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Archive for October, 2007

Luxury flush

Suissotel Toilet 1

Naturally, any story about Japan can't go too far without discussing the electronic toilets. We came across some seriously over-engineered contraptions on our travels. How about this for a list of features from the toilet in the Swissotel:

  • Water Spray
  • Bidet
  • Oscillating sprays
  • Adjustable water pressure
  • Heated seat
  • Deodorising
Toilet control panel Hotel Springs loo

This pretty much set the standard for all the toilets we came across. The toilets had safety features built in to ensure they only operated when a derriere was upon them and the heated seat and deodorising systems all started up automatically. At the Hotel Springs in Tokyo the bar was raised even further with the inclusion of an infra-red remote control! Clearly someone somewhere does not have much to do.

In some tourist places we came across some squat toilets, which varied from the typical Chinese style by having a hood & being used facing in the opposite direction, but the majority were electronic types. 

 Remote Control for Toilet Water recycling toilet A Japanese squat

When more typical mechanical toilets were employed they incorporated a rather neat water saving feature. Rather than re-fill the cistern internally the filling water was piped up through a spout and the top of the toilet was shaped like a wash basin. In this way you washed your hands above the cistern and that water was then recycled by being used for the next flush. Clever!

Into the red

Passports

Saturday 29th of September heading off for a fortnight in the land of the rising sun. I had to go on business so we extended the trip to take in the sights and experience the culture of Japan. We took a car to the HK airport this time, which we shared with some others, using Shenzhen's Huang Gang border. A Japanese guy in the car was on the same flight. Spot the Aussie passports in this pile.

Few places in Asia stir the imagination quite like Japan. Just mentioning it sets of a huge series of images in the mind: Ancient temples compared with futuristic cities, foggy mountains being sliced by bullet trains, crazily clothed teenagers compared to suited businessmen and little countryside family inns compared to the flashing neon of Tokyo.

One of the great things about living at the bottom of China is that most major Asian cities are accessible. Unfortunately everyone else who could afford an air fair also thought the same thing as it was the beginning of the mid-autumn festival. After a few days of trying we managed to secure direct flights with Cathay Pacific for the 3 1/2 hour hop from Hong Kong to Osaka.

The first impression upon arriving in Osaka was that everything was very quiet and clean. Granted, the arrivals area of Osaka airport is a sea of grey-on-grey but everything was exceedingly orderly. Even the chimes to announce PA messages or open/close automatic doors had a tune to play instead of a more typical 'bong'.

Japan has an awesome program for foreign tourists called the Japanese Rail pass. These must be purchased outside of Japan at registered outlets and then give unlimited use of the Japan Rail network for the life of the pass, including the Shinkansen bullet trains. The only caveat is that Japan has several train companies and most of the subway system is not run by JR.

 Nankai Namba platform In the train Nightime Osaka skyline

We exchanged our JR Japan rail vouchers for passes at the JR ticket office at the airport and were ably assisted by an exceedingly friendly service girl. Suitably armed with our 'ticket to ride' we braved the rail system, acquired our tickets and took the 50 minute ride on the train to Nankai Namba station in the southern of Osaka's two city centres. The people on the train were practically silent the whole journey, a characteristic that we later came to take for granted when using Japanese transport. 

Osaka skyline

We stayed at the Suissotel which was an utterly fabulous hotel. We successfully negotiated the maze in the shopping centre with the aid of a map from the website (enter on level 3 from the train station, go down to level one, take the lift up to level 6 and then enter the hotel). We were checked in by an exceedingly friendly Japanese girl who lived in Melbourne for 6 years.

Another woman took our bags and us up to our room. As we exited the lift she took us to the window to point out some of the significant sights of Osaka that were visible from the window. In the room she explained how to use the TV, the lights, the hot water urn, pointed out the card with the next day's weather, etc. Overall she couldn't have been more helpful if she tried. It seemed that in less than one day those stories of the excessive politeness of the Japanese people were starting to ring true.

Fine dining

Xiao Wang’s

One of the finest restaurants we ate at in Beijing was Xiao Wang's family restaurant. It's located out in the eastern side of the CBD in the area that's being called the new CBD. After walking quite a way from the hotel past the restaurant we managed to figure out from a local that it was back the way we came and on the right hand side. Sure enough, after a bit of hunting around we found it, lurking down a side street.

 Sitting down to dinner Xiao Wang’s Sign

Many restaurants in Beijing sell a style of Peking Duck so we tried that here. Rich and tasty, yum yum! They also had these deep fried spare ribs with pepper salt that were simply delectable. We tried a whole pile of other things, including dishes catering for our vegetarian Indian colleague. I can't remember them all, I just remember it being thoroughly scrumptious! Highly recommended for anyone contemplating a trip to Beijing. 

Construction Zone

There was plenty of construction and demolition going on whilst we were in Beijing. In all kinds of places things were going up and down, to get things ship-shape for the Olympics, no doubt.

CCTV tower

One of the most unusual constructions is the new headquarters for CCTV, the largest TV network in China. It will be formed by joining two towers at the top but with two sections that meet at right angles rather than a basic straight bridge. This essentially means that a large portion of the building's mass is not directly over the foundations of the towers. Here's it's current progress. Follow the link to see what it'll look like once completed. I'm sure it was a nightmare getting the design right.

Demolition 1 Demolition 2 Construction

China construction zones can be so crazy. Often there's power lines, piles of rubble and all kinds of danger going on. This truck loaded with concrete reinforcing rods from a demolition just next to a power transformer was a classic example. 

Plug me in

Phone charging station

Whilst waiting in the departure lounge of the Beijing airport I came across this free charging station. It's a place where you can plug in your O2 Atom, Dopod, iPAC, Pocket PC or practically any other kind of smart phone to charge it up whilst waiting.

I saw it as an admission that these kind of mini-PC type products are all such savagely power-hungry devices that using them intensively gives sufficiently short battery life that charging at the airport is a worthwhile thing to do. Either that or it's for people who are sufficiently disorganised enough (or overly busy) that they can't manage to charge their phones during their time in the city.

The availability of clip-on leads was interesting, especially given the prevalence of Lithium Ion batteries in mobile devices these days which require careful protection circuitry to ensure they don't fail catastrophically if over-charged.

Casing the joint

Case 1

On one of our first trips to China we bought this cheap navy case. It's taken a bit of abuse at the hands of airport baggage handlers and it hasn't been the most robust device, succumbing in a couple of areas to it's brief couple years of service. 

Case 2 Case 3

Whilst exiting the bus on the return journey from Beijing to Shenzhen it finally came to it's end. As I lifted it over the kerb by the handle there was a loud crack-crack and the handle assembly failed in multiple ways almost simultaneously. The handle split, the backing plate fractured, the mounting rivets pulled loose and the handle assembly came flying out, spraying it's two ball bearings and bending the metal arms as it went. The handle-less case was somewhat of a handful so we took a taxi rather than try and negotiate the Metro system.

Here endeth the navy case. 

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