The Great Firewall of China

China’s internet firewall has been working in overdrive lately in the wake of the crackdown on the Tibet protests.  Last week Google video and Youtube (owned by Google) were down all week; Youtube came back online on Sunday.  Google News in English,, was even down for a day!  Last week, I also ran into other screens and filters that normally don’t impede my surfing of the net in China, indicating that indeed, China’s internet censors were working overtime.
Despite all the blocking, what I found interesting is that my Chinese colleagues knew about the situation in Tibet even before I did (I wasn’t really watching the news when it started).  Many of them had also seen videos of the situation before all the videos sites got blocked.

Though the Chinese government has only temporarily blocked international videos sites such as Youtube, it’s taking a harder stance with Chinese sites and forcing many to shut down altogether.  To escape a similar fate, Google has and continues to filter its results for searches in mainland China.

If all this is frustrating to you, try a new Wiki site called Wikileaks which is dedicated to getting information in front of the public eye.  Wikileaks released many videos and photos of the Tibet situation, and is, not surprisingly, blocked.  However, a simple proxy server will solve that problem and the videos are a lot easier to view than Youtube’s were all last week.

If the great firewall of China still hinders your movement around the net, options include the Firefox plug-in Gladder and Tor, a volunteer relay system that allows users to surf the web anonymously.  Tor may be just the answer we China-based, avid internet users need to have full access to the information available on the internet.

The Irony of clubbing at Mao, a club only in Shanghai

My Review of Mao
Some people raved about Mao, others said it was too pretentious and snobby.  Those conflicting statements had me intrigued and when my friend offered guestlist=free entrance, I jumped at the chance to go check out the club everyone in Shanghai is talking about.  Arriving at Mao on Saturday night, even with our name on the guestlist, it was only girls in free, guys still had to pay RMB50.  Normally girls pay RMB50 and guys RMB100, so we weren’t complaining.  Then as we strided past the door guard they handed us handcuffs with a card attached saying, “We are Pervert.”  What is that supposed to mean and what am I supposed to do with the handcuffs except be annoyed that I have to hold them in the club?

The decor and the layout were nothing to rave about.  We headed to the bar where my friend ordered juice and was shocked that her drink was RMB40 given that she didn’t get the drink coupon given to paid entrants.  After taking her drink order, preparing it, charging her, and giving her the change, the bartender still hadn’t taken the rest of our drink orders.  Just as I’d decided that he was useless, he remembered to take the rest of our drink orders and even better, forget to charge me for my drink.

Mao had a lot of white staff members, even for a club in Shanghai: bartenders, managers, DJ, even go-go dancers.  The trio of dancers were wearing either too much black leather or just too few clothes.  The shirtless guy had a dog collar and chain around his neck.  I assume they were meant to reinforce the theme.

The music was good, Euro dance, and by midnight the dancefloor was packed.  The crowd seemed slightly snobby but not even justifiably so given that, in general, they were not particularly good-looking, well-dressed, or (seemingly) monied.  Still, with free entrance, a free drink, and good dancing, I enjoyed it and I’d go again.

The use of the name Mao is the epitome of irony given that Mao Ze Dong was the antithesis of everything that club represents: openness, freedom, and capitalism.

What’s the deal with PSB guards at clubs?
What purpose do Public Security Bureau policemen serve at clubs?  If a fight breaks out, is one of them really going to stop it?  No, that’s what bouncers are for.  If someone starts an anti-communist rally in a club, is one guy really going to control it?  Doubtful, on multiple levels.  They are also clearly not there to prevent prostitution.  Then, why are they there?  It’s also curious that I only notice them at bars and clubs along Hengshan Road.

Olympics Advertisements, Oh My!

The number, type, variety, and frequency of Beijing 2008 Olympics’ advertisements is simply astounding. In the lead up to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, I don’t remember nearly so many advertisements relating to the Olympics. Granted, I wasn’t in Georgia or even Atlanta, but then again, here I’m not in Beijing either. I was, however, in Athens just a few weeks before the 2004 Olympics there and the number of Olympics-related advertisements doesn’t even come close to approaching that of Beijing’s Games.

There are corporate advertisements as well as public service advertisements and also simply the use of the Olympics name and/or logo. In the corporate world, everyone from global companies to local companies, health-enhancing to health-damaging products, computer, and pot noodles are all associating themselves with the Olympics. UPS is an official Olympics sponsor and is using its advertisements to convey its global presence, particularly its presence in China. (Notice the Bird’s Nest stadium. Picture from a Beijing subway station.) UPS Olympics Ad

Amway is also associating itself with the Olympics, to build an image of offering beneficial health products to Chinese consumers, suggesting that taking Amway’s products could make you healthy and fit like Olympics athletes. Amway Olympics AdChinese brands are also trying to create an association with the Olympics, such as Bank of China, pot noodles (yes, there really is an official pot noodles sponsor), a new housing development in Guilin, local Beijing-based brewer Yangjing (in addition to the two other beer companies, Budweiser and China Guangzi Tobacco AdTsingtao), and even southwestern China’s Guangxi Tobacco Company. Why the tobacco company is associating itself with the Olympics, I haven’t really figured out. Sure, the Olympics is a recognizable brand name and association with the Olympics might lend credibility to Guangxi Tobacco Co, but are cigarettes really meant to be associated with the world’s premier sporting event? Not to mention, smoking is going to be banned in all indoor locations in Beijing during the Olympics, so how do you sell cigarettes when there’s no smoking allowed? (Notice the use of the Bird’s Nest stadium, a smoke-free zone.)

Corporations aren’t the only entities tapping into the brand power of the Olympics to spread their message, the government is also taking advantage of the event. Public service campaigns even in cities as far away as Kunming are using the Olympics to help convey their message. From billboards showing how to queue to slogans encouraging community spirit and neighborliness, all convey their message with the help of the Olympics. Queue up for the Olympics Everywhere you look, you are reminded of the Olympics: the Beijing Babies are on China Mobile recharge cards, store windows display the 5-ring Beijing Olympics Torch in Darlogo, even seat covers come imprinted with the Beijing 2008. Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania wasn’t even too far away escape Beijing Olympics ads.

The English-language Beijing 2008 Olympics website agrees that advertisements featuring the Olympics are numerous. So why are there so many advertisements and reminders of the Olympics? Because it’s an important event. Perhaps all the references to the Olympics attest to the Chinese people’s pride in holding such an event and its rare opportunity to showcase China and all its glory to the world. Perhaps because this is the single most important globally-watched event that China can control and use to make a positive impression on the world. Perhaps the Beijing Organizing Committee has allowed more sponsors and suppliers for these games than either Atlanta or Athens allowed. Perhaps advertising is just that much more prominent in China than in Greece, but certainly not compared to the US. What else explains the fact Olympics advertising has been prolific in the lead up to the Beijing 2008 Olympics Games?

B&Q Locations in Shanghai

In an effort to make it easier for other people to find things easier on the internet, here is a listing of Shanghai’s branches of the British-owned hardware store B&Q.


* B&Q – Hutai
Address: No. 1800, Hutai Road (near Wenshui Road)
Tel: 6634-6262
Opening Hour: 8:30-20:30
Transport: 58, 705, 761, 767, 844, 845, 949, 959, 963 (get off at Yuqingqiao station)

* B&Q – Zhabei
Address: No.3228, Gonghexin Road (near Wenshui Road)
Tel: 3603-0099
Opening Hour: 9:00-21:00
Transport: Metro Line 1 Wenshui Road station

* B&Q – Yangpu
Address: No. 1616 Huangxing Road (near Songhuajiang Road)
Tel: 5505-6611
Opening Hour: 9:00-21:00
Transport: 538, 90 (get off at Huangxing Road station)

* B&Q – Meilong
Address: No. 2358 yindu Road (near Lianhua Road S.)
Tel: 5440-3999
Opening Hour: 9:00-21:00

* B&Q – Minhang
Address: No. 108 Gudai Road (near Hongmei Road)
Tel: 5493-8888
Opening Hour: 9:00-21:00
Transport: 946, 732 (get off at Hongmei Road station)

* B&Q – Jinqiao
Address: No. 518 Lantian Road (near Yanggao Road M.)
Tel: 3870-0008
Opening Hour: 9:00-21:00
Transport: 723 (get off at Yunshan Lu station)

* B&Q – Gaojing
Address: No. 700 Yingao Road W. (near Baode Road)
Tel: 5679-6611
Opening Hour: 9:00-21:00
Transport: Metro Line 3 Yingao Road W. station

* B&Q – Xuhui
Address: No. 118 Longwu Road (near Metro Line 3 Longcao station)
Tel: 6483-6611
Opening Hour: 8:30-20:30
Metro Line 3 Longcao station

* B&Q – Putuo
Address: No. 1318 Meichuan Road (near Zhenbei Road and Zhenguang Road)
Tel: 5250-1000
Opening Hour: 9:00-21:00
Transport: 837, 947, 827 (get off at Zhenbei Road station), between Decathlon & Metro

* B&Q – Pudong
Address: No. 2101 Longyang Road (near Metro Line 2 Longyang Road station)
Tel: 5033-6611
Opening Hour: 9:00-21:00
Metro Line 2 Longyang Road station, Next to Decathlon


If you’re looking for more help shopping in shanghai, contact me at Shop My Shanghai.

March ’08 Changes in Visa rules for Foreigners Residing in China

As of Wednesday night, March 5, 2008, the entry/exit bureau significantly tightened visa rules for foreigners, notably Americans, already residing in China. This applies to anyone hold F Business visas and L Tourist visas. Those with employer-sponsored work permits or student visas aren’t really affected. However, any foreigner holding an F or L visa which expires(d) before the Olympics will face serious difficulties extending his/her visa or obtaining a new one; Americans are especially limited in their options. This is to restrict the number of foreigners living in China and to more closely monitor their activities in the lead up to the Olympics. For whatever reason these rules seem to be more strictly enforced in Guangzhou and Shanghai, which seems ironic if they’re trying to protect Beijing for the Olympics. Holding Olympics tickets doesn’t help either (my German friend tried that route). Leaving the country to get a new visa in Hong Kong or elsewhere is no guarantee either. Now the details (most applicable to Americans though other countries also face stricter policies): No renewing, extending or obtaining a new F visa for anyone currently here on F. Foreigners can no longer apply for visas without the Form of Temporary Residence (issued by the local PSB). Any long-term (more than 30days) F or L visa issued to a foreigner will expire before July 15, though more likely before July 1. I know all this because my visa was set to expire soon and panic mode set in as my options were quickly diminishing. The options I was given:

– Leave!! (as one visa agent so insistently put it to me);
– Get hired by a company that will sponsor a Z work visa;
– Pay CNY4500 (US$630) for a 6month Student Visa (normally 6month visas for Americans are about CNY2000);
– Get a visa which is only valid for 1month and therefore requires leaving the country every 30days.

Well none of those options were particularly suited to me so I kept searching. I found 1 agent in Changchun, an industrial city in Dongbei province, who could help me get a visa until July 15 and another 1 in Beijing who could get me a single-entry visa valid until July 1. Traveling to Beijing or Changchun in the hope these people would actually be able to help me out was not ideal. More searching revealed a couple of agents in Shanghai who offered alternatives, though seemingly less legit alternatives. One guy told me to bring my resume and photos and he’d find me a company to sponsor my work visa, though there was no intention of me actually working for any company. Another said they could extend my current F visa for 6months for far less than the CNY4500 the 6month Student visa would cost. This sounded too good to be true.

Any foreigner seeking to renew or extend an F or L visa between now and the Olympics is going to, at best, have problems or pay extra money and at worst be totally without options and required to leave the country. If you’re wondering, why not just overstay the visa, because its CNY500 per day for doing so. Good luck to everyone facing the same situation.

Other info and experiences with the situation:

Update Friday, April, 18th:

The visa policy has gotten even stricter recently (last 2-3weeks). The WSJ’s report on visa applications in HK said no more multiple entry visas were being issued in HK until after the Olympic Games. My friend also confirmed this when he tried to use the same agent in Shanghai that I used who said they could no get any visa valid longer than 1 month.  I’m sorry to everyone who will need visa renewals between now and the Olympics, but I can’t help you.  Just be happy with a 1 month visa.

Doing Business in China is even Harder than you can Imagine

I recently heard a story about a German-owned travel company in Shanghai from a friend who works there.  The company has been operational in Shanghai for 5-10years.  When the company started, China forbid foreign-owned travel businesses so the company operated as a ‘consultant’ who just also occasionally booked trips.  (Note: This has changed somewhat since China began implementing the policies of the WTO.)

The company had 4 Shanghainese employees, who kept wanting more and more money for less and less work.  One of them was the flight specialist who had good relations with the airlines.  Each time she booked another trip, she kept pushing the airlines to give her more and more commission, in addition to pushing the company to pay her more.  Eventually the company had to let her go.  When she left she took the entire database of clients with her, then contacted all of them and told them not to use the German-owned company anymore but instead to go through her.

One of the other, now former, Shanghainese employees disgruntled over not being paid more, goes to the police.  One morning she brings the police back to the company and the police demand that the company hand over its server.  The company refuses, saying the police have no search warrant nor other documents allowing them to take the server.  However, the company can’t do anything, so the police take the server.

The 4 Shanghainese employees get together and go to the labor and work bureau and complain that the company never paid any social security for them.  Throughout the term of their employment, the company offered all of the employees the option of paying the social security into the system or giving it to the employees as part of their salary; of course, all of the employees wanted it as salary.  Now, these employees come back saying the social security was never paid for any of them over the last few years.  As such, now the company has to repay all of these 4 employees social security again for the entire length of their employment.

Operating in China is difficult, whether it be because of employee issues or government and legal issues.  This company was by no means operating strictly in the legal realm, which of course is difficult because there are so many gray areas in business and law in China.  But that made them vulnerable when other issues came up.

Is Beijing Ready for the Olympics?

Global news media has widely discussed how well (or not) Beijing is preparing for the Olympics with regards to pollution control and infrastructure/superstructure development, but what about less widely publicized aspects of the preparation?

Beijing doesn’t have the same problem Athens had, where its infrastructure and superstructure construction for the 2004 Olympics was so far behind. Beijing has been able to complete all of its massive-scale construction projects on-time or ahead of schedule with cheap, migrant labor imported from the countryside. Thousands of workers have come in from rural areas across the country to build roads, subway lines, hotels, even the Olympic stadiums themselves. These people just float from job to job, staying in whatever barracks are provided by the employer. When the job finishes, the employer tears down the barracks (again in preparation for the Olympics) and the employees are forced to move on. So when Olympics construction is over and thousands of construction workers are left jobless and homeless in Beijing, what does the government plan to do? Remove them, preferably using incentives, but forcibly, if necessary. The government can’t have migrant workers cluttering the streets and sidewalks because Beijing has to have a clean, clear appearance for the Games. The government also can’t risk protests and complaints from these under- or unpaid workers during the Games. These workers need to be out of Beijing by August 8.  Removing the workers is just another task to be completed in time for the Games.
Beijing has absolutely sprouted luxury housing developments in the past few years. Advertisements around the city, particularly in elevators, display the glamor and wealth that living in these new places convey. But will Olympics visitors see these advertisements? Nope, they are being removed so as to minimize the obviousness of the wealth gap. Beijing doesn’t want to make the difference between those who build the luxury accommodations and those who live in them any more apparent.

Beijing is also requiring all on-going construction projects to at least ‘look finished’ by the time the Games start. The government doesn’t want a city that still seems to be under construction. Though there will be construction projects within the 3rd Ring Road that won’t be finished by the time the games start, they are required to appear completed from the outside. Will this actually be the case? Questionable. More than once such a mandate and associated deadline have been issued; however, contractors have failed to comply and Beijing still looks like a construction site (think new CCTV building). It remains to be seen whether the completed look will be intact by August.

In an effort to reduce vehicle pollution and congestion on the roads, Beijing will take more than a million cars off the road during the Games. Whose cars are those? They’re all government cars. Beijing residents said that a test run made traffic move so much more smoothly; they got to where they were going in half the time. They also said the air quality greatly improved.

A large steel factory near Beijing was permanently closed and moved to the nearby port city of Tianjin. Other industries and factories will also be shut down either permanently or temporarily to improve air quality for the Games.

Beijing will of course be ready for the Games in terms of infrastructure and superstructure, but what about culturally and linguistically? Only a very small percentage of Beijing’s residents can speak English at a level as to be useful to tourists. Taxi drivers are a lost cause. For all that Beijing boasts to have invested in English training for taxi drivers, only a handful even have basics such as ‘hello,’ ‘bye,’ and ‘you American?’ said with a greedy look on their face. Most can’t understand “Olympics stadiums” and couldn’t speak English to save their life. What about other languages–French, Spanish, Arabic? Nope, not in the least.

The answer to whether Beijing is ready, culturally, to host more than half a million foreigners is complex, but the simple answer is, no. A few examples: spitting, smoking indoors, public urination and defecation, cutting in line, pushing at crosswalks. A more detailed example: any Chinese with a business mind (and they all have one) see the Games and this many tourists as a huge money-making opportunity. They can already envision themselves rolling in the cash that they’re going to make. How do I know this? Accommodation prices. Apartment owners won’t sign a new tenant lease that extends past July because they want to rent the apartment for more than $2000 per night during the Olympics. Crap hotels no foreigner would even consider other times of the year plan to charge upwards of $200 per night. What does this mean in the long-term? Olympics visitors will leave with such a poor impression of China they’ll tell everyone back home how horrible of a place China is thereby dissuading others from going to China. This will lead to a decline in China visitor arrivals and a decrease in tourism spending. This mentality of ‘why make $10 tomorrow when you can make a $1 today?’ is perhaps the prime example of how China is not culturally ready to host the Olympics.

Some aspects of the preparation for the Olympics almost seem too controlled, but other areas that are more meaningful to visitors can’t be made ready even by an authoritarian government.  Will Beijing host a successful Olympics?  Most likely.  Will China receive long-term benefits including increasing visitor arrivals as a result of a positive feelings and good will created during the Olympics? Doubtful.

All 7 Continents

In the past 3months, I have eaten more bread than I have in years. I started out in Chile and Argentina, 2countries that eat a lot of bread, meat, and cheese. Then I went on to Egypt and Jordan both of which eat a lot pita bread with cheese. Then on to East Africa where the staple breakfast is toast with either jam or egg on it. Living in rice-eating China, I’d forgotten that bread is the world’s staple. The majority of the world, aside from East and South Asia eat bread. I think I’m ready to go back to eating rice.

There should be direct flights between Asia and South America. With the increasing amount of cross-continent travel (I met a number of Chinese in Argentina and many South Americans live in China) and the large trade volume between the 2 continents (notably Brazil and Japan), I believe a direct flight is necessary. Perhaps Air China, JAL, Cathay Pacific, or LAN Chile should think about offering that service. Here are some examples of current inconvenient routings: Shanghai-Beijing-Los Angeles-Santiago, Chile; Beijing-Amsterdam-some random islands-Guayquil-Quito, Ecuador; Hong Kong-Kuala Lampur-Cape Town-Buenos Aires-Ushuaia, Argentina.

Having now traveled to all 7continents, I can say Europe and South America are my favorite. (This probably leads you to the question of why do I live in China? and leads me to the goal of living Buenos Aires after I’ve accomplished all I intend to in China.) I love Europe for its history, architecture, and progressive, forward-looking ideas. I love South America for its contemporary culture, particularly its music and dance, and the color and vibrancy of the culture as well as the people’s relaxed nature. South America’s natural scenery from high, snow-covered mountains to sun-baked beaches is also amazing. The United States, Mexico, and Asia, in my opinion, have the best food. Asia also has an unrivaled entrepreneurial spirit, which at times I love and other times I hate, but is certainly to be admired.

I’m very proud to have accomplished my goal of traveling to all 7continets, even a year earlier than my deadline! 90 days, 29 blog entries, and 18 flights later I’ve returned to where I started from, Shanghai. Concluding a major trip like this can be challenging but trying to sum it up is proving to be even more difficult. I saw some amazing places, met some great people, found some countries that I might like to live in and some that I wouldn’t dare live in, and learned some things that can only be understood through traveling. While I won’t be going traveling again for a long time, I’ll always be a traveler, whether that’s through my memories and photographs, through other people’s stories and photos, or far into the future when the opportunity is right again. I hope you have enjoyed the stories and pictures from my travels over the past months and I welcome you to continue reading my blog as I transition back into blogging about China, as well as tourism and business within this most populous nation on earth.

P.S. Before I leave the topic of traveling, let me again post my alphabetical list of countries visited (original post 10-23-2006) to see how I’m doing now.

A: Austria (Republic of Austria), Argentina (Argentine Republic)
B: Brazil (Federative Republic of Brazil), Bahamas (Commonwealth of The Bahamas)
C: China (PRC), Czech Republic, Canada, Croatia (Republic of Croatia), Chile (Republic of Chile), Cambodia (Kingdom of Cambodia), Columbia (Republic of Colombia), Costa Rica (Republic of Costa Rica)
D: Denmark (Kingdom of Denmark)
E: Estonia (Republic of Estonia), Egypt (Arab Republic of Egypt)
F: France (French Republic), Finland (Republic of Finland)
G: Greece (Hellenic Republic), Guatemala (Republic of Guatemala), Germany (Federal Republic of Germany)
H: Hungary (Republic of Hungary), Hong Kong (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the PRC)
I: Italy (Italian Republic)
J: Jamaica, Jordan (Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan)
K: Kenya (Republic of Kenya)
L: Laos (Lao People’s Democratic Republic)
M: Mexico (United Mexican States), Malaysia, Monaco (Principality of Monaco), Macau (Macao Special Administrative Region of the PRC)
N: New Zealand, Norway (Kingdom of Norway)
P: Portugal (Portuguese Republic), Poland (Republic of Poland), Panama (Republic of Panama)
Q: Qatar (State of Qatar)
R: Russia (Russian Federation)
S: Singapore (Republic of Singapore), Spain (Kingdom of Spain), Slovakia (Slovak Republic), Sweden (Kingdom of Sweden)
T: Taiwan (Republic of China), Thailand (Kingdom of Thailand), Turkey (Republic of Turkey), Tanzania (United Republic of Tanzania)
U: United States (USA), United Kingdom (United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
V: Vatican City (State of the Vatican City)

Guess I need another trip through the Middle East and Africa to finish off O (Oman), W (Western Sahara), Y (Yemen), & Z (Zaire or Zimbabwe). That will just have to wait…


Nairobi, Kenya
Getting off the plane in Nairobi (yes, I know, I’ll get to Tanzania in a bit) we were greeted with just perfect weather–Egypt and Jordan were too cold, Zanzibar was just a little too hot and humid, but the temperature in Nairobi was perfect. We had a very pleasant flight experience with Kenya Airways and most likely due to the turbulent situation in Kenya the flight had many extra seats so we got plenty of room. The Kenya visa process was also very quick and painless and a lot cheaper than Tanzania’s, only $50 this time. A bit nervous about being in Kenya, we opted for a taxi hired within the airport to take us to our hotel, Kivi Milimani, for 1200Kenya Shillings, about $18.

The hotel had beautiful grounds and a swimming pool. Each room had a private balcony. Despite all the worry about being in Kenya, I went out for a wander and to buy some water. In Nairobi I found nothing to indicate there was so much violence going on in other parts of the country. The Kenyans I met were mostly all very genuine and helpful. Except for the violence that’s shattered the country and the reputation Nairobi has for theft (“Nairobbery”), Nairobi seems like it would be a very nice city–it has a lot of potential.

GiraffeIntrepid’s Overland trip Serengeti Trail into Tanzania
That night we met our guide and group to start our 8day/7night safari into Tanzania. The following morning we left bright and early, like we’d do every day of this trip. Our transport for the next week would be a large custom designed Bedford truck that would carry essentially everything we needed for a week: food, cooking equipment, tents, sleeping bag, etc. First thing in the morning, our guide taught us how to store everything in our personal lockers by first unpacking everything from our bags and then laying it flat in the space. All 19passengers plus guide, cook, and driver and everyone’s stuff had to be stored away and carted around in this truck for the whole week. While it wasn’t uncomfortable, I’d say this big of vehicle is less than ideal for a safari. We were sure bounced and shaken and covered in dust/dirt all across Tanzania. With the rerouting of the itinerary due to the situation in Kenya our 8day/7night safari was really more like 3days of safari and 4days of a lot of driving to and from the Serengeti.

Serengeti, Oldupai Gorge, and Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Driving into the Serengeti the first day we saw countless grazing animals in the pastures on either side of the road: zebra, giraffes, gazelles, impalas. It was a great start! That afternoon we went to the Oldupai gorge, one of sites of ancient man in the Great Rift Valley. We learned about different species of humans that had passed through the area millions of years ago and the particularly noted discovery of human footprints that had been preserved for over 3million years in volcanic ash (think Pompeii). It was very neat to be in the place where humans might have developed from their ape-like ancestors. I’ve always found this topic very intriguing, particularly as a result of reading the Earth’s Children’s Series.

During the 2 or 3days in the Serengeti we saw Vervet Monkeys, baboons, African Elephants (as opposed to Indian Elephants), rock hyrax, zebra, warthogs (think Pumba from The Lion King), hippos, ostrich, giraffes, impalas, Thompson and Grand Gazelles, lots and lots of wildebeest–the supposed backbone of the Serengeti, hartebeest, topi, waterbuck, African Buffalo, mongoose (think Timon from The Lion King), Spotted Hyenas, jackals, cheetahs, and of course, lions.

As if this wasn’t enough, after the Serengeti we descended down into the Ngorongoro Crater, a sunken caldera (my third of the trip), where we saw almost all of these animals again, though in much greater numbers and closer. Highlights of the Crater were seeing our 4th of the Big 5–black rhino, 3 adult and 1 baby rhino; and pink flamingos! The Ngorongoro Crater has to be one of the most spectacular places on land for sheer density and variety of large wildlife.Masaai women

As part of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, the Masaai tribespeople are allowed to live and heard their animals within the conservation area.  We had the opportunity to visit one of their villages.
An unexpected delight of the safari part of the trip was the bird3-life which was very diverse in size, ranging from sparrows to ostrich, and very colorful including bright yellow and shiny turquoise. I had not expected such amazing birds in addition to all the large animals. The Serengeti is very mesmerizing and anyone could stare out at it for hours trying not to let their eyes trick them into seeing animals that are really only bushes. While I went to Tanzania with this picture in my head of very dry empty plains with one tree just off to the side and clear skies at sunset, that was not our experience. There were a lot of trees, even at times thick high brush, and lots of clouds and rain. It rained both nights we camped at Seronera (an area within the Serengeti) and even rained on one day. Apparently we were there at the start of the rainy season.

Tanzania Observations
Tanzanians are incredibly polite and friendly. Everyone greets you with a cheery ‘jambo’ or ‘hello.’ Greetings are very important in Tanzania, particularly Zanzibar. That’s one of my favorite things about Tanzania–that everyone shows so much courtesy and greets you. They also say ‘karibu,’ welcome, a lot and they truly mean it. Tanzanians are very open and welcoming.

Primary school in Tanzania is taught in Swahili but secondary and college-level education is conducted in English. Students in secondary school who are caught speaking Swahili outside of Swahili class are punished. Many people speak English in the country, though the actual level of spoken English varies greatly; still, I have to give credit to the education system. In fact, I was a bit surprised that the woman next to me on the 9hour bus ride who was buying 3 whole pineapples through the window and throwing her trash out the window spoke such good English. TIA!!! (This is Africa)

Tanzania was a lot more developed, though not in an industrial sense, more in an infrastructure sense, than I expected. It was not nearly as poor as I expected either. People seemed to be doing alright. Everyone, including many of the Masaai people, had cell phones.

What surprised me even more was how expensive Tanzania is! A night at a Serengeti lodge is $225/person full board. Its difficult to have meal in any restaurant for less than $5. Mangoes cost the same in Tanzania where they’re grown as they do in the US, $0.50/mango. There a 20%VAT at most places thereby increasing the cost. Tanzania basically throws all ideas of a cheap Africa out of the window.

Tanzania seems to buy everything from Asia. But not in the same sense that Asia is the world’s manufacturer for products shipped to the US. Tanzania seems to buy things meant for the Asian market. Everything from cars to boats to rice cookers had Chinese or Japanese writing on it. The ketchup was made in Malaysia. Tanzania seems to buy all of its cars, minibuses, and ferry boats used from Japan or Hong Kong as all have those countries characters on them.

Tanzania’s Influences
Everyone seems to have their hand in Africa. Everyone wants to ‘save Africa.’ This is no less true in Tanzania. From the Dutch started health center in Mto Wa Mbu to the Lutheran Church doing developmental and social projects to the British Council with its Team Dreams to the Indians running all the hotels to the Chinese and their infrastructure building. I first noticed the influence of the Chinese and Indian from the Chinese Inns and Chinese and Indian restaurants scattered about. As I started exploring more, I found the others. And this is all just in northern and coastal Tanzania. (Seven to 10% of the country’s population is Lutheran.)

I wonder if all these varying influences are actually doing any good. Is Tanzania’s rather decent economic situation (by African standards) a result of, or in spite of, all of these groups having their hand in Tanzania? Are all these parties pulling Tanzania (and Africa) in different directions, leaving the country (and the Continent) without a cohesive plan for development? Or are these groups helping the people of Tanzania bring themselves out of poverty and raise their standard of living? Its hard to say, but Tanzania seems to be doing better than other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

——All pictures from Tanzania——-

Egypt, Jordan, and Tanzania: Other Commentary

Treatment of Women
Most of us have some idea though not a good understanding of the poor treatment of Muslim women in Muslim countries.  That is a lengthy and complex topic and I could write about some of the rumors I’ve heard, but lacking concrete evidence I will not venture there.  Instead, I will use our stories to discuss the treatment of western woman in Muslim countries and from there you can imagine how it much be for other women.  One of the girls on the trip was walking with her brother in Aswan, though he easily could have been her boyfriend.  An Egyptian guy came up behind her and grabbed her butt.  She turned around freaking out at him.  The brother told the guy to go away but the guy continued to badger her and follow them.  Eventually the brother had to aggressively push the guy in order to get him to leave the sister alone.

I was in a bread shop in Jordan and these young, perhaps 10-year old boys walked by me and said hello, so I responded hello.  Then one of them made a kissing noise at me.  I was thinking ‘how old are you!?! you insolent little rat.’  Throughout Egypt, Jordan, and Qatar, whenever Andrew and I would approach a male (usually in a service role), the man would almost totally ignore me and direct all conversation to Andrew.  This was rather shocking for me since I’m older and more well-traveled and therefore have always been relied on to deal with things.  More than 1time the man would address a question regarding me to Andrew and expect Andrew to repeat it to me before I’d tell the answer to Andrew who’d then repeat it to the guy.  It was as if I was deaf or dumb or speaking a completely different language.  And perhaps what freaked me out even more was, Andrew went along with it! until I cut in and answered for myself.  How demeaning.  I understood the situation as a cultural act and was willing to tolerate in short bouts for the limited time I was these Muslim countries but I could not stand it long term.

Traffic Lights
Egypt and Jordan have almost no stoplights. There are a few stoplights in Egypt, however these are mostly ignored. Drivers only really wait at intersections if a policeman is directing them. Otherwise round-a-bouts are the main means of managing traffic. Jordan is largely the same way. Its really quite amazing that a city as large a Cairo can function with out traffic lights.

From Egypt to Jordan and into East Africa, the retail sector is very underdeveloped. This was a bit bothersome as I wanted to buy fruit, snacks, water, packets of tissue, and maybe laundry detergent. Finding all of these in 1 place in Egypt was nearly impossible as almost no shop sold fruit; in fact, we saw very little fruit throughout the country at all. The shops were all tiny with maybe 1 refrigerated case for Coca-Cola; even Cairo didn’t seem to have any large shops. In Jordan the situation improved with larger, better-stocked stores.

East Africa’s, specifically Tanzania’s retail sector was much more developed than either Egypt’s or Jordan’s. Even fairly small towns had decent sized stores, as well as local markets, that may have multiple refrigerated cases for drinks, frozen meat and/or ice cream.

Living in Harmony
Egypt while being predominantly Muslim has a large Coptic Christian population. Jordan bills itself as center of the world’s 3 major religions. Churches containing ancient biblical mosaics stand beside Mosques in Madaba (Jordan). Tanzania is 40% Muslim, 40% Christian, and 20% tribal religions and other. All of these countries, particularly Tanzania have maintained peace and stability despite difference of religion and in case of Tanzania, tribes. (Tanzanians are very proud of the fact that all their tribes can live together peacefully, particularly in the wake of the Kenya violence.) Each should be held as a showcase of how people can and do get along if they just respect each other.


Visas-on-Arrival at Dar Es Salaam Airport
When Andrew and I arrived at Dar Es Salaam (Tanzania) airport, the first thing we had to do was get visas (on arrival). A visa agent helped us through filling out the forms, etc. All-in-all it was a very quick and painless process, except for handing over the US$100. Americans and Irish pay $100; all other Europeans pay $50. The visas are very pretty and even have our picture on them, taken by webcam at the desk. I guess we would have waited longer if we had gotten visas ahead of time because the line of people waiting for the immigration stamp was very long.

Location map of ZanzibarGetting to Zanzibar
Our flight arrived into Dar at 2:30pm making it highly unlikely we’d catch the last fast ferry (4:15pm) to Zanzibar so we opted to fly. We were hand-held through the process of booking air tickets, which was surprisingly quick and efficient for Africa (in my opinion). Just 2hours after we’d arrived and $171 later ($100 for the visa, $71 for the plane ticket) we were on a Precision Air flight out to Zanzibar. That means by 5pm we were on Zanzibar Island looking for a taxi to take us into town. We shared a $10 taxi with a couple from the airport to Stone Town. We were a bit nervous about having the driver follow us around looking for hotels because all drivers on Zanzibar get commission for bringing guests to hotels, which means we can’t negotiate a lower price.

Stone Town
We ended up at Baghani House Hotel, recommended by LP East Africa. We managed to negotiate down to $65 for the cheaper downstairs room. It was a nice, though very dark, ensuite room with Zanzibari furnishings, air-con, safe, and minifridge. The next morning we’d find out it came with a wonderful fresh fruit breakfast, a welcome change to the bread and cheese breakfasts we’d had for the past 3 weeks in Egypt and Jordan.

After settling in, we went looking for a place to exchange money or as they’re called in Tanzania, Bureau de Change. Many things can and should be paid for in US$ such as hotels, but local currency is required for food, drinks, internet, etc. Money exchange rates range from $1= 1000 to 1160Tanzania Shillings so it makes sense to shop around for the best rates. Rates for US$ depend on which notes are being exchanged with $100 and $50 notes getting the best rate. (The best rate I found was in Arusha $1=1164 when exchanging a $100 note).

In the morning we went looking for malarone anti-malaria tablets and a wonderfully kind local man took us running all over town to find a pharmacy that carried them. We found more than one pharmacy that had them but most were charging upwards of $6.78 per tablet. So I decided to not to buy any. (I continued looking through Tanzania and Nairobi and even with bargaining, never found them below $5/tablet. In the end, it was good I didn’t spend the money on them because one of the other passengers on the safari had extras and since Andrew left early he also gave me his extras). Decorative Doorway, Zanzibar

Zanzibar is one of the Spice Islands from the time when Arab traders controlled the Indian Ocean. Therefore you find spices for sale everywhere; there are also ‘spice tours’ offered, which will take you to the spice plantations to see what spice look like when they grow. Zanzibar was also one of the main places from which slaves were exported; a church now stands on the ground of the Old Slave Market in Zanzibar Town. As a result of the Arab traders, most of the island is Sunni Muslim and almost all of the girls wear head coverings. This is distinct from other Arab countries where only women above the age of 12 (I think) have to have their head covered.

Having explored Stone Town on our quest for malarone, we signed up and paid $6each to take the 1pm shuttle-van out to the north shore beaches: Nungwi and Kendwa. We’d planned to go to Kendwa but after looking into accommodation around there we found our 1st choice places were filled; it also felt too quiet for us. We opted to try Nungwi, the supposed party beach, though I can’t say we we ever found any party. After shopping around a few hotels at Nungwi, we ended up at another LP recommendation: Amaan Bungalows. At this place we paid $50/night for an ensuite, fan only room. The room was fine but didn’t have a sea view, in fact, it was about a 5min walk to the beach, which we had to find in front of another hotel. That night we ate at the restaurant at Amaan, which turned out be awful: it had bad service, mediocre food and was very overpriced.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why we stayed there and paid so much if everything was so below par. To be honest, Amaan was the best value for money we found of any place we looked at along the north shore. I’ve decided Zanzibar is not a place to go if you’re looking for value, because there is none. Zanzibar, like all of Tanzania is not cheap, and by Asian standards its very expensive. The cheapest meal I had on Zanzibar, a vegetarian curry, was 6000TSh, just under $6. That was in Stone Town which had cheaper meals than at the beach. In fact, eating at the beach was so expensive we only paid for 1 meal per day, lucky breakfast was included!

This is not to say that the beach itself isn’t nice; it’s absolutely gorgeous with some very white sand and radiantly clear blue water. But when you’re lying on the beach persistent salespeople, even some dressed in the characteristic red Masaai blankets, keep trying to get you to look at their wares. This does not make for a very relaxing beach experience. The internet is also rather overpriced and slow on Zanzibar. Myself and these other two American girls kept comparing Zanzibar to Thailand and decided that Thailand is all around a better value and just a better beach destination largely because there’s less hassle and better value. While I enjoyed Zanzibar and am glad I went, I’m certainly in no hurry to go back (as evidenced by the fact that I went to the beach on the mainland during my extra week rather than going with friends to Zanzibar again).

Picturesque Nungwi Beach

To occupy our days on the beach and distract ourselves from the stress of trying to deal with canceled trips in Kenya, Andrew went sport fishing with some guys from South Africa. During his 6hours of fishing he caught a Dorado, but it jumped off the hook. I instead opted for a 1hour massage, which cost $15 (perhaps the most value priced of anything on the island, aside from the local beer).

Returning to Dar Es Salaam
We again to took a shared van back to Stone Town; however this time it cost us 8000TSh/person. They dropped us off at the ferry terminal where we bought tickets for the overnight Seagull ferry (not listed in LP, but actually newer and nicer than the cheaper Flying Horse, which is listed). We paid $25 for a VIP class ticket. They let us store our bags in the ticket office while we went to eat dinner, a nice perk. The ferry departed at 10pm and arrived 6am. This is a bit curious as most of the ferries take 1.5hours so you have to wonder how they manage to take 8hours on the overnight route. On what little sleep we got, we bargained a taxi driver down from 20,000TSh to 10,000TSh to take us to the airport for our flight to Nairobi where we’d start our safari.

Pictures from Zanzibar

Qatar and Qatar Airways: An Experience

Hotel Voucher
My flight schedule on Qatar Airways had me flying from Amman, Jordan to Doha, Qatar (Qatar Airways’ hub), a layover there for 13hours, and then on to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania. Having read online other people’s uncertainty as to their long layovers in Qatar, I called the Qatar Airways office in the US and asked them what to do with my layover. They told me with my fare, I’d have to pay $100 for a hotel room. Granted, that’s cheaper than most hotels in Qatar but still more than I wanted to pay for just over 8hours in a hotel.

So we thought we’d check Andrew’s fare. He spent 20-30min on hold with the Qatar Airways office in the US (as did I but I had the patience to wait ‘to speak with a representative’) before giving up and deciding to ask in Cairo. The Cairo office told him he was entitled to a free hotel room but that when he got to Amman he needed to pick up a voucher. From Jordan, he called the Amman office to ask about said voucher and they said, what are you talking about? Their English was a bit limited, but finally they told him, just wait till you get to Doha airport, they will take care of you there.

When we checked-in in Amman, we asked for our bags to be checked to Doha, so that we could pick them up and take them to the hotel with us. Initially the guy forgot to do that, so he checked us all the way to Dar Es Salaam and then had to go back and reverse that to gives us boarding passes and luggage just for Doha. Somehow this created a problem. When we arrived in Doha airport and Andrew asked for his hotel room, the clerk seemed very annoyed. He kept asking us, ‘where is your boarding pass to Dar?’ Well, we don’t have it, we only got checked through to Doha. The clerk did not like this and it seemed to cause him a lot of extra work. Nonetheless, he managed to sort Andrew’s hotel room. But even more amazingly, I, yes that’s right on my ‘youth fare,’ I was entitled to a hotel room for free as well as transfers and meals!! So much for the accuracy of the information provided by the Qatar Airways office in the US.

For people wondering about your own stopovers in Doha with Qatar Airways, normally layovers of more than 7hours are entitled to hotel vouchers provided by the airline. If you’re really nervous about it, call the local office and ask whether your fare is entitled to a free hotel room, but take whatever answer you are given with a grain of salt, as I was provided incorrect information. If for some reason you’re not entitled, or your layover is less than 7 hours, another option is the Qatar Airways Orxy Lounge, which must be booked in advance and carries an associated usage fee.

At the Airport, Amman
It seems Qatar Airways has changed terminals at Amman airport; my confirmation told me Terminal N, the international terminal, however Qatar now goes out of Terminal 1. When we walked in Terminal 1 of Amman airport, we were immediately security screened for the 2nd time already (the first time being on the approach, when they checked our car). Then looking for the check-in desk, all I saw was a mass group of people and no signs indicating where Qatar Airways was, making me wonder if it was back in the other terminal. No, the sign was just too small for me to see and that mass of people were all waiting to check-in for Qatar Airways. There was no semblance of order or indication of lines. About three different lines were all heading toward the same counter. It was wholly inefficient. Eventually we got to the check-in desk, where the guy screwed up our check-in.

Then we had to go through another security check, the 3rd and final one. Both the 2nd and 3rd times, I tried to walk through like normal; however, I was waved off to ‘ladies inspection.’ Discrimination!, I thought. No, just respecting the privacy of women in Islamic countries. Well, the reason for this separation is because they have the walk-through metal detectors which are set to beep regardless of whether you’re carrying metal, therefore everyone has to be patted down. And of course, women pat down women and men men. This seems rather ineffective and inefficient. I believe it’d work much better to just use the metal detectors as they’re intended. Ah well…it makes for a good story, I guess.'Ladies Inspection' at Amman Airport

On the plane from Amman to Doha
On the flight from Amman to Doha, Andrew and I constituted 2-3rds of the white people and I was definitely the only white female. Besides us, the flight was about 20% Indian (and or Pakistani or Sri Lankan) and the rest was roughly evenly split between Arabs and Chinese (which explains the chaos at check-in). There seemed to be a big group of (predominantly) female Chinese tourists traveling together, while the Chinese men on the flight, I guessed to be laborers in Jordan returning home for Chinese New Year. This was an interesting speculation for me as I’d heard of Chinese workers in Africa and also the Gulf States importing a lot of Asian workers but I didn’t know Jordan did.
Prayer Times
As the flight became full, only the row of seats in front of us was left empty. Then a half dozen Arab men, tall, robed, turban-topped, and bearded, came and sat down in front of us. They looked like they could have been the leaders of the Mujahadeen. Andrew and I looked at each other both thinking whaaaat?!? About half way through the flight a couple of the men stand up, figure out which way Mecca is as we’re probably flying directly over it and start chanting their prayers. All of the men take turns standing and kneeling to do their prayers. I’m thinking: does this often happen on these flights? and what are the Chinese people thinking of this?

As if this wasn’t enough for one flight, there was more excitement to come. The time after the captain announces we’re on our initial descent into whereever and after the flight attendants have finished everything and sat down but before we’ve actually landed, is supposed to be quiet time when you remain in your seat. However an impatient Chinese woman doesn’t think so. She jumps up, pulls down the overhead bin and starts pulling her luggage out as if she’s late to catch her flight to Shanghai that doesn’t leave for another 6hours. A flight attendant responds and practically has to drag the woman back down into her seat in time for landing.

The conditions of air travel in foreign and exotic destinations never failed to entertain.

Doha, Qatar
On the 30 or 40minute drive from the airport to the hotel, we passed more American chain eateries than Andrew and I’d seen in the past 3weeks, let alone in any 1country outside of the US. In Egypt we saw KFC, Hardy’s, McDonald’s and we ate at Pizza Hut and Sbarro. In Jordan I didn’t see any. By contrast, in a half hour car ride through Doha we saw everything ranging from Arby’s to Krispy Kreme to Chili’s. What a change.

Speaking of contrasts, after nearly 3weeks of seeing only handfuls of other westerners (tourists) in these Middle Eastern countries, I don’t know what could have shocked us more than for the very white Polish youth soccer team to come walking into the hotel. Meanwhile, Saudis with their red and black head coverings sat around the hotel.

All of the service workers we encountered on the airplane and at the hotel seemed to be imported from other Asian countries. There were Filipinos, Indians, Koreans, Sri Lankans, you name it, that nationality was probably represented. The only place that seemed to have mostly locals employed was at the airport, perhaps for security reasons(?). Andrew and I were aware that countries like Qatar and UAE sought cheap labor from abroad but we had no idea it was on this kind of massive scale. It was like a mini United Nations with all those people working together, using English as the medium of communication. The only other situation I’ve seen like this is mega cruise ships such as Celebrity.

All in all what little I saw of Doha made it seem very liveable and very comfortable, though perhaps that’s just in comparison to Egypt and Jordan.

Pyramids to Petra: The Dead Sea and Madaba (Amman)

Leaving Petra, we drove along the King’s Highway north through Jordan to Karak Castle, an old fort used by the Crusaders to recapture the Holy Land during the Middle Ages. It was a strategic location as the castle was probably only about 80km from Jerusalem.

The Dead Sea

After Karak Castle, we saw Lot’s wife. This biblical story is now immortalized in a rock pillar on a cliff high above the Dead Sea. For lunch, we went to a Dead Sea resort and took a dip in that most salty of bodies of water. In fact, it’s not totally dead as 2 species of bacteria and 1 species of algae live in the water. The Dead Sea is also famous for its beauty products and I succumed and bought some.

Next we went to Mount Nebo, where Moses died just after bringing the Israelites to the Promised Land. Then we finished our drive, ending in Madaba, a suburb of Jordan’s capital, Amman.

Madaba is famous for its Byzantine Mosaics, particularly the ancient map of the area including Jerusalem. Not to let you down, we did see what’s left of this Mosaic in the St. George Church, commonly referred to as the Map Church. Besides that we saw a number of other mosaics, including other Byzantine and even earlier Roman ones in the Archaeological Park in Madaba as well as more modern ones in the church.

Mosaic Map, St. George Church

We concluded our trip with dinner to a nicer restaurant, which had live music. In fact, the music was lively enough to even get some people into the dancing spirit. So the final night, though not involving any alcohol (contrary to Intrepid tradition) was still good fun with festive music and dancing.

Departure day, we had sandwiches again from our favorite sandwich shop in Madaba, Ayola Cafe before heading to the airport, for what would be a very interesting and probably very memorable experience.  Pictures from Jordan (again)