An introduction to touring China


Just some words for the first time traveller to China:

It's a huge place, more like a continent, so take your time, and avoid those refugee style tours which cover 10 places in five days.

It's a nice thing to sit down, enjoy the airs, sights and smells, meet people, especially since we speak their lingo, and immerse yourself in the place like a local. You will enjoy it more than if you merely sat in the back of a tour bus, seeing everything from the comforts of a bus.

Some places, or rather many destinations require some form of walking, so being fit helps. You will see much more.
Food can be very different, especially for those who have only taken Canton food. Try them, be it insects, snakes etc. 

China is very crowded, and no matter where you are, you will see lots of people. If you don't like that, don't go and then complain. Chinese can also be very pushy, and it will take another essay to explain why. When in Rome, do like them and you will be fine.

The toilets, especially those in rural places can be 'exotic'. If you can't stomach that, stick to the major cities and don't go somewhere that needs a pit stop along the way. If you need to go, the fields are often cleaner than the toilets. Bring some deodorant if you like. :gangs: 

Different seasons bring different sights, so talk to your travel partners and plan ahead, bring the right clothes.

Try to visit one county, eg, Canton or Shanghai first, and then move on to a new place. Otherwise you will find that China is a big big place and you will spend 80% of your time on a bus.

DON'T Drive in China. Even if you think you are Lewis Hamilton, the traffic conditions are bad and people will ask you for money for any old injuries. [drivingcar] 

There is very little serious crime, but petty crimes do happen. You may find some cheating, pickpockets, fake products or overcharging, but no robbery or murders. Even so, be smart, do not act like a typical Singaporean, leave things everywhere unguarded. I have seen people leave their handphones to book seats - are you kidding ??? [hur] 


Finally, yes, do go to the big few like the Great Wall, Nine Gorges etc, but do consider the less traveled places, and you will be rewarded with a different view of China. The people are very friendly, helpful and there are many things to see, if you know what to expect. Don't go around complaining, and criticising everything, you will make more friends. It's a good time to brush up or improve your Mandarin. Don't get mad if people don't speak English, they don't.


For less travelled places, try:

Xining - Qinghai Lake
JiLing - near N Korea
Yunnan - Li Jiang and Xi Shuang Bana, attend a minority tribe wedding
Gui Zhou
Zhengzhou - see Shaolin and eat their noodles



[thumbsup] 

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back - movie review




The first instalment was not bad, like a good beef stew, it was a quiet boiler, working it's way slowing through and only reaching it's full taste near the end.
It was tiring watching the second instalment..
It felt like Forrest Gump Part II
Quite simply, it was a running movie: "From that day onwards, if I was going anywhere, I was running!"

Tom Cruise didn't perform to his usual best, and look like he was dialling it in. I also made the mistake of reading the book first, so all the nuances, the thoughts in his mind were lost.

Here was a movie that didn't know if it was a straightforward actioner, a whodunit thriller or a bit of comedy.

Jack needs to solve a paternity suit, free a prisoner, and absolve himself of crime once again. Cobie Sumlders doesn't smoulder too much here, she also look old and tired here, and there isn't a real chemistry between them. No couple on the run feel. In fact Robert De Niro and buddy feel more 'couply' in Midnight Run and Eddie Murphy & Nick Nolte also had more love between them than these two.

Plenty of action and explosions, so those looking for a bit of demo material for their HT systems won't feel too aggrieved, but my opinion is similar to the title: Never Go Back.
Rent or buy only when on sale.

2.5/5 

Skiptrace movie review

Jackie Chan is famous for his slapstick comedy roles that is peppered with nonstop action. Think Project A, Police Story, and you will recall a series of movies with breathtaking stunts, amazing choreography of action mixed with humor reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin. Now I won't put Skiptrace in the same league, but it harks back to his heyday and it's nice to see him back for one more rodeo. 

For the uninitiated, this movie goes at a breakneck pace, and I wish I could watch it in Mandarin and English, just to see the difference. Think of the plot as secondary to the whole buddy scene, and it's a throw back to the Rush Hour franchise, and the plot is a mash of Midnight Run with Planes, Trains and Automobiles. Johnny Knoxville makes a good counterfoil to JC, and they traverse China together, in a funny travel-doco way, that invites you to laugh with or at them, marvel at the various sites and relive some of the old Jackie's action magic.

Don't let the Rotten Tomatoes rating deter you, IMO, this is worth a rental at least or a keeper.

The BR disc itself has superb video quality, and the surround effects are solid, with great use of the surrounds. Not a lot of bass, but an involving experience, nonetheless.  

Mercedes W246 B180 Facelift Review




So after a protracted search which took place when my car reached the last year of it's COE, I decided on this car. A true crossover, with a bit of SUV, MPV and hatchback all mixed into one.

What was my buying decision process?



I have set myself a budget of around 130 but if I can spend less, that will be even better. i.e, with my car thrown in, my outlay should not extend 120.



What are the things I really need, and what are the niceties then?


Needs:

Reliability is paramount. No 'characterful' cars, a euphemism for unreliable. So most likely a Jap car, that is actually made in Japan, maybe a Korean one, or perhaps a Merc if they are made in Germany and not somewhere else.

Not too low slung - I need easy enter and egress for my mum.


Versatile seats:

Folding rear seats, the ability to carry large objects will be very good.

Fuel economy:

Given the high oil prices, this will be a good thing.

Enough power to merge with traffic. I don't need a speedster, but I don't really want to worry about having a heart attack every time I need to join traffic and there's a rather steep slope outside my home and I need to merge with fast moving traffic there.


I also go on the North South Highway every now and then, so something that doesn't struggle on it will be nice.



Niceties:


Original leather seats

Red color
Quick turning radius
Low turn to turn ratio
SUV - high sitting position and hey, I haven't owned one before, but it was fun to drive


Front and back cameras

BT capability


So it came down to the Honda HRV and the Merc B180, and in the end I managed to wrangle a deal which meant that the Merc not that much more than the Honda.


It takes a while to get the car, and I have posted about buying and collection here:
http://peteswrite.blogspot.sg/2017/01/steps-in-buying-and-collecting-your-merc.html

There have already been a lot of reviews, both in print and video reviews, not only of the original one which came out in 2011, but also my version, which is the facelift one that came out end 2014.

Some links to features:


Torque Vectoring Braking:

http://www.0-100.info/2011/07/2012-all-new-mercedes-b-class-w-246-2.html


Features:


If you decide to go full hog, you will get more, but if you get the bog standard Style package, you will still enjoy a ton of features.


http://www.stcars.sg/singapore-car/cars/mercedes-benz-b-class-4442/features


Some cool features of note



- by pressing the open button on the key fob, you can lower the windows to cool the cabin as you walk towards the car and vice versa

- it learns your driving style, and goes more economical or gets faster and accelerates briskly as its how hard you press on the accelerator
- the park brake engages by itself and will disengage when you move off
- the HOLD function is nice at long junctions
- you can use the Individual setting to choose Manual mode which allows you shift gears yourself, otherwise after 12 secs it returns to drive
- love those SLS style round air vents
- pedal shifts - some may not use it, but I like to go Manual, and they are quite responsive

 In case anyone feels only badge whores get this car, there are some features which put it at the top of it's class:
NCAP 5 star safety award - it was the safest car in it's class and then some
Coefficient of drag of 0.26 - that's the lowest of any production car when it was designed. That's lower than a Ferrari
Under the old CEVS scheme, it had a $5000 rebate, but in the new VES scheme, it actually get's a $10000 rebate, this is when most other cars are deemed dirtier now and have surcharges. 

Additional features:

The radio reception is good, and the stereo gives a nice bass kick. The mids aren't so great, but for a standard stereo, it's fine.

The car comes with three cables: android USB, lightning, and a 30 pin. These can be used with the two USB sockets. Pity they are a bit short.

The ambient light is nice and helps you locate stuff that you drop on the floor. 

Interior:

The cabin is pretty solid, although the plastics in the lower areas of the cabin are a bit plasticky and tacky. The steering wheel is a nice size, but no leather wrap!! 

On the other, the steering wheel has a lovely design and the airbag central section is a round area, with a nice sporty three spoke design, reminiscent of the old Momo steering wheels.. 


And the entire cabin has a solid feel. There are some more nasty plastics below the waistline, but these hard plastics are found in the hard wearing areas, and should withstand some duress. The only shaky bit is the plastic cover of the B pillar.

The seat with it's eight adjustment is a pleasure to sit on. You sit more upright, but it's great, and you won't feel fatigue or aches even after a long drive. The memory seats are also a nice touch, which allows you and your spouse to get your own settings. And it controls the side mirrors too.


The cabin abounds with little pockets and the door ones are large enough for 1.5l pep bottles. I wish the central storage beneath the armrest was larger, but otherwise it caters to most needs. It isn't as plentiful as a MPV like the Citreon C4, but it does have nice MPV like touches like the fold down table, and the relatively high seating gives a nice outward view. The expanse of glass also helps, but there are some blind spots and one needs to move your head around a bit. Speaking of sitting height, in my personal opinion, this car offers the perfect sitting height to to it's hip point. You simply slide your rear in, and onto the seat. No need to climb up like in a SUV, nor do you sit down and slink in, like that of a sports car. It is no wonder that it's the most popular choice in Germany for middle aged drivers. 


This will not please those looking for sporty profile car, as it sits quite high up, with a ground clearance of 130mm, and neither will it suit those looking to sit above the traffic, like in a Subaru Forester. Instead it's a great car for those too old or simply do not wish to climb up or down into their car.


Legroom is generous, both in the front and back. The front seats are also elevated enough for the rear passenger to slide his or her feet under the seats, improving the legroom. You do sit more upright, but most people above 40 will appreciate that.

So what's it like to drive?


Firm ride, with little body rolls, and able to keep up with the cars. That's the basic summary, but gives the impression it's quite solid. 


On the highway, it's in it's element. Moving at three figure speeds, it's rock solid and stable. It was calm, behaving like a much bigger car and even at such speeds, it felt like it had reserve to go even faster. 160 kph is probably no issue in this car.


It takes corners quite flatly, and even though it's no hot hatch, it will hold it's line quite well. The steering does not convey a lot of the road, but it is direct enough and stable. After all the driver is more likely to be a middle age man or a soccer mum on the milk run.


If you opt to use the Eco mode, the progress is glacial.. but go to Comfort or Sport, give the pedal a firm press and it will move quite quickly. It's no hot hatch certainly, but it will get to 100 kmh briskly. And it actually corners nicely with good seat support. 


The gear shifts are pretty quick. Some like it to be faster, but it's fine and if you want to hold onto a gear, use the Manual Mode. You can keep it in M, by using the I for Individual settings.

Those seats are something else. Very solid support, and comfortable. It will be a real treat to use them on a long drive. There is tire roar, especially on certain stretches of the expressway, but otherwise the cabin is much quieter than my old Civic. And the acceleration is not slower either. Just hit the torque band and you are good to go!





As for the NVH element. When stationary, the noise isolation is very impressive. The tires spoil this for the B class, as the run flats tend to be pretty noisy, depending on the road conditions. When they are replaced with regular tires, the noise level on the move should be much better. There is some wind noise above 80 kph, but if you have the stereo on, it should not bother you.


If you want to drive a bit more sportily, a firm press on the accelerator pedal will reward you with a nice shove in the back, and very soon you are way above the speed limit. At 3 digit speeds, the car remains very stable, and the noise within the cabin is quiet, and you can imagine taking this car onto the Autobahn, and it will live up to it's name of a Sports Tourer there. 

As for the fuel economy, this car has a CD coefficient of 0.26, a very impressive figure, which was class leading when it first came out, and even now is highly competitive. If you drive with a light right foot, it will reward you with a good figure. When driven in anger, it can go down from 15km/l to 10km/l or worse.



Some annoying things:


No leather steering wheel!! Come on Merc, even a basic Hyundai gets that! And you can't spec it without breaking the package price. Nuts..



No Easi-Vario Seats for the local models. 

No rear air-vents for the aircon.
No pre-safe.
Nice if it had a sun-roof, but no biggie.. 

The pedals are slightly offset to the right. This car has more space for the left hand drive version compared to the right hand drive one. 


The fit and finish is not as good as the old Mercs. There are some sharp corners and the panel gaps are Corolla like, rather than Lexus. You know you are in a budget Merc..


The ride is not cosseting as the bigger Mercs and runs on the firm side. Tire noise is also more than you expect, although the cabin itself is quite quiet. 


Speaking of warnings, the modern Merc has a lot of beeps and buzzing..

For owners experiencing this for the first time, it can be daunting or even annoying.
Some of the proximity sensors actually to be a little slow, as in the alarm comes after the motorbike has passed..
Takes a little getting used too..


So who should get this?


Firstly, if you want the badge, don't get this. There are other ways to spend your money, and it should not be about the three pointed star badge. 

It is also not a sport hatchday, and neither is it a SUV. So who can consider it?

Well I can see a few buyer types: a family man or woman, who like a practical car, with the full suite of safety features, and still enjoys a solid car, with a decent engine, and finally someone who might take the family out on a road trip. 

A driver who like the open road, space for his kit, and on a daily basis wants something which will swallow the family needs and arrive in comfort. The driver who does not want to contort his or her back and squeeze himself into a tiny Recaro car seat.

For the same money, you can consider a Jap 2l sedan like the Mazda 3, a Toyota Camry or a SUV like the Forester. You will also be able to get one of the hatches from the Merc stable like the A180 (with change) or the Audi A3 1.0T or BMW 216d. So there are many choices in the luxury segment or in the Jap, conti car selection. There are also French and Korean options which either had reliability issues or were bigger and slower.

Only the Forester is faster, but it consumes a lot more petrol. The B class can get upwards of 15km/l on the highway and when you do only city driving, it can be as low as 10km/l, so mixture driving conditions will give you a reading somehow in between. Even at 10km/l, that's better than the Forester.

Then when you add on the cost of the features, you will see that it's quite good value for money.
For example, when you get a Corolla, it comes with very few features. Likewise for a Mazda 3 or even the Civic. By the time you add things like reverse camera, the safety suite, and even desirables like auto-fold mirrors, you will be looking at another 10-20k. Then if you want to get the same amount of power, and that's money, and you may be stressing an engine not built for this. In the B180, the M270 engine is the same one that is used in the B200, detuned to meet Cat A specs. So it will not be strained at all, even when you push it.

Even when you compare it to the category of sedans one class above, it has suite of features that won't be found on some of these sedans. Add the turbo-powered engine and you can see value. The solid metalwork is impressive and the legroom is something which is competitive up to something like the Camry or Accord. Only the new Civic can come close in this aspect. But the plastics are quite lousy and you won't feel that your money was well spent.

There is also talk of additional punitive tax on diesel engines, so I am glad I did not go that way. 

So for my budget, this car yields good fuel economy, has loads of interior space (like an S Class they say), has top safety features, and good acceleration and stability on the highway. 


I also did some homework on the reliability, and so far, the MFA platform with the M270 engine and DCT transmission has not had much issues. 

So do your sums and take it out for a test drive, so you can see if it suits you and your driving style.








Addendum:

Went along to kaypoh when a good buddy bought the BMW 216d.
I actually went to check it out and it was the first car I tested..
But the rep gave me such a lousy price, I had no choice but to walk away..

Since this car is meant as a direct rival to the B Class, I figured it will be nice to do a head to head comparo of sorts.. 
So some important differences



BMW
- diesel : super economy, but tax is more, and it sounds like a taxi

- electric tailgate 
- rear seats electric release, and they slide - super!
- dimensions pretty much the same

- no SD card input
- no free USB cables
- no cruise control, very odd
- leather steering - yeah cheap Merc - rubber steering wheel, really Merc ??
- Emergency call function - best safety function
- anti collision warning only works at low speed
- 6" inch screen
- superior interface for the command system
- more sleek interface
- sleek Aisin 6 speed gearbox, very smooth
- rear air vents
- no insulation in the door pockets - your keys will rattle
- 5 year free service warranty is nice
- nicer keychain holder leather
- keyless entry
- remote boot and bonnet release, plus gas struts for the bonnet - cheap struts on the Merc
- nice welcome note when you switch on the engine
- but that engine ... the Merc is quite agricultural, but the 1.5 TD is really rattly
- good noise insulation, apparently BMW took the Merc and tried to reduce it by 10 db
- smaller driver seats, ok for daily ride, and you sit less upright, but I can't say too much about long distance driving
- good visibility
- regular place for gear shift, meaty steering
- superb handling, even for an SUV
- lights on door handles
- red color paint is metallic
- ?more slick / modern looks
- auto aircon with rear vents (nice touch)
- cheap parcel shelf
- individual seats for three behind
- nice rear cup holders and compartment
- front and rear fog lamps
- intelligent high beams lamps
- lane change and safety functions only work above 70 kph But the collision warning works only for pedestrians and low speeds (inferior to Merc, Volvo, and now many Jap brands)

B Class

- memory function on the both sides with three settings instead of two in the BMW
- lumbar support superb
- easier for older drivers to climb in and out - best position
- two USB ports 
- bigger glove and armrest compartment
- bigger boot
- spectacle compartment on the roof lining
- nice dial pad for numbers, more hard buttons - which I like actually
- has a port for SD card
- driver sleep alert
- knee airbag
- build quality about equal but just a few more rattles in all the 1 and 2 series that my friends own
- flip down table behind front seats, a winner for my passengers
- metal scuff plates
- the most comfortable seats in the business IMO.. Volvo comes close, but the lower sitting position makes it a big minus for older folks like me
- very easy and relative cheap to find spares
- fantastic radio reception and decent sound from stock speakers and the Audio 20 system
- Carplay in the 2017 models
- dipstick present
- OMV is about 2-3k less for the same model
- CEVS is 5k instead of 10k so you get more money back at the end
- nicer sounding engine and more responsive when you kickdown
- slightly more spacious at the back with a bit more headroom
- better suited to those who are tall and have long legs
- 8" high res screen
- better collision warning and driver sleepy function

Both cars have some very odd cost cutting measures and you do know that they are both entry level cars in the premium marques:

Vinyl instead of leather
Each misses out on some features, eg no leather steering on the Merc, no cruise control on the BMW
A few cheap bits of plastic are found in both cars, though the BMW has less of them. The 2011 designed Merc has more down below, although most of the plastics seem well put together. The straight lines of the Merc may not suit everyone.


Each has it's virtues and in the new year, the 216d will be replaced by the 216i, which is slower but potentially smoother and quieter. 

YMMV on the looks and ergonomics so make sure you sit down and try it, and also drive them to see which one suits you. 
Both cars are stable at speed, offer good safety features and good space.
Plus they give you a hint of the premium and luxury that you can get further up the food chain.. 

______________________________________________________________ 
 I have no financial interest or other interests in any of the items / events I write about.

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