Putanga – Life on the Road

Stories from my journeys around the world…

Archive for the ‘Asia’ Category

Back in Manila

Posted by Monica Johansen on August 24, 2011

I keep living out of a suitcase. On Saturday afternoon I returned from a two weeks business trip to Australia, and already on Sunday I had to jump on a plane to the Philippines. I am not complaining though, I actually enjoy living life on the road, but every now and then I feel a little bit tired.

My home for the week

This week I am conducting a training class for a customer in Manila, and it is nice to finally be back on these islands. It is well over a year since the last time I was here, and I have missed the smiling Philippine people and these charming islands. One of the things I love about the Philippines is that when you walk down the street you will experience that total strangers wave at you and say hello with a big smile on their faces. It makes you feel very welcome, and it puts a smile on my face every morning when I walk to my customer.

At this time of year it is still wet season in Manila (the wet season here lasts from late May to early November), so it has been raining a little bit every day.  But luckily most of the rain comes down late in the evening or during the night, so when I wake up in the morning the ground is wet and the air is fresh but the sun is shining. It is actually quite pleasant.

The only thing I am struggling a little bit with is the food. Now, generally the food in the Philippines is excellent, but they eat a lot of meat and pork in particular, so if you don’t eat meat – like me – you might struggle to find something you can eat in the typical food courts and common lunch places. However, most hotels have great restaurants, so if you are willing to pay a little more you can get pretty much anything you want. For instance, early last year I wrote about the buffet in Dusit Thani Hotel, which is absolutely awesome and also quite affordable. I think I should pay them a visit sometime this week.


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Travel, Travel, Travel

Posted by Monica Johansen on July 11, 2011

OK, time is flying away faster than a Ferrari on Autobahn these days. After my visit to Japan in the beginning of June I had to go back to Australia for another three weeks. The first two weeks was in Canberra, and at this time of year the Australian capital is anything but pleasant. It was freezing cold, between 1 and 5 degrees Celsius in the morning, and despite bringing my warmest winter jacket and having the customer put the heater on maximum I was still cold all the time. It was actually quite depressing, and after two weeks I was starting to question the meaning of life.

Brisbane city center

But, above the clouds the sky is always blue etc, etc, and the last week in Australia was spent in sunny Brisbane. The moment I got out of the airport and I felt the warm air and I saw the palm trees my mood rapidly increased, and in the taxi to the hotel I was smiling again. The week in Brisbane was pleasant. I stayed at a very nice hotel called Oaks Festival Towers, which is located in the city center two blocks from the main shopping area. Although I had booked just a standard room, they gave me a two bedroom apartment with a river view and I didn’t have to pay any extra.

I came home from Brisbane early in the morning on Saturday, July 2, and already the same evening, after just 16 hours in Singapore, I had to fly back to Japan. This time I didn’t go anywhere else than Nagoya, but since I arrived on Sunday morning, and my hotel room wasn’t ready yet, I went out to the Nagoya Castle, which I hadn’t had a chance to see the last time I was there. Outside the castle I met a very nice old Japanese man who asked me in English if I was a tourist. I told him that I was on a business trip but I was taking any opportunity to do some sightseeing. The old man then wanted to show me a traditional Japanese theatre next to the castle, and he ended up giving me a guided tour and telling me a lot about Japanese art and culture.

Nagoya Castle

I must admit that at first I couldn’t help wondering what he wanted from me, because I am so used to locals in Asian countries stopping me and trying to get money from me somehow. But after a while I realized that this nice old man just wanted to practice his English. So while he practiced his English I took the opportunity to practice my Japanese. Unfortunately, I am still a beginner, but it is fun trying anyway.

My trip to Japan only lasted for a couple of days. I was back in Singapore already on Wednesday afternoon, and I have been home since. It was great to spend an entire weekend at home for once, although I was rather busy doing customer documentation, laundry and cleaning my apartment. Nevertheless, there is no place like home.

Tonight I am heading out on a new adventure. I am flying to Rome in Italy, and I will be on holiday for almost two weeks. Frankly, I can’t remember the last time I had that many days off from work, and right now I can’t wait to jump on that plane. Europe, here I come! 😀

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The Land of the Rising Sun

Posted by Monica Johansen on June 10, 2011

Finally!!! At last I have had the opportunity to work in Japan! Japan has never before been part of my territory, and in other companies I have worked for Japan has been completed separated from the rest of APAC from an organizational perspective. Luckily, my current company doesn’t have any consultants in Japan, so when there is a need for onsite consulting I am the one they will send.

The Imperial Palace in Tokyo

Since this was my first time in Japan I decided to stay a couple of extra days to do some sightseeing and take some photos, so I flew over already on Friday night and arrived in Nagoya early Saturday morning. My customer is based on Nagoya, which luckily is located along the Tokaido Shinkansen bullet train line with high speed trains running from Osaka to Tokyo. Along the same line you will also find Kyoto, and the train ride from Nagoya to Kyoto is only about 30 minutes. Hence, when I arrived in Nagoya I jumped on a train to Kyoto to see one of the more cultural cities of Japan. I was planning to stay one night in Kyoto, and at the train station I met an American gentleman who was there for business just like me and who offered to help me find my hotel since he knew the area rather well. We ended up spending the rest of the day together since we both were alone. On Saturday we walked around in Kyoto to see the Imperial Palace and some of the temples, and on Sunday morning we took the bus to the Rokuon-ji temple complex to see the quite famous Golden Pavilion (Kinkakuji). In the afternoon my American friend was meeting a colleague, and I jumped on a train to Tokyo to get a glimpse of the Japanese capital.

Sushi restaurant in Nagoya

Tokyo was quite different from what I expected. The city is huge, but very modern and it actually reminds me more of an American city than any Asian city I can think of. However, there is an interesting mix of old and new buildings, and one of the most interesting attractions is the Imperial Palace (yes there is one in the old capital Kyoto and another one in the new capital Tokyo). I spent one night in Tokyo before I headed back to Nagoya on Monday afternoon to meet my Japanese colleague who was working with me on site to translate etc. One of the real challenges in Japan is of course the language, and unfortunately my Japanese is worse than their English, so I was very happy to have someone with me who could translate. Another challenge is the traditional and very strict etiquette in Japan. Growing up in a dojo I already know quite a bit about the Japanese culture, but knowing how to behave on customer site is a quite different thing.

I have now completed the first week of my project, and tomorrow morning I am flying home to Singapore. It has been a great experience to work here, and I have enjoyed seeing the beautiful temples, meeting the kind and polite people and eating great food. I think will miss this fantastic country, but luckily I am going back in a few weeks to complete the project. It is something I am really looking forward to. 🙂

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Happy Constitution Day, Norway!

Posted by Monica Johansen on May 17, 2011

May 17 in Norway

We are in May already, and today is an important day both in Singapore and in Norway. Singapore and many other Asian countries are celebrating Vesak Day, a Buddhist holiday sometimes informally called “Buddha’s Birthday”.  In Norway they are celebrating their national day or Constitution Day, and pretty much the entire nation dress up for a gigantic party in every city and town in the country. Many Norwegians prefer to wear the national costume, the “bunad”, and outfit based on traditional folk garments from the 18th and 19th centuries.

I don’t get to celebrate Vesak Day and the Norwegian Constitution Day this year because I am working in Australia. After finishing in Canberra I traveled to Sydney where I have spent the last 7 days, and today I will jump on a plane up to Brisbane for 10 days before I can head home to Asia. I am starting to get tired of living in a suitcase, but I guess the alternative – being stuck in one place for months and months – is not very appealing to me.

Anyway, I hope all my fellow Singaporeans and Norwegians enjoy the holiday! 🙂

Posted in Asia, Europe, Miscellaneous, Norway, Singapore | Leave a Comment »

Easter in Hong Kong and Macau

Posted by Monica Johansen on April 26, 2011

I am currently working on a project in Hong Kong, and since I had no plans for Easter I decided to stay here rather than going back to Singapore for the long weekend. I have always wanted to see Hong Kong, but I have never had a real reason to come here before, so this trip was a great opportunity to do some sightseeing.

Hong Kong

Good Friday I still hadn’t made any specific plans, so I ended up walking around in the city and looking at the harbor and some of the famous locations such as Times Square. In the evening I decided to take the Peak Tram up to Victoria Peak where you can get a fantastic view of the city. Although the view was great, I must admit that it wasn’t exactly the most pleasant experience I have had in my life. There was a massive queue to get tickets to the train, and I ended up standing in line for over 45 minutes just to get to the ticket counter. And once I had tickets I had to stand in line again to get on to the train, so even though the train ride took less than 10 minutes it took me well over an hour to get to the peak. I was also quite surprised about what I found on the top. I thought Victoria Peak would be more like a nature reserve with a lookout point surrounded by beautiful nature. On the contrary, the peak was more like a huge shopping mall with lots of shops, souvenirs and restaurants, and getting on the train down was just as difficult as getting up there. I was quite happy when I finally got back to the city and away from the crowds, and quite frankly I wouldn’t recommend the experience to anyone.

Ngong Ping village

On Saturday it was raining, so I spent most of the day indoors, but on Sunday the weather was great and I went out to Lantau Island, which is the largest island in Hong Kong and with some interesting tourist attractions. The most famous attraction is probably the Ngong Ping cable car, a 5.7 km cable car journey that takes you to the top of the mountain with an amazing view of the island. On the top you will find the Ngong Ping village, where all the buildings are designed in traditional Chinese architecture. There is also the Po Lin monastery and the world’s largest outdoor Buddha which is visited by Buddhists from all over the world. Another attraction on Lantau Island is the Tai O fishing village, which is an old village built on stilts and which was once the largest settlement on Lantau. All in all it was a very good day, and it was great to see other parts of Hong Kong than just heavy traffic and shopping malls.

Senado Square in Macau

Monday was also a public holiday in Hong Kong, so I got up early and went out to the ferry terminal to catch a ferry over to Macau, which is only an hour boat ride from Hong Kong. Macau is an administrative region of China, similar to Hong Kong, but while Hong Kong was owned by the British, Macau was owned by the Portuguese, which is quite evident in the architecture. The city looks like a southern European town with Chinese influence, which I suppose in reality is exactly what it is. The old buildings are quite well maintained, in colonial style with a range of pastel colors, such as yellow, pink, light green etc. The famous Largo do Senado (or Senado Square) is paved with a wave-patterned mosaic of colored stones, and the road signs are written in Chinese, Portuguese and English. I spent most of the day walking around and admiring the architecture, and it was a good thing that I didn’t jump on any of the organized sightseeing tours, because I realized that many of the really nice old areas are not even covered on the tours and besides, Macau is so small you can walk through the city in one day.

Today I back in Hong Kong and getting ready for a few more days on customer site before I head home to Singapore.

Posted in Asia, Hong Kong, Macau, Travel | Leave a Comment »