Friday, February 5, 2010

Bruce Lee and the Temple of the Ancestors in Foshan

I came to The Temple of the Ancestors in Foshan called Zumiao , which dates originally from the second half of the 11th Century, and was restored in 1372 following a fire. The Chinese name ''Zumiao'' means ''Temple of the Ancestors'', this simply indicates that it is the oldest temple in town, "the ancestor of temples".

There is a famous character with great of Chinese martial arts (Kung Fu) called IP Man who invent Wing Chun in Zumiao, he was the master of Li Xiao Long, also called Bruce Lee. He was widely regarded as the most influential martial artist of the twentieth century and a cultural icon.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Alex, our Tripbod in Dubai, witnesses the opening of the world's tallest building

The Burj Dubai, the worlds tallest building, opened just last week and is now taking tourists up to it's scary heights.

Construction began on 21 September 2004 and was inaugurated 4 of January 2010 by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum - ruler of Dubai.

It is now the tallest man-made structure in the world. The observation deck on the 124th floor has handy handy electronic binoculars, where you can view the surrounding desert and city for miles and miles.

Burj Dubai – now named Burj Khalifa after the president of the United Arab Emirates is declared to be 828 metres tall – 10 metres higher than previous estimates. The tower's architecture and engineering was performed by Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill of Chicago.

Photos Courtesy of Alex's website

Monday, January 4, 2010

Tsunami affected Indonesia – Aceh five years later, by Amanda George

Prior to the tsunami, a long standing, low level conflict existed within Aceh. Aji, a young Indonesian Red Cross volunteer at the time, recalls how he used to evacuate at least one corpse every day, victims of the fighting. After 29 years of conflict, that meant a lot of bodies. Instability raged across turbulent Aceh.

Then, on Boxing Day 2004, an earthquake measuring nine on the Richter scale struck just off the coast of Aceh, violently waking up the sea and sending not one but three monstrous waves up to 20 metres high many kilometres inland. At least 120,000 and maybe as many as 160,000 died in this one province of Indonesia - well over half of the global death toll of the tsunami that affected 13 countries.

As the giant waves as high as six storey buildings decapitated towering palm trees and wiped out everything and everyone in its path, they also wiped out the conflict in Aceh. The enormity of the disaster took over everything. Conversations five years later rarely turn towards the conflict; it is always tsunami, tsunami, tsunami. After decades of conflict, that is saying something.

Within days, mass graves with tens of thousands of unidentified bodies filled up. A few miracle buildings were left standing, including a giant white mosque in Lhoknga, near Banda Aceh. The land was rearranged: where houses and palm trees once stood, there was nothing but water. A 2,600 tonne boat was carried five kilometres inland, where it still sits today. At least 30,000 people died in the capital of Banda Aceh alone. The city and surrounding countryside were completely and utterly destroyed.

Five years later, the astounding and overwhelmingly positive fact is that if you don’t dig under the surface or notice the finer detail it would be hard to tell what happened in Aceh five years ago. Of course there are the subtle reminders, such as headless palm trees, and not so subtle reminders, like the massive boat 5km inland. However there has been an incredible reconstruction effort that has pumped the city back to life – the few old buildings blending into the multitude of new ones, forming one vibrant and colourful city getting on with life. Streets from even two years ago are unrecognisable: they look so different now, so alive.

The British Red Cross has rebuilt over 2,200 houses and supported over 34,000 people to restore their livelihoods in numerous communities across Aceh. In the rebuilt villages, almost every house new, life is moving on in leaps and bounds. Take May Suriyati, 27, who has restarted her sewing business with the help of a cash grant from the British Red Cross. Her business has been so successful that she has built an extension on her Turkish Red Crescent house that now forms her tailoring shop, full of cupboards lined with colourful clothes made to order. The signs of recovery are clearly visible in both the personal and public faces of Aceh. (May's story is just one of many stories of recovery featured on the British Red Cross Tsunami anniversary site )

The tourist industry in the region has also begun to pick up, with visitors returning to the island of Sabang, famous for diving, and luckily relatively unscathed by the tsunami. It is encouraging to see tourists mingling with local people as they travel by ferry between Banda Aceh and the island that lies just off the coastline.

Although the emotional scars from the tsunami still run deep, it is both moving and awe-inspiring to see the incredible results of the tsunami recovery operation in Aceh five years after the disaster.

Further Tsunami photos can be found here:

Amanda George

If you're visiting Indonesia then please connect with our wonderful Tripbod, Ristianto

Boxing Day Reflections

I think most people would agree that it seems like just yesterday that the devastating news of the Boxing Day tsunami hit our TV screens. I'm spending Christmas at my family home and like many people I can remember the exact moment that someone told me to turn on the TV as something terrible had happened across Asia.
Five years later, and life has moved on in leaps and bounds. Although another tsunami may happen again, one of the most important factors in the British Red Cross' recovery effort in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and the Maldives is that communities have been left stronger and better able to cope with the threat of future disasters.
When I was in Aceh last week, I saw the way houses have been designed to be flood resistant, built on stilts in flood-prone areas. I saw how they were designed with clearly signposted evacuation routes to allow people to escape if another tsunami happens. Coastal plantations have been built along the coastline, and community based action teams raise awareness in their communities about what to do in the face of future disasters. Communities are actively helping themselves.
It would be wonderful to think that more disasters like the Boxing Day tsunami will not happen again. But the reality is that natural disasters are increasing in frequency and organisations like the British Red Cross need to support communities to prepare themselves for the future. Disaster preparedness has become an integral part of the British Red Cross' recovery operations across the world. (To read about other BRC recovery programmes see our interactive map here).
As people enjoy today with their family and friends, memorial services are taking place across Aceh and the rest of the tsunami affected regions, and even here in the UK, remembering the hundreds of thousands who died. Today is also a time to reflect on the incredible recovery and reconstruction across Asia and the empowering of communities to deal with future disasters - the key to protecting the most vulnerable and saving lives.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Dot's Trip to Moscow

I forgot to take my camera battery charger so this is the only photo I took...

Day 1

“They shrug their shoulders and talk endlessly about the terrible, hopeless state of things”

“Russian must be the only language in which one hears so frequently over the phone ‘I’m on the plane’”

“My first impressions were the familiar musty smell, the layer of grime over everything and the darkness”

I flew to Moscow on an early morning empty flight. The purpose of my trip was so visit my friends that I had made during my 18 months living and working in Moscow and to meet a few more Tripbods. I had a very contented feeling of returning to a place I know well rather than the apprehension of travelling to a new place, so the journey gave me time to get some things done. I studied Russian at University and speak Russian so during my time in Moscow I really got to know the people, their ways, and I fell in love with the city.

As soon as we landed, we all jumped up, and the Russians got on their phones to tell their friends of their arrival. Russian must be the only language that hears so frequently over the phone ‘I’m on the plane’. We were shortly told to sit back down again. A small lady with bleached hair, a stoop and a medical-blue face mask boarded with a grey gun in hand that shone a light to read our temperatures. Russians are paranoid about letting disease in, which is why you need an HIV test to get a multi-entrance visa or work permit for Russia. As she came down the aisle pointing her gun at passengers in turn, almost no one could suppress a smirk at the absurdity and pointlessness of the exercise. It was a happy moment when I really felt that, yes here I am again in this strange and wonderful country.

I sped through security and passed taxi drivers, who disperse themselves amongst the crowds, making themselves known with a barely audible, “taxi, devushka, taxi”. You need to get passed this uncomfortable environment as quickly as possible and get on the AeroExpress – the fast train from Domodedovo to Paveletskiy Vokzal. My first impressions were the familiar musty smell, the layer of grime over everything and the darkness. I wondered whether, if they replaced the low yellow lights in the Metro with some bright bulbs, it would modernize the space or confirm its backwards place in its murky history.

On the metro carriage a man, reeking of a 20-year drinking binge, grabbed my suitcase. With less shock than you’d imagine, I turned around and attempted to take back my bag. But he was determined to look after it for me, ‘relax, don’t worry, stop worrying, take your hand away, I will look after it for you, you don’t have to worry until Mayakovksaya, I will watch it for you, I’m not going to run off with it’. In a strange way I trusted him but still decided it would be sensible to keep hold of it. So he politely gave up his seat and let me sit guard of my bag. Just as I thought that the episode was over and let my own far away thoughts take over, I felt a warm pungent breath on my neck as he leant in to my ear to make some comment about keeping hold of a bag, ‘hehehe’ he mused to himself watching my stiff determination to keep a tight grip on my bag.

I arrived at my place of stay after dragging my heavy suitcase up and down, up and down, endless underground bridges and tunnels. I was pleased at how second nature these tunnels still are to me but it struck me that just riding the metro could be an adventure, or an ordeal, for any foreign visitor. I did a very quick turnaround at the flat and flagged down a taxi to the restaurant to meet my friends. I deserved it after my commitment to public transport earlier. A muddy Lada pulled over and I negotiated a fee of £4 to Kitai Gorod, a good twenty-minute ride. We weaved our way through the four lanes of traffic, discussing the war in Afghanistan. To be precise, I received a lesson rather than took part in a discussion. ‘Ponimaete?’ (Understand?) finished every sentence. He told me that roads in Russia are dreadful because officials steal all the money, he fired stats at me comparing government expenditure in China, USA and Russia. He then told me about the Russian experience of Afghanistan. The conversation always leaves me with a feeling of, ‘ok then what can we do?’ With the inevitable regrettable answer of, ‘nothing’. This is the corner or powerlessness that Russians talk themselves in to. They shrug their shoulders and talk endlessly about the terrible, hopeless state of things.

I arrived at Propaganda, a great restaurant in Moscow that serves very reasonably priced food and has DJs from 12-6am. It is very accessible for foreigners and has been mentioned in enough guidebooks that you’ll see numerous table of Europeans and Americans here. I had got the times confused and arrived an hour and a half too early so I went to a cafe on Maroseika Street called Volkonsky. It is a very cosy place where tea is given enough adjectives and ritual to justify the £4 price tag. There is no standard pricing in Moscow. Take tea for example, in Cofemania (a pleasant, modern but coffee shop not unlike a London run-of-the-mill cafe) it is £8, whereas in Pushkin (one of the most ornate, beautiful and elegant restaurants in Moscow) it is only £1. I sat at a communal table and received curious stares as I began to read in English and scribble ideas on a napkin, in English. Russians have no qualms about staring and quite often whispering about you.

I caught up on Moscow news from one of the free newspapers, the Moscow News. It reminded me of this particular Russian expat rhetoric which looks down upon and mocks Russian politics and culture. My friends and I agree that this only strengthens our loyalty to the Russian people, feeling that they rarely get a fair deal in English-language communication. They do have funny peculiarities and behaviour, which is very easy to snigger at, but reverting to this status-quo prevents any more insightful investigation of what is happening in this country.

I went to meet my friends, and waited a while at the bar, with a beer, reading my book. It realized how comfortable I feel in this city. Once you get used to the stares and turn them in to something positive rather than threatening, you can enjoy floating around in this strange land, drifting and sitting and thinking. I find that the flow of ideas is slower in Moscow: they are not as impatient to change things as we are in London. We have an insatiable need to innovate in London, to throw out the old and welcome the new, until it becomes old a few months later. Moscow has a more cyclical flow of ideas, perhaps to do with their geographical, cultural and political isolation.

My friends arrived and it was just like yesterday that I saw them (in fact in was 7 months ago). We all ordered a Chicken Caesar Salad – a Moscow delicacy. Russian tastes are suitably inclined towards the rich, creamy, salty, ‘salad’ characteristics of the dish. I found that my appetite for this kind of food had declined after some time in London.

My two Russian girl friends fired questions at me about how London is different from Moscow: what people do in London, what’s cool there. I gave my experience of finding it much hastier; activities are fitted into much smaller time segments and are sandwiched very close together. I said that London is a hive of innovation and ideas, that there are too many opportunities to keep up with. I can only give my own experience, which is a lucky and privileged one. I don’t suppose everyone in London feels like this at the moment.

My first day left me with a very cosy feeling – that I had returned to a familiar and friendly city where I am welcome.

Day 2

“It’s also an ‘authentic Russian experience’ dealing with the usually difficult shop assistants”.

“My favourite city was feeling a bit more hostile but I refused to get angry at it, in case I provoked the beast even more”.

“Nothing is easy in Moscow, it is the opposite of convenience”.

I woke up late after a late-ish night and decided got myself organized with my Russian SIM card. You can buy a Russian pay as you go SIM for 150 rubles (≈£3) which has 150 rubles of credit on once you activate it. If you have Russian friends it is definitely worth doing as it will save you a package on your home phone bill and it’s much easier for them to call you. It’s also an ‘authentic Russian experience’ dealing with the usually difficult shop assistants.

I wanted to do some work on my first day so took a short walk from Biblioteka Lenina past the Kremlin and up Tverskaya to Kamegerskiy Pereulok where they have just opened a new Starbucks. They also have Prime Star, a Pret a Manger knock-off, and a Pain Quotidien. I tried to use Akademia for WiFi, to not immediately revert to a familiar chain but they didn’t have any plug sockets, so I went to PQ. Akademia is a good place for pizza in the evening or a very good business lunch, a set 2-3 course menu. If you want to know if they have a business lunch, it’s the same phrase in Russian – Business LANCH.

Unfortunately after a few contented hours doing my work in Moscow, I realised my wallet had been stolen somewhere since dinner the night before. My favourite city was feeling a bit more hostile but I refused to get angry at it, in case I provoked the beast even more. Instead I headed home (luckily my metro ticket was in a separate pocket) and cancelled my cards. I think my time living in Moscow taught me how to be calm and collected about dealing with difficult situations. Nothing is easy in Moscow, it is the opposite of convenience. People like to stand in your way, erect obstacles in your path, and generally be unhelpful. You learn to shrug your shoulders and find another way around it, and you become a little bit more Russian every day. Money is here one day, gone the next. Better to spend it all as soon as you get it.

Friday evening was just a few hours away from lift off and texts were flying around. We met atSolyanka for dinner. Again a reasonably-priced, slightly bohemian, well designed, restaurant/club (they remove the tables at 12 to make way for the dance floor) with music that is too techno for the space. After that we wanted to try a new club called Rolling Stones, apparently the new Simachev in town, but did not get in due to full capacity. You are more likely NOT to get in to a club than to get in in Moscow. So unless you’re feeling ambitious and ready to take taxies to several different places without losing the will to go on, just to get in to one of the finest Moscow establishments (Soho Rooms, Krysha, Opera), head somewhere ‘democratic’ as they call it (Propaganda, Krisis Zhanr). We went to Bonnie & Clyde on Tverskaya– a tacky bar with loud cheesy music, chandeliers and black velvet, gold rimmed chairs. We had a great time. At 3am it was time for some Karaoke. The place with private rooms on Tsvetnoi Bulvar was full so we ended up in Etazh on Belorusskaya, suffering with enjoyment communal karaoke until the morning.

Day 3

“The magnificent shapes of the cityscape are spectacularly lit up and the disarray of life swept aside by a tumultuous social, political and cultural development is blanked out”.

“Driving around Moscow at night gives me a great rush of excitement – the frustration of the Russian daily grind is put to rest and the excitement of the unruly excess wakes up”.

Saturday began late. We woke up at 3.30pm and made arrangements to meet for lunch at 5pm. We went to Filial, a new restaurant recently opened by the owners of Propaganda and Krisis Zhanr. Just like the other restaurants, it’s cosy and comfy and reasonably-priced. It’s a nice place but slightly lacking in depth of character, as it is brand new. I have no doubt it will only get better with time.

After a large meal, we drove home via Correa’s to get the best Honey Cake in town to take home and eat in front of a film. After a relaxing evening in, we went out at midnight to Sky Bar – a bar/restaurant on the 34th floor of Swissotel. You pay for the view in the prices (cocktails are 800 rubles, nearly £20) but it is a great place for a relaxing, civilized couple of drinks away from the chaos of the city centre.

Moscow at night is my favourite view. The magnificent shapes of the cityscape are spectacularly lit up and the disarray of life swept aside by a tumultuous social, political and cultural development is blanked out. Driving around Moscow at night gives me a great rush of excitement – the frustration of the Russian daily grind is put to rest and the excitement of the unruly excess wakes up.

Day 4

“As the little lady swept the bunches of twigs over me and started hitting me with them, the heat grew to an intense level and I started to scream and laugh at the same time”.

On Sunday we went to Krasnopresnenskiy Banyi. It is not one of the most upmarket bath houses in Moscow but it does have the best steam. It costs 850 rubles for 2 hours and an extra 400 rubles for Vrenniki – a massage with birch twigs. The Banya comes with a lot of cultural history, ritual, associations and customs but you can easily go along and follow what everyone else is doing. If you can go with a Russian friend or someone who has been before, it will be more enjoyable. It was the first time that I’d had the Vrenniki massage in the banya and found it very hot and painful. As the little lady swept the bunches of twigs over me and started hitting me with them, the heat grew to an intense level and I started to scream and laugh at the same time. I wanted to run away but her words of ‘be healthy, get rid of the demons, relax, goodness comes in’ reassured me that this would be worth it. Finally after hitting me front and back she let me go, making sure that I plunged in to the ice bath with my head underneath the water 3 times. My entire body was pink with large white blotches – a sign that I had done Banya properly.

We spent the evening in a new establishment from the owners of Jean-Jacques, a very good French restaurant where you can draw on the tables with crayons provided. The new place is an English version of Jean Jacques called the John Donne pub. It serves British fodder and plays football matches but it is still unmistakably Russian with the table service and wooden chairs and tables, more suited to a bistro than a pub.

For the other few days I was enjoying a bit of working-leisure, using Moscow’s abundance of WIFI cafes to keep up with business developments. On Monday the first snow fell and I was delighted to find my office in a cosy Pain Quotidien looking out at the fresh metre of freshly dumped snow.

Moscow is wonderful at this time of year, if you’re lucky with the snow. The temperature is just right – between nought and minus five – which means that skiing, snowboarding and ice skating are all easily accessible. Many people are uncertain about a holiday to Moscow and usually I would not recommend it to go alone. However with a friend at the other end with Tripbod who can help you out with some good places to go and things to do, you will be able to see the warmth of the Russian people and skip the unfriendly reception that is an out-of-date and misleading preconception.

I connected with Baira, Tripbod in Moscow to plan my trip.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Visiting Rome this week

Elena, our fantastic Tripbod in Rome, emailed to let us know that starting today (Dec 19th) until January 6th there will be a very special event every week-end in Rome's central archeaeological park.

Rarely open to the public, The House of Livia on the Palatine Hill - the house that belonged to Augustus' wife in 1st century b.C. with beautiful ancient frescoes - will open its doors to visitors. The Temple of Romulus in the Forum, a pagan temple that was turned into a church with an original huge bronze door, is also open and free to enjoy. This is something not to be missed!

FREE guided tours are available in English and combined with a brief theatrical show inside these two incredibly evocative locations.

There's a number you can call to book: (0039) 06 3996 7700
Or you can go there directly - the meeting point is at the Roman Forum ticket office at 10am, 11am, 12 and 1pm.

Hope you enjoy it! (And if you do visit, please let me know your feedback)

All best
Tripbod Rome

Monday, December 14, 2009

New Tripbod in Bangkok talks about his city

I made Bangkok as my home town and have never regretted this decision. Bangkok reflects truly the heart of Thai culture and houses many of my countries most important and elaborately crafted temples. At the same time, it reflects my culture in art, performance, and food, yet it absorbs readily modern and foreign influences. It is a melting pot of cultures and traditions, of the past and the present, but also of rich and poor people. You will find with Chatuchak market one of the largest markets in the world, yet you can easily relax on a canal tour through the klongs (canals) or readily immerse yourself in the tranquility of Wat Mahathat or any other temple off the beaten track if you want to step away from the crowds.

Bangkok is also the perfect hub for other Thai destinations and the South East of Asia.

Contact Poramin to start planning your perfect trip to Bangkok...

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