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Visiting Kuala Lumpur’s Chinese and Indian districts

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I was in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, last month and strolled around the city’s Chinese and Indian quarters. Even though I’d been to KL before, I’d never been to some of the streets and temples I stumbled upon this time.

I visited the Hindu temple Sri Mahamariamman, for example. Amazingly colorful. A feast for the eye. The Chinese shrines were somewhat more serene. Strong smell of incense.

All of these places of worship, as well as the streets of Chinatown and Little India were amazing. An exotic mix of smells and sounds. Strange and wonderful to the Western eye.

Strolling through these multi-cultural streets of Kuala Lumpur, you understand the truth in Malaysia’s old tourism slogan: Malaysia, truly Asia.

Music: Last Affair & Gita Lulin Maung Ko Ko with his Studio Ensemble featuring Yadana Oou – Zega Wa (UKoKo) (Film Music 1978 “Popa Phuza”)

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Written by Thorsten

October 8, 2012 at 9:56 pm

Macau’s Venetian Hotel is Venice on steroids

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The Venetian Hotel, MacauMacau’s Venetian Hotel isn’t your quiet little neighborhood Bed and Breakfast.

With its 40 stories, 3000 suites and 980 000 square meters, it’s the fourth largest building in the world by area.

According to the Venetian website, the hotel is large enough to hold ninety Boeing 747 jumbo jets.

And after having visited the Venetian myself, I think that’s probably not even exaggerated.

This hotel is mind-blowing

Macau’s Venetian Hotel is gigantic. It totally floored me. After a few hours in this huge hotel, casino and shopping complex, I was gasping for air.

Even though I was in many ways fascinated by this artificial, alluring, air conditioned environment, I just wanted to get out and get back in touch with the real world.

At Macau’s Venetian Hotel, everything is on a super-human scale. The hotel corridors are as wide as highways. Walking down these long corridors, I felt dwarfed by the dimensions.

signs help hotel guests find their wayThe hotel is so confusingly complex that there are signs everywhere pointing visitors the way. Otherwise the guests would just get lost.

The hotel has to  supply visitors with hotel maps to help them find their way in this super-structure.

As you wander these hallways and look at all the gold plated ornaments and crystal chandeliers, you get an impression of how much money the casinos must generate.

Because, after all, it’s the casino money that pays for all this nouveau riche splendor.

According to Germany’s stern magazine, the Venetian cost more than two billion US dollars to build. That’s a lot. But it may not take the Venetian long to pay off that huge investment.

Another Macau hotel, The Sands, cost some one billion Euros ($ 1.35 billion). And it took The Sands only eleven months to get out of the red, writes Germany’s renowned Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper.

Big casinos mean big money

Macau has surpassed Las Vegas with regard to revenues from the casinos.

Macau’sVenetian boasts the largest casino in the world, with 3400 slot machines and more than 800 gambling tables. And the casino is never empty – it’s one of the busiest places in the whole hotel complex.

Unfortunately, photography isn’t allowed in the casinos, so I couldn’t take any pictures in that part of the hotel.

indoor canals in the third floor shopping mall

Shopping in an air-conditioned version of Venice

Unlike the casinos, the shopping mall on the third floor of the Venetian doesn’t seem to generate a lot of revenue.

When I was there, it was virtually deserted. Only a few people strolled around luxurious fashion and jewellery stores.

But it seemed to me that everyone just looked, and no one bought anything. I hardly saw anybody with shopping bags.

The main attractions of the shopping mall at the Venetian are the canals and the gondolas. It’s an indoor Venice with eternal blue skies and air-conditioning.

Chinese gondoliers Some of the gondoliers are really imported from Europe or America, but many are Chinese.

And just like the real Italian gondoliers in Venice, these Chinese copies serenade the tourists with schmaltzy belcanto opera arias.

It’s really pretty absurd if you think about it: Chinese men, costumed as Italian gondoliers, pretending to stoke a motorized gondola through fake canals on the third floor of a hotel complex in Asia.

Does life get any more bizarre?

Written by Thorsten

May 18, 2009 at 3:19 pm

China’s first sex theme park sparks controvery

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China Daily, Friday, May 15, 2009

China Daily, Friday, May 15, 2009

Usually, the English language China Daily newspaper makes pretty boring reading.

But this morning, I nearly choked on my buttered toast when I read a story in this paper about the first Chinese sex theme park.

Love Land is due to open in Chongqing in South-West China in October.

It will feature giant replicas of genitals, sculptures of naked humans, a photo exhibit about the history of sex and sex technique workshops.

Not bad for a country, where sex is still something that you don’t talk about in public.

So it’s no wonder that this project has sparked a heated debate in China.

Is Love Land vulgar or educational?

China Daily quotes Liu Daiwei, a policewoman from Chongqing, who says that she’ll feel uncomfortable to look at “these things…when other people are around.”

The paper also cites an unidentified netizen as saying “these vulgar sex installments will only make people sick.”

The manager of the sex theme park, Lu Xiaoqing, says was prepared for Love Land to generate controversy.

According to the China Daily Lu says that he’s building the sex theme park for the good of the public.

“Sex is a taboo subject in China, but people really need to have more access to information,” the China Daily quotes him as saying.

“I have found that the majority of people support my idea but I have to pay attention and not make the park look to vulgar and nasty,” Lu says.

“We hope our Love Land can also become a landmark in Chonqing when it finishes,” Lu goes on.

I wonder what Chairman Mao would say to all this…

UPDATE: On Monday, May 19, 2009, the China Daily reported on its front page: “Sex-theme park closed prematurely … With its adult and explicit themes, the country’s first sex theme park proved to be ‘too hot’ for local authorities, and was torn down over the weekend … ‘Vulgar, ill-minded and misleading’ was the official reaction on the park, which was slated for an October opening.”

Written by Thorsten

May 15, 2009 at 11:31 am

Marry in Macau – but bring your own food

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downtown MacauMost travel books and travel websites describe Macau as a gourmet’s paradise.

After having been here for a week, I can’t really agree.

And I suspect that all those rave review about the great Portuguese and Chinese food you can find in Macau must somehow have been masterminded by the Macau board of tourism.

Where’s the beef?

For the first couple of days in Macau, we had a hard time even finding restaurants.

In other cities, you come across dozens of decent eateries just by exploring any downtown street.

In Beijing or Shanghai, for instance, locals and tourists love to go out to eat. There are amazing restaurants everywhere. I kind of expected the same from Macau.

But in Macau’s downtown streets, all you see is some neon-lit snack bars or very basic eateries. And these places tend to offer low quality at a high price.

We felt disappointed or even ripped off almost every night.

I guess there must be great restaurants in some of the big hotels – but you’d probably have to win big at the local casinos before you could afford to have dinner there every night.

After our fourth or fifth disappointing dinner here, we finally found some reasonable places in the area behind Avenida Dr. Sun Yat-Sen.

There are Indian, Lebanese, Italian paces that offer pretty good food at moderate prices (I highly recommend the food at “Taste of India“, although the service may be a bit slow there sometimes).

Less restaurants, more wedding outfitters than elsewhere

wedding serviceMacau may have less downtown restaurants, but it definitely has more wedding outfitters than any city I’ve been to recently.

On some commercial streets, the competition is so tight that you wonder how they can all survive.

The wedding dresses and tuxedos displayed in the shop windows are probably best described with words like interesting, daring, different or colorful.

wedding gowns in a store windowIt seems to me that some of those Macau fashion designers have seen too many pictures of Louis XIV and the fashions at the French court of the 17th century.

Their gowns are an extravaganza of frills and rhinestones. The colors range from purple to canary-yellow to turquoise.

photos for the wedding albumOf course they also have white wedding dresses – these are probably the most popular.

At least white dresses are all you see when you see couples at the picturesque places of Macau, posing for the pictures that will make up their wedding albums.

But the wedding outfitters hardly ever dress their store dummies in those elegant white outfits.

purple brideThey mostly put the other colors and designs on display.

I guess they hope to encourage prospective couples to go for those more colorful version of their Louis XXXII creations.

Here’s to purple, yellow and flamingo-colored brides.

And good luck at trying to find a restaurant for the wedding party in Macau…

Written by Thorsten

May 11, 2009 at 7:12 am

Life on the back streets of Beijing

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Written by Thorsten

April 1, 2009 at 4:54 am

Posted in china, observations

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Beijing bric à brac

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Old market seller at Panjiayuan fleamarketWhen grandpa Zhang in Beijng cleans out his attic, he’s likely to find different stuff than grandpa Smith in Smalltown, USA.

No tacky 1950’s coffee pots, no freaky 1960’s hippy outfit, no funky 1970’s rugs.

Instead, your average Chinese might find propaganda pamphlets from the Cultural Revolution, some creaky old chairs that could have belonged to an imperial concubine or blue-and-white pottgery that may just be from the Ming dynasty.

You can find all of these things at Beijing’s Panjiayuan fleamarket. It’s open every weekend and it’s Beijing’s best place to look for antiques and handicrafts.

Some 3000 sellers offer anything from embroydered silk to stone buddhas and from ancient chinese porcellain to Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book.

Panjiayuan fleamarket is a treasure trove for collectors of Asian antiques and for souvenir hunters.

But what always amazes me is how different the buying and browsing behavior of the Chinese is from that of the Westerners.

You’ll often see old Chinese men huddled over pottery sherds that look like they were just picked from a trash heap.

Yet these Chinese connoisseurs closely examine the sherds with magnifying glasses, they hold them against the light, weigh them, discuss their artistic value. I guess they’re hoping to find real Ming or Qing Dynasty treasures.

Did Mao really drink Coke?Westerners, on the other hand, are mostly fascinated by the colorful handicrafts from remote Chinese provinces, by Ming-style paintings and revolutionary kitsch from the Mao era.

But beware:  at Panjiayuan not everything that looks antique is really old.

Something tells me that many of the things on offer were definitely made after the revolution.

But who cares – Panjiayuan is a great place to browse, to bargain and to buy.

Written by Thorsten

March 29, 2009 at 4:29 am

Talking taxi in Beijing

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in a Beijing taxiTaking a taxi in Beijing is fascinating. I’ve never been to another city where all the taxi drivers listen to talk programs on their car radios. None of them has the radio tuned to a music station or is listening to a CD.

Enter any Beijing taxi, and you’ll most likely be catapulted into a Chinese radio play or story.

These stories are told by actors with wonderful voices. Voices that can go from gentle to thunderous within a few seconds. Voices that can express fear, joy, or rage. Voices that you’ll love listening to even if you don’t understand a word of Chinese.

I wonder how many of these radio plays an average Beijing taxi driver will hear during his career.

And I wonder how the Chinese passengers feel who reach their destination just when the story is approaching its climax. Will they pay more so they can hear the end of the story?

Written by Thorsten

March 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Posted in china, observations, travel

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