Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hong Kong

Nearly a month behind on the blog! Ah well, we'll catch up eventually.

On January 21st we flew from Kunming to Hong Kong in the morning. We took a taxi to the airport and on being dropped off were promptly harassed by cheats who wanted ¥10 for a baggage cart. We dragged our gear inside and naturally the carts were free just out of the taxi drop area. Kunming airport wasn't done with us though; when Pavan went to find water the store wanted ¥28 per bottle - as compared to other airports in China whose inflated price was ¥3-5. However, literally five feet from the ¥28 store, which initially appeared to have a water monopoly, was a duty free store with bottles of water for ¥3. Lol.

While waiting for our plane in Hong Kong we sat down next to an Indian couple. They proved to be part of a tour of forty-one people. They were from Jaibupur and in true stereotypical fashion absolutely insisted on giving us Indian food and desert they had brought. All we managed to give in return was a bottle of water for the lady. This encounter gave Pavan a chance to test out her Punjabi and we were VERY happy to discover she could communicate with them just fine. This should mean we have much less language issues than in mainland China. Exit row to Hong Kong was awesome; the exit rows on the plane had TONS of legroom even for exit row seats.

Jamie met us at the airport and we headed for Jamie & Kal's place in Discovery Bay. The bus system was awesome. There are charge cards very similar to the UK Oyster system, english signage, and they are clean! After the overnight sleeper to get from Yuanyang to Kunming this was more than welcome.

On invading Jamie & Kal's we got to enjoy more modern amenities. The electricity worked, the shower produced hot water, and real coffee was available. Heaven! We almost didn't want to leave but we figured we should probably see something of Hong Kong. Pavan decided that their vodka wasn't sufficiently filtered so she poured it through their Britta (inadvertantly, thinking it was water waiting to be filtered).

We grabbed a ferry, again with brilliant convenience, and headed across from Discovery Bay towards the downtown core. From the ferry we got our first glimpse of the famous skyline ... and the gambling ferry.

As we got closer we could see the "Batman Building" (the tall one on the left that sort of looks like an electric razor at the top).

This is the building Batman invades in Hong Kong, leaping from one shaver building to the other (the other being a bit to the right, somewhat behind another building in the picture above). Sadly they have not as yet built a tourist attraction out of this. A "Batman Zipline" would be awesome...

After the ferry we wandered over to get a view of the Kowloon side. Along the way we stopped for beverages and in a rather nice grocery store in a rather high brow seeming mall we blundered on Granville Island brews!

We were feeling fairly tired from the previous few days so we decided to stop and suffer with our beverages in a sitting area with a view west at the Kowloon side.

Hong Kong is quite different from mainland China. Almost shockingly so after spending a couple of months on the mainland. Compared to the parts of mainland China we visited it is much cleaner and nobody horks. Ironically Rod just about had to stop to hork. After living in Xi'an and Chengdu we find horking much more understandable than before: the air pollution is bad enough that you pretty inevitably find yourself building up phlem and when you need to cough some of it up a hork ensues. There is also rather less hawking; other than actual markets the street vending is a bit toned down from the mainland.

Next we decided to take a "Ding Ding" to a market. The name "Ding Ding" is Kal's name for them; they probably have some other name too but we evidently found the name "Ding Ding" more memorable. They are very narrow double-decker light rail. The cars pass VERY close to one another and buildings and the like so sticking anything out the side is a risky proposition.

The Ding Ding features a fairly low roof; Rod did not fit terribly well! The one we rode and others we saw were quite crowded but everybody on them was very friendly and polite so it was quite pleasent.

After the Ding Ding we visit a market that has Jamie's favorite neon sign.

And some cool lanterns.

And what self-respecting market doesn't have a goats head?!

The fish section was remarkably entertaining because the fish weren't all dead. Some fish were chopped up but others were being taken fropm small tanks and tossed live into trays. Every once in a while one of these fish would start thrashing and leaping about it's tray!

However, attracting too much attention is not a wise fish-move. This gentlemen can behead, gut, and scale a fish in around 11 seconds.

In the evening we crossed to the Kownloon side and got our first glimpse of the main skyline lit up. Naturally the Batman Building was outstanding.

By this time we were a little nibblish so we headed over to an area of much signage and small streets and restaurants.

The streets in this area tend to be arranged at angles other than right. This makes keeping your bearings slightly harder!

Hong Kong does have some Chinese touches; along the way to dinner we encountered bamboo scaffolding.

Dinner was very good. So good we didn't have time for taking pictures so you'll just have to imagine it's grandeur.

After dinner we rode the worlds longest escalator (or, more accurately, series of escalators) in search of the bar area Lan Kwai Fong. Apparently the government feels very strongly that people should ride this escalator. So strongly they pay you; at the end of it is a machine that puts HK $2 onto your Octopus card for transit!

On a series of stairs down towards the bar area we encountered a nifty street temple with some cool spiral incense.

Lan Kwai Fong, even on a Wednesday night, was quite lively. We strolled past many crowded bars in search of the ice vodka bar.

Once properly attired, we enjoyed black vodka shots in the cool. We're not sure what the tempreture was inside but compared to the rather warm Hong Kong night it seemed really cold.

The tempreture difference between ice room and outside was sufficient that Rod's glasses activated "panic mode"; going opaque to ensure nothing dangerous or alarming was spotted. Good to know they are peril-sensitive, as per the Hitchikers Guide specs "Peril Sensitive Sunglasses have been specially designed to help people develop a relaxed attitude to danger. At the first hint of trouble, they turn totally black and thus prevent you from seeing anything that might alarm you.".

On January 22nd Rod woke up with some fairly nasty stomach pains. Kal inconsiderately prepared the best breakfast we'd seen in months and Rod was forced to watch everyone eat it. Rod spent the day on the couch, as sick as we can remember him EVER being. Pavan did a bit of wandering around the Discovery Bay area with Kal. In the evening Kal made healing dal. Rod was able to stomach it and the next morning felt WAY better. We're not sure why she waited until dinner to produce the cure but we suspect the same cruel streak that lead her to serve awesome breakfast in front of a sick breakfast lover. In any case, our new plan if we have stomach problems in India is to head directly for Hong Kong and demand healing dal. Probably we should have dried some and put it into pill form to take with us.

On January 23rd Rod was feeling much better. We started the morning with breakfast. To the bemusement of the Indians Rod decided he liked cold dal on toast. After breakfast we headed out solo. Our first stop was Mong Kok. Mong Kok is a kind of market area with TONS of small shops. It was so crowded and littered with neon signs and such that Pavan found it a little overwhelming. We stopped at Pizza Hut (fancy in Hong Kong like elsewhere in China) for a few minutes to allow her to adjust.

We decided to walk south down Nathan towards the waterfront then hang a left toward the Hong Kong History Museum. Along the way south we learned that half of India had moved to China and moved into the tailored suit business. Regardless of whether you just waved off another tailor three feet away they would approach and politely attempt to engage in conversation. Any way to get you talking was enough to create a chance to guide the conversation toward tailoring:

  "Where are you from?"
  "Oh, suits are very expensive there; I can have one made for very cheap"
  (amused) "We're going to India next; it's even cheaper there"
  "Oh quality is no good in India"
  (what can you do but laugh? and then start ignoring them 'cause any conversation is enough for them to run a sales pitch)

At one point we spotted an alley leading into a kind of a maze of small shops.

This proved to be a kind of maze of small shops populated largely by Indians. The ubiquotous main street tailors were absent; numerous purse, electronic, grocery, and restaurants were present. The customers were largely also Indian.

Walking the streets was quite pleasent. Unfortunately we took so long doing it that we got to the museum quite late; only ~2 hrs from closing. The museum initially appeared likely to be lame. It starts off with an OK discussion of the geological formation of Hong Kong followed by an outright lame exhibit of model primitives. However, it then becomes MUCH better once you get into more recent history. Many sections have a little theater with a short (3-15 minutes) video and several of these are excellent. We enjoyed the post-primitive sections a great deal but ran out of time to see them all.

After the museum we decided to try to grab a ride on the Aqualuna, a tour junk operating in the harbor. We thought we remembered it was a pier 1 so we set off towards pier 1. Pier 1 is in fact the pier it operates out of on the other (Kownloon) side of the harbor. After overshooting pier 1 we stopped to consult the map and eventually figured out we really wanted pier 9. As the piers are in order this meant we had a little ways to go. Once we got there we learned the next departure was sold out but were told we could wait to see if anyone failed to show up for their reservation on the Kowloon side. As the ride is expensive for Hong Kong we initially thought this unlikely so we figured we'd probably have to wait another hour or so for the next departure. Eventually we learned from the sales girl that reservations are not paid so in fact it is very normal to have a number of no-shows. We got spots on the next ride, which was luckily the departure time to watch the Symphony Of Light show.

The Aqualuna gives a pretty good vantage point for viewing the skyline and the skyline is pretty darn well lit even when the show isn't underway.

The light show is basically floodlights flickering and swinging back and forth from a number of the big elaborate buildings. Watching it from a junk is pretty cool.

A fair number of the buildings have elaborate designs that flip colors or turn bits on/off or whatever.

On the 24th we had to leave :( We took a quick hike up the hills behind Jamie and Kal's place in Discovery Bay in the morning. It was foggy and/or cloudy, to the point that as we got up a bit we entered into thick cloud and ceased to be able to see out. This was rather cool. After we got back we had another marvelous breakfast and this time Rod got to eat some. After that it was packing time. And then leaving time :(

Hong Kong, particularly when staying with hosts as good as Kal & Jamie was so nice we really didn't want to leave. However, our next stop is Phuket, Thailand where we're meeting a friend and hopefully (still not 100% confirmed with the Thai Elephant Conservation Center; their email response time is awful) doing a three day mahout course so it should be pretty good as well!

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