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This website chronicles our trip around the world in 2006. It has lots of photos, videos and stories. We invite you to come in, relax and enjoy the scenery.

~Lee and Sachi LeFever


To see what we're up to now, check LeeLeFever.com or CommonCraft.com

Our Recent Dispatches Are Below. RSS

A Dispatch is a report from our trip. Browse via keywords or global map.

Shanghai in Video

By: leelefever on September 3, 2006 - 6:51pm

The music in this video is from a jazz bar in Shanghai called the Cotton Club, which we really enjoyed. Make a reservation or come at 9pm for a seat.


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Shanghai in Photos

By: leelefever on September 3, 2006 - 5:33pm

I'm a little conflicted about Shanghai after spending about 10 days there. Without a doubt, it is an amazingly modern, shiny, commercially-oriented city that is becoming a 21st century New York City or Hong Kong.  It's alive with energy and fun.  However, I can't quite put my finger on it, but it feels like something is missing.  Sometimes I feel like Shanghai has no heart.

For the traveler, Shanghai offers only glimpses of old Shanghai.  Everyday the old parts of the city are being bulldozed to make room for skyscrapers and shopping centers. Shanghai is not a place to reflect on the past, but consider the future.  Modern commercialism is alive and well in Shanghai and it sometimes beats you over the head.  As a Dutch guy we met put it "I feel like a walking wallet in Shanghai". Indeed.

Many times we've discussed how China is more like a young country than an ancient one.  Some say that it is only about 20 years old because the Mao's Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) essentially erased all things Chinese. I think this is the case with Shanghai - it is like a teenager who is working hard to find the identity that will define them as an adult.  The symbol of this adolescence to me is the Pearl City Tower.

 The tower was built in 1994 and I imagine that it was to be a symbol of a city that is focused on the future.  Unfortunately, I think the tower looks less like the future and more like what people thought the future would look like in 1950.  With garish pink glass and blinking colored lights at night, the tower appears dated and conflicts with the elegance found elsewhere in the city. I chalk it up to a teenage "phase".

The elegance I refer to can be found in the same picture above on the right - the 88 story JinMao tower. One of the top 5 tallest buildings in the world and built four years after the Pearl City, I consider one of the most beautiful skyscrapers I've seen.

And the inside is equally as impressive - especially the highest hotel in the world, the Grand Hyatt Shanghai.  The hotel starts on the 56th floor and reaches 33 stories to the top, including a dizzying atrium the whole way up.  We checked- rooms cost about US$240 and it's located in Pudong- a business district.

 One of Shanghai's proud possessions is a what is called the "fastest train in the world" called the MagLev (Magnetic Levetation).  We were a little disappointed because the top operational speed is supposed to be 429 kph (267 mph) but our train only got to 301 kph (the speed is displayed inside).  Still impressive, but I think we were a little spoiled by the Japanese Shinkansen, which offers a much smoother ride, despite not floating on air.   

 If you get a chance, I sincerely recommend getting a haircut in another country.  It offers a truly local experience.  I chose to go to a place that was a bit more stylish than I would at home, but it was worth it (US$8).  Approximately 75% of the time I spent there, I was being massaged, which was a total surprise - all I needed was clippers and I could do the haircut myself.  As Richard mentioned - this photo looks like I'm being mercilessly attacked with a machete. It's just an arm massage.

 The Shanghai folks are surely the most stylish in China that we have seen and just as concerned with the darkening effects of the sun as others in Asia, where whitening creams are advertised everywhere.  The photo below was taken in the sun- not the rain.  All the umbrellas are for the sun and represent a giant hazard to my eyes.

 Despite some of my mixed feelings, I really did enjoy the time in Shanghai and would go back in a second.  I suppose I just had different expectations. It is clear from being there that it is a city of the future.  What Shanghai will become and how they deal with things like air quality is going to be very interesting.  



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TwinF - Now Geotagged on Flickr

By: leelefever on September 2, 2006 - 5:56am

Flickr is surely one of the best websites evar.  We're using it to archive and organize the photos that we'd like to share on the web.  Just recently they released a new feature called Geo Tagging that allows you to arrange your photos on a map.  So, being the Flickr nerd that I am, you can now browse all our TwinF photos on a Flickr map

 

 Enjoy!


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Enough with the Heat Already!

By: sachilefever on September 1, 2006 - 2:19am

Everyday in Shanghai it seems to be 95 degrees with 95% humidity making it a chore to walk more than a few blocks during the day. Our East Asia hotel (US$45) is on a pedestrian thoroughfare, Nanjing Dong Lu, filled with Giordano and Sofitel side-by-side with small dumpling shops and McDonalds ice cream windows. Each evening at 5:00 we hear a saxophonist on a colonial balcony across the street begin playing overwhelmingly loud but somewhat soothing renditions of Tennessee Waltz and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. For us it signals the cooler hours have finally begun. 

Most of this trip has been over 88 degrees and we are both ready for the heat to be OVER. Lee has sworn off his sweat-soaked cotton T-shirts, and I’ve found it’s a much more pleasant experience if I don’t wear tank tops here (more stares), so we are both down to two shirts which are washed every second day. I can’t believe China wants to have the Olympics during mid-August just because of a lucky number (It starts on 08/08/08). I wish luck to the poor athletes and spectators who will have to endure it…but I digress.

The countdown is now on for cooler weather!  After 6 days in Beijing, we jump on the train to Ulanbaatar, Mongolia where we are expecting to start days of 53F and nights of 33F! From there we go into Siberia and further into the cooler weather of fall for the rest of the trip.  Sweet relief!

We were so excited we decided to each get a pair of jeans, which we haven’t had all year. But it’s more difficult than you might think when every store’s largest size is still not enough. Coming out of the fitting room asking for the third time “Even bigger?” and seeing the clerk shake her head is a pride-swallowing scene for any Westerner. They would just take one look at Lee and say “No…too big.” Today we finally found a pair at Basic Jeans for about $28, and it will be just right for Siberia’s cooler temperatures.

Until then, we look forward to the saxophonist each evening and finally being able to be outside without sweating profusely, even if it’s still too hot to wear our new jeans.


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Indoor Snowboarding, Shanghai, China

By: leelefever on August 30, 2006 - 8:04pm

We missed doing this in Tokyo, so in Shanghai we had to check out the Yinqixing Indoor Skiing Park. It cost about $US18 per person for 2 hours and took about 45 minutes to get to from downtown Shanghai. It was surely worth it, not because of the quality of the skiing, but for the experience.


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Video: China's Three Gorges Dam Project

By: leelefever on August 29, 2006 - 6:25am

I've been playing with some other formats for our videos. This one is a documentary-style video, done as a narrative about the world's largest dam project, the Three Gorges Dam, and its effects on the locals. Part of our 6 day trip on the Yangtze took us to the dam through it's five locks. I hope you find the video interesting, even if I didn't eat anything strange.


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Happy Anniversary to Us!

By: leelefever on August 28, 2006 - 12:47am

 It's been two wonderful years.  If you're feeling sentimental yourself, you might be interested in how I asked Sachi to marry me.

Tonight it's French food in the French Concession area of Shanghai.  Bon Appetit!   


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Lessons in Line Breaking

By: leelefever on August 27, 2006 - 1:54am

I had made a decision and I was going to act on it.  Gone were the days of standing passively in line while Chinese people wedge themselves in front of me and place an order before I could react.  I was going stand up for myself and try to be a little more Chinese.

This is not the kind of thing you can plan – it just has to happen and just last night, I had my chance.  We were in the Shanghai subway terminal in line for our first subway card at a vending machine, as we’ve done so many times before in other cities.  Just as the couple in front of me at the machine received their card and turned away, a young Chinese guy stepped directly in front of me.  So, with great determination, I stepped in front of him enough to place my right shoulder at about his eye level and in a single motion stepped directly in front of the vending machine.   It was mine!  HAHA!  I’ll show you line breaker!  I’m no push-over tourist softy!

So there I was, with this foreign and unfamiliar machine staring me in the face.  It was mine, yes, but I realized all too quickly that I had no idea how to use it.  The instructions were in English and the #1 read “Select Fare”.  Scratching my head with waves of embarrassment pending, I searched the machine for anything that said “Fare”.  Nothing.  I inquisitively pressed a couple of random buttons in the hopes that something would happen. Nothing.  My pride was on the line here and I was blowing it!  Thoughts of fleeing in shame entered my mind when I heard a voice over my shoulder, “Where do you need to go?”  It was the line breaker politely asking a simple question that I couldn’t answer completely.  All we knew was that we needed to go two stops on Line 2.  He ended up doing the whole transaction for me and after many “thank yous” I left with our subway cards in hand and my pride more than a little crushed.

The moral here is that if you’re going to try to act like a local, be prepared for the entire event.  Going off half-cocked is a good way to shoot yourself in the foot.


The Fellowship of the Flag

By: leelefever on August 25, 2006 - 9:20pm

By all accounts, the Yangtze cruise was an amazing experience and one that exceeded our expectations.  It also reminded us how much we value our independence as travelers.

We’ve often witnessed large groups of people being led around popular tourist sites by someone holding a colored flag and possibly a loudspeaker slung across their shoulder.  These are usually groups that arrive by bus and travel together as part of a package tour. For the first time on the trip, we became part of one of these groups, and it sometimes made us want to scream.

China is the sort of place that is often best explored with a tour group, as sites are set up to manage groups and not the independent traveler.  After all, we heard it was only 20 years ago that each tour group had a “government spy” that would submit a report to the central government about the sights seen and questions asked.  I suppose we should feel lucky to have access at all.

At least once each day, we would be led off the boat and onto a bus where a government-employed tour guide for the day would provide information about the sites and answer questions. Upon arriving at a destination, we would disembark the bus and follow the flag to a meeting spot, where more details would follow.  Sometimes, you could break away, other times you had to stay with the group, all being herded through the tourist area as if we might get lost or hurt ourselves without the flag being in sight at all times. 

After traveling independently for so long we came to resent the flag and all for which it stands.  We mocked the flag and joked about how we wish we had a flag in all parts of our lives.  We called ourselves The Fellowship of the Flag. The flag became the symbol for all the things that we eschew about dependent travel.  Once, upon being told where and when to meet the group Sachi looked at me and said “There is something about being told when and where to be that makes me sick.”  I know how she felt.

The flag does offer some security I suppose and the flag bearer is often a knowledgeable and friendly person.  However, as we discovered at Yellow Mountain, the flag bearer can ruin a day.  I had been looking forward to Yellow Mountain for many months as it is the place of classic Chinese mountain scenery, with steep misty and craggy cliffs. 

 

 

Unfortunately, our flag bearer was a control freak.  All we wanted to do was be on our own and return at a specified time to catch the bus – but this guy would not let us.  I asked him for information so we could leave the group and he would blatantly ignore me and only say “it is a highlight, I’ll take you there”.  Then as Sachi asked “Can you show it to us on the map?” He just stared at her defiantly in the face and puffed away on his cigarette.  You could almost hear him saying to himself “independence in NOT a virtue”.

We and a few other Western couples attempted a break-away while waiting for the geezers in the group to ascend the steps but he stopped us in our tracks saying that he needed to “make an important announcement" – more waiting.  In the end, we spent about two-thirds of our time waiting around with the flag Nazi and one-third actually exploring the scenery.  He made us feel as if we were 5 years old and he was the sage grandfather who held the sacred knowledge of the mountain.  This grandfather never uttered a word of wisdom, except where to go to catch the next cablecar.

Somehow we have made it through over 12 countries just fine without a flag leading the way and if we have a choice, the next twelve will be flag-less as well.


Video: The Yangtze River's Three Gorges, China

By: leelefever on August 25, 2006 - 6:53am

There may be fewer places in the world that are sparking more environmental controversy that the Three Gorges section of China's Yangtze River, where the world's largest dam project is almost complete. More on that soon. Despite the dam, the gorges before the dam remain a beautiful place and this video (hopefully) captures some of the beauty that, as of October of this year, will be further underwater.