I was lucky to spend a weekend in Seattle recently, and it was my first time to really experience the city. I found it to be a really lively, quirky, and eclectic place. It seemed to have so much condensed in so much less space than I'm used to, which was cool.
I liked the huge variety of restaurants (I heard they even had several chocolate and bakery tasting tours in the city). I loved the arrays of quirky shops one after another (like Bella Umbrella [an umbrella store], a hat store, an Afghani clothing store, a lavender store, a magic shop, a dog shop, a Mexican folk arts store [all around the same block]). I thought the fish throwers in Pike Place were cool, and I liked the first Starbucks with the original, more risqué, logo. It was sad how the first Starbucks was so packed with tourists that it didn't even have tables to enjoy your coffee there.
Tea tasting at a Chinese tea shop was fun. The actual tea was pretty inexpensive.
I saw several "teriyaki + nails" places: Japanese food on the first floor and nail salon on the second floor (but sharing the same banner space in the window making it look like it was teriyaki nails).
Aqua Restaurant and Steelhead Diner: mmm good.
Post alley: Got to add some gum to the famous (and slightly disgusting) gumwall and caught a really funny improv comedy show by Unexpected Productions.
Space Needle and monorail were cool.
Grayline Bus Tour and Underground Tour (showing the city fire and reconstruction) were cool.
Fran's Chocolates: Loved the chocolate portrait that was 5' x 7' made of chocolate. Had the best hot chocolate I've ever had in the U.S. at this place. Salted caramels were great too.
Lots of dogs everywhere! I heard about some area within Seattle that has a 2:1 dog:kid ratio.
Chihuly garden and glass exhibit: Really cool museum.
In the spirit of catching up on overdue blog posts, I wanted to share some of my impressions from my trip to Hong Kong. I was able to take some classes from Chinese University of Hong Kong professors, and I found it fascinating how the "One Country, Two Systems" approach is working and enjoyed learning about all the various accounting problems with Chinese publicly-listed firms and meet with some local companies over there. It was my first time in Asia, and I loved the old temples and eastern architecture. The food was, to put it mildly, a bit too exotic for my taste (details below), but besides that, I had a great time. Definitely can't wait to go back and see other countries in Asia sometime in the future.Arrival impressions
Day 1 impressions
- Huge distances in airport and driving
- Huge number of people
- Tall ceilings in airport
- Super modern city
- Literally a concrete jungle
- Weird juxtaposition with beautiful harbor
- Bridges lit up by colored lights
- People very systematic, strict (taxi line, baggage in trunk)
Day 2 impressions
- 10,000 Buddhas Monastery awesome
- Lots of greenery
- Mix of traditional pagodas and modern apartment buildings
- Wong Tai Sin Temple
- Lots of religious observers
- Huge urban sprawl
- Clean subway, efficient
- Reminds me of Batman/Gotham City, The Matrix (modern, concrete)
- Feel suprirsingly comfortable though
- Dim Sum @ Maxim's (good)
- Most people speak English
- Interesting, exotic foods (bird's nest soup made of bird saliva, squid legs, deep fried baby pigeon, ox stomach, sesame ball, broiled crocodile cheek)
- Many eat soup for breakfast
- Asian bakeries in subway
- Victoria Peak cool ascent
- Beautiful harbor
- Dinner at harbor, light show
- Ladies' Market (hundreds of vendors selling the same counterfeit luxury goods and tech items, hundreds of copies of the same place)
Last few days impressions
- Campus beautiful, modern, like Anderson (same classroom format)
- Problems with corporate social responsibility in China (corruption, other countries like Vietnam competitive, government not enforcing laws like work hours and overtime)
- How to enter Chinese market and transitions over last 30 years in openness of China
- Cash is king, equity and bonuses less trusted at start-ups
- Saving for healthcare expenses, buying houses and cars because no one borrows
- Healthcare system a mess, have to give bribes to surgeons, over diagnosing due to bribes for surgery, too many c-sections, have to pay entry fee in cash to enter hospital, births on street
- Weddings very different: 3 dresses, no eating, shots at each table, no seats for bride and groom, have to be walking around toasting, must do lunch or else think it's second wedding if do dinner, no dancing but karaoke
- Lightshow not as good as at Epcot
- People in China not aware of what's out there in terms of freedom so don't care about government control; it's how they grew up
- Mainland China green
- Shenzhen similar to Hong Kong
- Mao propaganda everywhere: special line for communist party members at customs, every currency bill has Mao, face appears above stage in theater
- Not too much fun people having there
- Working hard
- Big industry, old buildings
- Did see however a customer satisfaction survey at Chinese customs (whoa)
- Freeways right above roads, like Gotham City
I'm on the plane to Hong Kong and about to spend a week learning about doing business in China through a UCLA Anderson trip. I'm very excited because this is my first trip to Asia, and I'm interested in learning about how entrepreneurship and small business works over there.
I've heard the architecture and culture are very different from the United States, though Hong Kong I expect won't be as drastic of a departure. Even so, I hope to get a flavor for some of the more traditional culture, architecture, food, and music while I'm there. I'm looking forward to meeting with real businesses, getting to know the business students at Chinese University Hong Kong, and trying to some real dim sum. I've also heard the light show at the harbor is beautiful, and I'm a big fan
of light shows
Also, as someone with a finance background, I'm excited to see one of the four "Asian Tigers" and one of the world's financial centers in action. I've heard that relationships and personal contacts are much more critical in Asian business, and I'm looking forward to learning more about that. Do people "network"? How do you meet new people? Do people give each other intros? How prevalent is bribery?
Overall, I'm very excited and will report what I learn soon.
Below are great articles I've run across in my preparations and research.WSJ: After Earning Cash in China, The Trick Is Getting It OutWSJ: DreamWorks in China
Really interesting article about modern HK-Mainland relations: MSNBC: Birth rights battle: China vs. Hong Kong
Understanding China and censorship: MakeUseOf: How To See If Any Website Is Blocked In China
An Overview On Doing Business In China: Intro
Foreign Entrepreneurs in China: A JV Survival Guide: Article 1
, Article 2 BBC: Hong Kong entrepreneur finds opportunity in city’s darkest momentTechCrunch: From Zynga To Flipboard: Why All Eyes Are On China For The Next Mobile BoomWSJ: China Premier Wen Jiabao Backs Financial Market Reform9 Trends in Chinese EntrepreneurshipIn search of best dim sum in Hong Kong
I was lucky to visit Walt Disney World for the first time in my life this past week. On the one hand, the weather was great, but on the other, it was the busiest week possible for the theme parks. Given the craziness of the week, I learned a lot of lessons during the trip on what worked and didn't work. I also spent some time researching and preparing for the trip beforehand at the recommendation of some good friends, and I just wanted to share what I learned in case it can help other travelers.
The advice and observations below are made from the perspective of a twenty-something male with no children and a large appetite for action and rides, so the points below might not apply to everyone.
- Disney has four main theme parks in the area (Magic Kingdom [poor imitation of Disneyland], Epcot, Hollywood Studios [poor imitation of Universal], and Animal Kingdom), each of which requires a full day to cover.
- Besides the four major Disney parks, there are also several Disney water parks.
- Besides the Disney area, there are also Universal Studios, Sea World, and (I'm sure) many others.
- Plus, there are lots of non-theme park things to do, like golf and shopping (Downtown Disney [like our Universal CityWalk] and others like it).
- A great book I read was Eyewitness's Walt Disney World Resort & Orlando.
Accommodations and transportation:
- There are many Disney hotels right near the parks.
- If you stay at a Disney hotel, you get to go to one theme park per day for an extra hour before anyone else can.
- The closer the hotel to the Magic Kingdom, the more luxurious and expensive.
- There are Disney dining plans, which might give some sort of savings but do come with restrictions.
- The area is HUGE and takes 20+ minutes to make a trip from most of the hotels to any of the theme parks.
- If you stay at a Disney hotel, you can take free shuttle buses and ferries to get to the theme parks. These are a nice convenience, but they can get very crowded and sometimes make many stops and take a while.
- There are also taxis available. A trip is about $18 from hotel to park, but it's a lot faster and direct than a shuttle, so you can use it in case of emergency (or if you slept in late).
- Biggest obstacles when the parks are this crazy: strollers and scooters/electric wheelchairs. Watch out for the stampede, and definitely avoid the mid-day parade routes.
- Animal Kingdom is awesome. Real animals, unique walking paths and rides, really cool (especially for those who have already been to Disneyland).
- Epcot's World Showcase features architecture, food, and movies from many of the world's countries. Each area is manned by employees who immigrated from that country, which is really fun. This part of Epcot was my favorite.
- Most parks have an end-of-day show. Fantasmic (at Hollywood Studios) is just like at Disneyland, and so it's very good. I thought the fireworks at Epcot were really cool as well. You need to find a spot to view any end-of-day show about an hour in advance.
- Disney World has a deal with Verizon that its mobile customers can access a special app to view waiting times. All other people can view them on the general mobile site (though the information is more limited -- no specific waiting times just low/medium/high).
- I used an iPhone app with crowd-sourced waiting times that worked decently well (it also had show schedules and opening times).
- (AT&T) cell phone reception wasn't great at the parks, maybe due to the large number of people there that week, so don't rely on phones for very important communications. Try to plan as much as you can in advance. Portable family radios might be nice to carry for groups.
- Get to the parks as early as you can. It's tough if you stay for the end-of-day show the previous night, but do your best. 8am and 9am are still ok for ride waiting times, but by 11am, the park is packed.
- Get FastPasses every 2 hours to the rides in highest demand. You can come back and ride them anytime after the FastPass window you receive.
- Make dinner reservations ahead of time. I totally didn't expect to need to do that, but when my friends recommended it to me and I checked availability online, I realized they were right. There are about 2-3 really nice places in each park, and the "normal" meal times fill up weeks ahead of time.
- The Cinderella restaurant in the Magic Kingdom apparently fills up months ahead of time, so if you have little kids, you'll want to bring them there. If you don't, just stop by and take a peek; it's a pretty restaurant.
- There are some surprisingly good lunch places in each park as well, and these take reservations as well (and they book up days ahead of time). I was always used to just eating "theme park food," and on this trip, I learned I could actually eat nice, healthy, non-fried food in quieter, sit-down environments, which offered a nice break in the day.
- Animal Kingdom Tusker House
- Animal Kingdom The Yak and Yeti
- Epcot Biergarten
- Epcot Bistro de Paris (one of the best soufflés of my life)
- Hollywood Studios Prime Time 50s Cafe (awesome decor)
- Hollywood Studios Hollywood Brown Derby
- Magic Kingdom Tony's Town Square
- Magic Kingdom Liberty Tree Tavern
- Animal Kingdom Expedition Everest (really nice coaster with single rider line)
- Animal Kingdom Safari (real animals, best early in the morning)
- Animal Kingdom various walking paths
- Animal Kingdom veterinary hospital visit
- Epcot Test Track (fun and fast)
- Epcot Spaceship Earth (cool way to teach history of science)
- Epcot World Showcase (ethnic food and foreign languages -- 'nuff said)
- Hollywood Studios Tower of Terror (really fun at night)
- Hollywood Studios Toy Story (worth the hype, really fun interactive game)
- Magic Kingdom Enchanted Tiki Room (funny)
- Magic Kingdom Tom Sawyer Island (lots of secret things hidden and cool walking paths)
- Magic Kingdom Space Mountain (seemed better than Disneyland's)
- Magic Kingdom Thunder Mountain (as good as Disneyland's)
- Magic Kingdom Haunted Mansion (almost as good as Disneyland's; only worse because it seemed shorter)
Least favorite rides:
- Animal Kingdom Dinosaur (not worth the hype)
- Hollywood Studios Backlot Tour (way shorter and less interesting than Universal's)
- Epcot Mission to Mars (a bit boring)
- Magic Kingdom Pirates (seemed shorter and worse than Disneyland's)
- Magic Kingdom Jungle Cruise (after seeing real animals in Animal Kingdom, this ride pales in comparison)
I've been lucky enough this year to take two trips out of the country (and one hyper-local "stay-cation" for my anniversary organized by my wife). I enjoyed them all and learned many things, including checking off many items from my "do-before-I-die" list. Below are some of my favorite lessons and memories from these travels. (I also just saw Rio
, which I really liked, and which reminded me of all the wonderful experiences I had in South America. I'm also reading Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
, and apparently the famous physicist also loved visiting Brazil and even played the frigideira
for a winning samba school.)
1. Rio is sort of like the movie. The samba is loud (got to see a samba show with good music but slightly cheesy/touristy dancing), the people are crazy about Carnival
, and the sights are beautiful. (The movie's Rio is definitely cleaner and has prettier birds, though.)
2. The cable car ride up to the Sugarloaf mountain
is wild -- such a nice view!
3. The Christ statue
at the top of Corcovado is much bigger than it looks. You can take some really fun perspective photos from up there, though.
4. Spanish and Portuguese are close enough. I found Portuguese to be like a melodic version of Spanish; I could get by just turning some ción
's into ção
's and talking about samba and Carnival (though clearly I'm kidding and there's a lot more to the language). It would definitely be fun to learn it more closely some day.
5. The beaches are beautiful, and they are the
spot to be seen during the Christmas holidays. My favorite beach for swimming was in Buzios
, a sleepy, less developed part of Brazil (the original home, apparently, of some pirrrrrrates). The busiest beach I've ever seen was in Santos
on Christmas Day; it was no less than 10,000 people literally walking up and down the miles-long coastline, sporting their wares (some better than others). It was truly a cultural moment to experience that.
6. Doing tango in a century-old tango studio in Buenos Aires was epic. The creaking wood floor, the raspy Argentine tango record playing in the background with melancholy... it was like I was in a movie. (Having some yummy parilla
afterwards is what's required
to hit the spot.)
7. Flying is everything I thought it would be. I always dreamed of becoming a commercial airline pilot when I was little, and I got to start towards fulfilling that dream in July. I flew a Cessna from Santa Monica to Point Dume and back with Justice Aviation
for a one-hour demo flight (my instructor was named Max too!), and it was truly awesome.
8. Be appreciative for every raspberry you eat; picking them by hand is quite a difficult undertaking. I know: I tried to do it at Underwood Farms
, and got so annoyed with it after 20 minutes. Each raspberry has to be picked off by hand, and it has to be ripened just so in order to taste good. I no longer take these little berries for granted. (Another fun thing at Underwood is feeding carrots to the horses and trapeze-artist goats -- no joke!)
9. Biking on July 4th at the beach can be fun and dangerous. We did a bike ride from Venice to Manhattan Beach, which was really enjoyable, except for when the bike path was filled with barbecuing, boombox-toting pedestrians. There was even a section that featured a row of parked Chevy '64s
with various "interesting" decorative elements. It was all cool; talk about LA diversity!
Other fun stuff from the weekend included seeing the Houdini
exhibit (and learning about the history of magic) and eating yummy food at Larchmont Bungalow
, Red O
, and Geoffrey's
are the sweetest marine animal weighing close to a ton, and they're in extreme risk of extinction. (Turtles are the sweetest marine animal weighing closer to tens or hundreds of pounds.) I had the pleasure of swimming with (and kissing on the lips!) a manatee, dolphin, and sea lion in Mexico, and it was amazing. Learning about these creatures and watching how smart they can be was really inspiring. It was very sad to learn that 60% of manatee deaths are due to human causes like pollution or plastic bags getting eaten by them and poisoning them (they're dying less from natural deaths than from us!). I also learned manatees don't really have teeth and don't really bite; their color, size, and demeanor reminded me of my previous Neapolitan Mastiff, Marcello
. (I also got the chance to swim with stingrays and a nurse shark with apparently no teeth as well -- not sure I believe all these "no teeth" tourist stories, but I'm thankful to have gotten out of there alive.)