Purpose of trip:
1) Meet with factories and discuss LED business
2) Explore Chinese culture
3) Relax in style
The trip is smooth, stress-free, and successful
... but an interesting story is one with conflict, and I fully realize you don't want to read about perfect days.
There are no struggles here. I don't lose all my possessions in a fiery inferno. I'm not thrown into a Thai jail on drug smuggling charges. I'm not involved in a trans-siberian hijacking.
Nevertheless, I hope you can still find at least a sliver of interesting information from the following details.
Soaking up one last bit of California sun before China
I randomly wake up really early for whatever reason at 7 am. I decide to meet a friend at Noah's Bagels for breakfast. I walk three miles around the reservoir. Lunch at Chow's. I drink an Arnold Palmer (lemonade / iced tea), and eat a spinach salad. Lame, but healthy. I sit under a tree at the park for an hour and soak up as much California goodness as I can. I almost get pulled over in the truck.
I pack, and tidy up my room. I take a leisurely drive to San Francisco International in a friend's Lexus. I enjoy some steamed pork buns and a vitamin water at the airport, and then relax at the Air France international lounge which is shared with Jet Airways.
I board my Jet Airways non-stop flight to Shanghai around 9:30pm. I'm in one of the eight first class suites. Only two others are occupied. Its just me, a Chinese venture capitalist dude, and some Indian lady on her way to Mumbai. I change out of my suit into pajamas. I'm offered a few pre-flight beverages, and I go for the berry lassi.
I play around with my seat and lighting settings which are fully controllable from a 7-inch touch screen. Its a massage chair too. Another handheld remote controls my 23-inch personal LCD screen on the wall ahead.
Yummy Indian food on flight
After we're in the air, I am offered Dom Perignon or Krug. I'm served a four-course dinner with Indian influences. I forgo dessert and ask the flight attendant to make up my seat into a bed.
I sleep for a while on and off, and about an hour before landing, they wake me up for breakfast.
After a very relaxing flight that only feels like 3 hours instead of 13, I land in Shanghai around midnight on Sunday morning
. The VC dude and I are immediately escorted through the airport directly to a special customs agent, and then directly to taxis.
I arrive at the Great Tang hotel around an hour later, with the taxi ride costing roughly 370 RMB ($55). I finally go to sleep around 3 am.
I dream that I am driving the truck in Tokyo and see two other lifted trucks pull up next to me. Strange... I also dream that I get my iPhone to work here in China. But sadly, it won't work unless I hack/unlock it.
I hit up the buffet breakfast on the top floor executive lounge. I try to swim, but find out the pool is closed indefinitely. So I just relax and rest to pass time.
Shanghai's Iconic Pearl Tower
I eat lunch in the hotel at their Chinese style restaurant. Its very bright and colorful inside with red and gold paint and intricate decorations. I point to the safest looking thing from the pictures on the menu. I suppose it is some rice noodles in oyster sauce. How am I supposed to eat individual salted peanuts with chopsticks? They keep wanting to fly away. My tongue goes through a bit of pain from eating hot green peppers.
On the Kindle, I read Stumbling on Happiness. Despite the title, it isn't a self help book, but rather a psychologist's explanation of why we fail to accurately imagine our futures.
Its a bit awkward here. Besides another diner who's making slurping and grunting noises while eating (acceptable in Chinese culture), I'm the only other customer here. There's like six service staff walking around. And one of them stands directly behind me the whole time.
I think about venturing into downtown Shanghai by myself, but I know its at least 40 minutes away.
I try to figure out just where the hell I am. I load a GPS program on the iPhone and hold it by the window. I plug the coordinates into Google Earth, and it thinks I'm somewhere in the ocean between here and North Korea. I give up and nap for a few hours.
View of river boats from the observation deck
I meet my interpreter at the hotel around 5pm. He flew in from Guangzhou.
We take a taxi to downtown Shanghai, and drive under the river through a tunnel. The taxi driver advises us to close the windows because of bad air. It hardly helps, and I try to hold my breath.
We go to the observation deck of the Oriental Pearl Tower which is on the Puxi side. We take a taxi to Xintiandi to look for a place to eat. We enjoy the best Thai food in Shanghai at a place called Simply Thai.
My internal clock is still a bit confused, and thus, I have trouble sleeping.
We eat a buffet breakfast downstairs. The place is completely empty yet there's still plenty of food. The guy at the omelette station acts very happy to see another person.
This hotel was built in 2006 and has 1200 guest rooms. Last year, it wasn't full at all, but it wasn't a ghost town like it is today. Maybe the slowing economy has some effect. I feel bad for whoever owns it.
The driver meets us at 10am, and we arrive at the factory nearly two hours later.
I inspect new products and negotiate details which are just easier to communicate in person rather than by email or instant messanger. I am very pleased with the bright, high quality LED products.
Dancing on the sidewalk
I inspect the production facility and quality control systems.
We go out to lunch at a traditional Chinese restaurant. After lunch, we finish up the meeting, then drive to the People's Republic Square, and walk around admiring the modern buildings.
I bargain for a fake brand name t-shirt.
We walk through some narrow streets filled with antique vendors.
We head over to Nanjing road which is the famous shopping street in Shanghai. There's a jazz band and random Chinese people dancing on the sidewalk.
Famous Peace Hotel
I have a banana smoothie at an outdoor Italian-style cafe and watch the masses of people walk by.
There's some ceremony with live music and performers that I think must be related to the upcoming 2010 World Expo in Shanghai.
We walk past the famous Peace Hotel which we had dinner in last year. I take in the Shanghai skyline from the Pudong side. There's a beautiful partly cloudy blue sky. I disregard a bunch of relentless street peddlers.
We go back to Xintiandi, and I drink a vanilla soy latte at Starbucks. I like their coffee in the states better. Nevertheless, I'm happy to relax in an air conditioned room. We eat dinner at a tapas place called Luna which is not very good at all. I'm asleep by 11pm.
I wake up naturally around 6am, and have a buffet breakfast at the top floor executive lounge.
OK, today the hotel is much more crowded. Phew!
We meet with the supplier around 9pm and I am happy to see the owner again. This place is starting to feel familiar and comfortable.
For favorable negotiation of fair LED prices
Its fun watching robots pick and place super small surface mount components onto printed circuit boards and then run them through a reflow soldering oven. Once set up, they run with tremendous speed and accuracy. This dude only has two of these $150,000 dollar machines, but I've seen huge multi-story factories filled with hundreds of these things. Need a few million finished circuit boards? No problem!
They are just finishing up an order of our pre-wired superflux LEDs. The quality is very good with this product, but I notice a small flaw with the Chrome LED Modules.
There's an unsightly glob of silicone sealant on the back. We come to an agreement of how they'll fix it, and I sure hope they follow through before FedEx'ing the first batch to California.
One of our customers on eBay used these straight LED modules on his motorcycle as auxiliary turn signals. He really liked the brightness but wished they had a black housing instead of chrome. For aesthetic reasons, it makes sense. So I took his suggestion to heart, and the Flat Black LED Modules are now shipping.
We finish discussing new product details and investment opportunities. I give him a stylish Nieman Marcus bag with an "Oznium.com" engraved iPod Nano plus some Le Maison chocolates from Paris.
We finally make it to downtown Shanghai in the late afternoon, and our lunch options are limited. We stumble upon a sleepy Korean restaurant. They've got braised dog on the menu. Hmm... I go for something a bit more tame - a rice bowl with egg, veggies, and meat.
We decide to get some exercise and walk to the art exhibit which just opened yesterday.
Shanghai Sunset, sharkfin soup @ JW Marriot
It turns out to be a long walk, maybe 4 or 5 miles. They're closed by the time we get there, so we end up going to the JW Marriot hotel for something cold to drink. Its got a great view of the city, and we watch the sun go down.
Never having tried shark fin soup, and despite the moral issues, I decide to order a bowl which is about $100. It is very good.
Many years ago, the Chinese fishermen would catch sharks, and in thinking the fins were useless, they'd throw the fins onto the docks. Beggars would scavenge for these fins as something to eat. For a little while, the beggars were in heaven. Then the fisherman eventually realized the fins were the best part.
It is a big problem though, since fisherman will catch the sharks, cut off their fins, and then throw them back into the ocean to die. Hmm... Maybe I'll have an unfavorable shark encounter when I'm scuba diving in Bora Bora. Karma bites.
Wow, I'm waking up really early without an alarm clock. I'm up at 5am and can't sleep.
I spend some time talking with a friend at JP Morgan in New York who suggests some new business metrics that we should measure.
Ferarri dealer in downtown Shanghai
We've got a cornucopia of data that needs to be analyzed. Stuff like, Net Profit Margin Percentage, Gross Profit Margin, Operating Profit Margin, Relative R&D, Return on Assets, Sales to Fixed Assets, Return on Investment, Dollar Value Added, Return on Equity, Internal Rate of Return, and Inventory Turn Over.
I work on logistics for new products.
I take a call on Skype from someone at HSBC who just wants to confirm a money transfer since they saw the IP Address originated in Shanghai rather than California.
After breakfast we go back to the art exhibit which just opened the day before. It is nice, but I've honestly seen better.
One of the more impressive art displays
Denver, for example has an awesome museum of modern art.
We hit up the Shangri-la hotel for lunch. This is the real deal - a luxury five-star hotel. They've got a blue Rolls Royce Phantom parked outside. I decide it is imperative that I ride in a Phantom on my next China trip.
I eat beef teppanaki at a really nice Japanese restaurant in the Shangri-la. Some of my Japanese comes back to me like, Nihon-cha, and Arigato Gozaimasu.
I leech off their wifi network and download some new games for the iPhone: Air Hockey, Labryinth, and Crash Kart.
I've been really lucky with the weather these past few days. The sky is blue, and I can see the sun! It is a bit humid, but still very comfortable. It reminds me of Hawaii weather.
Its OK to wipe your face with the hot towel at a restaurant in China, but in Japan you can only use it to wipe your hands.
Because of the mid-autumn festival (full moon), everyone is buying Chinese moon cakes to give to relatives.
After a three hour drive to Danyang, we meet the supplier and have a nice dinner. I'm tired from the long drive, so I go straight to the hotel to rest.
We check out of the hotel after breakfast since we do not know for certain what our schedule will be like today.
Children being picked up after school by their parents
We are still waiting on some samples to be delivered by UPS. We go over a few issues, but we are stuck until UPS delivers the package. I guess it got delayed by customs.
This family-run business has turnover of about 6 million dollars per year with more than 200 factory workers.
Rather than wait for UPS, we decide to drive two hours to Suzhou for sightseeing.
I wouldn't be caught dead in a minivan back home, but Asia is a different story. They are actually quite nice. This Toyota Previa (also known as Sienna) is comfortable and has a lot of nice features. GPS, leather, radar & backup camera, and motorized sliding doors.
Walking through peaceful gardens
We check out a 500 year old garden, and ride a tiny boat down Suzhou's waterways (considered Venice of the east).
We look in an art gallery and see some nice vases, then we rest at the hotel for an hour.
We go out to Japanese food for dinner. My supplier tells me he has never eaten Japanese food before. I find that inconceivable. I eat cow tongue which is really good. Bottle of saki. Feast.
We go to the foot massage place, and I have my ears cleaned out for the first time. Also have a pedicure, plus a painful foot massage. The more pain, the better.
I am about to call a friend on Skype who I hadn't talked to in like a week. As I'm calling, I check my email and see a message sent 10 minutes ago that says, "call me". Kinda trippy.
The Suzhou Garden View Hotel has really soft and comfortable beds. We have a nice buffet breakfast, and I enjoy looking at their gardens, and koi ponds.
Since the sample parts just arrived at the factory, we drive back to Danyang. (Gotta thank Jason for an awesome packing job. The parts arrived in perfect condition.)
Designing an exciting new product
After lunch, we hit the factory and get a few solid hours detailing new products.
We drive to Changzhou, and buy bus tickets for the next day.
We look around for a Japanese or Thai dinner but can't find anything. We settle on some Cantonese food. I'm pretty tired, so I just go to bed early.
We take a five hour bus ride to Ningbo. We drive over Hangzhou Bay Bridge, the longest trans-oceanic bridge in the world at 22 miles long! The supplier picks us up at the bus station in her new loaded Camry.
Even if its Britney Spears, Madonna, or the Backstreet Boys, its comforting to finally hear some American music after hearing nothing but Mandarin for a week.
We go to an Italian restaurant and I have vegetable linguine plus an irish coffee. They've got some weird "christmas" colored place mats with red, green, and gold.
All the cars here have seat covers. I can't understand why everyone puts nasty seat covers over the nice leather.
A8 Club in Ningbo
We rest at the hotel for a few hours and then go out to dinner at a really cool Thai restaurant. Like everything in China, this place is huge. And like always, we order an obscene amount of food.
It is all really good, but my favorite part is the crab curry. They bring a live crab to the table for inspection. Ten minutes later, we've got a entire crab (shell and all) cooked in delicious yellow curry. Soooo tasty.
Then some Filipino entertainers come through the restaurant singing and dancing. They actually did a reasonable impression of Kelly Clarkson's "Because of you".
After a foot massage at a nice spa, we hit up the A8 dance club for a few hours. We drink some whiskey/iced tea, and snack on watermelon slices, funyuns, and duck necks. Yes, duck necks!
Today is mid-autumn festival, which celebrates the full moon. Many people are having dinner with their families, and giving moon cakes to their relatives.
Gate to a temple
The supplier is very accommodating to my schedule, and we go the factory to discuss some business. We go over design issues for a sweet new product
, and we handle quality control issues with the LED domelights. There was a silly voltage miscommunication before. Ahh the details.
We go to a western restaurant for filet steaks.
At this point, I'm trying to decide where to go next. One option is Wuzhizhou which is a big island at the most southern point of China. It is considered the "Hawaii" of the east. Another option is Beijing with lots to see: Great Wall, Forbidden City, Tian'anmen Square, Summer Palace, and of course, with the recent Olympic excitement, the Birds Nest & Water Cube.
Sikou national park
While relaxing on the beach in Wuzhizhou sounds awesome, I decide to save my beach experience for Thailand, and so for now I'll try Beijing.
There's a travel agent just below the restaurant, so I go and buy air tickets to Beijing.
After lunch, we drive up some mountain switchbacks in Sikou, which is a beautiful national park. There's a lot of history here, plus natural beauty, with green hills, waterfalls, and lakes. A HUGE copper buddha is being constructed.
We go to a dinner buffet at the Ningbo Sheraton, which is quite a grand hotel.
After dinner we go to riverfront where there's a few bars and cafes. We enjoy sitting outside with a drink, watching the moon rise over the water.
We say goodbye to Ningbo, and drive two hours north to Hangzhou, which is home to West Lake, the most famous lake in all of China.
We get lunch at Pizza Hut which of course has a Chinese influenced menu. They've got all sorts of creative drinks. The Chinese supplier wants a scary seafood pizza, but I put my foot down with a veto, "no way" vote, and we settle on something like a Supreme.
Hangzhou's West Lake
We meet up with a local tour guide who shows us the various Pagodas around West Lake. I'm tired, irritable, and don't have much patience for processing the tour guide's broken English as she tries to tell me ancient legends about snakes, pagodas, and moons.
It doesn't take much to raise my spirits though: an iced mocha at an outdoor cafe on the lake, an impressive (although minor compared to the Belagio's in Vegas) water fountain show, and a speck of emerging blue in an otherwise overcast sky.
Duck soup. Yum
I rest up for dinner. While the bones, skin, and head make it a bit intimidating to eat, this is undoubtedly the best duck I've ever had. It is served in a huge bowl with soup and noodles.
We go to a nice tea shop to smell teas from all over the world.
Finally, we get a foot massage which includes "pot treatment". They take a flaming glass cup and quickly stick it to the bottom of your feet. The flame instantly sucks up all the oxygen and creates a powerful vacuum. Somehow, by leaving it on for a few painful minutes, it is supposed to help prevent illness.
We stroll up and down a lazy pedestrian street filled with vendors selling local handicrafts. There's someone selling "magic eggs" which are bright ceramic eggs with dirt, and a seed inside. You're supposed to water the egg, and after a few weeks, a little plant will start growing. The leaves will have an intricate Chinese character engraved on them. I'm not sure how they can possibly get it engraved while the thing is still a seed.
Hangzhou's Shopping Street
I negotiate for two Chinese scrolls: a tiger, and a floral thing.
We go to a famous vegetarian restaurant which serves traditional chinese dishes. Its both amazing and scary how well they can imitate meat with color, flavor, and texture.
We arrive at Hangzhou airport and check in to a two hour China Eastern flight to Beijing, but end up spending three hours stuck on the tarmac. I recognize the unmistakeable smell of a cinnamon flavored sniffy marker. I realize Tibet isn't a country, and that despite what CNN makes us believe, it is actually a provence of China.
We arrive at the Mercure hotel in a drizzly Beijing around 1am.
Ahh, I must have eaten some bad airplane food or water. I've got a stomach bug. I rest until about noon.
Tian'anmen Square & Forbidden City
We walk around Tian'anmen square, and through the Forbidden City.
I rest some more back at the hotel.
We look around for a certain Thai restaurant that comes highly recommended. We can't find it, so we settle on another random Thai restaurant. Its mediocre. They don't have Thai ice tea.
We walk over to a shopping area and bar street. At the Beijing Apple Store, the computers are at least 20% more expensive in China than they are back home. Foreign luxury cars are twice as expensive here.
The Great Wall is an hour's drive north, so we try taking a taxi to a train station, but the next train doesn't leave for like four more hours. Screw that. We hop in another taxi, and negotiate with the driver for a better round trip rate.
A beautiful day at the Great Wall
What can I say? Its the Great Wall... A new world wonder. Despite it being really touristy, I still feel lucky to see it in all its grandeur. What a feat!
We drive back towards Beijing and stop at the Ming Tomb.
For dinner we eat Peking duck.
The taxi driver recommends a place for a foot massage. This place is crazy. Its like a spa / foot massage / rave / magic show / and comedy club all mixed into one. Not relaxing, but quite entertaining.
I'm eager to try acupuncture, and so I go to the best Chinese medicine hospital in Beijing. Within 15 minutes of walking in with no appointment, an expert professor is looking at my hand and tongue.
Acupuncture & traditional Chinese medicine
He immediately says I've got some spots on my back. And he says I've got a problem with my kidneys. Maybe the kidneys are related to my stomach flu?
I'm amazed how much this guy knows just by looking at my hand. He has me do some Qi Gong energy work. He does the "pot therapy" with like eight glass cups on my back. He does a quick spinal massage, and finally he inserts about 10 needles into my meridians.
Maybe I'm just imagining this, or maybe its just hopeful thinking, but I swear I can "see" bacteria leaving my body. Final bill for about 30 minutes of work? About TEN dollars. Western doctors can go screw themselves.
If the acupuncture doesn't cure me, surely watching cute Pandas at the zoo will. I stroll through the Beijing zoo for a few hours.
I get my hair cut really short.
So far I've been staying in four star hotels throughout China. They are comfortable, but they have some quirks. I decide it would be nice to go to the 5-star Intercontinental Financial Street hotel for my last night. I check into a nice deluxe room, and thoroughly enjoy the familiar creature comforts.
We go to "Song Beijing", a restaurant / club which has a really cool cavernous atmosphere & live DJ's spinning. To honor my stomach, I order a simple vegetarian salad and oolong tea.
The olympic watercube's amazing light show
We take a taxi to the watercube & birdsnest again. While the buildings are fenced off for security reasons, the light show is amazing, and I can feel a special energy in the air.
I spend some time just sitting and watching. I notice my interpreter is talking to someone in the distance, so I walk over there. He introduces me to a buddhist and his apprentice.
After a wonderful sleep in the comfy bed, I have a nice buffet breakfast.
We go to 798 Beijing which is an urban wasteland of old warehouses and factories that have been converted into pleasant tree-lined walking streets of contemporary art galleries.
An interesting art exhibit at 798 Beijing
After a few hours of enjoying China's creative side, I'm drawn to a small cafe playing Portuguese and Italian music. My veggie bagel sandwich and iced green tea are well worth the wait. I can tell the owner takes pride in her cafe and enjoys life in the 798.
I arrange for an Audi A6 to drive us to the airport around 5pm.
I say goodbye to my interpreter who is flying back home to Guangzhou. It is always a pleasure traveling around China with him, and I'm sure he's sad the festivities are coming to an end.
I'm greeted at the curb and escorted through the airport to customs. Nothing to declare. I'm not certain why I was escorted through the airport, but I think it had something to do with the hotel. The lady wonders why I have no baggage, and is even more puzzled when I tell her I was doing business in China for the last two weeks and am on my way to Thailand but have no idea for how long.
Egypt Air to Bangkok
I head over to Air China's first class lounge, settle into a leather recliner, and browse the internet for an hour. This international terminal is huge, and it feels completely empty.
I booked this flight from Beijing to Bangkok on an Egyptian airline using a British website with an American credit card. Haha, can't get more international than that.
The quick four hour flight lands at BKK just after midnight, and I take a taxi to the Intercontinental. I'm greeted at the front desk, "Hello Mr. Suslow, we've been expecting you." They take me directly to my room to complete the check in procedure.
I'm impressed with their "pillow menu", which offers the following eight choices: Latex Foam, Hypo Allergenic, Adjustable Health Care, Comforel, Body Pillow, Natural Rubber, Iguza Japanese Grass, and Contour.
I'm happy to see the bright blue Bangkok sky peeking out from behind the clouds. The last few days in Beijing were completely overcast (or was it pollution?).
I do a little programming work on phone system integration then go outside and walk with no destination in mind. There's a huge shopping mall and entertainment center right across the street. I have a nice Thai lunch at the food court.
MBK Center & Central World in Bangkok
I wander into an art exhibition, and go into an elevator full of Thai people, only to be pulled out by a security guard. I can't figure out why he didn't want me going up there.
I go to a super nice food market that reminds me of the underground Whole Foods at the Time Warner Center in New York. This is a first rate grocery store with an amazing selection, and good quality including many organic products. Somehow I enjoy walking through this crowded store, looking at all the products. I wouldn't be caught dead in a grocery store back home. They are too overwhelming. But here it is OK. It is a cultural experience. I'm happy to know that if for some crazy reason I were to live in Bangkok, I'd have easy access to high quality food products. But of course, I'd have a cook do the shopping.
Not wanting to leave empty handed, I buy some honey coated macadamias and dried durian fruit.
I book a ticket to Phuket, which is just a one hour flight. I find a few nice hotel options near Patong Beach.
I have Japanese food for dinner - eel, and kobe beef sushi.
The taxi driver is ecstatic when I tip him three bucks. I relax at the Thai Airways lounge, grab a plate of fresh fruit, and lemongrass juice which I don't finish because of its high fructose corn syrup.
I just about faint when I look out the airplane window as we're approaching Phuket. Even though its just been two short months since I was sitting on Hawaiian beaches, I forgot the feeling of a beautiful beach scene. The relaxing view is much needed after two weeks of stimulation in big Chinese cities.
The taxi makes an unexpected stop at a travel agency and a lady comes out to try to sell me accommodation and activities. I find it interesting, that considering her pesky nature, her name is "Moskito".
Beautiful Phuket beach all to myself
I check into a beach front suite at the Katathani which is a 4-star resort. The room is comfortable, and the location is good since its at the end of the road, far away from any activity. Its one of the few hotels in Phuket that are directly on the beach. I don't want to take the chance of having a noisy road to spoil the view.
Getting internet access in the room is interesting: I have to sign up and prepay for 10 hours of access at the front desk. They send a technician to the room who tapes a phone cable across the floor and installs a modem on the desk.
It reminds me how difficult it was to get dial-up access internationally 10 years ago. At least today, we've got broadband everywhere.
The beach and sunset are amazing.
Dinner across the street at a small Thai restaurant is only 270 baht ($7.96) for an appetizer, entree, and drink. Heaven?
I wake up with a sore throat. Ughhh, getting sick.
I have a buffet breakfast in an open-air restaurant looking out at the Andaman Sea.
View from the ocean front suite
I enjoy a walk up and down the beach which I have practically all to myself.
I drink a peach iced tea and fall asleep in a lounge chair for a mid-morning nap.
I eat delicious salmon with Thai red curry for lunch.
There are red flags on the beach indicating the rip currents are not safe. After watching a few other people do just fine, I go cautiously into the waves for a swim. I sit by the one of the pools and read for a few hours.
I take a taxi to Patong beach which is a 10 minute drive north. I ask the driver for a restaurant recommendation, but I'm not ready to eat yet, and decide to walk around.
I come across the Sunrise Divers scuba shop, and go inside to talk to them about their overnight scuba trip to Phi Phi island. I ask them for a restaurant recommendation too.
At Mr Good's seafood which is just down the road, I enjoy a fresh coconut juice, coconut cream soup with heaps of fresh seafood, and seafood fried rice baked inside of a whole pineapple (Khao Ob Saparot). Simply amazing.
... partly because of the beach atmosphere, and partly because of a cold. I start reading a new book - Pillars of the Earth. I venture out to the Phuket Bangkok hospital because I'm intrigued by medical tourism, and I figure I'll see an ear nose throat doctor while I'm there. Its a really nice, modern hospital. I'm interested in their full medical checkup, and the price of $450 is really tempting. Back home it'd be at least ten times as much, and not nearly as nice. The doctor sends me to the pill counter where they give me FIVE separate medications, including one antibiotic. Moxcillin, Dosanac, Clarinase, Flemex, and Tylenol. They happily charge my Mastercard $60 for all of this, including the doctor's time. I don't know what this would be back home, but I'm sure it'd be a lot more! Over the next few days I just take some Tylenol for headaches. I believe the others do more harm than good, so I don't even touch the rest of the pills. I have dinner at a really nice five-star restaurant: rock lobster ravioli, sea bass pancetta, and a trio of creme brule's which flavor's include basil, grand marnier & vanilla. The next night, I have dinner at a nice restaurant in the hotel. The diners here are all old couples. Everyone is asking to have a photo taken by the waiter as if it were a special occasion. And here I am, walking in nonchalantly in my flip flops, shorts, and t-shirt as if its just another meal. They ask my room number in advance, and interrogate me a bit, "how long are you staying at the hotel? are you here alone?". I have a Thai massage at the spa. I'm still not sure what to make of it. It wasn't spectacular, but I don't really have anything to compare it to since I haven't had other Thai massages. I am happy it is only $60 for 85 minutes, because back home it'd be $250 at a nice hotel spa. I do an ATV trip in a downpour and get covered in mud. In the rain forest I see people draining a milky sap out of rubber trees. I see someone's pet monkey tied to a short rope. He's walking back and forth in circles. This is the first day with bad weather, and I'm having trouble deciding whether I want to stick around a few more days to kiteboard, scuba dive, or check out an overnight elephant jungle trek. It is hard to predict what coming days will bring in terms of weather, but I know what the weather is like NOW, and I know that I don't like gloomy weather. I find a flight leaving in as soon as 3 hours, but decide to relax a bit, and book a later flight leaving in 12 hours.
Phuket -> Bangkok -> Taipei -> Home
Throughout the whole trip, things remained very flexible. I had a one-way ticket to China. I didn't have any specific plans to go to Beijing, or Thailand, but I had an interest in both. Thought about continuing on to Dubai as well to feel out the LED market there. I had actually thought I was going to spend three or four days in Shenzhen and Hong Kong, but it turned out I didn't need to go there. It would have been fun to go to Thailand with friends, but I got tired of excuses, and endless waiting. Its cheap, safe, and has great weather (and monsoon season isn't as bad as it sounds). I'll be back.