Monday, 28 July 2008

Alice's birthday party

Alice had been a very good girl, since it was hot and sunny on her birthday yesterday. Yes, here in Denmark, good weather = good behaviour, bad weather = bad behaviour. Tough luck for those born in winter then... .

We had been seeing temperatures of around 30 deg C all weekend, and also today. Hopefully for many days more since I like not having to carry a sweater around. But yesterday was perfect BBQ weather, so that was how we celebrated Alice's addition of a year.



Boys and toys. My Martin checking out Alice's Martin's HTC Diamond mobile phone (rival of the iPhone).


Grillmaster at work. If there's one thing I like about BBQs, it's that the guys usually do most of the work :o).


The pit, the pit, the pit is on fire.


At where Alice and Martin live. Not my Martin; Alice's Martin!


It's actually a part of the student apartments ("kollegium" in Danish) at the Danish Technical University where Alice's Martin is studying and part-time working at.


Food! The potatoes didn't get "cooked" even after HOURS! Guess they needed their aluminium wrappings around them to cook faster, those spoilt and rebellious potatoes!


Patiently waiting for food.


Gobble, gobble, gobble!


Alice's Martin caught a bugging bee with his chopsticks! After many tries, though.


But then shortly after, he did it again with another bee! Have to take my hat off to Sensei now.


Break time from food = table football time.


Outfit was bought by my Martin, with some help from my sister, Claudia, while they were holidaying in Bulgaria recently.


Alice's Martin made this cake! Looks very professionally done, yeah? Family receipe, he said. Oh, 1 thing about Danes is that they are so proud of their little country that they use their country's flag for all kinds of celebrations, especially birthdays. Talk about patriotism.


Here's Alice the birthday princess at last!


MINE! ALL MINE! Healthy stuff, filled with fruits (grapes, pineapples, strawberries and bananas). Who said dessert has to be unhealthy? Well, that's what I try to convince myself at least - that this cake is very healthy... .


Thank you Alice for inviting us and for all the good food! Hey, I should have 打包 some leftover food from you yesterday to help you finish them ;o). Didn't think of it until after we left. Anyway, once again, 祝你生日快乐!!!

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Check out my cheque!

Received a cheque in the mail today! Well, for just 300kr (S$79)...but the point is, it's been a long time since I last saw/received a cheque!


In this day an age, I would have thought cheques are things of the past. For this case especially, when this insurance company, danmark Sygeforsikring, has my bank account number! I mean, that's where they pay me back some money for my contact lens and dental services, etc, so why won't they just put the 300kr directly into my account and save me the trouble of going to the bank?

Ah...maybe it's because they hope it'll be too much trouble for me, so I would just forget about it and not claim it. I did actually not cash in a cheque before...as it was for the miserly amount of 45kr (S$12)! The cost of transport to and from the bank would almost cost more than the cheque amount! Not to mention, the higher cost of my time.

I did own a cheque book for a period of time in my early twenties. I actually felt quite "grown up" at that time, whipping out my cheque book, writing down an amount - both spelt out and in numbers, crossing it, signing it, and finally tearing out that valuable page from the rest of its still blank and valueless "friends". And where possible, I would use my "grown up" Parker pen to write it out.

Yes...all those years as a child watching my mum write out cheques to give me so that I could pay for various fees at school (usually if I need big amounts), and finally, I could do the the same, though just for a short time since Internet banking started to become more and more popular. Now cheques are just hassel, hassel and hassel, and you can't really pay for things with cheques anymore, can you? Maybe just in parts of the world that do not have Internet connection for online banking... .

Monday, 21 July 2008

I love IQ puzzles!

I had this puzzle from my parents-in-law last Christmas because they know that I enjoy solving them (and can be quite stubborn sometimes by not giving up unless it's extremely difficult).


"Very difficult" it says. We'll see about that.


I didn't really make time since last Christmas to try to solve this one, so had just kept it away. However, a couple of days ago, I heard it taunting me: "Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah - Sheila can't solve me, Sheila can't solve me!" so I decided to settle this challenge once and for all.



Out of the box it came. The challenge is to arrange the bricks so that they become a dice again. And yes, I did time myself on this.


Tada! Done in 8 minutes :o). What, you don't believe me?


The time on our camera is actually still showing Australian time...but that doesn't matter. What matters here, is the start time.


And here, end time - 8 mins.


Just like dice again.


Showing all sides...


Anyway, did you know that the plural of "dice" is "die"? But it does sound funny to say "throw 2 die", doesn't it? I guess that's why "dices" is a word that is accepted too... .

Do you know the 1 puzzle I'll like to solve before I die? The Rubik Cube!



The problem is, I don't have one to try to solve. Not yet, at least. My birthday is coming soon. Anybody want to get me one ;o)???

Saturday, 19 July 2008

Sunny Home apartment at Sunny Beach for rent!

Wanna see some updated pictures of our Sunny Home apartment in Sunny Beach, Bulgaria? It's pretty much complete now. Only "big" thing missing is a TV and TV shelf thingy, but that will have to wait till some other time. Besides, who goes on holiday to a beach resort only to stay "home" and watch Bulgarian TV, right? Anyway, it's only because we need to have it on the list of "Things to have" when we want to rent it out while we're not there, otherwise we would not bother getting it.


Our apartment (2nd floor from the top, just above the balcony with drying clothes.


Side view. Red car was rented for a week and booked via my company at very special price.


Swimming pool still not ready! That's annoying, because it apparently affects the price for renting out our apartment. Has been 2 years already that it's been empty, and I do want to know why.


Some new building going on now. Hope it won't block out whatever little sun that the pool area gets.


The living room area - sofabed, picture on the wall and blinds are new additions. The rug on the floor was brought from our Copenhagen apartment because we don't use it anymore (and I didn't want to just throw it away).


Dining area - blinds are new. Table and chairs we had already bought last year when we were there. I would actually like the tables and chairs to be closer to the window, with the idea that we can look out of it while eating breakfast.


Kitchenette - nothing new from last year really. We're still missing a couple of bar chairs, but that's just minor detail. Oh, and maybe also a microwave oven.


Bedroom - blinds are new.


Still the bedroom - dressing table and blinds are new. Would need a picture on the left wall, a nicer chair (although the stool works fine for now), and some decoration thingy to the right of the dresser otherwise it looks so bare. Oh, and a small rug on the floor.

But yeah, it's slowly becoming more and more "homey", and we're going to be renting it out pretty soon already. If any of you want to go to Sunny Beach, just let me know and I'll give a very special price for you my friend ;o). If you need a bit of convincing about why you should make a trip to Sunny Beach (besides that it's a cheap destination within Europe, if you're already living in Europe), how about sights like these:


It really does look like being in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, with the mountains and all.


Yeah, ok - the beach can be crowded, but if you're looking for a "happenin" place, then Sunny Beach is it. If you want a more quite beach, you can always rent a car and drive outside a bit.


See? A quieter area here.


And a really countryside area here... .


More pictures here: Sunny Beach 2007
Video from 2007: Sunny Home


And the latest here:

video

So, what are you waiting for???

Sunday, 13 July 2008

Car talk

I learnt today how to push start a car. Yes, I said "push start a car", not "push a car" (though I did push the car too). I'm actually quite amazed at how many guys out there who know how to do this! Seriously, where do you guys learn this from? I certainly didn't have this lesson in my driving school years ago. I'm curious now about how many girls know this. Maybe I'm the only female driver who didn't... . Hmm... .

Anyway, the engine starter in my father-in-law's Renault Megane Scenic car has been having some problems now and then, and he hadn't had time to have it fixed at the mechanic before flying off to Bulgaria with the rest of the gang. I have the pleasure of having the car for the whole week that they're there, and though I was advised about the problem, it wasn't supposed to be a biggy.

They were dropped off at the airport on Sat and I drove home after that without any problems. Went to play tennis this morning and drove to the tennis courts without any problems. Came home from there without any problems either. After a couple of hours, I drove to church, and though the engine didn't start the first time I turned the key, I was told before that I should just keep trying and it'll come to live, so I turned the key the second time and it worked.

After church, the problem started. Engine would not start no matter how many times I turned the key on and off. Would not start no matter how many times I released the safety feature of the car (a trick of locking + unlocking the car doors before turing the key again to start the engine. Don't ask - it's a French Renault feature).

So yeah, the only way to start the car at this point was to push start it, and luckily there were enough men around to help do this. Thing is, I had never done it before (being in the driver's seat to start the car while the men pushed), but luckily, my mum knew the procedure so she took the wheel to do it, and the engine came to live!

Anyway, in order not bore you, I can just mention that we had to do this a couple more times later on, and every guy (or two) who came to help us knew this procedure:

1. Turn the key to the On position.
2. Release the parking brake.
3. Push down on the clutch pedal and put the transmission in second gear.
4. Keep the cluth pedal pressed.
5. When the car is rolling as fast as a person running, slowly release the clutch pedal while giving the engine a little gas with the accelerator pedal.

And so the engine should start. Works only for cars with manual gear, though...and that's what most people drive here in Denmark anyway.

But yeah, I was just surprised that all the guys whom we asked to help knew this, particularly about putting the transmission in second gear. Hmm...I wonder if Martin knows this. Will test him when he gets back (if he doesn't read my blog about this first).

One other thing I've learnt today besides "How to push start a car", is that needing help for this is a GREAT way to pick up men ;o)! I mean, imagine me and my mum in a car that wouldn't start, neither of us are strong enough to push the car fast enough (alone), so all we needed to do was to wait and "catch" the first (cute) guy we see for help.

The guy, seeing 2 helpless ladies in a helpless car, would feel proud to be given the opportunity to help 2 beautiful ladies. This is where strength and knowledge can work to his advantage. If he's lucky, the car would be able to start in no time and he can get all the credit.

If some time goes by and the car still hasn't started, then depending on what time of the day it is and where we are, a second guy might walk/drive by and see that 2 beautiful ladies need help. He'll come by to assist Guy#01, and together, they can combine their macho-ness to save the damsels in distress.

So yeah...single girls out there, get yourself a car that won't start and see how many macho men you can pick up in a day. I'll bet that there won't be enough seats in the car for all of them ;o).

And btw, some say push-starting a car is bad for the car while most say it's harmless (just make sure you have space enough so you don't hit anyone or anything). I guess in general, it's really ok - just not for automatic cars. Check out what these experts have to say: Car talk

For the record, I still have not successfully started the car in this way. I have only learnt how it is done, and was not successful in starting the engine during the couple of times I was in the driver's wheel while the helpful guys pushed, so good that my mum could take over wheel while I watched and learned.

And yes, it SUCKS to have had the chance of using the car for a whole week, but ending up enjoying it for only 1 day. Oh well, at least it's not because I had smashed the car or made some new problems to it that caused it to die on me... .

Friday, 11 July 2008

My 1 week of singlehood...

....starts tomorrow!!! Well, not quite "singlehood" in its true sense. It's more "being without hubby", that kind of "singlehood". He'll be flying off to Sunny Beach, Bulgaria tomorrow for a week with his parents, a cousin, and my sister, Claudia.

Poor me have to be stuck here in Copenhagen because of work. Oh well, I actually like being in Copenhagen in the summer anyway, so I'm not really complaining. Would of course be fun to be with a bunch of family there, so that's what I'll miss the most.

Nevertheless, I'll make the most of my time alone here. Will be working as usual during the weekdays, and the only weekend alone I'll have is this weekend, so besides the WILD WILD PARTY that I'm going to throw...no, just kidding - it'll be a quiet weekend...sorta. I'll try to play tennis tomorrow with a former colleague (if he's free and no rain), lunch appointment after that, then maybe checkout a new nightclub in town if I don't get too lazy.

You know what's nice about having a holiday apartment? That you can put stuff there that you don't need in your real home ;o). Too many mugs/glasses/cultery/plates? Bring to Bulgaria! Duvet covers we can't use anymore (not because they're old, but because we had bought a new duvet which is longer than the previous one, so we can't use the "old" duvet covers anymore)? Bring to Bulgaria! Big rug that we can't use anymore (because we bought a real carpet)? Bring to Bulgaria! Hubby that you can't use anymore? Send to Bulgaria! No, just kidding ;o)... .

Anyway, everything's packed up and ready for check-in. Parents-in-law will come by tomorrow between 07:00 - 07:30, so I had better go catch up on my beauty sleep.

Monday, 7 July 2008

National news at last!

From one of Denmark's national papers today (Politiken):

The full article on page 3, with K in the picture.


The first 2 columns, if you want to read it better (click to enlarge).


Centre columns


Final column.


Here's something interesting from the Amnesty International link from my previous post (in case you didn't have time to read through it all):


Abstract:
Amnesty International is also concerned about the continued existence of two other forms of punitive administrative detention imposed by the police in China: 'Custody and Education' (shourong jiaoyu), used to punish alleged prostitutes and their clients with between six months and two years' administrative detention, and Enforced Drug Rehabilitation' (qiangzhi jiedu), which enables the police to impose between three and six months' detention for alleged drug addicts.


Recommendations to the Chinese authorities


In line with official commitments to improve human rights in the run-up to the Olympics in August 2008, Amnesty International urges the Chinese authorities to introduce concrete reforms in the following areas:


Fair trials, torture and administrative detention


Take concrete steps to bring all forms of detention in China into line with international human rights law and standards, including measures to uphold the rights to fair trial and prevent torture. These should include:

  • Abolishing 'Re-education through Labour', 'Enforced Drug Rehabilitation' and 'Custody and Education', ensuring that decisions on detention are no longer exclusively in the hands of the police.


From another interesting link:

Abstract:
First of all, during the Cultural Revolution, China's legal system was disabled. The Public Security police, the prosecutors and the court were all paralysed. After the Cultural Revolution, in an effort to restore the function of the police, the prosecutors and the court, the government gave the police exclusive rights to arrest people. No other department has the authority to make an arrest. Therefore, in the general publics minds, it is legal for the police department to arrest people. In today's China, most people don't understand the law. Most Chinese people naively think that if the police arrest somebody, then this person must have committed a crime. Otherwise, why would they arrest this person? People will tell you that the Cultural Revolution is over; no one gets arrested without a good reason. Therefore in many Chinese people's minds, only the police can arrest people. Hence a common misunderstanding exists. If the police arrest you, then you must have committed a crime. The due processes such as the prosecutor work and trials in the court are only procedures to decide on a proper punishment. There is no question on whether or not this person indeed committed a crime. During and after the Cultural Revolution, the police authority went from useless to absolute power above the law. The evil regime took advantage of the situation and conveniently fooled people into the current misconceptions.

In China, along with the economic development and open door policy, the collective social morality is rapidly declining. Widespread social ills go undeterred. Things that never existed in China quickly found their way in and have become much worse in China. The moral decline is out of control. Under this circumstance, China's traditional legal system could not effectively improve public security and maintain social order. To stay in power, the Communist regime deployed "harsh crackdown" in the late 70's and early 80's. The slogan was, "Heavily and swiftly strike all kinds of crimes and ugly phenomena in society." However, the new policy of "heavily and swiftly strike" might not be readily convenient if a case would need to go through the due process that involves independent Prosecutor and Court trial. Under such a social background, the Communist government conveniently recycled the "Re-Education through Labour" system, which was abolished as early as during the Cultural Revolution.


China's own constitution clearly states that Chinese citizens cannot be arrested without the prosecutor's approval and they are not guilty unless decided by a court trial.


In other words, Chinese citizens can only receive a verdict after a fair court trial. This is in line with the rest of the world. Moreover, China is now "opening up" its doors to the world. A very important element is to harmonise China's laws with those of the world. In any country, to determine if a citizen has committed crimes can only be done through a fair court trial. This is beyond question in all countries.


Then why in China, are sentences of "Re-Education through Labour" not decided by the courts? Why can the police alone sentence citizens to "Re-Education through Labour?"


Here, the evil regime plays another trick. In the official definition, "Re-Education through Labour" does not require a guilty verdict. The government says that criminal trials belong to the court, and that the police cannot decide who's guilty. On the other hand, the police can impose administrative penalties on citizens. In their dictionary, a "Re-Education through Labour" is the most severe administrative penalty, not a guilty verdict.


*******


Like I said before, China has a loooong way to go in getting up to accepted international legal standards. I hope with enough international pressure, they will change their system. Some say that the world needs China (implying that they can basically do what they want), but I believe that as much as the world needs China, China too, needs the world. It's a 2-way highway. After all, if major countries do not want to have anything to do with China, or if international companies do not invest in China, where would China really be right now? It has the rest of the world to thank for for her growing economy!


And let's not forget, China isn't the only big and highly populated country in the world. There is also India, and as far as I know, labour in India is just as cheap, if not cheaper than in China, English is an official language there (unlike in China), Indians can be very hardworking, and most importantly, they do not have "human rights" issues the way China does. It will take time for India to grow to the current economic status that China is enjoying, but I strongly believe that they will get there. And when they do, would the world really need China as much anymore?

My friend's "Shanghai Diary" - China and their lack of human rights

With the Olympic Games being hosted in Beijing, China soon, there has been a lot of "hoo-ha" going around regarding China vs Tibet and their human rights policies. Or rather, lack of. I must admit that I have not been following very closely what the big issue surrounding the Olympic Games is because:

1) it's kinda "old news" when it comes to lack of human rights in China. They've been pressured for years by international organisations such as Amnesty International, but nothing much has changed.

2) I've always believed that sports and politics should be kept separate. Countries competing (fairly) against each other in the name of sport is much better than countries fighting against each other in war.

3) I've never known anyone personally who has been a victim of China's unjust, corrupted and communistic system.

Point 3 has changed since 1 week ago, when a friend of mine became a victim of China's unjust legal system. The story of what happened is so bizzare, that if it wasn't because he is a friend, I might have found it hard to believe. But then again, it is communistic China that we're talking about.

I am all for prisons being a place of harsh conditions, and for criminals who have been found guilty to live in these harsh conditions. After all, when a crime has been committed, the gulity criminal should not be doing his time in "hotel" conditions. No lesson would be learnt then, except that you get "free food and free lodgings" when you eg. rape someone. Also, when you know that conditions in jail are harsh if you get caught and found guilty of a crime, it would (should) make you think 10 times before you commit it.

However, everyone, guilty or innocent, should have the right to be innocent first until proven guilty. Everyone should have the right to defend himself. Granted, no country in the world has a perfect justice system since a) the courts are run by imperfect humans, b) judgements can therefore be flawed or clouded, or c) you might just be able to afford a damn good criminal lawyer to fight your case for you. Nevertheless, the basic elements of bringing justice should always be there: innocent until proven guilty, and the chance to defend yourself. Basic human rights.

Did my friend and his friend have both, or just 1 of that right in Shanghai, China? NOT AT ALL!!! They were jailed for 10 days in harsh conditions and had to pay a fine of 500 RMB (375 DKK / S$99) for a crime they DID NOT COMMIT! They were NOT ALLOWED to exercise their right to a phone call, nor was the Danish Consulate in Shanghai contacted by the police on their behalf as legally required.

When I read the detailed story that my friend had sent to me (his "Shanghai Diary"), I became very ANGRY. It was almost too difficult for me to read because neither of them deserved the treatment they had received by the Shanghainese police.

I won't go into the details of the full story (the pdf file I had received was 6½ pages long), but here's the summary of it:

My friend, S, was in Shanghai on a business trip for 4 days, and would spend an extra 5 days for vacation. His friend, K, who was also on a business trip in Hong Kong, joined S on S's 4th day (19th June) so that they could vacation the rest of the 5 days together.

After a night out on the 19th, K chatted up a Chinese girl at a bar, and when he was ready to go home, they decided to share a cab because she was going in the same direction. They then agreed to have a drink in the hotel room before she continued home. Though she did try to seduce him, it did not amount to anything because K was gay.

Sometime later, S returned back to the hotel room which he was sharing with K. The girl then left (a bit frustratedly) to go home. Shortly after (5am in the morning), the police, who were apparently waiting downstairs in the lobby, knocked on their door, together with the hotel's own security guards and the duty manager by their side. The duty manager was the only one who spoke some English, so he told them that the police wanted them to go down to the station for some questioning, and that it would not take a long time. The girl who was with K earlier had been arrested by the police as she was suspected to have stolen money from a tourist some days ago.

At the station, they suddenly got to know that they were both under suspicion for being 3 people in the room at one time, which implied "immoral" behaviour. "Implied", not "proved". An immigration officer was there to attempt to translate some Chinese documents in his bad English for them, and told them that the punishment would be very mild - at best, a warning, at worst, a fine of 500 RMB. They also got to know that they had a right to make a phone call.

At 9am, they were taken to a small hallway with other tourists and locals to await further questioning, with 2 policemen guarding them. 1 of them offered to get them some coke to drink (they had to pay for it themselves), and this was the only thing they had for the whole day!

At 1pm, they were driven to a hospital to take a bloodtest. No one told them why.

At 3pm, their fingerprints were taken, and they were made to write their names on A4 paper and had their photos taken frontview and both sideviews. At this point, they started to be more nervous and frustrated, and decided that they should contact family members in Denmark for precaution's sake. By pure bad luck, both of them had left their mobile phones back in the hotel room, and by pure lack of human rights, neither of them were allowed to make that 1 phone call that they were entitled to make.

At 8pm, their case was finally brought up again. S was brought to a room and was told to sign a document (again in Chinese) about the 500 RMB fine. He refused, because no where in the document could he see the number "500" written on it. For all he knew, he could be signing his life away. After 45mins, he was sent back to where K was waiting, and with the bad news that on top of the 500 RMB fine, they were also sentenced to 10 days in prison!!! The 17hrs at the police station was already "inhuman" enough (no food, no drinks, no good explanations, no chance to exercise their rights), so they didn't dare imagine what 10 days in prison would be like!

They were driven to an unknown place in Shanghai, and luckily put (or rather, pushed) into the same 20sqm cell as each other, together with 8 others. That was to be their "home" for the next 10 days. Their entitlement to a phone call each was still not given to them, and neither was the Danish Consulate in Shanghai contacted on their behalf even though the policemen said they had already did that. Lies.

The 10 day experience in hell the cell was:

1) Sleeping on a 2m x 2m quilt on the hard floor (shared), with a smaller sized quilt for each to cover himself with. The quilts were also used by previous prisoners and stank of sweat since they were never washed nor aired.

2) Getting awoken up every morning at 6am by a loud alarm, and having to quickly fold away their quilts into a storage box in the cell.

3) Starting the day with 2 hours of listening to propaganda radio attentively, followed by 2 hours of watching progpaganda tv programmes on a tv that was placed outside the cell. This, they had to "watch" even though there was a technical failure on 1 of the days, whereby no sound or images were coming out of it.

4) Small bowls of plain rice with inedible "extras" that was not even fit for a dog, such that they could only eat 1/4 of what they were given each time or else they would throw up. These "meals", they had to pay for!

5) 2hrs of afternoon nap in the hot and humid cell (and waking up to the same day instead of a new day).

6) Not getting any real sleep at night since on top of hard floors, the lights were never turned off.

7) Ice-cold showers which you can have only in squatting position due to the short shower tube thingy.

8) Not being able to shit the whole time because of the lack of privacy in their cell.

Day 4 of their prison stay was the day they should have taken their flight back to Denmark (24th June). Family members and friends were already starting to get worried by now because of not hearing anything from them (K's brother had turned 40 on the 23rd of June). K was supposed to start work the next day on the 25th, and when he didn't show up, his boss and his family eventually called the Danish Consulate in Shanghai to find them.

On the 27th of June (K's mum's birthday), someone from the Danish consulate finally went to meet them. S, and later K, were taken to talk to their representative, and was instructed by the police to put some civil clothes on instead of their prison clothes. They were handcuffed when out of their cells, but these were removed just before they met the Consulate's representative. An obvious grand show of how they "humanely" treated their prisoners.

They were finally released on Monday, 30th June. S had lost 3½kg, K had lost 5kg. They paid their 500 RMB fine, collected their clothes that didn't fit anymore and their shoes, and were escorted back to their hotel by 3 representatives from the Danish Consulate who greeted them with sandwiches, chips and soda. They were able to catch the evening flight back home to Copenhagen and loved ones that very same day.

Hearing about this nightmare story from a friend who experienced it 1st hand has opened my eyes to the justice system in China, and I'm sure this is only just the tip of the iceberg. I am also very surprised that a big and vibrant city like Shanghai was not able to produce a capable interpreter to communicate between the accused foreigner and the police to clearly explain the crime they were accused of, and the rights they had. This should be a very basic and common sense thing in the least!

I suppose S and K could have offered a bribe to the police officers and get away from 10 days in prison (as what these officers probably expected), but that would only be feeding and encouraging the corrupted system, wouldn't it?

I have a few friends from China, so I have nothing against them as individuals, but I have to say that their country does have a very looooooooong way to go when it comes to being called "civilised", and enough of the Chinese people has got to come together to change the system from within. For now, the image I have of China is 1 in very negative light, and it would take a BIG change to happen before I will view the country positively, if that will ever happen while I am still alive.

A toast to F.R.E.E.D.O.M!!!

Danish version of my friends's story here: Dansk rejseagent fængslet i Kina

And here's a long but interesting read from Amnesty International: People's Republic of China The Olympics countdown -- failing to keep human rights promises

I think I'm going to watch the movie Red Corner from 1997 again, starring Richard Gere. And if you have not read the book Wild Swans yet by Jung Chang, I highly recommend it. It's scary $h!t.

And for the record, S was actually in Singapore for about 8 days for vacation (his first time in Asia!) before he left for Shanghai, and he LOVED it there :o). So despite his horrible experience in Shanghai, he will at least have the good memories of Singapore to bring home with him.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

"Ich bin ein Berliner"

Am now back from Berlin! Well, was back almost a week ago, actually. It was a short but good trip in general. Oh, and Germany didn't win the Euro Championship this year. I think I had really jinxed that country just by being there...which actually worked fine for me because I wanted Spain to win anyway.

Saw a lot of German fans on Sunday, but I didn't get to watch the match itself. Good thing I have a friend and colleague to update me on the results while I was on the plane. Yes, I had my mobile turned on throughout the whole 40min flight, including during take-off and landing. I usually always make it a point to switch off my phone, but not on this particular flight.

Well guess what? The plane didn't crash! Maybe because we were sitting too far back in the plane away from the navigation equipment ;o). Anyway, I don't know how true it is that mobile signals affect the plane's navigating equipment, especially if everyone on the plane has their mobiles turned on, or if these interferences can actually cause a crash. What I do know, is that on September 11, 2001, there were 4 plane crashes and while many (if not all) passengers in those planes were calling their loved ones to say goodbye via their moblie phones, it was *not*, I repeat, *not* mobile signal interferences that caused all 4 crashes.

Anyway...while I would not like it if people are talking loudly into their mobile phones while I try to get some sleep in the plane, I think that airline carriers should loosen up a bit by either a) allowing phones to be used in "Flight mode", or b) allowing sms'es to be sent/received as long as the phone is in meeting/silent mode.

Ok, enough about phones. Back to Berlin! The first night was fairly uneventful, since we arrived late at the hotel. Was pretty easy to find our way there once we found out which buses or trains to take.

Since the weather was pretty rainy the next day, we agreed to go shopping :o). Not that we spent much anyway. My shopping items as below:



Leather traveller bag - outside


Leather traveller bag - inside. Pretty compact, huh?
Previous price: 48€
Sale price: 25€


Sporty traveller bag - 5€ (sale price)


Pair of shoes: 14.95€


Tank top: 6.90€


Soles for shoes: 1.95€


Pair of earrings: 8€


Travelling shampoo and conditioner with interesting fragrances - 3.75€.


That's about it! Total shopping price of non-food items = 66€ (500 DKK / S$132)!!!

Enough of my shopping...here's what we did:


Day 01


Riding in the bus.


Under our umbrellas, ellas, ellas, eh, eh, eh... .


Interesting looking church.


Smoking...

...this - a water pipe (or Hookah), apple flavoured.


Hmm...apparently not quite as safe as I thought :o(. Unless we had the "tobacco-free flavour". Anyway, that would be my first and last time. Kids, don't try this at home (or anywhere else, for that matter).





The Netherlands supporter vs a German supporter


Evidence of our shopping...but what else could we do when it was raining outside?


Can't really see it in the picture, but that shoe is size 45! Can women really have such big feet? Or would these be for erhm...cross-dressers and transversites?


Shopping area in Berlin.


At an U-bahn (or Untergrundbahn / Underground)


Gonna check out Berlin's nightlife.


This really reminded me of Clarke Quay in Singapore.


Not sure if this was a restaurant or bar.


I SO wanna see "Mamma Mia!"...but not in German, so Adagio was where we were headed to.


It was a church building converted into a nightclub. Was HUGE! Big enough for a fountain within.








Lots of people, as you can see.


Day 02


Vandalised section of the Berlin Wall.


Non-vandalised section of the Berlin Wall.


No, I did not vandalise this section.


Didn't see any trams in central Berlin, so not sure if they're only going around certain parts.


This station was closed when East and West Germany were separated, and opened again in 1989 when the wall came down.


TV Tower with the promise of a good view of Berlin, but we didn't go up because of time (the queue looked quite long) and money (9.50 EUR/72 DKK/S$19 just to go up, lookie-lookie, and down again - No way!).


Checkpoint Charlie





Got my passport stamped with orignal stamps by this solider. Funny guy. He even made me go buy coffee for him (he gave the money, of course). I should have bought it for him at staff rate (1 EUR), but due to some miscommunication, I ended up getting it at the usual rate of 3.60 EUR! Oops. He paid up the difference, but I doubt he'll ask a tourist to buy his coffee again ;o).


My stamped passport.


Bye, bye!


Not sure what this building is, but it's definitely not a nightclub ;o).


Wanted to walk through here as there was a park behind it, but the area was sealed off due to the Germany-Spain Euro 2008 final.


Beautiful





Some government building, I guess.


The main station in the background.


Thousands of German football supporters.


Anyway that was my quick getaway in a nutshell. Oh, there was an incident that really pissed me off a bit while in 1 of the shopping centres. We were standing in line to pay for our merchandise, and though it was my turn next, some crazy woman with a child of around 1½ years wanted to cut in! How rude was that?!

Me (getting ready to pay)
Siao char bor ("Crazy woman" in Hokkien) trying to cut in.
Cashier (in German and pointing to me): "This lady was here first."
Siao char bor to Cashier: "Ojaogjr opopep ihwahkf oiweik!!!" ----------> speaking in "German" to cashier
Siao char bor to me (angrily in English): "Is it ok that I pay first?! I've got a baby!!!"
Me: "Sure, go ahead."
Siao char bor to Cashier (still angry): "Wkjalfjo poajsoep p ojaporj!!!" (this is not really German, if you don't know by now).
Cashier explaining to her that she just wanted to be fair.
Wagma asking what was going on, so I told her, and loud enough for Siao char bor to hear: "This woman wants to pay first, but it would have been nice if she had asked first instead of just cutting in."
Siao char bor overheard what I said, and started to give her "I've got a baby!" speech again.
Me directly to her this time: "You could have just asked first instead of just cutting in."
Siao char bor....still angry when she left. Not even a word of "Thanks".

SERIOUSLY!!! Just because you have a baby or young child with you DOES NOT GIVE YOU THE RIGHT TO LEAVE YOUR MANNERS AT HOME!!! If you had just asked first instead of assuming that the rest of us owe you something for being a mother, we would be understanding enough to let you cut the queue. So what if you have a baby? I didn't ask you to get one, so don't make it my problem. And maybe I don't have a baby like you to "justify" being next in line, but for all you know, I might need to pee really badly. Then what? Would my need to pee over-rule the "reason" that you have a baby? It most certainly would, if I am the one who is really next in line.

I hope her child did not learn anything from her during that episode. And for the rest of you who are already parents or becoming one, *never*, I repeat, *never* assume that the Red Sea should part for you and you alone just because you have a child with you. In some cases, yes - like during an emergency, or sometimes even when boarding a flight. In other cases, all you need to do is ask politely, and the majority of the human race will surely empathise and let you have your way.

And kudos to that cashier who was right in wanting to be fair on a "first-come-first-serve" way, because the next bad thing to someone who wants to cut the queue is a service staff to allow it without getting the permission of the customer who is rightfully next in line. Bartenders and taxi drivers picking up passengers on weekend nights are top failures in applying this "rule".