Thursday, October 26, 2006

No More Outpost Magazine, at least for me!

Yesterday, out of the blue, the current copy of Outpost magazine, a Toronto publication, turned up in my mailbox. Hmmmm. I hadn't renewed my subscription, so why was it here? Oh yes, there's a sheet of paper saying Please renew, here's a courtesy copy to sweeten the pot.

A look through this November-December 2006 issue reinforces my decision not to renew: It's just sloppy production, from editing to proofing to layout, and not worth my time to wade through.

But if you don't mind photo captions that do not describe the photo, and editorial content that's indistinguishable from ad content, then more power to you.

One story, about a river named Tatshenshini, caught my attention. A wonderful photo of ice floes, a teaser on the cover, and the story itself -- father and grown son off on an adventure.

But where, you might well ask, is the Tatshenshini River? Good question. I had to read about 300 words into the story to get the idea that it just might be in the Yukon (the author's setting out from Whitehorse gave me a clue). I was about to google the river name just to find out where this wondrous tale took place. Readers shouldn't have to work that hard to find out the basic Who, What, When, Where, Why of a story; the editor should if the writer didn't.

Another story included a photo of two large elephants; the amazingly informative cutline confirmed them to be 'elephants'. No other details.

Several years ago, when I first began reading Outpost, it contained some wonderfully written travel stories, albeit always in the first person. That's all right, as far as it goes, for independent travel seems to be Outpost's focus. But lately, the stories are first person boring, as if transcribed from a taped running commentary detailing all the minutiae of the traveler's day. TMI (too much info): I don't really care what every person you met along the way said to you.

But to be fair, maybe the change is in me, not with Outpost. Maybe too, I am still annoyed that the photo contest submissions I sent in a few years back, each photo clearly labeled with my contact info, replete with SASE for return, never were. A sign of administrative sloppiness that's permeating the magazine. If Outpost can find its way to the Land of Good Editing and Proofing, I for one would be the first to rise up and cheer.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

ATMs in Africa ?

An email from a friend who's working in Tripoli lamented about how difficult life can be when international banking is minimal or non-existant. Money has to be sent to her via Western Union, or brought in by friends.

This reminded me of when I was traveling in Ethiopia, where my ATM bank card was useless, and only a few places accepted credit cards. I had brought cash -- some in U.S. dollars, some in euros, and a few British pounds, as I had been advised to do by friends living in Addis Ababa. As well, I brought traveler's checks in Canadian dollars, which I could cash at the banks and the currency exchange at the airport.

Of course, we all had to watch our money carefully, since banks were open for limited hours, and very busy. My hotel in Addis accepted credit cards, but it was the only one during 2 weeks that did. We were up north in Aksum when the others ran short of money, and I had to change every dollar, euro and GBP I had into birr so the others could pay for hotel and food.

It wasn't the worst of circumstances, just a pain when we are so spoiled with having bank machines everywhere. And having to account for every cent sure keeps you from overspending. I was glad I took my own advice to always 'back up your travel money', and don't ever rely on just one source. (And yes, they paid me back as soon as we got back to Addis.)

I've posted more travel currency tips at SnapshotJourneys.com Travel Tips.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

Green Mango and West 88 (Lucky Eight, Double Eight) :: Restaurants in Toronto and Mississauga Ontario

Good value, good food define both these modestly-priced restaurants. Green Mango, at 730 Yonge Street just south of Bloor in Toronto, features very tasty Thai food. I had lunch there two days this week ($8) and licked my plate clean. They have other locations, and a website at GreenMango.ca

West 88, located in the Mississauga Chinese Centre at 888 Dundas east of Cawthra, features Vietnamese food. The addition of the word 'West' to the name may cause some initial confusion, as previous signage showed it as 'Double 8' and Pho 88; On the Mississauga Chinese Centre web site, it's listed under restaurants as 88 Vietnamese Restaurant Ltd. Whatever you call it, it's all the same, and all good. (Phone 905 897 8899 for info)

The restaurant was closed over the summer for extensive redecorating, and it's newly stunning. Gone the homey arborite tables and kitchen chairs, nicely replaced with oak strip drop ceiling and lighted onyx panels, black leatherette booths and slate-look porcelain floors. The prices went up 50 cents to $1 a dish, but are still a bargain for the very tasty food.

The only thing yet undone is the website. Last week, staff assured me that new photos and information for the redesigned web site was in the offing. Meanwhile, all that's up is a Flash page for www.west88.ca (I can only hope my advice to 'lose the Flash' is taken. For some reason, flash intro pages are the darling of restaurants, as are PDF files for menus, and the bane of web site visitors.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

The Un-Travel Post

The Buffalo area is still without power and people are still living in shelters, wondering if their homes have thoroughly flooded basements by now. Wondering, too, just how bad the food in the fridge and freezer smells, and hoping their insurance is up to date and claimable.
You'd think after the fiasco that was Katrina et al. that we'd (collective WE) be better able to cope. When First World countries struggle to recover after natural disasters, what hope do Third World countries have?

Other than watching the news, I have been busy posting photos of art from Haiti for Starthrower Foundation. They hope to sell the paintings for the artist, who has no market to speak of in Cap-Haitien. If you get a chance, pop over and have a look at their website (That's one of the paintings here).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Snowstorm Wreaks Havoc Around Great lakes

New video on last night's late night news showed the terrible damage from the sudden and early snowstorm that hit Ontario and western New York state Thursday and Friday. Apparently 300,000 homes are without power, and will be without until Monday or later.

Though the sun is shining here, the winds are still fierce. I cannot imagine what those affected by the power outages are enduring! Were I in the same straits, I'd be hard pressed for ways to heat my house. Though I keep magneto-type flashlights for emergency light (I don't like candles as the smoke can build up during a long outage and make it hard to breath, and make your smoke alarms shriek when the power comes back on), I have no wood-burning fireplace. And what about all the apartment dwellers?

To paraphrase a Western Canada insult being flung about back in the 80s, I guess I'd freeze in the dark! As for those living in the affected areas, hang in there . . . If nothing else, this unexpected emergency can teach all of us a lesson about being prepared.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Travel Web Sites

With a way-too-early winter storm blowing through Mississauga, Ontario and dumping a pile of snow on Buffalo and Niagara Falls last night and today, I hunkered down at my computer and did some editing on my travel sites.

I added more photos to Snapshot Diaries Haiti page, and redid the home page on Snapshot Journeys.com. Now I am happier with both of them. While I was at it, I added a new page for my story on Chile Wine country.

Then I got a dozen or so photos of Haiti art for Starthrower Foundation, the charity web site I volunteer for, but I couldn't get the page to work the way I wanted it to, and my tech support in
Australia is AWOL this Saturday morning (her time).

Just as well I can't do any more web work till she 'shows up', as my body is screaming, "Get away from the computer NOW!"

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Men in Trees with Anne Heche In Squamish, B.C.

For all you Canucks, I just have to share this email I got today, from Jennifer at the Coast and Mountains Tourism Region, in Vancouver, B.C.

"I invite you to discover Squamish, BC – outdoor recreation capital of Canada, located in the heart of the Sea to Sky Highway and the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, a haven for rock-climbers and the nesting place to over 3000 bald eagles every winter. Sounds wonderful, doesn’t it? But you are probably wondering how this fits with the likes of A-lister’s and Hollywood hotshots.

Perhaps if I told you Squamish is known in television-land as a town called Elmo, Alaska, where the population is 90% men, it may sound more familiar.Squamish’s latest role is playing host to celebs like Anne Heche, who stars in “Men in Trees”, a Northern Exposure meets Sex in the City show about a downtrodden relationship coach who finds herself hunkering down in this little backwards town to escape life for a while. So, if you haven’t started watching the show, it’s time to start, and the next time you are in Squamish, aka Elmo, check out the locations of your favourite scenes – and, as for me, I will keep hoping for the 90% men statistic to magically come true!". . .Jennifer
I toured this gorgeous country before the filming started, and posted my photos online. Pop over to SnapshotJourneys Canada and have a look at the Upper and Lower Sunshine Coast.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving :: Giving Thanks in Canada

Canadians have much to be thankful for, though judging by letters to the editor and radio talk shows, you might be forgiven for thinking we are a nation of complainers and whiners. Most likely, we do complain a lot precisely because we have such a wonderful life. Canadians have the luxury and security of knowing how life should be, and get annoyed, cranky and indignant when issues and events diverge from the good life.

Canadians are great volunteers, and champions of the underdog. We say 'Sorry!' even for things that are in no way our fault, and would cure all diseases, end world poverty, resolve conflict, and feed everyone tomorrow if we could. No, we'd do it today!

Of course, Canadians are not unique in this desire bordering on compulsion to help others. I think a spirit of helping and sharing is a human trait, one that crosses all borders and cultures. I am disappointed when I see evidence that it's not, and am cheered when I see proof that it is.

Proof like the sharing, caring people from around the world, who, thanks to the power of the internet, have come together to help one Canadian woman, Sharon Gaskell, with her work in the Cap-Haitien, Haiti. After her first visit years ago, she realized she could not turn her back on the children -- mostly orphans -- who needed help. And so she keeps going back to help them.

After using all her own money, including her retirement fund and the proceeds from the sale of her home, her friends persuaded her to start a charity. Starthrower Foundation was launched in Summer 2004, and thanks to the web site, other caring people from around the world know of Sharon, and what needs to be done to help the youth of Haiti.

Starthrower supporters run marathons in the UK and the US, collect goods and money in the United States, hold fundraisers and collect donations in Canada, and donate in kind and in cash from Australia. It's a great world!

But the need is great, and the need for funds is ongoing, and each donor can only do so much. After all, as any parent knows, it takes money to feed, clothe, house and care for growing kids on an ongoing basis, whether their own family, or Sharon's kids in Haiti.

On this, our Canadian Thanksgiving, I for one am thankful for my good life here, and for the good and kind people around the world who have come together to help the youth of Haiti. If you would like to join them and help share the load, please make a donation at StarthrowerFoundation.org. Even if you can't make a donation, have a look around (especially the Updates from Haiti), pass on the link to your friends, and give thanks for what you have. Without knowing who you are, I know you at least have access to a computer, have at least one hand and a few fingers, and have time to surf the 'net. Not bad at all!

For the record, no, we didn't have turkey: We had meat loaf, mashed potatoes and gravy.

And a very Happy Columbus Day to all you Americans! (Did you know Columbus 'discovered' Haiti?)

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mid Autumn Festival and Canadian Thanksgiving :: Busy Week!

Last night I attended an event hosted by the Hong Kong Tourism Bureau (Discover Hong Kong.com) in Toronto to mark the Mid Autumn Moon Festival (also called the Mid Autumn Lantern Celebration) as well as bring us travel media types up to speed on what's happening in my favorite city, and what's on deck, so to speak, locally.

Here's a few fast updates on what's new in Hong Kong. The Wetlands park is now open, and it looks amazing! It's located west from the city, towards the border with mainland China, and accessible by public transit, albeit with a train change or two.

At Stanley,in front of the Stanley Market, the seafront access is now open, though there are still bits to be finished off. Of course, the Skytrain from the airport to Lantau Island opened in September.

As for local events promoting travel to Hong Kong, I'll post those soon. There's to be a prize of a free trip to Hong Kong involved, and first I have to think about whether I really want to entice more people to enter the draw, or if I should keep quiet and improve my chances of winning!

The celebration was held at the CHUM-City TV building on Toronto's trendy Queen Street West, though the room had been switched to accommodate performer James Blunt (I thought his name was spelled Blount but what do I know).

And uber-designer Kimberley Seldon said a few entertaining words (she's quite funny, actually, and a good speaker) about her current work with the Hong Kong board and City TV. I for one am looking forward to the City Line show when she talks about her recent trip to Hong Kong. Should be interesting to see my fave place through a designer's eyes.

As for Thanksgiving, I'll write about that tomorrow. Right now, I have to make a grocery-store run.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Summer Soon Down Under :: Stowing the Doonas and Taking Out The Cozzies

And here in Canada, we are doing the opposite! Hauling out those doonas (Australia-speak for duvets) and storing our cozzies (Aussie for bathing suits) until next July. Well, unless we Canucks can get away for a warm week on the beach in someplace warm, like the Dominican Republic, say, or Thailand. Portugal's Algarve and Gibraltar will warm up in February, most years. Argentina would be good, too, at least the coast up near Buenos Aires. Still a little cool for bathing in Ushuaia, but the waters never warm up all that much. The Pacific Ocean at Vina Del Mar, Chile, is usually cool all year, too, but the beaches are lovely. And of course, there's wonderful Australia. It's stinger season in Queensland now until May, but further south? Well, you'll be all right, Mate!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Cathay Pacific Airliner Retrofitting Starts in January 2007

Cathay Pacifc is one of my favorite airlines. I love the planes, the service and the food. I love the in-seat television screens. And starting in January 2007, the seats across all classes -- First (and my first choice, should I ever come into a lot of $$$), Business and Economy are being redone. First Class seating becomes more like a private suite (Bliss on a long haul!) with a seat/bed that is the largest in the industry, Business gets a larger seat that also becomes a fully reclining bed, and even Economy (where you'll find me, if you're looking) is being completely changed.

The new Economy seat reclines on the spot, without smacking into the lap of the person seated behind you. Or when the guy in front does the same, you won't get pinnned in your seat by your dinner tray up against your rib cage . A lot of fixtures and fittings will be done away with, and each seat gets a bigger personal television.

Retrofitting for all of Cathay's medium and long-haul planes should be completed by mid 2009. If you are traveling in the interim, try for the new ones. But even the current ones are pretty darn comfy.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Dim Sum in Mississauga at the Chinese Centre

August 2010: Sun Sun Dim Sum Restaurant is now Royal Dragon Chinese Restaurant.
Details at Dim Sum Mississauga page on my travel site.


On Sunday, October 1, my daughter Jen treated me to Dim Sum at the Sun Sun Chinese Restaurant, which is located in the Mississauga Chinese Centre. (This photo is of the buddha in the main courtyard area there, in Mississauga, Canada). 

 We'd been here before, a few months back, in May when I had just returned from Hong Kong and was missing it already.


Then, though, we ordered from the regular menu, as you can, at anytime. But on Sunday's this place ROCKS for dim sum choices and freshness.

When we got there around 2 p.m., we had to wait about 15 minutes. Larger groups naturally get first seating, and couples might wait a bit longer. We didn't mind, as we watched how some of our favorites were made. 


There's one dish that's made from a slice (about one quarter) of green pepper (capsicum, to you Aussies) and filled with a shrimp mixture.

We couldn't figure out how they got the shrimp to adhere to the raw pepper slice, but did discover that it's grilled, not deep fried, first one side, then flipped like a pancake, but gently. 


 
And who knew I loved congee? Not me, until a few months ago. When I think of all the times I could have eaten congee in China, I could kick myself. 


At the Sun Sun, the congee is lightly salted, not fishy tasting or smelling, and has bits of boneless chicken, a few small mushrooms and topped with sliced green onions, toasted peanuts and white pepper. 

 
Oh! It is so good! And one serving is enough for two people, easily. I must learn to make this at home. But it is so inexpensive to buy and take home (even at Tremendous, another great Mississauga Chinese restaurant, it's only $1.50 Canadian per large container!) 


 
We filled up on various shrimp and rice paper dumplings, braised beef in sauce and pork dumplings. Most of the time, you select your food by pointing, nodding or shaking your head. The staff, bless them, know enough of Canadian body language to understand when we mean yes or no. 


 
You will order too much food, so go to the cashier desk and ask for take-out containers. Guess what I am having for supper tonight? You got it! Leftover dim sum!

And while that would make a Cantonese cringe, I think it's ambrosia!