Saturday, November 22, 2008

Hong Kong - Time to Go Home

3 November: It was time to go home. Reenie and I were sad to leave. Even though we spent 24 nights in China and Hong Kong, we would have enjoyed more time touring another city or two. After checking out, we walked across the street to the K3 bus stop, very convenient, and took it to the express airport train station. We were able to check in with our flight and I checked my large suitcase. Reenie didn't check anything, as she was hoping to jump on an earlier flight out of Dulles to Boston. The express train ride was quick and easy. After getting off at terminal 1, we found the ticket booth to turn in our Octopus card and get our excess monies back. Then we exchanged that money back into USA. I lost a few bucks, but didn't have much to change. I guess I could have bought something at the duty free store.

As we started through the first round of customs/check in, one woman noticed Reenie's two bags and told her only one was allowed on board. She had to go back to the ticket counter and check the piece. She was not happy but rules are rules. Then we get in line to go through the area where our passports and airline tickets are checked, I move on to go through the x-ray area and Reenie is still there with the man. She's there for 5 minutes (while I'm on the other side not being able to see anything) with 4 men checking her passport and boarding pass. For some they wouldn't accept the boarding pass. She certainly didn't look suspicious! A supervisor came along, apologized and she was released.

Our first leg was on All Nippon Airlines, which I really enjoyed. Nice comfortable airplane, beautiful flight attendants, and attentive service. We flew to Tokyo and changed planes to United. We quickly window-shopped at the airport before getting to the gate. The last time I was in Japan was when I was 8 years old. Too bad I didn't add a few nights in Tokyo to our trip!!

After 12 hours of movies, eating, napping and reading, we landed at Dulles. I love going through passport control, as I always hear "Welcome home." I love to travel and always wish my trips were longer, but it's always nice to come home too. Tony was waiting for me with a rose in hand. Reenie headed off to her gate (she did catch the earlier flight) and Tony and I drove home to a waiting dog, Lucy. Wow, was she happy to see me!

Some observations:

People: The Chinese people we met along the way were very friendly and helpful. From Stella, who bought our bus tickets and walked us to the entrance of Xitang to the old couple in Xian laughing with us as we struggled to buy our wine, to the man who waved down a taxi car for us and making sure we got in, we felt like they really wanted to take care of us. Young children are excited to see any foreigner and their smiles just melt your heart. You can easily see how much the Chinese love their children, even girls, especially with the one-child policy. I understand it was lifted for those families that lost their child in the recent Chengdu area earthquake and that certain minority population’s areas allowed two children.

Driving and biking in China: If anyone can drive in China, then they can drive anywhere in the world! I was amazed I never saw a car accident. I was always uncomfortable sitting in a taxi, as they cover the back seats with a cloth that covers the seatbelts. The only time I sort of felt comfortable is when I sat up front. If we were on a 2-lane road, the drivers turned it into a 4 or 6 lane road. Even those on bikes zigzagged all over the road. In crossing a street, you have to look in both directions, as bikers move along in any direction they need to go.

Pollution and spitting: After my 6th day in China, I could understand why all the Chinese hack and cough and spit. The pollution gets to your lungs and throat that you are constantly clearing your throat. I never spat but did do a lot of throat clearing. I hope that China cleans up the pollution. It was sad to hear one of my guides say she had never seen the stars. Man, animal, and even plants have to cope with the pollution. I felt sorry for the pandas in Chengdu. I felt sorry for all life in China. I don't understand how anyone could live in a polluted world. I know there have been people protesting the pollution, but it certainly doesn't look like the government is listening. The air was cleared up for the Olympics, but it didn't seem to last.

Food: I found the food to be so much better than what I can get here in the USA. I know most Chinese restaurants are toned down for American tastes, but the food in China is so well made, so fresh, not overly greasy, and not sopping and drenched in thick sauces. Even the small restaurants and food stalls cooked up delicious meals. Even though I did a lot of walking, I think part of my 5-pound weight loss had to do with what I ate: More vegetables, less meat, no cheese or other foods high in fat. I need to pull my wok out and start stir-frying my vegetables. If our markets were set up like those in china, the FDA would close most of them down in a heartbeat. The same goes with the street food stalls. If anyone has seen my photographs, you know I love visiting the food markets in Europe. China was no exception. We got to see many things that aren't even grown in the USA. I certainly enjoying checking out all of the various street foods and watching people purchase their meals or snacks. The best part was that the foods were dirt cheap, filling, and delicious.

Sights: China is a fascinating country to visit and there is so much to see and do. Choosing which cities to visit is very difficult. Hiking the Great Wall at Mutianyu was one of our highlights, as well as taking a bamboo boat ride on the river in Yangshuo. Seeing thousands of terra cotta warriors knowing they were pieced painstakingly back together was another highlight. And Reenie and I will never forget the playfulness of the young pandas in Chengdu. I could have climbed the wall to hug them all!

Traveling in China: China can be done independent of a tour company, as long as you are willing to take the time to do the research and know there will be bumps in the road. I brought a couple of language books, including “Me No Speak” that my friend recommended to me. I will say that no guide is really needed in China with the exception of Yangshuo: I saw several bikers out with map in hand trying to figure their way around in the countryside and I know some of the dirt roads we went on were not on any map I saw. On the other hand, a guide certainly is helpful and makes life easier when figuring out bus schedules or menus if restaurants don’t have English menus or picture menus, as well as translating in stores. Negotiate a rate for the day and make sure you know what’s included and what’s not included. Tipping is not done in China, as the price you negotiate is the price you pay. Chinese don’t tip so why should you?

Well, this has been a long journal! 24 nights is a lot to write about and I tried to keep it short. Hah! I’m sure you’re glad to be done reading all of this, as I’m done typing it up.

I hope to work on more of my photos soon. My photos of the Yangshuo are some of my favorites and I want to share them with you, so stay tuned!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Lantau Island and the Big Buddha

2 November: I woke up late, as I had not slept well through the night. In addition, the weather forecast called for rain all day and I was ready to have a day of downtime. That was not to be. It did rain overnight but looking out the window, we couldn't tell if it was going to rain or if it was just another hazy day. Reenie and I decided to go to Lantau Island to see the Buddha, the largest outdoor seated Buddha in the world, instead of visiting a museum nearby.

It was great to have the Octopus card, which we used on the subway to get to the starting point of our journey: a 3.5-mile cable car ride. Although it was overcast with thick clouds in the mountains, it was a pleasant ride and we could still see into the distance. Nearby was the Hong Kong airport, which we saw several planes take off…thank goodness in the opposite direction of the cable cars. As we neared the Ngong Ping village, we could see the Buddha in the distance sitting on a high hill.

We purchased a combination ticket that included the small museum and lunch at the vegetarian restaurant at the Po Lin monastery. Having read about the Ngong Ping village, we quickly walked through skipping the shops and restaurants. It was very touristy indeed. There are 268 steps to get to the base of the Buddha, sitting with one hand up and the other on his lap. Made of bronze, the Buddha is impressive. Surrounding the Buddha are smaller statues making offerings to the Buddha.

As we strolled around, the clouds cleared and we had blue skies again. I watched one mountain peak and the clouds that crossed over. It was fun to watch because you could see the clouds being pulled down by the winds.

Our vegetarian lunch was filling but I was not impressed at all. Our vegetarian lunch in Chengdu was much tastier.

While Reenie didn’t care for the ride on the cable car I didn’t care for the bus ride down! The driver zipped down the windy road fast, barely slowing down for the curves. No one seemed to mind. Along the way to the Mui Wo port, we passed a jail. It was in a nice location, right on the water. Nice beach views! I wonder if the prisoners ever get to swim in the ocean.

We took the boat back to Hong Kong and it was dark by the time we arrived. A quick jump on the Star Ferry and we were back in Kowloon.

We dined at Jimmy's Restaurant and ordered their prime rib dinner special. It's located within walking distance of the hotel. The waiters were attentive and the food was very good. The special came with soup, the entrée with vegetables and Yorkshire pudding, dessert (crème caramel) and coffee or tea. It had rained while we were eating, so after dinner, we just went back to the room to pack our bags.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Shopping for Jade and a visit to Aberdeen

1 November: A friend of mine recommended a jeweler that he has been buying from for many years, so we met Mr. Choi and his wife in his shop. It was located close to the hotel in an office/apartment building. I wanted to buy a jade pendant and ended up buying three pieces: pendant, earrings, and a ring. Reenie also bought a jade ring. Throughout the trip, I had looked at some jade but never knew if it was real jade or even a good quality jade. I think we both did very well with our purchases.

For the rest of the day we visited Aberdeen and took a sampan ride around the old fishing boats. We walked through the fish market, which was closing up for the day. I’m sure there was much activity in the morning. It was interesting to see all the boats with the high-rise buildings in the background, a stark contrast.

It was too late to try to get to Stanley, so we found a place in Aberdeen for lunch. It was a Japanese ramen restaurant and we both enjoyed our soups. It was quite different than what I used to eat in Hawaii, but very good. The broth looked slightly cream, but I’m sure it wasn’t cream or milk.

The traffic was terrible getting back to Hong Kong. We sat in traffic for almost an hour. We got off at Admiralty and took the subway back to our hotel. For dinner Reenie wanted to try Turkish food, so we ate at the Istanbul Express on Lock Road. We had kebabs and an appetizer, but I’ve had better. It was a small hole-in-the wall place. Lock Road has lots of dining opportunities.