Next stop is Amsterdam, one of the most important world ports back during the Dutch Golden Age in the 17th century. Today, the city can still boast the oldest stock exchange in the world along with historic canals, many famous museums, a thriving red-light district, and cannabis coffee shops. However, more than anything, I will remember the city’s beautiful canals and architecture.

Amsterdam canal

The canals, a result of 17th century city planning, make four concentric semi-circles with open ends running into the bay. (Interesting fact: Their lack of stagnant water ensures that they do not stink up the city with foul odors.) However, despite the charm the canals provide to the city, they only set the stage for its diverse and historied architecture. The oldest building still standing, the Oude Kerk (or Old Church), was built in 1306. There are also samples of renaissance architecture from the 16th century, baroque architecture from the 17th century, and gothic architecture from the 19th century. That all said, my favorite architecture was that of 17th century residences built around the canals. These buildings are all very narrow, have elaborate front steps, and show off ornate gables. The gables have utilitarian purposes because the buildings are too thin for large staircases, thus making it almost impossible to move furniture up and down. Instead, the buildings use a hoist and pulley system to transport large items into the house, with the hoists attached to elaborate gables on top of colorful and embellished facades. These residences make up the familiar canal image people conjure up when imagining Amsterdam.

More from walking around Amsterdam

Amsterdam has more to offer than walking around and appreciating its beauty, thus Gabe and I sit down with Lonely Planet, TripAdvisor, and the like and we decide what we are going to visit. Of the many museum options, Gabe and I decide to visit the Van Gogh museum, with its more than 200 paintings by Van Gogh along with many drawings and letters. Memorably, the exhibit creatively displayed Van Gogh’s famous bedroom painting next to a matching physical room. We spent an afternoon in the museum followed by some time soaking up sun and reading in a nearby park.

Photos from Shanghai

After arriving to Shanghai on a sleeper train from Beijing, I navigated towards a friend’s apartment. Kai from Petaluma, CA was my college roommate and now we had the chance to catch up in Shanghai, China. It was great having a tour guide for the city, a place to crash, and a chance to see a good friend.

My first impression of Shanghai is that it is a very international city, more so than Beijing. Beijing had many tourists; however, most tourists were from other parts of China and therefore did not contribute to the diversity of the city. In Shanghai, there was greater diversity from different Asian counties as well as western countries, although this may have been party because they were less diluted by other Chinese tourists coming to visit. Also when comparing Shanghai to Beijing, Shanghai is a much much newer city. Most of its history comes from 300 years ago when Shanghai started to rapidly grow due to opium trade with Britain. Being near the mouth of the Yangtze River provided many trading resources for the city, and Britain eventually realized that with opium from India, they could trade for those resources. Now, Shanghai is filled with huge skyscrapers and high-end luxury shopping malls, selling goods with such high luxury taxes that most people just window shop and wait to purchase the items in Hong Kong. In addition, Shanghai is home to the second tallest building in the world.

While in Shanghai, I visited some of the common tourist sites as can be seen through my photos below and I also had a chance to visit where Kai went to University a year ago and several parks around the city. The Chinese truly take advantage of their public parks. There was dancing, singing, card-playing, and calligraphy writing to name a couple activities that I witnessed while strolling through the park.

As seen in the French Concession Area, an artist at work:

shanghai artist

Also seen near the French Concession part of town:

shanghai bw bike

Common scene in Shanghai:

shanghai clothes lines

The crowds in Shanghai were big:

shanghai crowded

Shanghai Yuyuan Garden:

shanghai flower

A famous Shanghai landmark, the Pearl Tower:

shanghai view

The impressive Shanghai skyline:

shanghai skyline

The Shanghai World Financial Center:

2nd tallest building

The view as seen from the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center, the 2nd tallest building in the world:

from top of tower

An I-remember-where-I-was-when Moment

Every generation has their I-remember-where-I-was-when moments such as when JFK was assassinated or when the Twin Towers collapsed. One of mine, whether dignified or not, is the Opening Ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. I had gone over to my sister Julie’s and her then fiancĂ©e (now husband) George’s apartment in Noe Valley of San Francisco, George prepared delicious Chicken Abobo or Adobo or something that sounds similar to that for which I remember going back for thirds, and we started watching the Opening Ceremony on their new big screen TV using DVR until we caught up to the live–although technically delayed–broadcast. I had ventured there on the BART after work at my summer internship in Soma and was prepared for something spectacular.

olympic stadium statue

The ceremony lived up to expectation. I still recall there being 2008 of everything, whether it was lights, drums, dancers, etc. I remember the giant screen that they unrolled. I remember the dancer who had ink on his hands and feet and painted as he moved across a blank canvas. I remember people coming from the ceiling. I remember drummers playing so synchronously that I feared for those who failed to do so in training. I remember the little girl singer who had to lip-sync the words because the true singer wasn’t cute enough to perform. In others words, the event was more than memorable.

stadium up close

Therefore, although the Beijing Olympic Stadium might seem like a lifeless structure post-Olympics, it was high on my list to visit. In true tourist fashion with my map in one hand and my camera in the other, I worked my way to the Olympic Stadium via subway and foot. The openness of the surrounding areas near the Olympic Aquatic Center and of the Olympic Stadium made the occasion difficult to capture on film, or on memory card as the case may be, but this did not prevent me from tying. Also, on the off chance that I could get inside, I approached the stadium and found an open gate. After starting to walk through, I got pointed around the stadium because pointing was our only common language. For a small fee, I was able to enter.

olympic stadium chair

First thing I did was walk inside and find a seat. My mind started thinking about those Opening Ceremonies and all the other Olympic moments that took place within this building. The hair on the back of my neck stood up higher inside the Olympic Stadium than it had inside the Forbidden City. I thought about the athletes whose dreams came true after spending a lifetime of training and discipline. And I thought about that Chicken Adobo (or whatever it was), and how George had remade the dish the next night because he wasn’t satisfied how the sauce came out the first night, when I had gone back for thirds. I thought about how the 2008 Beijing Olympics was China’s way of proving its dominance to the world, and how similarly to the Forbidden City and all the great palaces around Beijing, these Olympics celebrated China and demonstrated its power.

olympic stadium stairs

Designed like a bird’s nest, the Stadium’s architectural details did not come through on TV as they did in person. From the staircases to the support beams, its free-body diagram seems like a nightmare to calculate. Making certain that all the forces add up to zero and that no member is under too much stress or strain is an art in itself when looking at a structure like this. Finally, the colors complimented the architecture so perfectly that it looked as though every perspective and every lighting combination was considered. Although sometimes very simply used, the color provided life to this otherwise empty building.

The 2008 Beijing Olympic Stadium left a strong impression.

Olympic Stadium and me