December 23, 2004

"extreme engineering"

beer tree, originally uploaded by ksporry.

This week was a revelation of engineering feats. Three items revealed themselves to the world, in a most unique way. The first one is this Christmas tree. It is not just a Christmas tree, it's a gigantic Christmas tree. Over 12 meters high. 'So, big deal' I hear you thinking, except... that this tree is not just a tree... It was made of beer crates! In the city of Delft students from the faculty of civil engineering, designed and build this monstrosity of a christmas tree, made of crates for beer bottles (beer bottles in Holland usually come in crates of 24 bottles). This ofcourse is only possible in Delft, where the students run the daily affairs of life...

The tree was build from about 15.000 crates of beer in 50 layers, with a height of 12 meters (ca. 40ft). It was even fitted with lights! Unfortunatly it was broken down on wednesday. Here's one more shot of the tree...


Another feat of engineering, which actually dwarfed the Christmas tree, is the recentlyy opened Millau Bridge in France. This is bridge is supposed to be the highest bridge in the world, with 343 meters surpassing even the Eiffel Tower! The bridge spans the valley of the River Tarn, a 2.5 km wide gorge dividing two plateaux in France's rugged Massif Central region. The largest pylon is 343 metres high- taller than the Eiffel Tower. The bridge has cost 390 million euros ($517m) to build. Drivers will pay a 4.9 euro toll to use it. For more information have a look at the website of the BBC where I got some of these pictures:
  • BBC News

  • What surprises me, is that this bridge is not a suspension bridge. With this size and height, they might have preffered a slightly different construction... Oh well, I'm only an aeronautical engineer. Don't know anything about bridges, just aircraft...





    Wait, I haven't finished yet...! Last week, the good people of Holland were shaken up by a Boeing 747 maunoeuvring itself through the canals of Amsterdam! The enormous aircraft made it's way from Schiphol Airport to Lelystad Airport. Did it take a wrong turn when it received it's taxi instructions? Or was it an emergency landing on The Dam? No, it was actually fairly simple. The 747 is the oldest 747 KLM had in its posession. The 747 is one of the oldest generation. In fact, it is one of the oldest 747's that was actually converted to have the extended top deck! The massive aircraft was donated by the KLM to the Auerospace museum on Lelystad Airport, where they have all kinds of aircraft, ranging from the Fokker spin to, well, this 747... and some of those planes still fly! They transported the 747 by boat through the canals of Amsterdam and manoeuvred it to Flevopolder, where the lats bit was done over land. Apparently this operation was cheaper than flying it over from Schiphol to Lelystad. Actually I wonder if that is true. First of all I doubt that Lelystad Airport can actually receive 747's, secondly I doubt the flight worthiness of this particular aircraft. I suppose that does make the statement true from a certain point of view: I'm sure it is more expensive to enlarge the runway on Lelystad Airport to cater for 747's and getting this aircraft flightworthy surely isn't cheap either. Anyway, here are some pics of the operation. Enjoy!

    Oops...took a wrong turn...

    Control, this is dutchbird requesting progressive taxi instructions. I think we are on the wrong taxiway


    One more thing. Tomorrow I'll be flying to Holland to spend the holidays with my friends and family. So I won't be updating this website for 2 weeks. But when I'm back I'm sure I've got some new stories and photos to show you.
    For now I wish you all a merry christmas and all the best for the new year!

    December 19, 2004

    Relocation, relocation

    Sorry for not posting for a while. I have been in the middle of a relocation. Last week I started and this weekend I finally finished! What a nightmare! I was once again reminded of the horror of moving house. Though I don't have a whole house worth of stufff to move, I do have a lot of junk!
    Earlier tonight I was talking to my (now previous) landlord. As expected my flatmate Chris, f*cked up my rent calculations, claiming to know better what I paid than my bank does. I keep waiving the bills, receipts and statemnets under his nose, but no luck. So I had to clear things up with the landlord. He wants to write us a big fat cheque for the deposite and the money he now owes me (I paid half a months rent too much, which he is now giving back). I also would like to recalculate whatever he plans to pay back because he seems to have deducted 100GBP for 3 days rent and I don 't believe that is right. Chris seems to think so, but to be honest, Chris likes to think complex and needlessly difficuult so he could easily miss things.
    Anyway, I'm gonna need the money because this morning my PC packed up! The processor just died on me (the pc still turns on, but nothing happens due to a lack of processing power, or actually, due to the non existing processing...), so I have to try and get a P4 2.4 GHz processor cheaply or get really disappointed as I will have to buy as a minimum a new motherboard, processor and memory! I also want to replace my monitor for an LCD. My monitor is still great but it just takes up way too much space.

    Ok, I hope to do another post later this week before I leave for the holidays.

    December 08, 2004

    Japan Food Festival

    London cab

    I mentioned before that I've been to another Japan Festival, so let me tell you about that.

    It was a glorious day. We arrived by bus on Victoria station and walked to the. Unfortunately British efficiency popped his head up here. We needed some day tickets and Tina had to get a discount card for the coming week. She ordered it in advance so it was just a matter of picking that one up. We arrived in the main hall of teh station, and as couuld be expected, it was crowding with people. The train ticket desks were absolutely packed, with queues running through 3 halls! We weren't looking forward to waiting hours in a bloody queue, so when we saw a fairly short queue we jumped into that one. It was for reservations, so that was good. After half an hour it was finally our turn. So I immediatelt do my story and the guy says I should go to the next hall for day tickets with the underground. Ofcourse, half an hour waisted. So we walked to the next hall, but no signs whatsoever. Now I have lived in Bristol for 4 years so you would guess that I would be able to spot where we need to go. Wrong! I couldn't find any evidence of an office where to collect subway tickets. Thus we asked about 5 shops around, and finally were told we should go downstairs into the underground itself. So we did. First I walked up to the automatic machines, but they stated that day tickets were only valid from 10.00 to 16.00. That was not what I wanted, so we had to stand another 30 minutes in yet another queue. We got our tickets for the day (the guy was helpfull luckily). We asked where we could collect reservations and we had to go upstairs again. Andd ofcourse: another queue awaited us, but not before we had another half an hour of searching before we found the place. There we gave them the reservation of Tina, and they gave us the week ticket. Leavin gthe station we noticed that the dates were all wrong. the reservation date was for monday to wednesday but the ticket said saturday to monday! So we went back because I could have sworn teh dates were stated on the reservation. the guy told me to point it out, and unfortunately they were not. The guy was still kind enough to change it over. he said that the reservations are open ended. you had to specify the dates you wanted otherwise they assume "from today". Luckily he was kind enough to exchange it for a ticket with the right dates.


    After what turned out to be quite a ride on the underground, we ended up somewhere on the second ring of London. the station was only about 5-10 minutes walk to th evenue, and the weather was absolutely fabulous. The area was very very nice. Beautiful houses, quiet, clean.

    So when we got there we bought some tickets. Thank god it was outside as well! They couldn't have picked a better day. It was some 25 degrees. Tina even wanted to get a sunbrella (my english word for a "parasol"). First we walked a bit around the stands. Most of them were food stands, with all kinds of Japanese food. Considering the weather I decided not to try the sushi. How can the fish be fresh when with this kinnd of weather?!?


    We walked to the end of the field, where they had some demonstrations in Kyudo. Kyudo is the art of Japanese archery. there are multiple forms for it (horse back archery is one of them). The sport is a lot more traditional than modern archery. The participants use traditional Japanese long bows and wear traditional clothing. Unlike modern archery, where it is best to concentrate then pull the string, aim and let go in one breath, as you often can't hold the bow aimed for too long. Kyudo demands a lot more of the mind and body as you are expected to do all the handling in a slow and controlled manner, showing discipline and control.
    Each time an archerer had to shoot the rest would sit down, with only the one selected standing and doing his thing. Below are some pictures of the Kyudo session.

    kyudo 3

    kyudo 4

    Next we walked around a bit more and stopped by a huge party tent where they performed a tea ceremony. Before the ceremony an old lady explained the ritual in rough lines, basically telling us teh steps she would be performing. After that she performed the ceremony. They could have done that a bit better I think. I know the tea ceremony is a special ritual, and is commonly used to either entertain respected guests or to express someone's affection for the other participant.
    However, here we could only see them perform the ceremony without any explanation of what was going on and why it was done that way. A bit of a shame, but I guess you can write many books about the ritual. I'm sure it isn't easy to explain.

    tea ceremony preparation

    tea ceremony

    Following that we went to a cooking demonstration. that was very entertaining, and the cook made it look so easy! I was really surprised with th eefficiency and the skill she performed the recipes. I asked her later where I could get some of the traditional equipment. She said I should be able to find a sushi rice bowl without much efford here in england. Though I did manage to get onen at one of the local asian supermarkets quite cheaply, it isn't particularly high quality. So I will kepe my eyes open for a better one. However, she told me that the omelet pan (japanese use a copper coated, square pan for the omelets) I would probably not be able to find in the UK. She got it from Japan directly. I still ahve some of her recipes, and shame on be for not having tried them yet. I wanted to watch the other cooking programs as well (I am a great fan of cooking asian dishes), but Tina had enough and wanted to see something else.
    I have to say, the lady looked quite young. I would have guessed here around my age (as it happens she looks very much like one of the dutch girls working here at Airbus, and she is a few years younger than I am), so I was surprised to find that not only did she have a daughter, her daughter turned 13 that same day!


    So we walked around a bit more. Watched some kimonos. At some point we watched some Taiko. Taiko is Japanese style drums. it is very rythmic and harmonous. It sounds very energetic and dynamic. They had 2 groups. One group was, what appeared to me as a group of beginners., mostly older women and one man. There can be quite a bit of shouting when Taiko is being played. It is part of the performance. The second group was a group of young ladies, and they were a lot more dynamic! They played with such enthusiasm! I made a couple of photographs but they didn't turn out well, so I left them off. At two of them you can see one of the girls looking straight at me, she cought me straight in the act!

    After a while Tina had seen enough as she started making sarcastic "Domo, Arregatou, Gomen nasai" comments, so we called it a day.
    All in all it was a great day, and it stimulated me more into going to Japan some day...

    November 30, 2004

    Japan week Cardiff

    japan week cardiff, originally uploaded by ksporry.

    Last weekend I went to a Japan festival in Cardiff, South Wales. the drive is actually quite a nice one. Nice landscape and not too busy. When I got there, it turned out to be fairly small scale. There were a few stands with Calligraphy, writing, painting. Some origami and wrapping. There was a stand with some cooking books and a stand with bento meals.
    They had some demonstrations, most of which I missed. I only got to see a kimono show. Nice, but not exactly thrilling. There are some music performances and movie displays spread over Cardiff Bay. the whole event lasts 2 weeks, with the most interesting stuff last sunday.
    The photo on top is a group photo of all the models that showed their kimonos. The photo below is one of the young girls showing her kimono.
    I was a little surprised there were no men posing. Afterall, there are also kimonos for men.
    The younger participants were quite shy, which was kind of cute to be honest.
    I have the feeling that they could make so much more of such festivals. For some reason most asian festivals are rather...amateuristic... I went to one in London, which was good. I'll discuss that one in a future post.

    young girl kimono
    young girl kimono, originally uploaded by ksporry.

    November 29, 2004

    Job creation

    The world is in a depression, we all see the effects. Unemployemncy rocketting sky high, and governments trying to be clever by trying to stimulate buying power by taking away the money from those who need it most.
    Holland has reached a historical low since the 80's. But other countries could actually be off worse. Though Holland has an official unemploymency rate of 10% (which is actually quite significant), Japan has a mere 5%, a figure that seems to be constant with a healthy economy. Japan seems to have a significant hidding unemploymency. Not that strange if you have some 130 odd million people living and working together on a relatively small area. It seems like Japan creates jobs just to keep people employed, and you really don't need to be good to be promoted to office chief. It's like an army: plenty of corporals around.
    England is pretty good at it too, mostly with bureacratic functions.. If they need to create more jobs, they just create some procedures and an extra department to deal with it. Ofcourse this alll mmakes money flow like water, because the extra bureaucracy brings aling delays, many, many delays. And if it can take longer, that would be even better! Imagine an IT department taking 2 montths to change someone's details in Outlook, an action that probably takes 2 minutes of someone's time... Or better yet, something that could have been fully automated!
    France isn't much better though. the french excel in creating rubbish! In my profession Ii deal with plenty of french and french products. My company (surprise surprise, 80% french), manages to contract french software companies that create software tools worth some 100.000 GBP a piece, that do not do the job, and after delivering the product, it doesn't work (ofcourse), partly because it isn't finished (ofcourse), and then say they won't provide support for their product (agaiin ofcourse).
    China is good at it too though. During my holiday in Shanghai I witnessed many cases of job creation. trafffic attendant is prpobably the most popular one. Each junction has 4 corners, right? (for a simple cross junction that is, two for a T-junction). In Shanghai they manage to put a traffic attendant on every single corner of the street. There are many many youngg boys handing out commercial cards. They do it so agressively that it seems like the more cards they hand out, the more they get paid! Then there are the street cleaners, who by the way only operate in areas of esteme.
    In the post office there is actually a guy that wil guide people to a till, any till... There will be one person tthat takes your mail, pass it on to the next, who will put a stamp on it, another to put it in a bag, etc etc.
    If you can think of something that could possibly be implemented as a job, no matter how remote, China probably thought of it before you did.

    Job creation excercise
    Job creation excercise, originally uploaded by ksporry.

    November 22, 2004

    Buddha in the 3rd millenium

    Buddha in the 3rd millenium, originally uploaded by ksporry.

    This photo was taken in Taiwan in a place called Tainan, just north of Kaosiung. The place is famous for it' s many temples, and when I say many, I mean many!. It has 3 huge temples, two of which are constantly competing for the title of "biggest temple of South East Asia". Well, I have to say, they are mighty impressive.
    I can't think of a better picture to summarise Taiwan: Where new meets old! It is amazing how the Taiwanese manage to combine tradtitions with modern society. You can literally find an ancient temple next to the newest skyscraper in Taipei.

    November 19, 2004


    Today I saw an interesting film 'A river runs through it', with Brad Pitt. The story is basically about two brothers who grow up in Montana and have a passion for fly-fishing. One leaves to study english literature, the other stays behind (and gets into gambling and drinking). Though probably classified as a drama, it isn't really dramatic. It is quite striking though, the peace and calmness the film radiates. The film is set in gorgeous nature.

    Why do I mention this? It makes me realise how much I like travelling. I want to see soo much more than I have done so far. I've had it with Europe for a while. I want to go to Japan, partly thanks to Jeff, who started sushicam many a year ago ( China would be interesting, but not Shanghai. I've been there, but the city doesn't appeal to me very much. Taiwan is also an option. I like Taiwan. Nice people, nice food.

    There is another reason why I like travelling and it is probably a very unimaginable reason.
    It reminds me who I am, and where I come from, where my home really is. I might not be there now, and it may be a sh!thole sometimes, but it is home, and there is only one home...
    So why don't I just go home? That's because you don't realise what you miss until you miss it, even if the place you live in now, is many times better. I didn't know how fast to get away from Holland, but I do miss it now. And remember when you were a child, that you didn't always go to Mc Donalds, or got candy. And when you did, it was the greatest thing ever! That is how it feels to go home. The sweetness of coming home... There is nothing quite like it.
    I haven't been home for almost a year now. When I do get home, it will be exactly a year ago. And that while it is only 100GBP away... So why don't I go home more often? Because I like places I haven't seen before...

    November 07, 2004

    The first step into a larger world...

    It finally came in last friday. After an exhausting week of testing, stress, sweat, tears and blood, it finally came! My first Macintosh... My iMac G5 20"...
    And I love it! I have to say, after 15 years of MS Windows it is quite a change in operation, and I have to unlearn what I have learned. But I made my first step into a larger world. I do need to get some virusware and spamware stuff. Not that Mac is so sensitive to the stuff, but always better safe than sorry...
    I'm planning to purchase an iPod from Taiwan, as it is some 45 quit cheaper than in extortionate UK. I also need to buy one of those JBL Creature II sound systems. It may not be the best in the market sound wise, but my stereo can deal with that when I want REAL good sound, plus the white version nicely fits the design of my iMac. I was tthinking about getting an iSight as well, again the design has a large impact. Don't get me wrong I don't concentrate on looks, in fact I often don't bother because quality is more important, but the iSight is top notch and the JBL set isn't bad either. So I think some new gadgets are on the way. Expensive? yes, but since I found out I have 1000GBP more to spend this week than normal (actually it will be over 2000 by december), I think I am entitled to spoil myself a littlle bit.

    Soon I should be getting my Adobe Creative Suite in the mail and then I really can get started! Hopefully then I will beb abl eto put some pics up as well. I have quite a few GB of images to convert, post, print and process, so I will be a busy bee this week...

    Thatt reminds me, when I tried installing Canon digital solution disk v5, which did work on my PC, it didn't want to install file viewer utility. Don't ask why, I do not have the answer. So what I did, was look for some support from Canon. Since I bought my camera in the UK and registered it there (the disk came with the camera), it made only sense... I typed in my querry and it came up with a whol elist of similar issues. Except that none of them were similar enough to be of any help. So I submitted my questions to Canon, only to not receive any notification. So today I tried again, so far still no confirmation of receipt. If I don't have any initial answers by monday, i will start calling them and demanding some support.
    I heard that Canon UK is pretty poor, and I believe I'm starting to experiience it now myself.

    In fact, a lot of support and service is equal to non-existent here in England. They're just not into it it seems...
    Canon Holland is good though! Last timme I had a question (which was also the first time), I bought a flash (540EZ). But the companyy I bought it from only included an unreadable german copy of the manuual, so I called Canon and I got a verry friendly chap on the line. he told me to fax or email the receipt and warranty certificate. .So I scan it in, and I attach a question if the guy could send me some info and brochures on related products. About a week later I receive my manuual, accompanied with 2 books, worth 50GBP!!! One was 'The Lens Works' and another was about photography using EOS equipment. I was well impressed so I send him another email thanking him for his help and the service he provided.
    Anyway, we'll see what will happen.

    Stay tuned for the next episode of "Any whichh way but home..."

    October 31, 2004

    depressing sunday

    Sundays, I hate sundays. Most others probably like sundays, because it is still weekend. I hate sundays, I've always hated sundays.

    Sunday is boring. There are only a couple things you do on sunday: recover from a hangover (bye-bye-sunday), doing nothing at all (very common), watching the grand prix while you know Schumacher wins it anyway, checking your emails and checking them again an hour later, you do your choirs (how depressing is that?!? always "laundry this", "cleaning house that").
    There was a time in my life when sundays were good though. I would be flying model aircraft. That was fun, until the thick-headed Dutch bullshit government decided that silent, unpowered model gliders were more annoying and environmentally unfriendly than the power-boosted mopets and scooters revving their little sowing-machine-like-engines at 150 decibels!
    Then there is the next door neighbour ofcourse. Despite living in a very Christian village he always felt it necessary to start doing DIY at 8 am on a sunday morning, the heiden! Ofcourse it wasn't cutting the hedge with scissors, but rather drilling the walls and hammering them down!

    There is another good reason to not like sundays: The next day will be monday and the first working day of the week! When I was a kid, that would be interesting because I actually loved going to school. I had really nice classmates in Arnhem, but when we moved away, well... you can imagine something.

    Ofcourse if you like gardening I suggest you stick to sundays. Ideal for gardeners!

    well, winter time has set in. The clock went back an hour last night. It meant an hour extra sleep. very useful for bristol's drunkards. Not so much for me though as I spend it awake, so I didn't get that much sleep.

    Right tomorrow back to work again! Let's hit the sack. teh sooner I go to sleep the sooner sunday belongs to the past...

    October 28, 2004

    Museums and sightseeing…

    From reading several travel guides, one would think there is enough to see in Shanghai to fill 3 weeks in Shanghai alone. Well, it really isn’t that impressive. Unless you literally want to follow what the book tells you, you can see the most important stuff well in a week’s time and do some ordinary shopping as well.
    Shanghai has a couple of museums, of which I have seen only one I must admit. The Shanghai Museum on People Square is quite good. They have a good collection of artefacts and they have it nicely attired. I believe they’ve done the place up a couple of years ago. Well, now it is definitely worth going. The price is fairly cheap, only 30 Yuan. However, if you want to get the most of it I suggest you get an audio guide, which costs about 60 Yuan I believe. The audio guide is needed, because despite their interesting collection and their nice layout, the artefacts do not have much of a description. They all have a sign that states: ‘this a vase’, or ‘this is a painting’. If you are lucky they display the era from which it descended. Very disappointing as it makes the museum a lot less interesting. In case you are wondering, it doesn’t help being able to read Chinese, as both Chinese and English are displayed.
    If you want to see everything properly you really should spend 2 half- days, as it is indeed that extensive.
    Having said that, the best collection you can probably find in Taipei, Taiwan. When Chiang Kai Shek and his followers were chased out of China, they brought along as much of the Chinese heritage as they could possibly carry, to prevent it from being smashed by the communists. The museum in Taipei is quite a bit bigger than the Shanghai museum, and I will certainly want to go there a second time. Especially since I have only seen about a third or so the last time I went there.

    ancient wine vessel
    ancient wine vessel, originally uploaded by ksporry.

    buddha in large numbers
    buddha in large numbers, originally uploaded by ksporry.

    Hangzhou is a lot better! Hangzhou is fairly touristy and at the west lake in Hangzhou always attracts a lot of people. On one of the peninsulas has a nice little museum with some fairly interesting artefacts. Although the museum is not even nearly as big as the Shanghai museum and the artefacts are not always as interesting, it does have some interesting pointers. First of all, what definitely makes this museum better than the Shanghai museum, is the fact that they have displays everywhere! Each artefact has an explanation of what it is, where and when it is from, what it was used for, etc etc. And every so many displays they provide you with a little story about the further developments made in a particular era. Very interesting, and it is even in English! They also discuss some of the more recent history of China, like the rise of the communists, Chiang Kai Shek and the Kuomintang, the Japanese occupation, the cultural revolution, etc etc. definitely worth seeing. One drawback though, is that you can walk through the museum pretty quickly.
    Having said that, There is so much to see in Hangzhou/west lake, that you won’t miss too much. Most of the buildings and sightseeing highlights are reconstructions and restorations. Very few is left from the original buildings, which is a bit of a shame, but it is still nice to see. Again, if you want to see Hangzhou, I suggest you take 2 full days to see the west lake area properly, maybe even more, because many of the attractions close around 17.00. You also need to be fairly fit as the area is surrounded with hills, and there are some steep stairs to climb!
    One interesting little shop on the main peninsula, is part of the seal stone engravers society. A society that was dedicated to, yes, you can guess: engraving seal stones. They use an ancient way of script for seal stones, nowadays known as, again not very surprising: seal script. They have a very interesting collection of seal stones, in all shapes and sizes, but also a lot more that is related to Chinese calligraphy, like brushes, ink stones, ink tablets, etc etc. Note though that they don’t bargain like Old Town. The price on the item is what you get to pay, take it or leave it! If you really want to get something interesting I would suggest to go for it here, as they do have some unique items. Otherwise you can get many seal stones a lot cheaper in Old Town.
    If you do have the opportunity, go there during spring, when the lotuses are blossoming. That should give quite a spectacular sight on the lake as there are many fields of lotuses. When I was there, all you could see is the green leaves on stalks of about 2 meters high. Interesting, but not exactly breathtaking.

    Gate Shanghai
    Gate Shanghai, originally uploaded by ksporry.

    Shanghai has several other attractions that are worth going to.
    There is the Oriental Pearl Tower, which is a modern shaped TV/Radio Tower of some 400 odd meters tall. You can go up to 360 meters in the futuristic, rocket shaped tower. There are 3 balls you can visit, although I didn’t see any elevators or stairs going to the first ball. The second ball at some 260 meters high is regarded as one of the more interesting points of view, especially considering Shanghai’s haziness. Also it is a lot cheaper than doing the whole thing. I paid the extortionate sum of 100 Yuan to get to the top, which does allow you to visit the second ball as well. It is interesting, but no more than that.
    Alternatively you could go to the Jinmao Tower. At 88 stories one of the highest buildings in Asia, which has now been surpassed by Taiwan’s Taipei-101 tower. The Tower is designed with a typical Chinese building architecture in mind. Strangely the Taiwanese kind of copied the style for their Taipei-101, which is now the tallest building in the world. Personally I like the Jinmao tower better than Taipei-101. It has a more interesting design (I will put some photos up later for comparison).
    The Jinmao tower is cheaper than the Oriental Pearl Tower at only 70 or 80 Yuan, and it does bring you quite a bit higher than the Oriental Pearl Tower. If you can see the rest of the city remains to be seen though…
    When you travel to the Pudong district (e.g. to visit the oriental pearl tower), you could choose to take the pedestrian tunnel. At 30 Yuan it is 15 times as expensive as walking to Henan Road station and taking a 2 Yuan subway, but it is actually quite interesting, and lets face it, 30Yuan is only 2 GBP. Hardly worth a second thought unless your middle name is Scrooge.
    I already discussed Old Town with its bazaars. There is more than bazaars though. You can go to the Yuyuan gardens, which again has an entry fee, but is worth the money. It is quite sizable and you spend more time than you would initially expect. The buildings are intriguing and original. A lot of it is restored but it looks nice. Unfortunately when I came, most of the buildings had closed doors. Each building has a small description of what the room represents and what it what it was used for.

    Some things are more worth going to in the evening, when it is dark. Like Nanjing road, which is the biggest shopping street in Asia. It actually has a small ‘train’ running along the street! During the day it is no more than most other shopping streets, but at night it looks like the light strip in Las Vegas! Quite impressive I have to admit. Some things are not directly touristy and obvious. At some point I went to visit a friend and her parents. She picked me up and accompanied me to her parents for dinner. Along the way we walked past some rather old building blocks. Smaller houses between the tall flats. Between the ancient rows of houses were tiny little narrow alleys. And they were pitch black! Occasionally you could see a light up in the distance, but generally it was just plain dark. It is amazing people could actually walk through those alleys without stumbling over the rubbish! It was an intriguing sight and I actually felt myself drawn to those ancient alleys between the old houses that surrounded them. Ofcourse wisdom, and my friend as well, told me I better didn’t. In these cases it is wise to have a guide with you. To be honest, I doubt anything would have happened to me if I would have dived into such an alley. Shanghai is really not that criminal.

    Hmm, it seems like I have created my longest post so far. SO I better leave it at this. More next time…

    October 22, 2004

    Prices and haggling in Shanghai….

    I am still amazed about the truth in what the Lonely Planet guide of Shanghai stated.
    Haggling is indeed one of the things you have to perform on the streets of Shanghai. Though modern department stores will laugh at you, you can make deals with less rigid stores, like the Huanlong department store opposite Shanghai Central Railway station (not to confuse with Guanlong).
    However, if you go to Old Town, you have-to haggle. In fact, they will be insulted if you don’t.
    The thing is, when they see a western guy, they will immediately zoom in on him/her. If you have a Chinese companion, they will ignore that person. Also they will double their prices for westerners.
    Haggling can be quite tricky if you haven’t done so before. Prices you see may be cheap , especially for the place you come from (e.g. the UK), but you have to remember that for them, those prices are extortionate! You shouldn’t just think ‘what would I like to pay for that?’. You actually have to think ‘If I was Chinese, with an average Chinese salary, what would I want to pay for that?’ Take that number and then offer the retailer 50% of the price you want to pay for it. Effectively you will probably have to offer 10% of the listed price. They will decline but immediately give you 30% reduction. Increase your price just a little bit, only a few yuan, say 5 yuan (depending on the product). They will drop their prices even more, and so on and so forth. You will probably end up paying 30-35% of the listed price. Sometimes, after their first reduction they won’t go lower. Be prepared to walk away. Go to the next shop (that will most likely sell the exact same item). They will almost certainly follow you decreasing their price with every step you make, and they will probably meet your price. Sometimes they won’t but that is the risk. Then again, I’m sure you can get the item in another shop.
    Also remember that as long as they decrease their price, they make a profit. And you have to be really hard. Don’t give in to sweet sad looks, they probably still rip you off. You have to haggle for every single penny/yuan/cent, seriously! Also keep in mind that you always have to stay friendly during the whole process. Keep smiling even if they don’t meet your price. Be polite, and don’t insult them, because gone your bargain will be…
    Whenever you are interested in an object, and you try to haggle for it, scrutinise the object. Even if it looks good. Try to find every single defect or deficiency and point it out. It will get you another discount extra. Even if the defect seems to be only in your head (like, one chopstick is less shiny than the other, things like that).
    When you look at wooden objects, make sure you know something about the wood characteristics, or have someone that knows something about it. You don’t have to be an expert, but even an amateur can distinguish between lacquered pine and mahogany! This is important, because they will claim everything is mahogany. You can notice the difference between high quality hard wood (like mahogany, oak, etc) and pine and other soft woods. First of all, a softwood dents easily. Ofcourse you can’t just try to dent the product and see how easy that is. But you can feel it from the texture. Often softwoods are also a lot lighter (because of the lesser density of the wood), and with hard woods you can distinguish line patterns of the wood much better. You can also see that often, even if it is real mahogany, the object is lacquered, just look for drips and drops. If there is a texture, the paint will be lighter on the higher parts and darker in the lower parts. Anyway, you get the picture…

    In the normal shops they don’t always accept credit cards, like the Huanlong department store, near the station. These are small shops in one big building, a bit like a mall. None of these shops accept electronic payments, simply because the facilities have never been installed in the building. You can get good prices there for brand new products, but normally they don’t give you a Tax receipt. If you Do require such a receipt, the price will go up. Reason for this is because they have to buy Tax coupons from the tax office. Obviously this costs them money, which they will reflect in the price. Since these shops are not really market shops like you find on the streets, you can’t haggle, like in Old Town.
    If you do more business, you may be able to get some reduction, but in fairness, it won’t be much, and the price you pay, will be good anyway. I did some business buying and selling some camera lenses there, and generally they are like regular camera shops in Holland: They will give you a good deal if you buy something from them, and if you buy more, you can negotiate a nice price, but we are talking pennies here, so don’t push it too much. Also note that you won’t get a warranty with any electronics you buy from this place. But really, if you live on the other side of the world, there is probably little you can do anyway if it breaks down.
    Modern department stores, like No. 1 Department store on Nanjing Road (the biggest shopping street in Asia, stretching over 1,5-2 miles…!) will have modern prices: the same as at home. They will provide you with all the (tax) receipts.

    More to come soon…

    October 20, 2004

    Winters in England are cold.... and wet!

    Well, just to have a break in my stories about Shanghai.
    Winter has set in here in the UK. Ofcourse I noticed this on the evening I landed at Heathrow. It was bitterly cold. In honesty I have to admit that the temperature today isn’t too bad really. But it is wet! Its been raining all night and all morning. I was surprised to find it brought up some nostalgic feelings. It kind of makes me homesick to a time a and place in my youth. At the time I was living in Arnhem and I had a very good childhood there (with some exceptions ofcourse). That combined with the photos I see of trees changing colours. You may wonder why I said ‘photos’ rather than the real thing. That’s because the weather in England doesn’t really allow an opportunity to watch autumns colours unfortunately.
    I remember when in Arnhem there was a big park just north of the central station. We always had excursions to this park with the school, especially in the autumn. We would be picking up leaves and all kinds of tree seeds, like acorns, beechnuts, chestnuts, etc. We would examine them back in school.
    I remember there was a little waterfall in the park, and you could walk underneath it, and it was small enough to cross through on the top, without fear of being swept away.
    Back then it could rain just like it is now. Only back then we would still get real winters in Holland, unlike nowadays. In Arnhem we would even get snow! Knee high! (ofcourse I was only 10 back then, so knee high back then is now ankle high…) We could ride our snow sledges from the dykes or some of the few hills we have in Holland. Normally we first would get snow in winter, and later we would get ice. Sometimes, if they didn’t put any salt on the streets, the snow would freeze up and one of the neighbours would tie all the sledges to the towing hook of his car and tow us through the streets in the area. The joy we had…
    First snow fall was always amazing. My brother and I would be playing outside and you could smell the snow building up in the clouds, and suddenly at the end of the afternoon, just after twilight, big fat snow flakes would tumble down from the skies. My brother and I would immediately grab our shovels and start asking people if we could clear their paths for them (for a small fee ofcourse). You may think why as it just started. But within half an hour there would be 10 cm of snow! So if we start early, we can come back an hour later and do it again for them, again for a small fee ofcourse ^_-
    It makes me somewhat homesick thinking back to those days. I will make sure to go back during Christmas and New years eve. Though I might spend new years eve with friends. It is more convenient if I have to go back to the UK the next day. Last year we actually got to see some snow when we were on the train back to the airport. That was quite a delight! And the atmosphere was soo nice in Holland, during those festivities. I hope that recent government plans to cut budget on, well, everything, haven’t made people too bitter.Recently I found some photos made in Japan, showing the golden temple covered in snow. It was absolutely gorgeous! This is why I would very much like to go there. At least Japan still knows real seasons!

    October 17, 2004

    ...part 2: Taxi's

    Taxis in Shanghai, a bit of an experience. There are taxis in abundance in Shanghai, wherever you are there will be dozens of Taxis driving around. Now normally in England I would never think about getting a taxi, because it is just too damn expensive. A 5 minute ride in the UK costs you around 5 GBP! Not in Shanghai though. On average a 10-15 minute ride would cost around 10-15 Yuan, 3 yuan more after 23:00. 15 Yuan on average equals 1 GBP. In fact, at some point I started to get worried when a ride became 17 Yuan! (Which is still peanuts...).
    Taxi's are quite easy to identify. They are all Volkswagen Santana's, it being the Santana 2000 or otherwise, so the shape is very distinct. The colours you can recognise quickly as well. They are always bi-coloured, with silver and aqua blue, or dark red. Sometimes with yellow or another colour. Personally I have never heard of a Volkswagen Santana before, and I doubt they actually exist outside China.
    The taxis all have white covers over the seating. This could be to spare the original cover, but I wouldn't be surprised if it has something to do with last year's SARS epidemic.
    The taxi drivers, like everyone else, speak shanghainese. It is useful to have your destination written in Chinese, because they are bount to not understand you when you pronounce where you need to go.
    The taxi drivers can be a bit rude though. The first time I took a axi, I only had 100 Yuan bill son me and the guy didn't have any change so he got totally upset and nervous because he had to change. So the moral here is to always make sure you have smaller with you when you take a taxi. Later on I discovered by the way that not all taxi drivers care that much...
    Despite that, the taxi drivers are surprisingly honest I have to say. The meter is always set to 0 (you should check before you actually get in). However, they don't always follow your instructions, which means sometimes they take the long road, and they don't always let you off where you want to. Because of 'the rules'. Funny enough at some point I started giving the driver instructions where to go...

    More next time...

    October 14, 2004

    Shanghai...where east meets west...part 1

    Well, I got back from Shanghai. I'll be telling about my Shanghai experience in a series of posts, this being the first one. ALthough I could summarise it in a sentence: Read the Lonely Planet guide of Shanghai, 2004 print. It is spot on, to the letter!

    My trip started and ended with the aircraft I actually helped design myself: the A340-600. I was quite exhilarated when I found out I got to fly an aircraft I helped design myself. Unfortunately, I let myself get blinded by that. Buy did I get a cold shower...
    The A340-600 is supposed to have an in-flight entertainment system that is top notch. Too bad it is optional. I was flying with China Eastern and they apparently cut drastically on the in-flight entertainment. There were only a few LCD monitors in the centre row. What's worse, is that the programs played on it were mostly chinese. Nothing wrong with that, except that most programs didn't have subtitles. Plus the quality of the recording was soo bad (they must have bought some dirt cheap VCD copies from Shanghai Old Town, because I never saw something as bad as that), I couldn't even read the subtitles when they were there.
    On the way back it was worse though. They played some chinese celebrity interview show, over and over again. Ofcourse again no subtitles. And it lasted for 6 hours!!! So at some point I asked the stewardess if she could change it, maybe put some movies on. She immediately did so and appologised for it (They are very polite and correct I have to say, no complaints about the service I got!). Again the films were poor quality. In fact, they showed some American movies, which were dubbed in chinese ofcourse, and then subtitled in english, very very poor english... It was almost funny!

    You can notice though that they are a budget airliner, as beside the in-flight entertainment, they also cut costs on food. You get 2 meals and twice you get a drink, that's it, nothing more. Though you can grab drinks yourself during the whole flight, as they have trays with water and juices standing ready for the thirsty ones.

    What was funny though was that on the way to Shanghai, I talked to one of the stewardesses and I asked her how the company (China Eastern) liked the aircraft. I told her I helped design the aircraft. That is... I tried to tell her. She couldn't understand english very well. Now I know I have an accent, but it really is not that bad! She constantly looked at me questioningly "what the hell is this guys saying???" And she would ask me to say it again a bit slower and she vrought her ear closer as if it was really noisy and she could hear me well. Finally a passenger walked up to us and started translating what I said to her.
    No... it wasn't noisy...

    October 11, 2004


    Yes! I didn't know it was possible, but wonders do still exist! I can retrieve all my data from my presumed lost E-drive. I have my photos back!!! I am currently recovering all files and directories and I will back them up this evening. Then I will continue to recover all other files before I format the harddrive again. But before I do that I will make the harddrive an external one.
    I'll keep you posted, first recovery operation!

    September 23, 2004

    Disaster struck!

    It was bound to happen... My PC crashed... It happened during an update of Windows XP (SP2 was the update). I ended up reinstalling XP, but to my surprise, XP no longer recognised my E-drive. Now you should know that I have 3 physical harddrives, each un partitioned. After the crash I could still use all 3 harddrives, but after the reinstallation XP no longer could see anything on my E-drive. It considered the drive 'unformatted' and asked me if I wanted to format it. Knowing ofcourse that during the installation I didn't do anything to it, and therefore assuming all data was still there intact, I said 'no'. Strangely XP never asked me if I wanted the E partition reset, neither did it tell me it would do so. Nonetheless I lost my E-drive. I am still trying to recover the data on it but I think it is a loss. It annoys me a lot as it contains a lot of photos, some of which I hadn't backed up yet. I didn't consider backing it up necessary as it was a separate drive and XP should have left it alone... 'should have'... but it didn't... *sigh*
    Surprisingly support does answer my emails, but ofcourse after giving them a full detailed description of what happened, up to every single click, in chronological order, including information on what kind of windows CD I used etc, they still come back with a reply like I am a moron! They asked me if I used a recovery disk, because those disks format every harddrive on your system. That was all they said... So basically they hadn't read my email, so I asked them to cut the crap and just get to the point. I told them I'm not a moron as I gave them every single piece of info they would ever need or even not need! (short of my Credit card details ofcourse) I asked them if they could just tell me how to fix the problem and not try to hold me off with useless questions that they already have the answer of.
    We'll see what happens...

    Mean time, I still need to learn how to make something of my weblog. I want to insert pictures and add menus etc. If there is anyone that can give me some advice, hints or tips I would be very grateful!

    Some good news: My holiday is only 1, well... actually only half a day away. On sunday I am going to Shanghai, China! I can't wait! I'm sure I can make some lovely photos there.

    Mean time I found a very good blog:
    The images are amazing!!! When I find out how, I will add that one to my links section...

    September 16, 2004

    Closer to freedom...

    Well, the week's almost over. Tomorrow the weekend will start, can't wait! LAst week has been most exhausting. At work I found out that some data had to be delivered to the supplier. An initial quick calculation showed that I wouldn't be able to produce the required info before the end of the month, as it would normally take a month, but surprsingly I managed to get most data togetehr in a day! Sometimes I'm even amazing myself!!! Though the work isn't finished yet, I have good hopes of rounding off my tasks before I go on holiday.

    Ahh, sweet holiday... Just a bit more than a week and I'll be off to Shanghai. 2 weeks of nice food, and sightseeing. I can't wait!!! I still need to sort out some stuff this weekend though.

    I managed to sell one of my guitars last tuesday. The guy came round to buy a Les Paul for his 11 year old son. He himself plays quite well, so he knew his stuff. He tried it out and I think it was actually adequate. Then he saw my other guitar, which I was also selling, and he tried that, just for fun. And he was sold immediately. He loved that guitar, and rightly so! I was actually quite sad to sell it as I loved that guitar as well. I was hoping I could sell the Les Paul, but in the end he paid more for the Yamaha (not a standard one, but custom made!). Though I shouldn't complain, I do miss it. I don't play very often, but that guitar was sweeeet... I liked it way better than teh Les Paul. Well, in the end it was just more practical. I mean, I will need the money and I can't take it with me when I want to move to Shanghai. I have a lot of junk to get rid of, so I should just let it go I guess. After all, to me it is more important to go to Shanghai than to keep a guitar I hardly play...

    Soon I will try to post some pics, but first I have to figure out how to go about that best...

    September 13, 2004

    Where to start...?

    Ok, this is my very first blog, so please be gentle...
    For a while now I have wanted to create a Weblog, and I think this service allows me to do so. I wish I found out about this 4 years ago, when I started working in England!
    During those 4 years a lot has happened that I would have like to share with you. Tough luck I guess, but it is possible that I still come up with some of the "adventures" I had.

    Today I realised that I really need a holiday, and I mean REALLY really, because when I left I started making that sound Islamic women always make when they celebrate something. Come to think of it... it does sound rather much like my phone on my desk at work...
    Well, 13 days left, and I'll be in Shanghai! Just for holiday this time, but I do plan to go there permanently. I'd love to work and live there for a few years.

    I hope those typhoons and hurricanes are gonna stop sometime soon. Taiwan is still being pestered by one, and Southern China is suffering as well, not to mention Japan... Shanghai isn't suffering too much, but there's plenty of rain at the moment. It better be gone when I get there!!!

    Well, it isn't much for my first entry, but I'm still reading up on all the tricks I can do with this weblog (sorry, I'm a bit of a website/weblog virgin...), more importantly, I'm hungry and I'm gonna get some food!