Showing posts with label TRAVEL. Show all posts
Showing posts with label TRAVEL. Show all posts

10 January 2020

Art Museum Prague

12 November 2019

Magnolia, a Chinese Poem


作者:睦石 (Author: Mu Shi)
朝代:明朝 (Dynasty: Ming Dynasty)

玉兰原文:Original Magnolia

霓裳片片晚妆新,束素亭亭玉殿春。
已向丹霞生浅晕,故将清露作芳尘。

Pinyin:
ní shang piàn piàn wǎn zhuāng xīn ,shù sù tíng tíng yù diàn chūn 。
yǐ xiàng dān xiá shēng qiǎn yūn ,gù jiāng qīng lù zuò fāng chén 。


一片片花瓣犹如飘拂轻柔的舞衣,
颜色像新装扮的晚宴妆容,
细细的枝桠像女子纤细的腰肢。
花瓣的颜色由浅至深,
已近凋落,
落花上沾染了清晨的露水。


Magnolia

Your petals pretty and light
Like the evening makeup fresh and bright

Your twigs and branches slim and slender
Like girls waists graceful and tender

Your pink petals of various shades
falling and drifting at its own pace

Hugged and kissed by morning dew
Like Spring embracing you

Poetic translation by Lifang Yan

11 November 2019

Chenzhou west railway station

Want to talk about water?
Time to catch a train back to Hong Kong and return to Europe. The station at Chenzou is impressive as ever.

Or maybe it is normal for a city of 4 million to have a modern railway station with fast trains and proper facilities.

Like wifi. There is free wifi everywhere in the station, though it is not super fast and at times a bit erratic.

Several shops sell food, drinks, small stuff.

Everything is payable electronically with Wechat or Alipay. I am, again, one of the few, maybe the only, customer using cash. Oh wait, this really old man is another one I feel less lonely! Not that I did not try.

Vacuum packed duck meat
But I have not been able to use WeChat pay as I do not have a Chinese credit card. The app allowed me to register a European Mastercard, but when I try to use it to pay it tells me I have no funds. When I try to add funds, for example, my wife tried to send me money from her Wechat, I get a message I am not allowed to receive funds either. So I am stuck, though I can still use the app to communicate with my friends!

As for paying, I am resigned to always be the only one using cash in the supermarket, in the farmer's market, restaurant, everywhere really, though my Mao portraits banknotes have never been rejected. At the station's toilet dispenser I was saved as I had paper tissues in my handbag!

Something which is advertised here though you can not just buy it on the spot and take it away is a Japanese style WC, with all the bell and whistles they come with. All kinds of buttons, to wash, dry and even a "lady function" as the ad says (in English), who knows perhaps it is a front-toward-the-back water jet? Arab toilets have it the other way, back-to-front, to wash the rear of either gender. This is new to me. I am convinced that the first person to import bidets to China will get rich quickly. This high-tech gadget is manufactured in Italy by a company called Faenza.

Strangely empty station in Chenzhou
The fast trains come and go every 6-10 minutes. They are marked white on a large electronic board when they are still far away, then become green when it is time to board, usually 10 minutes or so before they arrive at the platform. This way only passengers for the next departing train can be on the platform at any given time. The train numbers become red when boarding is closed! It's my turn soon, got to gather my stuff and get ready to sprint!

Siedo accanto a due signore che parlano cantonese, non capisco una parola ma riconosco l'accento, che subito tirano fuori pezzi di frutta esotica che non riconosco e uova sode.

Buona parte dei passeggeri mangia roba che si è portata da casa. Mi ricorda i treni che prendevo da bambino in Italia, dove le mamme avevano sempre panini pronti, di solito con prosciutto o salame, prima di tutto per i bambini e per se stesse pure

Filiamo via sui lucidi binari lisci come velluto e arriviamo puntualissimi dopo due ore e mezzo a 300 kmh. Controllo passaporti (ancora necessario per accedere al territorio di Hong Kong dalla Cina) e dogana e poi attraverso ancora una volta la larga striscia gialla che indica il "confine" tra quella che convenzionalmente tutti chiamano "mainland" e la "regione autonoma speciale" che è Hong Kong.

Arrivo a Hong Kong in una splendida giornata di sole, e dopo aver fatto chek-in alla Finnair a Kowloon (a Hong Kong si fa check-in in città e si mollano i bagagli prima di andare in aeroporto) mi accingo a fare un giro per la città quando noto televisori della MTR la metropolitana) che avvisano di disturbi al servizio dovuti a dimostrazioni degli attivisti pro-democrazia.

Rapido controllo sul mio telefono (finalmente posso accedere a tutti i siti e il wifi gratuito dell'aeroporto è velocissimo) e apprendo che ci sono sommosse significative un po’ dappertutto, con anche un ferito grave colpito dalla polizia. È la terza volta che si spara da giugno. Decido che forse il giro in città lo farò un'altra volta.



14 October 2019

Hail a ride in Singapore

Grab is the local version of Uber. You download the app, add a credit card and you are good to go. But you have to be in Singapore to do it, can't activate it from abroad for some reason.

Uber was present in Singapore but sold its business to Grab in exchange for a 30% share in the company I was told. My driver tells me there are some 5,000 drivers as far as he knows, many like himself are part-time: have another full-time job and drive when they want to make an extra buck. Grab is top now, though an Indonesian company called Go-Jek provides competition. They are popular in Indonesia where they run lots of motorcycle taxis, but in Singapore, they are not allowed, only cars.

Fares are marginally cheaper than taxis but can't beat the convenience especially during rush hours or when it rains. Chinatown to the airport is SGD 26.

My driver is a typical Singaporean: half Chinese and half Malay on his father's side, half European and half Indian on his mother's side. Well maybe not so typical, most Singaporeans belong more clearly to one of the ethnicities which make up the cosmopolitan island. They keep to their food, their religions and their language, though of course everyone speaks English and feels equally Singaporean. He tells me mixed marriages are on the increase now.

27 February 2019

Back to Hong Kong

Breakfast with dumplings by Ouyang's wife, he brought them to us yesterday when he visited. Very thin envelope, more like northern China style than the thicker southern Chinese kind.

He is a very traditional Chinese man even though he is only in his forties. He said he got her daughter a job in Chenzhou as a kindergarten teacher but does not want her to go and live far away or have a career. He gives her some extra money each year to compensate for what she's missing. Despite his young age, he has already planned to bequeath some money to his two daughters but all real estate properties to his only son.

Ready to go back to Europe, but first one last espresso in China. My three-year-old niece learned how to operate my Nespresso machine a few days ago and now every time I say out loud I want a cup of coffee she wants to do it!

My niece makes me coffee!

We leave at 7.30 with a Didi car my wife booked night before. It is rush hour so it takes a bit of time to get out of the town. On the way, we meet a funeral procession on the road. Four people are carrying the coffin on shoulders. A long line of mourners follows them and they all wear white cloth on their head. Musicians play trumpets and cymbals. I am curious and interested in the ceremony, though we do not have time to stop and look. Lifang, however, is not amused, she does not like to talk about anything that has to do with death or accidents in the morning, especially early morning, at the start of the day.

On the road to the airport, lots of little street hawkers sell hot dumplings to cars on their way to work in Chenzhou. Maybe commuters or just people going for shopping or business to the big town. Big pots and steam coming out are quite inviting but we just had a substantial breakfast and decide not to stop.

Another fast train to Hong Kong. Lots of people at the station, but fairly disciplined this time, no one is cutting the line, or almost no one.

On the train, I can't help chuckling every time I see, over and over again, this promotional tourist video with a chubby doll in a red dress showing her enthusiasm for the major Chinese tourist sites.

Once in Hong Kong, we have a few hours until our late night flight to London, and decide to make our way to the "Peak". It is not the best day to visit, the visibility leaves a bit to be desired, but still, it's worth the effort. At the top, besides the obvious view, there are lots of restaurants and souvenir shops. Tricky Hong Kong... once you are topside you have to pay another ticket to get to the terrace from which you can enjoy the view, otherwise, you are stuck at the restaurants and the museum!

It is not always easy to get a ticket for the iconic tram at the last minute, but we manage to get a combo pass of some kind that will also allow us entry into a funny wax museum with all kinds of statues of well knows (and some not so well known to us) Hong Kongers from all walks of life.






After which we need to go and pick up our many bags at the hotel we stayed in last time, and traffic is not promising but luckily a trusted Uber driver shows up when we start up our App and we get through the rush hour in no time.

26 February 2019

Carbonara in China

Add caption
Easy day at home, packing and playing with my niece. She loves to play hide and seek and can do it nonstop for as long as it takes to exhaust me!

Dinner with family, mostly food from my in-laws' farm, pickles, bamboo shoots, dried fish. Mother-in-law has set aside two large bags of the addictive peanuts they grow to take back to Europe.

Tonight I used what was left of my guanciale to make some carbonara, thus taking my culinary proselytism one step forward from the gricia of the other day! My first time eating carbonara with chopsticks!

Again they loved it beyond expectations, much to my satisfaction. We even rang the bell at the neighbors and gave them some. Ayi (the auntie) later came over to thank and to say they had eaten it and appreciated it a lot! She looked sincere!

At night we go out for a little walk and my wife has a facial massage from a little shop inside the supermarket from which she bought some aloe vera cream. I found a massage machine: a large and supremely comfortable armchair with all kinds of moving parts inside which massage my whole body, from the neck down. However, it was necessary to have a special store card to use it and we did not have one. So my wife's masseuse kindly agreed to use hers for a 25-minute session, I think it was 15 Rmb and we had to insist to reimburse her!

Later at home chat with the neighbors, as well as catching my niece who continues to hide behind the curtains until I catch her! While we are doing this, the tv is always on in the background. Quite often my father-in-law put on serials about the war with Japan. There are quite surreal features. All the actors are very beautiful, without exception, also the hated Japanese. They all wear lots of makeup, and all the men sport perfect shaves. I doubt anyone was so presentable in the heat of war.

25 February 2019

Pasta alla gricia and espresso

The highlight of this day is dinner with relatives who came over to visit.

I cooked "pasta alla gricia" with guanciale from Lubriano kindly gifted to us by friends Jacopo and Luciana who came to China with us.

I only cooked 300 grams of spaghetti even though there are eight of us because lots of food was already cooked, and che Chinese like to have a little bit of many dishes at every meal.

I was slightly concerned at first. Despite the fact that pork fat is a familiar taste in China, its combination with Italian spaghetti is new for them and my friends and family are not always very curious to try new foods and flavors they are not familiar with. I slightly over-cooked the pasta, a couple of minutes over my usual al dente texture to make it easier for them, as Chinese noodles are always on the soft side compared to their Italian counterparts. I also avoided adding cheese, though the recipe would call for pecorino romano.

Amazingly, the gricia went down well, it was all finished in 5 minutes! And we used the traditional Chinese chopsticks of course, no forks or table knives in this home!

I then decided to push my luck and offered everyone an espresso. I have a Nespresso machine here which I took with me from Europe. I actually tried this before, but my in-laws never liked my Nespresso, they said it smelled and tasted like something burnt.

The other relatives and friends loved it though it may be in part because I offered to add a little bit of sugar. Even the little kids wanted it, and I gave them some decaf with brown sugar!

Next time I will try cappuccino! I need to bring a milk frothing machine to China.








24 February 2019

Guiyang dining tables

As I walk to run some errands I notice several shops selling a unique piece of furnishing I have seen nowhere else. Heated coffee/dining tables which my family tells me are typical for Chenzhou/Guiyang, with whole shops devoted entirely to different models of the same: a sturdy table, higher than a coffee table but lower than a normal dining table, with a large central support and a thick flat base that hosts an electric heating unit.

People gather around on their sofas or stools and eat while keeping warm. An oversize table cloth/blanket is placed on top and falls on the diners' laps all around, trapping the heat inside and keeping everyone warm. ot at least the lower half of everyone. Prices range from less than 900 to over 5000 Rmb.

Today dinner at aunty's, they just bought a sparkling new apartment in a large complex just opposite ours. It is a building we visit often, as it hosts both the best supermarket in the neighborhood and our massage parlor.

The building is relatively new but for some reason the elevators were never properly finished so they look a bit like cargo lifts. Nonetheless the one we take is on the outer side of the building and has glass walls, so it's pleasant to have a view of the urban setting as we make our way up. I am always puzzled at how all the windows of all floors are heavily protected with metal bars. Usually I have seen that, in many countries, at the top floors, where thieves could get in from the terrace or roof, or at the bottom floors, more accessible to ill-intentioned strangers from the street. But here it is almost universal practice.

Some teenage kids smoke in the elevator as we walk inside, although it is obviously not allowed to do so. They calmly kill their cigarettes when they are done and leave the stub on the floor of the lift. When I look at them with obvious disapproval they tell my wife... he looks like a foreigner!

We sit around her heated table and chat about life in Guiyang, she says there is no theatre in Guiyang no concert hall, no entertainment really. We are not there yet. But I am sure we will get there: the money is flowing and the curiosity for new things is already palpable.

22 February 2019

back to Guiyang's market n.2

Back to my favorite town market, simply called Market n.2. Except I can't really go "back" to it, because since the last time I was here last September they moved it! Even my wife does not know where it is so we need mother-in-law's guidance to lead us there, though it is only a few hundred meters away. But it is inside a large building complex, it takes a whole block and it would not be easy to find.

The new market is much better than the old one, for one thing, it is a proper building with a tiled floor and a rainproof roof, unlike the messy jumble of stands on mud floor like the old one. The old one was more fun to watch though!

Shops for live animals are clustered together, along the same street. On one side of the market they sell fish (alive from styrofoam boxes, as usual here) and on the opposite side of the block, it is poultry, also alive.

I buy some pig ears. I like the texture of the cartilage and enveloping skin, especially as my mother-in-law cooks it with her signature home make chili-garlic-ginger spicy sauce.

In the afternoon it is massage and herbal bath time. My wife and I take our two friends who are visiting from Italy to try the Chinese technique. One hour is filled with three sessions of massage, body, legs, and arms, alternating with sessions in a wooden tub for a hot bath of herbal infusions. The massage takes place in a warm room with gentle music in the background. Single or double rooms depending on clients’ needs.

For our two friends, they only had two single rooms and only one of the rooms had a shower. The masseuses did not speak any English, so with the help of a phone translator my lady friend's masseuse, at the end of the session, wanted to tell her if she wanted to rinse in her husband's shower. Except she said: "I want to take a shower with your husband!" Haha.

21 February 2019

Supermarket and TV series

I am pleased to see Italian durum wheat pasta of an unknown (to me) brand called "Sicilia" in the supermarket but no other Italian products. Not many foreign products at all actually. There used to be a few last year. In fact, there was a whole stack of shelves with pasta, olive oil, vinegar, and also lots of wines.

Every time I come here I get a kick out of seeing the live fish in the aquarium waiting to be hauled out with a net and knocked dead with a wooden stick before being weighed by the fishmonger. Weighed but not cleaned as the Chinese like to eat the skin as well as the guts of the fish, which by the way are delicious, silly of us to throw it all away.

Ground floor kids space all kinds of games and entertainment. You buy a card and top it up, then tap every time you play a game until you run out of credit. Our niece Cindy is very fond of this and whenever we are here she can't wait to drag us to the games.

An evening watching TV at home. There is a singing contest on CCTV (China state TV) with many Taiwanese singers. I suppose that is a good way to improve relations across the Taiwan straits.

Later on, there is one of many war series with Chinese soldiers killing many Japanese during the war of the 1930s. The subject touches raw nerves in China even eighty years later. Many Chinese soldiers are very pretty and immaculately manicured girls, but no less brutal fighters!


20 February 2019

Train to Chenzhou

Crispy fish skins
Easy morning around Mong Kok. I would like to try a snake soup again but my friends are not so enthusiastic so we opt for a traditional family restaurant of Cantonese cuisine. Fun to walk around this part of town, lots of peculiar shops, selling goldfish, cats, rabbits and all kinds of food, of course. This time I tried noodles, bovine pancreas and fish skins.

In the early afternoon we take a taxi to the sparkling new West Kowloon Terminus, the final stop of the newest fast train coming directly from the mainland. One more step toward the integration of Hong Kong with the motherland.

It is all very new and impressive. For some reason we foreigners are charged 30 Rmb to collect our tickets even though we had already book and prepaid online. Perhaps because we must show our passports to a human teller. (All tickets are nominal.) Chinese can do this at an automatic teller and for free with their electronic ID cards. Anyway, we are lucky to have seats at all. It is still the end of the CNY celebrations, lanterns day festival was yesterday and millions of Chinese are still on holiday.

Second class tickets are the equivalent of about 40 Euro each, fairly reasonable at European prices for 2 and a half hours ride on a superfast train, but quite expensive for the average Chinese. And yet the train was long fully booked. My wife was smart to catch tickets for us and our visiting friends via a special app which somehow manages to snatch tickets as they become available (one month before the trip) or when there is a cancellation.

Pass Hong Kong passport control first and enter a duty-free area, just as if we were leaving the country although Hong Kong is an integral part of China, if with a special autonomous status. I bought some whisky to share with my family in Guiyang.

Then, before we get to the PRC passport control positions, we walked over a thick yellow line on the ground and passed from the "Hong Kong area" to the "Mainland area" on the other side. Landing cards must be filled and we were at the Chinese passport control checkpoint. The officers did not smile much but are polite and very fast to let us all through.

The ride is quite smooth. We arrive in Chenzhou and it's dark and very cold. We have to get off fast as the train stops only for very few minutes before resuming its run to Wuhan.

Taxis are readily available, 100 Rmb to Chenzhou. We tried Didi, the company that bought Uber out in China, but could not get one. We don't trust some illegal taxi drivers who approach us and offer a discount.

Pile up our suitcases in the truck at the back of the taxi but they do not fit, so the driver just leaves the lid open and ties everything together with some strong belt he always carries with him.

16 February 2019

CKS Memorial and stroll around Taipei

CKS Memorial
Visit to an important landmark of the city of Taipei, whatever you think of the history behind the man.

The most obviously awesome sight is the change of the guard in front of the huge statue of CKS sitting between flags of the Republic of China. It takes over ten minutes for the procedure to complete, and there always are lots of people watching.

A highly controversial man he was: the museum takes you through the various phases of his life, from a traditional Chinese background to world leader dealing with Churchill and Roosevelt.

His father died when he was very young and he grew up attached to his mother.

He was married off to his first wife at age 14! Much later he met Soong Meili, the woman of his life..... but still had a concubine in traditional Chinese royal fashion!

CKS car


The exhibition lavishes praise on him but I would not say there is a
cult of personality. his political and military failures and defeats are also covered in text and photos.

There are other art exhibitions in the mausoleum, one about Andy Worhol and another by YawaiMeika, a young (born 1990) lady painter who belongs to an aboriginal tribe in Taiwan.

We also try our luck at the concert hall and theater but there is not much going on, the next concert is in a week's time! perhaps because of the New year celebrations, oh well.

A pleasant walk around the mausoleum, lots of people walking around, children playing, elderly watching on wheelchairs, it is a weekend family day out despite a cloudy and windy day. Many exotic plants, the grapefruit flowers gift us the most intense scent of the afternoon.

Lunch at a simple but friendly eatery just outside the memorial complex, Steamed chicken, pork intestines. Shared formica tables, paper napkins and metal chopsticks which I don't really like, too slippery. I later noticed packs of single-use wooden chopsticks but they are for takeout clients. As I was thinking to ask for permission to use them a Deliveroo driver came by to pick up an order.

pork intestines


On the way to the hotel, past lots of lit paper balloons for CNY,  a well-deserved foot and body massage, a popular feature of central Taipei, 1200 ntd, 1 hour foot and 1 hour body.


10 February 2019

Taipei, Jade market and night food

It's a late morning wakeup, we are tired from our travels returning from Palau and need a good sleep.

As we leave our hotel in the cranky elevator I went to push the 1 button to get to the ground floor and noticed that there is no floor number 4. They skip from floor 3 to floor 5. 

This is because anything number 4 in China is bad luck, as the pronunciation of the number is similar to that of the character for "death".

I thought it was some kind of old superstition that only old people in villages believe, but no, it is here in one of the best hotels in the high-tech capital of modern Taiwan.

A short walk and we are out in the lazy Sunday traffic.

Trip to the Jade Market, which has become a bit touristy, a lot actually, but is still interesting. Open only on weekends from 10 to 6 in the evening.

Mostly jewels, lots of handicraft and even live anumals, like a few friendly parrots.

Many coins from the Qing dynasty are available, a souvenir full of history. Some may be fakes, but they are quite common and cheap, I don't think it would pay to mint fakes.

In the end I bought a pair of jade earrings from the Qing dynasty for my wife. They dynasty reigned for almost 300 years so it's hard to date the stuff, but it does not really matter.

The most interesting encounter is with a Tibetan couple who came to Taiwan 11 years ago. In broken English, they tell us their stories and show us their wares. They did not feel safe in Tibet and decided to leave, but it was not clear to me why they decided to come to Taiwan. I did not want to be intrusive and did not ask.

I bought a curiously intriguing red Buddha carved in I am not sure what. Maybe some resin or perhaps animal bone.

Funny that they only take cash everywhere in the market. I did not expect Taiwan to be so backward. In any similar market in China these days everyone, including illiterate farmers, would accept electronic payments.

Liaoning night food market for dinner. Taipei is famous for its night markets, again it can be a touristy experience but the food is good and generally cheap.

Tonight for me it's goose intestine with chili, ginger and spring onion. All washed down with cool local beer.


Followed by pig blood curd soup. Usually we have our soups first, but you can't really plan a meal at a night market in Taiwan, it depends what you stumble into first.




04 February 2019

Peleliu island, Republic of Palau

My third time on this small island whose sand is soaked with history. Today for the first time with my wife. In between dives we took a walk around the pier, where we quickly ate some snacks and took a shower.

No time to do a full tour of the island so we were just taking a short walk ashore when a stocky man driving a pick-up truck approached us and asked how long we were staying on the island. 

I told him no more than a half-hour and he offered to show us the wreck of a Japanese Zero that had been downed nearby and the airstrip for which so many people had died.

500 people live on the island now, but boats of tourists come from Koror every day to restock a couple of minimarkets. Other than that, locals have to boat to the capital for shopping.

We can see a small house, nothing special but the building is proudly announced by signs and photos as the house where the Japanese Emperor and Empress rested during their visit to Palau and Peleliu on 9 April 2015.

The photos of the imperial visit show the couple, meeting local elders and children, and of course paying tribute to the fallen soldiers of both sides, Japanese and American.

There are two mausoleums on the island a Shinto for the Japanese and one for the Americans, though both sides, I am told, retrieved their dead to be buried in their respective homeland.

Peleliu offers better dive sites than Palau, I wish we had spent more time here. But I fear the liveaboard skipper wanted to save fuel...





















In the final dive of the day an incredible encounter with a leopard shark.



On a liveaboard in Palau, away from home

Daniela (not her real name) works as a maid on the boat, she is from the Philippines, is 32, and misses her 12 years old son who is back home. Her husband is working in Saudi Arabia. She goes home once a year, Palau is not so far from the Philippines, to see her son.

But she can only meet her husband every four years as it's more difficult for him to take time off and Saudi Arabia is a much longer and expensive trip for him.

They are trying to get together and work in the same country so as to be able to have a normal family life with their son but not easy. However, "for now just have to be faithful and make sacrifices," she says.

Roxy, her colleague and one of the greatest masseuses ever, says it's better like this because she knows both of them and when they were together they were fighting all the time!

31 January 2019

Hospital experience in Koror, Palau

In the middle of the night my wife woke up with food poisoning, it looks like the green long beans at the buffet maybe were not well cooked or washed. Palau produces virtually no vegetables, they are all imported from the US. I suppose it might be easier to import them from Asia or Australia, but give the special relationship I am not surprised a lot of food comes from American farming. Even eggs I am told!

We hate having to wake up our cruise director but she is feeling really sick, even coughing blood.

Luckily our boat is not far from the port, and the skiff ride to shore in the moonless night takes only a few minutes.

The hospital is a simple structure but seems alright. I register her with a receptionist and get checked by a nurse before seeing a doctor: a young petite lady who wears a white mask and gloves. She sends us to an adjacent lab for a blood test. 

As I walk in the door there is no one to be seen but, after a few minutes, a really big betel-chewing guy with red gums shows up in a blue hospital apron and takes a sample of her blood. After some 20 minutes, we get the results. The soft-spoken doctor says not to worry it's not too serious and blood is just coming from her scraping her throat with the repeated vomiting.

On checking out, I'm pleasantly surprised to see a sign on the cashier's window that they accept my DAN (Diver Alert Network) insurance for their services. Except that they don't. When they see our cards they argue our policy does not include this eventuality. Insurance companies never cease to surprise. It's going to be 151 dollars for us. Could have been worse.

A poster on the wall encourages women to report domestic violence. It informs us that 37 percent of the victims in Palau don't ever tell anyone while 67 percent don't report it to the authorities.

Another poster explains ABC: babies must sleep Alone, on their Back and in a Crib. And without a pillow, but somehow the P didn't make it into the acronym. And by the way, no toys in the crib ...

Another poster warns about dengue fever: report asap any symptoms. I thought Palau was free of dengue but apparently it comes back from time to time.

On a happier note... an open box on the wall is full of condoms and a little colorful note taped to it encourages patients, or anyone passing along really, to take a free condom, "or 2 or 3..."

30 January 2019

Palau politics and passport

Palau is one of the fewer and fewer countries that still recognize Taiwan as the legitimate government of China, much to the chagrin of Beijing. And this despite the fact that Chinese tourists now provide a large amount of business. 

This is because, despite the above-mentioned policy, Chinese nationals can travel to Palau visa-free, which of course makes it a very attractive destination for a tropical vacation.

China recently tried to make the point that enough is enough, and made it more difficult for tour operators to organize trips to Palau. But there are still quite a few who do come, so much so that there are a number of Chinese restaurants in Koror which cater mostly to them.

Some of these Chinese settle in Palau, some try and become naturalized citizens. For one, foreigners can't buy land or businesses alone, they can only be only co-owners with a local Palauan partner.

Another reason is that a Palau passport is one of the most coveted ones in the region, as its proud owners can travel visa-free in 118 countries around the world, including the USA. Though a far cry from Japan's 190 visa-free destinations, it is much better than most. Chinese nationals can go to 74 countries visa-free. Taiwanese can travel to 148 countries, exactly twice as many.

I should be quite happy with Italy's 188 destinations, which puts my country at the n.5 spot in the world, after Japan with 191, Germany with 190, Singapore and South Korea with 189.

29 January 2019

Iro wreck dives, Palau


The "Iro" was not a "maru", like most wrecks in the Chuuk lagoon, ie it was not a merchant transport converted to military uses. It was an oil tanker built in 1921-22 expressly for the imperial Japanese navy. Funny she was powered by coal, was a steamer, even though she carried oil for the engines of other ships. One of only 9 oilers in the Japanese navy in WWII, a major weakness.

It participated in most major WWII operations, except Pearl Harbor. During the course of the war, it was hit many times but survived.

It was finally hit by a torpedo in her bow near the Philippines which chopped off a whole bite of the hull at the very front edge. In March 1944 it was limping on her way to Chuuk to be repaired when she learned of operation Desecrate, the American attack on Palau, and she was ordered to Palau, the next maritime line of defense for the imperial navy.


There she was again attacked and finally sunk.

It was salvaged in the 1950s, the Japanese recuperated the bodies and valuable metals but... the boat bringing the remains of the Iro's sailors and any valuables back to Japan sink en route!

The Iro now rests upright, stern sank first and is deep under the sand with prop and rudder clearly visible. A most interesting set of dives.



18 January 2019

Chinese tourists in Palau

Mrs Wan, who runs some restaurants and hotels in Palau, came over from Guangzhou some fifteen years ago with her husband. She speaks Cantonese and Mandarin but only basic English. Their kids grew up here in Palau and speak good English.

She takes a liking to us since we keep coming back every day for dinner and comes over to chat. We come back because the food is excellent, the price is fairly low and they come and pick us up from our hotel for free. And take us back after our meal. Oh, and because my wife is Chinese and there are no Italian restaurants in Koror. None that could be called that really. And not many good restaurants, period. Lots of hamburgers and junk food I am sorry to say.

Mrs Wang also gave us free food a couple of times: a delicious crab one day and fresh yellow fin tuna just caught by her cousin another evening.

She says business is slow these days because the numbers of Chinese tourists are down. In fact during a whole week we've only seen very few patrons in the restaurant, all of them Chinese, which is surprising since there are quite a few western tourists around. I guess they prefer hot dogs and hamburgers. Oh well.

The biggest table in the restaurant, a big one with a lazy Susan in the middle, is always that of Mrs Wan's family and their visiting friends!

She came to talk to us a few times. She says fewer Chinese come to Palau these days despite the allure of a not too far sunny tropical destination accessible visa-free, an unusual combination of attractive factors for the rising middle class of China. The reason, she explained, is that Palau recognizes the government of Taipei as the legitimate government of China, and not that in Beijing.

So Beijing has forbidden Chinese travel agencies to sell group tours to the country. Since most Chinese still prefer group organized travels this has had a major impact.

Tom, an American dive guide who has lived here for decades, would later explain to us that another reason for fewer Chinese is that Palau's government has withdrawn the license it had given to Chinese charter flights. The reason is that too many Chinese were flying over but not spending much money. They would stick to their tour operator's activities, eat at Chinese restaurants, even bring their own food from China. Tom said the Palau government would rather do without them and try to attract bigger spenders like Americans, Japanese, and Koreans as well as the relatively few European divers who make it all the way down here.

These days they are opening a new Chinese resort, Palau Royal Garden. Some fear Chinese intrusion into Palau, some politicians think they will use investment as a political tool. That is not inconceivable I suppose though people like Mrs. Wang are just hard-working entrepreneurs who go and find opportunity where they can find it in the world, just like the Chinese have always done.

14 January 2019

Palau kayak tour

Very American breakfast with lots of fruit juices though they are mostly from concentrate. Disappointing in a tropical island. Lots of processed foods actually, mostly imported from the US and Taiwan, even eggs! 

Weird...In Palau, cars drive on the right-hand side of the road, like in Europe but they all have their wheel on the right-hand side of the vehicle, like in the UK. Very strange. Maybe it's because here cars come mostly from Japan where they drive on the left-hand side of the road so it makes sense to have the wheel on the right-hand side here it's just strange.

We are picked up at our hotel by Marete, a stereotypical tall, blond, blue-eyed Danish lady who is spending a gap year traveling and working around the world with her boyfriend before going back to Denmark and continue her studies. Great idea. Not many Italians do this, even fewer Chinese I think. Too many Italians stay home with mamma until they move in with their wives. Anything to avoid cooking or having to manage a household.

Chinese are just beginning to understand the concept of a gap year. Until now they have to work as soon as possible to support the family. But the rising middle class now knows that is an option and can afford it, we'll see. 


Amazing canoe tour at Risong. A small group of us with a guide who comes from Tinian but has worked here for 12 years: meny more tourists, more money to be made. He takes us through the unmistakable Palauan volcanic formations carpeted with luscious green bushes whose branches overloaded with deep dark leaves reach all the way to the waterline.

An American pilot is with us with his Japanese girlfriends (panta rei, a few decades ago she would have rather died than be anywhere near him). he works for United Airlines is enjoying a day off before returning to Guam, US aviation and military hub in the region. We join a group of 4 elderly and very energetic American ladies. one asks where we live, and when I say London but not sure after Brexit she invites me to move to her native New York city.  

  


We can see small fish of all shapes and colors, a few baby reef sharks and lots of totally innocuous jelly fish, which do not sting as they have no predators in these protected waters. 

Dinner at the Yue Hai restaurant, owned by Cantonese family who moved here some two decades ago also run the hotel's jewelry shop all in the family, including some cousins who have come here for a few years to help and make some dollars. The restaurant is far more appealing and much better value than the jewellery store.