Posts Tagged With: Asia

A 2,200-year-old stone army and more: a brief visit to Xi’an, China

20160527_132453-01Maybe you can’t take it with you, but Qin Shi Huang (QSH) sure tried. The first emperor of a unified China, QSH directed the construction of thousands of terracotta warriors, assembled to protect him in the afterlife. This stone army — consisting of not only soldiers but also horses and even chariots — was interred with him in a vast necropolis when he departed from the mortal world in 210 or 209 B.C.

Eventually the burial site was lost to history, and it remained no more than the stuff of legend for over two millennia. Then, in 1974, QSH’s terracotta protection force was serendipitously discovered by a group of farmers who were digging for a well in what is today the city of Xi’an. The archaeological site has become a museum complex where you can explore some of the massive pits that have been unearthed, and view the terracotta fighting units arrayed therein.

When I made my first voyage to China in May 2016, an excursion to Xi’an was on the agenda, principally so that I could view the terracotta army — although Xi’an is actually a city of nearly 9 million inhabitants that offers a variety of attractions. Because I was there for one main reason, I hadn’t alotted much time for the city, and consequently I didn’t see very much of Xi’an’s other points of interest. Here’a an account of my activities during my two night stay. Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 22 Comments

Taipei unplugged: highlights of my stay in the Taiwanese capital

small Taiwan mapMy introduction to Taipei in late May to early June of 2016 was memorable in part because I sang in a karaoke taxi in that city — thereby making Taiwan the 41st country on my World Karaoke Tour. But I wasn’t only there to sing. A city of some 2.7 million inhabitants — the capital and largest city of the island nation of Taiwan — beckoned me to explore it!

My sojourn in Taipei came in the midst of a vacation during which I checked off two bucket list items (the Great Wall of China, and the Terracotta Army in the Chinese city of Xi’an), and which culminated in my tour of North Korea, a country rarely visited by Westerners. It would have been easy for Taipei to be overshadowed by such high-profile destinations. Nevertheless, Taipei left just as much of an impression on me as any of my other stops in East Asia this past spring. Moreover, as you’ll see, my visit to Taipei lasted slightly longer than planned, although the circumstances that extended my time on Taiwanese soil weren’t necessarily a positive highlight. 🙂

Taipei 101: a skyscraper like no other

As an architecture geek who’s enamoured of supertall skyscrapers (“supertall” being a classification that applies to edifices at least 300 metres, or 984 feet, in height), one attraction that I particularly looked forward to checking out while in town was the Taipei 101 building. Indeed, I even chose a hotel across the street from it. Taipei 101 didn’t let me down.

Getting to know the building

Opened to the public on the last day of 2004, Taipei 101 stands 1,474 feet tall at its roof, and 1,671 feet tall at the tip of its spire. From the time of its completion until 2009, it was the tallest building in the world; that title was wrested from it by the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, which I’ll be seeing in person in early 2017. 🙂 As for Taipei 101, its distinctive profile has been likened to a series of Chinese food takeaway boxes, piled one on top of another; it’s also evocative of multiple levels of that most traditional of Asian architectural genres, the pagoda. Further contributing to its unique appearance is its green hue. Incidentally, its name derives rather prosaically from the fact that it rises 101 floors above ground. (It also has five subterranean levels, which house a parking garage.)

My very first first daytime activity after arriving in Taipei was an ascension to Taipei 101’s observatories. It boasts indoor observation decks on the 88th and 89th floors, and an outdoor observation platform on the 91st floor. That outdoor observatory encircles the building at an altitude of 1,285 feet — the second-highest alfresco viewing platform of any skyscraper in the world. Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

Country no. 36 on my World Karaoke Tour: one night in Bangkok

10499337_746925358710124_2554592821382471102_oFor my Thai karaoke debut in Bangkok, the obvious choice for my song selection was “One Night in Bangkok,” Murray Head’s worldwide top-five hit from the Broadway musical, Chess. Prior to my foray to Southeast Asia, I spent weeks practicing the song. There was only one problem: the karaoke bar in Bangkok turned out not to have that song available. Yes, the karaoke bar in Bangkok. As I’ll cover in future installments on my recently concluded vacation, the vast majority of karaoke establishments in East Asia offer singing opportunities solely in the form of “karaoke box,” a style that features private rooms that customers rent with their friends or family members. For an exorbitant hourly rate, the patrons in the private chamber sing to each other during their allotted time. (A number of venues in New York City also offer private rooms for karaoke.) But as you know, karaoke for me is all about the performance, and I insist on singing in public in front of an audience of strangers. Karaoke box is not for me. Luckily, the amazing front desk staff at my Bangkok hotel, the Grand Eastin, located for me a restaurant called Sabaijai Kebtawan that specializes in seafood, and — more importantly — where I was able to perform on a stage in my accustomed manner on a Sunday night. With those plans set, I had every expectation that the Land of Smiles (as Bangkok is commonly referred to) would live up to its sobriquet. But then my smile turned upside down. Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Country no. 14 on my World Karaoke Tour: Japan

Almost from the time that I began singing karaoke regularly, taking the H-Bomb show to Japan had been a prized objective for me. The Land of the Rising Sun was, of course, the place where karaoke originated. How could I not want to experience karaoke in the land of its birth?

I finally made it happen in April 2008. After singing in 13 other countries, I prepared to make my long-sought pilgrimage. That journey to Japan — my first foray into Asia, and my first time crossing the International Date Line — proved to be an outstanding vacation in many respects. Surprisingly, however, as you’ll see, I found the Japanese karaoke scene a letdown in comparison to my soaring expectations.

Like most visitors from overseas, my point of entry to Japan was Narita International Airport. That airport is located in the city of Narita, about 35 miles east of Tokyo’s city center.

Disaster almost struck before I even made it out of the airport. Right after I cleared customs, my passport fell out of my backpack without my noticing. But just a few minutes later, a young American man ran up to me in the ground transportation area and asked if I’d lost my passport. “That’s impossible,” I confidently replied, adding that I had just placed it in my bag. But then I noticed that the zipper was partially open on my backpack, and the passport was missing from the compartment in which I’d inserted it. The young man then ran back to where he’d come from; and shortly thereafter, he returned with my passport. Disaster averted.

This wasn’t the first time that I lost my passport while on the road. But this blog isn’t about my irresponsibility; it’s about my love of karaoke and travel. So, onward!

Anyway, once I recovered my passport, I didn’t immediately board a train to Tokyo. Instead I headed to a nearby hotel in Narita. Why did I do that? you may wonder. Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: