Saturday, December 8, 2007

China Odyssey, Days 24-26 - Hong Kong, and the Trip Home

Day 24 - Hong Kong
Saturday December 8
Hong Kong Whirlwind

Our hotel in Hong Kong is named L'Hotel Causeway Bay Harbor View. It is very modern, but we are still looking for the harbor view. We were told that there is a top floor VIP lounge, from the corner of which it is possible to glimpse the water. The hotel has very modern furnishings. There is a lot of wood, chrome and white. There also is free internet in the lobby. The bathroom is a bit odd. The bathtub is shaped like a trough, and it is not possible to stand flat in the shower. The wash basin is very deep and stands on the sink. The beds are comfortable and the breakfast buffet is very good, and we have a signed designer toilet.

Our Hotel in Hong Kong

Our tour includes two days in Hong Kong; one day of touring, and a day of rest (on Sunday, by coincidence).

The one day tour was a true whirlwind, but very well organized and executed. We did and saw a lot of stuff, without feeling overloaded or exhausted. It was a model of how many of our prior days of touring could have been organized.

Our day started at 7am with a good hotel breakfast (mostly western stuff). The bus arrived at 8:30 and we drove to the city center, the hub of business and finance in Hong Kong. First stop was a very long escalator, which descended from the hillside residential area to the business district. With pauses for photos, it took about 10 minutes to ride down a series of traditional escalators and sloping slidewalks. Stand to the right please! The locals, late for work, run down on the left. Retirement is next best thing that ever happened to us! There is a good view of the Hong Kong World Trade Center at the bottom. It is 88 floors, the tallest building in Hong Kong.

A Long Way Down

Hong Kong world Trade Center

At the bottom of the escalator we re-boarded our bus for a short ride to an open air street market. Located on several narrow streets and long, narrow, steep alleyways, this market caters to the locals, offering all manner of meat, fish, and produce for sale. It is very colorful, with a pungent aroma. There are some odd foods, like dragon fruit, century eggs, lotus root, etc.

Hong Kong Day Market

A Variety of Offerings

Dragon Fruit

A Chinese Delicacy

We witnessed a big fight between two shopkeepers. Out guide refused to translate. It looked serious, so we moved on quickly.

The Chinese buy fresh food for the table almost every day, rather than stock up for a week or two, as we are accustomed to do. They have refrigerators, but they tend to be small as a result of the traditional daily buying pattern, and to save electricity maybe. The street vendors seemed somewhat resentful of the tourists. I don't know if they felt we would be likely to snitch something, or maybe we were just blocking foot traffic enough to interfere with business. George said life is very expensive in HK, so the vendor business takes on a hard edge. Prices were certainly a lot higher than on in mainland China.

Unhappy Day Market Proprietor

Our Hong Kong guide took us by a paper shop (we suspect operated by his uncle or some such). Kathy bought paper lanterns.

Our next stop was a Dao temple. Daoism seemed much more new age than Buddhism, despite having co-evolved with the latter many centuries ago. The air in the temple was thick with smoke and incense. For 20 Hong Kong dollars, the visitor could shake a container of bamboo sticks and learn their fortune. No thanks.

Dao Temple

The next stop was a jewelry "factory", with special bargains for OAT tourists. Another big No Thanks.

Jewelry Artisan

Our last stop of the morning was Aberdeen, a waterfront community on the north side of Hong Kong. The waterway is littered with working boats, mostly of the fishing variety. Many people live aboard their boats. We were told that some residents are born on the water, live on the water, and die on the water.

On arriving at Aberdeen, we debarked the bus and transferred to a couple of powered sampans for an absolutely delightful water tour. We turned to port, and there were magnificent views of the high rises and the mega yachts parked in front of them. We reversed direction to cruise in among the working and residential boats, with an intimate view of life on the water.

Harbor Tour Boat

Floating Restaurant

Live-Aboard Work Boats in Hong Kong Harbor

We arrived back at the hotel about 1pm, passing the Happy Valley Race Course and the Happy Valley Cemetery on the way back. We also rode by the Hong Kong Yacht Club. Not as nice as the WCYC, but OK.

Hong Kong Yacht Club

A member of our tour group recommended the noodle shop across the alley from the hotel. Their recommendation was a god one. The food was inexpensive, and very tasty. After lunch it was nap time.

After a restful afternoon spent studying the inside of Keith's eyelids, we assembled in the lobby at 5:30 for a bus ride through the tunnel to the "Kowloon side" of the water. The tunnel replaced the car ferry as the main traffic link between the island and the mainland in the late 1980's. Prior to that time, no transportation was available after the ferry shut down at 1am. This tended to strand the occasional straggler, who then had to call home and inform his wife that he would not be home until the next day. After it opened, the tunnel soon acquired the name "no excuses tunnel".

Dinner was at a very nice Thai restaurant on the Kowloon side. Grapefruit salad, satay (chicken and beef), spring rolls, yellow beef curry, pad Thai, and all the other usual Thai suspects. Excellent!

Following dinner we rode to a nearby night market. Two long blocks were closed to traffic, with well lighted booths lining both sides of the street. Everything from soup to nuts was available. Clothing of all varieties, watches, samurai swords, cutlery, electronics of all descriptions, etc. Prices seemed very high compared with all the stuff we saw on the mainland, reinforcing George’s comments about the high cost of living in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong Night Market

From the night market we drove to the Star Ferry terminal, where we again debarked for a short boat ride to the "Hong Kong side". The views of the brightly lighted high rises reflected in the water was nothing short of breathtaking.

Night View From the Ferry Terminal

On the Hong Kong side we re-boarded our bus for a long ride up Victoria Peak, which rises several thousand feet above the downtown level. The road up is narrow winding, but well marked and well lit. It would have been a piece of cake, if it hadn't been for all them damned tour buses going the other way!

The view from the top was worth the ride. It is just breathtaking to look down on all the brightly lit Hong Kong high rise buildings. It was breezy and a bit cool on the mountaintop. To warm up, we bought cups of Haagen-Dazs ice cream at one of the many shops in the mountaintop mall. One of our tour group, Charlene, was here before commercialization hit the peak. She said it was nicer before. We believe her.

Christmas Decorations Atop Victoria Peak

Night View From the Peak

The Japanese occupied Hong Kong in the 1930's, and built a military observation post on Victoria Peak. Not so nice.

After a long ride down the mountain, behind another damned tour bus, we debarked and boarded a double decked electric trolley for a short ride through the city. It was somewhat noisy and bumpy, but Keith enjoyed it. Kathy did not.

The finale of our evening was a ride through a short and somewhat tame-seeming red light district. One block of glitzy strip bars, with performers sitting out front to lure the patrons. After you've seen the red light district in Amsterdam, everything else seems tame by comparison.

We fell in bed exhausted, but very satisfied with our one day tour of Hong Kong.

Day 25 - Hong Kong
Sunday December 9
A Day of Rest

After our whirlwind tour on Saturday, Keith and Kathy both were exhausted, and so chose to spend a lazy day in and near the hotel Sunday. We walked around the neighborhood and took a few photographs, then had lunch at a good Thai restaurant across the street from the hotel. Our afternoon was spent napping and repacking for the flight back to the states.

The London Influence

Interesting Tree Roots Outside Hotel Lobby

Bamboo Construction Scaffolding

Day 26 – Hong Kong to Seattle
Monday December 10

Our return to Seattle on Monday was every bit as easy and uneventful as the outbound flight. We were both exhausted from 3-plus weeks of nonstop touring, and mostly dozed our way across the Pacific, with one interruption to change planes in Tokyo.

Our Ride Home

Between naps, Keith roughed out a narrative to summarize our impressions of China, while it was still fresh in his mind. The result of these musings are included a subsequent post. We arrived in Seattle early in the morning of the same day that we left Hong Kong, after crossing the international date line. We went straight to bed at the hotel, being very tired, but very, very satisfied campers.

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