Greetings from Hong Kong

Hong Kong deserves more than two days per visit. I am glad I am here for these two days to know I should stay longer. I’m writing these word as I sip a Leffe Blonde at Frites Beer. “Super” rugby and football (soccer) are on the tele. Kids run wild as parents drink and chat. American pop music plays on the PA.

I needed this rest. I’ve walked what feels like one end of the island to the other. In reality I’ve just ambled about the north end and the large shopping center by the East Hotel hunting for Dim Sum for lunch.

The dim sum place I found, called Maxim’s, had a massive wait and a huge crowd out front. The biggest advantage of traveling solo is the ease at which one can get a table at almost any restaurant. Thus after the hostess and I spoke foreign languages at each other for a while she scribbled some numbers on my table wait ticket and pointed me into the joint. I was the only westerner in the cavernous establishment. The carts of soup and sides and baskets of bundled deliciousness pushed by my table every few minutes.

I found a store, Uniqlo, that had some nice clothes, but I rank a XXL by the local standards – a size too far. While my ego isn’t keen on that as I’ve dropped a lot of weight, my shoulders and arms do not lie. I did manage to find some tee shirts the kids will love. Hong Kong has no sales tax and the cost of goods is cheap to the US dollar in my estimation, so a double bonus shopping round for me.

My hotel is new. My room, a modest number according to the website, made awesome by the corner placement. It doesn’t take much effort to see out to the harbor even though I have no direct view. Looking out over the sea of high-rise towers with their dangling drip dry clothes and precariously placed air conditioner units is amazingly hypnotizing and strangely beautiful. Care is required to avoid fixating on the A/C units’ tilt angle as my fear of heights will cause the tickle in my tummy.

Speaking of Victoria Harbor, which I wasn’t, I woke early and after a light breakfast at the hotel headed out to walk the park alongside the harbor. It was foggy, gray, overcast, drizzling, and in all other ways not the picture of a walking tour. However, the roads and paths are well-marked and clean. The weather certainly didn’t keep the locals at bay. Many teams or crew or whatever you call a gathering of T’ai Chi practitioners were practicing their T’ai Chi in various little covered enclaves and nooks throughout the entire windy green-scape.

I took many pictures and will upload them as soon as I get to a place with strong wifi. My photography was a little shaky because of the fog but also the many cups of strong black coffee I had today.

My flight over was the picture of accidental awesomeness. The plane, a Boeing 777, was only 2/3 full. Quite a few people were upgraded to first and business class. I was not one of the upgraded. My ticket fare class was too economy for such things. Since my ticket booked economy plus, basically proving a few more precious inches of leg room, it was not too much a disappointment.

Once the boarding doors closed it was no disappointment at all.

The two people booked next to me upgraded, so I had free unfettered reign over a full three seat row for the 15+ hour flight. I found a way to stay buckled and lay down for some drowsy naps on the flight. There was an inebriated southern gentleman in the row ahead, and at one point he stood up to chat with me. He, undeterred by my diligent typing on my laptop, saw no resistance to chit-chat by my ears holding my earbuds, earbuds piping podcasts into my head. Because that’s what people do, I stopped what I was doing and removed my headphones to talk. I’m not sure what we talked about. I think it was about buying fabric and North Carolina (though with his accent I would have put him in Georgia) and going to parties and jet lag.

The departure was 15:25 Thursday Eastern Time, and arrival scheduled for 20:45 Friday China Time. I strategically slept little (a lucky bout of insomnia) the night before, about 5 hours, and then did my dozes on the plane. I only had two beers (one before the flight) and two glasses of wine during the first meal, then only water. When we arrived in Hong Kong at 7:00, I was still sleepy. A longer than expected taxi ride after a longer than it should have been immigration clearing brought me to my hotel right around 21:00. Within the hour I was in bed and asleep. I woke to my alarm at 06:00 local time. I love how a small amount of planning and a bit of good luck eliminated my jet lag for this trip’s front end. We’ll see how it goes for the return.

The one thing that didn’t go well for this trip was that I didn’t realize my flight to Shanghai Sunday is earlier than the one I had asked for. Moving to a later flight would only cost over $1,000 US dollars, so I’ll head out tomorrow morning.

I took my light travel packing to a new high in low weight, practicality, and planning. It’s an 11 day trip, but 9 days when the flights factor in. I have two Land’s End blue no iron button downs, two pairs of LL Bean trousers – one khaki and the other olive, one J Crew black corduroy blazer, one black and one brown leather pair of Merrill barefoot shoes, my Col. Littleton hat, a Nike navy golf pull-over, and five sets of under garments. The joy of this is that, other than the hat and shoes and maybe the blazer, none of the rest of it needs to come back with me. The trousers still look okay in passing but are on their last legs (ha!). The shirts are okay but I don’t care for no iron shirts in general. The blazer I picked up at Salvation Army for $5, I think.

The Macbook Air, iPad2, Canon T3i, Kindle Touch, and iPhones will come back with me, but as a group are pretty light weight and easy to carry around. Add in the cables and such and the toiletry kit and I made it here in two underpacked bags. That let me bring over some Michigan treats for my coworkers in Shanghai. It also means I will have a lot of room to bring things back.

Back to Hong Kong, the sheer number of kid playgrounds and elderly exercise kiosks would put Starbucks or McDonald’s to shame. Not that there aren’t plenty of those here, too, but there is prime real estate taken up by parks and open spaces and cushioned playgrounds. They’re used, too.

There was one stop where the exercise equipment wasn’t just for the elderly. There were two Americans (by the sound of them) teaching a fitness class. Whatever they were teaching it is working. Everyone listening to them with rapt attention before eagerly implementing the softly barked instructions were fit to the point of being ripped.

As I’m typing this there is a little boy sitting at a toy piano singing “B.I.N.G.O.” as loud as he can while banging his hands on the impotent keyboard, just as happy as a clam.

Since I’m rambling on my recollections so far, I wish someone in that dim sum place had spoken some English. There was one dish I had that looked incredibly disgusting. It was, by far, the best thing I ate there.

Oh, and a note to people with braces traveling here – beware of the foul with the bones still in it. The last thing I ate at Maxim’s was chicken (I think) with the bones still in. One might be able to gnaw past the bones, but the bone shards are hard to extricate.

In my wanderings I went off of the beaten tourist path. There were a maze of twisty roads, all alike. The stalls sold everything. There were butchers, places that roasted chicken and ducks, fruit shops, spice vendors, convenience stores, hardware stores, street food vendors, appliance repair, and maybe a dozen other types of shops in 20 foot wide storefronts spilling out on the already narrow sidewalks.

One woman at a fish shop on a corner, with fish so fresh they were still flipping and flopping on their ice bed, hollered “Hello” to me and waved me over. She was trying to sell me something but kept pressing these little tasty morsels from the postage stamp of a kitchen into my hands. It was great, but once she realized I wasn’t planning on taking seafood with me back to my hotel (would people really do that other than Umberto Eco?) she focused her tractor beam elsewhere and I was free to depart.

I found the local fire engine company, ambulance dispatch, police barracks, and a number of primary schools. Most surprising about that was seeing all of these uniformed children heading off to school on a Saturday. Well, actually the most surprising part was that they were smiling.

I had planned for one aspect of Hong Kong – they drive like the Brits do, on the wrong side of the road from the wrong seat in the car. While I am not driving here I will cross the street. My attention on looking right once while crossing blinded me to the minivan coming from the left on what was in fact a two way street.

I presumed that people would walk having people pass on the right as well, but that seems to be a myth. Old women would glare at me while they continued their forward progress assuming I would move out of their way, which I did.

What else?

There is a preponderance of western coffee shops. If you’re here for a bit buying a wifi pass would be a good idea. There is wifi everywhere. Take the train instead of taxis to and from the airport. If you do take taxis go for the more expensive but faster tunnel and bridge options. You can buy umbrellas almost everywhere, so presume the weather here will be at least a bit wet and humid.