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Velvet

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Posts posted by Velvet


  1. 103117

    Boo!

    I slept really well last night, despite yet another extra-hard bed.  Then, maybe around 8:30 this morning, shortly after I answered in the affirmative to Heather’s whispered, “Are you awake?” I heard a sound that could only be a ghost.

    “Wooo-oooo-ooooo!”  

    I rolled over and squinted through unfocused eyes and there, on Heather’s bed, was an apparition!  “Woooo-ooooooo-oooo!” it said, rocking back and forth.  Cuter than you could possibly imagine, Heather had pulled her bedsheet over her head and she was doing her best to wish me a Happy Hallowe’en.  It made me laugh hard and long.  For the next few hours every time I thought of it I burst out laughing again and again.  So adorable.

    We spent an hour or so getting up and around and decided to walk into town for the day.  Our hotel (hostel?) is about three kilometres from the city itself, down a dirt road (literally down - we are sleeping on a mountain) and across the river.  It was a pleasant walk on yet another beautiful day, we found the water and walked a bit too far but soon realized our mistake and going back we easily found the river shuttle that took us to the other side.

    We stopped for a coffee and played with a super-cute, very Chinese-looking cat (is that racist?  The cat’s very round face was so flat that his nose was in a little divot) before pounding the pavement lackadaisically looking for the touristy street that we knew was around here somewhere.

    We examined the hand-drawn photocopied map the hotel had given us and steered ourselves in the right direction.  We knew West Street when we found it.  KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks, and moreover, block after block of shops and restaurants along a pedestrian boulevard with canals and bridges winding all around.  It was very modern, with updated traditional touches, and it made for a great day of meandering.

    We stopped for lunch and a beer almost immediately - pizza and spring rolls - and spend the next few hours window-shopping.  We enquired about the river light show - the big tourist attraction here in Yangshuo - at an info booth.  There are two shows per night and tickets are around $40CAN.  We half-decided we would cap our day with the show and returned to our tromping through the shops.  

    I bought a couple of t-shirts and postcards, a present for one of my nephews and a ukulele to plunk on for the rest of the trip.  Heather bought presents for her family and a few postcards for herself and soon enough I was hankering for another beer.

    The beer begat another pizza which begat another beer and we soon decided to put off the light show for another night.  We do have five nights here after all.  Instead we re-meandered the streets, which got even busier after dark.  Frankly it became a bit of a madhouse, but it was fun.  While I did see pumpkin-lights in a couple of places and a few Hallowe’en decorations and even one, single person in costume (who seemed to be taking the fact in stride), for the most part the holiday didn’t seem to be much of a thing at all in Yangshuo.

    Finally we decided to call it a night.  We found a grocery store for some supplies (water, beer, mix, chips, and Mr. Brown’s canned coffee) and looked into a taxi.  We realized too late this morning that we should have asked the receptionist at our hotel what we should expect to pay for a cab so we would know if we were being overcharged but we didn’t, so we were left to guess.  Given that the forty-minute ride from the train station the day before cost us Y100 we figured twenty, maybe thirty yuan would be reasonable.

    Rather than flag down a taxi on the road, ladies stand in the busy entrance to West Street trying to book people cabs.  We showed a lady our hotel’s business card and she told us it would be Y50.  Crazy! I said.  She told me it was a long walk up the hill and bid me farewell.  When I came slunking back I offered her thirty.  She finally went down to forty but we still hummed and hawed.  Our hotel didn’t really seem very far away…

    I remarked to Heather that we were waffling over a $2 difference and suggested we do it.  She consented and the lady called us a ride.  The drive back was indeed way longer than we thought, through a tunnel, over a bridge, and twice driving on the wrong side of the road into approaching traffic.  When we finally got back to the hotel we figured Y40 was a fairly good price after all.

    Back at the room we looked at the day’s shopping bounty and I pulled on a couple of beers while they were still cold (there’s no fridge in the room, like a hostel).  Before too long we called it a night and turned in.
     



  2. 103017

    Heather woke me up at around 8:45 so we could get some day in before we had to check out.  We went down to breakfast, which was the same as yesterday except way worse.  I went straight to the omelet station and ordered exactly what I ordered yesterday and the guy gave it to me raw.  At least I wasn’t hungry anymore, and without all the pesky calories!

    We went out to further explore our area, which was really nice.  Lots and lots of people were outside exercising.  We even came across an outdoor track for jogging, and it was surrounded by different, permanently-installed exercise machines, all of which were very busy.  It was basically an exercise-playground for all ages.  One was a wax-on, wax-off machine, there was a jogging/arm-flailing device, another was a sit-down leg-extender, etcetera.  It’s all starting to make sense.  We saw school kids exercising en masse, old people, middle-agers, everyone; and it occurred to me that I hadn’t noticed a fat person since we arrived.

    There were also lots of statues, all of people and all likely by the same artist; it was just a really nice vibe all around.  Soon enough we went back to the hotel, packed up and checked out.  We rode the subway to the train station and made it to our seats literally two minutes before the train left the station (for the record, I think it pulled out a few minutes early).  

    It was one of those high-speed trains and it was super-slick.  Almost imperceptibly the train starts to move and smooth as silk it accelerates until the speed ultimately tops out at 246kms/hr (there’s a digital signboard that lists information including upcoming stops, outside temperature and current speed).  What was until recently an eight or ten hour trip took less than three hours on the new supertrain.  It’s just another example of the modernity, cleanliness, order and efficiency that I just never thought of when I thought ‘China’.  With close to a billion and-a-half people calling the place home I’m really glad they seem to be doing things right.

    Anyway, as we were getting close to our stop I could see those clichéd Chinese lumpy mountains outside the train window, blobs of impossibly steep stone standing up like treed granite teeth zipping quickly past the windows.  And in no time (natch; we were going almost 250 kms/hr) we arrived at our destination, where we were careful to heed the recorded warning, “Be ready to get off the train quickly as it will only stop for a short time.  If you don’t get out the door in time you cannot get off the train.”

    These guys like to keep to a schedule, except that early departure I suppose.  Their ticket-machines probably detected that everyone was already on board.

    We landed in Yangshuo (or so we thought) right on time - like, to the minute - and disembarked (quickly).  There were about a dozen taxi drivers waiting on the platform.  They were obviously not allowed to approach us, but they had no problem beckoning us from twenty feet away.  Eventually we picked one and told him where we were going.  “One hundred Yuan,” he said, I said “No way.”  He told us it was forty minutes away, again I said “No way.”

    Way.

    Turns out the train doesn’t actually stop in Yangshuo (despite the fact that it clearly stated ‘Yangshuo’ on that very informative digital sign), but rather it stops thirty-three kilometres away.  We hired the taxi and enjoyed the rural drive to our hotel immensely, surrounded by towering peaked mountains the whole way.  

    We arrived and were shown our room.  “I’ve upgraded you to a room with a view,” we were told.  The place is pretty nice, a stone and greenery complex with all kinds of different accommodations.  We dropped our bags, mixed some drinks and relaxed in the waning light on the stone patio overlooking the (very famous) Li River.  When we tired of that we went to look for the restaurant and found a cute little cat outside that I snuggled and named Mika.  

    The restaurant was empty (the resort seems pretty close to empty overall, as of this writing I’ve seen just two other couples here) but we scared someone up and ordered some pretty great food.  After dinner we looked for Mika to give him/her a bit of beef saved from my plate but couldn’t find the little furball anywhere.  So instead we headed back up to our room for a relaxing night laying around and reading books, with a brief stop on the patio to gaze at the lights of the city below bouncing off of all those crazy mountains.  

    We’re booked in here for five nights so we have plenty of time to see the sights, and we’re both happy to put off starting all that until tomorrow.
     


  3. 102917

    It took me a really, really long time to get to sleep last night.  As a result, Heather woke up first.  Once again, I could have stayed down for hours but I knew we had a day ahead of us so I got up as soon as I could.

    We went downstairs for the free breakfast, it was included with the room and it was pretty impressive.  Omelet station, cheese tray (mmm…blue cheese) and lots more.  Somehow Heather and I both left breakfast a bit hungry, but sated.

    We bee-lined it to the subway (with a little stop at Starbucks along the way) and went to the zoo.  We were surprised that it cost 40 yuan (80 with the amusement park, which we paid for) instead of 300 yuan like the guidebook said it would cost, though we noticed a sign that read “panda enclosure is closed for renovations” so we surmised maybe that was why…but really, I doubted it.  

    We got in and Heather quickly figured out we were at the wrong zoo.  “The animals aren’t supposed to be in cages, and there should be a safari drive, and gondolas…” she said, while all we could see were sad birds inside sadder cages.  I pulled her into one of the bird sanctuaries and we were shocked to see three cats in there (including one cat that looked like a younger, leaner version of our own Chilly Willy).  I mean, cats in a bird sanctuary?!?!  Some sanctuary!  The little Chilly Willy cat showed significant interest in the birds but we saw no actual attacks.  All this catplay cheered Heather a little, but not enough to make up for our error.  She had her head down and was moving quick, “I don’t like it,” she said, while I was trying to see as many duck-billed this and webbed-warbled that as I could.  “Okay,” I told her, “let’s just go see the red pandas and then we’ll go find the right zoo,” and that’s what we did.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a red panda, but they aren’t pandas.  There’s only about 10,000 of them in the world (they are from Tibet) and they are just about the cutest critters ever.  We found the enclosure and it wasn’t nearly as sad as it could have been.  There were lots of climby things, they had plenty of space and it was not encaged.  

    There were two red pandas and they were absolutely adorable.  And even better, they were out and near we the people, just a few feet from us the whole time and no wonder: despite the many posted warnings and the human being holding a sign that read Do Not Feed The Red Pandas almost everyone was throwing popcorn and the like at the little guys.  It drove me crazy.  We kept telling people to stop.  One guy poured water on the little fellah’s head.  I came this close to walking over and punching his child in the face, hard - it wouldn’t have bothered me a bit; I don’t like kids anyway* - but instead I looked him in the eye, pointed to my head and yelled, “Yeah dude, you had no idea that you weren’t supposed to do that, right?”  Sure, he got the idea, but it felt exactly the same as all the times I rail against inappropriate cellphone use; it’s not like I’m making a difference in the world or anything.  

    Speaking of cellphone use, the world is completely addicted but cellphone use here it is really off the hook (pun intended, as always).  I briefly counted when were went up to Victoria Peak and 11 out of 28 people in line for the tram were in the process of using their phones, that’s about 40%.  On the subway it jumps to about 80%.  Now, I know the subway is probably the #1 spot to be on your phone but it still amazes me.  If these people had any idea how addicted they are…Compared to this, beating heroin would be a breeze.

    Anyways, we ogled and coveted the red pandas (which the zoo insultingly called “lesser pandas”: Theravada pandas?) for an hour or so, checked out the one lemur and a couple of kangaroos and booked it to the other zoo.

    Which turned out being unbelievable!!!!

    We didn’t get there until after 1pm so we tried to bee-line it to the pandas but just had to stop at the flaming-o’s, the ducks (yes, we were amazed by the ducks, but only because the glass enclosure allowed us to see what they do under water), some weird duck-billed fish (for realz), and the lemmings.  Who knew lemmings were so darn cute?  Other lemmings I suppose.

    Then we walked by the panda restaurant (“If they are actually serving panda I’m ordering some”) and saw three pandas; a mama and her two children, in an enclosure.  The lady suggested we come back in a half-hour when they’d be awake.  We swooned and moved on, looking for a way to kill thirty minutes.

    We decided to check out the panda garden, which we assumed would just be rides and statues and the like but no, we ended up running into about seven more pandas!  And we hit them all at feeding time.  They only ate bamboo, but somehow these guys make bamboo look really tasty.  It was astounding, we were just a few feet from all these pandas as they sat on their cute butts and wolfed down shoot after shoot.  It was one of my nature/animal lifetime highlights, and we spent hours.

    Aside from just the coolest markings, another thing pandas have going for them is how ridiculously cute they are when they eat.  They sit back and wolf down in a manner quite similar to what I look like with a bowl of chips and dip, a six-pack and a good Rocky movie.  One enclosure held the world’s only panda triplets - again we were there for feeding time; perhaps being awake means feeding time? - and it was adorable.  I wish I was still there.

    For the record, they had great looking habitats and all the pandas looked pretty happy to be there.

    Somehow, we eventually moved on.  You can’t see the whole place in a day - not even close - but we tried to get around.  We saw white tigers, again during feeding time which was awesome, and proboscis monkeys, spider monkeys, elephants…you name it.  When we saw the miniature hippos I was actually happy to see them in enclosed habitats.  As a guy who has seen (thousands of) hippos in the wild and know a bit about how hard it is for them to survive even one season, well, I honestly think there’s a good chance that given the option many hippos would choose a zoo over their natural habitat.

    Before the park closed at 6pm we hopped the gondola and rode over the whole place, which was really nifty.  Then easy-peasy we got shuttled to the subway and we made our way back to our hotel, arriving half-starved.

    (I was surprised to note that entering the subway system in China requires an airport-type security check, with an x-ray machine for bags and guards waving metal-detection wands in a very disinterested manner.  I beeped every time and was never given a second glance.  It gave me pause because I couldn’t remember ever hearing about a subway attack in China, but perhaps these sort of checks are one of the reasons why I haven’t.)

    After a leisurely Jack & Coke we strolled back to Lucy’s for dinner and more drinks (the same place we ate last night) and it was great.  We were back at the hotel by 9pm and in bed by 11pm, a great day i the books.

    *Why is it that nobody - and I mean nobody except those afflicted - realizes that some people have children-phobia?  Afraid of dogs?  No problem.  Afraid of cats even…weird, but okay, I’ll buy that.  Man, when I see someone walk into a restaurant with a kid I want to ask for my bill and get out of there.  I’ll cross the street to avoid them.  They are generally intolerable on airplanes..  They are monsters, they act without logic, they smell, they break things, they stare, they drool…my gawd, how can anybody stand them?  Baffling.  If it were up to me, human history would have lasted one generation, tops.
     


  4. 102817

    I can’t believe I was still asleep when the alarm went off this morning.  Even though I had slept a good eight or nine hours I could have stayed down quite a bit longer.  I guess I’m back into my so-tired-I-can-fall-asleep-in-ninety-seconds zone.

    We didn’t have much of a day planned.  We woke up, packed up, and walked to the train station.  I got turned around and thought it was one way, Heather thought it was another.

    She was right.  

    Had I insisted on leading the pack we would have surely gone in the wrong direction but (if I can try to save a little bit of face here) I didn’t.  Rather, I dutifully deferred to Heather and followed her straight to the train station and did not in fact get us lost one bit.

    Arriving at the station somewhat surprised and with a feeling of satisfaction (respectively), I and my lady bypassed the busy and confusing (to me at least) ticket booths and searched for our platform.  We had already purchased our tickets a few days before so we simply cruised through security and waited for the train to arrive, which it did, on time.

    It was nice, comfortable and modern.  And roomy too, there wasn’t that many people on board so Heather and I were able to change seats so that we could see out the window.  What we saw was city, city, city, with a few very brief patches of greenery.  We had each brought a frosty beer with us for the ride which we enjoyed with Pringles, purchased from the conductor.  And less than two hours later we were in Guangzhou.

    We transferred over to the subway and got close to our hotel.  Closer than we thought, actually.

    The first difference we noticed between Hong Kong and mainland China was a lot less English signage and speakage.  The second thing that we noticed was a lot less taxicabs, like almost none.  We circled the large train station looking in vain for a taxi stand with our eyes to the road hoping for drive-by’s.  Heather was reluctant to try to walk to our hotel - we hadn’t the least of a clue what direction it was in and we would have to lug our luggage with us and whattya know, eventually she waved down a taxi.  It took a while but the payoff was the super-cheap fare the cabbie quoted us to take us to our hotel.  That is until we discovered that our hotel was basically across the street from the station (by footbridge at least.  By car it was actually a bit of a drive).

    The place was super-nice.  We checked in and went up to our room but our key wouldn’t work.  Down to the lobby I went.  The lady told me not to touch the door when I enter the room.  I tried to explain that I couldn’t enter the room at all.  There was certainly a language barrier going up, exacerbated by my admitted evaporating patience.  Eventually she had a maid come up to help.  It turns out you have to hover the key about an inch from the door-sensor to make it unlock; if you actually touch the key to the lock it won’t open.  Ahhh, I see.  In retrospect I understood what the lady in the lobby had been miming to me, but in the same retrospect I also realized that I had little or no chance of getting her drift without an actual demonstration.

    I dropped my bags and quickly marvelled at our super-nice room with ample stone balcony before bee-lining it to a liquor store I had noticed along the way.  Perusing their wares I spotted and purchased a bottle of Jack Daniels for about $30, much cheaper than the duty-free bottle we saw at the Hong Kong station (yes, they had a large duty-free store at the train station leaving Hong Kong).  We had a drink or two on the pleasant balcony and went for a walkabout.

    Though you wouldn’t really know it if you didn’t know it, the area our hotel is on is on an island; it’s surrounded on three sides by a fairly narrow canal and on a fourth by a bay.  This was the colonial area back in the day and all the buildings are nice and ornate and official looking.  We did a brief perusal of the main drag and took in the sights, including a restaurant with a huge area out front containing tank after tank of the craziest critters you would ever want to eat.  They had giant crabs that looked exactly like aliens, fish of every stripe, large and small (though mostly large), and there was even a bucket of worms, all of it priced by the pound and ready to be delivered to your table via chef Chopsalot.

    It a major and very visible difference between China and North America.  Back home we tend to try and separate as much as possible our dinner and any thoughts of the animal that made it, whereas in China they proudly display in front of their shops the creatures on offer, living or dead.  Bleah.

    We stopped into a restaurant called Lucy’s and had Western food for dinner; I had beef stroganoff.  It was the best meal I’d had since we left Canada.

    (Though as one who has eaten stroganoff where it was invented - at the Stroganoff Castle in St. Petersburg - I really should know better than to ever, ever order it again.  Nothing lives up to The Real Thing.)

    After dinner we decided to play it safe and take the subway to the south train station (not the same station we arrived at) to purchase our ongoing tickets to Yangzhou, which turned out being fairly easy and also probably not necessary.  Which was fine; better safe than sorry, especially when you’re travelling to pre-booked hotels, as we were.

    After we bought the tickets we rode the subway back to our ‘hood and walked over the bridge to our little island - no taxi for us.  We decided to call it a night and take advantage of the nice, large, comfortable room.  I poured myself a drink and parked myself on the balcony typing travel logs while Heather lounged inside and delved into her book.  

    Then (he says, predicting the future) I finished typing this log, shut off my computer and went inside to pour a (possibly but who can say?) final nightcap. 


  5. 102717

    Well, that didn’t work!  Once again I laid there not sleeping, but not until 5am or anything.  It makes me realize how blessed I am with the ability to fall asleep in no time at all; I can generally fall asleep in ninety seconds or less.  Regardless, at least I got more sleep than Heather did; she doesn’t snore, I do.  I got up around 10am, Heather was already up.

    They drive on the left in Hong Kong, a change that can be quite dangerous to the right-driving tourist.  I would normally have to constantly be telling myself to look right!  Look right! but with all the one way streets running this way and that the city has gone to the effort of writing directly on the road itself at each and every intersection the phrases: <—Look Left and Look Right—>.  It’s unspeakably helpful, and I’m sure the idea has saved countless lives and injuries.  Maybe it’s financed by the insurance companies.

    Our first stop was the Museum of History, just across the street from our hotel and free of charge.  We made short work of the flora/fauna, ancient rocks and cavemen exhibits, cruised through the dynasties pretty quickly and started to linger at the opium war.  

    It’s amazing to think that China ceded Hong Kong to the English just to get the Brits to stop bringing opium into the country.  After the changeover the race with less than five percent of the city’s population ran the place.  That must have been frustrating.  Then there was the Japanese occupation during WWII.  These guys haven’t had a whole lot to cheer about over the years.

    Leaving the museum, we ducked into the Starbucks and looked around for a place to eat.  Again my appetite was in flux…was I hungry or full?  I just could not decide.  Logic told me that I must be hungry so I joined Heather at a Chinese diner.  I didn’t feel too adventurous (or hungry) so I ordered a small chicken pie and a pork bun.  I used to eat pork buns a lot in Taiwan and I figured I was safe.  Nope.

    Both the pie and the bun were very sweet, and as a Westerner I am picky when it comes to mixing sugar and meat.  I had one, single bite of the chicken pie and managed to get through almost half of my pork bun.

    At this point my body convinced me that I wasn’t hungry anymore anyway.

    Next we aimed for Kowloon Park, which we had passed several times before.  Walking up the stairs we soon found that the park was pretty extensive and quite impressive.  We started along comic alley, featuring larger-than-life statues of anime characters neither of us had ever heard of.  We walked by a pond full of sunning turtles and found the bird sanctuary - more of a small zoo really - with cockatoos, parrots, a couple of crazy looking critters called rhinoceros hornbills, and a bunch more.  

    Next was the bird pond, which was full of flamingos.  Our final two stops in the park were a bit of a letdown, the maze was stupidly easy (and only waist-high…what’s up with that?) and the sculpture park was pretty lame (and I do like me a sculpture park), but whattya want for free?

    On our way to the Star Ferry I stopped into one of the many, many McDonald’s outlets where I spent about fifteen confused minutes and zero dollars because I walked out without a clue as to how I was supposed to get the Big Mac I had ordered on their panel screen.  I stormed out of there convinced of one thing at least: I was hungry.

    We took the ferry over to the island side of the city and found a bus that would take us to Stanley, a small town on the other side of the mountains.  It was a double-decker and we scored the front seats up top.  It was a really fun drive, first through the bustling city, then the long tunnel that runs under the mountain, and then winding up and down the mountain itself, the bus whacking against branches and slowing down for oncoming traffic on the narrow pass the whole way.

    As we were exiting the city the bus passed a string of car dealerships.  Mercedes, Lexus, Ferrari, Maserati.  I mentioned to Heather how 80% of the cars on the road were luxury vehicles and from our perch in the front of the bus I tested my theory.  I counted cars for about ten minutes and found out I was a bit low in my estimate.  Seems the only cars on the road besides upscale luxury models are minivans (of which there are many), and Toyotas.  The expendable money in Hong Kong must be tremendous.

    We arrived in Stanley and stopped for a drink.  I was famished so I ordered a quesadilla with cheese and tomato chutney.  Turns out ‘tomato chutney’ was a euphemism for ‘ketchup’.  Bleah.  Next up was a slow stroll through the many, many shops and stalls that were set up selling every imaginable piece of junk you could imagine but would never want.  

    Okay, that’s not entirely true, I wanted to buy a few of their Rubik’s cube variations, of which there were many.  They love the cube over here, no question about that.

    We didn’t buy a thing through, so we strolled the town.  There was a jazz band set up in the square and we heard their last two songs as we walked to the pier where we watched locals fishing by hand (without poles).  They were catching fish after fish, and none of them more than three inches long.  It seemed like that’s what they were fishing for though, it’s not like any got thrown back in for being too small.

    We had a beer at a waterfront pub and then went to another for more beer and some dinner.  It was tourist-pricey but pretty good food.  Finally we headed back to the bus depot where we caught our ride just as it was pulling out.   Upstairs we found the best seats gone but no matter, it was another great ride back into the city.

    We got off one stop early and strolled to the wine and dine fest that we had realized too late last night that we possessed free tickets for.  We waited in line with our free passes and were granted entry, four tokens each and a couple of coupon booklets.  

    The fest was quite extensive, huge even.  We dropped three tokens on a four-pack of beers, another one on two glasses of sparkling wine and then Heather insisted (with my help) that we use the remaining tokens getting me two shots of high-end tequila that was poured through a giant block of ice.  Never mind that I had to suck on a tube that had been sucked on by thousands before me, it’s tequila, and tequila kills germs (right?).

    The coupons were for free things at different booths, each of which had long lines that went unbelievably fast.  I mean some lines were fifty feet long and you’d be through in less than two minutes.  We got free cookies, shrimp chips, nuts, cheese, and ice cream.  The whole thing was run astoundingly well and we were both super-impressed with the entire setup.  The only downside was that we didn’t see the Jack Daniels booth until we were on our way out the door, tokenless.  

    And there went our day!  We left the wine and dine just before it shut down for the night at 11:30 and took the ferry back over to Kowloon.  We were both pretty beat so the walk back to the hotel was long and slow.  Again I was tempted to stop for a reflexology session but again I passed in favour of the bliss of laying down on my own hotel bed (which was little more than a thin mattress on a hard wooden slab).

    We had spent 14+ hours away from the room today and we were tired.  For the first time this on trip I fell asleep fast.  Luckily Heather did too.


  6. 102617

    I was half awake when I heard Heather puttering around.  I cracked open an eye and saw she was dressed and ready to head out the door.

    “Where you going?” I moaned sleepily.

    “To get us coffees,” she said, like an angel.  

    “Do you remember the Starbucks we saw last night near the 7-11?” I asked.  

    “Yep,” she replied, and off she went.

    It was 11am and I could have easily laid in bed for several more hours but I felt it prudent to get up and about and try to get in step with time on this side of the planet.  I was showered, dressed, and smiling by the time she got back with her cups of brown goodness.

    We left the hotel around 12:30 and walked to the Star Ferry terminal.  For just fifty cents each we rode the ferry across the picturesque harbour, once again marvelling at the astounding array of skyscrapers on both sides of the water.

    On the other side we traversed the labyrinth of raised walkways until we finally found the HSBC Building, one of the stars of last night’s light show.  When the HSBC Building was built it was the most expensive ever, construction costs for the architectural wonder soared to a billion dollars.  We went inside and rode the angled escalators up the the first level.  Underneath us was all glass, above us air.  For such an expensive project they sure sacrificed a lot of floor space to make way for their extremely open concept.  Much of the building is basically hollow.

    We searched for an antique poster shop Heather had read about, discovered it had moved to online-only and decided to make for Victoria Peak, the pinnacle of the mountain that lines the west side of Hong Kong.  We rode the funicular up (the oldest funicular in Asia, it started in 1888), which was a gravity-defying G-force blast and spent the afternoon enjoying the astounding (yet unbelievably smoggy) view.  

    We explored the complex up there (we had paid extra for the Sky Terrace 428, which gave us access to the open-air top floor of the angular concrete complex, the highest elevation 360 degree views of the city, which wasn’t really worth it) and after some humming and hawing decided on eating dinner at BubbaGumps, just one floor below the rooftop terrace.  It was my first time experiencing the franchise, which I’ll rate just a millistep above the Hard Rock Cafe for food, which isn’t a great compliment, but man, the view from our window seat was delicious.

    We lingered over an extra beer until it got dark so we could enjoy the night view as well and then we got in the prodigious line to ride the funicular back down.  I’m sure it would have been quicker to walk down the mountain like several people do but I’m glad we didn’t - my legs and feet were already feeling the pressures of the day.

    We arrived back down at the bottom just as the nightly laser/light show was going off.  It’s so not a thing that we almost didn’t notice that it was even happening, although to be fair that’s mainly because the lit-up buildings are so impressive on their own.  The lasers add but a smidgen to the already sense-exploding skyline.  

    Mostly ignoring the lasers we meandered in the direction of the ferry and stopped by a wine-tasting expo on the waterfront.  Turns out there was an admission charge so we didn’t go in, which is too bad: when we got back to the room later I noticed that the flyers we had been given when we purchased our tickets for the funicular were in fact free passes to the wine fest with four free drinks included.  Oops.  Instead I merely posed with a giant great white shark statue and we moved on, boarding the ferry to take us back across the harbour.

    Finally we completed the slow plod back to our hotel and gave our gams a much-needed rest.  Along the way I toyed with the idea of a foot massage/reflexology session but was too tired to even stop for one.  It’s not like I didn’t have the opportunity; there are probably more foot massage places than restaurants in our area, and there are a lot of restaurants.  Regardless, it wasn’t yet 10pm when we made it back to the room and flopped into our rock-hard beds for the night.

    All in the name of beating the jet lag.


  7. 102517

    Kind of lost a day there due to time change.  Hong Kong is twelve hours ahead of Ottawa.  Makes me wonder: if I brought my cat with me on the plane would he still be nocturnal?

    We arrived in Hong Kong at 10:30 last night.  By 11pm we were standing in line at the lost luggage service, by midnight we were on the express train into the city.  The train was super-modern and extremely efficient/easy to use.  So was the subway system we transferred to - easy-peasy.

    Walked to our hotel (an easy task given that we were both without luggage), again fairly easy to find and checked in.  I walked to the nearest 7-11 for some beers and snacks.  Okay, I actually went to buy a bottle of water but when I saw all that beer in the fridge I forgot to buy the water so I had to go back.  When I went back I bought more beer (for Heather this time) and darn-near forgot to buy the water again.  We didn’t get to sleep until about 3:30am, which is a little strange after a twenty-six-hour travel day.  I was shocked when we woke up and checked the clock; it was 1:30pm.  I know to me that’s 1:30am, but I haven’t slept that late in a long time.

    We got up, retrieved our luggage that had been dropped off at the front desk, and got out of there for a walkabout and to look for a place to eat.  Heather was starved, I wasn’t hungry at all.  After looking at about a thousand menus (restaurants are absolutely everywhere in our area) we settled on a semi-fancy place.  Heather got dumplings and noodles with pork while i got the vermicelli with shredded spicy beef.  For some reason my appetite left me shortly after I ordered but I ate probably half my meal.  The highlight of lunch was when Heather bit into her first dumpling and hot liquid squirted out of it and shot straight up her nose.

    After lunch we went for coffees around the corner and killed time until it was time to go to the waterfront.  We aimed for the Avenue Of Stars, the Asian version of Hollywood’s Walk Of Fame but were shut out as the area is being renovated.  No biggie, but I was looking forward to seeing the Bruce Lee statue.  Regardless, we found ourselves in the right place for the nightly laser show.

    Every night at 8pm Honk Kong hosts the world’s largest (or was it Asia’s largest?) permanent sound and light show at the harbour.  We found a good spot and stared in quiet awe at the astounding skyline while we waited for the show to start.  

    Aside from the stunning architecture of the countless buildings lining both sides of the harbour, at night many of the structures become canvases for giant light shows.  I had only seen this once before, at a hotel we stayed at in Miami, but this was redonkulous.  At least a dozen buildings were constantly flashing and pulsating, and it looked just awesome.  So awesome, in fact, that the laser/light show itself was decidedly underwhelming in comparison.  Aside from the sheer logistics of co-ordinating the lasers and the individual building lights to sync up (perfectly) with the music it was really not so impressive.  They need to get CK5 out here for a week or two to design some serious visuals but hey, it was better than nothing.

    The show ended at 8:30 and we idled up Nathan Road past Jordon Road to the night market (after stopping at 7-11 for a couple of traveller beers - drinking in the street is so civilized; I’m surprised I never see anyone but me doing it).  The night market was about as interesting as the light show; that is, better than not going but really, it was just a bunch of Made In China crap.

    (I got a kick out of the Star Wars Lego knock-offs though: Star Wart and Star Plan.)

    By then my appetite was back to jumping up and down so we searched for a restaurant and ultimately settled on a Thai place where I devoured an order of garlic bread and got halfway through a plate of chicken Pad Thai before mysteriously losing my appetite once again.  

    After dinner we decided to call it a day and went back to the hotel and went to bed, though neither of us could sleep.  I haven’t laid awake trying to fall asleep in years but I was awake until at least 5:30am.  

    It’s hard to fight jet lag.
     


  8. 102417

    Actually, it was only one drink (each), and an order of fries (again, each).

    The flight to Beijing went fairly well (for a thirteen-hour flight).  Heather and I had booked the aisle and window seats, leaving the middle seat hopefully empty.  No such luck this time, and we didn’t end up asking the lady to switch because she was watching movies and Heather’s headset movie machine was not working.  

    I had a beer and a pretty lousy chicken meal (not as bad as Heather’s Chinese fatty-pork), watched Wonder Woman and the new Spiderman movie (both not too bad), and curled up for got some fitful sleep.  I was finally fully asleep when the lights in the cabin illuminated and the loudspeaker came on*.  After a loud, aggressive bout of Chinese came the English translation, which went something like this:  

    “Ladies and gentlemen, we are three hours from Beijing.  We hope you have been getting a good rest, and we wish you the best of luck getting back to sleep after this announcement.  Please enjoy the rest of your painfully long flight.”

    I just don’t get it.

    I did, however, manage to get back to sleep just in time for the forty-minute pre-landing wakeup warning.  

    We landed in Beijing around 5pm local time.  Looking out the window as we approached the airport I noticed how very foggy it was outside.  When we actually landed I couldn’t see any fog outside at all.  Turns out it was not fog, it was pollution.  A crazy, crazy amount of pollution.

    We got off our tardy plane with less than 45 minutes to catch our connection to Hong Kong.  We jogged through the airport until we came to a sign that pointed one way for domestic flights and another way for international flights.

    Which stopped these two airport-runners dead in our tracks.

    Now, if you’re in Beijing and you are heading to Hong Kong, would you consider it a domestic flight or an international flight?

    Of course Hong Kong was a British territory for a long, long time but we all know it went back to China about twenty years ago.  So, domestic right?  But wait a minute, I’m carrying Chinese currency and Hong Kong currency; if it has it’s own money it must be international, right?

    (God only knows what country Macau is in!)

    The lack of any additional signage whatsoever really added to the mystery.

    So we lined up for a domestic transfer and were waiting to go through customs when a helpful stranger suggested we were in the wrong line.  We booked it over to the international line which was moving very slow and kept getting cut by airline employees pushing older folks in wheelchairs.  We eventually tried to stop one of the wheelchair-pushing line-butters.  He showed us a boarding pass that said 8pm.  We showed him ours that said we boarded at 6pm, which at this point was less than ten minutes away.

    He was impressed, but he still butted in front of us.  

    When we finally got through that line we ran downstairs and found a long queue to get through security (which was pretty redundant as we had just gotten off an international flight and had not left any secure section of the airport).  We showed the guard our boarding passes and without a flicker of a change of expression - the dude acted like a human robot - he indicated we were to follow him and he delivered us to the front of the line.  Security still took a while; I had to stand on a stool and hold my arms straight out for a full two-minute pat down.  When we got out of there we ran as fast as we could though we were pretty confident we were going to miss our connection (which would make us eat tonight’s hotel reservation and would they cancel the rest of our reservation if we don’t check in tonight and do we even have a phone number to call and will they speak English even if we do and…?).  

    I got ahead of Heather, yelling over my shoulder that I’d hold the plane for her.  When I finally saw gate E17 from a distance I could see that it was empty save the one, single check-in girl.  She spotted me and started waving her arms.  I couldn’t believe it, but it looked like were going to make it!  I got to the gate and I breathlessly pushed my boarding pass into to her extended hand.  Pointing back down the hallway I tried my best to speak.  “Hea…ther…(pant, pant, pant)…still…come…(pant, pant)…ing.”

    We made it onto the plane at the last minute and - dripping sweat - we took our seats in the last row, this time with nobody between us.  Mercy.  We lifted off and plunged through the smog bubble and up into the sky, and now here I sit with just about three hours between me and Hong Kong.

    The second plane only has those pop-down screens where we all watch the same movie**, which in this case is a Chinese film conveniently supplemented with Chinese subtitles.  Ah well, here comes the drink cart.

    And it’s 5am somewhere.

    *I always fly wearing earplugs and an eye mask (I call it ‘flying Tommy-style’) but I had accidentally left everything in my carry on and I just could not find the gumption to get up and dig them out, though I kept telling myself that I should.  And of course that sort of internal argument can do nothing but keep you mostly awake.  Like debating whether or not to get up and go to the bathroom when you’re sleeping in a tent.  

    **Though I’m an unabashed lover of the vast entertainment selection generally available on airplanes I gotta say I miss the old days when a screen would drop down at the front of the cabin and everyone on the plane was forced to watch (or try to ignore) the same movie together.  Whether we liked it or not, the cabin would inevitably laugh and gasp together at the funny and surprising parts.  Sure we all imagined having our own customized entertainment system built right in to the seatback in front of us, but we knew that was only a crazy dream future times and until then, hey at least we had Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in Stir Crazy.

    And though the fulfillment of our collective dreams may have gained us freewill we have suffered a tragic and irreversible loss.  We have lost community.


  9. I haven't posted my travel logs in a long time.  In honour of our good friend Bradm (who enjoyed my travel logs and loved it when this board was more active) I'm going to start posting them again.  Though I don't have anything solid on the horizon right now I did just get back from China, so here goes:

    102317

    I think this might be my record for most miles travelled versus least time prepping.  Getting randomly yanked off the street and thrown into an airplane would have been the only way I could have been any less prepared as I was when we left Ottawa for China this morning.  When I woke up at 7am I hadn’t even started packing yet, and our curfew for leaving the house to take the cat to the sitters was 9:30.  (Heather’s mom again; she seems to be getting slightly less annoyed by the chore every time).  

    Frankly I hadn’t given the trip hardly a thought.  Leading up to today I had been busy getting a proposal together for a new book idea which completely distracted me from any thoughts of vacation.  After plugging away for the last week or so I had finished my rough draft at midnight last night and gone straight to bed.  

    (This all completely falls in with the fact that I booked the trip to China with hardly a thought as well.  A while back I saw a post on facebook advertising an Air China seat sale to Hong Kong priced at just $501 per person, return from Montreal.  I told Heather about it, we shrugged and booked it.  How could we not?  Imagine how I felt when a few weeks later I saw another post advertising the same flights at just $400, these ones time departing from Ottawa!  Can’t win them all.)

    Of course I got it together and packed with time to spare.  We dropped the cat off and made sure he was happy before circling the car around to the bus station where I left Heather and all of our luggage to stand in line for the Montreal bus.  I drove home, pounded a quick tall-boy and power-walked back to the Greyhound station, joining Heather in the Montreal line in thirty minutes flat.

    And here we are sitting on the bus.  I’ve gone over the book proposal for a quick proof-read and will send it in from the airport.  Then maybe I can start to relax and think about Honk Kong.

    Though I suspect I’ll just head straight to the nearest airport lounge and think about ordering a few drinks.

     

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