Initial Update, Finally: Hong Kong New Year's

Trip Start Dec 29, 2005
Trip End Aug 20, 2006

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

As I'm flying over Vietnam on the way to Singapore, I finally got time to write the not-as-short-as-intended lowdown on the Hong Kong part of the trip for everyone who requested updates or at least pictures, or who may be interested. I thought I should at very least include a description of the shots. It's also nice to have something of a journal entry.

I should start out by saying that so far I have absolutely loved this trip and it reinforces the decision to spend ridiculous sums of money to attend Thunderbird. Maybe that's why this email ended up so long. Hopefully I can be more concise for the others...

Starting the trip off with Hong Kong was definitely a good move. The look, feel of this city seemed so distinctive with its unique status, history, and location. I was most impressed by the architecture, massive street billboards, and extreme helpfulness of service staff. The Chinese take neon to a whole new level, as you can see in these pics and also the yet-to-come Shanghai shots. Though these are the two most developed Chinese cities, it was surprising to me just how futuristic they were with the buildings, public transportation systems, airports, advertising, electronics, etc. I'm sure this is partly pure commerce and partly a display by the government.

Our group of three spent the first day wandering the area surrounding our hotel. We soon realized just how precious space is in Hong Kong, with a variety of stores crammed into every nook and cranny. By the way, you can't turn around without seeing two 7-Elevens. Everywhere. It was obvious just how tiny the cubicle apartments were people lived in, with how close they appeared outside. The streets are flooded with people constantly, but everything is exceptionally clean, even the back alleys. Downtown Hong Kong Island was absolutely amazing from across the bay on the Kowloon waterfront, with futuristic Gotham City-style skyscrapers that are brightly lit after sundown. During the day, the smog prevented a decent view. It was on the Kowloon waterfront that we went to the Hong Kong Cultural Museum and saw all kinds of historic and modern art items: exquisitely detailed (yeah, I said it) gold crafts, calligraphy scrolls, classic panorama paintings, jade jewelry, ceramics, photography, decorative wallpaper filled with expletives in both Chinese and English arranged in the pattern of flowers, etc. As we left, finding a man on a nearby street selling US Army baseball caps, among other hats, entertained me a bit much. While inland later, we made it to the Hong Kong History Museum which was also very, very interesting.

New Year's Eve was somewhat anti-climactic, as China is much more into the lunar New Year in February. The streets of Kowloon were covered with teenagers, but it was great to walk around the bay area at night after some Micky D's.

Toward the end of the trip we went on one of the city tours to finish it all off. The bus took us to a beautiful Buddhist temple in the middle of the city craziness. All shapes and sizes of incense were burning in front of Buddha statues. The belief is that the smoke will carry prayers or wishes to God in heaven. Tourists are somewhat encouraged to stop at such temples, probably to get exposure to this brand of Buddhism, and to bring money for temple operations. Next was a tram ride to Victoria's Peak, where a shopping mall, restaurants, gift shops (including a Hard Rock café store), and trails offered a view of downtown and Kowloon. For our paid tour, we then took a boat ride through a fishing village and on to a somewhat opportunistic jewelry factory walk-through where we were expected to spend plenty of dough. We collapsed after walking a night street market with all kinds of tourist knick-knacks.

At the very end, we squeezed in a trip to the "big buddha" on the back side of the island. At the Po Lin Monastery was a huge bronze Buddha sitting on the top of a hill, with a long stairway coming from the lower worship temples. This had to be my favorite site so far. The inside had a large decorated bell, some kind of crystal relic, and walls of Buddhist teachings as well as pictures of people. Over and back was a 30 minute taxi ride on a steep, winding, one-lane, two-way road. But don't worry, there were tiny spots to dive into as oncoming cars and buses approached.

Oddly enough, other than at the Po Lin Monastery (where we ate a cafeteria-style Buddhist vegetarian meal), we ended up eating ZERO Chinese food. This was mainly because one of our group members wasn't so into it. We ate Italian, German, French, and a breakfast buffet every morning at our hotel. Speaking of, the large, expensive lobby made for a surprise when we got to our tiny room. The warm humidity didn't help the fact that we had three guys stuffed into a small area without a working window. As far as the language, Cantonese is predominant while Mandarin and English are a bit less-known. Characters used in signs are traditional long-form, which I'm less familiar with.

After Shanghai (today), we had a layover in Hong Kong for several hours so we headed to what we heard was a huge escalator scaling a mountain, with shops on each side. It was more or less that, but much different than expected.

Ok, better stop there with the book of Hong Kong. I think that will definitely be a difficult city to beat!

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