Wednesday, December 27, 2006

World Heritage: Year in Review

Looking at last year's update of five sites inspired me to take stock of this year's total.

Looks like it's five again!

  1. In early April, I went to Cologne and saw the cathedral.
  2. Later that month, Christina and I headed to New York and took in the Statue of Liberty.
  3. In June, I traveled to Russia and saw St. Petersburg.
  4. In September, we went to England. One World Heritage Site we saw was the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape.
  5. Another was the Ironbridge Gorge.

For the second year in a row, Christina made it to a site I missed (which is only fair, given I made it to two she missed), Suzhou. If only I didn't have to go to these conferences...I wouldn't be traveling so much in the first place, I guess.

That brings me to 34 sites. Over 4%, finally! At this pace, I probably have a couple more years to go before I hit 5%.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Travelers' Century Club Update

I've been going through my old posts and tagging them with labels like "travel" and "go". In the process, I've come across a number of old posts I had forgotten about (and some with typos that had stayed there for years).

One of the old posts is one about the Travelers' Century Club, an organization of those who have visited 100 or more "countries". At the time, I was at 15 or 16, depending on how you count. Now I'm up to 22. New additions:

  • China, People's Rep.
  • France
  • India
  • Puerto Rico
  • Russia
  • Switzerland
Wow. Still not even close.

Now I'm 18K...and 1K...

Well, the American Go Association's new ratings are out, and my rating is finally up to 18 kyu! I was 10-7 in tourneys I entered as 19 kyu. I hope I can do well enough at my new ranking to earn another promotion. I was going to enter one last weekend, but the lack of a new ranking, combined with being exhausted after getting back from China with a cold, dampened my enthusiasm enough to keep me from going. My next tournament will either be the end of January (if I feel like driving down to Richmond) or the beginning of February.

In other news, I've earned Premier Executive 1K status on United Airlines. What is 1K status? Well, originally United only had two characters to signify status, so 1K=100K=100,000 miles. I like to think of 1K as "1 thousand hundred miles". So did I really fly 100,000 miles this year? That seems like a lot (around the world 4 times). Not really. United gives a minimum of 500 miles for each segment flown. That policy padded my stats a little, but the real bonus is the 150% credit for first and business class. (There was one penalty, where if you take a 1-stop, United only gives you credit for the direct routing. That cost me 70 miles.) I added everything up, and by the end of the year (after flying back from Arizona), I will have actually flown "only" 95,960 miles. The new status is, I think, what got Christina and me upgraded on our flight out here to Arizona, so it already seems to paying dividends.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Thursday in China

Careful readers will note the omission of "Wednesday in China". On Wednesday, Christina took the camera and headed to Suzhou for an excursion. A link to her pictures will follow.
Also, on yesterday's post, it came to my attention that some people were having trouble displaying the picture, which was hosted on a server in China. So I made a local copy.

On Thursday morning, I ducked out of a few of the conferences more skippable talks to head to Amy's Pearls with Christina. (Look here for a picture of Tony Blair looking particularly goofy visiting the shop.)

In the afternoon, after the conclusion of the conference, we went on a city tour for which we had signed up. The guide was better than the one we had on Tuesday. Still, I noticed a certain commercial theme to the tour.

First we went to the Jade Buddha Temple, which has two buddhas brought to Shanghai from Burma in the late nineteenth century. They are carved out of enormous pieces of rare white jade. We were told a story about how the priest who had transported them from Burma left them in Shanghai because they were too heavy to transport. Not too heavy to move from Burma, but too heavy to move to his final destination in China? That didn't make a lot of sense. After touring the temple, we were taken to the monk's tea room, where we learned about the restorative properties of Chinese tea, and then were given an opportunity to buy some.

Next up was a tour of the French Concession. Fortunately, we didn't repeat the tour of the shikumen from Sunday -- probably because one guy had spent too much time in the Jade Buddha Temple gift shop and we were running late. We walked around for a few minutes and then got back in the van.

The People's Square also got the walking around for a few minutes treatment, but at least we got a nice picture of ourselves in front of the Shanghai Museum.

Our final stop was the "Treasure Gallery". Here was an opportunity to "learn" about pearls and purchase them at higher prices than Amy's.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

At the Conference in China

The organizers just posted pictures from the conference I attended in Shanghai. There I am talking with Scott, with whom I went to graduate school.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Tuesday in China

Tuesday was a half-day at the conference. The afternoon was set aside for the conference excursion to Zhouzhuang, a picturesque water village the Chinese have turned into a major tourist attraction. After about an hour and fifteen minutes on the bus, we walked around Zhouzhuang, which is a village on canals. They called it the "Venice of China", but I have to think Venice has more going for it than canals, a few picturesque bridges, and vendors trying to sell you stuff. We toured a 14th century house and an 18th century house, and it was interesting to see something more traditional than Shanghai. Then they turned us loose for another hour or so to buy stuff. We made a few purchases, including a portable go set that I was particularly fond of.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Monday in China

After I spent all day at the conference, we boarded a bus for the Bund. The Bund is center of the old colonial part of Shanghai built by the British. The conference had organized a dinner at a nice Chinese restaurant. It was interesting trying the different foods, and there was traditional entertainment with dancers and musicians.

Afterwards, we got back on the bus and headed nearby for a river cruise. It was basically and opportunity to take pictures of the skyline while rap music (Ludacris, among others) played in the background.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sunday in China

After slightly more than 24 hours travel time, we arrived in Shanghai Saturday night. Exhausted, we ordered room service and went to sleep. The next morning, our mission was to sample Shanghai's rampant consumerism...I had forgotten to pack most of my shirts, so I needed to buy a few before the conference. I plotted a walk from our hotel to the French Concession's Huaihai Road shopping area.

Unfortunately, this walk took us past the now-closed Xiangyang Market, which specialized in knock-off designer goods. As far as I can tell, former vendors hang out outside the demolished market and plead with you to come to their new location. What's worse is that they follow you for blocks to do so. I've never seen vendors that pushy in India or Mexico -- which is saying something. At one point we ducked into a Starbucks and left via a back exit into a hotel in order to ditch them.

Eventually, we made it to the department store and got my shirts (yay). It was a little bit challenging to figure out my size, but we did find one shirt labeled with a conversion chart. Also, I'm apparently in the upper end of the size range in Shanghai (Yao Ming not withstanding). Then we were able to walk back, sample some more souvenir-oriented shopping and do a little bit of sightseeing.

We stopped into two museums. One was the Shikumen open house. A "shikumen" is a 19th-century-style Shanghai stone house. They're disappearing rapidly as the city gets redeveloped, but it was interesting to see what life in Shanghai was like before the skyscrapers. The other museum was the location of the first national congress of the Chinese Communist Party. It was interesting to read the...ahem...propaganda. The biographies of the attendees noted that several formerly loyal party members for some reason decided to go over to the enemy and had to be executed. Also, Christina was amused by the reproduction of the first meeting that showed Mao towering over the other delegates, who were listening with rapt attention. (Sorry, no pictures allowed.)

About halfway back, we encountered the persistent hawkers again and grabbed a cab, which ended up costing $1.50. We wondered why we didn't just take a cab in the first place, other than the walk being good for us and allowing us to experience the city on our first full day. The cheap cabs were one of the most convenient things about Shanghai...even the hour-long ride to the airport cost less than $20.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Return of Search Engine Madness

Six years ago (have I really been blogging that long?), I posted some of the queries that were directing traffic to my site. Google now has something called Google Webmaster Central that once again helps me determine for which searches I rank high.

Something more exciting (like China pictures?) when I recover from this cold.