

no smoking...or other activities

The Narita airport “limousine” stops at the ANA, so that’s the best way to get to the airport.  It’s really just a nice Greyhound bus, but it had wifi, which was quite helpful as you’ll see.  I bought my bus ticket, left my bags with the bellman, then headed north towards the Imperial Palace.

I took a bunch of photos…see the thumbnail gallery below.  While I was in the gardens, I was running through the time line in my head and nearly had a heart attack.  It was 12:25 when I realized that I should have booked the 12:30 bus instead of the 1:30 bus.  For some reason I had it in my head as I bought the ticket that my flight was at 5:00, but it was really at 4:00.  Given that the bus ride can take 1:30, it could be 3:00 before I got to the airport, and they’d literally be boarding when I arrived.  NOT GOOD!  But there was no way I was going to get on the 12:30, so I tried to relax and continue enjoying the gardens.

moat & tower at east gardens

My last task before reaching the hotel was to get a shot of me and the Tokyo Tower.  My kids are big fans of the movie Cars, and there’s a great little “short” called Tokyo Mater.  In the short story, Mater is a drift racer and has to race up Tokyo Tower.  It’s very cute; check it out on YouTube.  “Domo arigato, Mr. Tomato”  Brilliant!  I couldn’t seem to find anywhere to get a clean shot of the tower, and I didn’t have time to get any closer.  The kids thought it was cool, though.  :)

me and the tower

From there I pretty much ran to the hotel, changed out of my very sweaty clothes and hopped on the bus.   Using wifi on the bus I was able to check-in to my flight and get a mobile boarding pass in case I didn’t have time to print a paper copy at the airport.  Thankfully, since it was Saturday, the bus only took 1:00 to get to the airport instead of 1:30…so I had a whopping 0:30 to burn.  As an extra special bonus, the Sky Club at NRT has showers…but that’s another post.  I hope you enjoy the pix.

Notice that there are two pages of thumbnails, so to see the last pix you’ll need to click on “2”.

I put the map marker on the palace grounds.  Just zoom in and switch to the satellite view.

no images were found

Shanghai Airlines


2011
06.11

I took my first flight on Shanghai Airlines on this past trip, flying from Wuhan to Shanghai on our way to Tokyo. They’re a wholy owned subsidiary of China Eastern, but maintain their own branding. As far as flights go, it was fine. We managed to get an exit row (no clue how), so there was plenty of room. A nice ride.

It's beautiful up above the pollution.

I thought you should know that I don’t ALWAYS get  to ride up front.  And if you think US airline food is rough…try an inter-China flight sometime.  This looks like a nice plate of noodles and mushrooms; not so much.  By mid-day I was hoping for some caffeine, but water was the only drink offered.

Noodles with mushrooms, and some "pork"

Fairy Lake Botanical Garden


2011
06.10

After arriving late on Sunday night, I had Monday to adjust myself to a time zone 12 hours ahead.  I find the best way to do this is to be active, so I decided to get outside.

I had originally planned to hike Wutong Mountain, which is the highest point in the area.  But I had difficulty finding anybody that could tell me where to start the hike, and the 20-something bellman at the hotel seemed to think I was nuts to try to hike up there.  :)  So I backed-off and decided to go see the botanical gardens which were located on the side of Wutong Mountain; I figured I’d get at least a bit of hiking in.  As it turns out, I had a great day.  The highlight was meeting this very nice family who allowed me to tag along behind them for a couple hours.  Below are three pages of photos from the day.  Enjoy.

no images were found

no images were found

no images were found

XX

The Airlines Shouldn’t Have Caved


2011
06.09

By now I’m sure you’ve all seen the video of two soldiers on a Delta flight whining about being forced to pay excess baggage fees.  This a joke for several reasons.  As of last week, Delta had the most generous policy in the airlines.

  • *Delta allowed every soldier traveling “on orders” (read: official business) to check at least three bags for free.  This isn’t just limited to deployment to war.  If a soldier goes to a military conference in Lake Tahoe and wants to take his ski gear, he’s got plenty of space.  If he’s going The Pentagon for meetings, he can carry all manner of personal gear at no charge.
  • *Those bags could way up to 70 pounds, exceeding the 50 pound limit imposed on civilians.
  • *They could check three bags for each of their family members traveling with them, or traveling without them while relocating.
  • *Active duty military traveling for personal reasons (not military business) were allowed to check two bags for free, while everyone else pays for the first bag.
  • *Military members are welcome to board the plane ahead of the masses, in order to ensure they get space in the highly coveted overhead bins.

Right, Delta hates the military.  *pish*  I don’t begrudge our military men and women these benefits, but I do think it’s terrible to make such a big fuss because:

  1. The government pays for the soldiers travel home, and will pay any excess bag fees the soldiers have to pay for “out of their own pocket”.   That translates into “the taxpayers pay for”, not “the soldier pays for”.
  2. Soldiers are not required to carry that much stuff back with them on the plane.  They may choose to, but their unit will gladly return their belongings for them.  They may not want the unit to bring some things back, for various reasons, but that’s a choice they make.
  3. Just because some Army clerk types on your orders that you’re authorized to carry four bags doesn’t mean the airline has to let you do that for free.  Those same orders authorized you to fly…but that doesn’t mean your seat is free.  Those orders just mean that the government will pay for a seat and carriage of four bags.
  4. The guys in the video pulled on your heart strings by saying that “my fourth bag was my M-4 that I used to protect myself and others”.  Cry me a river.  Your other bags certainly contained items that weren’t so essential and could have taken a slower trip home, but you chose to haul it back yourself.

I have friends and family who serve (or have have served) in the military, and I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices that they make in their service.  But these two soldiers have really stuck it to the airlines, who didn’t have the backbone to stand up and say “excuse me, sir, but I think we go to great lengths for you already.”

PS  Thanks to a couple of friends for making me think through this a bit further.  The failure here is really with the paper pusher who wrote the orders with disregard for airline policies.  These soldiers were only doing what they were told they could do.  I would never expect them to go read an airline’s baggage policy.  They did what soldiers are trained to do; follow orders.   They were just trying to get home to their families; I get that.  I don’t blame them for being frustrated about having to pay the fee (till they are reimbursed), but I wish they had turned their frustration on those responsible, instead of the airlines.

Overnight to Hong Kong


2011
06.06

I’m home from my week-long trip to China and Japan, and am excited to share some of the great experiences I had on my trip.

The week started off on Saturday morning with a flight from Atlanta to Detroit, then on to Hong Kong.  I was actually on the same plan for both legs of the flight; one of Delta’s “long range” 777-200LR’s.  These are equipped with these ultra-sweet lie-flat seats.

Delta's Lie-flat Seating

All laid down and ready for a nap.  The nice blanket and pillow are excellent!

reclined for sleeping

This is the last seat in the forward cabin (there are two business class cabins in front of coach).  What’s cool about this seat is that there’s nobody behind me.  That means I got an extra little “table” (see triangular spot by my left elbow, and there’s a coat closet to the side of me which provides some privacy.  The photo was taken by Doug Sonders, a photographer who happened to be sitting in front of me on the DTW-HKG leg.  Nice to meet you, Doug!

this is how I roll

The flight from ATL-DTW was rather uneventful.  Frankly I don’t remember anything interesting to say at all, but I suppose that can be good.  :)

Then I had a short layover in Detroit; about an hour before re-boarding.  I strolled around the terminal a bit to stretch my legs before the long flight, and then had a snack.

our chariot

The dark spots on this window are from the terminal windows in Detroit.  All of the glass is covered in these little polka dots.  From about 10 feet away you don’t even notice them…they act almost like tint to lower the light level inside.  But when you get close, it’s a bit uncomfortable to look through.  In any case, the point of this photo is to show the MASSIVE engines on this 777.  If one engine goes out, the other one has to keep 278 passengers + crew/luggage/supplies in the air for at least three hours.

Delta has the very nice charging stations throughout many of their terminals (these are in Detroit).  You can get both 110V and USB (5V) power.

Charging Stations

The long/straight McNamara Terminal has two trams that run back and forth down the length of the terminal.  They use a single rail, and pass each other using a bypass at the center stop.

DTW Tram

They didn’t serve any food on my 11:00 flight from ATL-DTW.  :(  I was on the plane from 10:30-13:15…yea, who’d want to eat then?  But on the plus side, I had plenty of room to enjoy some yummy snacks in the Sky Club.  :)

SkyClub Snacks

After a last minute update on the wifi and a couple phone calls, I was back on the plane.

These are the seat controls.  Just super.  It’s really an amazing seat.  You can adjust the back-to-knee length and the head rest angle.  There’s a lumbar support that can be raised/lowered and inflated/deflated.  And there’s a “massage” mode where the lumbar automatically moves up/dn/in/out.  A++

Mission Control

Mission Control

As soon as we leveled off on the way to Hong Kong they started meal service with a cocktail, while I enjoyed some light reading.

oh nuts!

No peanut filler here.

Quality

For the appetizer course, we had tomato soup and seared tuna.  Maybe an odd combination, but both were very good.

Appetizer Course

Clear skies above an icy Hudson Bay.

Clear & COLD

Since you’re flying with the sun, it’s daylight the whole flight.  People pretty quickly pull the window shades down to keep glare off the TV screens, but I love to keep looking outside.  After your eyes are acclimated to the dark cabin, opening a window to broad daylight and a snow/ice covered landscape is blinding…but well worth it! :)

Ice

Ice

Dinner was served next, which reminds me of something.  While we were still on the ground, the purser came around taking dinner orders.  She approached me and said “Mr. Garrett, I noticed that you’re a Diamond Medallion member and wanted to thank you for your business!  We want to make sure you get your first choice for dinner tonight.  What would you like?”  While I don’t enjoy being singled-out in front of other passengers, it was a nice gesture and I appreciated it.  She was very busy at the time, and she went out of her way for me…which was nice.  This was in stark contrast to my flight home where the purser came by and without so much as a “hey, how y’all doin’?” simply looked at me and asked “chicken or beef?”  Not “Could I bring you the parmesan chicken or the beef tenderloin?”  Not “What can I bring you gentlemen for dinner?”  I’m not joking when I say that this woman would have been fired from a TGI Friday’s on her first night.  She was just that bad.  But she’s a former Northwest flight attendant, so shot got where he is because of seniority.  Sorry; rant off.

I chose the shrimp scampi, asparagus, and saffron rice.  The shrimp were quite excellent and the asparagus was cooked just right, but the rice was paste.  2 out of 3 still beats the snot out of coach food!  :)

Dinner

For desert I had a little cheese (I turned down the strawberries and bleu cheese), a hot fudge sundae, and a glass of port.  Mmmmm.

Desert

We flew way up north through the Arctic Circle, further north than I’ve ever been before.

Arctic Circle

The mid-flight snack was served about midnight.  We were served cold grilled salmon and roasted chicken, with some brie, bread sticks, salad and a piece of chocolate.  Light enough that you could go right to sleep, but filling enough to tide you over till breakfast.

Midnight Snack

For those of you Risk fans, these are the mountains of Yakutsk.

Yakutsk

I stayed up till after 2:00 am Eastern time, then laid down and crashed.  I slept right through breakfast; never had the first clue they were serving.  I woke-up as we had begun our descent.  The excellent crew brought me some orange juice in-lieu of breakfast, and the pilot made a memorably smooth landing.  Well done, Delta!  This was a great flight!!!

I had no reason to stay in Hong Kong this trip, so I took an airport “limousine” service (a 6 passenger mini-van).  The service I use is called SkyLimo on the Hong Kong side and Trans-Island Limousine Service on the mainland side (with a W logo?).  It costs $170 HK  (about $22 US), which is more expensive than the train or big bus…but it’s a VERY convenient service.  They take you through HK immigration without even getting out of the car.  Then they drive you across the border and drop you off at mainland immigration/customs.  You fill out your form, run through the line, and they have another van waiting for you on the other side and take you right to your hotel.   After such a long trip, it’s well worth the extra few bucks.

The Panglin Hotel in Shenzhen is quite comfortable, so long as you enjoy sleeping on a pile of bricks.  I could sleep on a Chinese sidewalk at rush hour, so this is no problem for me.  :)  Seriously, though, it’s very simple, but clean and comfortable, with free wired internet service.  That reminds me that I need to post about my Lenovo laptop’s “MyWifi” feature, which allows me to create my own wifi hotspot from a wired connection.  This is perfect for keeping my iPhone connected when I don’t otherwise have wifi.  More later.

My Room

They even have a little sitting area.  Too bad I don’t have anybody on these trips to sit and chat with.

Sitting Area

Well, that about covers the trip over.  The following day I visited the local botanical gardens, but that’s another post.  Good night all!