June 10, 2008

Asia Trip Report - Jonathan Martindale

Jonathan Martindale shares with us a few highlights from his last whirlwind business trip to Singapore, China, Malaysia, and Indonesia

Jonathan's Preface

Hi all

I have a couple quick trip reports I want to put out here. These trips were all business related so they may read a little different than some others. Also since I was on business I had limited time for tourist activities so I usually utilized a city tour that was offered by whatever tourist agency was in the lobby or could be organized for me by the concierge. I found them really good if you have a short amount of time in a city. They allow you to quickly hit all the major spots of a city in just an afternoon.

The downside is they always take you by several merchant shops to "witness" local craftsman. But in actuality you are just being fed to some shopkeepers to be fleeced on some overpriced goods so that your guide can get their kickback. Also a common odd experience was being in an office or meeting and have people light a cigarette.

I can't even remember a time when you could smoke inside.


Very international city and centrally located to so many countries it is no wonder why it serves as an excellent port and business center. Other than that I didn't find much else to the city other than shopping. I quickly visited Sonesta Island which was overcrowded and not much more than a tourist trap. I stayed at the Singapore Marriott on Orchard which was one of the nicest hotels I have ever had the pleasure to stay in. The staff was extremely helpful and polite the food was outstanding though pricey.

Beijing, China

Level of pollution was disturbing. Most days you could hardly see the sun for all the smog. I feel for the marathoners come August. English was pretty well spoken probably thanks in part to the upcoming Olympics. To

ugh city to do some kinds of business I came to find. Normally you can pitch a client saying hey spend X amount of dollars with me and I'll help you save 5X dollars over time. But in a country where labor cost are so low the response is hey you would have to save me 20X before I'd really care as I can just double the workforce for pennies. I was taken to what I was told is THE place for Peking duck and quite frankly I was not very impressed. Now I'm far from being a health nut but that duck had to be the greasiest I've ever seen. And the worst part is you have to eat the skin dipped in sugar as part of the eating ritual. I could hear my arteries begging for mercy throughout the meal.

I've seen a lot of thins traveling that I've, either overbuilt up in my head and then found them to be a letdown or see something that is all the rage and just not be impressed but I was just taken aback by the Great Wall. It was outstanding to visit partly on its scale and how it must have been just a struggle for an invading army to attack as it was such a defensible position. It really is an engineering marvel. A word to the wise: if you are planning a trip to see the Great Wall spend a few weeks on the Stairmaster leading up to it. Your legs will tha

nk you for it.

I really enjoyed the Silk Market where your thirst for crappy counterfeit goods can be quenched. I had strict orders by some ladies in my life to bring back purses. I'm proud to say I know next to nothing about purse shopping but I did find that whatever price you are quoted counter with about 10% of that price and never settle above around 20% in the end. The quality was the same as the fakes you get in the states but the prices were substantially lower. I came to find that the purses I acquired would run about $60 - $100 in the states cost me about 5 to 10.

The Forbidden City was very nice. If you go bring the good walking shoes it seems to go on forever. I always think how big someone's ego must be to build things like this or similar structures like the Pyramids to themselves.

I stayed at the Courtyard Marriott New World Center in the Chongwen District. It like many other facilities is still in the renovation process for the Olympics. It was nicely located near a train line. My advice is if you can get to your destination via the train

take that route. The roads are so congested and the driving is beyond erratic that your best hope for sanity is to close your eyes in the car until you get where you are going. It easily the worst driving I've witnessed since Cairo. I flew in from Singapore via Singapore Air 747 in coach. I had not flown them before but they had a very good reputation which they lived up too. The new Beijing airport terminal is very nicely done but when returning to the airport make sure you know which terminal your flight is leaving from as the old terminal is a 15 minute bus ride away.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Petronas towers are very beautiful buildings especially at night. If you have the chance to go take note that to do the Skybridge visit you must get there early like no later than 0900 at the latest as tickets are free but limited to the first 1000 or so people. That said it is not that impressive as the bridge is midway up around the 43rd floor so the view is not that spectacular. I wish there was an observation deck at the top.

Oddest Incident: Standing at a street corner waiting to cross street a guy on a motorcycle pulled up to me and reached in his pocket. I thought he was going to rob me but instead handing me a card that said underage girls and then a phone number.

Had a cab driver try to run game on me by not turning on the meter for a quick trip then asking for 15 Malaysian ringgit for a ride that I know is normally 5. Now sure he was only trying to get 5 dollars out of me instead of the 2 I owed him but I just can't let anybody ride like that, in the end we settled on the equivalent of 3 dollars.

I thought the concierge was organizing my city tour that I pointed to in the brochure but when the guy arrived I realized he just called his homeboy to drive me around the city. Tour was still pretty good. I figured it was a normal tour guide working off the books.

I stayed at the Renaissance which of all the Renaissance I've stayed at over the years it had to be the least kept up. Now it wasn't bad mind you and the staff was excellent but they usually do way better.

Jakarta, Indonesia

Walking around this city in a business suit should be made criminal. It is just too darn close to the equator. My office had a great A/C unit but every local that came in complained I had it too cold. I guess they are acclimatized so it wasn't feeling like the 9th circle of Hades to them like it did to me. Perhaps it is liberal guilt but it is always off-putting to witness crushing poverty. I really didn't like when kids as young as 7 or 8 were working as street vendors and such. You want to feel like they should be somewhere being a kid. Crime and terrorism is a serious issue in the area. I've had easier times getting into embassies than I did the hotel with all its security. The food was quite excellent but I hate when the exchange rate is so large that a simple meal could be 200,000 of the local currency. My minor in math be darned I'm always afraid I'll wrongly convert in my head and put the decimal in the wrong spot as I witnessed when I thought I paid 6 bucks for some bad Chinese food only to later realize I paid 60. Big win of this trip was the 4 Seasons hotel was only 83 dollars a night! I didn't take the commuter train but I could see it constantly go by my office window and man it was a site. That train would be stuffed to the seams with people hanging on the outside and the side doors just wide open.

Report by Jonathan Martindale

No comments: