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.



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