Friday/ to Hong Kong

I hopped on the 16-seater bus from work to go to Hong Kong as I have done several times before.   We go across the Sha Tou Jiao border crossing (A on the map) and then I hop off at Kowloon Tong train station (B).      I did it the hard way last night – taking the metro trains with two step-overs to other train lines and then a final run on the tram to the hotel (picture taken from tram).    The trains were very full and at two stations I had to wait for the second train to be able to squeeze in.  So next time it will be a taxi even though I might get stuck in traffic.

There is very big art fair in the Hong Kong Exhibition Center this weekend which I hope to get into – Art HK 11.

Thursday/ sugus and Pong

It didn’t take long for me to polish the little bag of Sugus gummies.    Way back when I was growing up, I knew Sugus in another form, as square chewy candies wrapped in wax paper.    So I was looking for a picture of the packaging from back then and stumbled onto these young Spanish lasses playing a soccer version of Pong (while chewing their Sugus, I presume).    Pong is one of the earliest arcade video games to reach mainstream popularity, originally manufactured by Atari Incorporated (Atari), who released it in 1972.    I loved it when I played it the first time – in a Holiday Inn where I stayed with my family in the port city of Durban in South Africa.    

Wednesday/ typhoons and tornados

Super typhoon Songda is churning near the Phillippines (outlined in grey in the NASA Earth Observatory photo I found on-line).    It is expected to brush by the east side of Taiwan.   These systems are hundreds of miles across !   And the recent tornados in the US makes for a grim statistic : the highest number of tornado deaths since 1953 (picture from

Tuesday/ picture book of Japan

Here is the little picture book I bought at Shosen Book Tower in Tokyo.   Click once on each picture to make it bigger, and check out the translations. I love the layout and the crisp style of the pictures.  Rabbit is ugasi and horse is uma.  The  picture of the 7-11 type food mart looks exactly like the ones I were in. And on the layout where American fast food meets Japanese language,  I see that McDonalds is called Makudonarudo and Kentucky Fried Chicken is called Kentuckii Furaido Chikin !  I would hate to see too many McDonalds and too many KFCs popping up in Japan, though.  Finally – I bet you do not know any of the Japanese groups or pop stars!  I did not!

Note – The book is available on Amazon Japan.  Do an advanced search on Japanese Books and use ISBN-13 number 978-4533074684.  (No, I am not getting money for promoting the book !)    

Monday/ the rainy season starts

This picture toward Hong Kong airport, is from the Marriott Skycity hotel where I caught a few hours sleep on Sunday night before the pick-up van arrived at 7.15am to take me to mainland China.    It was a wet weekend there, I am told, so the rainy season has started in earnest.     Here in the Hong Kong-Shenzhen area in southeast China we are in the wettest part of the country.    Huoshaoliao in Taiwan is the rainiest place around, receiving 6700 mm (264 inches!) of rain a year.   That’s a lot of water falling from the sky.   Which is the wettest place on dry earth, though?   According to the Guinness Book of World Records the Indian village Mawsynram received just about 1,000 inches  in 1985 and averages 467 inches per year.

Sunday/ so little time, so much Tokyo

Akihabara/  Electric Town   First more Saturday pictures.   The Shosen book tower is right by the Akihabara train station and has an enormous collection of anime books.  There is only a small section with English books, from which I bought a charming ‘Life in Japan’ book with English annotations and will put up some pictures out of it.    The detailed steam locomotive model at the Yodobashi electronics and toy store goes for ¥14,000 (US$175).    I now regret not buying the cute wooden block game with the pictures on.   I thought it would be too heavy.     I think it’s a picture version of dominoes.    

No Devil in the Details  I’m a detail kind of guy and to me all the little things about visiting a foreign country together makes for a neat experience.   So even if people think I’m crazy I take pictures  : of the raccoons that say ‘Keep your grubby fingers out of the train car’s door pocket’ ; of the straight iced tea (wink) from the ubiquitous vending machines (delicious); of instruction stickers in the clean subway wash rooms; and of  the packaging of snacks in the 24 hr marts that are scattered everywhere throughout the city.

Tokyo Tower Sunday’s mission – with the little time I had – was to chase down Tokyo Tower (東京タワー) :   an icon of the city and a communications and observation tower located in Shiba Park.    Its claim to fame is that, at 332.5 metres (1,091 ft), it betters the Eiffel Tower by 10m (30 ft) to be the world’s tallest self-supporting steel tower.    It is painted white and international orange to comply with air safety regulations and has an antenna at the top.     I lost my way a little there, but found back alleys and man-hole plates that could pass as works of art.    And I saw nary a piece of trash or a cigarette butt or anything lying on any street or sidewalk.     

This is a view of Tokyo Bay (its old name was Edo Bay) with the Rainbow Bridge in the distance.    Some land has been reclaimed from the sea along the bay.     This view is from the 150m observation deck on the Tower.    The line up to the 250m observation deck was too long and I had to abandon it.

The Narita Express back to the Airport   Now it was time to check out of the hotel and make for the metro to take me to Tokyo station to catch the Narita Express back to the airport.    The Express was scheduled to leave at 2.03pm, and it arrived a few minutes early at Tokyo station to allow more cars from another track to be hooked up to it (picture shows the back end of the front cars).    At 2.03 pm exactly we slid out of the station and accelerated.   It’s a little like sitting in an airplane, only it rides on rails, and buildings, bridges and rice paddies flash by the window.   I think that’s another glimpse of the Rainbow Bridge I saw at the end of the water channel.  I kept snapping at the new under-construction Tokyo Skytree in the distance and finally caught it between two buildings.   It is scheduled to open in 2012.   Japan’s planned switch from analog to digital for all television broadcasting by July 2011 from Tokyo Tower is problematic – the current height is not high enough to adequately support complete terrestrial digital broadcasting to the area.   So the Skytree will become the digital broadcasting tower.

Saturday/ come to Tokyo!

(Very late Sunday night in Hong Kong as I write).   Just a few pictures from Saturday – I will post more tomorrow.     First picture is a sign from a restaurant in Ginza.   I assume it talks about help needed for the earthquake victims.      The subway is super efficient and super easy to use and I love the station names.   The trains were generally not very crowded, possibly because it was in the middle of a weekend day.     This is inside a giant electronics + toy store in the Akihabara district with 7 floors that sells electronics, computers, anime, model trains, planes, automobiles and toys of every stripe.    I was overwhelmed – even though all the kids with their parents seemed to handle the visual onslaught of all the merchandise on display better than I did.

The traditional gate is near the Asakusa station and in a very nice area with small streets and malls of stores and eateries.   There were several people collecting money for the earthquake victims.

Then early evening Saturday I met friends of my Seattle friends at Shinjuku station – it is the busiest train station in the world.    Outside there was a buzz outside with many of Tokyo’s young people just hanging out and socializing.    The two night time picture is from there as well.     The little tickle-me- Elmos(?) are inside a coin-operated machine, hoping to be picked up with a dangling hook by a lucky Saturday night player.

Friday night/ arrived in Tokyo

Our flight left 3 hrs late!  with two returns to the gate needed, the last to fix a broken Pitot tube.  (Let me not mention Air France 447 but now that I did, I think they will find out if the Pitot tubes were actually responsible for the crash now that they recovered the flight recorders. )

So some people missed their connections in Tokyo, but that gave me time to fix my hotel reservation which I discovered just before boarding, had me arrive Thu night instead of Friday.    I called the hotel in Tokyo from the plane parked at the gate, after getting the correct country code + area code from a woman called Debbie who says people call her all the time asking if it’s the hotel.   So sorry! I said.

The train station picture is my arrival at Tokyo station, that’s the Narita Express on the left.   Check the Do Not Rush! instruction on the pillar (you will stumble and crash into the train or fall onto the tracks – not good).    So then I used my Suica card to take the regular subway train to Ginza – only thing was, there is a Ginza station on three lines, and I picked the wrong one.     So I ended up quite a walk from the hotel.      When I finally re-located myself and the hotel on my map – not easy with the translations and street names – three cabs in a row refused to take me there even though I pointed to it on the map.    Two friendly passers-by* explained that they are all waiting at the bars and hotels for the midnight/ 1 am start time when they can picked up people in the Ginza district.    I’d have to walk to a taxi station.    But anyway, the hotel is probably just as far, and they pointed me to a street corner, take a right, and walk for 10 mins.    And there the happy sight of the Tokyo Ginza Marriott was at last.    *It is true : Tokyo people are very helpful and very friendly!

The last three pictures are of my midnight walk .. I have to say Tokyo’s luxury stores are not nearly as glitzy and ostentatious as they are in Hong Kong (and Shenzhen for that matter).       The city is also in a power conservation mode and not all the night lights for the buildings are switched on (or maybe it was too late at night when I walked by).   The taxis outnumber regular cars by 10 to 1.    There are almost no private vehicles to be seen on the streets.

Thursday/ at Sea-Tac airport

I am at Seattle airport.    I see the Airbus A319 that will take us to Tokyo today started in Wichita (Kansas) this morning, hopped over to Denver (Colorado) and has landed at Seattle airport.     Our scheduled flying time is 10h 12 min and the scheduled arrival is Fri at 3pm Tokyo time.

Wednesday/ preparing for Tokyo stayover

I’m on my way back to China on Thursday, but here are some of my ‘prep notes’ for my two-day stayover in Tokyo before I travel on to Hong Kong on Sunday.    Tokyo is very big, and not like Western cities with one ‘defined’ downtown.   Several big urban centers are built around the major train stations.   (No way you can get 35 million people in the world’s largest megalopolis to where they need to be if you didn’t do that !).   The black map diagram is of the Marriott Courtyard hotel in the Ginza district where I will stay .. a long way from the airport, but in the middle of a very nice area.

Notes for Tokyo Narita Airport Arrival

At  JR East Travel Service Center – Narita Airport Terminal 1,  8:15 – 19:00, every day of the year

buy a combination Suica card + N-Ex return for the green car, it costs Y 5500 for a round-trip.

For the Shinkansen (Super Express ‘bullet train’) the stations are

Ofuna Totsuka Yokohama Musashi-Kosugi Omiya Ikebukuro Takao Hachioji Tachikawa Kokubunji Mitaka Kichijoji Shinjuku Shibuya Shinagawa Tokyo Chiba Yotsukaido Narita Narita Airport
Terminal 2 Narita Airport  Terminal 1 Narita Airport

All seats on the Narita Express require prior reservation. Advance reservation for the seat and travel interval are required.

Round trips

  • Outward reserved seats are available for the Narita Express when purchasing a Suica & N’EX package.
  • The special-value outward ticket can be used to board the Narita Express and travel to any JR East station in the Designated Tokyo Train Interval, the yellow area on the map. Riders may get off the train along the route as long as they do not exit from the ticket gate.
  • Return reserved seats can be reserved in advance at designated seat ticket machines and JR Ticket Offices (Midori-no-madoguchi).
  • The return ticket is valid for entry at any station within the yellow area on the map. When returning to Narita Airport Station on the Narita Express, riders may get off the train along the route as long as they do not exit from the ticket gate.
  • If you miss your booked train, you cannot use the seats on a later limited express even if you have a Green Car ticket. In this case, please stand.

We are operating the Narita Express (N’EX) with a partial suspension of service. N’EX departs from Narita Airport Station every 30 minutes or hourly from 7:31 to 11:15 and from 14:15 to 20:44. Please note that the service of N’EX departing from Narita Airport between 12:00 and 14:00 is to be cancelled, but the Rapid trains run every hour for Tokyo.

Tuesday/ blue sky

Monday night and Tuesday’s pictures.

Blue sky at the corner of Fifth and Pike with the monorail train just arriving (the monorail train runs from the Space Needle to downtown, was built for the World Fair in Seattle in 1962 and is just a tourist attraction at this point!).     Gas is now at/ over $4.00/ gal at most places here, these prices from the gas station nearest to my house*. reports that the best anyone can do in the city is $3.87/ gal, which would save me $1.96 on a full tank of gas (but cost me gas and time to get there!).   Check out the fancy new parking permit stickers the city is issuing .. yes, residents of Capitol Hill need permits (they’re free) to park in their own neighborhood, since we have too many cars here.

*The US senate just voted ‘NO’ on a proposal that the $2 billion annual tax subsidy to the oil companies be rescinded.  But we all know that this is a drop in the bucket anyway, and that cheap gas will not come back.  So drive less! or get an electric car!, is what I think.   The chart (click to enlarge) shows the average American consumer spends a whopping $725 per month on transportation.

And the meal is lamb and eggplant curry stew over couscous from the Elysian Pub from Tuesday night.  It was delicious.

Monday/ another cool, rainy spring day

Monday was rainy again, and that makes bright colors like the umbrella from a passer-by near my house, and a poster jump out.    It feels cold to me, brr!, coming from the climate in Hong Kong that is already warm and humid.    We’re at 190 days and counting to reach 70 °F (21.1 °C).  The last time that happened was Nov 3 last year with a record-high-for-the-calendar of 74°F.

Sunday/ South Korean bank notes

I got a few South Korean bank notes at Incheon airport on Saturday.   The won has been in use for thousands of years, but represented by different denominations and notes over the centuries, of course.    Today South Korean paper money comes in 50,000 won (introduced only in 2009, equal to US$ 45), 10,000 won (US$ 9), 5,000 won (US$ 4.50) and and 1,000 won (US$ 0.90).    So the $9 in exchange for the 10,000 won note is fine for adding it to my world money collection.

The front of the 10,000 won note shows Sejong the Great, the fourth king of the Joseon Dynasty of Korea (born May 7, 1397 – dec. May 18, 1450).    The background contains a folding screen from this time, and text from the first work of literature written in Korean.   The work is called ‘Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven’, and was also compiled during this time.

Saturday/ in Seattle

I arrived in Seattle a few hours ago via Seoul.   The van picked 3 of us up in Dameisha on Saturday morning.     The first picture is on the way there; the ubiquitous red Hong Kong taxi making it into the picture.   Next stop Hong Kong airport, super efficient and organized as always.    I opted for the Korean dinner on the Asiana Airlines flight, called Bibimbap (‘mixed meal’), a signature Korean dish.    It is served as a bowl of warm white rice and namul (sautéed and seasoned vegetables) and gochujang (chili pepper paste).   My version had sesame oil and some ground beef as well.  The ingredients are stirred together thoroughly just before eating.   Delicious!   The stewardess said I got the good version of bibimbap, supplied by a Korean company, and that the meals they get from Hong Kong suppliers are not nearly as nice.   The soup was salty with bit of dried fish, onion and cabbage and was very good, too.

The final picture is our approach into Incheon airport in Seoul with a nice suspension bridge in the distance.

Friday/ shipping out

It’s Friday, it’s two weeks after the go-live, and most of the Americans are going home for a week.     So we are as happy as robot cat Doraemon on the candy tin (picture from a candy store in Hong Kong), and sitting pretty as the spotted cat (leopard) in the tree (picture from a colleague, taken in a private game reserve in South Africa). 

I will stick around in Dameisha tonight and then get picked up in the morning to catch my flight out to Seattle on Saturday,  Asiana Airlines via Seoul.    And I might even arrive there with 64 degrees and the sun shining. 

Thursday/ countdown to Universade 2011

 I took these pictures Thursday in Dameisha.   Shenzhen is the city that hosts the 2011 Universiade (the ‘Start Here’* picture is presumably an office that sells tickets to events -or registers participants?).   The Universiade is an international multi-sport event, organized for university athletes by the International University Sports Federation (FISU).      It has 10 compulsory sports, namely track and field, water sports (swimming, diving and water polo), basketball, soccer, fencing, gymnastics, judo, table tennis, tennis and volleyball.

*the ‘Start Here’ reminded me of the Windows 95 launch .. and sure enough, the ‘ Start’  on the picture with Bill Gates uses the same font !

I discovered later the ICIF on the green ball stands for the International Cultural Industries Fair of 2011 which is the 7th annual cultural trade fair in China.     So there is that going on somewhere in the area as well.  

Wednesday/ China’s Oprah

Here are a few TV pictures I snapped Wednesday night.   It is of Chen Lu Yu, the host amd creator of A Date With Luyu and a guest.    She is sometimes referred to as China’s Oprah.    I couldn’t make out much of the conversation on this show where she interviewed the blond-haired lǎo ​wài*.   (I don’t know his name).    He speaks Mandarin fluently and his voice has a nice tenor to it when he sings.

*foreigner, a neutral term.     We use it frequently on the bus or at work to describe ourselves to our Chinese collegues and client team members here, as in ‘Will ​lǎo ​wàis be able to order food at that restaurant without help?’







Tuesday/ how to build a 1,000mph car

 .. which is of course not really a car : it’s a rocket on wheels.   

This recent article on the Bloodhound Supersonic Car project appeared in last week’s Economist (see text below).   I found the diagram of the other British landspeed records elsewhere.  And where exactly is the proposed Hakskeen Pan test site?  I wanted to know.   Well, it’s in the north-west of South Africa, right in that wedge between Botswana and Namibia, in the Kalahari desert.     Could that place ever be the same after that insatiable need-for-speed Hound had thundered across its flats?


From May 5 issue of The Economist :

How to build a 1,000mph car

THIS summer Daniel Jubb will perform the equivalent of lighting the blue touch paper and standing clear. The 27-year-old will undertake the first full test firing of a hybrid rocket which he has designed to help a British team set a new land-speed record by driving at 1,000mph (1,609kph). Mr Jubb’s rocket, however, will also need the assistance of a powerful EJ200 jet engine from a Typhoon fighter aircraft and a Cosworth Formula 1 racing engine if Bloodhound SSC (supersonic car) is to become the fastest thing on wheels.

Combining a rocket, a jet and a racing-car engine into one vehicle is engineering of an extreme sort, but record-breaking often demands that new problems be solved. Mr Jubb’s task was to build a rocket that could be used safely in a car, but was also controllable and could be switched off quickly in the event of an emergency.

A rocket works by burning fuel with an oxidiser, which provides a source of oxygen for combustion. The hot exhaust gases are then blasted through a nozzle to produce thrust. Rockets using liquid propellants can be shut down reasonably easily by turning off the pumps delivering the fuel and oxidiser, but they tend to be complex and their propellants, such as liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen, difficult and hazardous to handle.

Solid-fuel rockets, in which the fuel and oxidiser are pre-mixed into a stable, solid propellant and then packed inside the case of the rocket, are simpler, lighter and relatively safer. But once a solid-fuel rocket is ignited, it is off like a firework and keeps going until all the fuel is burned up. About the only way to stop it is to blow it apart. In a car, that would not do.

The hybrid design which Mr Jubb has come up with uses a solid fuel called hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene, a form of synthetic rubber used to make things like aircraft tyres. It is contained within the case of the rocket, into which is pumped a liquid oxidiser called high-test peroxide (HTP), a concentrated form of hydrogen peroxide which is relatively safe to handle. When the HTP comes into contact with a catalyst contained within the rocket, it turns into steam and oxygen. And it does so at a high enough temperature to ignite the solid fuel. This provides the added advantage of not having to build an ignition system into the rocket.

If the hybrid rocket needs to be shut down in a hurry all you need do is turn off the pump delivering the oxidiser. That is where the Cosworth engine comes in. Apart from generating auxiliary power for Bloodhound SSC’s electrical and hydraulic systems, it also drives a high-speed pump capable of delivering all 800 litres of HTP in the tank to the rocket in 20 seconds.

The rocket gives the car plenty of power, but it is either on or off. To provide some form of throttle to allow acceleration and deceleration, the vehicle’s designers added the EJ200 jet engine. This will be used by Andy Green, a Royal Air Force pilot who will drive the car, to get the vehicle moving. At about 200mph he will start the pump to deliver the HTP into the rocket.

At first there will be a stream of steam coming from the rocket. But then ignition gets going and at full blast the jet and the rocket will each provide about half of the 210,000 newtons (47,000 pounds) of thrust needed to break the record. At about 750mph the car will go through the sound barrier. Wing Commander Green has been there before—and not only in a fighter plane. In 1997 at Black Rock Desert, Nevada, he drove Thrust SSC to become the first person to break the sound barrier in a car and set the existing land-speed record of 763mph. This time the Nevada desert will not be big enough, so the attempt will take place over an even larger expanse of flat ground at Hakskeen Pan in the Northern Cape in South Africa, perhaps next year.

Bloodhound SSC could reach up to 1,050mph. Wing Commander Green then has to slam on the brakes. After turning off the jet and rocket he will deploy an air brake at 800mph, parachutes at 600mph and finally put his foot on a car-type friction brake at 250mph—any faster and the brakes could explode.

Then the car is serviced and refuelled to do it all over again. This is because the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile, which keeps the land-speed records, takes as its measure the average of two runs over one mile in opposite directions completed within one hour.

The attempt is being organised by Richard Noble, a veteran British record-breaker, and is sponsored by a number of companies. Mr Jubb’s firm, The Falcon Project, was one of the first to step forward—and into the limelight. He usually designs and manufactures secretive military rockets in Britain and the United States. Construction of Bloodhound SSC has begun at an apt location: a borrowed warehouse on the dockside in Bristol next to Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s SS Great Britain, which in 1845 crossed the Atlantic in a record 14 days.

Unusually for such an enterprise, all the technical details, including computer-aided design files, are available online ( Mr Noble is involving schools in the project to encourage interest in engineering as a career. So far, more than 4,000 schools are taking part. This was part of a deal with Britain’s defence ministry in order to borrow the EJ200. It is to be hoped, though, that none of the children will try to build one of these cars at home.

Monday/ earplugs to the rescue

I stayed at the hotel on Monday to get over my cold.   Of course : I had to get a day with lots of activity out front in the street.   Whole trees getting lifted up by a crane and put in by the enormous (but empty) apartment complex, AND a crew with jack hammers breaking up the pavement in front of the hotel.     So that’s where you need these little memory foam earplugs.  Granted, they take a little getting used to but they drown out the decibels from screaming babies, jack hammers and jet engines.

Sunday/ happy Mother’s Day 母亲节 !

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers!  We love you! [big hug-g].

The TV screen is from my hotel room in Dameisha after I had arrived.      So .. to make my way back to Dameisha today, I took a taxi from the hotel on Hong Kong Island to the Hung Hom terminal station of the East Rail line (light blue line on the map).   That train runs up all the way to the Lo Wu border crossing (about 40 mins).   Then you walk through the Hong Kong and mainland China crossings, and catch a taxi again for Dameisha.    I worried that I might be stopped at the border if I had a fever (I have a runny nose and a sore throat), but I made it through.   ‘Stay away from wild animals’ said a sign coming in to the mainland.   Yes- nevermind the animals, I’m staying away from humans so as not to make them sick!

Getting on the train at Hung Hom station.  As the railway line approaches the mainland border, it splits into two, one route going to Lo Wu and the other to Lok Ma Chau.
Tai Po Market station. The Hong Kong Railway Museum is located a10-min walk away from the station.
The arum lily art is at Fan Ling station (we call them pig’s ears in Afrikaans in South Africa).
Approaching Lo Wu station.
Luo Wu station on the Shenzhen side, after I had entered mainland China through customs.  The taxi stand is downstairs by escalator.