Sep 30, 2007

Water Taxi New York City

September and early October is the perfect time of year to visit New York City. Peak tourist season is over, the oppressive heat and humidity have packed their bags and left town and it is still warm enough to comfortably take in the sights. What better way than floating on the harbor? After all, four of the five boroughs of New York City are located on islands. You can visit three of them in one day by riding the New York Water Taxi.

New York Water Taxi provides commuter and sightseeing services. To take in the sights you can board for $20 a day or $25 for a two day pass and hop on and off on a route that goes from Midtown east at 34th street to Midtown west at 44th street, zigzagging to and from Brooklyn and one stop in Queens along the way. In between you can explore DUMBO and Red Hook in Brooklyn, the South Street Seaport, Battery Park, The World Financial Center and Greenwich Village.

The ride alone is worth it. Bring your camera and sit up top to photograph the city’s icons including the Empire State Building, Statue of Liberty and Brooklyn Bridge.

In DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) the Water Taxi docks at the Fulton Ferry Landing Pier. Right next to the Brooklyn Bridge, the pier provides some of the finest views of lower Manhattan. On weekends it’s a popular spot for brides and grooms to have their photographs taken with the Manhattan skyline as a back drop.

Red Hook is an increasingly popular outpost for artists who can spread out in lofts that were former industrial spaces. You can grab a bite to eat at the recently opened enormous Fairway food store while taking in a view of Statue of Liberty.

Water Taxi Beach
I suggest ending your ride at Hunters Point in Long Island City, Queens where you can have a drink at Water Taxi Beach and watch the sun set behind the Manhattan skyline. It’s an urban beach and bar scene where sand and picnic tables have covered concrete and a volley ball net has been set up. See for yourself in the photograph on the right. On a recent Sunday afternoon parents sat at tables sipping cocktails while their children frolicked in the sand.

If you are in town or from town and haven’t checked out either hurry up. The season for the Hop-On Hop-Off service and Water Taxi Beach ends soon. For more details go to New York Water Taxi and Water Taxi Beach.

Sep 26, 2007

Door To Door Makeover Forbidden City Beijing China

The Imperial Palace in Beijing has by some accounts 9,000 doors. The hard earned patina of each is being scraped off and repainted one by one.

The Forbidden City is the largest palace complex in the world and parts of it are constantly under renovation in order to maintain it. But the biggest makeover in almost a century has been accelerated in recent years the first phase of which will be completed in time for the 2008 Summer Olympics. Who couldn’t use a major facelift after more than 500 years?

To enter the Forbidden City you must first past through the impressive red doors of Meridian Gate the main entrance. Supreme Harmony Gate awaits you after walking across one of the five carved marble bridges of the Golden Stream. It overlooks an immense courtyard that held up to 100,000 members of the royal audience. If you squint your eyes just so you can almost see the ghost shadows of the whispering eunuchs who served the court.

Which door in the photographs above would you prefer to open?

Sep 23, 2007

Bangles India

It is no secret that India is a shopper’s paradise. Each region has its specialty of goods. Varanasi is known for its exquisite silk, Jaipur for gemstones and Agra marble, to name a few. One item you can find everywhere and which makes a great gift for women is bangles. They are easy to pack and relatively inexpensive.

The traditional jewelry has been worn by Indian women since ancient times. Bangles are made from glass, metals, plastic and of course gold and silver. Glass bangles are becoming less common as they tend to shatter. My sister-in-laws wouldn’t let me buy them when I was in India earlier this year. I don’t recommend them for young children.

The price of a set of glass, metal or plastic bangles can range anywhere from 50 cents to $25 depending on how intricate the design. They typically come in sets of 12 and there are many different sizes, which fit even the smallest child. You can easily break up a set into four or six and mix and match to give them as gifts.

As you can see from the photo of bangles I took in Jaipur, Rajasthan the variety of colors and styles is endless.

Can you hear the jingling sound they’d make on your arm?

Sep 20, 2007

Water Seller Rabat Morocco

Traditionally costumed water sellers are seen throughout Morocco. For a dirham or two water is poured from camel leather bags into brass or tin cups. Few tourists can resist photographing the colorfully clad men decked out in elaborate tasseled hats. You can hear the musical clinking of the brass and bells they wear.

Today water sellers make more money from vacationers who pay to photograph them than from peddling water.

In Marrakesh water sellers in Jemma el Fna are licensed and wander amongst the crowds, food stalls, snake charmers, story tellers, dancers, acrobats and fortune tellers. They are adept at getting the most from tourists. Indeed if one approaches you in the square don’t be surprised if two others appear to pose in a trio. All three will expect a tip.

I photographed this man outside Hassan Tower in Rabat, one of Morocco’s imperial cities.

Sep 13, 2007

Filipina Domestic Workers Hong Kong China

It’s Sunday and jet lag is working in my favor so I am up early to catch a ferry bound for Lantau Island to get a head start on the weekend crowds. Shortly after descending into Hong Kong’s Central District for the first time I notice hundreds of women laying blankets or pieces of cardboard boxes on sidewalks. Is this some type of sit in like protest in the making or the prelude to a weekend event? Eager to catch the boat I keep moving.

The crowd of women has reached a critical mass when I return in the late afternoon. The powerful sound of thousands of female voices speaking in a tonal tongue unfamiliar to me resonates. It’s not Cantonese because they are not Chinese.

The women line the overhead walkways, which traverse Hong Kong Island’s Central District, four and five deep. They also fill Exchange and Statue Squares. Small cottage industries have sprouted on the concrete ranging from make shift nail salons to food and clothing sold swap meet style. The mood is festive, music is playing and some women dance.

The next morning when I report to work colleagues explain this is how Hong Kong’s domestic helpers, often referred to locally as Amahs and who are predominantly Filipina and female, spend their one day off every Sunday.

The lives of domestic workers in Hong Kong resemble something like this: They live with their employers and work morning until night six days a week. They wear many hats; nanny, cook, house keeper and also run errands. They keep the households of well heeled Hong Kongers and privileged ex-pats running for paltry pay. Room and board are provided and they are typically paid a mandated minimum wage of HK$3,480, about $450 a month.

More often than not these women are well educated and fluent in English but due to the dire state of job opportunities in The Philippines they seek overseas employment. Many have children they have left behind with family and send back a large portion of their wages to support them all. They are the migrant workers of Hong Kong.

In 2006 overseas Filipina workers worldwide sent over US$10 billion home accounting for 11% of the country’s GDP, according to the Asia Sentinel.

Sep 12, 2007

Chapulines Oaxaca City Mexico

Every country has its offbeat delicacies and Mexico is no exception. Chapulines, or grasshoppers, are a culinary specialty in Mexico. They come in different sizes and are found in the south, particularly in the state of Oaxaca (pronounced wa-ha-ca) where they have been on the menu for thousands of years.

Chapulines are fried in chilies, salted and served with lime. You can order them in Oaxaca City’s many cafes, buy them in food markets or from street vendors who sell them like popcorn. They are eaten as snacks or as part of a main dish, stuffed in empanadas for example.

Many people were washing them down with hot chocolate in Oaxaca City when I was there two years ago for the Day of the Dead festival. Oaxaca is known for its chocolate, which is incredibly rich. The chocolate is also used in a thick sauce, or mole, also a regional specialty which is served with savory dishes such as poultry.

For more on Oaxaca’s cuisine check out Mexoline. Or if your gastronomic interests veer more toward consuming insects got to Bugsfordinner for a list of resources.

Sep 4, 2007

Dongtai Road Antique Market Shanghai China

Shanghai is a shopping city and a great place to go treasure hunting is Dongtai Road Antique Market. It’s a nice change of pace from the large department stores and malls on Nanjing Road.

Outdoor vendors line several streets on the outskirts of the Old Town. Antiques are few and far between and replicas, or fakes, abound but you will find plenty of vintage items, traditional crafts, curios and assorted knick-knacks. Among the stalls with embroidered slippers for bound feet, chopsticks, lanterns and furniture you will also come across Communist-era posters, calligraphy brushes and copies of The Little Red Book in several languages.

Dongtai Lu (which means road) also overflows with Cultural Revolution kitsch. Mao memorabilia includes alarm clocks, lighters and ceramic figures like those in the photograph above.

Be prepared to bargain. Open from about 9 a.m. until dark seven days a week the best time to go is in the late afternoon when vendors may lower their prices to secure a sale at the end of the long day.

The residential lanes surrounding the market are atmospheric and worth prowling. Low rise buildings are adorned with hanging laundry and narrow lanes beckon you to wander through and see where they lead.

How To Get There
The metro stop closest to the market is South Huangpi Road. Taxis are abundant and inexpensive in Shanghai and while most cab drivers know the market they do not speak English. Ask the reception at your hotel to write down the name of the market in Chinese so you can hand it to the driver. Most hotels have business cards with their address in English and Chinese and a space on the back where the Chinese name of a destination can be filled in.