Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Home Sweet Home

I did finally make it back to Colorado. I returned to a really big stack of mail, which was mostly bills, doncha know. My lonely-for-me dog was so happy to see me, even though he had a lot of fun with the two people who watched him for us. (thanks to Sally and my Dad!) I am still feeling the effects of crossing the dateline. (so THIS is what jet lag feels like - UCK!) Yeah, I wake up at 3 am, and it is a big challenge staying awake past 6 pm. Which is my excuse for not writing sooner.

You know it's spring in the Arkansas Valley, because the wind is blowing. And blowing. And blowing. So there's that. Even though the weather has been pretty nice since my return, it feels cold to me. It was so much warmer in Hong Kong! I got spoiled. I must say, I am enjoying the beautiful mountains and the QUIET!! Ahhhhh... How nice. Every place has its charm.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

New Year Fireworks in Hong Kong

I did go downtown two nights ago to see the New Year's Fireworks display. It was a foggy, misty night. I had originally planned to see them from Victoria Peak, which overlooks the harbor, but with the fog, I decided against that. Instead, I went down to the ferry docks, on the Hong Kong side. I got there early, at about 7, and the fireworks were to start at 8pm. So I found a comfortable little spot, opened my purple umbrella, and sat down. It felt like I was waiting for a rock concert! People began to gather around me, some standing, some sitting, many umbrellas of different colors. I made sure I had a way to exit without too much crowd jostling.

Fortunately, the fireworks started right at 8, so it wasn't a repeat of the previous night with the parade. The funny thing was, the fog seemed to hold all the smoke in place, so after the first 5 or 6 fireworks, all you could see was a glowing cloud of smoke. Some people left right away upon seeing that. I stayed for two reasons, one, the sound of the fireworks was echoing off the enormous buildings, so it was like listening to a thunderstorm in the mountains. The other reason was that I was standing next to two young Chinese women (they may have been in their 20s), and every time a firework went off, they would Oooo and Aaaahh, even though you couldn't really see anything. I turned to look at them, and they both started to laugh. Pretty soon, they had the whole crowd around us, laughing and joining in with their ooos and aahhs. It was hysterical. I was really having fun, feeling the energy of that happy crowd.

I did not stay for the whole display, since I knew the crowds on the subway would be unbearable. It is a computer controlled fireworks display, and I don't know that I have ever seen anything like it. It was like the grand finale of most fireworks I have seen, except that it lasted for over half an hour!!! Impressive. I wonder what it would have been like without all that smoke...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Happy New Year! Yesterday was the first day of the Chinese New Year. As I have already mentioned, this year is the year of the golden pig. The holiday is huge! They have three days off - yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Last night, Matthias and I tried to go to the parade, which was downtown. It was supposed to start at 8 pm. We got down there at probably 7 or shortly thereafter, and there were so many people, I couldn't even SEE the street where the parade was supposed to take place. We spent some time trying to find a better view, but finally just committed to a spot. I could only get a glimpse of the street if the heads were all tilted just so in front of me. Matthias could see more, being taller than most, but even his view was not great. The real killer though, was that at 8:20, the parade STILL hadn't started. Now, it is an hour ride or more on the subway to our hotel from downtown. With all the people that were there, I am sure if we had stayed for the parade, it would have taken MUCH longer than an hour. We were getting tired.

So despite our efforts, we finally decided NOT to wait for the parade, but just to head back to the hotel. I know, it seems like a strange decision. What is the point of the parade, if you can't actually SEE it? I guess Matthias could kind of see it, but I wasn't overly excited to stand in a large, hot crowd for over 2 hours to look at the backs of peoples' heads. Not to mention the crowded subway ride to the hotel at midnight. What would you have done? It is supposed to be an amazing parade, but I would only have seen bits of it, in the 4" screen of someone's digital video camera. (that was the only time I really saw parts of the street.) I am actually glad we went back when we did, since I was getting a bit of a headache from the volume. Does this mean I am getting old or something?? (don't answer that, please.)

I did get to spend the afternoon with a friend from Hawaii who is living here now. Jaime, whose Mom was my best friend on Maui, has been living here for about 5 years or so, teaching yoga at a place called Pure Yoga. We met downtown, close to where Jaime lives, and had lunch at a really wonderful Thai restaurant. Then, we walked around Hong Kong park for awhile before going to her apartment. I only stayed until Matthias was done studying, and then went to the subway to meet him. It was really good to see her.

The flowers in Hong Kong park are beautiful right now. I think that a lot of them were just for the New Year celebrations, but it sure is nice to see things blooming! It was also enjoyable, seeing the city at night. We rode the ferry back and forth, which provided us with a great view of the city lights against the water in the harbor. Most of the photos ended up being blurry, since the ferry was moving on the water, but I think I have one to give you an idea. I also got a fun photo of the beloved "nose hair trimmer" at night. By the way, I found out from Jaime that most of the locals have nicknamed a lot of the buildings downtown, and "nose hair clipper" is in fact the nickname for this building!!! Funny!

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Hong Kong, the jade market

I am going to post twice today, since I missed a day, and I still have some photos I wanted to share with you. Yesterday, while Matthias was training, I decided to visit the Jade Market. Not only can you buy jade here, but there are pearls, beads, carvings, turquoise, and jewelry. It is pretty fun, even if you aren't into things like that. Jade is supposed to bring you good luck if you wear it. I didn't buy anything, but I did have fun looking at everything. I almost forgot to tell you, I have acquired a new name here! "Missy, you want try on?" "Missy, come look, jade?" "You like, Missy? You want Coach bag? Missy, you want copy watch?" It is very funny to be called "missy". I find it pretty cute, actually. I mean, it's a heck of a lot better than "ma'am", which is pretty much what I have now become in the US. I like "missy" better - it makes me feel like a young girl! Yay!

After the Jade market, I stumbled upon the Tin Hau Temple. It is a temple that was originally built for the seafaring goddess, to protect the ships and sailors. It is surrounded by a park, where there were quite a few people. The coolest part (IMO) was that when I walked into the temple, hanging from the ceiling were these giant coils of incense. There were even signs saying "beware of falling ashes", because there was so much of it. It smelled great in there. People often stand or kneel in front of the alter with sticks of burning incense in their hands. They also put sticks of incense into boxes filled with sand near the entrance of the temple and by the alter. I am sure if you stayed in there for more than 5 minutes, you would smell of nothing but incense.

I also walked through a street market where local people must shop for food. It is a lot more photogenic than King Soopers or Safeway could ever hope to be! The part that I have trouble with is how the meat is put out. The stands of meat just have big slabs of meat, hanging. Underneath the tables of meat, you can see where there are boxes of discarded skin and fat, and it is pretty icky for a sheltered American who is used to seeing everything carefully wrapped in plastic and refrigerated with the funky parts already removed. I didn't get a good picture of this whole shocking debacle, but perhaps that was fortuitous. I must say, the fruit was gorgeous.

More Hong Kong photos

As promised, here are the photos of the flowering trees with pink blossoms and little potted citrus trees. I mean, these things are EVERYWHERE. Every mall you go into, every lobby of a hotel or big office building. Everywhere! Even the decor in the lobby of this hotel has been enhanced by the flowering trees, potted flowering plants, and the little potted citrus trees with red paper ornaments. I will try to remember to get a photo of that tomorrow for you.

Matthias had the morning off, and we went back down to the flower market. It was amazing how many people were there. Everyone was carrying big bunches of flowers. It was difficult to walk down the sidewalk because of all the people. Matthias called it the "mosh pit" of flowers. The only difference being that even in large crowds, the people are very polite here. You rarely get pushed or shoved. It's more like you are carried along by the crowd, a bit like a leaf in the river of humanity!!
The hanging ornament and both of the pink tree photos I have posted are from the ifc mall. (a.k.a. the "nose hair trimmer") Like I said, it was a very ritzy mall, but it was beautiful in there. The center court had the large pink tree, with these standing chinese characters that looked embroidered or something. Each one had a bird, and flower, and the meaning of it in relation to the New Year. If you click on the purple ornament, you might get a better idea of what I mean. The little plaque beneath it was where the description was. Then, the large red and gold ornaments were hanging down from above. It is hard to explain what I saw - suffice to say that it was really fun to see, and BIG. I guess I need a digital camera with a macro lens or something.

Here are some shots from the flower market mosh pit. There was a point of being carried off by the crowd when I really wanted to take my camera out and photograph it, but I couldn't get to my camera, because there were too many people. I hope that gives you some idea what it was like. Most of what I am experiencing here I cannot describe, even with words and photos combined. It is just so much information, coming at you all at once. Sounds of cars, buses, people talking - even the streetlights make noise. Then, you are not only trying to find your way around, but you are seeing faces, shops, street stands, cars, etc. etc. Maybe one day, they will figure out how to transmit smells over the internet, and that might help, also. I do hope this is giving you at least a taste of the city. Constant motion. Have you ever seen so many gladiolas in your entire life? I really doubt that Americans would be spending this much money on fresh flowers, and it is a shame. There was something warm and fuzzy for me, seeing people flocking to a giant fresh flower market and spending money. I suppose it's because I am such a fan of fresh flowers. We did buy a beautiful bunch of flowers ourselves, which I have carefully arranged in plastic water bottles with the tops cut off. They look spectacular in the hotel room!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Smog in Hong Kong

The reason I have not written anything for a couple of days is that I have discovered that smog makes my head feel like it is going to blow up. The air was pretty clear when I first arrived in Hong Kong, but the past three days have revealed to me a new understanding of pollution. Most of the pollution here is not actually from the city itself, but from mainland China. There are virtually no environmental standards at all in mainland China, and coal is the primary source for electricity. It is filthy air, folks!!! I was flattened by it the day before yesterday, and if I stood up, I felt like I was going to hurl. Not fun. I spent the day on the bed, watching bad movies and a shark attack special on the National Geographic channel.

So the headache is still there, but I am able to move at least. Yesterday, Matthias had a day off, so we went downtown, to the infamous "nose hair trimmer" building, a.k.a. the ifc mall. It has a VERY ritzy mall in it. You know, one of those kind of malls where you feel like the shop owners KNOW you can't afford anything. I am certain you know what I am talking about here. We did find a really nice bookstore in this fancy mall. I got another book, and some cool cards. The art in this mall was cool. We really went down there to find this Tea store, and of course when we did find the Tea store, it was outrageously expensive.

We decided to go elsewhere for the tea. We took the Star Ferry across the harbor to the Kowloon side (the nose hair trimmer is on the Hong Kong side). The Star Ferry is fun, and of course, you can use the Octopus card to pay. We did manage to find some more affordable places to buy tea, and also stumbled upon a wonderful Indian restaurant with a vegetarian lunch buffet. YUM. I took pictures looking across the harbor, so that you can see the difference in air quality from my last visit to the same area a week ago. YUCK! In fact, the second photo was actually taken from the ferry, so I was closer to the buildings than in the first photo. Can you believe the difference??

I took quite a few photos from the ferry, because I love being on the water. Since the Star Ferry just goes back and forth, the backs on the seats can be flipped depending on which direction you are going. That way, you can always face forward. How clever is that? Hong Kong is one busy harbor for containers. I think Matthias said it is one of the busiest in the world with container ships. The one here is just a little barge or something, most container ships are huge. I will see if I can go somewhere to get a photo of one, for those of you who have never seen one.

I don't know if I have mentioned it or not, but the Chinese New Year is this weekend, and they are pulling out all the stops with decorations. Everywhere you go there are pink blooming trees, decorated with these red pieces of paper (no, I don't know what they mean, sorry), not to mention blooming flowers and small citrus trees lined up. It is really cool. The celebration is a big one, where they give gifts, and eat a lot, and of course the standard fireworks and parade bit. The thing that I am looking forward to the most is that the factories on the mainland close down for the holiday, and apparently the air gets really clear. YAY! That is the reason I will be celebrating. By the way, it is the year of the pig, and there are pigs everywhere. I have the photos all ready for you, but blogger is being really slow, and won't let me upload the pics. I am sick of staring at the computer now, so you are just going to have to wait for the next batch of photos. Sorry.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Hong Kong, the hotel

As requested, here are some photos of the hotel and the room. The hotel is owned by Cathay Pacific, and it is right next to the airport, practically. It is not anything too exciting, but i must admit, I could get used to having someone clean my room for me every day.

Here are some photos of the lobby. As much as I have generally hated hotel art, the art in this hotel is actually not bad, and I have even found some that I liked! Amazing.

Some photos of the hotel from outside. The first is a photo of the "Cathay complex" with the hotel on the right hand side, and a glimpse of the airport behind. It was taken from the top of a little hill we climbed today.

Looking up at the hotel from the parking lot. I don't know why I like taking pictures like this, but I suppose it's because I don't look UP at tall buildings too much in Salida!

This last photo is a picture of the two important cards I carry with me here. One of them, the white one, is the hotel room key. The other one is this really cool card, called the "Octopus" card. You buy it, and then put money on it, kinda like a credit card. You can use it to get on the subway, the bus, or even to buy things at the grocery store or 7-11. It is really a slick system, where you just hold it against a card reader, and it automatically deducts the amount (for bus ride, subway or whatever) from your balance on the card. If you want to put more money on it, you can either go to a customer service desk in the subway, or to a ticket machine that looks like an ATM. Fun to use.

Friday, February 9, 2007

Hong Kong, day 9

It was unseasonably warm in Hong Kong today. Up until today, the majority of the locals have been bundled up in down jackets, scarves, and heavy sweaters. Which has been entertaining for me, since I left a cold and snowy Colorado. It was cooler here when I first arrived, but I was warm enough in a light jacket with a long sleeved shirt underneath. And I have always considered myself to be fairly cold-blooded!!! These people make me look like I have the blood of an Alaskan!! Today, however, it was warm enough that most of the people I saw were not wearing coats, and I even spotted a few pairs of sandals.

Matthias and I walked along a red trail (that I have nicknamed the "red brick road" - not because it is brick, but it is red, and I definitely feel like I am no longer in Kansas, if you get my drift.) that takes you down by the ocean. I saw the path from the balcony when I was doing laundry the other day, and decided to explore it. Since Matthias hadn't been on it yet, I was the tour guide. It is a nice walk, and there is some "athletic equipment" - parallel bars, a bench for sit ups, and some bars for pull ups along the way. I like to see if I can do all the exercises on the bars. (I can't!) It is nice to get down by the water, though, which is what originally drew me to the path. However, when I reached the beach I saw from the balcony, I was horrified by the quantities of trash on the beach and in the water. ICK!!! It ruined all of my expectations for being near the beach. I love swimming in the ocean, but it would take more than a wet suit to get me in this water. Here's proof that China isn't up with protecting their environment just yet. Supposedly, there are "White Chinese dolphins" that occasionally visit this bay, but try as we might, we did not see any dolphins. And who can blame them? What dolphin would want to swim in this water?

Matthias had to spend some time studying with his simulator partner this afternoon. So I decided to head off in search of a pair of shorts and a tshirt, since I had not packed for such warm weather. I went to the Ladies' Market, where supposedly you can find all kinds of sportswear, ladies' wear, and accessories. It seemed like the typical street market, with one stall after another with cheesy tourist stuff. You should not buy anything here unless you know how to barter. I find it difficult to shop in these street markets, because it is such complete sensory overload. It's loud, and there are people everywhere. The salespeople only know a few words in English, and once they have run through their repertoire of words, you can forget about talking to them. Eg: "Missy, you like Coach bag? Copy watch? Hello, Missy!" How much you want pay?") I didn't stay very long. And I did not find a pair of shorts or a tshirt to buy. It was still fun to go downtown, and I did manage to find a couple little trinkets to bring home with me.

I ordered a new pair of glasses and contact lenses last weekend, so on my way back to Lantau island, I stopped at the eyewear store to pick up my glasses. The glasses weren't ready yet, but I was pleased to discover my new contact lenses were ready. So I am sporting new contacts, and I can see really well now! Yay!

I met Matthias for some yummy Thai food, and then we took the bus back to the hotel. So there it is, day 9, or whatever this is.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Hong Kong, day 8

Today Matthias had the day off. We decided to hike the entire trail to the giant Buddha (see Hong Kong,day one). It was the warmest day yet, and I did not have the clothes for this kind of hike. It is a steep hike, with LOTS AND LOTS of stairs. It is humid, so I was dripping!!! Other than that, it was a wonderful hike, and the views were really spectacular.

From the first tower, where we hiked the first day, you have a really nice view of the airport. All of the land that the airport was built on is filled in. It used to be water!!! It is amazing, and if you want to know more, click here.
It was a pretty clear day, so I took some pictures from the hike to show you.

The peak you see in this last photo is Lantau peak, the highest peak on the island. We might try to tackle that one before I leave.

There is evidence of spring's arrival, and the flowers are beginning to emerge.
The rest of the pictures are just images of the trail, and some of the sights. We took a bus back to Tung Chung when we reached the Buddha. It was a good hike, but I think the heat did us in. It looks like our activities today are over.