Bahamas

China 2011

March 21, 2011
Day 1 – Take off

3.5 days after a seemingly endless road trip home from Santa Fe I am off again to CHINA! A very unsuccessful trip to Tucson this year secured my decision to return to China. This time I am joined by girlfriend Karen and new professional colleague Kevin.

Karen a seasoned traveler has been almost unsettlingly quiet. She has asked little to no questions and has been completely content with the radio silence in between my trips. Wow. I don’t think I could handle it myself… my travel partner who was doing all the planning took off for weeks and not returning until right before take off?

Now that we are on our way, it has been brought to my attention that she was enjoying the fact that this was one of the few times that she did not have to do the planning for a vacation. Though this is a nice thought, I have to admit it is freaking me out just a little. I hope she realizes what she is in for.

Kevin I fear is quite the opposite of Karen. Having never owned a passport Kevin rushed expedited a passport then a Chinese Visa. Timid is an appropriate description for Kevin. For weeks we have been talking about this trip and though he wanted to go, it took a few weeks before he purchased the tickets. The best thing about Kevin joining us is that he is bringing his Chinese- American, college friend, who happens to be living in Beijing. She has agreed to come for 5 days and interpret for us. Bonus. I am so looking forward to her guidance during meal time!

After 2 delays, one in CLE and one in DTW for almost 2 hours we are on the plane. Karen seated on the aisle, I have the window, Kevin about ten rows back and another Kevin between Karen and I. huh. Who just so happens to be from Flynt, MI, which is the same place our Kevin was from. Double huh.

My cat nap on the 40 min. flight to DTW was my undoing. Now 11pm, I am showing NO signs tiring. I am sure I will pay for this tomorrow.

The flight was the perfect time to get in some chick flicks, Eat, Pray Love (completely self-indulgent movie); Julie and Julia (cute); and Smash That Camera (documentary about a paparazzi photographer, not as interesting as it could have been). I also thought it would be to prudent to play the Berlitz language video games and brush up on some Mandarin. (ha, ha, like I had enough Mandarin under my belt to brush up on!)

Day 1.5 Hong Kong

We arrived in Hong Kong a little later than I anticipated. It is a good thing that Hong Kong is so much like NYC, late night people. We checked into the hotel, met up with Marie and headed out for dinner. I was ready to hit the streets to get my first meal! As luck would have it, our hotel was a couple of blocks from the Temple Market. One of the more popular street markets with lots and lots of food vendors. Yummy.


Welcome to Hong Kong! Can this room be any smaller?

We later found out this was the standard.

Steamed Pork Buns. I am taking the pix because I hate steamed pork buns!ha.


The train station in HK. So nice and clean.

Day 2 Clean!
Sleep was difficult, I kept dreaming that I had to chase down a guy who stole my luggage. When I caught up to him, I had to beat on him until he finally let go of my bag…ugh.

Working on less than 4 hours of restless sleep we headed for the train station to Guangzhou.

This morning we learned that Starbucks in China does not open until 7am!

Now that it was daylight I finally see what people mean when they say that HK is just like NYC but with a lot of Chinese people. For me the major difference is, HK is much and I do mean much, cleaner. The train station was amazingly clean.

Day 2.5 Guangzhou

Guangzhou! So happy to arrive in Guangzhou with to a familiar face! Marie was able to contact the driver we had last on our last trip and arranged for him to pick us up at the train station. I told her to remind him that I was the one who was traveling with the black woman last Fall. He remembered immediately! Ha. ha.

On our ride to the hotel Marie and Mu talked a lot about my last visit. It was so nice that he remembered it the way I do. Marie liked him too. Unfortunately the hotel that we chose is so close to where we are going that his services would not be needed. Mu felt that we did really well with our hotel pick. I disagreed. I told him that it was not good for him. :)

It is interesting to me how my view of this city has changed. I think on the last trip I was so busy and concerned with business, getting around, not getting lost, not getting screwed, our schedule and not being sick, that I did not get a chance to look around and enjoy what was here. It has also been interesting to listen to Marie compare the city to other parts of China.

The hotel was located on an “island” and was an area that frequently by foreigners. Going to our room I was surprised to see that it was only 5 stories high! So unusual for a hotel in China. It felt like everything in China was a high rise, so to be in such a short building was comforting. Walking around the area to look for food we discovered that this area has been preserved from the colonial days. The buildings were very western and there were cobblestone streets and sidewalks. It felt like a quiet neighborhood in France or England but with Chinese food and souvenirs.

Breakfast was in a corner “café” of stir fried noodles, then there was the late lunch at McD’s! Marie was enjoying the fact that she was around Americans and getting her fill of American food and my other companions were already moving on from the Chinese food. I ate on the streets.


The Chinese medicine market.

Look closely, those are dried seahorses.

Say "Beeeeeaads!"



Shop after shop of beads.
 
Inside the "Bead" mall.

Shops on the walk to the bead market.

Day 3 A Long Day

In the morning we met in the hotel lobby to start our day. Upon Marie’s arrival I noticed that her engagement ring was different from what I saw the night before so I commented. It would appear that the jade center stone (which was beautiful) had popped out! Ugh. For the next hour we searched her room and the hotel. I felt so bad for her. We never found the stone.

Giving Marie some space to breath, Kevin and I went ahead to do our business. Karen decided to stay behind today to go jogging and relax…at Starbucks! Which was right around the corner. This was her vacation to relax and do whatever she wanted. Her reports from her jog only made me jealous that I did not bring my tennis shoes and workout clothes so that I could do the same.

Asia is a bit of a peculiar place in that everywhere you go you have to pay in cash. No credit cards no checks. Even the plan tickets are paid in cash. So in an effort to not have to carry that much cash, Kevin had this great idea that we would go to a Chase Bank branch here in China to access our monies since we both had accounts there. That way we did not have to carry so much cash. Well. After 20 minutes of looking for a cab then a 20 minute ride, we arrived at the Chase “office” which …did not do over the counter transactions. The location was so far out and the traffic was starting to get heavy we decided to take the subway which appeared to be under the building…sort of.

The subway station, though under the building, was a block’s walk underground. All I could think about was that we would not make our rendezvous with Karen. One connection, two trains, 6 stops and 5 blocks later we finally arrived at our meeting point, half an hour late. I felt so bad. I chose Karen as a travel partner on this trip because I did not have to worry about her taking care of herself and occupying her own time. What I learned was that (though she is good about that) she was no different from the rest of us. She was not “alarmed” but funny little thoughts of “what might have happened” did go through her head. “did they get arrested, is someone in trouble…” I don’t know why but I take such delight in this thought. She is just like the rest of us!

Tonight we went to one of Marie’s favorite restaurants. It was Taiwanese style food. I did not see the difference but went with it. We ordered boiled chicken served at room temperature, something I had been wanting to try since the last trip. This was something my mother makes and it was to my understanding that it was very good in China. The first bite was fantastic, the second was raw. We sent it back. They NUKED it! So much for “room temperature”.


Liz Taylor died yesterday.

They actually make a holiday so that you can sweep your ancestors tombs.

A bucket of LIVE scorpians for sale. Not at the medicine market.

The crew. Karen, Marie, Kevin and me.

This one was for the Clinic!

Funny, Deborah and I have the same pix last year.

Day 4 The Bank
Guangzhou to my surprise is a very late rising city. 10 am and most of the shops are still not open and neither are the street restaurants. Breakfast is such a big deal in Asia that I was surprised that most of them were not open. Yesterday Kevin and I found a little soup stand where Kevin had “the BEST wonton soup” of his life. It was quite tasty and cost us $1.10 for the bowl! Today I found a Vietnamese sandwich shop for breakfast. Being an “imported” item my sandwich was $2, yipes that is was just as expensive as the states! It only “looked” like a Vietnamese sandwich.

The banking issue from yesterday caused us to re-evaluate our situation. In need of money I had Amex wire money overnight for pick up in this morning. On the way to the bank we decided to open a checking account with a Chinese bank.(After some research I was told that it was nearly impossible to open a Chinese account. Having Marie by our side we were confident that we would be successful. Well, I can say with confidence that had it not been with Marie’s help, it would have never happened. I had to fill out my form FOUR times! The first time, I did not use the right pen! The second time, I just an “X” instead of a check mark. The third time, I scribbled out ONE letter at the very end. The wire transfer took 3 tries also, one of which was because I did not write in uppercase block letters! I can see how it is impossible without a native speaker!

For lunch, McD’s. This time I joined in but of course I had to have the local Chinese McD’s dish, chicken wings. Why have a hamburger? And how were the wings? Dear god, I had no idea McD’s knew what five spice was. Just kill me. My least favorite thing to eat in China and there it was in my McDonald’s chicken wings! Uck.


Tonight we sat by the water for dinner. Karen had spied an interesting restaurant on one of her jogs around the area. The location was a beautiful and a perfect fit for tourists. The food, well, not so much.


My companions and their distractions.

The view at dinner

Day 5 Final Day
Today is Marie’s last day with us. We had been shopping for beads since our arrival in Guangzhou. I was mentally exhausted and in need of a break. So today I was determined to finish my business so that we could take the next day off to go touring. With some negotiation we arranged for exchanging money for our purchases and shipping of all of our boxes. Everything was neatly boxed up and on its way home.
We stopped again at Kevin’s new favorite place to eat and found the area completely packed with patrons. Unlike in the morning.

Along our walk back to the hotel we did a little shopping. This was when Karen found out that it was not so easy to buy shoes in China for an American. The sizes don’t go up that high. However, by default, I got a great pair of Clarks. Who knew they were knocking off Clarks! $12


The local food court.


Fresh noodles being made.


Dinner!, one of the best of the week. Rice cooked in a clay pot with chicken and veggies.

Day 6 A Relaxing Day
Got up at 6am! Uck. I guess my body is limited to 8 hours of sleep!
Since I was able to finish my business we decided to go to HK a day early. With an afternoon train scheduled we took the morning to relax. And for the first time on the trip I hit up Starbucks. I was surprised that they understood exactly what I wanted. (They spoke Starbuckese!) I did wonder if they found it a little annoying; all the crazy American orders.

On my way out of Starbucks I bumped into an American with his 11year old son from Indiana. They were in China adopting an infant. Somehow we got into a conversation and he told me that he was traveling with 5 chidren (11-3yrs). I gave him The look and said “..and you’re adopting ANOTHER one?” His answer? “yeah, that’s what we do.” I only have one comment, “huh?”…moving on…

Starbucks in hand I headed over the foot bridge to find myself some breakfast. This is always the best part of the day for me, looking for food. This morning I discovered that I knew more Mandarin than I thought. We went to the neighborhood across the street to find breakfast. There I found rice crepes, warm soy milk, and a croissant for Karen. While getting my crepes the owner started asking me questions. I had already indicated what I wanted by pointing, but I guess he needed more confirmation. My first reaction was to throw up the “I don’t know shrug.” Before I could shrug, I realized that I totally understood him. He was trying to verify my order. Whoohoo. I got exactly what I wanted. The in flight Berlitz game was working.


The children in the park.

We spent the rest of morning on the island. It was Sunday and the island was bustling with school children, couples getting their wedding pictures taken and packs of people working out. Walking through the park we were approached by school children. A boy with his mother approached us and started pushing her son to speak English with us. Hello, how are you? Where are you from? What is your name? This was great! That mother was so smart to get her son to practice his English. We indulged them by asking questions back. What is Your name? What are you studying? How old are you? It was so much fun other children came over and we started quizzing them too.

A woman going swimming and this guy who was fishing? Both parts of that sentence were just wrong in so many ways.

 

 

This was just down right amusing. Not only is fuhhhreezing out that morning, we just finished a discussion of how we didn't think you could swim there because it was discuuuusting. And then this. Yup, she went in, and yup, that was a styrofoam block she tied to herself with a rope.

We had no idea where he was taking Nemo.
 

There were at least 20 couples having their wedding portraits done in the park. Apparently it is a big deal in China. I completely missed the picture of the bus load of them.

The park

So much for Tai Chi in the morning. These people were dancing for their daily excercise.

 

Mu came to take us to the train station. With more than a couple of hours to wait we went to Ikea. Let me note here, that Marie did foreworn us about going to Ikea in China on a weekend. Wow. She was not kidding. It was definitely a family outing for the Chinese to go to Ikea. We thought it would be good idea to go to Ikea to have lunch. Wouldn’t it be ironic to have Swedish meatballs in China?...at Ikea? Well, maybe not so much. OMG! The place was crawling with people. I think it took us 10 minutes just to get to the cafeteria, and this was not a particularly large store. When we finally arrived the line was so long we turned around. Now were running short on time.


When I said it was crawling with people...

I really meant it.

 

This was the line to get into the cafeteria.


Ikea

 

A mad dash to another restaurant, packing our food to go, we RAN to the train station. Phew. By the way, the closed door that says “Restricted Area” over it at the train station is the Chinese way of saying, “Restricted to those who do NOT have a ticket.” I know a little scary to go through a guarded door in a communist country unsure if you are allowed to or not, right?

Even though we were going to HK, (which is now part of China since 1997), we had to go through immigration. Show passports and everything. Then there was the border patrol somewhere about half through the trip. You could actually see the demarcation and the guards? Really? I wonder how it was Before they were part of China. Scary.

The Chinese/Hong Kong border.

 

Tonight we ended up at the Night Market in HK. It is an outdoor market that is about 3 blocks long where vendors come to sell their goods…to tourists. There were all kinds of things from funny bumper stickers to jade trinkets. It is much like little Italy in NYC; millions of tourists looking for a bargain to bring back to their friends at home. Reflecting on my evening I am realizing that the prices I was given were really cheap. There was little room to negotiate even though I tried my hardest. At the end of the day I got a good deal even though I was only able to negotiate a 20% discount. This is so different from Shanghai, where the prices started 3 times higher than what you end up with If you are a good negotiator.

I was completely amused by the toilet Pull on the right.

The cleanest bathroom in HK! had to take a picture. There was even an attendant. I thought I was Dubai again.

I think my bathroom on the cruise was bigger.

How small is that room again?

Just in case I did not illustrate well enough...I am laying across BOTH beds. The wall to the right is the wall to the bathroom!

 

 
Day 7 “We are not in the US”

Today Karen and I decided to take the day off to go see the sites. We headed for Tian Tan Buddha (aka The Big Buddha) and The Peak. To get there and back required a train, a cable car, a bus and a taxi. As we headed to the Big Buddha (I hate that name btw…) Karen mentioned that there was a cable car, which I completely poopoo’ed. Really? I started flashing back to Paris and that ridiculous funicular at the Sacre Coeur. I was absolutely out. Then there was the other flash back of the largest Buddha outside of Asia in Hawaii… my only comment, “That’s it?”

Then we arrived at the base of the mountain. So much for that hill I had envisioned in my little brain. My mind was changed immediately; cable car with a glass bottom it is! We waited for almost an hour to get our tickets and finally onto to the cable car. To our delight we were joined by an American executive living in HK who was acting as tour guides for some British colleagues. This was a great bonus as we too got the guided tour from someone who had been there numerous times.
The scenery from the cable car was spectacular. We could see the airport in the distance and was able to get a really good idea as to how big that airport really is. Then there was the wooden foot path, which we were told would take a leisurely hiker 2.5 hours to walk. If only I had brought hiking shoes, it looked so cool. Then there were the occasional ancient grave sites.

The footpath over the mountain to the temple.

 


Peace out!

 

 

 

Glass bottom. And yes, those are my new shoes that will probably never see light again.

Almost there.

Look closely, that is grave site. View from the cable car.

 

Arriving at the top of the hill was a “village” obviously constructed for tourists equipped with Subway, gelato and of course Starbucks among other things. I wondered if they built this around the existing village, which was sort of fenced off, or was the village pushed aside to make way for us tourists. I wanted so much to leave the tourists behind and go through the fence but thought wiser of such notions.
A short walk through the village and a “park” brought us to the base of the Buddha. Wow, it was HUGE. The one in Hawaii paled in comparison. I was so impressed I could hardly stand it. 268 steps up the granite staircase we were finally at the Buddha, and I will never do the hike over the mountain on the foot path! Eek. I was glad that though I was with an avid runner, Karen was out of breath too!
We acquired meal tickets by making a “donation” to the temple which also gave us access to the shrine inside of the Buddha. Inside we viewed old scriptures written in blood! A relic and memorials of people who had passed. It was so peaceful.

On our way to the temple for our lunch, Karen discovered that she had lost our meal ticket. I was not concerned. I thought for sure we would find it, but if we did not, it was for a good cause so I would not mind buying another ticket. I approached the ticket office and proceeded to tell them of our woes. The ticket girl asked, “Did you buy the ticket here?” (as in this counter) “Yes, I buy from you.” “Did you buy from me or her?” (pointing to another ticket girl who was not there earlier. “Yes, I bought it from you, here.” (pointing to her and her desk.) “Which meal did you buy?” “The standard” “You buy here?” “Yes!”…then she turned, grabbed a ticket next to her and handed it to me. Unbelievable! It was our ticket. Someone had turned it in. Karen’s response, “we are not in the US.”

Lunch was one of the best meals we had had the entire trip. 5 courses, all vegetarian served in a very busy hall. Karen pointed out that we were the there were no Caucasian tourists having lunch. That was so disappointing to me. But it does please me that she noticed and that she had joined me.

How big was the Big Buddha...It was this big.

An entire store of Chopsticks. There were Sterling Silver chopsticks too.

 

 


Actually, it was this big.

 

The red sign points to the US, about 15k miles away.

I guess you should have a little something for everyone. Notice the cowboy hat mixed in.

This was my effort in taking a pix with the Buddha and our Starbucks.

Up the steps

Down the steps

I thought this was almost sad. The sound construction in such a tranquil place. It was so displaced, like the crane in the background.

Inside the temple.


Keep your eye on the base of the hill...


...a graveyard...

 ...in tiers along the hillside.

 

Day 8 Lights out

Today we planned to do a little more shopping for beads; then more shopping. Karen was having suits custom made while we were there so we headed to her final fitting. In Hong Kong there are dozens of tailors who could custom make a suit in a couple of days. One of Karen’s goals for the trip was to find clothing for work. Until the plan ride over she had no idea it was possible to have suits made within budget and during our stay. Our flight companion had pointed us in the right direction and we were able to find a shop that was able to accommodate Karen’s needs. I was jealous that I did not have a need for the suit.

This is Patrick, he was from Africa. He saw us walking through the hallways of an office buildling and invited us in for a look. There were stock piles (like the one behind him) of uncut stones. The two behind him were moonstone and tiger eye.

Then Patrick asked if we wanted to see the back room. duh. That would be a mound of Kunzite on the left, and Tourmaline on the other tables. oooh.

The hallways were lined with "offices" that looked like this inside. Piles of raw gems and minerals.

Looooaaads of pearrlllls. oh, and Karen.

Getting fitted for her custom made suits.


Karen picking out her fabrics.

It was like Xmas, the suits were delivered to the hotel for her.


A happy customer.

 

They even embroidered her name on the inside of the jackets.

On our walk back to the hotel tonight I met my match. A light pole. OMG, I hit that pole so hard I thought I knocked out my teeth. So there we were walking and talking along the sidewalk. And at some point I turned my head to say something to Kevin…Boink! I hit the side of my face, bounced backwards and proceeded to hit my crotch too! I hit it so hard, my ears were ringing and the top of my head was immediately pounding. I almost landed on the ground but caught myself. Catching my breath on the ground I started checking my teeth for chipping. Karen saw it in slow motion, freaked her ought enough that she thought I knocked my eye out of its socket. Ouch!

We continued our shopping trek working our way through the markets. Hong Kong is the knock off mecca. It felt much like Canal Street in lower Manhattan. And just like in NYC, Karen and Kevin (the white people) were approached by whispers of “gucci, chanel, fendi”. Whereas I was not. Funny how they look like they might be interested in such things, but I did not?


Always this busy and everywhere.

Streets of HK.


That would be a mosque in HK. I don't know why, but I totally did not expect that.

Dinner on the streets. Yes, that is a dish of mini conchs. Karen is having soy noodles, Kevin...General Tao's chicken.
Outdoor eating.
The buffet.

Day 9 The Peak

This was our last day in HK and I wanted to see as much as I could. We headed across the water to Hong Kong Island to the Peak. An 8 minute ferry ride for $.50 took us across the water where we would pick up a $2 bus ride to the top of the mountain. $5 gave us entry to the escalator to the top of a viewing platform. Still overcastted! It was probably the worst day of the trip to go to the Peak. We had to imagine what it could have looked like. The view did give us a good idea of how dense Hong Kong is.

From the Peak we wanted to go to Stanley Market which was on the other side of the mountain. So in my mind I’m thinking there must be a bus that would take us there right? Oh, but no. We had to take the tram to the bottom (where we had started) then take a bus around the mountain. Ugh. So we hired a taxi for an extra $7 (between us) to take us directly to Stanley Market.

Stanley Market was listed as a must see in Hong Kong. That was why we went and well, Karen and I disagree. It was more of what we had already been experiencing. The difference was that it was by the beach. This was a coastal community settled by the Brits and there were plenty of reminders of their presence. Pubs, fish and chips and beer. We opted for a Chinese lunch.

Despite my best efforts to get multiple massages on this trip it would be. So tonight was determined to get a massage to prepare for the long flight home. I found a little place near the markets and the price was right. They were all so nice and eager to the job. I told them that I wanted a very hard massage and that it needed to be at least an hour. No problem. That is until she got to my legs at which point this non-English speaking girl said, “need more time.” “You do a lot of shopping. I feel it here.” That would be around my aching knees. One and half hours later I was relaxed and soar. She took the hard massage to heart.


The Chinese like their basketball!

This was above the bus driver. It says:

NOTICE, It is an offence in the law for a passenger to talk to a driver.

I guess we won't be asking for directions...

 

Overcast view of Hong Kong Island from Kowloon, where we were staying. 


View of HK from the Peak

 


Couldn't talk Karen into joining me. Grilled, dried cuttlefish.


That's the grill.

Then it goes into the press. = Yummie.


Swarovski, couldn't help myself.

Wind!

at the Peak, HK island

More Wind!

Stanley Market area.

The kitchen was in the middle of the restaurant.

A companion at our table.

Entry to the restaurant.

This pix was taken inside of the bus. This is how close we were the BILL BOARD!

Mochi stand. (Japanese style ice cream)

Kevin's obsession wtih "I" everything.

Day 10 Departure

Another early morning we headed for the airport. Our connection in Tokyo was an interesting one. Again we found ourselves delayed due to mechanical issues. ( I say better delayed than to find yourself in the middle of the ocean.) Upon this news a very ugly, irate American got out of his seat and proceeded to berate a flight attendant. Really? The problems were so bad that we had to switch plans. So during our de-boarding, we could here this ass yelling all the way out. And of course he was already at the counter yelling at the counter people by the time we made it off.
By the time we were on the second plane he was amazingly quiet. The flight attendant informed me that they had a little talk with him. Hmmm. Did you know it was illegal to insight people on a plane?

At immigration entering the US I learned that not everyone knows that Hong Kong is part of China. When filling out your re-entry form to the US, you are asked the questions, which countries did you visit. I answered, “China.” When the immigration officer asked me I mentioned that I also went to Hong Kong, but since HK was part of China I did not write it down…right? His answer, we’re not really sure either, so I will go ahead and write here for you.

Final Thoughts

China the second time around was much better than the first. I saw things in a completely different light and actually look forward to another trip when I can take out more time to go to the outskirts. I am sad that Deborah did not get to experience some of the things that Karen and I did. A few things did not get any better, like squat toilets and carrying your own toilet paper. Hand wipes is also a staple along with bottled water. As for the food, I can not say that I love Chinese food, but this was definitely the better trip then the last. I still hate five spice!
Hong Kong is much like NYC with all of the tourist traps included. Even though you make the effort to take the road less traveled there is seems to be little disparity between the neighborhoods. It was all “local” mixed with the tourist stuff. HK was also much more expensive than mainland China. There are also far more English speaking people there and getting around is not only easy but cheap.
I am unsure that I would find a need to return to HK for anything more than business. For me it was too much like NYC. I can not say that I truly enjoy NYC. Once you have seen the sites do you really need to see it again? There are many other places I would much rather see.