Man, Hong Kong. If you like big cities, with tons of action, this is the place for you. It's got to be the most visually dazzling, clean, accessable, friendly city I've ever been to. It's like San Francisco; very sophisticated, very dramatic, dynamic, and safe....within reason, and I'll get to that in a minute.
I don't know if I explained my trip to Donguan to pick up my Chinese visa. We flew down to Shenzhen from Shanghai and had the same driver we had the week before pick us up at Shenzhen Int'l. It was a nice touch that he drives an S class Mercedes and felt no hesitation to drive down the freeway at 150 to 160 kph, or a good 90+ mph or so. As we sped along toward Dongguan I felt the anxiety building over this whole visa process.
These are replicas built in the early '60's. The original ferries were used around 1915.
The scene at the Dongguan PSB the Friday before, not to mention this whole experience, has been such a nightmare. We arrived at 1:30, 30 minutes before their two hour lunch break ended so Andy, our driver, parked the car and we waited. In the meantime I called Philip Zhang, in Beijing, the tour operator that was to arrange my tour to Xi'an the following week. He was out of the office on another tour so I told his assistant, Carol, what I needed. She said she'd contact Philip and he'd call me on my/Nelson's cell phone. By the way, I'd been trying to figure out how to call people in China for days on this phone with no luck, so I called Nelson at home and he said, oh, you don't dial the country code, 86, you dial a 0 first, instead, then the number.
these skywalks are all over HK and make walking around the city so convenient and fast. And they're amazingly clean. Plus, no spitting!
Right, of course, how could I have not known that. Philip called me back and I stressed that I wanted to accept the itinerary he'd emailed me two weeks ago. He was happy to hear it and said he'd email me the details the next day, Saturday.
At 2:00 the scene was much different than the prior Friday, it was much calmer, and with way fewer people. After a 15 minute wait, the PSB officer directed me to anther line, naturally, and when I was finally handed my passport I noticed that the new visa stated that I could only exit China, not enter. This was a problem considering that we were headed to Hong Kong for the weekend then were to fly up to Beijing on Monday, in other words, I needed one exit, one entry, one exit, not just one exit.
Again, there was a total lack of empathy, with the advise given of trying again at the HK office. For some reason, I actually felt a sense of relief, like, hey, at least I can get the hell out of China, I'll figure the rest out in HK.
So at 3:00, we drove, fast, to HK, and on the way called the HK PSB to try to pave the way to a multiple entry visa. As luck would have it Friday was some holiday in HK and the office was closed, but a lone officer informed me that if I arrived first thing Monday morning I could get a visa that afternoon.
Upon learning this, Alan decided that he'd had enough of China and wanted to break apart our dual issued tickets and go home on Tuesday to be with his wife, Amy. Fair enough, if he wanted to accept any financial penalty and pass up Beijing, it was his choice, and after all, I was willing to travel the rest of the week alone.
The weekend in HK was, like the others, a real experience, but, this city bests them all. I took more pictures during this weekend than any other and I was more impressed and wowed by HK than by any other city we've visited. I must say though, that coming from the Renaissance Shanghai and going to the Harbor Plaza HK was a huge let down. The Harbor Plaza is, at best, at 3 star hotel, being more than a little long in the tooth, and oriented to families on a budget instead of business people on an expense account. Furthermore, I'd booked the Harbor Plaze the prior weekend on Priceline, trying to save a few bucks for the company, and had come to learn is an ironclad agreement and can't, under any circumstances be broken, including if you don't even physically stay at the hotel for the reserved nights.
"fresh" meat on a street corner
So basically, while we were in Shanghai, we were also paying for two rooms, for three nights, at the Harbor Plaza. I used that fact as some leverage to gain a better rate for the nights we actually did stay there, but still, the average wasn't too good.
Saturday, as usual, we took public transportation, in this case a double decker trolley, similar to San Francisco's, although this is electric, not cable driven, and San Francisco's is single deck, not double....but hey, other than that....this is just as old and historic and was really a treat to ride, all for $2 HK, which is about .75 cents American. We left our hotel in North Point, which is appropriately named because it's on the eastern end of the island, took the trolley to the Central District stop and walked over to the Star Ferry to take across Victoria Bay to Kowloon.
(see pics) HK is comprised of HK Island, a few other islands I can't remember the names of, Kowloon, across the bay, and the New Territories, west of Kowloon, but HK Island is clearly the crown jewel. Speaking of which, HK is such an interesting mix of British and Chinese customs. Cars are right hand drive, and are driven on the right sides of the streets. And speaking of that,
although it's a mix of two cultures, HK is one of the wealthiest cities I've seen. This was illustrated minutes after we got out of the airport to find Andy, our driver, and saw two, jet-black Rolls Royce Phantoms, at $350k a copy, in line, and 12 S Class Mercedes lined up behind them.
We got over to the Kowloon side on the ferry and walked up to the Jade Market, which is world famous for selling unsuspecting tourists fake jade for really reasonable prices.
guys playing a game
But it looked good so I bought some. I found out after the fact how to tell real jade from fake, and believe it or not, this stuff seems to be real. Both Kowloon and HK are a shopper's paradise and you could easily spend weeks walking in and out of shops from Armani and Chanel to some tiny shop selling knock off whatevers, and everything in between.
By the end of the day we had shopped like, well, ok, I'll say it, women. We headed down the street to a Starbucks a few blocks away and passed one of many camera stores. Alan has been in the market for a high end digital SLR so, since the shop had the minimum requirement--a seat for me to sit and rest my barking dogs--I was more than game. These guys have got this game down pat.
I tried to ask the shop owner what all this stuff was but he didn't understand my pantomimes
After they knew that Alan wanted a particular camera, they started to upsell on the lenses. Everytime he asked what was taking so long to get his camera from the back, the fast talking Chinese kid said, He's getting it, it'll be right out. Alan eventually got to the end of his rope with this kid and had him tear up the charge receipt.
Walking back to the Star Ferry terminal to head back to HK Island, we noticed the Peninsula Hotel, which I'd heard was spectacular. This hotel has always picked up guests from the airport or train station in a Rolls Royce, and sure enough, there were two dark green, with tan interior, Phantoms, along with a stable of Mercedes parked out front. We walked in to investigate and by every standard this hotel was.
..what are the words...opulent, elegant, sophisticated, and very expensive. I bought a few Cuban cigars and we left. Next to the Peninsula is the Sheraton, and inside the Sheraton is Morton's Steak House. I stared at the sign as if it offered salvation, which after two weeks of dumplings and rice, it surely did. We arrived at 5:15, but the restaurant didn't open until 5:30 so we sat in the bar and had a drink. (see pic) What a meal, man, the oysters for starters, then the steak, were just what we needed.
The next day we stayed on the island and took the tram up to the top of Victoria Peak. The views from the top observation area, which has dozens of shops and several restaurants was worth the price.
laser light show was spectacular
(see pics). The tram also dates back to the early 20th century and has also been upgraded over the years. We did a little more shopping and bumming around, then went on the Star Ferry again for a night cruise and laser light show. (see pics) Talk about visually dazzeling, seeing HK from the bay when the buildings are fully lit in a rainbow of colors and laser lights was incredible. That night we watched the Indians lose 12 - 2 in game 6, which had taken place the day before, in a sports bar and had burgers and beer. I think I've finally flushed out all the rice and dumplings.
Monday was a very hectic day, starting out with a subway ride past the Central District to get over to the HK PSB to apply for a multiple entry visa.
Inside trolley car
I had a really hard time finding the building, despite being given good directions, and walked past a long line of people a couple of times outside the HK Arts Center. I thought it was odd that so many people would line up for an art show at 9:00 in the morning but whatever. It seemed I was always within 200 ft of the right building but couldn't get to it and I asked a local if he knew where the address was as I pointed to it on a piece of paper. He said he was going to the same address because he needed a visa too, so he led the way, although, as I've mentioned, I've become so distrustful of every person I meet, almost to the point of paranoia and I really don't like it. I thought, you just happen to be going to the same address as I am, eh? Sure, you're going to rob me too, aren't you? Fortunately it was unfounded and he was a great help.
Thank god, a brief reprieve from spitting
We ended up at the HK Arts Center and the line of people I'd passed twice was actually the line for new visas. It had at least 200 people in it. As we stood in line I told him of my plight and he said that even though he's Chinese, and has lived in NYC for 10 years, he was robbed in the HK subway. He was pushing his luggage and as the crowd pushed out as the doors opened he felt one guy in particular push him. As he turned around, another guy lifted his wallet and they disappeared in the crowd. He had 20,000 HK dollars in it, which is about $3,000. (This is what I referred to at the beginning of this posting). Everyone at the PSB has a story. I also talked to a Chinese girl and her British boyfriend, both in their early twenties, and the subject of food came up.
The Star Ferry
I told them of the buried egg dish, which he'd had, and he told me that the week before he'd had baby duck. I thought, yeah, so? What he meant was duck embryo. You eat the duck in the egg when it's only a week or so old.
I was able to get my application in by noon, pick it up by 4:00, get on the subway to the airport and catch our flight to Beijing. I was going to name the title of this posting "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm free at last", because that's what I felt, but I'll stick to what I used.
Btw, I may not get all these pics posted because I'm at a hotel with an internet connection that's glacially slow. It takes 50 to 60 minutes to upload 6 pics. I'll probably have to wait until I'm home on Sunday.
guys in a park playing some sort of game