1. January began with a trip to Beijing in the middle of winter. First off, a United and a Thai in their respective old liveries @ HKG! In a few years these photos should be 'historic' and qualify for nostalgia!
3. I didn't have a chance to visit Beijing during the Olympics in 2008. This was my first visit since the Games, and I made good use of my spare time to explore the new and the bold.
4. This clunky tram now parades down the grand avenue of Qianmen. When I last came in 2007, it was a boarded-up construction zone. It's still not fully open. The buildings are all new and mimick the designs of yesteryear, and most are still empty.
5. Unexpectedly, there was no snow, but that didn't mean it was a comfortable walk. What the picture shows is nowhere near what the actual site feels!
7. I must say Beijing's urban model is probably as good as the one in Shanghai, which was already very impressive. Can you find your way around this big city?
8. That was just the Forbidden City. Now we try the rest of Beijing.
9. The Bird's Nest was quite busy inside, but the Olympic Park itself is a vast, uninviting space. I don't see much purpose to be there if there isn't anything happening inside. Maybe they need to place a few residential buildings here to fill in the gaps.
10. I circled around the Water Cube to see it from all sides. This side was the best to take photos.
11. The pace of change in Singapore is far slower than Beijing in comparison. I chose to relax a bit more amidst the intense heat.
14. I'm surprised traditional Chinese can survive even though the rest of the country seems to willingly adopt the outrageous simplified script. Good that this shop didn't give in to massacring our rich linguistic history.
15. I wanted to see more interesting local spots now that I've been to Seoul a number of times. So I went hiking, and with good results.
18. I'm now a fan of Korean food.
19. My biggest surprise was the existence of a traditional Hanok village in the heart of Seoul. It's actually quite a large area, and has its own self-guided walking tour. This place needs to be advertised more!
21. Remove the wires overhead and turn back the clock 100 years.
22. The wall doesn't seem that hard to scale, and on the other side lies royalty.
23. It was cherry blossom season, and there was plenty of it to see. You don't always have to go to Japan to get the experience.
24. With sunny skies and pink flowers as a backdrop, these pine cone jellies made my day!
26. The Inuit can do this, too!
27. Hahoe Village is some 600 years old. I didn't expect straw-thatched huts to still survive the ravages of time and modernization.
28. This setting is even more authentic than the one in Seoul a few photos back. I can picture myself carrying a lantern and weaving through these alleys at night.
29. Contemplating the next financial product that will make the poor poorer and the banks richer.
30. Right after Korea, I took advantage of the super good deals and decided to fly to Canada the wrong way, and have a day trip in London. It was also my first time being stopped by the Metropolitan Police. Telling them I just flew in from Hong Kong this morning for a day trip to Europe and then continuing to Toronto that night didn't help too much.
31. London experienced yet another grey day. I had to make my photos grey as well to fit the occasion ...
34. ... but needed to add a tint of orange for this one.
35. I'm not a very big fan of this city actually. It's spacious, but it's cold, and I hate suburbia. Armed with a car, I went around photographing some of it. But I want to emphasize the nice scenery in these pictures is more than offset by the unhealthy and unsustainable suburban lifestyle.
37. The first big commercial skyscraper to go up in the heart of the financial district for over a decade is finally done, after sitting as an abandoned concrete core for many, many years. Back when the first shovels came and went, the banks surrounding the block were perhaps a more real force in world finance. Now, they have been far overshadowed by today's true global banks.
38. Cityplace was conceived and built by Hong Kong real estate money. Strangely, we don't get these kinds of buildings in Hong Kong. I somewhat regret not investing in a unit. It's turning out quite nicely, and there's still a lot more room to grow.
39. Meanwhile, elsewhere along the waterfront, it seems like the old wasteland is starting to turn into a vibrant living community. I suggest people should get in here before it becomes too expensive and unaffordable for the working class.
Across the Atlantic
40. Since I came the long way to Canada, I had to take the long way back to Hong Kong. It has been a while since I came across such unionized incompetence, but I was given the chance early in the morning on my departure from Toronto. Apparently, you need to do self-check-in using a machine, and then line up to weigh your bags and drop off your bags. This sounds not so unusual, right? Well, the rest of the terminal was empty except this little corner. Wonder whether anyone taught these good people at Air Canada what efficiency means?
42. The renewed 767 was gorgeous though. I flew its old version over a decade ago on the same route to London. Sadly, the emptiness was a sign of the times.
43. We passed by a number of key Canadian sights along the way. Thankfully it was sunny and they were easily identifiable. With so few people on board, I roamed both sides of the plane to capture as much as I could. Bonjour Montreal!
44. Here's Confederation Bridge.
45. Here are the French again - St. Pierre & Miquelon
45. Here's St. John's, Newfoundland. Let the Atlantic crossing begin!
46. I had to pick a place to use up my hotel points. With the world economy in dire recession, I had Helsinki and Porto to choose from to take advantage of a super redemption special. Having been to Portugal in 2008, I chose Helsinki. I somewhat regret not having ventured out a bit more. Porvoo seemed quite interesting actually. Being a big smoked salmon fan, I start off with some treats.
47. The Jugend architecture was quite inspiring. The elegance was very distinct. It wasn't cluttered with religious symbols and mosaic facades. It was just simple.
51. The people are far nicer here than in the larger cities. Instead of hearing 'are you done yet', there is far more 'are you OK'? I just can't imagine why anyone needs to be angry living in this serenity.
52. I didn't know what to expect out of Estonia at first. I went to Riga in late 2008, and enjoyed it. It felt more Western Europe than next to Russia. Tallinn felt even more medieval, and being such a short hop from Finland, made a great day trip.
53. Although there is also a distinct Russian influence.
54. There are many nice pockets to just stare and think. The historic area was very pleasant to explore on foot.
56. Again, I met some more nice people who felt more inclined to say 'are you OK' than 'are you done'?
57. I had a tough itinerary. I always push myself quite a bit, and I think I over-did it in the end. I believe I passed by this street 3 times that day.
63. Happily satisfied with my low-cost trip to a high-cost corner of Northern Europe, I also had the opportunity to spot some planes from the bridge at Gatwick!
Singapore - Kuala Lumpur
66. More insane day trips followed. I was in Singapore again in June, and did a day trip to KL to finish off my itinerary.
67. Surely, I miss the Finnish smoked salmon now.
68. I walked quite a long way from airplane to terminal that day, but on the bright side, there was plenty of spotting!
69. The sole purpose of this day trip was to see ... Putrajaya!
I was quite disappointed. These recent planned capital cities have never really impressed me.
70. This part of Malaysia was far better. Although I was stuck in queue for 3 hours at the border due to the school holiday mad rush, 2 days here were sufficient to cover the historic sights. Add to that a room with a magnificent view of the sea.
71. The Portuguese were here ... although Malacca is far different from Macau, their other colony in this region.
72. Tourist trap .. but you can't say you visited Malacca without a photo of this.
74. Chinatown is always full of colour and life!
78. Can you guess what this delicacy is?
Life out of a suitcase in the first half of 2009 was quite a lot of fun. The passport filled up some more, although the constant movement from one city to another is starting to take a toll. I had set a new record of setting foot on 3 continents in one day, which would probably be hard to beat going forward. There was no particular place that I really really liked out of them all. Each seemed special in its own unique way. But when I combine it with the 2nd half of 2009, I will probably have a more assertive answer.