This is Howard C. Park's blog. Interests: live music, simulations and modeling, languages, iPod, social and business networking, systems thinking, history of science, management, BBQ, trivia, good coffee, organizational learning, traveling, personal histories.
Monday, August 13, 2007
I am trying to catch up some posts. Just recently returned from a trip overseas to China and South Korea. China for business and a day of sightseeing; Korea for meeting up with family. Family I haven't seen in almost 20 years.
Quick! can you name the top three tourist sites in Beijing? OK, you can probably guess the 1st two:
The Great Wall, or at least some segment of the Great Wall that's near Beijing
Then you have the Forbidden City (which is the "Palace Museum", and let's say you get Tiananmen Square for free)
So what's the 3rd? According to wikipedia (sourcing the China Daily), the 3rd best-known tourist destination is Silk Street shopping center. It is a mecca for travelers around the world, the uber-stall-mart for the new Millennium. It's a flea market on steroids, and the unprepared tourist can easily get lost and/or accidentally purchase gifts for friends they never thought about. Think of anything you can think of, and it's one sale.... well, actually that's not true. More on that later.
Our host, W, is very good at taking care of us. He had asked us earlier what we wanted to see in Beijing. One of our colleagues had heard of Silk Street, so it remained on our list, after the 1st two must-sees. We had a short 1.5 hours or so and a driver who could drop us off.
At first glance, it doesn't seem that spectacular. I have seen my share of china-town markets. I grew up in a part of the city where most everything was stalls that hocked everything from fruits, shoes, towels, school supplies, candy, and the like. But after checking out a few floors and the variety of merchandise, I must say that I was impressed.
Here is a sign that was in main lobby. I thought it was intended for the customers; a close look reveals that it's actually intended for the employees. On the left, you can see a part of a "best salesperson" list. What intrigued me wa the list of "Recommended Words" and "Forbidden Words" in English and Chinese.
"Recommended Words" include "Looks as though it was made only for you" and "It's my pleasure to help you". "Forbidden Words" include, "You are crazy", "Sh*t", "Stupid guys", and three phrases that are not translated. Does anyone know why?
We arrive Sunday AM at the Tianjin Binhai International Airport. We are running late, but there is a nice calm and quiet to the airport. It's a nice modest airport without the craziness and crowds of LAX.
We pass through three screens: health quarantine, immigration, then customs. Each process is fast and efficient. The airport is small, and the distance from the first official (health quarantine) to exiting the secure area must be only a few hundred feet.
We exit the secure area, and there is the usual group of drivers with hand-made signs, along with plenty of family and friends faithfully waiting for passengers. We know someone will meet us, but we don't don't know who. Then we see a sign with the company letters. We point to him, he smiles and greets us.
The driver's van is parked in front of the exits of the airport. This is not really a parking lot, more like a waiting and flow-thru zone, where several lines help is organizing the cars. The van is less than 100 feet from the exits. "W" is our guide. I ask him, "is it always this easy at the Tianjin airport?". W responds in very good English, "yes, it's a smaller older airport". In the van, we make small talk about how Tianjin is the secret to arriving for the Olympics. At only an hour away, it's a viable option to the Beijing Airport.
Traveling to faraway lands is always a treat for me. When I went to Japan in 1998, I had the Lonely Planet guide with me. It warned me of an unfortunately-named drink called Pocari Sweat. It's a drink that is now widely available throughout Asia. I don't know what Pocari is, the "sweat" comes from the fact that it is a nutrient-replenishing drink. Like gatorade, it is mildly sweet, and replaces electrolytes. And yes, you say "sweat" as in "I ran so hard through the airport terminal, I am sweating."
It is an unfortunately-named drink and will not catch on widely in the US or most western nations.
We wait in the airline lounge at Incheon, trying to catch up on some work and do some planning for the upcoming meetings. We are also hungry. I make several rounds to the all-you-can-eat-and-drink bar at the lounge. And yes, you CAN make yourself a mixed drink at 6 in the morning.
Instead, I opt for several rounds of rice porridge and soy sauce, some canned iced coffee, fruit, and, of course, the Pocari. My colleagues ask, "does it taste good?". I answer, "the porridge is easy and filling after a long plane ride.... the Pocari is nice, but you have to get used to the taste a little bit."
The LAX airport is a madhouse. We arrive late Friday evening: 10:30 PM. Airports are funny places... especially an international hub like LAX. Our flight to Incheon/Seoul leaves at 1:30 in the morning. Who leaves at 1:30 in the morning?
The several hours we have at LAX turns into a rush through exchanging terminals (existing security). I am also trying to re-book tickets so I can spend a few extra days in Incheon on the way back. I was born in Incheon and still have family on both sides of my family.
I trek through the passenger pickup area amid tired and baggage-laden travelers to make my way to Tom Bradley. Exhaust fumes mix honks from drivers looking for their late-night arrivals. Strollers and shoes make it hard for me to move in straight lines. I find my way to the Korean Airlines counter. We were told in Houston that even though we have boarding passes that take us all the way to Tianjin, China, we should re-check in once we arrive in LAX.
I try my Korean. I'll need it in a few days when I arrive in Incheon on the way back. I am able to get new boarding passes and get my ticket changed.
The flight is pleasant; I sleep. My row-mate is from Beijing, now living in LA. She travels to South Korea often for her work, staying weeks at a time. She tells me that during the last visit, she visited Beijing over the weekend. "I couldn't talk for the first day," she explains, "the pollution is that bad." She asks me where I am headed. "Tianjin".
Tianjin is an hour outside of Beijing, serving as the primary port. "Oh," she says with a apologetic smile. "Tianjin should be worse".
The plane starts the descent procedures. It is early morning in Korea, the "land of the morning calm". I look out the window. It does look calm. It's beautiful. It's the first time I see Korea in almost 20 years.