Saturday, February 27, 2016

View From Hong Kong

Hong Kong iPhone panorama at night from Kowloon
Your blogger returned alive and well from Hong Kong this week after visiting for two weeks! And what a trip it was too! Of course the greatest advantage is that I had a local guide that could get me all around. My reason for going was Qiang’s invitation to see the city before he was transferred back to Tianjin, sooner rather than later. 
Bamboo scaffolding wouldn't pass any
US codes that's for sure

If there ever was a city that was designed for people or had a passing kiss at trying it, it is Hong Kong! Like NYC there is always construction going on ... old torn down for new. Everywhere!

I flew to HK on Cathay Pacific Airlines, a Chinese airline delayed 6 ½ hours in San Francisco. The reason was they were waiting for a flight crew. You would think with a flight that left everyday at the same time AND flight number they would have a new crew ready and waiting. The passengers, all 300+ of us, and the jet sat all day at the gate awaiting them.

So we left at 6:30 pm Wednesday night, instead of 10:30 am in the morning and arrived at 1:30 am Friday morning, Hong Kong time. Qiang and I texted each other and when he realized how late I would arrive said he would meet me, as the train from the airport to Hong Kong Station would have shut down.

You know, being in a tube in the sky for 15 hours seems almost a crime against the creator. Even birds can’t do that!!! Somehow we survived but barely.

Crowded Gage Street
We landed a weary bedraggled lot, shuffled through immigration, baggage inspections and finally released to fend for ourselves in the middle of the night. The airport is immense! I was never so happy to see a person in my life than seeing Qiang, (pronounced Chong), patiently waiting for me. We found the bus and were shortly underway. Still, we didn’t get to bed until 3 am and he had to get up and work that morning.

Butcher shop down the street!
Friday I was a zombie and just sat around his apartment, showering, making breakfast and coffee and napping. He works just a few minutes from the apartment and he came back around lunchtime. We ate at one of the numerous stands in the alleys and I went back to sleep. We walked about that evening but both of us were tired. However, our lunch outing showed me just how vibrant HK was. Even his street teamed with vendors and shops. You could buy just about anything within a stones throw from the front door!

Weekends were ours and he crammed in as much sightseeing as he could. It may be a small town land wise (with about 8 million people) but we spent hours on buses, boats, subways and the world’s longest tram seeing amazing things.

That Saturday was hot, I mean sweaty hot. I had only brought warm clothing but nothing for that day. So, after spending the day sightseeing we hunted down some shorts. Finally we found some at Mark & Spencer’s, an amazing English department store and while pricey for me (no Target or even Wal-Mart’s there), I bought them figuring I would get plenty of use out of them in Palm Springs where it was already edging 90ยบ.  We ate Chinese, of course, food and went back to the apartment.

The Big Buddha
As luck would have it, the weather changed Sunday so in shorts and a t-shirt it turned cold on the way to the Big Buddha temple complex but that didn’t slow me down. We rode a bus after crossing on a ferry in one of the scariest rides of my life. As you can imagine the roads are narrow and the concept of straight is maybe for the condos that rise up like toothpicks everywhere. ALL the buses are double decker’s and of course the front row upper seats are at a premium. We snagged one on the shotgun side with the driver below. These things are powerful and we roared, literally, up the hills on the wrong side of the road. When we met the first bus coming down on one of many, MANY curves, it looked like we were going to hit. I screamed, jumped into Qiang’s lap awaiting the impact when the other bus just whizzed by. It had to be just inches away. Everyone laughed at the poor white devil. Of course we got there and it appears bus accidents are quite rare. Fooled me.

One of many huge malls decorated
for Chinese New Years
The complex is amazing and the Buddha huge and made of 200+ pieces of cast bronze. We poked around looking at all the shops. You have to understand, shopping seems to be the #1 activity in Hong Kong; there is no place shopping opportunities don’t exist. I have never seen so many malls, HUGE things, in my life. Nothing is cheap and every designer label on earth is here … over and over again.

Coming down we took the world’s longest tram ride and what a sight. We could see the new airport built on new landfill, the mountains, the Kowloon side of Hong Kong and the China Sea as far as they eye could see. It was a hazy day and getting colder by the minute. Once we were off that we took the MTR, their subway, and scooted under the bay back to Hong Kong. What a day! At least is was warmer down below!
Gift heaven on Gage Street

Monday Qiang had to work of course and he encouraged me to go out. I ate, got dressed and ventured outdoors. It was another hazy day and I wandered map in hand. Well … wandered is the operative word here. I got lost, SO lost I thought I might become a homeless person that night. Suddenly I turned and saw a shop I recognized, found my street then walked right past the apartment. 

Home away from home!
You have to realize fronts are small. I could look up and see the apartment but finding the door well. Also, you never ever take both eyes off your feet. Streets are treacherous. I tripped or missed a step and fell several times. The code enforcement troops of LA would have a field day. Huge glorious buildings rise up from twisted, tortured sidewalks. Gage Street was a street lined with shops and cars, dump trucks, construction workers and the like. It was an adventure walking anywhere.

Each day I got better finding my way down to the wharf, the huge new Ferris wheel, a circus, a local craft brewery and restaurant that was quite good, the wonderful antique shops just a few blocks above us, the glittering malls below, Man Mo Temple where everyone was burning incense, giving fruit as offerings
Man Mo Temple
and buying prayer materials as this was still during the Chinese New Year festivities. We saw lion and dragon dances and I was invited to a banquet hosted by Qiang’s company and several others. Everyone was friendly and the food outstanding. Other than the first course of pig with LED Valentine eyes, I ate but never asked what I was eating. It was all-good but I had to laugh when someone had told me earlier “if the sun can shine on it’s back, the Chinese will eat it.” It was interesting as the locals speak Cantonese, while Qiang and many others speak Mandarin … same written characters but totally different spoken words so English was used a lot that night.

Banquet Pig
During the week we went over to Kowloon to see the lights of Hong Kong taking the Star Ferry over. There are two huge skyscrapers taller than anything we have with the largest one having monkeys (it’s the Year of the Monkey) scampering up and down it with an amazing light show. Then back just before it rained to visit the night market. It only opens at 6 pm till around midnight and because the weather was dicey not many patrons. We bought a few things ever on the lookout for interesting gifts. I even found some short cords to sync my iPhone and iPad with on my iMac.

Saturday was a mostly sunny but cool day. I brought my jacket this time. We took a long bus ride to Stanley through Repulse Bay and poked around there enjoying the view of beautiful beaches and some of the shops in Stanley, temples, the ever present shopping, another temple for sailors and sun! It was a wonderful sunny day and everyone was taking advantage of it.

Then back to take a bus up to the Peak with an amazing overlook of all of Hong Kong. We saw it in the sunlight then waited for nighttime and the lights. It was beautiful. We came down to Des Voeux Road and then hunted for someplace to eat. He had in mind a French restaurant but it was closed so back to Chinese. I never had a bad meal and never got sick.

Monastery and nunnery in the heart of HK
My last Sunday we poked around looking at gardens and ended up in a monastery and nunnery in the heart of the city. It was very Japanese inspired and created an amazing peace as you wandered the grounds. I think I could become a Buddhist. It is so peaceful.

The vultures at lunch
Monday was packing day but Qiang came home for lunch. We went to a soup place in a convenient alley and well … since the crowds had already started we waited. Only, like vultures, everyone stands behind someone waiting for them to finish up. Really! So you check everyone out and then stand behind the most likely candidate. Because I was white, an unusual addition to the mix, my guy ate fast. LOL! Believe me, I would have NEVER tried this on my own but never got sick either. Taking my seat I had one of the best tomato soups with ham that I have ever eaten anywhere! The food is cheap and very, very delicious.
Lion Dance Masks
My last stop before he had to go back to work was at a shoe shop I had seen my first day. It had some navy blue wingtips with vibrant orange interior leather I really, really liked. I know, I can hear what you’re thinking … just the thing for in Palm Springs, right? In fact dark blue shoes were everywhere and even a dark grey now and then besides black and a variety of browns. Anyway, we went in and I asked if they had that style in size 45, my equivalent for whompin’ stomper size 11 ½. No. They only had 44’s. Luckily I said let me try them. I have never had shoes that fit like this. I have a bunion on my right foot I guess from years of running and if right side hurts I don’t even bother with the left. Because they looked narrow I really expected the worst but they fit like a glove. I was startled. Walking around in it I said, let me try the left. Heaven. They were my one extravagance. The salesman said they were all hand crafted and I believed someone had me in mind. I wanted to purchase more but was already leaving behind old 10-year old Docker slip-ons to fit these in my suitcase. They were not cheap but they weighed about half as much as the ones I was leaving.

That night we ate Japanese and then just wandered the city. It had turned cool again and a light rain fell. I am always nervous on the hills because the cabbies are extremely aggressive and I wondered about their tires on slick, hilly streets. We checked out some of the shops but I was packed, literally to the gills with my carryon suitcase and would have to pack any new purchases in my backpack. Qiang had convinced me to check the bag in with the airline and then only have to worry about my backpack.

I will say Cathay Pacific is generous with their luggage allowance. You can take two bags each weighing 50 pounds with you and there is no charge! With money tight with all the costs of moving and setting my own place I resisted buying very much. I hear that Chinese tourists by the busload go to the Cabazon outlets near Palm Springs, will buy a suitcase there and pack it up with designer clothes to take home. My Canadian neighbor said she could make a fortune selling empty suitcases out in the parking lot!

The irony of course is that the Mainland Chinese come to Hong Kong to buy designer brands that are nearly all made in China. However, Hong Kong is cheaper. The greater irony is that they come here and buy in droves because even though things are made in China prices are even cheaper here! 

Queen's Road - hub of the financial district
They are extremely brand conscious. If the average Chinese lives like Qiang in his tiny apartment, they don’t have much room so I would guess they buy judiciously. People dress well there or at least the types that look like they are in banking, investing, merchandising and such. It is nice to see men that wear clothes that fit … pants actually sit on their hips and break at the tops of their shoes. Suits are more English cut and fitted. Women are all over the map. There are beautiful women’s clothes and then others that well; working on the street at night would be fitting.

You see great wealth and great poverty. I have never seen more BMW 7 series in my life, even in LA. $100,000 Tesla S models with right hand drive are like fleas. They are energetic and the alleyways are filled with small entrepreneurs selling just about everything you can imagine.

Going home was a kind of anti-climax. Qiang went to work to print out my boarding tickets after a tense night of the airlines web site crashing, we had a leisurely big breakfast as we made plans for him to visit me. We then took my suitcase over to Hong Kong Station to check in and he helped me board the train to the airport. We became fast friends and hated to part. He told me he hated the cold of Tianjin and I told him in Palm Springs, cold is NOT a problem. Come in July and get roasted!

The flight made it to San Francisco 30 minutes early because of the trade winds. SFO was a sunny place after days of misty fogs and clouds. However, SFO had 6 international flights using the same carousel, typical of them, and a place I’m telling everyone to avoid. I had given up hope for my suitcase when it finally arrived. I then dragged the bag around the airport until flight time.

We boarded the Alaska Airlines flight on time checking the bag in at the gate for free (that’s the secret) and I literally crashed. When I woke up the passenger next to me asked if I had a good nap. I told her I had just come in from Hong Kong and was dead. Turns out she had lived there for 10 years so we traded war stories.

I walked literally home from the airport, a short 10-minute walk. I had a wonderful time and I am so glad I went. If you ever get the chance GO! HK is an amazing blend of modern and tradition ... I stumbled into so many secluded parks that were only moments away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And you know, it WAS designed to be that way.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please check out earlier blogs as I muse over how are lives are designed ... sometimes well and well, sometimes not so well.