Posts Tagged With: travel blogger

Country no. 46 on my World Karaoke Tour: everything is bigger in Dubai

This is a cheesy souvenir photo I purchased on the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa. It was taken in front of a green screen, and the background was then superimposed.

Rising over one-half mile into the Dubai sky, the Burj Khalifa is currently the world’s tallest building, a superlative it’s claimed since 2008. (Sources disagree on the precise extent of the Burj Khalifa’s verticality; depending on which website you ask, its height is either 2,717 feet or 2,722 feet. Regardless, it’s fair to say that this particular edifice is damn tall.) At this writing, an even more skyscraping building, imaginatively dubbed The Tower, is under construction across town in Dubai, and is slated to be finished in 2020. The elevation at which The Tower will top out has not yet been determined, but is expected to exceed that of the Burj Khalifa. Both the Burj Khalifa and The Tower, however, will be dwarfed by the Jeddah Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia — also on target for completion in 2020 — which is planned to ultimately soar to 3,307 feet above ground level. That’s a full kilometer!

While Dubai stands to lose the distinction of possessing the loftiest man-made structure on the planet, it will remain an embarrassment of riches for urban architecture geeks like me. In recent decades the city’s skyline has experienced explosive growth, to the point where Dubai now ranks third among all world cities in number of skyscrapers (defined as buildings at least 150 meters, or 490 feet, in height); as of this writing, Dubai boasts no fewer than 173 skyscrapers. (The two cities with even more skyscrapers than Dubai are Hong Kong and New York City.)

Architecture: new and old

A pair of stratospheric erections (Get your mind out of the gutter; I’m using the word “erection” as a synonym for “building”)

Obviously, the Burj Khalifa is — for now — the signature landmark not just of Dubai, but of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), the nation to which that city belongs. Soaring above the many other skyscrapers of Dubai (at least until The Tower surpasses it), the Burj Khalifa is visible from points throughout the sprawling metropolis. Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Country no. 45 on my World Karaoke Tour: increasing my Q-rating in Qatar

On Doha’s waterfront stands this statue of of Orry Oryx, a mascot who was created for the 2016 Asian Games (which were held in Doha). An oryx is a type of antelope.

What’s the correct way to pronounce “Qatar”? Prior to my brief visit to that tiny nation on the Arabian peninsula, I’d been under the impression that the proper pronunciation was something approximating “Cutter.” But when I was aboard my Qatar Airways flight from Amman, Jordan to Doha, Qatar in January 2017, the narrator of the safety video that was played before takeoff pronounced the name of the airline as “Kah-TAHR Airways” — thus creating an uncertainty in my mind. So I chatted up a couple of the flight attendants to discuss this issue. Those FA’s, residents of the nation in question, agreed with their employer’s video and told me that they too recite the name of their homeland as “Kah-TAHR.” While internet research reveals a continued divide on this issue (see, for example, the results of this google search), I’ve adopted the pronunciation adhered to by Qatar’s flag airline — and by actual Qataris who work for that carrier.

Karaoke and sightseeing in Doha

Regardless of the right way to orally identify the world’s only country whose English name begins with the letter “Q,” I spent a couple of nights in that country — and specifically in its capital city of Doha — during the first week of this year. It was a brief pass-through, shamelessly tacked on to my itinerary in the hopes that I could add another country to my World Karaoke Tour. šŸ™‚ Israel had become country no. 44 on that tour in the waning days of 2016; and after I failed to find karaoke during an otherwise spectacular sojourn in Jordan, it was my aspiration that Kah-TAHR or Cutter (as you prefer) would earn the distinction of becoming the 45th country in which I’d karaoked. Continue reading

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

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

Country no. 42 on my World Karaoke Tour: singing inside the Axis of Evil in North Korea

selfie2016 marks the quarter-century anniversary of my taking up karaoke. On my birthday in March 1991 I sang karaoke for the first time; and during the ensuing summer I first began to embrace karaoke as a passion. You can read more here about how I got started as a karaokeist. Never during those formative days of my obsession did I imagine that I’d embarked on a journey that would one day culminate in my performing karaoke in North Korea.

And yet, although my singing appearance in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, which is what North Korea officially calls itself) was 25 years in the making, I almost blew it. Things worked out in the end, but I’ll never know just how close I came to screwing up my chance to sing in North Korea. This post discusses how my stupid mistake put my long-anticipated trip to North Korea in jeopardy; then it covers what happened when I finally got the chance to sing inside a totalitarian state.

Prologue: I don’t want this plane to land

June 4, 2016
About 2:15 pm Standard Time of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

As Air Koryo flight 752 from Beijing made its final approach to Pyongyang Sunan International Airport, I grabbed my daypack from under the seat in front of me. Anticipating my passage through immigration, I wanted to gather together all the documents that I’d need to present upon entering the airport: my passport, my entry visa, and the three landing cards I’d filled out during the flight. As the first step, I unzipped the compartment in the front of my daypack in which I always carry my passport when Iā€™m in transit.

The passport wasn’t in there. Continue reading

Categories: Asia, travel, World Karaoke Tour | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 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. šŸ™‚

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. šŸ™‚ 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

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