Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Data Roaming

I had considered renting an international MiFi device for our recent Hong Kong trip, but decided against it after calculating the actual data usage cost. Instead, I added an international data package to one of our phones. Not knowing what our actual data usage would be, I selected the 300 MB plan for $60. We used data roaming judiciously, switching to WiFi at the hotel or in the airline lounge. We shared the connection via the iPhone's personal hotspot and mainly used it for Facebook, email, and some web browsing. It turns out we averaged less than 30 MB per day, using a little less than 54 of the 300 MB available. We could have easily gotten by on the 120 MB plan. I have a significantly longer trip planned this fall, but it seems like the 300 MB plan should be more than adequate.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hong Kong - Day 2

We had another good breakfast at the hotel this morning. I tried the pancakes and they were delicious served with natural maple syrup. The coffee is also good, hot and strong brewed individually on an espresso machine. Our plan for the day was to visit Victoria Peak. Before going sightseeing we went looking for an ATM to replenish our supply of HK$. We didn't find the ATM but stumbled upon Hong Kong Park where we realized we were only a short walk from the Peak Tram so we headed toward the peak without stopping for cash.

Hong Kong Park
Hong Kong Park
It was a beautiful day today and we enjoyed the walk through the park, but when we arrived at the tram we we found that the nice weather encouraged many visitors to Victoria Peak, and there was a long line for tickets and access to the tram. We stood in line under hot sun for about a half hour until we reached the ticket counter where I learned that only HK$ and no credit cards are accepted for tram tickets, and I was short the required amount of cash. I feared I was going to have to go find an ATM and re-enter the line when to my relief a kind patron in line near me offered to exchange some of my US dollars for Hong Kong currency. I bought our tickets and we made our way to the tram.

Victoria Peak Tram
The tram ride was crowded but quick and we were soon at the top. After disembarking you must navigate several floors of escalators past many shops and restaurants to get to the observation deck. The view from the deck was magnificent, especially with the clear skies we were fortunate to have. We spent ample time viewing and photographing the vistas, and posed for one of the pro photographers up there. We returned inside and after a little shopping and waiting for our pro shot to be processed, we were ready to go back down. The zig zag queue for the return tram was exceedingly long so we took the public bus back down. The bus trip was a longer ride but it was air conditioned and there was no line. An unexpected bonus was that it dropped us off very near our hotel.

View from Victoria Peak
Pro Shot
This evening we had the pleasure of reuniting with several of the former students that lived at Gram's house back in the 90's. We met with Jacky, Wai, Bob and their wives, and were also joined by Gary, Stanley, and Bob's 2 charming little boys. They treated us to an amazing authentic Chinese banquet at the Xin Dau Ji restaurant in the popular Causeway Bay area of Hong Kong. Course after course of some exotic looking foods were served family style on a rotating tabletop, and Wai made sure to serve me some of each. I was surprised that some I might have otherwise avoided were quite delicious.

Chinese Dinner Party
Hong Kong Friends
After dinner Bob took his family home while the others took us to see the Temple Street Night Market. The night market is an open air collection of street vendors and fortune tellers that is similar to a flea market but unlike any I have seen before. It opens in the afternoon and stays open until 3 or 4 in the morning. After finding a couple of souvenirs at the Night Market we all returned back to my hotel to share drinks and memories. It was a pleasant reunion and we were sad for it to end. We parted with promises to meet again in the future.
Temple Street Night Market
Night Market Vendors

Friday, May 23, 2014

Hong Kong

We finished the first full day in Hong Kong today. It was a very tiring trip coming here. 13½ hours to Tokyo then nearly 5 hours more to Hong Kong. We arrived about 10:15pm and by the time we were settled in our hotel it was after midnight. The hotel is a very nice Marriott and we have a club level room on a high floor.  We received a welcome gift of fruit and hot tea that was a pleasant surprise.

Welcome Gift
After getting a good night's sleep we started our day with breakfast in the club lounge where they had an extensive buffet including eggs cooked to order and fresh made pancakes along with a variety of Asian breakfast choices and the usual European breakfast selections.
Breakfast in the club. 
It was raining pretty heavily in the morning so we hung out in our room for a while after breakfast
but soon the weather improved and we set out for some sightseeing. Our first stop was the Wong Tai Sin Temple, a colorful Taoist shrine in the midst of the city on the Kowloon side.
Wong Tai Sin
Wong Tai Sin
Next we visited the Chi Lin Nunnery and Nan Lian Garden. The Nan Lian Garden is a beautiful public park built in Tang Dynasty style.

Nan Lian Garden
We've been finding our way around on the Hong Kong MTR subway system. It is easy to use and takes you close to all the places you want to go. There is even a stop accessible from the lower levels of our hotel. It reminds me of the system in Paris, except the names are harder to read.

MTR Train
Our next destination was the Tian Tan Buddha or "Big Buddha" which is 34 meters tall and sits on top of a high hill on Lantau island. You reach the Buddha from the Tung Chung MTR station where you can get a cable car that carries you up and across the hills to the Buddha. The views along the way are outstanding. It's then only a 286 stair climb to reach the Buddha.
Cable Car
Big Buddha
We returned from our visit to the big Buddha in time to view the Symphony of Lights show on Victoria Harbor. Many buildings on both sides of the harbor participate with music, lasers, and lighting effects on the buildings. I've never seen anything quite like it.

Symphony of Lights
We finished up our sightseeing with wine and a harbor tour cruise on a Chinese "junk" style boat. It was very relaxing. Then we rode the iconic Star Ferry across the harbor and hopped the MTR back to our hotel. We enjoyed a good dinner in the hotel restaurant and called it a night.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Staying Connected

I do some international traveling and the one thing I miss when I'm abroad is the ability to pull out my phone anywhere and have access to the web, Facebook, or a map showing where I am. Cellular data roaming is notoriously expensive with pay-per-use rates typically around $20/megabyte. In the past I've always forgone having complete connectivity and restricted myself to the hotel's WiFi which isn't necessarily free, and often inadequate.

A recent post on the AirfareWatchdog blog reviewed a product from Xcom Global that provides a portable international hotspot and promises unlimited connectivity for up to 10 devices for $14.95/day. This seemed like a good deal until I looked into the details. Xcom Global indeed offers a MiFi device for $14.95 a day, but you are charged for each day of your trip, not just the days you use it. You must tell them the start and end dates of your trip, and they will ship you the device the day before you leave, and you must return it the day after you return. You pay for each day in between, including those while you are in transit. In addition, you are charged $29.90 for shipping. So for my upcoming trip it would have cost $104.65 for a little over 2 days of access. I decided against the Xcom Global solution this time.

My wireless carrier offers a monthly international data roaming package with access capped at 120MB for $30, or 300MB for $60. Also, the access is only for one phone, although you can share the connection by enabling the phone's personal hotspot. Assuming my data usage stays under 300MB this sounded like a better deal so I am giving it a try this trip. I'll report back afterward on whether my internet needs were sufficiently met.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Convention Wrap

I intended to do a post convention update a lot sooner after my return, but you know what they say about good intentions. The convention wrapped up on Thursday night with an entertaining concert by Sting and Adam Levine, but the surprise hit of the evening was the rendition of Con Te Partiro by the winning Voice of McDonald's contestant Lucila Ospitia that brought everyone to their feet.

Booth tear down occurs on Friday, and since I wasn't flying home until Sunday I volunteered to stay late on Friday to help complete the tear down and pack up. It always amazes me that an exhibit that takes a week to set up can be taken apart so quickly, but we started at 7 am on Friday and by 3 pm the only thing left to do was fork lift the crates and pallets to the truck dock.

I checked out of the Rosen Centre Friday and spent the weekend at Disney's Beach Club Resort. The accomodations were excellent as I was able to get the convention rate for a club level suite. The Beach Club is only a few minutes walk to Epcot which is another nice advantage.

The many days of company sponsored dinners and evening libations were unfriendly to my weight loss plan, and I confess I did little to avoid it. I did eat an Isagenix meal replacement bar for breakfast a couple of times, but that was more for the convenience of saving time in the morning than to control calories. I hate to admit that altogether I gained 15 pounds during the time I was gone. Some of that I expect to come off as fast as it went on, but the rest will take effort to remove. I have another trip coming up, and my present goal is to lose at least 10 pounds of the convention weight before I travel again. So far I'm on track to do that.