A Bit of Luxury in KL

Kuala Lumpur at night

After a month spent back in Shanghai’s chilly weather, we are headed to the tropics…again. The boyfriend has business in Malaysia this week and I’ll be tagging along for the ride. We’ll be in Kuala Lumpur, the capital and largest city of Malaysia, which is characterized by its rich cultural diversity, gorgeous tropical climate and (best of all) its unique medley of delicious ethnic foods (think Malay, Indian and Chinese melting-pot)

We’ll be staying here at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, which is also directly next to the famous Petronas Twin Towers—the tallest twin buildings in the world and, conveniently, where the boyfriend’s office is located. As much as I’m thrilled to tackle this global city, I have a sinking suspicion that the only thing I’ll be “tackling” on this trip is the pool, the gym and the luxury spa. 🙂 Hooray for tropical business trips!

"Edgeless" pool

tropical luxuries

*All photos from WATG.

Tigers Worth Talking About

(*Photo by Tamboko)

As the American media continues its big fuss over the overblown Tiger Wood’s apology interview, I thought I’d share a friendly PSA on a tiger story worth talking about: namely the extinction of the gorgeous and powerful species, Panthera tigris.

Here in China the “Year of the Tiger” celebrations have really put these big cats in the spotlight, as tiger paraphernalia such as tee-shirts, mugs and hats are sold as gifts to ring in the New Year and bestow luck upon receivers. But amongst all of the tiger-hype, a dirty little fact still stands: these felines are quickly going extinct and Chinese consumers play a major role.

The New York Times reports that the biggest threat for tigers in China is the robust market for its parts. Bones, furs, skins and “tiger-tonics” are among the items that make a dead tiger, a good tiger. Despite bans imposed by the Chinese government in 1993, the poaching and selling of tigers and their parts still remain a lucrative trade via the many  “tiger-farms” scattered across the Mainland.  And in case you’re wondering, a “tiger-farm” isn’t a cutesy petting zoo for these endangered species. Posing as tiger conservation camps, these farms actually raise tigers to be killed and consumed on a mass scale. So the next time you visit the tiger “zoo” in China, think twice about that gorgeous cat behind bars…because he may just be the next merchandise sold in the gift store.

So tigers in cages remain ultimately doomed in China. But what about the lucky ones roaming in the wild? Well, for starters, there’s only about twenty of them left.  And since “wild” tiger parts are twice more profitable than “mass produced” parts, this small group seems destined for the same fate.

I conclude Foreign Exposure’s first-ever PSA with some numbers… because in the end, the top “Tiger” stories have always been about the numbers:

  • Of the 9 subspecies of modern tigers, 3 are extinct and the remaining 6 are classified as endangered.
  • 3,200 wild tigers remain in the world.
  • 1,400 wild tigers live in India – the world’s largest tiger population.
  • 20 wild tigers roam China.
  • 1,500 tigers live in the largest “tiger-farm” in China—many in small cages without trees.
  • $1,000 USD is the price of a single tiger paw sold in “tiger-farm” gift stores.
  • “Save the Last 5,000 Tigers” was a slogan used during the last “Year of the Tiger” in 1998.  (See bullet point 2).
  • 624,000 is the number of times that Tiger Woods slept with a woman other than his wife.

CNY UPDATE: Going Big for Gold

Photo from fotolia.com

Just when we thought the noise was over, Shanghai delivered another spectacular fireworks show yesterday that was an even louder and longer version of the aforementioned pyro-display on Chinese New Year.

As the clock struck midnight, Shanghai rolled out the welcome mat for the “God of Wealth”  and you’d have to be deaf, blind and living in an underwater cave not to have noticed.

We happened to be sitting in our living room when the commotion started and caught a quick video from our balcony. Again, the sound was deafening and it took some personal nerves of steel not to automatically go cower under the bed (also it was completely freezing out, so I actually wanted to cower IN the bed).

I guess when dealing with a God that determines the entire city’s personal wealth, the locals go big for the gold.  Our sources tell us that Shanghai launched 1,000 tons of fireworks into the air, even though Beijing (only?) launched 800 tons (click here for Beijing coverage).

Although the city might stand  a bit shell-shocked today (and perhaps missing a finger or two), it certainly threw one helluva welcome party for the Wealth & Fortune God. Now let me just go check my bank account…

BIĀN PÀO!

The Chinese really celebrate the New Year with a BANG and a POW and various other ear deafening sounds that are reminiscent of bombs dropping and impending Armageddon.

Fireworks are the most popular way to ring in the New Year and, according to ancient Chinese tradition, the way to scare off evil spirits lurking around.  And, by God, did they scare the hell out of me, as I found myself crouching behind chairs and running for cover every time another launch was made…which on New Year’s Eve is about every 5 minutes from morning until the wee hours.

Unlike other places in the world, in China, these pyrotechnic devices  are both legal and cheap…which means just about everyone and their mother puts on their own deafening display (and seriously, I saw mothers with children in their arms setting these suckers off).

Perhaps it’s due to the fact that fireworks were invented in China and therefore have always been a major component of the culture, but the locals seriously have no fear of these accidents waiting to happen. We witnessed rockets being launched from people’s bare fists, men with cigarettes dangling from their mouths kneeling inches from a wick and children running barefoot under a rainfall of hot sparks.

(above photos from Cultural China)

But nothing can compare to the actual sounds and sights when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve and tens of thousands of people light off their crackers in a simultaneous barrage of explosions that fill the sky.

I caught the scene with some friends from the outside balcony of Glamour Bar. In front of us was the old clock tower of the Customs House, and at the turn of the Lunar year, a million sparkling lights rained down on it. Everywhere you looked the sky was lit up like a Christmas tree and the sound was like nothing I’ve experienced before (nor do I wish to without a helmet and a gun). The locals call the intense explosions “warm noise” (re nao), but for a newbie like myself the only thing “warm” about it was the intense searing sparks threatening to drop on our heads.

Below is a video which was taken a few minutes after midnight. The major fireworks in front of us have dissipated at this point, but it’s a great example of the general level of noise that continued as everyone around the city was still setting off their own show. (P.S. that noise continued until 6am).

As I write this post today, a full 4 days after New Year’s Eve, there are still blasts, pops, fizzes and lights outside my window as the pyromaniacs locals just can’t get enough of these loud, sparkly combustibles. It certainly makes one feel all warm and fuzzy as it’s truly a symbol of holiday-time in Shanghai…that or “duck and cover man we’re being invaded!”

UPDATE: As I sat here writing this post, the explosion of fireworks outside grew to such a level that a quick Google search ensued. Turns out that tonight at midnight (which is an hour from now), Shanghai will erupt into a “24-hour cacophony of fireworks” as the town ushers in the “God of Wealth.” This article states: “Forget about sleeping. Only the loudest bangs are said to get this lucky god’s attention.”

Welp. Who needs sleep when you have a “God of Wealth” on the way and your very own light show from the balcony? Bring on the bang, Shanghai. 🙂

Chinese New Year 2010 – Tiger Time!

This New Year blew in on an ocean breeze… knocked me out with a bout of mystery sickness… and then suddenly dropped 2 wonderful job opportunities into my lap.** As I’m still reeling from the roller coaster that’s been 2010, I’m starting to realize that perhaps these new changes are just part and parcel of the “Year of the Tiger,”  which according to the Chinese zodiac is symbolic of intensity, change, drama, and new opportunities.

I’m smiling as I write this since “change,” “drama” and “opportunity” are definitely a part of every year, in every country, despite particular zodiac alignments. But out of sheer curiosity into this intensely (and loudly) celebrated holiday,  I thought I’d devote this post to the current hubbub that is the Chinese New Year, 2010 “Year of the Tiger”… Rawr!

Chinese New Year, also called “Spring Festival,” is the most celebrated and important holiday within Chinese cultures. Based on the Lunar calendar, the New Year usually falls on the second new moon after the winter solstice and thus differs from the Gregorian New Year date of January 1st. So while the rest of you are recovering from that big New Year’s bash by making grandiose resolutions, the Chinese approach January 1st as just the first day of a really cold month.

This year, the CNY falls on February 14th…which we also know in the West as “Hallmark Day” or “Buy Me Flowers Day” or “I’m Going to Stay Home and Drink a Bottle of Wine Alone Day.” Since the Chinese celebrate both holidays commercially, it looks like this Sunday is going to be the cupid versus the dragon…and something tells me that the dragon has more clout.

Viewing this special holiday through a pair of expat eyes, it is easy to compare the big event to Christmas/Hanukkah celebrations in the West. Bright decorations of red paper lanterns and ornamental scripts adorn homes, people are bustling around buying gifts, food and alcohol to consume and exchange, and all businesses, schools and government institutions are closed for the next 7 days.

Tomorrow (Saturday) is the “Eve” of the CNY,  a time in which everyone travels home for reunion feasts with their extended family. In fact, this period is actually the largest human migration period in the world, as more trips are taken during this holiday than the total population of China all together (in 2008, the number of trips taken during the month of the CNY totaled 2.26 billion!)

So…this is why the boyfriend and I are spending this particular holiday on a  “stay-cation.” Battling the largest human migration in the world for a seat on that train? No thanks.

Hopefully, in between eating, watching fireworks and drinking some New Year’s libations, I’ll also get to put up some posts regarding  this festive time  in Shanghai. Because isn’t it about time we read about a more noble and honorable Tiger other than that creep in the news? I think so. Stay tuned and Xinnian Kuai Le!  新年快乐!

PS: Click here to find out what zodiac sign represents your birth year according to the Lunar calendar. I’m a rooster.

** I’ve started work as an assistant editor for the Shanghai International Channel’s evening news program “The Spotlight” and am now blogging over at the Shanghaiist.com—ranting about life as an expat and Shanghai happenings.