Thursday, November 15, 2012

Club Med Kani Maldives - Romantic Cruise into the Sunset

Our boat sped towards open sea, bouncing off the waves.

“There ! There! Dolphins!” the lookout man at the helm of the boat shouted and pointed to the left.

Immediately, the boat took a sharp left turn, speeding towards the direction the lookout has pointed at.
Everyone on board edged forward, excited and trying to catch a glimpse of the wild dolphins that were said to be aplenty and would gaily swim alongside tourist’s boats, as if toying with us. And yes, there in front of us a school of dolphins racing through the waters and as our boat drew near, they were swimming alongside us and occasionally underneath us. It was truly an experience of a lifetime for me, seeing this magnificent and reported to be very smart creatures so near and so free and not in captivity or trained to perform in shows and performances. 

Taking the sunset cruise at Club Med Kani Maldives is definitely an activity that one should not miss. Besides being able to view these wild dolphins up close, the sunset on a clear day is nothing short of magical.
What could be better than watching the sun slowly setting beyond a seemingly unending horizon among interesting clouds formation in equally stunning colours, with a glass of champagne in one hand, while the other holding the hand of your lover, and her hair occasionally brushes against your face, blown by the sea breeze.
We had wanted to do this when we were in Club Med Bali but unfortunately all the excursions were fully booked. Hence, when we were in Maldives, we made it a point to drop by the counter the very next morning after we arrived and got ourselves a place on the first boat that goes out that very evening.

And we were very fortunate because the skies were clear and the sunset simply mesmerizing. This are the moments in life that you would want to share with the one closest to you by your side, and Maldives is one place that gives you plenty of opportunity to do so.
So, if you are ever have the opportunity to travel to Maldives, take that cruise and I guarantee you that you will walk away with an unforgettable experience.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Club Med Kani Maldives - Paradise on Earth

A school of five silver color fish slowly makes their way to where I was sitting, a small little wooden platform at our lagoon suite villa, my legs dipped in the icy cold water, inches away from the green, oh so green seaweed on fine white sand, waving gently under the magical spell of the sea current.

Meters away, a lone black tip baby shark of a meter long, cruises by oblivious to my presence. A sudden disturbance in the seabed caught my attention. A grey mantra ray of almost three feet in diameter glides by.

The sound of waves beating against the concrete pillars of the villa coupled with the gentle sea breeze blowing onto my face and the dancing sunlight reflected on the clear blue seabed has almost an hypnotizing effect. For a moment, you are in complete total peace with yourself, with mother nature, with God. For that one moment, the world you know and left behind does not seemed to exist or matter.

There is only you, the sea, the blue skies with fluffy white clouds drifting by and the wind, blowing and singing her gentle soothing melody.

This is Maldives.
Club Med Kani @ Maldives is every bit a paradise on earth that she was advertised to be. We booked ours when Club Med ran their annual “Buy one free one” promotion and we went all the way, the exclusive Lagoon Suites, reputed to be THE way to truly enjoy Club Med Kani, and we were definitely NOT DISAPPOINTED!
The Lagoon suites are wooden chalets built on water, each with their very own wooden platform with a staircase leading down to the shallow clear water where one can easily access for a cold dip among the schools of wild seawater fish, an occasional mantra ray or even a black tip baby shark, gliding over the wavering seaweeds.
As I have mentioned in my earlier post, Club Med Kani Maldives is definitely a heaven for honeymooners or couples who would love to get away for a romantic getaway or simply to reignite the passion that often times, took a back seat in our hectic family life once the children arrived.
In comparison to Club Med Bali, Bintan or Cherating, I would still rate Club Med Bintan Island has having one of the best stretch of beaches with fluffy white sand but in terms of water clarity and marine life, Club Med Kani absolutely wins hands down.
In terms of guest mixture, just like Club Med Bali, 85% of the guests during our stay were from mainland China but then again, they are everywhere nowadays, especially with their cash, purchasing power and wealth. With their presence, expect their loudness, their knack of not understanding what queuing is all about and above all, their rather `LOUD’ sense of dressing and color matching (at least to us). But then again, that is who they are and just like anyone else, they are entitled to behave and wear whatever they desires. With my recent exposure in Beijing (where I have just recently relocated to), I have come to understand and accept these seemingly `weird’ sense of behaviour or dressing and underneath all those differences, they are just like you or me.
Food wise, Club Med Kani would rank just below Club Med Bali as far as we are concerned. There are still reasonable selection of dishes that changes almost everyday.
There is no Petite or Mini Club here, hence, bringing young children here would not be too advisable, unless you are prepared to baby sit them your entire stay. But then again, why would you want to fly half way across the globe and then baby sit your little `Energizer bunnies’ when you can do that at home, while the ocean and the waves beckons you to put on your sexy two piece and simply dive in among the sharks and the rays, with your other half.
Taking the Lagoon Suites, also provide some exclusive benefits such as the exclusive Mantra Lounge with free flowing beer, wine and champagne.
You could also arrange for your breakfast to be brought over to your suite at the time you specified so that you could simply just have your breakfast in leisure with your lover, with a view that one would die for, the ocean stretching endlessly beyond the horizon and an occasional curious seagull flying past.
I am also not sure if this comes with the fact that we stayed at the Lagoon Suites, but I get a full bottle of either red or white wine for every lunch or dinner we had. In fact, there was even one lunch, where the Restaurant Manager was so kind that he actually opened a bottle of rose and a bottle of chardonnay for both of us. Since, my wife hardly drinks, needless to say, the task of finishing both bottles were left entirely to yours truly, who is not complaining one bit. 

Although there are still plenty of activities to participate while holidaying in Club Med just like any other Club Med, this is one Club Med that you would rather spent some quiet, serene and private moments with your better half, which was we did when we were there, except taking part in two cooking lessons sessions.
This is definitely one destination that everyone should seriously consider at least once in a lifetime.

We took an evening sunset cruise and it was simply magical. More of that in my next post.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Are the Contents of our luggage ever Safe even with TSA locks?

It had been a mad mad rush and crazy morning, departing from Seattle to Los Angeles. We were lucky to even made it to the flight given all the factors that have gone wrong.

Firstly, we got our departure time wrong. Instead of 6:30am, we thought that we have to arrive at the airport at 6:30am. My wife only found around 3:00 am when she got up and having 5 big bags to pack, results of our shopping spree for winter clothing in preparation for the cold winter in Beijing when we get there, the word "stress" is not even close to describe the panic I am sure she was feeling then.

When we finally get all the bags packed and Ryan to wake up at 5:00am, we found out that we could not get all the bags into one taxi and had to call two separate cabs. We were fortunate that there were two cabs waiting at the hotel at the point in time and hence, no time wasted to hail another one from the streets.

While they sped towards the airport, upon arrival, we found out after waiting in line for about 20 minutes that we were at the wrong terminal! Although the ticket stated that it was American Airlines, this particular flight was in fact operated by Alaskan Airlines and the terminal is a good 500 meters away and we have only 30 minutes before flight time.

I honestly thought, at that point, we would be missing our flight and resigned to that fact that we would have to pay for another one later. I seriously cannot think of how I could move 5 pieces of 29" bags, one 25" bag and two cabin bags with Ryan, to run 500 meters to the next terminal.

But God was on our side. Just as all hope was lost, a man appeared with a huge trolley and asked us if we needed help. "OF COURSE I NEEDED HELP AND I NEEDED HELP NOW!" While my wife took Ryan and half ran to the next terminal to check in, I frantically help him to load up the bags before running down the terminal myself.

And miraculously, we made it with 15 minutes or so to spare.

Upon arrival at Los Angeles International Airport, one of my 29" bags was missing. Upon checking with the counter staff, I was told that one piece of our luggage has been `randomly' selected by TSA for inspection and was unable to make it on the same flight. It would be delivered to our hotel later that day. We felt uneasy because we have some new expensive stuff in that bag.
When we finally got our bag the same afternoon, we found the bag with our brand new TSA lock missing. Inside was a note informing us that our bag has been opened for inspection and that TSA will not be responsible for damages to the lock should they need to break the lock to enable the inspection. We also found later that a new GUESS handbag stuffed with some branded children clothing were missing as well. And this is the SECOND time, we have this incident happening to us in Los Angeles. A couple of years back when we came back from LA, one of our bags was also opened and stuff were missing.

So, the question then is, who was and should be responsible for the loss?

If we were informed that we need to have TSA locks to enable TSA to unlock the bags for inspection without breaking them, why were the bags not locked back after the inspection? Why were the locks not put back in place?

Without the bags being re-locked after inspection, who then should be responsible for the loss of the contents of these `opened for inspection' luggage? Who could have taken the items? TSA or the ground crew of the airports or anyone who have access to the luggage before we do.

To make matters even worst, what if illegal drugs and materials have been inserted into these `opened for inspection' luggage with our knowledge and we be held liable for them when we get caught? So, once a bag has been randomly selected for inspection and left unlock by TSA, who should be responsible from this point forward for the contents of the luggage?

Why lock the luggage in the first place if the bags could be easily be subjected to random inspection by TSA who disclaim all liabilities after their inspection?

It is funny that this seemed to be happening to flights to USA and not the rest of the world (as far as my experience goes thus far)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Worst taxi Drivers?

At the time when I read that Malaysian taxi drivers were rated one of the worst in the world, I have just came back from taking an approximately 30 minutes taxi ride from Bellevue in Seattle to downtown Pikes Market which cost me USD39 besides the USD5 tips that I have to pay, which means that my 30 minutes ride cost me a cool RM136.50 at today's exchange rate of 3.104. I barely spent 2 hours at the Pikes Fish Market before I had to go back to the hotel with Ryan whining about being tired and sleepy. Hence, my 2 hours escapade cost me a whopping RM273!

So, before we start to jump blaming our Malaysian taxi drivers and pointing fingers that the report is true and they deserve what they deserves, I believe that we should look at the `so called' poll and report and the results objectively before we judged.
I have the privilege to travel quite a fair bit recently, and taking taxis in some of this countries that I have visited and the experience related to this group of people and their occupation.

I must said that I do agreed that we simply do not have the best taxi drivers in the world but I am not quite sure if they deserved being called the WORST!

Firstly, the report was apparently highlighted by ( who in a previous post, also highlighted that they have been voted to be he BEST taxis in the world for 3 years consecutively. Londoncabs is the company providing the black cabs in London which is also reputed to be the MOST expensive cabs in THE WORLD!

This poll and report was apparently conducted by ( and was done for the year 2011. According to this survey, which was conducted between July 31 to August 20, 2011 with only 4,821 respondents across 23 countries such as SINGAPORE, UK, BRAZIL, ARGENTINA, JAPAN, SWEDEN, GERMANY, AUSTRALIA SWITZERLAND IRELAND INDIA SPAIN, CHINA, FRANCE, ITALY, DENMARK, NORWAY, THE NETHERLANDS, HONG KONG, KOREA, MEXICO FINLAND and USA.

Surprisingly, I find the percentage between that reported by and the one reported by londoncabs differs slightly. While only 28% were reported for London by, reported a staggering 33% while New York which received only 9% from, were reported at 17% by Most Asian countries were left out from the list reported by with the exception of Bangkok and even that the percentage was much lower at only 3% as compared to the 6% reported by

Other Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Tokyo, both at 7% and Singapore at 6% were surprisingly omitted.

I honestly find the discrepancies disturbing and the sampling size, alarming small considering that the countries polled cover well over 23 countries. No reference were made as to the nationality, race and background of the respondents, hence making this poll, in my opinion, rather unrepresentative of the actual quality of service of the taxis services around the world.

But then again, it does not take a genius either to know that our taxi service quality and system requires a in-depth look and reinvention in order to elevate it to a standard that we could honestly be proud of.

I have yet to visit London nor have I taken the iconic black cab here but based on the countries that I have the privilege to interact with the taxi drivers, I must said that I would disagree with the poll somewhat.

Here's my take of my experience with this group of `wonderful' people:-

We have yet to encounter one single rude taxi driver here from the numerous visits we made to the republic. Most of them were well mannered, English speaking and got us to where we wanted to go without a hassle. Hence, I am rather surprised that they do not make it to the top ten list in the poll conducted by

We have always heard numerous nightmare stories of how unethical and cunning Chinese are. I must confessed that I have lots of apprehension taking taxis there when I first visited Beijing but after a couple more visits (especially now that we would be relocating there by the end of this month), the taxi drivers in Beijing are actually a friendly lot. To me, most of them do look alike with their crude cut hair style and looked rather grumpy. But once, you are able to strike up a conversation with them in their language, they can be rather talkative and you might just be able to invoke a friendly smile across their face. We have yet to encounter one who do not follow the meter nor taken us `around' the city just to get a few dollars more. In fact, we find taking taxis in Beijing to be rather affordable. A 30 minutes ride that I took from Westin Hotel to Temple of Heaven in the morning heavy traffic only cost me RMB30 or RM15! And he was telling me, how he enjoyed visiting Genting Highlands and how beautiful Malaysia is. And an interesting point to note was that we were told that only residents of Beijing can be a taxi driver in Beijing.

There was even one instance when my wife was taking a cab in Xian from the airport to her hotel and apparently there are two such hotels and they ended up at the wrong one. The cab driver was not only NOT angry for getting to the wrong one because my wife was not specific enough (honestly, even she did not know that there were two), but he gladly took her to the right one and gave her a discount from the fare charged from meter because he said that it was partly his fault too for not finding out properly.

New York USA
My first impression of New York was tarnished by the black driver of the famous yellow cab. His careless driving (probably that's how they all drive in New York traffic) and his arrogance throughout the journey irritated us so much that we actually gave him just at USD5 tip, which of course drew further curses from him as he shouted to other cab drivers at the hotel lobby, something to the effect of "bloody Asians!"  And we have reporting that New York has the second highest rating of over 17%!

Atlanta USA
The driver who claimed he was from Pakistan gave us quite a fright when he took us through some pretty shady black neighborhood from the airport to downtown Peachtree Street in Atlanta in order to avoid the freeway. Although he was using the meter, he was "fxxking" at every turn and every corner and at every driver on the road besides busy chatting on his handphone.

San Francisco USA
Our worst experience was on our first night at San Francisco after our dinner at Pier 39. There were absolutely no taxis in sight at the taxi stand at around 11pm and there we were, along with 20 other people or so, standing there in freezing temperature, waiting. What came along was a string of limousines that offered to pick us up but for USD30 per person for a 15 minute ride. We were adamant that we would not subject ourselves to this `daylight' robbery and continue waiting for another good 20 minutes before the taxis began to arrive one after another.

Our taxi driver was a 65 years old man from Hong Kong who has been driving the San Francisco streets for well over 30 years. He was chatty and nice and the fare, only a fraction of what the limousine drivers were charging. Our next experience was a driver who tore through the hilly streets of San Francisco in the middle of the night like he was in a rally race, complaining that tourists are bad because they either walked or rent their own car instead of taking a taxi ride. Considering that renting a Ford Mustang only cost me slightly over USD90 plus insurance in Los Angeles, I can understand why.

Seattle USA
The taxi drivers in Seattle were a friendly lot, most of them either from Somalia or Ethiopia, many  having settled down with families and driving taxis for well over 6 to 10 years. Our encounters with them have all been pleasant ones though the taxi fare here is everything BUT cheap! As I shared earlier, a 30 minutes ride downtown cost USD39 before tips!

Los Angeles USA
Our ride from the Los Angeles International airport to Anaheim where Disneyland was located, a trip of approximately 30 minutes turned out to last longer than 45 minutes when the driver got lost and refused to listen to me even when I told him that the Fairfield Inn by Marriott was just across the Disneyland main entrance! (Which idiot who drive a taxi in LA would not know where Disneyland is and he even has a GPS in the car). The cost of the journey turned up to cost us USD140 (RM434)! On our return trip from the hotel to the airport, we engaged another company who provided us a minivan to cater for our six huge bags and the journey which took just well over 30 minutes only cost us USD93 (according to the meter).  Our USD7 tip made this Mexican who has been driving a taxi here for the last 6 years a very happy man.

Looking back at our experiences with different taxi drivers from the different cities that we have visited, we could only conclude the following:-

  • Taking a taxi (apart from Beijing) is an expensive affair and tipping especially in US is almost an unwritten law. In fact, some are even expecting a tip as high as between 10% to 15%. A 30 minutes ride in Seattle could easily sets you back RM140 or in the case of LA, over RM300!
 Taking a taxi in Malaysia is expensive to most of us who live in the country but no where near to what we would have to pay for similar services overseas.

Therefore, I would not want to compare the iconic black cabs of London for example to the those in Beijing or even in Malaysia, where their charges are rated as the most expensive in the world. Now, if you are paying for those similar rates back home in Malaysia, I am quite certain that you would probably be renting a limousine with premier services and I am sure certain that you will be served like a king.

Calling for our taxi drivers to improve their services and to avoid using unethical ways to fleece their customer, I believe is not just a matter of weeks or months, or by merely giving out handouts to win votes just before a coming election. It involves an in depth look at the entire licensing and fare system to ensure that taxi drivers can make a decent honest living without having to resort to unethical methods to make ends meet. Other modes of public transportation has to be put in order and accessible to the general public at large.

Kudos to our reporter who went out disguised as a tourist to ascertain how true the report was on our taxi drivers, which came as nothing new to most of us. Now, I would like to see a reporter disguised as an honest taxi driver taking over the wheel for a day and see if you could survive, playing by the rule.

Dishonest, unethical or rude taxi drivers goes beyond just a few individuals if the system is flawed in the first place. The government and the governing body should bear the responsibility of what the system has became.

Do we then increase our taxi fare to those similar to those of the black iconic black cabs of London and imposed strict entry education and test before a taxi driver is qualified to even sit behind a wheel in order to elevate our standard to that apparently rated as the best by Or do we imposed tipping as an additional incentive to encourage better service? Or do we do what the China government has apparently did just before the Olympics, making sure that taxis are clean and and taxi drivers do take their bath and maintain their personal hygiene and taking all necessary steps to enforce that and see it to past.

Is it really that simple problem to tackle and solve?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

USA California : My very FIRST rented Car!

I got my driving license when I was 17 and in all these years that I have driven, it has always been right hand drive. Even when I was holidaying overseas, I was only comfortable driving in countries which is also right hand drive like Australia. 

Although I have been to USA a couple of times now, it's either I was driven around even we rented a car or I would take public transportation or simply just hop on one of their hop on and off buses which by the way is an excellent way to discover the many top tourist attractions around.

With our move to Beijing imminent in just one month, and with China being a country where cars are left hand driven, I am apprehensive and worried as to whether I could adapt to the sudden change or simply go into the wrong lane all the time.. I remembered that I constantly walk to the driver side when I was taking a taxi in Europe.

So, when the recent trip to LA presents the need to drive to San Diego approximately 2 hours away to visit Sea world where renting a car and driving there ourselves seemed like the best and most economical option, I brave myself to immerse into the unknown of driving a left hand driven car for the very first time.

We gave Avis a call since we have corporate rate with them and were told to drop by to select our model. Prior to that I have called and were recommended the economical Ford Focus. I was bracing myself to be either driving a Ford Focus or a Hyundai Accent or similar models. 

When we arrived at the Avis showroom, parked just outside, was a glimmering bright red 2 door Ford Mustang convertible and behind her two shining dark blue 2 doors mustangs. They looked so so so cool! I know for a fact that they do made heads turn when they are on the road. I know mine did everytime I see one.

My wife was teasing me as we walked past these beauties and said "I know you would love to rent this." Well, what can I  say. She knows me too well. After all she is my better half. 

The counter staff attended to us and we wold him exactly what we wanted, an economical model for 3 and we were slapped with the bad news! The Focus we were enquiring has been taken and they have no similar models available right that moment. But the next sentence, took my breath away.

"What we have right now and for the same price are the Ford Mustangs ..." 

In my mind, I was like "Are you kidding me? Really? I'll take that! Where do I sign?"

"But is it big enough for us?" my wife had to ask. "Can it take a 29" luggage? Dear, you better go and check first."

I walked to the car fearing the worst. I pop the boot open. "Yes! yes!" I screamed inside me. The boot space is deep enough!

20 minutes later, after all the necessary paperwork was done, I was behind the wheels of my first left hand drive 2 door six cylinders shiny dark blue sleek wide body road hugging Ford Mustang, rearing to tear the road of LA and the freeways of USA.

My first experience driving a left hand drive vehicle turned out better than I expected, much much better I must said.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Club Med Kani, Maldives - Arrival

We arrived at 9:45 p.m. local which was 12:45 a.m. Malaysian time. After a 4 hours flight, we were tired. Maldives international airport looks pretty much like the one we have at Pulau Langkawi. Small and rather unorganized. After clearing customs, we walked out of the arrival hall expecting greeting cards from Club Med with our name but there were none. Lost and unhappy, we asked around and were directed to a small Club Med counter. We were tagged with a green wrist band (something which  will bring us much more attention and privileges as we found out later) and  were asked to wait. And we waited and waited. We ended sitting by the roadside because we were supposed to wait for another flight from Singapore and since both flights are arriving apparently 5 minutes apart in the middle of the night, the management thinks that it is good logistic to group guests from this two flights together.

We waited for a good half an hour before the group checked out and walked out from the arrival hall, by which time, we were already extremely agitated, frustrated, not to mention to dead tire. After all, our body clock was telling us that it was time to hit the sack as it was already well past 2 a.m.

But whatever frustration we have quickly gave way to the  exhilarating experience of riding in a 16 people capacity speedboat powered by a twin Yamaha 200 engine, speeding and bouncing on the waves in total darkness of the night into nowhere. The darkness of night with the skies littered with stars, something that we do not get to see back home. There was a deep sense of excitement akin a small kid taking his first ride, and at the same time, fear, though i was trying very hard not to show. 

The cold sea breeze and the excitement certainly woke us up, and if our eyes were ever tempted to momentarily closed, they were quickly woken either by a rough bounce as the boat hit a wave or the captain of the boat taking a sharp turn, tossing us from one side to another, probably to keep us awake.

After 30 minutes of riding in almost complete darkness into more darkness, we were finally greeted with some faint lights from a far off jetty. As we disembarked, several GOs were there to greet us and led us to the village grounds. 

The walk from the jetty that stretched a good 100 meters from the shore in almost total darkness, only lighted up by small faint lights along the jetty 2 or 3 meters apart, gave me the opportunity to admire the countless twinkling stars hanging above in the vast darkness.

Since we were the only pair who would prefer to have our briefing in English, Angeline, the Lagoon Suites Manager took over and led us to Manta Lounge, dedicated for Lagoon Suite's guests. 

Club Med Lagoon suites are designed pretty much like the one we experienced at Sepang Gold Coast Palm Resort with water chalets and villas built like palm branches stretching into the ocean. I must said that the villas in Sepang Gold Coast are definitely much newer and nicer in my opinion but nothing could beat the clarity of the water on which the suites were built on. 

After a short briefing, we were shown to our suite. They are definitely built for honeymooners and couples who would want to spent some quiet and quality time together. Everything was designed with romance in mind, from the large wooden king size bed with overhanging, nicely draped lacy mosquito netting to the bath tub thoughtfully positioned with a good view of the ocean from almost every side, where one can spent hours with your lover, frolicking and relaxing with a cold glass of complimentary champagne in hand.

We were tired but then the night was still young as far as Club Med in concern. It was only slightly past midnight. Dumping our bags, we took a slow walk under the stars to Iru Bar where the music was beckoning. As with the "All Inclusive" package that Club Med offers, one do not have to worry of not getting enough alcohol, as beer and wine and in the case of being guests at the Lagoon Suites, champagne is aplenty.

With a beer in hand and my better half in my arms, we walked back to our suite ready to retire for the night and getting ourselves all ready for our escapade on this romantic paradise for the next five days.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

US San Francisco : Pier 39 & Fisherman Wharf (Do I and Don't I?)

"Make sure you get all the itineraries sorted out and all the places we want to go planned ya ..." my wife reminded me again and again like a spoilt CD repeating itself. Well, her concern is well justified as I am one who would like pro-castinate and pushes things till the very last minute before I actually act on them.

Forcing myself, I googled for the top places and must do activities for our up and coming visit to San Francisco and checked through the various reviews from the different sites. One such apparently `must do' place is Pier 39 and Fisherman Wharf of course. However, checking on the numerous reviews written on this site left me rather uncertain as to whether I really should waste time getting there. To be honest, while it does get some rather good reviews from visitors, there were also almost an equal amount of bad ones, ranging from over crowded, too commercialized, bad food and some puts it as outright `rip-off'. It seemed that the only repeating consolation to warrant a visit is to see the sea lions who have made Pier 39 their home. It seems that this place is a darling to visitors of San Francisco but locals seemed to avoid it like a plague.
So, do I or do I not include this as a place to visit, but, hey, I am a visitor and I am a tourist and visiting San Francisco for the very first time. Why not? What could possibly be more wrong then not seeing this much hyped about place with my very own eyes. Moreover, I am a photographer. How can I visit San Francisco and not come back with at least a picture of her in my travelling album. With that, I went ahead googling for restaurants found at the Pier and hotels that I could stay within our budget and not too far from her.

Pier 39 was the first `tourist' site I went the moment I touched down in San Francisco. We found out that we could actually take a 20 to 30 minutes walk from our hotel and we did just that. Despite being summer, the breeze from the Bay can still be rather chilling. Despite all the negativity, I had one of my best shots of Pier 39 in the evening sun ...
Yes...the place is definitely crowded, mostly with tourists from all over the world. At every turn, you will bump into people taking pictures (like yours truly), looking or waiting to be seated for a meal, hunting for souvenirs or simply just being there because she is Pier 39.
But then, what would expect from her, after all, she is rated as the third most visited site in all of United States. This place is like a huge fun fair at night with all the neon lights and bright colourful carousel. I especially like the scene of the many yachts moored at the pier which made a nice composition for a picture.
 The best part of the pier of course to me, was the end of the pier where I could catch a glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge from afar (if there is no fog) and a good view of Alcatraz, the notorious ex maximum security prison. It is true that most things here are expensive but then again, which top tourist attraction is not, but some of the best things to do here or to enjoy here is absolutely free ........which is simply to sit back, relax and enjoy the many sights and sounds that place offers ......
To avoid the crowd and savor the moment of peace and tranquility that Pier 39 still offers, I would strongly suggest getting there early in the morning before 9am. Unlike the busier times of the day and evening where almost every inch is crawling with people, you can take an unhurried walk down the pier, listening to the callings of the gliding seagulls, breathe in the chilling air of San Francisco Bay, feast your eyes on Alcatraz, uninterrupted by the constant clicking of cameras or jostling tourists posing for their travelling photo album, repeating the process again and again....and of course, take some time to watch the funny antics of the ever famous ambassadors of Pier 39, the sea lions .....
No one knows exactly why the sea lions choose K dock at Pier 39 as one of the homes but apparently, it got started with the appearance of one single sea lion after the Loma Prieta Earthquake. None were reported prior to 1989 but the number grew quickly after the arrival of that single stray sea lion which grew to a total of over 500 in a span of only 5 weeks. The numbers of sea lions at Pier 39 vary greatly from a few to thousands depending on the season. I managed to catch a glimpse of a dozen or so when I was there in July.

Be the first customer to buy some absolutely delicious cherries or strawberries dipped in chocolate....
There are plenty of cafes and restaurants here at Pier 39 and most have been reported to be expensive and where better food for better value could be found elsewhere. I would have to agree with that statement but after all, as I have stressed earlier, Pier 39 is one of the world's famous tourist attraction and I seriously don't think that the food here is ever going to be any cheaper, considering the high rental the retail shops would have to fork out annually just to be there.

I would not rate the food as bad. In fact, we love the food and the moments we have when we had our breakfast, sitting outside Eagle Cafe, with a hot cup of coffee in the cold San Francisco's morning with an occasional interruption of a stray uninvited, sometimes irritating gawking seagull and the view of Alcatraz from afar....
During our 6 days stay over at San Francisco and several visits to Pier 39, we have tried Fog Harbor Fish House and Pier Market Seafood Restaurant (both managed by the family of the late Warren Simmons who build Pier 39 in 1978), Eagle Cafe and Crab House.

Pier 39 is a result of a vision from one single man, the late Warren Simmons, a former pilot with Pan Am airlines. A visionary, risk taker and savvy businessman, he saw what Pier 39 could be from a run down unattractive site. Undeterred from various objectives and obstacles, he finally realized his dream after five long years of multiple presentations to neighborhood groups and city permit officials.

Pier 39 is located in the Fisherman Wharf district, who got her name during the Gold Rush era, when fisherman came and settled to fish for the Dungeness crab. Till today, this place still remains as the home base of San Francisco fishing fleet.
This place is famous for this guys and you must at least try once when you are here. I personally like them so much that I ordered three times, twice at Fog Harbor Fish House and once at the Crab House at Pier 39.
So, did I make the right choice to make this one of my `Must see, must visit' when I visited San Francisco? I am sure I did, despite some of the negative reviews that I have seen on her. Maybe it is because I was more than just a single visit at different times of the day, and hence I was able to see her bright and early before the tranquility that she offered a long time ago was broken by tourist crowd and her beauty as she basked in the golden sunlight as the sun sets over the San Francisco Bay as she comes alive with her neon lights and bustling restaurants....

Monday, September 10, 2012

US San Francisco: China Town (Testament of Blood and Sweat)

Chinese people has been known around the world as a very resilient and adaptive breed of people, hardworking, long suffering and business savvy. They are everywhere today and in many countries,  have assimilated into the culture and history of their country of residence.  China Town throughout the world has always remained an intriguing site for visitors and as always, come with a colorful and many at times, tough history.

The China Town in San Francisco is the oldest China Town in Northern America and reputed to be the largest community outside Asia. 
The mention of Chinese immigrants in America conjures images of pony tailed bare chested Chinese males boarding ships from ancient China, to some, a mean of escape from a poverty stricken country and to others, a hope for a better future and wealth. After all, America was called "Gold Mountain" (金山), and the actual destination of this "Gold Mountain" is San Francisco.

In the early 1850's during the California Gold Rush era, many were brought into America to work at the mines, many with a dream of striking it rich and going back to their homeland basked in glory. However, the working condition of the mines were far from what they have imagined or told and the treatment they received from the mines operators were far from friendly.

When the plan to build the Central Pacific Railroad was put in place forming part of the transcontinental railroad across North America, immigrant Chinese workers were recruited in thousands, either from the existing gold mines or imported directly from China. Initially thought to be too weak or fragile for the task, the Chinese proofed of their resilience only after being put on the job for a few days. They were so impressive that 90% of the entire work force for this massive project were Chinese, numbering well over 12,000 people.

When the project was over, a large number of these immigrants remained in America, mostly settled near the San Francisco Bay, where the current China Town is located.

Today, China Town in San Francisco covers an area of over 24 square blocks, within a area of approximately 1 mile long and 1.34 miles wide, covering some prime estate land with some of the best view in San Francisco.
But how could a group of immigrants and workers occupy such a piece of prime real estate? 

The reason is because this piece of prime real estate was once considered too hilly that is of no worth or use to the locals. History has it that when the Great San Francisco Earthquake in 1906 wiped off the entire colony, the government then, had conspired to move the immigrants to another part of town and take the entire piece of land back for their own use. Undeterred, the local Chinese community with American commercial interest and with the backing of the Chinese government protested and reclaimed the right to stay.
Many of the immigrants who finally made it to America underwent a treacherous journey from China by boat, often in deplorable condition, spent months being kept on Angel Island of San Francisco while being processed to enter, suffered unimaginable tough living and working condition and treatments before settling down here.

As with all immigrant communities, crime and turf wars were inevitable especially in the early days of smuggling, vice, gambling and opium dens. Although the great earthquake, which leveled the entire site in 1906 brought an end to much of this, triads and underworld in constant struggle for more control still prevails today. The Golden Dragon massacre in 1977 between two triad groups at the Golden Dragon Restaurant resulting in 5 dead and 11 wounded (most of which were innocent by standers) were a testament of this.

Taking a walk through the vibrant streets of China Town is an exciting experience, especially if it is done with a tour guide with interesting revelation and stories of this tourist attraction rich in history and culture.

Purchasing the 48 hours ticket of the city's Hop On and Off buses, comes with two free walking tours, one of which is through China Town. The tour starts off from Union Square and takes you through China Town, visiting places such as the St Mary's square and the back lanes of China Town, ending just outside Little Italy.
It is also here at the St Mary's Square that you would find the old Saint Mary Cathedral, reported to be the first building to be erected as a cathedral in California. She was established by Father Henry Ignatius Stark as a mission with the purpose of introducing the Catholic faith to the Chinese. The bricks for the construction were brought from Cape Horn while the granite were cut and shipped in directly from China.
The back alleys of China Town, something that I would not have done on my own but a sight that offers a glimpse of the daily lives of those who have make this place their home. Do you know that the first immigrant according to the China Town website from China to San Francisco were 2 man and one woman who arrived in 1848 on board the American ship called the Eagle.
We will walk past this section of China Town every morning from our hotel in Union Square to Pier 39 and we were fortunate to have experienced the vibrant Sunday morning market as scores of local Chinese came out to do their Sunday shopping and marketing with shop keepers busy plying their trade and shoppers bargaining and choosing anything from vegetables and fruits to imported Chinese products like dried food stuff and herbs.
This is definitely a must visit attraction when you are in San Francisco and as a Chinese myself, a descendant of immigrant who have emigrated to Malaysia decades ago, to understand and appreciate what our fore fathers have gone through to establish what we are now enjoying and probably would have taken for granted....China Town is truly a testament that was built with blood and sweat.