Morning Rush Hour In Beijing Is Pure Madness (VIDEO)

If you think your rush hour commute is a nightmare, the scene above from a morning commute in Beijing might be the reality check you need. Not only do commuters pack onto subway trains, but the automobile traffic there is ranked the worst in the world, too. It really is no wonder record pollution has been suffocating China’s capital city.

And by the way, if you thought the traffic in New York, Los Angeles or Washington, D.C. was bad, you might be surprised a U.S. city doesn’t even make it into the top ten list of worst commutes. Beijing, Mexico City and Johannesburg round out the top three.

Souvenir Of The Week: Bolsas De Mandados From Mexico

Bolsas de mandados translates to “errand bags,” and they were fixtures at Mexican markets long before the BYO grocery-bag trend arrived on this side of the border. You see styles all over Mexico (and online), especially multicolored mesh bags, some with the image of the Virgen de Guadalupe. But the less-touristy score is a cheap, solid-color canvas or vinyl tote with plastic piping and handles, printed with a business’ charmingly basic graphics, usually the name of a panaderia or carniceria. Merchants might make them to give out as freebies for the store’s anniversary or a holiday. I happened to be visiting my in-laws in Mexico City when their mailman gave them the one pictured here on New Year’s Day. To them it’s a common utility bag that was probably destined for a spot under the kitchen sink, and they looked puzzled when I squealed and hugged it and made them translate the wording. Get your hands on one of these in Mexico if you can (in Oaxaca, the large market by the zocolo has sold even cooler retro styles in the past). Or look for plain ones in bright colors and stencil “El Trader Joe’s” onto it yourself.

[Photo by Megan Fernandez]

Roman Coppola And W Hotels Release Four Travel-Inspired Films

With the help of filmmaker Roman Coppola, son of director Francis Ford Coppola, W Hotels and Intel recently held a travel-inspired screenplay competition. Out of more than 1,000 online entries, four scripts were chosen by Coppola, who then used his production company, The Directors Bureau, to match the winning scripts with emerging directors and actors.

The result are the short films below, each of which takes place at a W Hotel around the world: in Doha, Qatar; Mexico City, Mexico; Washington, DC; and the Maldives. The only other stipulation for screenwriters was that the films had to feature an Intel Ultrabook – kind of like the secret ingredient in an Iron Chef competition. The results are quirky, touching, and sometimes eerie, but most of all great ways to inspire travel and help emerging talent get their feet off the ground.

Modern/Love: Two 20-somethings take the next step in their long-distance cyber romance, meeting in person for the first time during an exotic vacation in Doha, Qatar. Will their tech-enabled feelings hold true in real life?
Screenplay by Amy Jacobowitz
Directed by Lee Toland Krieger
Featuring Robert Schwartzman and Naomi Scott

¡El Tonto!: A socially challenged vacationer in Mexico City, Mexico, strikes up an unlikely friendship with one of the country’s best-known luchadores.
Screenplay by Ben Sayeg
Directed by Lake Bell
Featuring Kyle Mooney and Kyle Mooney

Eugene: A traveler in Washington, DC, gets a mysterious gift: an Ultrabook that grants all his wishes. How will he wield his unexpected powers?
Screenplay by Adam Blampied
Directed by Spencer Susser
Featuring Michael Govier and Karolina Wydra

The Mirror Between Us: Two young women embark on a dream-like adventure through the islands of the Maldives after an event turned both their worlds upside down.
Screenplay by Nicole Beharie
Directed by Kahlil Joseph
Featuring Dan’ee Doty

Mexico: Safer But Not Safe Says Travel Warning

Troubled with crime, Mexico has been on the bad list of places to visit for quite some time. But the situation is improving. Murders of U.S. citizens are down. Drug-related violence seems limited to isolated areas of the country. But a new warning issued by the U.S. Department of State urges caution.

The State Department is warning travelers to “defer nonessential travel” to the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Durango and Tamaulipas in Mexico. The continuing concern involves Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) that are “engaged in a violent struggle to control drug trafficking routes and other criminal activity,” says the State Department warning.

The latest travel warning urged caution when visiting Mexico, including Mazatlan in the state of Sinaloa, saying travelers “should exercise extreme caution particularly late at night and in the early morning.”

Giving credit to an improving situation in Mexico, the State Department notes that 32 U.S. citizens were murdered in Mexico in the first six months of 2012, compared with 113 in all of 2011. Still, the number of kidnappings and disappearances throughout Mexico is of concern with both local and expatriate communities victimized.Casting a more positive light to illuminate efforts being taken to improve the situation, Rodolfo Lopez-Negrete of the Mexico Tourism Board said the protection of tourists “is at the pinnacle of importance to the Mexican government,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Indeed, festivals and events continue in Mexico and draw big crowds. Fifteen thousand people turned out for a mass yoga class in Mexico City, once a central location in the drug wars ravaging the country, now an area where no advisory is in place, as we see in this video:

[Photo Credit- Flickr user MattMawson]

Crime In Mexico, Just Part Of The Deal

Crime in Mexico continues to concern travelers. Recent accounts of death by a drug lord urge caution when visiting Mexico, yet the country still ranks high as a desirable travel destination.
Seeming to run deeper than ever, crime has weaved its way through Mexico in some unlikely areas as well. Affecting everything from the police, accused and indicted with claims of extortion and false imprisonment, to the launch of an app that could have predicted a recent earthquake, crime continues. Maybe, just in spite of tourism-charged efforts to paint a different picture of Mexico, crime is always going to be a deadly part of the canvass.

Police in Mexico’s northern state of Tamaulipas discovered the bodies of 14 men placed in plastic bags and left in a small delivery truck just this week. All of the men, between 30 and 35 years of age, are suspected to be the victims of the ongoing war between drug cartels, as reported by news organizations as far away as the Daily Star in Lebanon.

Granted, Tamaulipas is one of the areas most affected by drug cartel violence, but the deaths still add to the more than 47,000 people killed in drug-related violence since Mexico launched its “war against organized crimes” in 2006.

To counter the perception that all of Mexico is riddled with crime, the Mexico Tourism Board is making efforts to put a new face on the country.The Mexico Taxi Project, an advertising campaign, seeks to “change perceptions about conditions that tourists find there,” said the New York Times shortly before the program’s launch last November.

In the commercials, reminiscent of a cross between the HBO series “Taxicab Confessions” and Discovery’s “Cash Cab,” we see (via hidden camera) the cab driver asking his passengers how their (insert name of city in Mexico) vacation went. Predictably, the (very touristy but believable-looking) passengers had a (wonderful, safe, fabulous, highly recommended) time and can’t wait to come back.

Nice try, probably typical of the visits of many travelers, but news of a Mexican businessman found slain recently after accusing federal police of various crimes is troubling.

Of even more concern is that the incident is not isolated. As reported by the Latin American Herald Tribune, last September, more police officers were arrested and accused of even more crimes including extortion, bodily injury, abuse of authority and crimes against health.

It seems that the element of crime in Mexico has a way of becoming part of the best, most well directed efforts one could imagine.

Mexico City, host to a magnitude 8.0 earthquake in 1985 that claimed 10,000 lives, has been developing a new Blackberry app to provide early warning for earthquakes. When it failed to work for a recent magnitude 6.5 quake, the problem was found to be that the epicenter of that quake was in an area not yet covered by the app.

Carlos Valdés, head of the National Seismologic Service, told beyondbrics that crime in the state has blocked their efforts and that seismologists have been beaten up and threatened by armed assailants on the highways of the western state of Michoacan.

Still, tourism is growing in Mexico with most locations one might visit considered safe. Our immersion in Mazatlan last year revealed a safe and friendly destination. Fans and supporters of Mexico urge travel in spite of the U.S. Department of State’s warning of caution.

Gadling’s Dave Seminara, a fan of and frequent traveler to Mexico, may have nailed the “What to do?” question in his article, “Crime in Mexico: Is Puerto Vallarta unsafe for travelers?” answering,

“…Mexican officials are smart enough to know that they’ll need to redouble efforts to prevent crimes like this one from occurring again. In the meantime, travelers who are concerned about violent crime should consider visiting smaller towns, rather than big cities – not just in Mexico but also in many countries around the world.”

[Flickr photos by sarihuella]