The Pearl River

The Pearl River flows 1,500 miles from the south China plateau eastward to the South China Sea. It is one of the most beautiful rivers in China, with foliage flourishing on its banks all year round.

In the evening, the lights on both sides of the river glow so splendidly that they brighten half the night sky. Legend has it that over two thousand years ago a celestial pearl was lost in the river and, since then, the river has been shining with radiant lights at night. People named it the “Pearl River.” Continue reading

The Chinese Are Coming

When I arrived at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP in Menlo Park yesterday, the presentation had already started. Jane Jie Sun, the CFO of Ctrip – the Expedia equivalent in China, was giving an enthusiastic talk about the company’s success. The room was full of aspiring entrepreneurs, mostly Chinese, who are trying to catch a slice of China’s economic boom, or at minimum, to admire what others have achieved.

This is one of the events put on by HYSTA – an entrepreneurial association in Silicon Valley. Standing in the audience, I couldn’t help to be impressed. Just look at the following facts:

– China’s travel industry is growing double digits every year and there is no sign of slowing down due to the emergence of the middle class.

– Ctrip aggregated more than 80 % of a fragmented market, which was typically characterized by mom-and-pop hotels, and handles a daily volume equal to the volume one travel agent does in a year.

– The company’s revenue is growing at 50 % year to year, with a gross margin as high as 80 percent (whew, where on earth can you find a business like that?!).

Although Ctrip is a copycat of Expedia, it successfully adapted to China’s situation and provides the services that are “China unique.” For example, we already know about the call-center and free ticket delivery, but its “express service” is quite remarkable. In Beijing and Shanghai, because traffic is so bad and people cannot predict how soon they will get to the airport, Ctrip invented a service that allows people to call while riding their taxis to the airport, and issues the air ticket including boarding pass within one hour. Wall Street analysts said Ctrip is the only company in the world that is doing this.

Other things I have learned are: since 2006, GDP growth in the second-tier cities in China has surpassed that of first-tier cities. Recently, China relaxed visa restrictions for people to travel to the U.S. as tourists. It is predicted that by 2020, China will be the largest outbound travel country in the world. A minor point, it will certainly help the huge trade deficit between the United States and China.

A friend of mine told me that her sister, who works in IBM Beijing, travels every year, and each year to a new country. For the young Chinese middle class, travel to see the world is an essential component of their lives. Some consider it an important achievement in their lifetime. We will see the Chinese are coming.

Egypt Highlights

There are many things to see in Cairo – the pyramids, the museums, the mosques, etc. Here are a few highlights that mark the classics of Cairo:

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The Egyptian Museum is a must-see for anyone who visits Egypt for the first time. It exhibits more than 120,000 artifacts throughout history. The most impressive exhibition is the items from King Tut’s tomb, which is the most complete pharaonic tomb ever found. Through viewing the burial treasures, I got a glimpse of Egypt’s glorious ancient civilization. Continue reading

Chinese Tourists and Cars Abroad

When I traveled abroad ten or fifteen years ago, I hardly met any Chinese who were traveling as a tourist. Wherever I went, people would point to me and say: “Japanese! Japanese!”

Things are very different now. I have met many Chinese tourists in Egypt during my short stay in Cairo and Luxor. Our tour guide Ali told me, in the last two years, the number of Chinese travelers exploded. The Chinese tourists have become the second largest tourist group in Egypt, with approximately 400,000 to 500,000 people each year (Russia is the No. 1 with about 1 million tourists in Egypt last year). And this is just the beginning. As the affluent Chinese middle class grows, more and more people can afford to travel abroad. Now, wherever I go, people would greet me: “Ni Hao!”

Another interesting thing is that Chinese cars are becoming more and more popular in Egypt. According to an Egyptian newspaper, “20 Chinese auto companies have sold their vehicles in the Egyptian market since 2003.” Compared with the Western auto makers, Chinese cars have relatively lower prices, but also good quality. I have seen the tour buses made in China and labeled “Yutong” (??) running all over the tourist attraction spots in Cairo. I was also told that a Chinese-run travel agency “Solar Empire” (????) is gaining popularity in Egypt.

We visited the famous Khan al Kahlili in Cairo – the biggest bazaar (marketplace) in the Middle East. It sells souvenirs, jewelries, textiles, gold, silver, and many other things. Ali told me that all the souvenirs, scarves and shawls are made in China. But the Egyptian dealers changed labels to “Made in Egypt” to attract the tourists.

In addition to all the merchandises made in China, Chinese tourists and Chinese cars are the first signs I have witnessed of China’s rising presence in the world.

In Awe of the Pyramids

Before the time of time immemorial, the pharaohs of ancient Egypt built Pyramids as the tombs for their afterlife and the symbols of their majesty. After five thousand years, dynasties rise and fall, rulers come and go, but the Pyramids at Giza are still standing as the Nile forever flows.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Standing in front of The Great Pyramid, I am completely in awe. It is 455 feet tall, and was the highest building in the world until 19th century. It was built with more than 3 million blocks of stone, with the heaviest ones weighing 15 tons. It took more than 100,000 laborers for twenty years to finish. It is literally a manmade mountain.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Local Egyptians are very friendly. Sometimes they are too “friendly” – they try to trick you to buy souvenirs or ask for baksheesh (tipping). The children I met at the Great Pyramid flocked to me to say “hello,” and want their photos taken.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Riding a camel in the desert was absolutely a thrill and a lot of fun! It costs $4 for ten minute camel ride. Someone told me that it could be risky if you let the camel go too far into the desert, because the Egyptian guides could ask for as much as $100 (and if you don’t agree, they would threaten not to let the camel return).

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

In front of the second Pyramid is The Sphinx with a royal headdress and human face, faithfully guarding the Pyramids. Standing sixty-six feet tall, it’s tiny compared with the mighty pyramids around it. This is the oldest sphinx found in Egypt, dating back 2,500 BC.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Although I have seen the picture of the Sphinx many times, I was still astonished by its eminence. It was a beautiful sunny day and I was in a playful mood. So, with the right angle, I kissed the Sphinx!

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The evening’s Sound and Light show was really amazing. In about an hour, the five thousand years of Egypt’s history and ancient civilization were revealed as a grandstand play in front of my eyes, leaving me with much to wonder and ponder for the following days….

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

Amsterdam – A City of Canals

We arrived in Amsterdam around noon of December. 10th. Since Netherland is so high in latitude, the sun was hanging low in the sky, shining powerlessly through clouds, making me feel it was 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

I didn’t realize that Amsterdam is fifty feet below sea level. Back in the early thirteen century, the Dutch people started to build the dams on Amstel River to hold back waters from the North Sea. Hence, its name “Amsterdam,” meaning the dam built on the Amstel River, was born. Since then, canals after canals were built in the shape of a spider web spreading out from the center of the city – Dam Square, making Amsterdam a fascinating city of canals.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The Dutch people are at the front line of fighting global warming. Obvious, if Greenland melts, Amsterdam is the most vulnerable place on earth. Therefore, there are a lot of researches and projects that are already underway to address the water issues.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

We stayed at Hotel Pulitzer on the bank of canal with a room of canal view. I was a little shocked to see the water in the canals was a dark brown color – so dark that it’s almost black. The Hotel concierge told me that it’s because of stagnation of the streams and lack of oxygen in the water. I guess it is also because of centuries of the dirt at the bottom of the canals. However, I saw swans and ducks swimming in the canals!

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

There so many things to write about for Amsterdam – its architecture, history, art and industry, etc. The things that struck me the most are the canals and art. Here are some really nice paintings displayed at the hotel:

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The first day in Amsterdam, we strolled around the Jordaan – the neighborhood characterized with art galleries and boutique shops, and visited Anne Frank’s house – the thirteen-year-old girl who documented her experience hiding from the Nazis in her diary during the Second World War.

Copyright 2007 Helen Wang

The next day, we went for a canal tour, which is a great way to see the city. And even better, the canal tour took us to Van Gogh Museum, which has the largest collection of works by Van Gogh with more than two hundred paintings including many famous masterpieces. Although I am not that big a Van Gogh fan, I discovered some paintings that I had not seen before that I really like.

A Little Bridge over Brimming Water

Copyright (c) 2007 Helen Wang

The photo reminds me of a famous Chinese poem: “A little bridge over brimming water, and there is a hidden home….” Since the “home” is not seen in the picture, I named it “A Little Bridge over Brimming Water.”

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Cancun Renewal

Who can imagine that was a former fishing village thirty years ago?

Surrounded by Caribbean sea, Cancun today has renewed its natural wonder with beautiful white sand beaches and crystalline turquoise waters. Walking barefoot in the sand awakens all my senses.

The beach is not the only attraction for Cancun. The ancient and the promise of the return of Kukulcan invite me to explore its endless wonders and mysteries.

A parasail over the Cancun sky gives a bird-eye view of its unprecedented beauty. Feeling like a bird flying into the infinite blueness, my heart sings with ultimate joy!

Looking back, a year has passed with much to be grateful; and looking ahead, another year is coming with more to be hopeful!