Friday, January 5, 2018

No offense

I told all my friends that I had ordered a 2020 Tesla to boost my social standing. LOL.

Laughing hard in the grave

I asked my friend Danny why he needed a new phone. He told me it was for improving productivity – game productivity? He also told me he had been waiting for 2 days and 2 nights in the cold.

Either I was dumb in not following his logic, the productivity is HUGE, he is a blind social climber, or the work of a master salesman who is now laughing in the grave, counting his money and singing Danny Boy.

2018: Charity donations & marijuanna

The new tax law discourages charity donations. Starting in 2018, marijuana is legal in many states including California.

My wife told me I missed a turn. I told her we would be fine as the world is round. Logically right but wrong in reality.

Yes, everything comes back sooner or later. As a nation, the Brits pushed opium to China when they had nothing better to trade. It led to bankrupting China. Now the addictive drugs are hurting the US and the West.

A legalized drug does not mean it is legal or moral. Marijuana is less harmful than opium for sure and it has less side effect than some addictive pain relievers. To me, it is a no-no for recreation use.   

As an investor, do not invest in companies in this 'legal' drug with your hands counting money dripping in blood. The parents have more work to do: Children are curious and they will follow what their friends do.

They expect the state and many will profit with no regard to the social problems and consequences. What kind of society we're coming to?

Again, the legalized drug kills!

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

On travel

This is the main article. I use traveling to Rome where the cruise line starts as an illustration. It should apply to other travel planning. Most are just common sense. It may be repeated in Personal Impression.

Where to go

My cruise started in Rome, so I did not have a choice to choose cities. However, I would avoid the following countries or cities due to:
·         Political unrest or at war (most countries involved in the Middle East conflicts today for example).
·         Sanitary problems (such as India).
·         Pollution (such as Beijing but a short period is fine).
·         Safety (many South American countries).
·         Some countries require visas and valid passports if you do not have time to apply/renew one.

When and what to avoid

·         Summer in West Europe (as most are taking vacation and it is flocked with tourists).
·         Golden tourist weeks and Chinese New Year in China and the national holidays.
·         School holidays/vacations if you have a choice.
·         Winter in many colder countries such as the Baltic.
·         Hurricane season in Caribbean countries and tornado season in the tornado alley in the US.
·         Typhoon season (usually during summer) in Asia. 
·         Snow storm.
·         During conventions, they will charge you as much as the market can bear in airlines, hotels and restaurants. Check them out for the cities you want to travel to by googling “city name, month and year, convention”.
·         Avoid helicopter and hot balloon rides unless they’re run by reputable companies.
·         Avoid unsafe countries and countries with high tendency of terrorists’ attacks.
·         You should go before you are too old to travel.
·         Bring enough prescription drugs plus extra just in case. Do not skip them. Avoid excessive exercises. Avoid food that would deteriorate your health problems. Fancy foods are usually not healthy.
·         Eat a lot of vegetables and fruits.

Make compromises

We cannot eliminate so many places and times to travel. Besides wars and natural disasters, we can reduce most problems by the following:
·         Talk to your doctor to have all the shots that help you in case of eating contaminated food.
·         Avoid street foods especially in emerging countries. Eat more fruits and food with disposal skins such as bananas. One old lady in Thailand selling street food uses the same bucket of water for the entire day.
·         Eat hot food (or cold food) supposed to be hot (or cold).
·         Do not drink tap water unless you know they are safe. For some cities, avoid water even for brushing teeth.
·         Check whether your planned trip is in season for any possible storm.
·         Avoid snowy regions unless there are good reasons such as skiing. Same for connecting flights.
·         Picking pockets is quite popular in Europe including St. Petersburg. When you carry a bag carelessly and/or a camera, you’re the target. Sometimes they work as a group. Do not talk to strangers especially beautiful girls. Gypsies are very skillful in picking pockets.
·         My friend told me some money was stolen from the hotel safe in South America.
·         Ransom for kidnapping is quite popular in South America.
·         They have devices to read your credit cards. I put an aluminum foil around my credit card and I use Euro instead of the card wherever possible.
·         Many live on $2 per day in India. Stealing or cheating you $10 could be the entire expenditure for the whole week.
·         Be especially careful in non-tourist areas especially in high crime areas.
·         Do not be too friendly unless you trust your strangers.
·         More relaxed and less expensive during off seasons.
·         The legal-brand products are protected and enforced in Europe. Leave the imitators home and do not buy them in the street.
·         We used the tours in China. They are low priced due to promotions. They make the money from the commissions they make by taking you to shops and factories. Avoid buying these over-priced merchandises as much as possible.
·         Check the merchandise you are buying. They could replace them with defective items or expired medicines. 
·         Enjoy the over-priced shows they take you as they cannot make money on the tours alone.
·         In China, typically breakfasts are great especially in big cities. The more remote the place is, the worse is the food. However, the scenery is far better in remote locations. If I want to see concrete forest, I would visit New York City. If you want to eat the food you want, stay home.
·         If you plan the tour yourself, try to have a local tour for some attractions that individuals cannot take full advantage of.
·         Thailand has a lot to offer. Japan is very expensive to stay. Hong Kong has lost its shopping paradise due to its high rents.
·         Vancouver and Toronto have the best Chinese food in term of quality, safety and price.
·         Do not over eat in cruises. The delicious foods are usually not healthy. Have a full breakfast if you have an excursion later. Cut down in greasy food. For example, have one scramble egg instead of two and one beacon strip instead of multiple stripes. Eat a lot of fruits and vegetables.
·         I missed many delicious (but not too healthy) meals many times. Try local offers.  Make reservations early on specialized restaurants on days at sea. Even at extra cost, most are usually great deals.
·         Tipping in the cruises is pretty compulsory.
·         In Europe, tips may be included in the bill. Beer and wine could be cheaper than mineral water.

Save money

·         Again, travel in off season and it would save you a lot of money.
·         The tour provider (cruise or land tour for example) usually does not want to undercut the prices by their travel agency except for special promotions. Hence, travel agencies usually provide us with better prices.
·         The prices of air tickets fluctuate. Google to check what currently is the best day(s) of the week to order tickets. Check what the cruise line offers. If the port starts in one city and ends in another, most likely the cruise line has better deals.
·         Book the air tickets as soon as possible. I prefer 6 months earlier. When the airlines find out their tickets are selling, they will raise prices and vice versa when they’re not selling. If you wait for 4 months before departure, you’re risking the rising prices. If you book too early in advance, I recommend you to buy protection insurance.
·         If the ticket price is rising and/or the choice is getting more limited, it means most likely it will rise again. More than one time, the final prices were far higher than the advertised prices.
·         I do not know whether the following is a trick or not. I searched for several sites and settled for a round trip to Munich for about $630. One site popped up with the old price and a new price for $920 and asked me better to buy now before the price was up again. I was worried as the prices had been rising slowly. On the next few days, the price went back to $630 level.
·         Many airlines today charge luggage. If possible, use carry-ons that you do not have to pay fees. Check the fees from the airline you fly.
·         Do not forget to bring small travel items such as earphones, chargers and selfie stick.
·         Compare total prices between different offers from different web sites minus any future discounts. I found a 10% difference for the same room in the same hotel from different popular sites.
·         The prices of cruises fluctuate. Basically if they can sell a lot, they will raise prices, and vice versa. When they have unsold cabins, you can ask for free upgrades and other goodies. However, if you wait too late, you may have to pay higher airline tickets.
·         Usually you want to arrive one day earlier before the cruise. The hotel in some seaports such as South Hampton jack up the prices when there is demand. Book early. The other option is stay in London for more attractions but you want to make sure you have enough time to go to the port.
·         The train service in Rome is excellent. It is very simple to use the machine to buy tickets. Some ladies assisted us. Avoid them as they’re trying to get as much tips from you as possible. There is no free lunch.
·         Use the internet to find the cost and the train schedule.  Most trains to the same location have both an express train and a slower train. Depending on when will the express train arrive, a slower train could be faster.
·         We use the train to go to the seaport where we board our cruise ship. It is about an hour ride if my memory serves me right.
·         We took a cab from our hotel to the train station. We could walk over there easily even with luggage.
·         From the internet, we booked a shuttle from the airport to our hotel. It is cheap and there are many other options. They stopped every hotel during our ride. We’re not in a hurry so the free city tour was worth it.
·         There are trips from the South Hampton (the cruise port for London) to the airport or London visiting one or more attractions. Windsor Castle is worth the visit for sure. Ensure your flight is late to have enough time for the visits.
·         If you book your cruise via the agency, they may charge you booking fees ($25 to me one time). However, some sites may give you extra benefits.
·         Cruise lines always have promotions such as free on board credits. Ensure there are no restrictions such as excursions. From my experience, some excursions cost less in the site than on board. Some popular excursions may be sold out, so purchase them early.
·         Check out the cost of taxi ride from the cruise port to the airport. It could be cheaper for three passengers when there is no traffic. For more passengers, look at the private shuttle services offered from the internet.
·         I could have drag my luggage from the train depot in Hong Kong to the hotel that is three blocks away. Know the locations.
·         Timing is everything. Some cruises could be sold out and some offer last-minute deals.
·         I prefer early dining for health reason. I have to take buffets if I return late from the excursions.
·         In Rome, order the entrance tickets to Vatican Museum on-line to avoid the long line especially during tourist season.
·         If you have not, try to avoid the crowd by going in the afternoon.
·         AAA offers foreign currency exchange. Check out their fees and exchange rates.
·         Most attractions in Rome are within walking distance. Get a good map and plan your walking trip. Take the bus if you’re tired especially in the hot summer days. Two days and three nights is fine for most. One extra day would be more relaxing. Try
·         Avoid eating right in the attraction or places you see a lot of your fellow tourists. Just around the corner or you could find a lot of local folks and they could be the best eating places.
·         If you really want good food at good prices, use the internet for research.
·         Most hotels in Rome have breakfasts included. If not, include the breakfast cost for comparison.
·         Try to find a hotel close to the train station or subway station.
·         Hotels usually provide free maps. Ask them for assistance in planning your trip.
·         The online travel agency gave us a big discount for ordering excursions. We took the package of three ports. It turned out they were very decent and good value.
·         We also had onboard credit. You cannot use the credit to book excursions before the cruise (that is why it is called ‘onboard’).
·         Using the onboard credit, we booked another excursion. The excursions seem to be more expensive if booked on board and some popular excursions were sold out.
·         The difference between Caribbean cruises and European cruises is you need to take the excursions in Europe as they have so much to see. Do not save the money by touring yourself.
·         The cruise lines make their money in excursions and drinks.
·         There is always a main show in every cruise. Some folks may see it two times. Try to arrive early for this show.
·         You should plan at least one day (3 days for us in Rome) before the cruise.
·         Rome, Barcelona and Copenhagen that I have visited have a lot to offer. Actually I have been to Rome three times. The ruins are still ruins, but I found something new every time. A special pass for transportation and museums was offered in Copenhagen and it was worth every penny.
·         AAA also provides travel checks and exchange of currencies for its members with some restrictions.
·         Banks could be cheaper in exchange currencies. Specialized shops could be the most expensive but they are convenient. Your tour guide’s rate could be in between.
·         We paid Euro in Europe and exchanged some local currency in Copenhagen. I prefer to use credit card as seldom as possible. Remember the password for your credit card. The best rate is exchanging local currency in a local bank if you have time.
·         Notify your credit card companies on what countries you will travel before you leave home.
·         Some credit card does not charge fees for conversion of foreign currency. It could save you some money for small transactions.
·         The best way to make money is via tourists and they will not come back for defective merchandise. Check out the receipt. I was tricked more than once. Examine the merchandise right away. The merchant may switch defective items or products that have been expired.
·         Use cash (local currency if available) to buy if possible.
·         Do not buy on impulse.
·         You can bargain in many stores especially the smaller ones.
·         Check mail stop if you’re away for longer time.
·         We stopped in Munich for a few hours. We took the escort service for sightseeing. You just tip them (not compulsory) at the end of the service. Use the internet to book this service that is available in many cities. Our ladies were knowledgeable and friendly.
·         On our way back, we stayed in Dublin for three days. It has a lot to offer too. If we have time, we should visit outside Dublin. Book the air to include stop over. Later add-on would cost you a fortune.
·         Some may want to understand the places before they go. Internet is your best friend. I try to avoid doing the same for the cruise as it would take out some surprises. The social director uses the same jokes for all cruises. Just me.
·         Pack as lightly as possible. Do not really require a suite for the formal nights in cruises. Just a tie, long pants and a jacket will do for men.
·         Do not save money of not tasting local cuisines.
·         Do not save money of not attending local cultural events such as Flamingo dance in Spain and Irish dances/songs.
·         Do not save money by not taking excursions. The tours from the cruise ships are more expensive but they guarantee not missing the ship.
·         Learn more on the attraction before the actual visit. Youtube and TripAdvisor should be good sources.
·         Compare visa requirements. The high price of visa for Vietnam from my travel agent was so high that I cancelled the planning to visit there. They had a cheap way to order a visa on-line that I skipped.
·         Your photos are your best souvenir. Tourists are the best customers as they do not have time to compare and they cannot return defective merchandises. Too many costly lessons!

Observe local cultures, laws and regulations

·         Observe local laws/regulations. Shoplifting in China could cause you 5 years in prison and execution for having sex with a minor. That’s why China is relatively safe. Crossing streets is a different story.
·         Avoid politics and sensitive topics – you’re a tourist, not an activist.
·         Chicken/Fish heads displayed on finished dishes are quite common in Chinese.
·         We are used to fish without bone and skin. Chinese like them with skin. Most fishes in the river have small bones, so be very careful.
·         Not flushing the toilet after use is punishable in Singapore.
·         In China particularly in less developed areas, the holes are used instead of toilet seats so you can stretch out LOL. Bring your own toilet paper and do not throw the toilet paper into the hole. Eating in subway cars is a no-no in Hong Kong.

The above is from one of my travel books.