Staying in Kowloon, with accomplished traveler Karen.
09-Feb - It's a long flight, although a big step up from Marco Polo. The aircraft was equipped with personalized monitors, and you could watch the plane as it heads northeast over Maine, Labrador and Greenland, and then Southeast over Siberia and China. No sleep for the wicked.
10-Feb - Karen met a groggy D at the airport. We decided to take the train back to the apartment in West Kowloon, not because it's cheap (not much is cheap in HK), but to familiarize D with some of the city's transportation. Crowded, fast, everybody polite. Then a walk through busy, working class Sham Shui Po to the high-rise apartment. K gave D some survival advice, "Don't drink the water". "Why?" asked D. "Because you will die," intones world traveler K.
11-Feb - Retract the above about expensive: tourist stuff is $$, but local markets are quite reasonable. K&D had breakfast in a Kowloon fast food joint, big meal, a couple of $US, and the servers all wear surgical masks. D is not entirely sure what he ate, but it was good.
Subway to Nathan Road, the ferry to Hong Kong island on a very foggy day. HK is really several mountains rising out of the water, with a forest of sky-scrapers crowding halfway up the slopes. We took the very steep tram to the top of Victoria peak for lunch and a long walk around the mountain. On the right, a foggy look down on Hong Kong and Kowloon in the distance.
The streets near the apartment are full of small vendors of clothes, food, watches. electronics, ... After dinner at a street vendor, David bought a used GSM phone, complete with sim card, Karen bargaining the vendor down to $100US.
12-Feb - K&D took a subway to Central (on Hong Kong Island) and then a slow boat to Cheung Chau. This small fishing island is popular for family outings and is full of tiny shops and restaurants. That's a pig at right hanging out near a contented cat.
Lots of exploring, then a lunch of dim sum on the island. We took the fast ferry hydrofoil back and went shopping for a few groceries at a huge and extremely busy indoor mall in West Kowloon. We walked back to the apartment, the good ship Karen plowing through the crowds and David, with candid cam, following in her wake.
Dinner in a trendy Russian restaurant topped off the evening and the weekend. In HK you can spend $4US for dinner, or you can spend $140US. The food is good in both cases, in the latter instance you get starched cloth napkins instead of a communal roll of toilet paper. If you want familiar fare, there are McDonalds everywhere (clean bathrooms!), KFC and it seems a Starbucks on every corner.
13-Feb - Today Karen had to do her teaching stuff, so fledgling David was on his own. An email from a friend reminded D that he had found only one place with decent beer in BA, and was there any in HK? The quest was on!
An entry in some traveler's Web page noted that there was a likely pub in Quarry Bay (HK island), so D walked off to the Star Ferry, only a gazillion miles to the south. The commercial bustle of this place is amazing. Only a few blocks from the apartment there are dozens of small wholesale fish vendors, many with tanks full of live creatures. Then there are cloth vendors, scrap metal vendors, battery acid vendors....
D started south on Nathan Road, a major retail commercial street that runs north to south through Kowloon. As the neighborhood got trendier, more and more "Rolex"-type stores appeared along side the "dried fish"-type stores, but the latter never went away. There was a lingering touch of a dead empire, and the strengthening pulse of a new one.
The Star Ferry to the island, more visibility today. A walk to the Central MTR (public transportation) and the a long subway ride to Quarry Bay. We use "Octopus Cards" to pay for transportation - you can recharge the card with $ and then hold your card near turnstiles when getting on and off. Your current balance shows immediately.
The destination pub had good food, pretty good microbrewery beer, excellent imported American IPA, a friendly staff, and more westerners per square inch than heretofore encountered. Good quotes on the placemat: "Beer makes you feel the way you ought to feel without beer" - Henry Lawson.
A feeling-good D took the MTR back home. For a few stops he sat next to a young Asian woman who was reading The Divine Comedy, in English. Abandon all hope.
Back at the apartment D checked out the local electronics and computer markets. Just as crowded as any other market, some malls contained hundreds of closet-sized stores offering real bargains. Back to home base, classes over, D exhausted, K&D ate in.
14-Feb - Another school day for K, with D off on rainy explorations. Victoria Park is a large well-manicured public area in the Hong Kong Causeway Bay area. The park is full of exotic flowering plants and folks moving in that slow-moving dance whose name D disremembers (like so much these days). There is a special pond for model boats. Nobody feeds the pigeons any more.
It just so happens that a sister of yesterday's pub is in the same general area, and D accidentally encountered it, although he got lost several times trying to make that particular accident happen! The Olympic Women's Curling competition was in progress on the pub TV, and when D asked the waitress what the object of the game was, she said she was just about to ask D the same thing. "It looks like bowling," she said, "but even sillier."
The city was full of flower bouquets being delivered for the holiday, and when K&D braved a local Chinese restaurant in the evening (no English script anywhere, no knives, forks, napkins, much nodding, head shaking and smiling, a few people gawking) the maitre de wished us a Happy Valentine's Day.
15-Feb - A foggy morning, K&D went off on the MTR to Quarry Bay and Causeway Bay and then split up. K went to exercise class and D to explore the local Dragon Mall.
In the evening, 4 WPI students, both teachers and D took a circuitous MTR and bus route to the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology in East Kowloon, a beautiful campus high on a bluff overlooking a bay. None of which D could see in the fog. Later The two WPI teachers, two Hong Kong liaison professors and D went to dinner at a trendy Japanese restaurant and then elsewhere for a Chinese dessert that was a novelty to D. By the way, this whole lack-of-napkin thing has D bothered - mainly because he seems to be the only one who needs one!
Walking around a huge and affluent East Kowloon Mall, David talked with the Hong Kong professors about the problem of buying keepsakes to bring back to the States. Almost everything we have in the USA already seems to be made in China! "This may be my first trip to Asia and Hong Kong," said D, "but my suitcases, clothes, computer and cameras were coming home to Mama!"
16-Feb - David walked south through Kowloon once again. At right a small community play area with Mr. Snake and other friendly creatures greeting the kids.
The Star Ferry once again to Hong Kong, where D climbed to a set of terraced streets known as Soho, full of dozens of international restaurants. D discovered later that he could have taken the escalators that run down the mountain in the early AM and up the mountain the rest of the day.
In the evening D went with the WPI contingent to Hong Kong Polytechnic University in southern Kowloon for a rehearsal of the students' project presentations. A candid cam through the campus shows pretty typical student activities. Dinner for the three geriatrics at an expensive Italian restaurant.
17-Feb - David went to a market near Shanghai street to look for souvenirs. It's a conundrum - what to bring back when almost everything you buy in the USA already comes from Asia? It has to be uniquely Asian, but unusual in the States. So D decided on little bags of dried fish. Also some nice dried lizards, yum. You can use the tail like a popsicle stick. You can thank me later.
D took one last trip to the bar in Quarry Bay for lunch. A great meal and a bon voyage from the friendly staff.
K&D went off on a crowded Friday night to Soho, where K checked out a dozen pricey restaurants before deciding on a Greek one. Outstanding cuisine, but D is starting to bridle at these $80US per person dinners.
Has anybody noticed that Hong Kong's primary theme is food?
18-Feb - If the primary theme is food, then today was fast USA day!
K&D left early by train to visit the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery in the New Territories. A steep uphill path lined with different large statues of golden monks. At the top, even more, including some who might be assets to modern sports teams. Breakfast back at the train station mall Starbucks, where we were the only westerners.
D then went to a local Jade market, where his wallet was lightened by a lovely young saleslady who would touch D's shoulder and say "You my friend." Easy touch D had lunch at the local McDonalds, where he was the only westerner.
And for dinner K&D dined at the Dragon Mall Pizza Hut, where D had a sweet potato pizza with a drink that included red beans and sesame ice cream. Once again, the only westerners.
So is this authentic, or what?
19-Feb - David's last day in Hong Kong. K&D took the ferry to Lantau, the largest island in the HK area. Mostly mountains, the bus rides are hair-raising, although this was not effective for D.
We traveled first to a touristy spot = the "largest sitting Buddha in the world", distant photo at right. The statue is hollow, and you can walk around, but photos are not permitted. If they catch you taking a picture, they confiscate this incarnation.
Back in the base we encountered a lot of mainland tourists who were exhorted by somebody with a bullhorn to dance around. Then a bus to a fishing village, where you could see an occasional dried fish tail sticking out of some tourist's handbag.
And from there a long bus and MTR ride back to the apartment, where Karen will meet with students tonight in final review of their presentations next week. David leaves tomorrow AM, Karen and the other WPI folks will start moseying home next weekend. D had a great time, now to see if he can get all that dried fish back through customs.