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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

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

Back in the Game (in Shanghai)

By: leelefever on August 24, 2006 - 5:55am

Just a quick note to say that we've just gotten into Shanghai from the boat journey on the Yangtze and Three Gorges.  What an experience.  We have all sorts of things to say, but we need a little time to get it all together.  The boat had dial up Internet, but we abstained.  The withdrawal wasn't too bad.

Until then, here's something shiny to look at...

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A Night in Chongqing, China

By: leelefever on August 17, 2006 - 8:26am

We are in Chingqing, China, thanks to some last minute planning. As of two days ago, we are embarking on a six day Yangtze River cruise from Chongqing to Shanghai. We leave at 11am tomorrow.

We had one night in Chongqing and decided to capture what we could on video. I ate a snail.

This is the route our boat will take over the next week (the top squiggly line). We doubt there will be Internet access, so you may not hear from us for a week or so. Until then, ask us some questions! :)

Our Route to Shanghai

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The Karsts of Guilin, China

By: leelefever on August 16, 2006 - 8:04am

As a child, I remember seeing pictures of a magical place where the earth seemed to have burst right out of it's shell and created giant rounded stone mounds, set amongst rice paddies, rivers and farms. I said then that I was going to see that place one day. Much to my enjoyment, we found this place in Guilin, China.

 The mounds are actually called karsts and are made of limstone.  200 million years ago this part of China was under the sea and limestone was thrust upward from the earth's crust and then eroded into the shapes we see today. 

The karsts are best viewed from a boat on the Li River and as most things in China, it is done as part of a package tour, complete with flag waving guide.  Our guide was the delightfully geeky "Jack". The tour included lunch and costs about US$58 per person.


 We learned today that English teachers in China often suggest western names for their students.  The person who told us was given the name "Norman" but didn't like it - so he chose "Steven" instead.

Jack led us on a 4 hour trip down the Li River, accompanied by a very long line of similar boats, each holding about 100 sweating people.

 The whole trip was narrated by a women with English skills far inferior to Jack's.  She told us how the Li River "winds through the grotesque peaks exactly like a blue silk ribbon" and how we should watch out for the peaks that "look exactly like 9 oxen".  Most aboard looked around in a confused state, amazed at the scenery nonetheless.  And the scenery was amazing.  There is surely no other place in the world like the karsts near Guilin - it's the stuff of poetry and paintings.  In fact, the area appears on the back of the 20 RMB (chinese currency) note.




Video: Small Difficulties and Challenges

By: leelefever on August 16, 2006 - 7:44am

Travel is often a series of missteps, mistakes and do-overs. Here are a few from the last few days.

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Any Questions???

By: leelefever on August 13, 2006 - 5:52pm

Whenever we spend more than a couple of hours with someone, they inevitably have lots and lots of questions - and we love to talk about our answers.  We want to give you a chance to ask us whatever you want about our trip - just leave a comment.  We're committed to being as honest as we can, but ask you to be reasonable and patient.

We'll respond in different ways- maybe as a comment, a new entry or maybe a video.  Each time we do, we will update this entry to include a link to our answer.

So what are you waiting for?  Ask away! 

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A Wild Goose Chase at the Qingping Market, Guangzhou, China

By: leelefever on August 13, 2006 - 5:38pm

We’ve finally started our month-long journey through China, starting in the huge and industrial city of Guangzhou.  This city greeted us with a couple of surprises.

Before we left I remember hearing about an amazing market in Guangzhou where you can find anything that can be eaten – including wild animals from all over China.  Upon hearing about such a market, I made sure it was part of our itinerary.  The market is called the Qingping Market and it is one of Chinas largest and most famous, for a few reasons.

Upon arriving in Guangzhou and the Victory Hotel on Shamian Island (US$50/night) I was happy to find that the Qingping Market was only a few blocks away to the north.  We would make a long, 95(f) degree day of it.

We’ve seen our share of street markets over the last 8 months and Qingping is certainly the granddaddy of them all with an unimaginable assortment of anything that can be dried and eaten, from snake skin to deer tendon and bugs, lots of bugs.  However, the market left me frustrated.  For one thing, it is hard to understand where the market ends and the city begins- there are no maps or signs or information boards (not a big surprise of course).  This set us wandering.  Second – as hard as we looked and as many people as we asked, we simply could not find the animals.  Where were the stacked cages of raccoons and civet cats?  Where is the roasted dog?  Everyone who has visited this place has been disgusted by it and dammit- we want to see why!

So we searched and asked more people and even got a map of the area that a person used to denote the location of such a place.  This sent us many blocks out of the market on a less-then-figurative wild goose chase. We found nothing.  Despite being amazed by buckets of live scorpions, eels, scary looking cats and meat hooks full of unidentifiable meat, we left disappointed that we didn’t find the animals. 

It was a frustrating failure for two people who have grown to feel confident in such situations.

Then, upon consulting the Internet, the story began to coalesce.  I saw my fist bit of evidence on this Flickr photo, which reads:

At one time, stores featured many exotic animals (for eating). Today after the SARS scare these are mostly gone, or at least hidden in back alleys.

HAH!  This was it.  It was the SARS virus! So, I looked on Google and found a little more information that actually painted the Qingping Market in a wicked light, from a microbial perspective.

This Environmental News article writes:


The Guangdong provincial Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced today that experts from Hong Kong and Guangdong have found a large quantity of the SARS-like coronavirus from civet cats and other wildlife collected from markets in Guangzhou and Shenzhen.

National Geographic writes:

Many wild and exotic animals are sold as food in China, such as these raccoons in stacked cages at the Qingping Market in Guangzhou. Some scientists warn that such conditions are ideal for a virus to jump from animals to humans, which likely happened in the case of SARS.


Ahh sweet vindication (both for our search and the wild animals)!  We had been frustrated because what we were looking for no longer exists or is too well hidden for travelers to find.  We were not being rookies- we (and the people we talked to) lacked a specific piece of information about the recent history of the market.  SARS had a very positive effect on the market overall, but one that caused us frustration for a day.

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Tech Report: Thailand Mobile Networks

By: leelefever on August 11, 2006 - 11:31pm

Part of our trip is focused on experimenting with technology and mobile networks as we travel around the world.  A tech report is our way of relating the geeky side of what we're discovering. 

In an SMS with our friend Newley Purnell in Thailand, I wrote that southern Thailand is paradise, complete with great Internet access.  In Thailand, it seems that high-speed Internet cafes are never farther than the next corner. In a number of ways, Thailand is a tech wonderland.

Our Treo 650 GSM phone integrated perfectly with the Thai network.  I asked our first taxi driver about the best mobile network and he said “AIS” and after spending nearly 2 months in Thailand I know he was right.  I bought a new SIM card ($10) with a network called “1-2-Call” and was immediately able to connect to the GPRS network (Internet access and email) and make calls.  Thanks to promotions, I often had many credits to use the GPRS network for free.  I was able to easily take pictures, send them in email to Flickr and have Flickr post the picture and entry here on TwinF immediately.  Mobile blogging was easy in Thailand and comparably cheap too.  I spent about $70 on all our mobile phones-based activities, which included daily web browsing, often for extended periods.  An unlimited data and phone plan in the US costs about $80 per month.

Mobile coverage in Thailand was ubiquitous – I don’t remember a time when we were left wanting for network service.  It was easy for us to view this kind of coverage from a tourist perspective, but the fact is that, especially in rural areas, mobile phone access is a lifeline for the Thai people.  The people who are conducting business (with or without tourism) can gain significant efficiency with a mobile network.  Look for these signs:

Bangkok and specifically the Siam Square (MBK) area of Bangkok offers some of the best technology shopping in Asia.  Bargaining is the norm and it’s advisable to pit sellers against one another to get the best price.  I bought a 2mb SD card for about US$75 and I priced the same card at $160 previously.

Before we left for the trip, I questioned the need to have a laptop computer.  In Thailand, more than any place else, the laptop came in very handy as an entertainment tool.  This, of course, is because of the incredible amount of movie and music piracy that occurs in Thailand.  Reprehensible or not, we were constantly flush with the latest flicks.

Also, I discovered a new and better way to upload pictures, blog, etc. from Internet cafes.  I used to put everything on a USB pen drive and take it to an Internet café. Now I take the whole computer with me and ask them to let me plug it into their Ethernet cable.  So far this has worked every time and I can work from the comfort and relative cleanliness of my own computer.

If you’re traveling in Thailand for more than a week or two and need to use your phone a lot, I recommend buying a new SIM card (on the AIS, 1-2-Call Network) for your mobile needs.

Tech Report: Japan

By: leelefever on August 11, 2006 - 11:11pm

Part of our trip is focused on experimenting with technology and mobile networks as we travel around the world.  A tech report is our way of relating the geeky side of what we're discovering.

Japan is one of the places in the world that one would expect to encounter the highest technology and in many ways, we were not disappointed.  However, in terms of testing and using the Japanese mobile network, we were left in the cold. Japan’s mobile network evolved without integration with the GSM international standards. So my Treo 650 was worthless in Japan.  GSM “worldphones” will not integrate with the Japanese network, though the word on the street is that this may change soon. Japan does use CDMA, but it is not as prevalent as their PDC system. 

This quote from an informative Japan Zone article may help:

Very briefly, there are three mobile phone technologies supported by the major networks within Japan - PDC (Personal Digital Cellular), CDMA (Code Divisional Multiple Access) and WCDMA. DoCoMo, Vodafone and TU-KA support the established PDC, and DoCoMo and Vodafone have also introduced the newer WCDMA, while AU supports CDMA. All three of these technologies are incompatible with each other.

It is possible to rent phones while in Japan, but we didn’t.

Within Japan, the mobile network is quite sophisticated.  One of the more advanced capabilities I experienced was when we met up with Gen Kanai in Tokyo.  He looked up a restaurant’s phone number, put the number into the GPS tool on his phone and then had the phone lead us to the restaurant with a dynamic map and car-style voice commands. Mobile GPS- very cool and something I think (hope) we’ll all have in the US soon.

I had assumed that the Japanese are big users of SMS (short message system), but this is not the case.  They do use their phones for text communication, but it all occurs via email, not SMS.  The difference is the same as it is between instant messaging and email on your home computer. 

More than any other Asian country, in-room Internet access in the norm, and often with blazing fiber-optic connection speeds.  I made a habit of bit-torrenting all sorts of things while in Japan. Internet cafés are accessible from nearly everywhere, but not nearly as pervasively as in other Asian countries. Like the US, I imagine that home computers and mobile capabilities limit demand for cafés.

Wi-fi is available somewhat ubiquitously, though we did not seek it out often. In most urban settings, I would see networks available, but mostly secured.  In the remote Alpine  mountain village of Kamikochi, where there is not really even a town, we found a strong wi-fi signal, much to our delight. 

If I could do it over again, I would likely rent a Japanese phone and give it a test run.  It is also important to remember that buying electronics abroad can sometimes be hazardous.  Products like cameras, computers, etc. are meant for the Japanese public and not visitors so they have instruction manuals, cords and even keyboards/controls built to Japanese specifications. 

Hong Kong Video

By: leelefever on August 10, 2006 - 9:09am

We shot a lot of things in Hong Kong, but these things rose to the top. Enjoy!

If you want more info on the century egg, Wikipedia has a good explanation.
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Hong Kong's Modern Efficiency

By: leelefever on August 10, 2006 - 3:45am

After being in SE Asia for a while, Hong Kong was a bit like a trip home.  While it is a very westernized city, it retains enough of the Chinese and general Asian “feel” to make it interesting and foreign. We fell in love with the city over about 6 days.

The incredible efficiency of Hong Kong was most fascinating to me.  Looking around, there are so many things that I hope we’ll see in Seattle.

The first and coolest is the “Octopus Card”, which operates like a debit card and works for all city transit, 7-11s, McDonalds,  drug stores, supermarkets etc.  Anywhere you see the little Octopus card reader, you can press your card onto it and money will be deducted from your prepaid account.  The first time I used it at a 7-11, the first words out of my mouth were “holy sh*t that's efficient!”  You don’t even have to take the card out of a wallet or purse- just hold it over the reader and the money is zapped out.

Last night over dinner we talked to some locals who showed us their Octopus card which had their picture and information on it.  For them, the card is used to open the door of their home and other places that require membership.  They said that some schools even use Octopus cards for daily attendance.  By their estimates, 90-95% of all Hong Kong people have one and most people love it.  For people who are worried about privacy or Big Brother, they can choose to get a card with no personal connection.  However, they lose some of the convenience.  Seattle needs this.

In busy restaurants, the servers have wireless ear pieces that are used for constant communications among the staff.  It’s invisible to the customer, but the communication makes service seem magical, as if they are almost reading your mind.  You walk in the door and each server looks up and guides you along your way as you wind through the restaurant.  The teamwork is remarkable.

The public busses are generally double decker.  That’s all I have to say about that.

I’ve never waited so little for the subway.  We never waited more than 2 minutes for the next MTR train to arrive and when it did, it would never get too packed with people.  Because they run so regularly and often, as a train fills up, people often choose to wait for the next one instead of forcing their way into an already full train.

The world needs more escalators if you ask me.  Hong Kong has hot weather and hills- a good recipe for putting escalators to good use. In the hills rising up from the Central area of downtown there are a system of covered escalators called the Mid-Levels, which efficiently shuttle people to and from their hillside high-rise residences and the hip café-culture neighborhood called Soho.  The Mid-Levels system ascends 800 meters up the hill, running downhill in the morning and uphill in the afternoon.

Hong Kong must be one of the best air conditioned places on earth.  We made up a couple of names for our interaction with the cool air:

  • AC Poaching – This is shopping in a store for the single purpose of cooling down. 
  • The Hong Kong Arctic Wind – Shops blast cool air onto the sidewalk as an invitation to come inside for some AC poaching.  In the dense retail areas of Kowloon the Arctic Wind seemed to lower the overall sidewalk temperature a few precious degrees.

Hong Kong even seems to have served one of my long standing culinary pet peeves.  I have never understood why shrimp are served with the tail attached.  You often see a nice grilled or sautéed shrimp arrive at your plate with the tail on; obscuring a section of meat and causing the consumer to have to clumsily remove the tail before eating it.  So far in Hong Kong, my shrimps have arrived as whole shrimps, tails removed but hidden meat intact.  Again, Hong Kong makes something more efficient.

Hong Kong’s efficiency is surely rooted in the money that flows through the city more quickly than almost any city in the world.  Hong Kong is quite good at making it easy for people to depart with their money.  When it comes in the form of something like the Octopus Card, I’m almost happy to see it go.

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