Thursday, November 29, 2007

Dehli? Oups, no... Singapore!

A little bit more than two weeks ago... Tuesday night. 6PM. Newark airport in New York. In line at the gate for our flight to Dehli. The agent is desperately searching through our passports. "Where are your visas?". "Visas? What visas? For India? We need a visa?". I know, it is difficult to believe that seasoned travelers like us assumed we did not need visas for India and did not check. Oh, well. So, like they say in Monopoly, move immediately to the next stop... Singapore! An unexpected day in Singapore, an island nation, at the tip of the Malay Peninsula, Malaysia, and the smallest country in Southeast Asia. I was surprised to see the strong British influence there. You have to go from one place in Asia to another to start understanding how extensive the efforts from Western nations, and in particular Great Britain, had to be in order to establish trade posts all over Asia. We enjoyed walking along the river and spent a great evening at the famous Raffles hotel, named after the British gentleman, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles who landed on the main island in 1819, and developed Singapore on behalf of the British East India Company. It is a big white hotel, of colonial design, with several lovely interior courtyards, bars and restaurants. At the Long Bar, sitting down for a drink was like being back in time, in the 19th century, the atmosphere was colonial, ceiling fans and dark wood... Really cool! The evening seafood dinner outside in a courtyard was a very nice conclusion to this unexpected day in Singapore. Not a bad trade compared to Dehli!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The map of Marco Polo's travels

It seems that a number of people are looking for a map of Marco Polo's travels (as shown by my blog traffic data). So here is the best one I found, which might be useful to some of you. You can click on the image to enlarge it. So where did Marco Polo's travels take him? Well, he left from Venise, Italy in 1271 and traveled throughout what is known today as Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, China, Singapore, Indonesia, India for 24 years. Quite a trip, no?... Interested to know more? The 2001 National Geographic articles "on the traces of Marco Polo" (see my previous posting) offer great insights on his adventures. It is fascinating to see how we can still see nowadays some of the traditions observed by Marco Polo at the end of the 13th century. The last article also includes an amazing photograph of a copy of Marco Polo's travels book, annotated in the margins by noone else than Christopher Columbus. Simply unbelievable!
And if you are interested in other explorers and their discoveries, make sure to check this article on Samuel de Champlain's explorations of the N.E. of the United States, at the time of New France. The authors have created a complete map of 6 voyages, because they could not find a good one on the internet!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Private room

There is a nice little restaurant, close to where we live in Xiamen, called Know How. I love the name, it is the most Chinese-sounding English name you can imagine! We like to go there at lunch or dinner, because the environment is pleasant, the food is good and inexpensive. And they definitely have the best "seafood dumpling"!
I know, you already imagine the small dumplings so common here. That's what we thought as well the first time we ordered it. And to our greatest surprise... and our greatest pleasure... came a big bread bowl, filled with seafood in a nice creamy coconut and red curry sauce. And all this for 30 RMB ($4). I love that dish. I can go back there every week and order it everytime!
So, the other day, we invited our business partners for a quick and simple lunch there. The five of us arrived at the restaurant a little after noon. There were a number of nice and quiet tables we could choose from, but to our surprise, our business partner started talking to the waitress... in mandarin of course, so we couldn't really know what was happening, and before we know it, we are in a private room upstairs! And a few minutes later, we have all ordered something that we will share... plus a couple of other dishes... and the whole event suddenly looked too familiar! It had become one of these official business meals with our Chinese hosts! No more casual lunch sitting all together in the dining room like we are used to in North-America! Oh well, it seems like there is only one way to have a business lunch or dinner here: a private room, a round table with a number of dishes circulating around! And the most funny thing is that we ordered our favorite "seafood dumpling" which I praised to our hosts, but none of them seemed interested to try it... we really have different taste buds it seems!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Far away travel

You guessed right. This photo is not of China, but of our house in beautiful Vermont. If you are a loyal reader, you probably think that I have being too quiet in the past week... Well, for the past 2-3 weeks, I actually have been in Vermont and Quebec (even though I continued to write about China because I still had untold stories). And I have been traveling in my mind as well. I listened to the audiobook of Mao's Last Dancer, a wonderful book, a great insight on the life of a peasant and then dancer in Mao's China in the 70s. I also listened to Notes from China, which also describes Mao's China. And I started the Travels of Marco Polo. I would recommend Mao's Last Dancer. It is a fascinating story on China (with the last part actually taking place in Houston, Texas, as this young dancer became a very famous dancer there) and you don't have to like dancing to enjoy it. I am sure that, as I tell stories about life in China in 2007, I will relate back to these readings. Yep, there are still a lot of stories I want to tell. And there are more travels to come. My husband and I are leaving back to Asia next Tuesday. We will be in Dehli, India for one day (I cannot wait, I hope to take some nice photos there) and then in Malaysia (far up in the jungle) and also at a secret location (my husband's secret) for our honeymoon, and back to China until Christmas. Well, I promise, I will keep sharing stories and photos. And if you know about any great book on China, let me know!