10 years already?

Trip Start Dec 30, 2006
Trip End Jul 27, 2007

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Flag of Hong Kong  ,
Thursday, June 21, 2007

Hong Kong was much bigger than I thought it would be and much more spread out.  Luckily they have a transit system that works, including something like eight subway lines and two or three suburban rail lines.

First stop was the railway museum...which was rather small and didn't really have much going on.  I guess I was expecting something more.  It was ok...'cause I met a family there and we spoke for awhile...the one young girl wanted to move to Canada and study english at some point so we talked about different places.  When they left the museum, some VIP showed up.  I didn't realize at first as I was looking at a display when some guy brushed passed me.  I looked up and saw six guys with the same gray vest on and all of them had those secret-service type earpieces.  Three of these guys had their hands always under their vests holding what looked like a semi-automatic weapon.  They all kept pretty close to another smaller Chinese man in a black shirt.

They looked pretty serious so I thought better of my plan to run up to the small guy and hug him.  They where only at the museum for about ten minutes and left in three black BMWs at a high speed.  It was cool.  I think maybe I'll hire some bodyguards like that and walk around the streets when I get back to Canada.  I wonder how much that would cost.  I'm sure it would be worth it.

During my first three days I also took the train out to Lantau Island, which, besides being a big suburb area, has two major attractions and some would say they are both religious.  Disneyland Hong Kong & the Big Buddha.  When I say BIG I mean BIG...the biggest Buddha statue in the world. (or so they say - they haven't seen the one I've been working on in Calgary yet I guess)
Despite the religious background of the Big Buddha site and the nearby monastery they both have a very touristy feel to them.  I took the subway only to the entrance of Disneyland to look around at the grounds but I didn't go in.  I thought it might be weird for a guy almost thirty to go into Disneyland by himself.  Plus, it was pretty expensive.  Unfortunately, the cable car that goes up to the village of Ngong Ping (home of Buddha) was closed for repairs and instead of a ten minute scenic ride I got a sixty minute windy, hilly ride on a bus.

When I did get to the tourist trap...er, I mean village of Ngong Ping, I was surprised how many police where kicking around.  Literally hundreds.  It turns out they where all there because a number of VIPs where coming to a big ceremony taking place later that night to help mark the 10th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China.  As a result the hill up to Buddha was closed off and a large stage was set up in front of the monastery.  It was an invite-only event so I wasn't allowed to stick around for long but I was able to get a good view of the Buddha from the ground.  It is the worlds biggest after all.

The hostel was not great...a bit of a flea bag really.  But, it was relatively cheap.  From what I understand there isn't too much selection that is good and cheap in Hong Kong.  A tiny, narrow room crammed with ten beds, a mini internet cafe & two bathrooms.  It was nice.  My bed was beside the three internet computers and opposite the two bathrooms.

A couple very good street markets in Hong Kong, including the famous Temple Street night market, which I believe is the inspiration for the Richmond night market back in Vancouver.  Temple street was interesting because besides the t-shirts, electronics and souvenir stuff being touted there was also a large number of fortune tellers, singers and food vendors mixed together.  I didn't get a fortune but I probably should have...maybe the fortune teller would have told me NOT to eat at one of the food stalls in the market because I'm pretty sure that is where I got the food poisoning that knocked me out for almost two days.  It was the first time I have been ill due to food poisoning so far on the trip.  Any other time I have been sick I can undoubtedly blame on my good friend alcohol.

There is a very large Filipino community in Hong Kong which I had not really known before I came.  On Sunday they take over the downtown area and streets are closed off so they can listen to music, eat together and generally get together.  Mostly employed as domestic helpers, Sunday is typically the day most of them have off so it is a day to socialize.  I ended up meeting a girl studying nursing who was thinking of moving to Canada to become a nurse here.  She is always welcome in Calgary.  Interestingly in Bangkok I met a couple men of Filipino descent who told me their sisters are becoming nurses and wanted to move to Canada to work too.

Despite the hostel, which I have read and heard is pretty typical for budget accommodation in Hong Kong, I was a big fan of the city.  I think someone could clean up if they ever opened a quality hostel in Hong Kong.  The nightlife was pretty good, it was very easy to get around and, although a tad more expensive than other parts in Asia, for a big city it is pretty cheap...especially compared to a place like Tokyo.

July 1st 2007 not only marks the 140th anniversary of the greatest country in the world - but it also marks ten years since Hong Kong was handed back to China and the creation of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.  Thanks to the ten year anniversary I found a lot of events going on that where nice and free.  Free events are my favorite kind of events.  Outdoor concerts, dragon boat races, photo exhibits, fireworks and free panda bears where just some of the things the government was doing to help mark the milestone.  

One of the best moments of the entire trip so far was an afternoon when I met a guy from Belarus at the ferry terminal in Kowloon.  Vladimir Yarets is 64 years old and has been traveling around the world, on a motorbike, for seven years...straight. 

That included almost a year in Illinois where he got into and recovered from a severe accident, many broken bones and a broken bike.  BMW gave him a new bike and he continued on his travels.  He traveled all ten provinces of Canada back in 2005, including a few stops in Calgary as he was criss-crossing.  He had some stories about huge mosquitoes north of Edmonton and seeing a bear near Banff.  He has traveled well over 100,000kms so far and had just got into Hong Kong recently after traveling all around New Zealand and Australia.  He showed me he had just gotten his visa clearances for Taiwan and Japan and those are his next destinations before doing Korea (both of 'em...not sure how he is going to pull off North Korea), into China and onwards through the rest of Asia before eventually getting back to Europe and Belarus.  Asia is huge so I imagine he will be traveling for at least another year or two before he gets back home.

Oh yeah - did I mention Vladimir is deaf/mute?  Unbelievable.  He was so enthusiastic about his trip and showed me many of the pictures he had taken in Canada and we had no problem communicating.  Probably one of the most inspiring people I have ever met.  Being around a person so enthusiastic tends to rub off a bit and I think it becomes increasingly harder to complain about the small things going on in ones life when you are around a person like Vladimir for even a short amount of time.
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