Elephant kisses and Garra fish nibbles

January 24th, 2013, 7:34 am PST by Kat

We’ve spent two fun-filled days in Chiang Mai so far.

Yesterday, we took a full-day cooking class at Siam Rice cooking school. They brought us to the market where we were shown how coconut cream and coconut milk are made. We were also introduced to some of the local produce like tiny eggplants, Thai holy basil and fresh tumeric. At the market, we bought some of the local Northern Thai sausages and chicharron (fried pork rinds). mmmmm…. pork! Afterwards, we spent the day cooking up a storm and eating all of our tasty dishes.

Today, we took a half-day tour up to Chiang Dao to see the elephants. We got to feed them and got elephant hugs and kisses. There was a lot more slobber and a lot more suction than either of us expected! As we were leaving, Greg spotted a sign that said “Elephant Nursery”. I’m glad he did because we detoured and got to feed a 16-month-old baby elephant and her mother and to see a 10-month-old baby elephant! 🙂 Our tour then took us to Tiger Kingdom, where we posed for pictures with “big” and “small” tigers. Finally, our tour guide brought us to “the” Khao Soi restaurant in Chiang Mai. There was a long wait, but it was totally worth it (and it only cost us $1 a bowl!).

Kat’s bug bite count: 2

The Hong Kong pitstop

January 21st, 2013, 1:52 am PST by Greg

We’re in Hong Kong, briefly. The plan for this visit was to ease in to Asia, get over some jetlag, and drop off a bag.

Since I need long-term stuff (more clothes, work stuff, etc), I had a lot of luggage to bring over. But, I don’t want to carry all of that through a half dozen airports over the next month.

Because she’s a genius, Eunice suggested the Hong Kong stop and suggested that we leave a bag at her cousin’s place. The cousin agreed, and we dropped the bag off today. We’re coming back through Hong Kong at the end of the trip to collect it and go our separate ways.

Today we dropped off the bag and wandered Hong Kong island a bit. Nothing spectacular to report. I’ll try to get some pictures up in our gallery tonight.

We’re off to Chiang Mai tomorrow morning. Most of the day is in transit, since we have to fly through Bangkok.

Yet Another Travel Blog

January 16th, 2013, 11:23 pm PST by Greg

As seems to be the pattern, this blog consists of long breaks, followed by being used as a travel blog. We enter one more iteration of that: before I start teaching in Hangzhou, Kat and I are going to do some travelling.

The ZJU semester doesn’t start until after the Chinese New Year which is quite late this year: classes start February 28. That leaves January and February open for me. Kat’s boss is in the field, so it’s a good time for her to take a vacation.

We get about a month unaccounted for, where the University is paying to get me to Asia. So, we are taking this opportunity to see some of southeast Asia. We leave on Saturday the 19th. The itinerary is:

  • Thailand: Chiang Mai and Bangkok.
  • Singapore.
  • Malaysia: Kota Kinabalu.
  • Philippines: Manila and some resort or something.

At either end, we’re staying in Hong Kong for a couple of days. This is partially a decompression, and partially a chance for me to leave some luggage with somebody there, so we don’t have to carry longer-term stuff around a half dozen airports.

We’re going to try to be good about posting here and getting some pictures in the gallery as we go.

Edit: We have opted out of “some resort” in the Philippines, instead lengthening the Manila and Hong Kong stays on either end.

Going Into Exile

August 16th, 2012, 10:24 am PST by Greg

As I was just mentioning some kind of professional journey, I guess this blog post is overdue…

My department has a joint Dual Degree Program with Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. To be honest, I really had my doubts about the program when it was created, but the more I see, the more I like it. There have been some difficulties, but certainly an overall win for SFU and the CS department.

We have visited ZU twice. When we got back the last time, I decided to put my name on the list for the faculty exchange that is part of the program: every year one person from each school goes to the other for a semester.

I had imagined that there was a multi-year waiting list, and thus imagined that the offer was somewhat abstract. The program director responded with “how about next year?”

So, I’m going to China for the ZU summer 2013 semester: end of February to start of July.

I’ll be teaching two courses when I’m there: a discrete math course for DDP students (those originating from both the Canadian and Chinese sides), and a web development course much like CMPT 470.

The discrete math course should be easy enough. I have taught MACM 101 here, and the course is basically that with a little extra. The Canadian students are just going to be thankful that I’m speaking English. The Chinese students are going to be worried about the English, not the math.

The CMPT 470-like course should be… interesting. First of all, the DDP students are already at SFU by fourth year, so the students in the course will just be rank-and-file ZU students. They won’t be the special cohort with extra motivation to learn English, and an international outlook. Just senior CS students who are willing to give a shot to a course that some foreign instructor is teaching in English.

Problems I see arising: (1) the whole development world at ZU seems to be focused around the big-vendor tools: Java, C#, C++, Visual Studio, etc. I’m going to arrive and insist on Ruby or Python (or similar), since that’s the way things are done in my world. (2) These students have spent their whole lives behind the firewall, and we’ll likely have pretty different ideas of what good web sites are.

Basically, I’m alternating between “wow, what a wonderful opportunity” and “what the hell have I gotten myself into?”

Hong Kong

October 5th, 2011, 1:43 pm PST by Greg

The tail end of our trip was a day and a half in Hong Kong. We kind of tacked it on the end to get out of mainland China for the National day holiday crowds. As a result, I had no real plan or expectations.

Therefore, Hong Kong exceeded expectations. 😛

In some ways, Hong Kong is smaller than I expected: 7M people (just more than 1/3 of Beijing) and we walked a good chunk of the length of the core (Central to Causeway Bay subway stations) in an hour or so.

I also knew Hong Kong was a tall city: our hotel was hardly in the centre of the city, but from our 15th floor hotel room, I couldn’t see more than a block in any direction, and 8 story buildings below just seemed like a waste of space. It took my brain a while to really process that the whole city is like that.

I have also never been to a more “international” city than Hong Kong, possibly because none exist. I was entirely comfortable in the city: it felt a lot like a taller version of Richmond. I imagine that Brits would be totally comfortable in the city, so should mainland Chinese. Tourists from France seemed pretty at-ease, and there seemed to be a solid Indian population as well. I can’t think of anywhere else I’ve been where so many people could hang around without being out of place.

Also, at 7M people, that must mean that something like 5% of Hong Kongers must now be in Vancouver. (350k Hong Kong immigrants and descendants in Vancouver doesn’t sound that far off to me.) I had never really thought about the numbers from that side: everybody in Vancouver knows a bunch of people from Hong Kong, but everybody in Hong Kong must have a friend or two in Vancouver as well.

In summary: insufficient time spent in Hong Kong; must investigate further in the future.

Hangzhou Wrapup

October 5th, 2011, 1:04 pm PST by Greg

The blog posts kind of fizzled there as we got tired. We are now back in Burnaby. More pictures have been posted.

Our second day in Hangzhou was dominated by the University: it was my work day. We had lunch at ZJU with some DDP students who will be coming to SFU in 2012 or 2013 (and a few who cam from SFU last year).

The purpose of the lunch was to give students a chance to ask us some questions about SFU and living in Vancouver: all four of us were SFU students at one point. It took a while to talk the people there into organizing an “informal” lunch where we could just chat with the students.

In the end, it worked out exactly like I hoped. Some questions we got: will I have to speak french? How often is Glee on every week? Is there any racism? Can I take business courses too? As usual, the ZJU students were a lot of fun and I’m glad we stopped there.

As expected, after that we became the University’s guests for the rest of the day. We walked through the adjoining botanical gardens and to dinner, which was very Hangzhou-focused and great.

The next day, we walked around the Xixi wetlands with Amy Gu, her husband Kevin and son Roland. Amy and I talked about our courses while the rest looked at birds, and it was great.

Just like last time, I really liked Hangzhou. The idea of going to teach for a semester at ZJU is looking better and better.


September 29th, 2011, 4:17 pm PST by Greg

We have now had our first full day in Hangzhou (plus an afternoon after the flight). With apologies to the Beijingers out there: it’s better here.

Wednesday night (after the flight), we took a walk around the city: north along the lakeshore and back through the city. Somewhere in there, we realized we were all hungry and found this fast food place upstairs (at Yan’an and Qingchun roads for anybody keeping score).

When we went in, it was immediately obvious to Oli and I that ordering was impossible: you seemed to have to buy tickets (from a Chinese-text-only menu) and then go to the prep area and give them your tickets to get food. The text-only menu was a dealbreaker for us and we suggested moving on.

Kat and Tina went up to the food-getting area and started pointing at things. Some dude that worked there took pity on them, led them to the cashier, ordered the things they had pointed at, and took them back to get food.

Oli and I were left thinking “what the hell just happened? Why are we eating?” Then they somehow ordered seconds.

This illustrated the strategic difference between our coping strategies. I want to have a plan, like I did with the great wall driver: I’ll translate “lunch noodles” and then reply “yes” to whatever he says next. Kat is much more comfortable going in guns-blazing (with a note pinned to her chest that says “sorry I don’t understand Chinese”). I believe these strategies are complementary.

Other than that, good first day here: paddle around the lake and tour of the tea fields (by taxi). It’s pouring rain and I was really a lot wetter than I was comfortable with yesterday, and today promises more of the same.

Beijing: check.

September 27th, 2011, 7:26 am PST by Greg

We’re leaving Beijing tomorrow at noon, so that pretty much wraps up this leg of the trip.

On Monday we got a driver from the hotel to take us to the Great wall (Juyongguan section). That was excellent.

After the wall, we were thinking about lunch, but the driver spoke no english. Through the magic of Pleco, I translated “lunch, noodles”, to which he responded (thanks to its handwriting recognition) something that translated like “noodles with bean sauce”. We said yes, and he took us somewhere back in Beijing. We convinced him to eat with us and had something I have since learned is called “zha jiang mian” and was amazing.

Pointers to good zha jiang mian in Vancouver would be appreciated, since the idea of not having it again makes me sad.

Today, we walked through Tiananmen square and the Forbidden City. Then back south through Wangfujing.

To Hangzhou tomorrow, where I honestly hope there is less to see, since I don’t think we can keep up this pace: I think the combination of walking everywhere (including up the wall) and mental overhead trying to figure out how to do things without sharing a language with the locals is taking its toll.

Pictures are being posted, daily(-ish).

China day 1

September 25th, 2011, 2:13 am PST by Greg

After 24 hours on the ground in Beijing, it’s finally really settling in that I’m in a whole other country. For the first few hours, I was so tired I might have just taken an 11 hour plane ride to Richmond for all I knew.

But here we are: me, Kat, and our friends Oli and Tina. We’re staying at the hotel where Tina’s conference was. (The conference was the original seed of the idea for the trip.) The hotel is around NW 3rd ring road, near Peking and Tsinghua Universities, for those who care.

Today, we met a friend of a friend who grew up in this part of the city. He showed us around the two Universities. It really seems like they have a Harvard/MIT thing going on: Peking is the top-ranked school, but Tsinghua is right next door, a close second, and has more of an engineering/applied focus.

Kat and I always seem to swing by local Universities when we’re on vacation. Having spent just about exactly half of my life around Universities, there’s a comforting sameness about them. What differences exist are always glaring.

In the name of not packing too much into this trip, that was our day. We’ll probably do something after dinner: plans still unclear.

And we’re back.

September 26th, 2010, 2:24 pm PST by Greg

We left off with Rome…

The cruise ship docked in Naples the next day: it’s a port city, so no shuttle buses to worry about. We had no agenda in Naples, other than to eat pizza.

We walked around the city a bit, but mostly killed time until our lunch at Pizzeria Brandi. They are the creator of Pizza Margharita, and that’s exactly what we had. We had planned a second lunch before leaving the city, but all the restaurants closed for the afternoon and we were foiled.

Then, an at-sea day and the next day at Palma de Mallorca.

I had been thinking of Palma as kind of just a place for them to stop the ship for the day, so I wasn’t expecting much. It ended up being one of the prettiest places we went the whole trip. The guide books said that it was a late-night party city and things didn’t really get started until late morning. We got off the boat at around 10:00, but everything except the occasional coffee shop was closed until noon or even a little later. Two notable finds: a cathedral with palm trees (which was both beautiful and novel), and café bombon (espresso and sweetened condensed milk in equal parts; look for it at your local Cafe Artigiano soon).

Then we took an extra day in Barcelona before we made our way back.

On the way back, we spent a few days at my parents’ place in Ontario. That was fairly uneventful, as a family gathering should be.

All told, we were gone 25 days. That’s just about my limit for travelling: I’m glad to get back to my own bed. However, our bathroom is dirty, and I don’t think the maid is coming.

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