Have you been weighing the pros and cons of buying designer knockoffs during your next trip to China? It’s a popular tourist thing to do and you can get many label lookalikes there but here’s my humble suggestion – don’t do it.
First, haggling with vendors who don’t speak your language fluently is a highly advanced skill, not an effortless art. Also, when everything is said and done, the effort and time invested to own that fake “7 For All Mankind” jeans, “Louis Vitton” handbag or “Rolex” watch just really isn’t worth it.
The items may look good from afar but are far from good in reality. Besides, nine times out of 10, you aren’t really fooling anybody!
When I visited China, I decided to see what their thriving knockoff industry was all about. But I didn’t do my research at Han City, Qipu Lu, Hongqiao New World Pearl market or any of the numerous other venues you often read or hear about. I made an unscheduled stop in Beijing that you will never see on an official map or tour itinerary.
Some group members and I visited one of those shops that was clandestinely located down several steps, around a few corners and set behind a green tarpaulin entrance tucked far, far away. If you asked me to identify the place 30 minutes after I left it, I wouldn’t have been able to find it on my own. It was a highly mobile operation run by a well-oiled relay system.
This is how it worked. Our bus driver made a call before approaching the drop-off location. The tour guide then walked us to a point where we were met by a liaison who led us to the designated establishment. Immediately afterwards, said liaison disappeared. I can’t verify this but I got the hair-on-the-back-of-my neck feeling there were ‘lookouts” in the operation network as well.
Someone I kept in touch with had problems with some impromptu watch purchases almost right away. The first sign of trouble was the constant need to replace batteries because the knockoffs stopped working regularly. Eventually, rust and corrosion set in.
I also know someone else who bought handbags for herself and a work colleague and the linings began stripping in no time. So why bother?
There are several great shopping options in China and truthfully, the indigenous finds are far more unique and memorable. You can look out for:
– silk products like scarfs, pyjamas or ties
– jade jewelry
– great teas and tea pots
– calligraphy and scroll paintings
I recommend getting creative with your shopping list when you travel. Why spend money on items you can get at home?
What do you think? Have you come across any truly unique shopping items on any of your trips? Please share!
According to Mayo Clinic, ‘Tai chi is an ancient Chinese tradition that, today, is practiced as a graceful form of exercise. It involves stretching and a series of movements performed in a slow, focused manner and accompanied by deep breathing. Each posture flows into the next without pause, ensuring that your body is in constant motion”.
I think the Chinese are on to a good thing here. It is widely believed that this ‘meditation in motion’technique does wonders for alleviating stress and anxiety levels – in the young and old.
If you’re ever in Beijing, you should walk through Jingshan Park early one morning, say between 6 and 7 a.m., to see locals doing this graceful exercise.
If invited to do so, you can even join in.
There are beautiful flowers and trees.
Breathtaking views from Wanchna Pavilion, the highest point in the park.
Dubai is a hotbed of first-class entertainment venues and tourist attractions but surprisingly, the activity I enjoyed most during my stay was a Desert Safari tour. It included dune bashing, camel rides, dinner in a Bedouin-style camp, henna hand painting and belly dancing. If you plan to visit, you should try it.
What is dune bashing?
Dune bashing means driving at increasing and decreasing speeds over sand dunes. As the surface of the sand keeps shifting, it takes a special skill and a special type of car to navigate the terrain – usually a sports utility vehicle (SUV). Expect a stop to let the air out of your tyres (tires) as reducing the pressure gives the vehicle more traction against the moving sand.
What to expect
The experience starts with pick-up at your hotel or home stay, followed by a 45 minute to an hour-long drive out of the city. As we left the outline of a built-to-impress metropolitan area behind us, the emerging desert landscape in its unapologetic sparseness acted like a soothing balm to my, at that point, over-stimulated soul.
There were no city noises to obscure my hearing and no towering buildings to block my view. If you are lucky, you may even spot a few camels or other wildlife along the way.
The dune bashing part of the trip was a bumpy and thrilling ride that lasted about an hour. We reveled in the slipping and sliding, the exhilarating skidding, and 360-degree spinning of the vehicle. All of that was punctuated by sporadic seat-gripping and different decibels of screaming and shouting. And sand, lots and lots of sand! We had a jolly good time.
The vehicles travelled in convoy and stuck close together as they performed their stunts. As a result, we were not just caught up with what was happening in our SUV, we also were observing the antics of the people in the other vehicles as well.
Tip: Try to secure the front passenger seat or a window for the best views!
What to wear
Dress comfortably, because inevitably the sand gets into everything. I recommend a hat or a scarf to cover your hair, and long pants and a light shirt or t-shirt. I wore sneakers and socks in an effort to cover my feet but the sand got into them anyway, so I could very well have worn sandals.
For persons who wear contact lenses, I suggest wearing shades as well because small grains of sand get into your eyes very easily when you are outside the vehicle. With no running water nearby, eye-drops alone won’t be enough to clear them.
After the drive, you are allowed to exit the vehicle, walk around and take pictures. The evening drives are timed to end just before sunset so be ready to capture some pretty cool shots then.
Dinner and belly dancing
The evening ended with a trip to a Bedouin-style camp. The Middle Eastern-influenced dinner menu included a variety of meats and salads with some desserts.
Optional camel riding, henna painting, shisha smoking and belly dancing rounded out the evening’s activities.
At the end of the dinner and belly dancing show, the lights were turned off for about five minutes to allow us to enjoy the magnificence of the star-filled sky..
Plan for the AED 360.00 price range but please check various tour sites for the most up-to-date information. I did my tour with Arabian Adventures and the adult rate is a little cheaper in the summer months, from June 1- August 31st. But bear in mind you will be in the desert and it is at its hottest temperatures at that time of year.
Hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
No one who visits Dubai can deny that it is a visually impressive city. It boasts an ever-evolving skyline, soaring skyscrapers, superlative service and a surefire sexiness that comes with being younger and better-looking than many of its regional peers.
Oil rich reserves discovered in the mid-60s proved to be the catalyst that led to the demise of the tradtional Bedouin lifestyle. Before the boom, settlements were built around a main creek and camels were the main means of transportation.
It is nothing like that today.
The country is now a thriving metropolis designed to convey opulence; a tangible reminder of its status as a premier international financial center and an important business hub in the Middle East. There are swanky hotels, glitzy shopping centres (centers) and copious amounts of steel, glass, marble and gold almost at every corner.
Expatriates seeking employment or upward mobility are drawn to it and visitor arrival figures prove tourists can’t get enough of it – unless they are a little pesky like me. In spite of being impressed by the vision and drive behind its public systems and dramatic physical transformation; I didn’t – just couldn’t – warm up to it.
My biggest takeaway was an inescapable sense of the superficial. But admittedly, not everybody seeks authenticity in their destination experience; sometimes escape is all you need. Dubai provides that in heaping servings. I liken it to a grownup version of Disney World, or an adult land of “anything is possible” make-believe.
There are fake islands and fake snow, and elaborate food sometimes flown in on flights more long-haul than the ones the restaurant patrons themselves had to use to get there. Most of all, there were not-so-positive things that lurked beneath the glossy surface.
I could not ignore the stories I heard of the vicious cycle of pretentiousness that drives some work permit holders into debt because they are hopelessly trying to keep up with the status quo. Neither could I avoid hearing the whispers of unfair treatment of the labourers (laborers) who often are tricked into building the city on broken promises and shattered dreams.
It was a lot to take in, so by day two of my four-day trip, I desperately craved something real.
Thankfully, I got a taste of how non-showy life used to be when I went dune bashing in the desert and watched some belly dancing in a camp that same evening. Who would believe that I finally got my Zen in the most unmodern context possible? Yet, I did. My Dubai moment came when I sat cross-legged on a low, quilted cushion; and relished a tasty yet traditional meal.
I had such positive feedback from my first post about traveling for work that I decided I would try to feature a different career path each month in an effort to highlight the many options available to people who yearn to see the world.
For this month’s feature My Travel Stamps spoke with Matthew Wilson, frequent flyer and world explorer extraordinaire.
Matthew, what do you do for a living?
I am the chief adviser and chef de cabinet to the head of the International Trade Centre (ITC), a development agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization. ITC helps countries and private sector businesses to develop through international trade and improved competitiveness. We assist them to build the capacity they need to operate effectively by equipping them with the tools, knowledge and market intelligence they need to succeed.
What tasks are involved and do you enjoy what you do?
I support the Executive Director in implementing her corporate vision and helping to chart the strategic course for the organization. I love what I do because of the innovation and dynamism involved. My job can range from meeting presidents and Nobel prize winners to attending fashion shows that showcase local designers, visiting coffee projects, facilitating the implementation of trade agreements and visiting underprivileged communities to see how trade works on the ground. It’s fascinating.
Do you have to travel for work? If so, how often?
Yes, I do. The frequency varies but in one month I can travel at least two to three times for business. Flying for work has become second nature to me because I’ve been doing it for a long time. Before this position, I represented Barbados as part of the Foreign Service for more than a decade and then served in the Cabinet of the Director General of the World Trade Organization.
Wow, that’s impressive. What sort of academic and/or professional background is needed to land those kinds of jobs?
There are many pathways. I have a varied academic background that includes law, economics and history at ‘A’ levels’; psychology and sociology at the undergraduate level; and two post graduate degrees, one in international relations and the other in development studies.
But surprisingly it is my knowledge of psychology that has really helped me most. It allows me to read and understand people quickly – an extremely useful skill in interpersonal relations and by extension, business and diplomatic negotiations.
I also have to give credit to a series of generous mentors who allowed me to ‘learn at their feet’. I am from a small Caribbean country but I had to operate in a truly global environment, so there was always the added pressure to deliver more at a higher standard.
The term “bleisure”, which means mixing business with leisure, is hot now. Do you get to do any of that when you travel?
Absolutely! Some people differentiate between business and pleasure travel; generally speaking, I don’t. Whether I am visiting some place new for one day or staying longer in a country I’ve been to 10 times, it’s all an adventure. I will find something to explore.
Don’t get me wrong; when I travel for business, I work hard. My schedule is often tight and intense because I ensure I make full use of the resources being invested in me. But when the meetings and official events are over, you will find me outside meeting people, hearing their stories, eating exotic foods and listening to local music.
On more than one occasion, I’ve been out roaming the streets until two o’clock in the morning and I have gotten up at five to explore the area before work begins. Who needs eight hours of sleep when there are interesting sights, food and customs to learn about? Not me, I can catch up on sleep when I get home.
How do you decide what to do in your free time?
I do tons of web research. If you look in my history tab on my computer right now you will see a bunch of searches that begin with ‘off the beaten track’. Blogs are a huge resource for me as well because they give you the true personal experience – the good, the bad and the ugly. For local eats, I tend to check with the concierge.
What is your favorite country to date?
I can’t pick just one. For pleasure, I fell in love with Cuba: the people, the music and the buildings make it a truly special place.
For work, I would have to say Cape Verde, Cambodia and Samoa. I went to Samoa for a United Nations Summit on Small Island Developing States and that ended up being very special for me. The country is beautiful and the people are amazing. Also, the first time I ever spoke in public on trade issues was at a small island states youth meeting in Barbados twenty years before so that moment felt like I had come full circle.
What is your favorite iconic landmark or World Heritage Site? Please say why.
Without a doubt, the Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.
I first visited it for pleasure five years ago and again for work just last month. It is a cultural and otherworldly experience. Seeing the sun rise over the temple and watching it set on the side of the ‘mountain’ is awe-inspiring. Beyond that, the beauty of the carvings and stone work of the temples are simply incredible sights.
What are your favorite airports?
The ones with the most welcoming people in the countries that do more with less. You will find some of the greatest airport lounges and splashy retail outlets in terminals in Dubai and Bangkok but the people interactions in airports in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Nepal were some of my most memorable. They also stood out because the people were wholly invested in doing their best despite limited resources.
What is the one thing you never leave home without?
My headphones and my MP3 player. In school I was known as ‘the guy from Barbados with the headphones’ and all these years later those two earplugs are still an important part of my life.
You can follow Matthew on Twitter at: @matthewbarbados
No visit to Cape Town is complete without a trip to the top of Table Mountain. From this famous landmark, which is 3,567 feet (1087 meters) above sea level, you truly experience what it feels like to be on top of the world.
Below, I’ve listed five reasons why I think you should add this attraction to your to-do list.
A huge part of any journey is the anticipation involved. Some people get anxious. Others, like me, are like high-spirited horses who chomp at the bits to gallop away. I am a keen observer of people and those differences were apparent during the five-minute cable ride to the peak.
As we took that feet-tingling ride up the mountain, you could see the fear of heights in the eyes and body language of the some people in the 65-person-at-capacity cable car. In others, especially the palms-splayed-wide-on-the plexi-glass-kids, the overarching emotion was uninhibited delight.
If you are a true adrenaline junkie, you don’t have to take the cable car. Hiking and exploring at your own pace is the way to go. There are three trails to the top of the mountain and if you choose that option, you are encouraged to complete the hike in groups.
You can trek both ways, take the cable car up and hike down, or do it the opposite way. The truth is, even if you don’t plan to hike down you might have to. I found out AFTER I visited that daily weather conditions determine if the cable car runs, so a return ticket doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a ride down on an extra windy day. Yikes!
Words fail me when I try to describe the 360-degree view from the top of Table Mountain.
While the far-away outline of the city lies below you, there also are craggy cliffs and dramatic scenery that stretch out for miles on either side.
It’s stunning, jaw-dropping, breath-taking, AND awe-inspiring all at the same time; a physical onslaught to the senses.
The flora and fauna
As part of a World Heritage Site, Table Mountain has an abundance of flora and fauna that makes it a treat for the nature lover. Reported to have more than 1,400 different species of plants, one of the most vibrant and distinctive is the yellow Fynbos, which is Afrikaan for ‘delicate bush’.
Find a hidden cubby hole or look over a rocky edge and you also could spot frogs, tortoises and different lizards in their natural habitat. If you’re lucky, you might even get to see a Tahr, an animal that closely resembles a goat.
Last but by no means least, is the sunset. You’ve heard the saying: a picture says a thousand words, right? In that case, let’s do this the easy way – I’ll share two thousand words with you right now.
There is Sunset Special that runs from November 1 to December 19, and from January 8 until February 28. After 6pm, return tickets are half price. The regular rate for an adult is R225 roundtrip and R115 one-way. Children aged four to 17 pay R11 one-way and R58 one-way.
Have you ever seen a man wrestle an alligator? It is a one part fear, one part adrenaline-infusing spectacle that is a combination of snapping jaws, thrashing tails, adroit and evasive human movements and audible gasps from an enthralled audience.
Despite how touristy this ancient American Indian art has become, everyone still watches this man-beast tangle transfixed because of the underlying awareness that something could go horribly wrong.
And it has. Ask Chief Jim Billy, the charismatic and controversial former leader of the Seminole Tribe of Florida. He lost a ring finger to a six-foot gator in a 2000 exhibition and was bitten on the buttocks some 17 years earlier by another, even though it is reported he grew up wrestling alligators for food and profit from the tender age of five.
Whenever you get the chance to, you should check one of those snarling alligators out.
A few alligator facts:
Alligators are native to the United States and China.
An average adult American alligator’s weighs 790 lbs ( 360 kg)
Alligator wrestling is a part of ancient Seminole tradition as early tribe members hunted alligators for their hides and for food.
I’ve HEARD the meat tastes like chicken but I’m too chicken to find out for myself. Have any of you tried it? Is it really true? Share pictures!