the little mermaid

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I’m in Copenhagen for a few days and thought I’d go see the the Little Mermaid (“den lille Havfrue”, originally created by Danish writer Hans Christian Andersen).

oops! small detour...

Ok, so the statue is actually currently in Shanghai for the Expo, but I was curious what would be in its place. So after walking through a beautiful park (filled with runners and bikers, and on the map of Copenhagen it looks like a star!), I approached what appeared to be a billboard in the water:

All it says there is, but when I got to the other side… voilà!

It’s the Little Mermaid in Shanghai via live internet feed! A placard nearby explains:

The Little Mermaid has gone to Shanghai

Until November, she will sit on her stone in the heart of the Danish pavilion at the world EXPO 2010.

Visitors to the pavilion will be able to experience everyday fairytales about the harbour bath, city bikes and other examples of how sustainability and quality of life go hand in hand.

While The Little Mermaid is in Shanghai, her usual location in Langeline, Denmark will be occupied by a contemporary Chinese artwork by Ai Weiwei.

The Little Mermaid has been lent out by the City of Copenhagen.

You can see the live feed yourself by going to the Mermaid Exchange website. Earlier this summer there was a long profile on Ai Weiwei by the New Yorker’s Evan Osnos, but since the full piece is not accessible without subscription, you’ll have to settle for a backgrounder on the artist (“one of China’s most prominent and provocative”) by the New York Times.

And so, according to the placard:

Ai Weiwei wants his work to create a connection between Denmark and China and at the same time reflect on the enormous difference in time, culture and political environment.

trains in china

posted in: china, travel | 0

Trains are a great way to travel within China. There are several different categories of train, as identified through the route number. Routes consisting only of digits (no letters) are the regular, cheapest (and slowest) trains. Train numbers starting with ‘K’ are fast trains (kuai literally means fast), T trains are te-kuai (especially fast), and Z trains are zui kuai (“fastest”). Except nowadays there are even faster, more modern trains in the C & D category (no idea what these stand for), available on popular routes such as Beijing-Shanghai.

Seats fill up fast though, so unless you got your tickets early you may not have a choice of train. Train tickets are sold only 11 days in advance, and only from the city of departure: you cannot buy a ticket in Beijing for a train departing from Xian, for example. (Well, you can pay a travel agency to do this for you for a fee, but they are still limited by the 11-day selling period.) Since I rarely travel on a fixed itinerary, I typically buy tickets the old-fashioned way: jostling with everyone else at the train station.

schedule board in Beijing

As time-consuming and painful as it seems, I actually like going to the train station to buy tickets. Before you even get in line, there is typically a board showing ticket availability for the next 11 days–though it takes forever to flip through when at a major hub like Beijing. In addition to the different train routes, there are 4 classes of tickets: hard seat, soft seat, hard sleeper & soft sleeper. Hardness/softness isn’t literal (except possibly in the case of hard seats), but they do indicate the level of comfort you will be traveling in. Hard sleepers mean sharing a train compartment of 6 bunk beds, while soft sleepers have only 4 (along with a door that closes, if I remember correctly). And for some reason, the higher up your bed is, the cheaper the ticket–for reasons I haven’t figured out yet.

Actually, there is a fifth category: “no seat,” which I suppose is cheapest of all, but would only do if the distance were short (or your desperation great).

waiting in line in Xian

This summer I visited a few different train stations and couldn’t help but notice a general change in people’s behaviour. On my first trip to China five years ago, I remember being appalled and intimidated by people pushing and butting in front and crowding the ticket window–all this despite the metal guardrails put in place to enforce a line. But now in 2010, it was quite orderly: though you still feel rushed by the sheer number of people behind you, no one is shoving you and you get your turn at the window like everyone else.

I have no idea what you’d do if you didn’t speak Chinese though.

When we were in Xian, it was impossible to get sleeper tickets to Beijing, so we opted for soft seats on the overnight Z train:

And because of ticket availability, our plan to go from Beijing to Ha’erbin was replaced as we got hard sleeper tickets on a regular train to Dandong:

hard sleeper car with obsessive train worker who swept every 5 minutes

This 20-hour trip was uneventful except for the police boarding the train at one point and checking everyone’s ID card (not sure what that was about). Our car was also quite peaceful compared to other overnight trains I’ve taken before: no raucous drunken card playing in the middle of the night, but rather families playing with their young kids or napping away the time.

he was fascinated by my passport
woman & her mother quietly playing cards
our compartment, from above

Then there was the couple on the bottom bunks, who for the 20-hour duration would magically bring out from the recesses of their luggage more and more bags of food (instant noodles, crackers, cucumbers, peaches, you name it)–which put our meager snack bag to shame (at that point of the trip we didn’t even have a tea canister! unthinkable in China…). A sample of our booty: “bimbo” bread (mediocre white bun with red bean), sunflower seeds, dried kiwi and dried tofu snacks.

view of north korea

posted in: china, travel | 0

There is a section of the Great Wall just outside of Dandong called 虎山长城 (Tiger Mountain Great Wall), again along the border with North Korea. The wall itself is not all that remarkable if you’ve been to other sections: it looks way too new & reconstructed, with the site obviously renovated to herd tourists. But I must admit the view of North Korea was unexpectedly beautiful…

Dandong 丹东

posted in: china, travel | 2

This is my second time facing North Korea–the first time being a tour of the DMZ organized by the USO–but this time it’s from China. I’m now in Dandong, a very industrial looking city with 600,000 inhabitants.


As you can see, the Yalu (“duck green”) river separates China from North Korea–the Chinese side looks rather raucous and full of restaurants, while the Korean side… well, there are a number of smokestacks, and an unmoving ferris wheel. You can easily cross the river via the Sino-Korean Friendship bridge (provided you have a visa), but a more interesting sight is the bridge right next to it, the Yalu River Broken Bridge. This original bridge was bombed by the Americans in 1950 during the Korean War (in which China supported the North, being Communist), and the North Koreans have since then dismantled their side of the bridge. The Chinese side is now of course a tourist attraction: there is a 30 RMB entrance fee, a giant screen showing interviews of Chinese war pilots recalling the time (this is *on* the bridge), and finally a viewing area at the half-bridge’s end, where you can pay to use binoculars for viewing the hermit kingdom.

*Update: here are the photos!

the sino-korean friendship bridge
yalu river broken bridge
view of sinuijiu

stavanger’s oil museum

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Stavanger is Norway’s oil city, and so naturally I had to visit the oil museum. Norway was apparently a poor country less than two generations ago, but in 1969 oil was discovered in the North Sea. Since then, the government has been careful about limiting foreign rights to the oil. In 1972, Statoil was founded (though it was later partially privatized), and in 1975 Norway began exporting oil. Today, oil and gas accounts for a third of all of Norway’s exports, with 1/8 of its GDP coming from the petroleum sector.

One of the more interesting uses of this oil windfall has been the Petroleum Fund (now called the Government Pension Fund – Global), whereby surplus income generated from petroleum is invested in a fund. In 2004, the government established ethical guidelines for investments and have even excluded certain companies from the Fund that are considered to be in breach of these guidelines (for example, tobacco companies, companies that have caused serious environmental damage, etc.). Wal-Mart was added to this list in 2006.

Anyway, back to the oil museum! Here is a letter from the President of Phillips Petroleum Company to the Norwegian government in 1962:

Phillips Petroleum Company is interested in obtaining from the Norwegian Government an oil and gas concession covering the lands lying beneath the territorial waters of Norway plus that portion of the continental shelf lying beneath the North Sea which may now or in the future belong to or be under the jurisdiction of Norway.


Your application for an oil and gas concession cannot therefore be dealt with at the present moment, but I promise to keep your letter in mind.

Here are Norway’s 10 Oil Commandments: a declaration of principles governing oil policy that was adopted by parliament in 1971.

Finally, the value of the Petroleum Fund the day I visited the museum:

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