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Samsung Galaxy Core Mini 4G Unveiled In China

Posted by pakin On June - 30 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Samsung is a company that is well known for a variety of smartphones that will cater to just about any and every budget imaginable out there, and for good reason, too. The masses will soon stick to your brand even as they move up in life, climbing the corporate ladder while upgrading to a newer and better Samsung handset. This time around, the Android-poweredGalaxy family of smartphones has received its latest member, which is known as the Samsung Galaxy Core Mini 4G.

The Samsung Galaxy Core Mini 4G happens to carry the model number SM-G3568V, where it has just been unveiled officially over in China. While the Samsung Galaxy Core Mini 4G does come with 4G LTE connectivity, this does not automatically qualify the smartphone to be a high end device, since it comes with rather entry level to mid-range specifications, including the likes of a 4.3” display at 480 x 800 pixels resolution, a 5MP camera at the back, a quad-core 1.2GHz processor, 1.5GB RAM, and 8GB of internal memory.

Android 4.4 KitKat will be the operating system version of choice, and with a 136 grams chassis that measures 127.8mm x 66.2mm x 10.6mm, it is an average sized handset that is easy to tote around and use with a single hand. White seems to be the only color right now in China, and it remains to be seen whether it will be released elsewhere or not.

Heart of the middle kingdom

Posted by pakin On June - 3 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

Home of the high-profile Three Gorges Dam, Hubei has masses of breathtaking mountain scenery, rare (and mythical) animals, interesting history and an indigenous culture quite different from that of northern China

A simian warrior with supernatural powers acquired through Taoist practices, the Monkey King is the much-loved hero of the Chinese literary classic Journey to the West. Most recently portrayed in a Hong Kong fantasy flick, the immensely strong protagonist — Sun Wukong in Mandarin — rebels against the Jade Emperor of Heaven and the character may well have been inspired by a real-life creature, the Sichuan snub-nosed monkey (Rhinopithecus roxellana).

This very distinctive-looking creature is now found only in a handful of forested areas in the Chinese provinces of Sichuan, Gansu, Shaanxi and Hubei and one of the few places that visitors can see the animal at close range is in Hubei’s Shennongjia National Park.

“The golden snub-nosed monkey is a rare species and is protected by the Chinese government. The importance of its existence and protection is on a par with that of the [giant] panda,” explained Lee Jun, who acted as our guide during a recent visit we made to Hubei, a province in the easternmost part of central China. “Anyone caught hunting these monkeys can be fined up to 100 million yuan [about 522 million baht] and face a prison sentence of up to 20 years,” he added.

Listed as an endangered species and included on the “red list” maintained by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), it goes by a variety of names including Sichuan golden-hair monkey, snub-nosed leaf monkey, snow monkey and orange monkey. The fur on its body and limbs is actually a yellowish-red while its face is hairless and can look pale blue under certain light. It varies in height between 50 and 70cm, has a long tail and lives in montane forests between 1,400 and 2,800 metres above sea level where snow cover can last for up to six months of the year. It eats seeds, fruit, tree bark, insects and small vertebrates and the IUCN estimates that there are now only 16,000 of them left in the wild.

“About 1,600 of them live in this national park at present,” Lee told us, adding that this figure was a substantial improvement on the situation a few decades ago when the local population numbered only about 300.

This small waterfall in Hubei is a popular bathing spot for snub-nosed monkeys in the locality.

As part of Beijing’s ongoing protection efforts, a team of rangers has been specifically assigned to take care of the snub-nosed monkeys in this park, feeding them daily with fresh fruit like apples. “Food is one of the most important factors in maintaining numbers, especially during the winter when the whole mountain is covered in snow. Feeding helps more of the monkeys survive,” Lee noted.

Before being allowed in to see the monkeys up close, we were told that there are two simple rules that all tourists need to follow. First, we had to don military-issue camouflage jackets to cover our own upper garments (presumably so that our garb would look like the uniforms worn by the park rangers, to which the animals have become accustomed). The second regulation was that the monkeys could only be fed peanuts that had been bought from park officials; this, our guide said, was intended to protect the monkeys from digestive problems or even poisoning from unsuitable foodstuffs.

A wooden walkway fenced on both sides leads directly from the visitors’ car park to the designated viewing area. A five-minute stroll along this brought us into the fringes of a pine forest where I had my very first glimpse of a snub-nosed monkey. It was perched nonchalantly on the branch of a tree overhanging the walkway, munching on what looked like a piece of bark.

Not far from me was a boisterous group of Chinese visitors. They began shouting and laughing and screaming when a monkey that they had been posing for pictures with got chased away by another, much bigger specimen.

A troop of monkeys, perhaps a family group, could be seen on the other side of a small stream, but they were in an area into which visitors were not permitted to venture. We had been instructed not to stray from the wooden walkway, but several of the monkeys saved us from temptation by coming quite near to us. I counted five scampering along the top of the fence or just sitting on it.

I gripped my camera tightly to my chest as I approached the first of them. I was afraid they might behave like those naughty macaques one often encounters in Lop Buri temples, sometimes aggressive creatures that grab or steal things from unsuspecting tourists. But these distant (and much more endearing) furry cousins of those Thai macaques didn’t seem particularly interested in us humans or our belongings, for that matter.

They only had eyes for one thing: the tidbits we were carrying.

“Put a peanut in the palm of your hand and close your fingers around it like you’re making a fist,” was the advice from our guide, Lee. “Then extend  your arm in the direction of one of the monkeys.”

So I did as instructed. The little fellow nearest me certainly had lightning-fast reactions, reaching out both his hands to hold mine and then gently folding back my fingers to reveal the peanut underneath. It plucked the treat from my palm, broke open the shell and greedily devoured its contents.

When I repeated the process with an empty fist, he again peeled back my fingers, but finding nothing edible inside he merely moved on to check out some other people standing nearby to see what pickings might be on offer.

Although visitors can stay and watch the monkeys as long as they please, Lee knew that our time was up when park rangers started to distribute apples around 10.30am. Most of the monkeys quickly abandoned us and darted over to the feeding spot, which was about 50 metres away across the brook. It was time to move on and explore other parts of this vast national park.

Shennongjia covers an area of 769.5km² and the main attractions, according to Lee, are unusual rock formations (he called them “stone forests”), a wetland area home to many varieties of bird and larger species of resident wildlife. There have even been sightings here, he claimed, of that mythical hairy creature, the Yeti (what some term Bigfoot).

Apart from its abundance of unspoilt nature, Hubei also has a number of historic and cultural attractions. A visit to Hubei Provincial Museum in Wuhan, the provincial capital, was an entertaining way to spend a few hours. This is a great place to learn about the ancient state of Chu, which flourished on the territory of present-day Hubei during the Eastern Zhou dynasty, which developed its own unique culture, quite distinct from that of the Shang/Zhou civilisation of northern China.

Hubei is now best known, of course, as the location of the Three Gorges Dam, the largest engineering project of its kind in the world. It spans the Yangtze River in Yichang, the second largest city in the province.

The People’s Republic of China is a massive country and first-time visitors should be aware that travelling from one part to another may require considerable expenditure in terms of time and effort. If you want to explore Shennongjia National Park, as well as the cities of Wuhan and Yichang, you will need to allocate at least five days of your holiday to do them justice.

According to our guide, the autumn months of October and November are the best time to visit Shennongjia. The park is at its most beautiful at this time of year, he explained, as the leaves on all the deciduous trees change colour, creating impressive canvases in many shades of yellow, orange and red.

China opens world’s largest aquarium

Posted by pakin On June - 2 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

The world’s largest aquarium has opened on the Chinese island of Henqgin near the southern Chinese province of Macau. The Guinness Book of Records confirms that the aquarium at Ocean Kingdom breaks five records.

It holds a water volume of nearly 50 million litres and also has the world’s largest underwater viewing dome, the largest aquarium tank, the largest aquarium window and the largest acrylic panel.

The Ocean Kingdom theme park features a whale shark exhibit tank which measures 39.6 metres by 8.3 metres.

The theme park is open daily from 9.30am to 6pm and until 9pm on weekends. Entrance costs about 45 United States dollars per person per day.

Where past meets present

Posted by pakin On May - 30 - 2014 ADD COMMENTS

From the terracotta army to the towering skyscrapers of modern Xi’an, Shaanxi province can be proud of its heritage

“Too expensive! The shop in front offered a much lower price,” I exclaim in broken Mandarin as the vendor tells me the price he wants for a coffee mug with a beautiful oriental design. The middle-aged merchant looks puzzled.

His bewildered expression prompts me to check the Google Translate app on my iPhone to make sure that what I have said is actually what I meant. It seems to be correct but perhaps not.

Without any Mandarin, haggling in the bustling shopping district of Muslim Quarter in Xi’an (and the rest of the city) can be hard. A few vendors speak a little English but most non-Mandarin-speaking shoppers usually end up resorting to sign language. Pointing at a calculator helps, too.

Seeing a twenty-something dude with distinctive Chinese features struggling with his Mandarin amuses the merchant. He chuckles before finally agreeing to my offer when I put on a show of taking my business elsewhere.

Located at the north of West Street in the city, the venue is the hub of the capital’s Muslim community and the best place to shop for such souvenirs as intricate paper cuttings, exquisite coin purses, antique hand mirrors and a cheeky “ObaMao” T-shirt, among others.

“You have to haggle when you shop here. The vendors enjoy it when you do that and the price can often go down by as much as 80 per cent,” says my Chinese guide Cathy Liu, though she acknowledges that not all her clients enjoy persistent bargaining. If that’s the case, soak in the colourful sights, sounds and smells of the many shops and little restaurants with bold sign boards that line the dark pavement of the marketplace. Granted, the cacophony of the large crowd can be quite overwhelming at times. Oh, and do be careful of pickpockets.

After two hours in the Muslim Quarter, thieves are the least of my concerns as I wrestle with the weight of my bulky purchases while scouring the expanse for some hot street snacks.

An ancient wall around the city centre serves to juxtapose the old and new. In many ways, the City Wall of Xi’an – China’s most complete one that is still standing – defines, and is defined by, the people who dwell around it. Today, it stands tall as a symbol of the city’s enduring past.

“The wall can no longer protect the city’s occupants against attacks today, we know that. But it protects our spirit,” says Liu, as we walk pass the structure on our way to the hotel.

Historically known as Chang’an, the assimilation of past and present is evident in Xi’an. A 15-minute walk from the six centuries old Bell Tower of Xi’an is the contemporary Grand Noble Hotel where I’m staying.

Built during the early Ming Dynasty in 1384, the brick and timber tower houses several large bronze-cast bells from the Tang Dynasty. The structure is even more impressive at night when it’s lit up, becoming a bright beacon of ancient Chinese majesty amid Western capitalist ventures in the vicinity.

From this landmark, the city’s main avenues – North, East, South and West Streets – extend to four corners of the capital, all of them boasting numerous shopping malls and Chinese-Muslim restaurants.

Enjoying the signature halal food in Xi’an is an acquired taste. While the menu of rice and dishes (chicken, beer, mutton, green vegetables and tofu) doesn’t veer far from those found in Malaysian Chinese restaurants, I find the food to be either too salty, too spicy or too oily.

With Xi’an’s history stretching back over 3,100 years, no trip to the city would be complete without a visit to its museums. Shaanxi province used to be the capital of 13 great dynasties and one can expect an overview of its illustrious past at the Shaanxi History Museum and Xi’an Museum.

The exhibition halls at Shaanxi History Museum contain a myriad of interesting treasures, such as a magnificent Buddhist grotto and other ancient relics.

Xi’an Museum is located beside the famous Small Wild Goose Pagoda. Not much of a history buff, I spend most of my time roaming the scenic grounds between the museum and the pagoda.

The structure has survived more than 70 earthquakes over the years. The body cracked in one earthquake, but was later sealed when another tremor hit the city years later.

Another famous pagoda is the much older and grander Big Wild Goose Pagoda in the Great Ci’en Temple grounds. The structure was erected in 652 to enshrine Buddhist scriptures, portraits and relics brought back by the monk Xuanzang from his 15-year pilgrimage to India. The monk’s exploits are recorded in the well-known Chinese literature “Journey To The West”.

Visitors are greeted outside the walls of the complex by a park and huge plaza. The spot is a popular night haunt among locals as it showcases a musical water fountain show in the evening.

The capital boasts many notable landmarks, but one has to travel to the outskirts of Xi’an to visit the city’s other historical attractions. Located about 30km from the city centre is the Huaqing Hot Spring, a famous imperial bathing pool surrounded by various palaces, some of which date back 3,000 years.

Although the structures within the area were rebuilt in 1959, they adhere strictly to the Tang architectural style and appear genuine. I listen with rapt attention as Liu recounts the story of Emperor Xuanzong and his concubine Yang Fei. The palace complex was the favourite resort of the emperor who spent many winters there with his beloved concubine.

About 20 minutes’ drive away in Lintong county is one of the most significant archaeological finds in the world – the Museum of Qin Terracotta Warriors and Horses. The life-size terracotta figures are synonymous with the ancient city and it’s easy to see why.

The craftsmanship of the terracotta figures, arranged in battle formations, is simply astounding. Each of the warriors is distinctive – from the facial expression to the shape of the earlobes and costume design.

“It kind of makes you wonder how much time and effort those past artisans spent, don’t you think?” an English tourist asks his female companion as we all lean on the railing separating the excavation site from the walkway to snap some photographs.

Legacies from the past have made Xi’an the historical gem that it is today and the visitor’s thanks must go to local contemporary society’s sense of historical pride, which has made this ancient city shine.

A walk in the picturesque Tang Paradise on my final evening in the city validates that notion. What’s incredible about the cultural theme park is how everything that’s quintessentially Tang Dynasty – from the poetry and the songs to the majestic pavilions and market squares – has been seamlessly recreated in the heart of a bustling metropolitan.

And therein lies the true essence of Xi’an. Even as the city embraces modernisation, traces from the past are always present, a constant reminder of the great capital that it once was.