Hong Kong: Part 2

Missed Part 1? Here: Hong Kong: Part 1

The mix of Chinese and British cultures is really an interesting combination. It always makes me laugh when I hear an Asian person with a British accent. But it’s the little things that are very similar to what I have seen in London: street signs, roads, arrows telling you which way to look at cross walks, etc.

I started to get my bearings around the hotel on day two. I also had Italian food for dinner the night before and a Starbucks coffee in the morning. This helps me remember that this place isn’t totally different.

On a side note, while I was sipping my coffee waiting for a ferry, I noticed a few things. Some customs must be very different here. I remember in Beijing that people were spitting snot everywhere on the street. I even was almost hit by an old lady. While I was sitting in the Starbucks, I saw three different people sneeze multiple times on the person in front of them on the escalator. Since it happened more than once, it couldn’t have been an accident. I feel that covering your mouth and nose while you sneeze is just common sense for health and just grossness reasons. But who knows, maybe it’s the norm here.

I headed to Macau for a day trip on day two. The ferry from Hong Kong Island to Macau is pretty cool. It seats about 14 across in airline style seats. The ride takes about an hour. I wasn’t aware that after you buy your ticket you have to go to another stand and get assigned a seat. So I was late getting assigned my seat, but my luck continued and I got a bulkhead seat with lots of legroom. I hope this lucky streak lasts the whole trip. The seas were choppy that day my friends. I shouldn’t have drunk a large coffee just before getting on the boat. I was praying that I didn’t get sick, and more so the baby next to me.

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And it threw up. I don’t know what the parents expected after they started feeding it 15 minutes into the voyage. At least the mother had the good sense to grab a barf bag.

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THEY ARE CHANGING THE BABY ON THE SEAT NEXT TO ME! This is outrageous. There are bathrooms right around the corner! The fact that it puked and is crying was bad enough, but changing it on the seat next to me? Jesus. My luck ran out. No wonder they gave me this seat.

I finally get to Macau. Once I got through immigration (good thing I brought my passport, didn’t know I would actually need it), I was scared they didn’t take Hong Kong dollars. So I went to an ATM to get Macau currency. I tried to just get a little, but I ended up having to take out $1000. The machine gave me two $500 bills. How am I supposed to break these?? The cab ride to Macau Tower cost about $28 and he wouldn’t take one of the bills. Fortunately, I still had some HK$ on me to pay. At least I have $500 to blow at a casino now.

From the top and the bottom.

From the top and the bottom.

The Macau Tower is pretty cool. The observation deck is open air on top, and there is a ledge on the outside where you can walk along the edge. You can also bungee jump or controlled freefall off the top. Insanity. If you watch “An Idiot Abroad,” you know what I am talking about.

Now I have heard that Macau is the Las Vegas of Asia, and boy where they right. I saw at least 3 Rolls Royce’s and a few Bentleys. One of the Rolls was a shuttle for a hotel. There are even branches of the Wynn and MGM casinos dispersed among the Portuguese and Asian ones. They are basically the same as in Las Vegas, but Asians LOVE baccarat. About 80% of the tables are baccarat. Could only find a total of 10 tables of Blackjack in the Wynn and MGM combined. I also didn’t see one craps table. After losing some money and getting laughed at for struggling with noodles and chopsticks by the couple next to me, I headed back to Hong Kong Island.

Day Three

I witnessed an older woman typing a text on her iPhone. To do it she had a drawing pad instead of a keyboard and needed to draw the Chinese letters then select one from a group of suggestions. This seems a very tedious and inefficient method of texting. I’ve always been curious how texting worked over here.

From the Peak

I took the tram to get to the top of Victoria’s Peak. It is sort of like a rollercoaster since it is so steep and on the rickety rails. I definitely am glad I waited to go to the peak, this is by far the clearest day I have been here for. Granted, it is still smoggy, but it’s better than before. Pictures don’t do the view justice. It’s much easier to see through the smog with your eyes than through the lens of a camera. The views from up there are fantastic. The lush greens from the mountainside contrast with the modern skyline nicely.

Victoria Harbor

That night I took a harbor cruise to see the Symphony of Lights. It is the world’s biggest lightshow with over 40 buildings on the skyline participating. The views were spectacular from Victoria’s Harbor, I wonder how they looked from the Peak?

Tomorrow morning at 5:15am I am taking a cab to the airport. Not going to be fun. However my last day in Hong Kong was an unforgettable one. I am ready to move on to Thailand and Cambodia.

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Hong Kong: Part 1

It is quite the place. The term “concrete jungle” is made self evident here. The claustrophobia of the city streets is overwhelming at times. Narrow streets and sidewalks, very tall buildings, being a minority and alone, and signs in Chinese everywhere lend to this feeling. Sometimes is feels like the whole block is going to collapse in on itself. The winding streets and foreign language make it very hard to navigate if you don’t know where you are. Basically wherever you are, all of the buildings around you are at least 25 stories tall. This means that at ground level the buildings are so tall that they block any view of a very tall skyscraper, the 88 story IFC Building for example, that you could use as a landmark. I use this trick in Chicago with the Sears (Willis) Tower and other buildings. It helps me know where I am and what direction I am traveling.

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The fact that I haven’t the slightest clue what any of the signs say nor what the people are saying makes it much much worse. Street signs are almost nonexistent on smaller roads and even if they are there, the sign is small and gray; just so it can blend perfectly into the surroundings!

When you walk down Nathan Road, the main shopping road in Kowloon, the jungle creatures come out. I was harassed by every Indian man with a suit on about tailoring. Then shopkeeps along the road of the smaller stores come and yell at you to buy their wares. This is the China I remember from Beijing. However, these types of people were usually confined to the markets.

Traveling to such a foreign place seems like it would always be better with a friend or family member. I think that if I had a partner in crime, so to speak, the whole experience would have been very different. We would at least have two heads instead of one to solve a problem (or to beat off attackers). Just having someone to talk to during a meal or seeing a sight makes it more enjoyable. Being Steven Glansberg gets really old really fast. Even if the person was someone I didn’t particularly like, I would have someone to share the experience with for the rest of our lives. As a solo traveler, I cannot relate the experiences that I have lived with anyone in the same way. The sense of camaraderie and a shared laugh of nostalgia is a wonderful thing.

Hopefully this is just a mix of jet lag and culture shock. I hope so. This is only the beginning of my Southeast Asian excursion.

Part 2

The Journey: Leg 1

I always have the creeping suspicion when the plane is taxiing that while it is turning, the front wheel is going to snap off and the whole aircraft falls forward into the tarmac.

I walk up to the desk with my premium economy ticket and as they scan it, a loud beep comes from the machine. They ask me to wait at the desk. Now before the plane started boarding, they were asking people to give up their tickets because the plane was overbooked. I had a reservation to catch so I decided not to take them up on the offer of $400. So while I was waiting at the desk I started to get worry that I was one of the unfortunate souls who would get bumped to a later flight…

So they ask me to come to another attendant, and fearing the worst, the attendant hands me a boarding pass and says “Congratulations you have been upgraded to business class.” I couldn’t believe my ears! I was giddy with excitement as I walked down the tunnel towards the plane. The greeters say how my seat is straight ahead and to the right. So I am walking down the aisle past some posh first class seats and walked through a curtain into the next section. I remembered then to look at my actual seat number since it has changed from before. I look down, see 24G, look up and see 28K in the first row of the section I am standing in. Meaning, that that posh section I had just walked through was actually my section! How life is good!

I got a seat that had its own (roughly) 20” TV that could fully recline with lots of storage and its own noise canceling headphones. Things started off with a hot towel and a glass (yes glass and not plastic) of water.  Once everyone was seated we received a bottle of water and a toiletries bag containing lotions, chap stick, socks, a shoe horn, toothbrush and paste, and an eye cover.  After takeoff we were served a meal.  My food and drink consisted of Appetizer: red wine, shrimp salad with cocktail sauce, with a salad and rolls; Dinner: More red wine, chicken breast with green beans and cornbread (one of the many options that I chose); Post dinner: Port wine with cheese, fruit, jam and crackers; Dessert: Caramel flan cheesecake and coffee with gourmet chocolates. All of this was consumed while lounging in my chair and watching Lincoln and Killing Them Softly (terrible movie by the way). I proceeded to try to sleep, but was only able to get about a half hour of sleep at the most.

After my failed attempt at sleep I watched an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and moved into the movie, The Master.  I had seen a trailer for this movie before it came out and thought that it looked good, but it got very little publicity so when it did come out I totally forgot about it.  So I gave it a try.  What a waste of 2 hours and 15 minutes.  The whole thing made very little sense and really did not have much meaning (however I am a poor excuse of a movie critic).  Once this movie was over I looked at the clock. I wish I hadn’t.  Still seven and a half hours to go.  And I’m getting very hungry.

After waiting another 5 hours occupied with more movie watching, we were served our “breakfast.” Mushrooms, mushrooms, and more mushrooms. Oh yea, and fruit. Two of my favorite things… I scarfed down the rolls and crackers, leaving the food that my food eats alone. Going to have to feast after landing. 1:38 to go.

Of course as soon as the plane makes its approach for landing and turned on the fasten seatbelt signal, I get a strong urge to use the bathroom. So that final half hour in the air was excruciatingly long. After we get off at the gate and I relieve myself, I realize that if I had not been upgraded, that flight could have been much, much worse. I decided then to give myself a mental note to give Cathay Pacific a great review.

Now getting from my plane to Hong Kong Island was a breeze. Getting from the MTR to my hotel was not. Immigration had a massive line, but the attendants kept it moving fast. After that I headed to baggage claim, and spotted my bag right away. Next stop, ATM to get some $HK.

Buying a ticket for the Airport Express was a cinch as well. Now Chicago and London need to take a page out the Hong Kong MTR System for their subway systems. The Airport Express is a part of this system. The tickets are pretty cheap. The stations are large, spacious, and clean and include a board at each stop telling you how long until the train arrives. The stations can be crowded but it never seems overwhelming. The trains are long and the cars are large and sterile with lots of handholds, although since the ride is so smooth, they are almost unnecessary. The railways are enclosed so there is not much danger. The Airport Express has a route map lit up by LEDs so you can see where you are. From the Airport to Hong Kong Island at the Central Station takes about 30 minutes. The regular MTR stops have maps lit up with LED lights as well, telling you what line and stop you are on and headed to. There are also arrows showing which direction you are headed.

However, as soon as you step out of the clandestine buildings of the MTR, you step into the chaos that is Hong Kong. Streets are narrow, signs are in Chinese, lots of people everywhere, small indistinguishable street signs (if existent), and tall buildings. Its a bit overwhelming at first, coming from Suburbia, IL. I pull out my map and start walking in what I believe is the right direction. I come to an unscheduled fork in the road… Uh oh.. Decision time. I took the road less traveled (ha ha). I end up totally lost in a foreign city at night. Not a good situation. It struck me then that it was about 40-50 degrees hotter here than in Chicago, and I’m wearing a fleece and jeans with a backpack and a duffel bag, and I’m starting to sweat profusely. Things are not looking good.

Now I’ve seen pictures of the hotel online before I left, and its a 25 story blue building. So I after a few more ill advised random turns, I come across a street that I actually recognize off of my map. I know have some sort of bearing of where I am: about 6 blocks past where I needed to go. Finally I arrive, exhausted and sweaty, ready to begin my time in Hong Kong.

Hotel View

Beginnings

I am at the beginning of a journey that I will not forget for the rest of my life. This journey has great potential for me. I hope that I will meet people that I will remain friends with for the rest of my life. I hope that I can do some good in this world with the work I will be doing in Cambodia. I hope that I can start fulfilling my dreams.

Get busy living, or get busy dying – Red, Shawshank Redemption

This statement was made under the context of Red at the beginning of a journey. I think it also applies to the pursuit of dreams. Well my friends, I plan on getting busy living. I have always wanted to travel the world for an extended period of time and I will be taking my first steps along that path on Monday with my trip to Southeast Asia. Just like the words of Henry David Thoreau in Walden, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.” If you set your sights high and dream big, no need to abandon that dream. Take baby steps to make it more manageable and be on your way to achieve that dream. This is what I am doing with this trip to Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Battambang. I am laying down another sheet of concrete onto the foundations of my dream. This trip is more than just a vacation to me.

However, I could have a terrible experience due to my aversion to vegetables, bugs, and hot weather. But I am going into this endeavor as the most optimistic of optimists. Wish me luck.