Tuesday/ welcome on board

Cabin crew dressed in personal protective equipment (PPE) await passengers before a flight from Amsterdam to China. [Photo: Justin Jin for South China Morning Post newspaper]
We still have airplane passengers here in the States that get away with wearing no mask on the airplane. Why is that? They need to be removed and added to the no-fly list for 10 years, with the rest of the FBI’s domestic terrorists.

Here are a few excerpts from photojournalist Justin Jin’s recent visit to Shanghai (to visit his cancer-stricken dad in the hospital), as described in the South China Morning Post:

To get on one of the few exorbitantly priced flights, I have to pass two Covid-19 tests. One will draw a sample from my nose and the other from my blood, with both needed to be taken within 48 hours before departure at a lab approved by the local Chinese consulate. When I get my results, I have to upload them together with a long list of personal data via a phone app to the consulate, which then activates a QR “health” code on my phone required for boarding my plane in Amsterdam.

Many of the mostly Chinese passengers come fully protected, too. Since each of us carries double-negative results to get on the flight, this cabin must be one of the safest places in Europe. The Chinese passengers also follow instructions to stay in their seats as much as possible, even avoiding the toilet during the 12-hour flight. I also avoid the bathroom, my confidence shaken by the behavior of those around me.

Upon landing, customs officers comb through the plane to see if anyone has fallen ill. Our flight gets the all-clear to disembark, and we file into a Covid-19 testing station, getting another QR code and passport check along the way. Almost everything is shielded and contactless, a precise choreography of anticipated human movement.

Even though I have by now three certified negative test results, I am still a suspect in China’s eyes. There’s always a chance of catching something on the way. And since the tests I have had are not perfect, I shall endure a 14-day strict quarantine at my own cost. (At the hotel, Justin describes the severe cleaning procedures at the hotel. The hallway is disinfected every time a person had entered it, for example).

. . .

In free and democratic Europe, people live under the repressive shadow of Covid-19. In China, the system is restrictive, but people are almost completely safe from the virus imprisoning much of the world. They are free to hug, to party and to prosper.

The same night my brother takes me to a crowded wine bar in Shanghai with friends. There are no masks, no talk of vaccines and, for a moment, no worries. It feels so 2023.

Saturday/ the new stations on Berlin’s U5

Here’s another reason for me to go to Berlin again some time (first reason is the new Berlin Brandenburg Airport): the expansion of the U5 U-bahn* line that had started in 2010, is now complete.

*Short for Untergrundbahn, ‘underground railway’.

I took this picture of the Rotes Rathaus (‘red town hall’, opened in 1869) on Rathaus-straße near Alexanderplatz in 2015. Construction of the U-5 line extension and stations were already well underway.
Here is the ‘Bärlinde’ tunnel boring machine they deployed. It is somewhat similar to the Bertha boring machine (dia. 57.5 ft/ 17.5 m) that was used in Seattle for the SR-99 tunnel, but this one is not nearly as big (dia. 22 ft/ 6.7 m).
The new part of the U5 line dips down from the Brandenburg gate to the station called Museum Insel (museum island, an island in the Spree River), and then goes up again to Alexanderplatz.
Inside the brand new Rotes Rathaus station on the U5 extension. [Picture credit: Der Tagesspiegel/ Annette Riegel]
“The U-5 crackles with History”  Come in! With 50,000 people that will be able to change between lines 5 and 6 in the new Unter Den Linden station, according to BVG, the city’s mayor hopes for a revitalization aboveground. He imagines concerts on Museum Island with fewer cars that are driven, and people can converse undisturbed.
Here is the history of the U5 line that now stretches back almost a century, to 1927. [Graphic from Der Tagesspiegel]

Monday/ here comes the Colosseum

The completed LEGO® Creator Colosseum set. The structure is the largest ancient amphitheatre ever built. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in AD 72 and was completed in AD 80 under his successor and heir, Titus. It could hold some 60,000 spectators.

Move over 2017’s LEGO Millennium Falcon (7,541 pieces) and LEGO Taj Mahal (5,923 pieces)!
The up-and-coming LEGO Colosseum (on sale this Friday) clocks in at a colossal 9,036 pieces, making it far-and-away the largest official Lego set ever.
And yes, it comes at a high price for that many bricks:  US$ 550.

Am I tempted to go for it? Well, I would rather spend that kind of money to buy bricks like I did for my Doon Drive House creation.
Maybe I can design and build a LEGO Castle of Good Hope  – the one in Cape Town, with its brick walls and five-pointed footprint. Now that would be a challenge.

The Colosseum appearing in the 1975 movie Mahogany, as seen by Diana Ross’s character Tracy Chambers, fashion designer in Rome ..
.. and here is my own encounter with the Colosseum. It was in the summer of 1981, during my very first overseas trip. I’m on the left; my mom & dad in the middle.

Friday/ Berlin’s new airport

Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt airport (code: BER) is finally, at last, open for business. Its opening this Saturday is 9 years late. Numerous scandals had devoured huge sums of money and ruined many a reputation.

I am eager to go and check it out, and I will definitely put the airport BER on my list of destinations to fly into, once this pandemic has subsided.

Architecturally, the airport is a three-wing complex with colonnades. Reviewers like its great viewing terrace, and lots of parking spaces and restaurants. Its destinations are somewhat limited, though, as are the power outlets in the waiting areas. (Ouch. It helps that more and more airplanes now have USB ports or power outlets in the seats of their planes). [Photo: Marcus Bredt/gmp]
Inside Terminal 1. There will be no fuss, no big party, no fireworks – just a small reception. The opening date has been pushed back so many times, and we are in the grip of a worldwide pandemic, after all. (Is that red artwork a network of blood vessels?).
[Photo: Markus Mainka/imago images]

Tuesday/ meanwhile, in Wuhan ..

.. partygoers packed the Wuhan Maya Beach Water Park this weekend. Wuhan ended its 76-day lockdown in early April, and no new domestically-transmitted cases have been officially reported there since mid-May [Bloomberg Business News Quicktake on Twitter].

Saturday/ a 4×6 escape to Kaunas

Here’s another ‘4×6 escape’ card from my neighborhood, featuring Kaunas, Lithuania. This is the old town square, and the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers is close by.

Kaunas is a city in south-central Lithuania at the confluence of the Neris and Nemunas rivers, with a population of about 300,000 people. Lithuania is one of the Baltic states, situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the southeast of Sweden and Denmark.

Here’s the Google Street View image of the picture, from 2012.
P.S. Lithuania has a population of 2.8 million people, and has reported 81 fatalities from Covid-19 as of Aug 7. If Lithuania’s number is a true count, that’s about 1/15th of the fatality rate recorded in the United States so far (on a per capita basis).

Wednesday/ Rancho Mirage, 30 yrs ago

I discovered this bird’s eye view picture of the Pete Dye Challenge golf course (north of Rancho Mirage, in the greater Palm Springs area), in my scanned archives.
I took it from my seat in a propeller plane, during my very first visit to the United States, in March 1990.
My brother lived in nearby Palm Desert at the time. ‘Just so you know‘, he said, ‘Palm Springs and its golf courses are not what the real America looks like’.

March 1990: The Pete Dye Challenge golf course at Mission Hills Country Club north of Rancho Mirage, was completed in 1988.
The curved road at the bottom of picture is Dinah Shore Drive.
At the very top edge of the picture runs highway Interstate 10, going to Phoenix, AZ, and all the way east across the country to Jacksonville, FL.
The tracks of real estate in between the greens of the golf course would be developed soon enough ..

July 2020: Fast forward 30 years later to today, and we find the Pete Dye Challenge golf course temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Mission Hills North/ Gary Player Signature golf course was added in 1992.
The tracks of land have been filled up with houses/ golf course condominiums.
Rancho Mirage High School at the top left of the picture was founded in 2013.

Tuesday/ another 4×6 ‘escape’

Here’s another 4×6 ‘escape’ photo that I found on a lamp post, of the Gullfoss waterfall in Iceland.  It’s about 50 miles (80 km) as the crow flies from the capital of Reykjavik, and 75 miles (120 km) to drive out there with a car.

Friday/ a ‘4×6’ escape to Prague

I found this picture of Prague on a lamp post here on 13th Ave.
Regrettably, I have not been the beautiful capital of the Czech Republic — at least not yet.
I had a chance to go there while I was working in Bratislava, Slovakia, in 2008. Bratislava is a 4 hour train ride away.

The stone arch bridge in the photo is the Charles Bridge. Construction started in 1357 under the auspices of King Charles IV, and was completed almost 50 years later! The river is the Vltava. The light green dome just to the right of the bridge tower is that of the St Francis of Assisi Church.  [Screen shot from Google Street View].

Saturday/ how Trump became President

I saw this YouTube clip from a 2018 Jimmy Kimmel Live show for the first time today. Several people are shown a big world map with the countries outlined.

Were they going to be asked to point out an obscure country such as Nepal, on the map? Maybe a more obvious one such as – uh – Australia? China? Canada? No. Four or five people were asked to choose and correctly point out any one country whatsoever on the world map.  Couldn’t do it.

To save Kimmel’s audience from utter despair, the clip ends with a young boy ticking off the countries in South America, on to Mexico, USA, Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Australia, New Zealand and .. correctly pointing out Papua New Guinea.

Is this South Africa? asks the woman. ‘No, that’s South America, and that’s a continent’, says the interviewer. Three or four more guesses yielded no country that she could correctly point to. ‘I’ve actually been to college’, says the woman at the end. ‘That’s the sad part’.

Thursday morning/ arrival in Seattle

Flying east from the Far East, and across the international dateline, makes one end up in the Far West. And hey, if your day was off to a bad start, you get to start it ‘again’!
Here’s the bird that flew all the way to Seattle from Tokyo, at the gate after its arrival at Seattle-Tacoma airport. It’s a twin-jet Boeing 787-8.

My flight on Japan Airlines was off to a late start (an hour delay), but after that everything went without a hitch.

There wasn’t an empty seat on the plane.

Thursday night/ at Narita airport

I’m at Narita airport, ready to board for my flight to Seattle.
It was 52 °F/ 11 °C and sunny in Tokyo today, so it was great to be outside and enjoy the sun.
I did get to see the inside of the new scarlet red Marunouchi Line train cars. It is really not much different, or more luxurious, than the older cars.

Lots of Japan Airlines tail fins. This is from the observation deck at Narita Airport’s Terminal 2.
Here comes the green train from the Yamanote Line, as it approaches the Akihabara station.
This is the platform at the Kanda station on the Yamamote Line. Classic old train station ironwork for the pillars and roof trusses.
The stairs down from the Kanda platform with the stepped rail, makes a nice abstract art picture.

Wednesday night/ around Tokyo station

I had a nice nap on Wednesday morning to make up for the sleep I had lost on the red-eye flight from Perth to Tokyo, and then I went out for a bit.

I ran out to Yodobashi camera store in Akiba to have my Seiko watch’s battery replaced (20 mins wait, and only ¥1,020/ US $9.34, a bargain).
Hey! And here is one of the brand new Marunouchi Line 2000 series trains. I was tempted to lean over the railing to get a better picture with the train at a stop, but that would definitely have gotten me in trouble. I should have gotten on it for a little ride though, even though it went the other way. I will go look for one again on Thursday. These trains have ‘glowing scarlet’ exterior paintwork, as the Marunouchi carriages return to their trademark red color for the first time in 30 years.
Lots of red taxi cab tail lights, near Tokyo station. The city’s fleet of gleaming black Tokyo 2020 taxi cabs are ready to ferry the foreigners coming to the Olympic Games this summer, around the city.
A luxury bus pulling up at Tokyo station. These go to cities like Osaka and Yohohama, a slower but cheap alternative to the expensive shinkansen (bullet trains).

Wednesday morning/ arrival in Tokyo

It was rainy and  4 °C ( 39 °F) at my arrival at Tokyo’s Narita airport, and much the same when the Narita Express pulled into the 5th floor below Tokyo station.  I made it to the hotel OK, without getting too wet.

Hmm .. a little bit of my favorite Häagen-Dazs ice cream flavor (Belgian chocolate), served frozen brick solid on the airplane. Luckily for me, the Second Law of Thermodynamics apply 30,000 ft up in the air as well: systems spontaneously evolve towards thermodynamic equilibrium, and so the ice cream melted and softened in due time.
Welcome to Japan! .. on the way downstairs to pick up my luggage and go catch the Narita Express train.
Here comes the beast ⁠—the 9.15 am Narita Express to Tokyo Station ⁠— albeit 20 minutes LATE. We were only told that there was an ‘accident’. I read online that sometimes (most times?) an ‘accident’ means someone was attempting suicide by jumping in front of the train.
Once on the train, the world flies by for an hour: fields and tress, buildings, houses, bridges, level crossings.

Tuesday night/ Tokyo bound

My time in Perth has come to an end, and so I am heading north, the way I came.

It’s 9½ hours to Tokyo, and I will stay over on Wednesday night.

These friendly ‘air personnel’ Kinder candy characters are from the duty free store at Perth airport.

Thursday/ the train to Fremantle

I was in downtown Perth, and took the train to Fremantle today from there.
It takes about 30 minutes, and the train stops at 14 stations along the way.
To get back home to Bull Creek, there is no train: one has to take the bus.

Left: The train route from Perth station to Fremont station (about 30 mins). Right: The No 501 bus route from Fremont station to Bull Creek station (about 30 mins).
Here is Perth station. The Fremantle southbound line runs from on Platform 7. This one is above ground, and should not to be confused with Perth Underground station.
I arrived at Fremantle station at 4.00 pm on the nose. Note the white swan ornaments on the roof line. This station building was constructed in 1907, near the site of the original Fremantle station that was established in 1881.
I am sure the stories that the Federal Hotel at 23 William St in Fremantle can tell, are many and legendary. (Among others, it has seen a double murder upstairs). The hotel opened in July 1887, and has been renovated several times since then.
This cute dinosaur near the Fremantle station in a park, makes noises and opens and closes its eyes. It is a Parasaurolophus, and roamed around in Canada some 70 million years ago.
Here is the Fremantle town hall building and its tower. It opened in 1887. The crane behind it is located on King’s Square.
The Kings Square Renewal Project aims to revitalize the centre of Fremantle’s civic and commercial heart. Western Australia is doing well with the upswing in the commodities industry (record prices were paid for iron ore exported from the state in 2019, for example).
The colorful courtyard of an old shopping center called. Westgate Mall. I guess that’s graffiti on the walls, but I like the pattern painted on the paving.
Fremantle has a number of these gorgeous old ficus trees (at least that’s what I think they are).
This old brick building is near the railway line, and the port of Fremantle. Back in its heyday i twas used to store bales of wool from the interior of the country, for export.
Here is the train from Perth, running south towards Fremantle station.

Monday/ sunset at Bathers Beach

The city of Fremantle is just south of the Swan River’s outlet into the Indian Ocean. We went there for fish & chips on Sunday night, and I had time for just a few pictures before it started to rain.

Bathers Beach is straight ahead, and to the left are eateries and the Two Fins fish & chips restaurant where we had a bite.
It was blustery as the sun was setting, and so the bathers at Bathers Beach were long gone!
Here is the old and the new in Cliff Street in Fremantle. To the left is a building that now houses the Western Australia Shipwrecks Museum, and to the right an administrative building of the University of Notre Dame Australia.

Sunday/ a twilight cruise

On Sunday, we went on a twilight cruise on the upper Swan River ⁠— just a slow round trip at 5 knots, on the wide swath of river by downtown Perth.
Here’s where we went, and a few of the sights along the way.

We boarded the cruise boat at Barrack St Jetty, went by Heirisson Island, and up to The Royal at the Waterfront (upmarket condos on the water). We came back the same way, but the captain steered us by Mends St Jetty, and then on the Elizabeth Quay for a look at the city skyline, before finishing up at the Barrack St Jetty.
This is Barrack Square, close to the starting point at Barrack Street jetty. The Bell Tower (built in 1999) is now crowded a little bit by its new neighbors: two luxury condominium towers on the right, and a Ritz-Carlton Hotel on the left.
Across from the Bell Tower, a Double Tree Hotel is going up, with pressed metal plates creating a pattern on the outside.
These flood lights are standing like sentries at the stadium of the Western Australia Cricket Association. The burn rate is AUS$ 2,000 (US$ 1,400) per hour, when the lights are on.
Here’s a new suspension pedestrian bridge coming up, the Matagarup Bridge, spanning the Swan River. It opened Jul. 2018 at a cost of US$ 90 million. Its form symbolizes a white swan and a black swan.
Passing under the Matagarup Bridge. It looks like the bridge designers borrowed elements from the design of roller coaster frames.
The high points of the bridge frame stand at 72 m (236 ft).
Our cruise boat had mostly covered seats inside, with a small outside seating & standing area in the bow. The low profile of our vessel allowed it to go underneath all of the bridges on our tour. Here we were approaching the little Trafalgar pedestrian bridge by The Royal At The Waterfront condominiums. Prices range from AUS $1- $5m; that’s US$700k- $US3.5m.
This collared lizard artwork is at the Mends St Jetty. The Perth Zoo is nearby.
The national flag in David Carr Memorial Park (with its Union Jack and Southern Cross star constellation, of course). Australia Day is coming up: Jan. 26 every year. It marks the anniversary of the 1788 arrival of the First Fleet of British ships at Port Jackson, New South Wales, and the raising of the Flag of Great Britain at Sydney Cove by Governor Arthur Phillip.
Here is a little bit of the city skyline by Elizabeth Quay. The towers are the headquarters of mining giants BHP Billion (on the left) and Rio Tinto (middle).
Here is another pedestrian bridge that mimics a swan, the Elizabeth Quay pedestrian bridge. It is approached by a Transperth ferry, that will cross over to the other side of the Swan River.

Saturday/ taking the train to downtown

It’s an easy 11 minutes on the train, going  from Bull Creek station where I am, to the Perth Underground station downtown.
So off I went today, to buy one more Christmas present, and then call it done. (The mission was accomplished).

Here comes the Transperth train, going north on the Mandurah line. (Mandurah is a city on the coast, a 45-minute drive south of Perth). The line opened 12 years ago, in Dec. 2007.
The Commonwealth Bank Building is a six-story stone-clad building constructed from 1930-1933. (So right during the time of the Great Depression, which hit Australia hard as well. There was no international demand for Australia’s important export industries such as wool and wheat). The water fountains were on, and the kids enjoyed the respite it offered in the 87 °F/ 31 °C weather.
Here’s the action at the Perth Underground station, as we were boarding to go south towards Mandurah, and for me to hop off at Bull Creek Station.

Friday/ for my stamp collection

I stopped at an ‘Australia Post’ post office today.
I had the poor clerk behind the counter flip through the big album, full of sheets of stamps, so that I could pick out colorful and interesting stamps to buy. She was very patient with me!

Top to bottom & left to right: Set of freshwater crayfish stamps by naturalist and zoologist Roger Swainston | ANZAC Day 2019 (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) mini-sheet | Celebrating marriage equality (the law was passed two years ago, Dec. 2017) | Little penguins, the smallest penguin species, found on the coastlines of southern Australia and New Zealand | 50th anniversary of the moon landing | Snorkeling, windsurfing, kite surfing and just old-fashioned board surfing, at Cocos (Keeling) Islands, a remote territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean.