Sunday, April 25, 2004

Back Home From Hong Kong

This is a picture of the famous Bank of China building in downtown Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island.

I'm back home from Hong Kong, wishing my stay would have been longer. I was just starting to get comfortable with the city and then had to leave.

This is what the night life is like in Hong Kong, reputedly the city that never sleeps.

Nightlife in Hong Kong is simply amazing. Bright lights from signs hanging out into the road from both sides of the street, steam rising from bamboo baskets bearing Dim Sum delights, fleshy carcasses of chicken, duck, goose, monkey, dog, and whatnot hanging from hooks in large paned shop front windows, money exchange counters sandwiched between large restaurants or cell phone stores, bubbling crock pots filled with octopus shish kebabs, restaurant hackers out in the streets announcing their specials and trying to drag hungry night revelers off the street and into their places of business, brightly flashing barroom beer signs, massage parlors, reflexology centers and busy news stands.

It seems that there are more taxi's and buses in Hong Kong than there are passenger vehicles. This picture shows one of the typical scenes of taxi's lined up waiting for fares.

My accommodations at the Wang Fat Hostel in Causeway Bay were modest to say the least, but at least comfortable and affordable.

Hong Kong Island was an awesome experience, if not a bit intimidating. But, in looking back over the last couple of years and all my travels, traveling only gets easier. You just have to forge ahead and not get rattled by new scenery, loud noises, fast traffic and total chaos. I found most of the taxi drivers in Hong Kong spoke English, but if I had to sum them up, I would have to say they are rather impatient.

Several times, I opened the door of a taxi, only to be curtly told to go to the other side of the street (a system I never figured out). It seems certain areas are for taxi's only going to certain locations but damned if I could figure it out. Also, I noticed that they sit idle in one place for long periods, but when they have you as a fare, they want to get you where you have to go and they don't want you dawdling in the vehicle once they get you where you're going.

One guy was so impatient with me fishing money out of my pockets (I was trying to get rid of the heavy one, two, five and ten Hong Kong dollar coins I was amassing) that he just grabbed what I had in my hand (about fifteen Hong Kong dollars) and accepted that as a fare, when the total fare was twenty-two Hong Kong dollars. It seemed he couldn't wait to get me out of that cab.

I could have walked the streets all night long, but alas, I returned to my small, cozy, modest room at the Wang Fat Hostel on Patterson road in Causeway Bay and turned on the T.V. American Idol was on the tube with a scrolling announcement that voting was closed to Asia (no doubt, because we're a day ahead of everybody else). I watched that non-sense for a bit before finally retiring in order to make the consulate in Wan Chai in the early morning for my China visa.

Wan Chai is a different (and more expensive) world than Causeway Bay. My taxi got me there quickly, in about ten minutes and I set about trying to find the China Resources Building. It wasn't any different from other consulates I've been to. Armed guards, metal detectors, etc., until I got up to the seventh floor and saw the mob (I was only five minutes late of the opening). I was told that my downloaded visa application form wouldn't do, and was handed out another (which wasn't much different than mine).

I was given a ticket number (A60) and told to have a seat.

Looking about, I felt like I was at the United Nations or something. Looking at their passports, I identified Moroccans, Algerians, Indians, Argentineans, Brazilians, British, Germans, Nepalese, South Africans, Filipinos, Indonesians, you name it, and they were all there, waiting to get their Chinese visas. Surprisingly enough, I only saw two Americans.

I waited from 9:15 a.m. until 11:25 a.m. before finally being seen, told I could not apply for a multi-entry visa if I was claiming I was a tourist, and instructed to come back at 3:30 p.m. with $840.00 Hong Kong dollars in my hand to pick up my passport. I wiled away the hours at, embarrassingly enough, a local McDonalds, reading the South China Morning Post, strictly out of convenience.

So now, back in Guangzhou, today is a beautiful day after two weeks of monsoon rains. I would have loved to get out in the sun today but I desperately needed to spruce up my apartment a bit, open the sliding glass doors and airing the place out. I've got a new respect for mildew.

Tanka, Bala and I will be going out tonight, once again, to explore the back recesses of Xintang for its shops and exotic restaurants. I'm still not burnt out on roasted oysters and mussels, so maybe I can talk them into hitting our favorite oyster haunt. I managed to pick up Tanka's highly coveted chickpeas (which I call Garbanzo beans) while in Hong Kong, so maybe I can bribe him to stop for a dozen oysters.

I've already started the slow process of consolidating my possessions here, which isn't too difficult because I didn't bring much with me when I arrived in China and I haven't really purchased many solid goods while here. I'll be giving away my printer, my lion head goldfish Lester, and some of my books, but the rest will go in the trash or in my luggage.

Annie sent me a text message last night, telling me she's been trying to reach me since she was in Lisbon, wondering if I was screening my calls. I get a lot of complaints from friends that I never answer my home phone or my cell phone calls, which doesn't surprise me because I usually don't. I really don't like the phone much, but it is a necessity and comes in handy when I run into language barriers here, which is just about every day.

For an example, I recently found myself without the aid of my little pocket notebook, which has several needful things scribbled in Chinese, to show to taxi drivers and the like. So, I just sent a message to my faithful friend Derek and asked him to send me a text message in Chinese, telling the driver where I want to go. Simple, yet a bit complicated, no? Ha! But it works! After a brisk "Ni hao!" I hand over my mobile phone, show the driver the Chinese text and I'm on my way.

Although I've only been abroad for eight months, I know in my heart that I belong here in Asia. Maybe not China, mainly because of it's pollution and language barriers, but surely southeast Asia, where I can just fold into the beautiful landscape, get dark skin like the natives and watch the awesome sunrises and sunsets over the ocean. I've found my niche and I'm happy, although I do wish I'd done this a long time ago.


Thursday, April 15, 2004

Hello Blog world!

It's me again! The jeeemeister is BAAAAAAAACK! And I'm in Hong Kong. It's so awesome to actually see my blog after eight months in the dark.

Yep, I've been to Hong Kong several times, but only to Launtau Island, to the airport. This time I'm on Hong Kong Island, trying desperately to renew my passport. My school (which is less than one year old) doesn't have any more authorization to get me an "F" visa, so they had to send me to Hong Kong for a multiple entry visa.

I just arrived here at around 2:00 p.m. this afternoon, after leaving from the China Hotel in Guangzhou by bus at 9:00 a.m. I don't care what the hell they say or advertise about three hour bus rides to Hong ain't true! Hell, it takes a good hour in-and-of-itself just to get through customs in Shenzhen/Hong Kong.

I've been in a light panic to get my business sewn up with the Thailand ESL agency in Bangkok, and my latest venture has been to wire 2,500 Thai Baht to the agency to take care of my work permit fees. Going to Western Union in Guangzhou is a harrowing experience to say the least and they don't speak English....what a hassle! So, I decided to do my business here in Hong Kong.

I'm on Hong Kong island, in Causeway Bay, at the Wang Fat Hostel which is widely advertised in the China Lonely Planet guide. Nice place and right in the heart of things. This city is AWESOME! So much to see that it is just mind boggling.

Anyway, my trip to the Western Union proved fruitful. I hopped into a taxi (they actually speak English here) and showed the driver where I wanted to go. Much to my surprise, he said to me, "It's close....real close," then showed me how to get there and let me out. I was dumbfounded. In Guangzhou they would have just taken me there and then charged me the 7.00 Yuan to get there.

Taxi's here are a bit more expensive, at 15.8 Hong Kong dollars for the first click and 1.40 HK thereafter. So, I'm going to enjoy doing some walking around this awesome city with it's never ending tall buildings.

It was a snap at the Western Union. Easy as pie and in ENGLISH!!! Awesome. I had a nice walk from there, rubbernecking around and exploring some of the nifty sights. Hunger pangs hitting me, I ducked into a Vietnamese restaurant and had a wonderful meal of mixed vegetable soup, rice and lemongrass porkchop.

Still used to my China experience, I spoke Mandarin to the waitress at the restaurant, who was very pleased, proceeding with a flurry of Chinese, thinking that I spoke fluently. Ha! I'm very limited, and hell, I threw over half of my twenty-six some-odd words at her!

Well, gotta run folks. I'm gonna go out on the town and check out the nightlife here. Then it's to bed early and up early in the morning so I can hit the consulate at opening time. Then I'll be heading back to Guangzhou, in time to rest up before my private lessons on Saturday in Guangzhou.


Friday, April 09, 2004

Greetings Bloggees,

Once again I've caught the Great Firewall of China with it's guard down. So, I'll catch you up on all my current happenings here, while I've got the chance.

I don't want to jump the gun here and tell all of you out there in Bloggerland that I am going to be moving to Thailand, but it sure looks that way at present. I've signed a contract with a school in southern Thailand, near the Malaysian border, which was the most lucrative one to cross my computer screen lately.

Yesterday I mailed out a package containing my signed contract, copies of my degrees, my passport photos, TEFL certificate and other documents, to arrive in Bangkok (where the hiring agency is located) in ten days. I had to act on this opportunity quickly because this position is a good one, offering 48,000 Baht to start and offering many bonuses besides the regular salary.

So, hopefully things will progress smoothly and I will be moving to southern Thailand in July.

I kicked my current girlfriend, the Cantonese doctor from Guangzhou, to the curb. She turned out to be yet another "unfaithful" one, having a French boyfriend on the side. I don't know what it is about me, having this affinity for unfaithful women. Looking back, probably the best woman I had a hold of, was Alison in New Hampshire, but my wanderlust and stupidity got in the way of that relationship.

So, my search goes on....

Presently I'm in a mild panic over my visa situation here. My visa will expire in about sixteen days and the school says they cannot provide the visa service anymore. So, I will have to travel to Hong Kong soon to do a "visa run" which involves hopping on a bus to Hong Kong at 4:30 p.m. here at the transportation center, arriving in Hong Kong around 7:30 or 8:00 p.m., getting a hotel and then heading to the Consulate Department Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (what a mouthful) the next morning, to obtain my (rather expensive) multi-entry visa via one-day processing and then traveling back to Guangzhou.

Sounds like quite the hassle, but I plan on using it as a nice opportunity to explore the night life in Hong Kong for at least one evening. I've been to Hong Kong at least three times, but only to the airport on Lantau Island. This time I'll be exploring Wan Chai. So, I'll update all of you, as to my progress, in a later blog.

My old acquaintance Sebastien, whose visa was allowed to expire by the Phoenix City Hotel where he worked, went on a visa run to Hong Kong about two weeks ago and he's been detained ever since. My Nepalese friends Tanka and Bala have informed me that Sebastien is not allowed back in China and his situation looks pretty grave. So, I'm hoping that I won't end up in a similar situation and end up deported to the U.S. It seems Sebastien will eventually be allowed to re-enter China, but only to pack his things and return to Canada.

So today I'm doing some research on visa requirements in Hong Kong. Tonight Tanka and I will be heading out to Xintang to go out to eat and maybe do a little shopping. Tomorrow I head back to Guangzhou for my private English class and then I'll meet up with the father of one of my students. Kenan is Genwa's father and a native of Syria. His English is good and he's been inviting me to the Maedah Muslim Restaurant in West Guangzhou, a place I really love.

Just walking towards the Maedah restaurant is a cultural experience. Although in China, this particular neighborhood is a resting place for many Africans, Indians, Nepalese and Middle Easterners. Once inside, the Chinese waitresses wear traditional Muslim attire and the clientelle scattered about at different tables gives the impression you're visiting some Middle Eastern country for a few hours.

The Africans often show up in brightly colored dresses and scarfs and the muslims sport various styled and colored skullcaps, which adds to the flavor of this exciting place. The conversation is a mixture of several languages, which is interesting to listen to. The food is delicious and I especially like the Lebanese flatbreads that I use to sop up the very last droppings of my flavorful plate.

Enough for now. I'm gonna be taking a closer look at this strange and harsh land in the next couple of months while I prepare for my move to the "Land of Smiles."


Friday, April 02, 2004

It's a rare instance that I am able to get on Blogger and actually make changes, and this is one of those rare instances, so I'm taking advantage of it.

First on the agenda is a hail and salute to Meg, from Mandarin Design, for doing all the wonderful work she did for me in the last six or so months. Also, a hearty welcome to Chris Allen from Belfast, Northern Ireland (alias Zebulon Mysterioso) who is now doing my posting for me.

The wonderful and mysterious Great Firewall of China is very unpredictable! I still can't read any of your wonderful blogs out there, but occasionally (like now) I can sneak in here and actually do some blogging on my own, even if I can't ever even see my own blog site.

As you can see, I'm currently reading (voraciously) "Looking At America - Memoirs of a Chinese Girl" by Kelly Cha. It's interesting to see a Chinese person's view of America when I (having grown up in America), am now living in China. Stay tuned for my comments and arguments towards Kelly's views. She's evidently living in Los Angeles now and commuting between the U.S. and China, so hopefully I can shine some current light on her interesting subjects.

The weather here is still cool. We've gone into the rainy season and the thunderstorms here make any idea I've ever had about thunderstorms, seem pitiful. The clouds move in here quickly and quite literally turn daylight into nighttime. It gets so dark here (at ten in the morning) that we have to turn on the office lights to be able to see what we're doing. The rumbling and crashing goes on for hours, not minutes, and it is other-worldly here!

I've purchased my round trip ticket for Malaysia in May, but received my passport back today from the school with a stamp that expires in just a few weeks. So, in a slight panic, I e-mailed the school Know-it-all, Ms. Fang, who handles (rather poorly) all the foreign business here, and asked her to please assure me that my visa will not exprire on the twenty-fifth of this month.

I'm still in the air as to where I'm going for next year. I've got emergency resume's out in Thailand, Singapore, Borneo, Cambodia, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, and other areas of China but no news yet. So, stay tuned and I'll try like hell to update you folks as often as is humanly possible from here!

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