The American School in Shanghai turned over North Koreans to likely jail/torture

30 09 2004

What would you do? 

If you were working/living in a country with a tenous human rights record (at best), and someone came to you with the intention of seeking asylum in your home country, would you turn them away quietly?  Call the police?  Help them to your embassy, where they can claim asylum? 

This very situation occured in Shanghai recently, and the result was the asylum seekers were turned over to the police.  I don’t know what I’d do.  I’d like to think that if I didn’t help them, at least I wouldn’t turn them over 😦

Rebecca MacKinnon at NKZone details information that she has available.

Thanks to Dave Winer for the link, and for making us think.


Pictures from Monterrey – September 2004

27 09 2004

Many of you have read the blog entries.  If not, they can be found at:

The pictures are online now at my Monterrey Picture Gallery

Any comments welcome.  Have you been there?  What did I miss visiting?

Las Grutas de Garcia, Rain, and finding what I was looking for.

26 09 2004

Saturday morning came pretty quickly.  Having 5-6 hours of sleep will do that to you.  Doreen came by at about 0830, and we were going to get a couple of new tires for the car, since one had a sidewall flat, and one a puncture.  We went out to a different area of Monterrey for this.  An area which neither of us had been to.  A couple of trips past where we were supposed to be, and and a couple of stops for directions later, we found the tire shop.  We finished at the tire shop around 0945, and then it was time to head to las Grutas de Garcia, a cave near Monterrey.

It turns out that the cave is not so near Monterrey.  It’s about a 45 minute drive, definitely out of town.  At one point construction closed the lanes of the oncoming traffic, so those vehicles simply drove on our side.  Signs?  We don’t need no Steenking signs!  It was quite a shock to have a truck heading our way, on OUR side of the road.  We made it through there alive, with a new respect for the adventure that driving in Monterrey can be.

Once at the parking area, there was tiny tourist shop, and snack bar, and a ticket agent.  The trip costs 100 pesos for the trip up on the teleferic (gondola) and the tour.  If you want to hike up and down, it’s cheaper.  If you just want to hike one way – tough, it’s a round trip ticket 🙂  We decided to hike UP the mountainside to the cave.  The path was twisty, and had a lot of switchbacks.  It was “paved” with cement, and had cobblestones cemented in to facilitate your grip.  We had some good timing.  A couple of clouds rolled in while we were hiking, and it really kept us much cooler on the hike.  We had brought along 1L of water each, but I’ve never been one to drink much water while hiking, so I only drank about 100 or 200 mls on the way up.  I think it took us about 20-40 minutes.   Not long.  Along the hike, we saw millipedes, lizards and a few birds, but alas no snakes 😦

The cave structure is quite large.  You are not permitted to go through on your own.  You must go with a guide.  Doreen said that the last time she went there were 5 people in the tour.  This, however, was a Saturday and we had about 50+ on the tour.  The tour through the cave is about 2km of up and down on slippery wooden staircases, cemented paths, and huge  caverns.  We gathered into the entrance part of the cave, and had the history etc explained, as well as the features that we should look for, while we go through the cave.  Just a short bit into the tour, I was struck by how much this made me think of the image I had of the Mines of Moria, as described in “The Hobbit”.  We saw many beautiful stalactites, stalagmites, and columns.  Some had been named, such as “El mano del Muerto” – The hand of death.  The tour was excellent.  If you’re in Monterrey area and like caves, check it out.

An interesting side note:  On Wednesday and Thursday, they run the “LONG” tour at 1200 and 1500 if they get enough interest.  The long tour takes over 2 hours to complete, whereas the regular tour took about 45 minutes.  I’d say “Do the long tour”, if you can.  It’s worth the time.

After the Grutas de Garcia, we headed back into work to make sure everything was still working as expected, and to clear up a few last issues. That went well.  We were about to leave work around 1530, when the rain started.  Again – not really rain, but SHEET of water!  Wow!  We left the building, and drove out to the street.  The street was missing.  Where there had been a paved road previously, suddenly consisted of a brown-orange river, complete with waves, and rapids.  Our road was gone.  Not to be deterred by details like this, we headed into the river in our civic, and navigated along quite well, staying to the center of the road to try and take advantage of any camber that might be in the road.  We got down, through what was becoming a small series of lakes connected by our river, and realized we had gone the wrong way.  Turn around the car cum boat, and back up the river we headed.  We made it out onto the highway, and headed to “Cola de Caballo” – The Horse’s Tail.  It was apparently a nice waterfall with lots of little shops, which might have the Mexican blanket that I have been looking for.  We stopped along the way, at the village of Santiago, to locate a restaurant that one of my colleagues had suggested, so that we could return there for dinner that night.  After driving around the village a few times, and finding the same landmark 3 or 4 times, we found the restaurant.  It looked quite nice, and would no doubt be a nice place for dinner.

We continued to the waterfall location, which turned out to be totally rained out as well, and the vendors that were open didn’t have what I was looking for.  We voted against hauling up 10 minutes to see the waterfall, since we only had the clothes on our back, and didn’t want to sit soaking wet at dinner time.  On the return trip to dinner, we stopped at a series of roadside vendors, that is quite well known for Mexican artisans, food, furniture, you name it.   After one stop, we were directed about 800m down the road to where we found them – Mexican wool blankets.  I checked out one shop, and his were ponchos…he was asking $150MXP for one, and as soon as I hesitated, the price was down to $120MXP.  Quite funny really.  All I wanted to do was to look around to see if I could find some other colours that were better.  We walked up the road some more, and I had an authentic “Churro“.  Yum!!   Then, a little further, and a shop that was just closing…we hit the jackpot.  Hand woven wool blankets.  They were beautiful.  The lady explained that they were made by her family in Oaxacca, and that she wanted $250MXP for them.  We talked her down to $200MXP, and I got two.  One for me, and one for Irene for our campfires.

Then, it was time to go to dinner.  “Las Palomas“, up in Santiago.  Well, let me tell you – The road that we found once, managed to elude us for about 3 passes. It was finally almost 8pm when we found the place.  I had “queso fundido“, with “Chihuahua cheese“, and ground sausage for an appetizer.  Yummy.  then it was a Mexican platter, including stuffed chile, quesadilla, peurco asado, and of course, frijoles.  I ended up stuffed!  Doreen had the fish filet, which considering there isn’t any good fishing near Monterrey turned out quite tasty :). Then, we drove back, and I said goodbye to Doreen.  It was sad to be getting ready to leave, just as I was beginning to truly get into the swing of things down there.  I made a taxi reservation for 0530, and asked for a wakeup call at 0415. Then went to bed. 

I woke up bright and early, packed, headed down to the lobby, and had 2 glasses of fresh squeezed Orange Juice, and grabbed my cab.  I got to the airport in good time to get my exit row aisle seat, and settled in. 

Now, I’m back in Vancouver, and Monterrey seems a world away.  I hope not.  I look forward to being able to go down and visit it again some day, with Irene to show her the sights and sounds that are in my mnd, and will be for many years to come.

Thanks to all down in Monterrey who helped make my trip a success, and to my colleagues down there that put up with the fact that I can’t speak Spanish. 

That’s it for now!

Via con Dios!

Later – Pictures now available

Barrio Antiguo!

26 09 2004

The last couple of days have been hectic.  Friday was the last working day down here, so I really had to try to get everything done before all the staff left.  I didn’t want any problems to crop up AFTER I’d left.  I would rather these things happen while I’m there, so that I can be sure that things will go smoothly after I’ve left.

Friday night, we had a barbeque after work.  Barbeques in Monterrey (and probably all of Mexico) consist of a steel framework, with a grill, and pan to hold the coals.  Charcoal, is not nice, perfectly pressed little cubes like we have up here in Vancouver, but the stage before.  Basically, it looks like burnt wood.   We all kinds of meet, and a cut of beef which I am not familiar with. (I can’t remember the name)  It was all delicious.  There were quesadillas, little limes, salsa, and the ever present guacamole. I had brought some of my Sockeye down, and it was enjoyed immensely.  When I told them that Sockeye is the most expensive of the local Salmon at $10USD/kg they laughed, as most fish in Monterrey is very expensive.  None the less, I’ve taught a small group of people that “Salmon” doesn’t mean only “Atlantic Salmon”, the common salmon eaten down here.  Of course, we had beer at the barbeque (barbacoa in spanish).  The beers come in little 190ml bottles.  It makes sure that your beer is cold all the time, rather than warming in the 30+C weather!  We had Sol, Carta Blanca, Dos Equis and Indio.  Of course like many parties, it died down when the beer ran out 🙂  I had a chance to say goodbye to the many great staff members of the company down in Monterrey, as I may never see them again (much to my loss)

After the barbeque, I continued with some more work that I needed to do, and finished up around 10pm.  Then, Doreen and I decided to head back downtown.  We went back to the Macro plaza, and I took some pictures, which turned out pretty poorly, which was understandable, given that it was night 🙂  They were still celebrating the 408th Anniversary of the founding of Monterrey, but this night was with a more folk styled band.  It was most interesting to see police EVERYWHERE, and the way they dressed, was reminiscent of the SWAT outfits you see on TV.  Nothing like the itimidating view of 10 policemen together, in their outfits, with various weaponry.  Something about them says “You’ll do what I tell you, and say Thanks!”. 

After a short time down at the palacio, it was time to check out “Barrio  Antiguo”.  The Barrio is an older warehouse district from back almost 200 years ago.  Of course people don’t like to store things in 200 year old buildings, so what do you do?? You convert them into nightclubs.  And convert they did!  There were probably 50-100 clubs, within a 4 block area, and they were all hopping.  Some had techno, some had older music, but most were alive with live bands playing many of the crowds Mexican/Spanish favorites.  We stopped at one club “Nunas”.  It was a small place, with a small band playing on stage, but they were OK, and we had a couple of drinks (which are cheap, cheap, cheap!), then we moved on.  Doreen kept assuring me that there was a place with neon palm trees, so we wandered for a while, until we found it.  It was a complex of 10 bars, all in gated courtyard, and party goers were out on the balconies of some, gyrating to the throbbing beat of Latin and American tunes, being played at ear splitting volumes.

Of course, what do we do?  We head inside!  We went into “Manaus“, which had a band of about 10 people singing and playing up front, and a few hundred bodies writhing to the beat. Girls were dancing on their chairs, and the Latin rythms were flowing through there bodies. Like any good international nightclub scene, the women were dressed to kill, and knew it.  The men were dressed in casual dress shirts, and slacks, and very much kept alive the image of the “Latin lover”.  We found a table to the side, and watched and drank a bit.  As the nigth progressed, the club got more and more full.  Thoughts like “So, this is what it’s like before the news item about people being trampled to death in a nightclub fire.”  It was packed.  We were shoehorned in almost, but that didn’t stop the crowd from partying on!  At one point the band changed from Latin to hip hop, and they had a guy out breakdancing.  Now, THAT was some skilled dancing.

One of the interesting things about these clubs, is that people don’t order a drink or two when they are in groups, they order a BOTTLE of Tequila, Vodka, you name it… It appears to be about 500ml, but it really looks strange to see a bottle at the table.  Down in Monterrey, it appears to be the norm at the clubs.

At 0200, after being fully saturated with the sights and sounds of the Barrio Antiguo, Doreen dropped me off at my hotel at about 0215, and I passed out – content from a busy day of work and fun.

I’ve got to get on my plane, so I’ll write up Saturday later. 

Later – Pictures now available

Late nights and Taxis in Monterrey Mexico

23 09 2004

Yesterday was interesting…  At lunch, we realized that the car that we were going to take to lunch had two flat tires.  The worst one, we put the little donut spare on,  and motored off (off course this sounds easy, until you throw in the fact that you’re doing this in  35C weather)  Then, we went to Pollo Loco – the McDonalds of chicken down here.  It was a zoo!  Not only did you have your usual compliment of whacko drivers, you also have to contend with drivers coming and going through the drive through…hold on to your hat!   The chicken is quite good, having been barbequed over a real wood barbeque, and was certainly good to eat after the whole tire changing episode.

Last night, a critical piece of equipment showed up, and I knew I was going to be working late,so I asked for numbers for the taxi, and our address, so that I could tell them where to get me.  Good!  I worked until about 2345, and then it was time for the call. 

I called the cab company, and as smoothly as I could, I ordered a cab.  I gave him the street number as “1-2-3-4 Some Street”  He answered back with “12 34 Some Street?”  I of course know only the numbers to 10, so beyond that got kind of hairy.  I kept repeating my single digit numbers and he kept reading them back as numbers over 10 –  Tip for people dealing with foreigners… “If someone tells you something, and you want to repeat it to make sure it’s right, DON’T change the FREAKING number format!”  OK, so we made it past the number, and then there was the small issue of the fact that he didn’t know where the street  was.  Luckily, they have neighborhood names, like we do in Vancouver, such as “Kerrisdale”.  Next he says (all in Spanish of course).  “It’ll be there in 4 minutes.”  Holy Crap!  I hang up, pack up my laptop etc, and go to  leave the building, in the pitch black – no lights at night.  Who needs ’em?  People don’t work at night, around here it seems 🙂  I bump into one palm tree, and almost step into one pothole, in my rush to the gate.  I get to the gate.  It’s locked.  The fence is 10 feet high!  (Sidebar:  If you want a good business opportunity in Monterrey, go into steel gates, or hiring out security guards…Seems that everyone has a fence, a gate, and a security guard).  I peer through the fence to see the tail lights of a taxi slowly moving AWAY from me.  My heart dropped, since the reason I peered through the fence was that the gate was padlocked, and the security guard (what’s with old, slow security guards? – They’re everywhere!) was nowhere to be found, so I find myself calling “Hola! Hola!” in the hope that my guard will come and release me. No luck, the cab has headed off to oblivion, and I had decided to forego scaling the fence, like a Navy Seal, with laptop in one hand, and camera bag in the other.

I headed back to the building, and decided to call them, and explain that I had just missed the taxi, can you send him again, and have him wait.  As I got to the building, what did I see at the gate, but the lights of the Taxi!  I ran (in the pitch black remember), yelling Taxi! Taxi! in the hope that he would hear me and stop.  He did.  Now I had the small issue of getting over the fence.  This was thankfully solved by the guard tottering out of the darkness, to unlock the gate.  Whew…embarrassment averted.

I hopped into the cab – a VW bug (Monterrey was the last place they were ever made), and told him the name of my Hotel.  This was greeted by a blank stare, and a bunch of Spanish, which I took to mean “Where?”  I tried again, and couldn’t really think of what was close.  I was wishing I had paid more attention on my rides previously. Then I realized that there were signs for “Casa del Tec”, a lottery home, worth 2.8Million USD, so I said “proximo Casa del Tec” – blank stare.  Then I tried the big mall – “Valle Oriente”  A smile lit up on his face, and our little VW bug rocketed out, onto the freeway, and away.  Now,I didn’t really want to get to Valle Oriente, I wanted to be about 1-2km PAST it.  When we got close, I saw the hotel letters, in blue in the distance, and pointed them out with my best (i.e. crappy) Spanish.  He saw them too!  I was  going to get “Home”!  Then, he missed the exit.  Missing an exit means driving about 6km down the road, and doing a U-Turn, and then coming back again.  We did, and I got to my hotel finally.  At the hotel, he turns and says “One hundred”.  I offer him 50 (again, I’ve managed to get an UNMETERED cab)  He shows me the cash equivalent of 100, and I say “No!!!!”, and he explains about the long way he had to turn around to get here and all,  and I say “No!”, and offer 60.  He then comments something about the long trip, and stays steadfast with 100.  I say “80…that’s it”  And he apparently understands that part of my english, and reluctantly accepts.  I just paid another 30 pesos for forgetting to negotiate ahead of time.  I just keep learning!

Home by midnight, I’m exhausted, and that’s why I’m writing this now, instead of last night.

More work to do tonight. 


Later – Pictures now available

No more free hotspot, and La Fundidora

22 09 2004


Tonight I went to hit the hotspot, and “Poof! Please login to your Hotel Novotel Valle Hotspot”  Ouch! “Either Login, or create an account”.  Cool,  I’ll go through the motions to find out what the cost is, and then I realize:  No “Create an Account” 😦  Bummer. So,it looks like they’ll have functional wireless about the same time I’m heading back to Vancouver. That sucks.  I’ll have to harass the front desk tomorrow morning.

Well, back to today.  After work, we went to La Parque de la Fudidora (link is Spanish, but there’s a map there).  A reclaimed piece of land that used to hold a foundry.  In the 80’s they went belly up, and the city reclaimed the huge acreage for this park. It has a 3.4k track around it, which is used by joggers and cyclists usually, and apparently is home to an Indy raceHere’s the race with the cerro de la Silla in the background. Well, we walked around to see the old rusting steel foundry building, which is quite an odd sight.  Then, we went to check out many of the old brick buildings, which were key parts of the foundry in its day.  One of them housed a photo exhibit, which was quite interesting, albeit a bit weird.  They also had a second exhibit which consisted of the photo journal of a family in Mexico that started building their mansion back in 1894, a and appeared to complete it around 1904, all the while having their photographer take pictures of things as they went along.  After checking out the exhibits, Doreen wanted to go and check out the Monterrey Arena – a VERY LARGE arena.  It would seem that it was closed..  Nothing happening, so we went around the side, to get into the “Business Center”. On the way to the business Center, we seem to have hit a dead end.  Locked gates about 12 feet tall between us and the road.  No problem says Doreen – “Look over here – a piece of chain link fence that has been bent down!”, So we broke out of our little jail, and made it to the street!

Apparently very few things in Monterrey are small.  The Business Centre, Cintermex is also huge. We wandered throughout it, and checked out the convention center, and the “Stores”.  They were tourist offices, and b2b companies.  One of the places was selling industrial refrigerants!  We continued up to the top floor and seem to have walked in on a party for a drug company selling eye solutions of some sort.  Booth Babes!  No pics, the security guys probably wouldn’t have been too happy 🙂  That was fun, back out to the street, and time to take my first taxi in Monterrey…Whee!  The fare is really cheap!  What would have cost $15-$20 in Vancouver cost about $6 here!  No kidding.  And there’s great entertainment in the ride factor!

We had a late snack, in Valle Oriente, a new mall (if people weren’t speaking Spanish, you wouldn’t know you weren’t in any other large mall in North America).  They have already started displaying some Christmas decorations.  Yikes. After that, it was time to take my own cab back to the hotel.

Doreen had been saying “You’ve got to take the green taxis, since they are cheaper than the white ones.”  Sure.  Also, “You’ve got to take one with a meter so that you don’t get ripped off”.  So, at the roadside, she bundles me into the first green cab, and tells him to take me to my hotel.  I look, as we leave, and realise there is no meter, and we haven’t negotiated a price.  Well…this ought to be interesting.  It turns out that for a ride that was about 1/4 of the distance of the last ride, that I paid about 1/2 the price.  I probably got taken, but what the heck, I look at it as the price of an education 🙂

I got back home to talk to Irene, and send this blog, only to find out no access any more…As mentioned at the beginning, “We’ll have to do something about that” 🙂

It was nice talking to Irene.  I miss her.  I look forward to being back home, and not having to count on the goodness of colleagues to drive me around all the time.

More later!

Later – Pictures now available

Life in Monterrey – Good food, beautiful scenery and good people.

20 09 2004

For lunch today, I had little corn pitas stuffed with beef, egg, pork and frijoles.  It was genuine “Mexican food”.  Quite tasty and inexpensive.  Lunch was something like $3CDN  Good food at a good price!

After work, we went out to “La Estanzuela” natural park to see the birds, and the natural beauty, the little lizards etc.  It looked like it was going to be quite nice.  Unfortunately it was closed…who’d-a-thunk-it?  Closed on Mondays..hmmmph.  So, we decided to go in and check out the complex being built next to the park.  Homes for $950KUSD!!  The complex held 11 homes, they had marble or hardwood floors, solid wood doors, and the kitchen was equipped with beautiful stainless steel appliances, and the ceilings were high.  It had parking for 5 vehicles below each home, and there was also quarters for the “staff”  LOL!  Quite the little gated community. They wouldn’t let us take any pictures, otherwise I’d post some.  Wierd…no pics. 

Tonight we went to the home where Doreen was staying for dinner.  The lady, Alma, cooked a wonderful catfish dinner with wild rice.  Delicioso!  I also tried a little chilli which was about the size of a pea, or smaller.  I had been warned that it was spicy, so shaved a tiny piece off to try.  Sure ‘nough…Aye Carumba!  Muy Picoso!  Well, you gotta try the local goods some time 🙂 

The home was very nice, with high ceilings, and the classical stucco finish.  The grounds were quite large – I’d guess about 1/2 an acre.  They had various lime and lemon trees, and large agave cacti growing.  Like everyone else in Monterrey (it seems) they have 3 dogs.  The difference being that this is the first time that I’ve seen larger dogs, and they were quite healthy, unlike the many thin, and sometimes fairly mangy dogs I’ve seen around.  At 2100 a friend of Alma’s was heading in the direction of my hotel, so he gave me a lift…good thing – It had been pouring rain since about 1830…POURING.  Back at the hotel, I thought I’d hook up again, but the wireless connection was flaky tonight, so I’m putting this up today instead.  Back to work!  I’m on… a quick paste, and send while it’s still up.

Later – Pictures now available

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