Monthly Archives: January 2007
Yesterday we went to Macau. It is a bit like the Las Vegas of China — it has tons of casinos and ads for scantily clad women. It also has one of the world’s 10 largest man-made structures. We visited that and it was kind of cool. We got to watch somebody jump off attached to an elastic rope and two guide wires. I also realized that two more of the 10 largest man-made structures are in Shanghai and Moscow, so we’ll get to see those on the trip.
Macau also has quite a few religious places. It was a Portuguese colony, so many of the early settlers were Catholic Priests. There are a couple of old churches here, one of which was destroyed in a fire and lays in ruins. But the front wall is still standing and offers a look at what the church would have been like.
Directly behind the ruins is a Buddhist shrine, demonstrating the theme of the island: East Meets West. There are other Buddhist shrines and temples in the country, including some which are very old and still active. I accidentally stumbled into some kind of ceremony and was rushed out by one of the non monastic caretakers.
One of the kids playing games here in the “Internet King” moved from his computer to one right next to mine. I guess the speakers were too quiet over there. It’s a roaring hell of Asian techno dance music in here, so I’m going to cut this short. That’s about all there was to Macau, anyway. It was a nice place to visit, but I’m glad we didn’t stay there overnight.
This morning we woke up at about 8am and decided to go to Kowloon. This is a peninsula north of HKI with some crazy outdoor markets and a few museums. But first, we wanted to go get some breakfast — a meal that is hard to come by here. Most restaurants don’t open until 10 or 11am; even the Starbucks stays closed until 8am.
But we’d spotted a Krispy Kreme the night before and Ottav had a hankering for some donuts and coffee. On the way, we spotted a pastry shop open for business and headed in. They had croissants, rolls, jellies, and cakes stuffed with sausage, ham, egg, beankurd, etc. In short order, we decided we’d hit the KK another time. It was delicious.
So we walked down to the harbor and the Hong Kong Convention Centre. We strolled around there a bit before hopping on the quick (10min) cheap ($2.2HKD) ferry to Kowloon. We went to the Hong Kong Museum of Art.
The jade exhibit was nice, showcasing carvings from the neolithic up to modern times. Some of it looked like candy or decorative soap. The surface was translucent or prismatic — not what I think of from Jade.
Next we went to see the Gallery of Chinese Painting and Calligraphy. These were a variety of scrolls, fans, and paper painted in a traditional style. Some looked very well considered, without a single brush stroke out of place, but some looked splotchy like a kid’s watercoloring. I’m sure I just don’t know what makes them highly skilled works.
The highlight of the museum was a special exhibition called “Crossroads of East and West” by an artist named Wucius Wong. You could clearly see how the artist’s style progressed through the last half century. During his early years, he seems to have dabbled in all styles, from more traditional Chinese art, to pointilism, cubism, impressionism, and charcoal sketching. Later, his works take on a unique style which can be breathtaking. In some, it seems that the artist has created a reverse pointilism style, where the painting looks like a bunch of dots and chaos from afar, but up close the structure and detail emerge. Some of it was over my head to really appreciate and I felt as if I were falling. I wanted to buy some prints, but they didn’t really have any at the gift shop.
Then we went to the central shopping district of Kowloon, called Tsim Sha Tsui. This is an open air market with tons of massage parlors, both reflexology (foot massage) and the more traditional kind. Old women would walk up to us and talk in Cantonese, handing us flyers. One had an ad for a strip club on the other side. There were also dozens of tailor shops, apparently mostly staffed by Indian men who wanted to sell their “good friends” (us) suits. We really don’t look like we would be the type of folks who would buy suits with our beards and long unwashed hair.
We grabbed a quick snack at a street vendor — a purple sweet potato! It was good, but could have benefited from some butter and brown sugar. Later we found a strange little fast food noodlehouse, probably a chain. It was good and filling. Then we caught the subway back to our hostel.
Later, for an early dinner — more of an afternoon tea — we went across the street to a seafood place. I guess we got there during the tea time, because they didn’t have much in the way of seafood and only a limited menu. The food was delicous, the best I’ve had in Hong Kong, and we got the bottomless pot of tea we’ve been searching for. This was also wonderful. The prices were so low, we thought we were reading the menu wrong. I’d love to go back.
This post will be fairly brief, since I didn’t take notes and want to get it up quickly. Yesterday, we did a ton of walking around. We went from our hostel in the Causeway Bay section of Hong Kong Island to the Mid-Level district (interactive map) to see about hitting up this dim sum place that the Lonely Planet suggested. It wasn’t open yet, so we ate breakfast at a place across the street. While we were there, we looked up some more things to do.
We did some shopping for camera stuff, then we went and rode up the longest escalator in the world (800m long). It is really more of a system of escalators which go way up on the mountain on HKI.
From there, we walked to the Hong Kong Zoo, a free zoo with some cool animals and plants. It’s on the side of a mountain overlooking the downtown part of the city. Pretty nice.
Then we started walking back down the hill until we got to the Victoria Peak Trolley. We took that up to nearly the top of the mountain. There are some great views from there, as well as being a tourist trap.
After we came back down, we were both pretty tired, so we walked back to our hostel. Along the way, we stopped and got some really cool time lapse pics of trolleys, crosswalks, traffic, etc. I’ll post those if we can get them off of Brian’s camera and into a format that is viewable.
After that, we were exhausted so we just went to bed.
We landed in Taipei a bit late and still had plenty of time to get to the next flight — another 747. The Taipei airport looks quite a bit nicer at first, but then we got to an older section where it had obviously seen a lot of traffic before it became non-smoking. I got a nice pic of a sign informing us that the ROC (Republic of China) does not take kindly to drug smugglers. On the last flight, Brian and I both had exit row seating.
This gave us about 5 feet of room between our seat and the one in front, plus a tall spot on the plane where it was easy to stand up. For the two hour puddle jump to HKG, we were in normal seats. I was on the aisle where peoples’ bags kept bumping me, and Brian was in a middle seat. Definitely a step down in comfort, but it’s only about an hour and a half. This is also the first part of the trip that we would be doing in daylight. We’d been traveling more than 24 hours straight by this point. I’d slept about 6 hours and it was 10am when we got to HKG, but I wasn’t tired at all.
Hong Kong airport is very nice. Customs and Immigration was very smooth and professional. The first order of business was to grab some cash. We located an ATM and went to do that. I tried getting $800HKD. But the ATM rejected me and said that I needed to call my bank. I tried again with the same result. Then I tried my MasterCard, but I don’t know the PIN for it. So I went to the currency exchange place with the big MasterCard sign on it. They informed me that they could give me any currency except HKD, but suggested I try another bank of ATMs located on the next floor up. I went to that spot, run by the Bank of China, and waited in line for one of the 4 machines there. When one became available, I walked up to it and noticed a wad of cash, about $5,000HKD! I motioned for the security guard to come over, and he watched over the stack until the ATM pulled it back in. I could have been rich. Instead, I pulled out $1,600HKD of my own money; my card worked after all.
The airport was very nice, but the light rain and subway system is probably even nicer. The trains move silently and quickly and there is a great info display to tell you where you are, where you’re headed, and whate else is ahead. We got to our station, went up to street level, and set out to find our hostel. We found the building, a 15 story condo building where three hostels have several rooms. It is a fairly nice place, with free Internet (only one computer works), and the hardest beds ever (pillows to match).
After we got settled, the first mission was getting some food. Brian had heard of a great dim sum place about a mile away. So we headed out to that, walking through the streets. There were lots of sights, sounds, and smells along the way, some of them good, most of them foul. Jackhammering, sewage, refuse, sawzall, exhaust, smog, etc. There were also some small shrines in doorways where insence had burned and which sometimes had apples or other offerings. Neither of us was quite sure what they are for.
Everything is under construction here. From the sewers to the high rises, the city is breaking its neck to improve. One interesting thing they do here is that they use bamboo as scaffolding. It is reusable, so you’ll see stacks of bamboo at construction sites that have obviously been used sevreal times. That seems pretty smart, and I wonder why there’s not more of that going on in the US. Sounds like an industry waiting to be born.
The dim sum was good, and we got some local river fish that they called “yellow fish”. I’m not sure what it was, but it was very good. It was served with something like a sweet-and-sour salsa, which was also great. We each had a Tsing Tao, which is a German-style lager. Very good and very drinkable. There are plenty of bars here and I’m sure we’ll have more of these. There are actually a disturbing number of Irish pubs and English and American style bars. There are also several strip clubs.
On the way back to the hostel, we looked for some place to get some tea, but there didn’t seem to be any place that served it besides Starbucks and another chain coffee house. I guess that the residents here don’t go out for tea and make it themselves, instead.
When we got back, it was about 4pm, so we decided to take a nap and then go out and see the town at night. I napped for about 3 hours then went to go use the Internet briefly. The hostel-run computer was in use, so I went to a place around the corner. It is noisy with music and game sounds coming from nearly every computer. It is a cacophony of noise here and nobody seems to care that they can’t hear themselves think. After a few minutes of that, I left and just walked around the town at night.
It is really beautiful here, lit up in neon and incandescent colors. Everything moves and the people surge in waves going for groceries, clothes, food, or whatever. There is a park very near our place that has gardens, tennis courts, basketball, swimming, etc. It was great to walk through there. After that, I went back to the hostel and went to bed. Brian and I were both too exhausted to go out.
Brian and I arrived at the airport within 10 minutes of each other and met at Baggage Carousel 1, beside the Delta counters, then he went to those counters and checked in first, since his plane was leaving an hour before mine. Then we went to Airtran so I could check in. We had each covered our backpacks with thick garbage bags to prevent the miscellaneous baggage handling incidents from damaging them. Delta was just fine with this, but Airtran had a problem. Terry informed me that the plastic bag would damage their carousel belt. I told him that Delta had no issues with the damage on their equipment. He astutely observed that they were NOT Delta. He seemed exasperated by having to point this out to me, since I obviously had no idea. He seemed a bit offended that I would expect him to provide the same level of service offered by other airlines — I have even checked garbage bags full of loose clothing on two other airlines. I didn’t point out to Tony that the buckles on my bag are made of plastic and the material the bag is made of is plastic and would therefore be just as likely to damage their carousel.
I’m about halfway into the flight as I’m writing this (note: I’m typing this in at a different time). The flight has been bumpy, but tolerable. Business class is pretty neat. The seats are wide and have plenty of legroom. The flight attendants come around very often and it was hard for me to adjust. I had to say “no” to the third refill of water, as I have a long way left to go. In coach class, 3 glasses of water would be about 4 hours worth of flight time. The two girls in front of me are a bit superficial, but they’re from LA. One shares a plastic surgeon as somebody famous (I didn’t recognize the name), and also apparently knows Jessica Biel. Or at least that’s what I’ve overheard. They also drink white wine on the rocks.
The woman sitting next to me in the aisle seat is from Los Angeles and is a producer/writer. She’s very nice and we had a few good discussions. We talked about traveling and the countries we’ve been to. She got married and lived in France for 3 years. She developed a pilot for a TV show apparently about computer hackers. That led us to talking about my job and all of the ins and outs of who the people are who break into computer systems, etc. It was pretty nice talking to somebody who’s non-technical, but who has read a good deal about them.
The rest of the flight was uneventful. We landed and taxied into the terminal. I was really surprised at how shabby LAX is. I guess I had expected the place to be covered in gold with paparazzi running everywhere trying to catch the latest snapshot of whoever is hot this week in Hollywood. The famous people must use a different airport.
I grabbed my bag and was relieved that there was no damage to it other than a couple of scuffs. War Wounds. Getting from domestic baggage claim to the international ticketing area was not too navigable. I had to leave the building, walk about 100 meters — I opted not to take the shuttle that distance — go up some stairs, and locate the proper area to check in. Thanks to some decent directions and lucky guessing, I found it. But when you go to check in, you can’t just get in line with your checked luggage. You have to get in a line to give your bag to some handlers who run it through a big scanner. Then you get in a line to get your bag back. Only you don’t get to touch your bag, somebody else escorts you, pushing the bag on a cart, puts it in a corral, then someone else gets it from the herd and takes it to the counter. The whole thing seemed like a racket for the bag carriers’ union, but airports are rarely ever run efficiently. The process reminded me of the Dr. Seuss cartoon with the Sneeches lining up and then going and getting right back into a different line. It didn’t make it easier that native Spanish speakers were trying to give directions to native Asian-language speakers.
But the line moved smoothly and I was able to get to the terminal quickly. Now I’m on the plane, about 2 hours into the flight. I know that I should sleep, but I am resisting closing my eyes out of spite for losing even a minute’s worth of experiences. But I think I’ll turn off the light and get some rest now. Less than a minute, I’m sure.