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International Air Travel, My Style.

As I start packing for yet another intercontinental flight, I came to the happy realization that I am now quite good at this. I know not to take more than one pair of shoes, two pairs of jeans, and save the weight and space for a few extra pair of BVDs.

In the last year I have been in five continents and if you want to get technical,  I could claim two sub continents. India is known as a subcontinent, but the Indian people are fond of telling you that they are their own continent. It is hard to argue with 1.2 billion people. And then there is the Middle East. I live here and I’ll be damned if I know what continent I live in. This aint Asia, nor Europe, nor Africa. I have never heard of anyone calling this area a subcontinent, so what is it? I’ll just go with subcontinent for ease of calculations.

As far as air travel goes, the Middle East is Middle Earth. Both Dubai and Doha bill themselves as the cross roads for the world. In a way that is very true. A person can fly from Dubai or Doha to anywhere important directly. Both cities are home to an excellent airline. Dubai boasts Emirates Air, and Doha is the proud home of Qatar Airlines, subtitled “The World’s Five Star Airline”. There is virtually no major country that is not served by either of them, together they have the globe covered. On top of that Emirates Air just reduced their fares because the price of oil dropped. Name me one other airline that did that!

I live in the UAE, about a half hour away from the Dubai Airport. This being Emirates home base you would think that I would be loyal to the home boys and that at least the majority of my travel would be with them. However, as any of you who know me are thinking right now, not necessarily.  For my trips to Thailand, the third of which  I am packing for right now, and for our trip to Hong Kong last month, I take Qatar. Why? Well, simply put $. Hundreds of $’s less. More $’s to spend on tours and stupid souvenirs. To fly Qatar I must first fly to Doha, which is a very short flight, then change planes at the Doha Airport. Qatar is building a new super airport, but I have no idea when it will be completed. For now, all planes coming and going must park in the next county. Passengers must  ride a bus into the terminal, and then another bus back out. It is a bit annoying and adds at least a couple of hours to my travel time, but it is the price I pay to save the $s.

Now that I have been a steady customer of Qatar, I am starting to climb up the ladder of their frequent flyer program. Soon I will be a Silver Flyer (please do not confuse that with Silver Surfer) and with a little creativity I will enter the ranks of the Golden Ones (please do not confuse that with getting older). As anyone who flies a lot and stays loyal to one carrier knows, stepping up a rank means multiplying  every mile you travel towards the grail of a free ticket. Someday, Qatar will owe me a free trip to somewhere I would never pay to fly to. (I hope that makes more sense to you than it does to me)  I am considering adding that to my bucket list; “Get a free flight to somewhere, anywhere at all”. It would not be my first time to achieve this, but last time I did it, mining companies were buying my tickets and it did not mean as much to me.

Back to my inspirational moment that led to this posting. Being good at international travel means more than leaving room in your suitcase for underwear (clean and otherwise) and souvenirs.

Let us consider proper travelling clothes. First let me say that anyone who dresses up for a flight is living in the fifties. Today, unless you have to go to a meeting right off the plane, it is ridiculous. Think of flying like taking the bus, it will simplify the journey.

So what to wear?I’ll do this from the bottom up.

Wear flip-flops or sandals. Not all airports make you take off you shoes, but when you have to, it is really nice to just kick off the sandals. In fact, a lot of TSA types will just let you pass if you are wearing nothing but flip-flops. If you are unfortunate enough that your destination is, say, Minnesota in January, you can pack a pair of mukluks and put them on before you leave the terminal.

Pants. Loose and baggy. That way they do not creep up on you and cause a lack of blood flow to sensitive regions. Also, if you can find loose and baggy cargo pants, then you can carry some essential in-transit items on your person, such as a couple of power bars, Ipod and  ear plugs, reading glasses, stuff like that. Yes, it means divesting your gear in one of those little trays before you pass through the security gate, but the trade-off is worth it. If you put all these things in your carry on bag it just causes more work for you once you get to your seat.

Shirt or blouse. Planes are notoriously over air-conditioned. What I find works best is a long sleeve cotton T.

Head gear. Most people do not wear anything. I always wear a ball cap, even when I am not travelling. I have found that this strange custom of mine is great on an airplane when I want to sleep. I can pull it down over my eyes. Combine that with the Ipod and you can drift into another world, while on your way to another world. The hat also keeps your head warm.

These days airlines have started stocking their inventory with planes that have the acronym ER at the end  of the type designator. I.E. B777ER. The ER stands for Extended Range. If you look at international routes available you will find some TRULY Extended Range flights. I think the longest regularly scheduled flight these days is from Atlanta to Johannesburg.  That is something like 19 hours. Dubai to Los Angeles is 16 or so. Just a few years ago either of these flights would have been impossible. You would have had to change planes and probably carriers in London, or Amsterdam. Maybe more than one stop. If you think 16 hours is too damn long to be cooped up in a steel tube at 38,000 feet with recirculated air spreading flu germs, well you are not alone. A lot of people still opt for a lay-over in some city. But the problems with that solution are scarier to me than catching this years flu bug. Let’s take a look at them.

Lost luggage. Every time you switch planes in transit you give overworked underpaid luggage handlers another chance to send your bag to Shanghai when your destination is Topeka. Don’t even bother wondering how they do it, but misdirected luggage is still a significant problem even though the world’s airlines are getting much better about getting your bag on the same plane you are on. That being said, it has never happened to me (knock knock) .

Another disadvantage of a lay over is the extra costs. An overnight in say London could just about double your airfare, considering hotel, taxis, meals and a night on the town.

Maybe all you want to do is get out of the flying tube and walk around an airport for 4 hours between flights, like the good old days. Consider this, count meals, that trip to the book store, some time in the bar, the cute souvenir refrigerator magnet at the gift shop that you would not have bought if you had not made the trip to the bar  and before you know it your travel budget has taken a hit. Plus, that gives the luggage handlers four extra hours to choose which plane to put your bag on.

I always opt for the non stop on the ER. Just remember, you get on the plane, and sooner or later, you get off the plane.

Now about that recirculated air. Well, other than looking like a Tokyo traffic cop and wear a surgical mask, there just is not anything you can do. However, the air up there is not the only source of exotic diseases in an airplane. The plastic tray and the arms on your seat can hold and transmit all sorts of maladies. And then there is the toilet. I always carry a little bottle of hand sanitizer and I use it before and after I touch anything. I think of it as preventing others from catching what I have, so I don’t feel like a paranoid. I also wipe down the food tray and the arm rests. Why risk it? Catching one of the worlds staphylococci can really ruin a nice vacation.

If the person sitting next to you is coughing, hacking, sneezing or bleeding uncontrollably, ask to be moved. Same thing if they stink, or especially if they are so fat they should have been made to buy two seats. If there are any empty seats, the cabin crew will try to help you, if you ask nicely. If you are not nice to them, about anything at all, they will not be nice to you, about anything at all. Frankly I think it is pretty shitty job which I would never do. Nobody tips you and some passengers can be real jerks.

Always carry a pen with you because you will need to fill out one of those immigration forms before you stand in the long line to have your passport inspected. Borrowing a pen from another (read: better prepared) passenger is embarrassing and brands you as a novice.

Many people will go to the trouble of finding the local currency exchange and buying Rupees  (whatever) before they leave home. I wonder if they have ever heard of an ATM machine?  Also, I just can’t understand why anyone uses travelers checks these days. These must be the same people who dress up for the flight. Hello? Eisenhower is not President anymore.

Thats it for today. I am off for Thailand now. All packed in my style, which means I probably forgot some stuff. My next blog will be from Chiang Mai. Stay tuned, tell a friend and please make a comment. Even if you do not know me, just tell me what you think about this post, even if you think it stinks like the guy who sat next to you on your last flight.

Last Post from Hong Kong

The first impression anyone would get from Hong Kong is that it is very clean. That might be a cultural thing, or it might be the severe penalties for littering. After India, it was a different planet. The people even the kids are quite orderly. They queue up for busses and everything else. They do not shove or cut line. Except for me. The school kids are well behaved when you see them on a field trip, they are even quietly respectful.

Another wonderful difference between HK and all the other third world cities I have been in, no one uses their car horns. The people are so polite that I do not think they would blow their horn to warn you that they were about to run you down.  Also, the only motorcycles I saw in HK were driven by the police. Instead of every person over twelve having a Vespa, in HK there is a great usage of busses, the metro, trolleys and ferries. At rush hour they get really crowded. Even then there is a respectful sense about things. Instead of the people crushing each other on the Metro, there are workers with signs on the boarding platform that say “full” when the metro gets crowded, and people respect that and wait for the next train. Except for me. They run about 90 seconds apart, so the wait is acceptable. The metro and busses are also very economical. Gas prices looked about “normal” for a country that must import all of its petrol. Parking is truly expensive. The combination of these last two economic indicators lead to the extensive use of public transport.  The only place I saw any reliance on motorcycles was in Macau. I did not notice much in the way of public transportation there, so motorcycles are the consequence.

Hong Kong is the most expensive city I have visited in my last year of extensive travel. Due to lack of time, and the fact that is not a place to consider retiring, I did not explore the supermarkets to figure out what my weekly grocery bill would be, so I cannot comment on that. I will say however that I perused many outdoor markets and found new fruits, and absolutely bizarre seafood. I hope these photos make you say “uh uh” as much as I did when I took them.

I have no idea what these are. I would not eat one on a dare.

 

Hong Kong is a very tall city. Just about everyone lives and works in skyscrapers. I had the fantasy that someday, all these skyscrapers would be connected by Sky bridges from building to building to building and the people of Hong Kong would never have to touch the ground. The bridges could have convenience stores, dry cleaners, book stores and restaurants built in them, and with people movers a person could get from their home to their office quicker than taking an elevator 30 flights down, doing the cross city traffic dance, then another elevator 30 floors up to the office.  I know that sounds rather “Jetson” but it would work. It would also leave the streets to us tourists!

So what about us tourists? Hong Kong is a tourist friendly place. It starts at the airport.  I said this before, but I truly appreciate the immigration line which is a single snake type line so you never feel as if you got in the slow line. It went truly fast.  The next nice surprise was the luggage carousel. There is a man there who receives each bag as it is spit off the conveyer, and lines the bags up nice and neat and orderly. I have never seen that done anywhere. Nobody shoves their way to the front to get to their bag. Except me of course.

The airport is a fair distance from the hotels, no matter which hotel you are in. If you go, book a tour agency bus ride, the cost of the taxi would be the difference between your economy fair and business class. Well, maybe not. The taxis are metered and regulated. The first two K’s are 18 HK $’s but after that they meter starts spinning like the wheels on a slot machine. We only took cabs when we got lost. And WOW, did we ever get lost a few times. Hong Kong streets are laid out like a Salvador Dali depiction of a nightmare. To get from point A to point B you will box the compass and change from ground level to elevated lanes at least three times. It makes you dizzy.

We stayed in a mid range hotel which was reasonably priced except for our last two nights. The reason for in increase is because of the “Rugby Sevens”. I never heard of this before but it is a series of international Rugby tournaments with a following of Jet Setters. The entire British commonwealth, and even the USA sends a team.

A South African Rugby fan. Part of the appeal of these tournaments is the costumes.

 

Our hotel had everything you want. I stashed away enough travel sized shampoos and soaps so that when we go on our next trip I do not have to worry if our hotel is not as generous.

I mentioned before that Mary Ann was determined to have a Hong Kong tailor made suit. Here she is with the tailor.

Watch the hands bud!

 

The experience was nowhere near as pampering as the tailor in Bangkok. There we were in a plush room with tea and beer. Here it was measure and move on. Also, the suits were cheaper in Thailand, and probably better tailored. So, if you have the urge to have a tailor made suit, go to Thailand!

I never wore jewelry before I started travelling. Now I have a ring from all the countries I have been to. I wanted a jade ring from HK. Have you got any idea what top of the line jade costs? We went to the Jade Market in Kowloon. I bought Mary Ann a jade necklace, which killed my budget. So I bought myself a nice looking jade ring. It looks like one I saw at an expensive jewelry store for 5,000 dollars, AMERICAN. This one cast me 50 dollars, Hong Kong. I know it is low grade crap, but I like it and I do not have to worry about losing it.

Another souvenir we purchase everywhere we go is a Starbucks coffee mug. Now we have a collection of them in our kitchen. Cairo, Beirut, Katmandu, Delhi, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hong Kong and Macau. I am not even a big fan of Starbucks, BUT it is a reliable place for a good cup of coffee. Every one of the hundred or so Starbucks in HK is just like the thousands of Starbucks anywhere. People do not go there for a cup of coffee as much as they go there to camp.  They get a comfy chair, open their notebook computers, magazines or novels and make an overpriced latte last for hours.

Then of course T shirts. I have T shirts that I have never worn, but I always find one too cool to pass up, like this one.

Love the guy, hate the guy, this T shirt works for you!

 

Our last night in HK we had to experience the Hong Kong Symphony of Lights. You could say that every night in HK is like NYE. Besides all the high rise buildings lit up with decorative lighting, they have a half hour laser light show from the tops of most of the buildings. Every night!

Welcome to the Symphony of Lights!

It is a beautiful skyline and quite the show!

 

On the harbor cruise to view the lights, Mary Ann made friends with a young couple from Beijing. They promised to become pen pals. The guy told Mary Ann she was his first foreign friend.

They had obviously been to DisneyLand earlier in the day. They spoke English truly well and were both applying to grad school abroad. China graduates 1 million English speaking engineers every year. The future is written in Mandarin.

I wrote in an earlier post about the Hong Kong currency. The strangest thing is that three banks (HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank and one other) each print their own paper money. The only thing consistent is the color for each denomination. Here are the 20’s.

Totally different designs. It is like Bank of Amrica, Wells Fargo and Citi Bank produced US$ with pictures of FDR, Reagan and Babe Ruth.

The coins are cool. These $2 coins (worth about 20 cents American) are in the shape of the Lotus flower.

 

 

In short, I must say that I am glad I visited Hong Kong. I have nothing bad to say about it. Really, if you know me that is fairly astonishing. The people of Hong Kong are making the most out of the years before they become part of communist China. They treat tourists, and each other, really well. We only scratched the surface of things to do. For instance I never found the great camera store I hoped to find. I know it exists, but your dedication to finding anything at all in HK must be absolute. I think the best advice I can give a tourist is go ahead and get lost, the stuff you find will be amazing enough.

Thanks for reading. Tell a friend. Make a comment. Everyone who comments will get a free fortune from a fortune cookie.

Kowloon, Lantau and Macau are Not Chinese Menu Items

They are instead three islands near Hong Kong, which we took whirlwind tours of this week. All three deserve more time, alas our time is limited. I have not blogged for three days simply because when we get back to our hotel, have some real menu items to eat, a couple of TsingTao beers (the best beer with Chinese food, but strangely not by itself), I just crash.  I suppose if we were 25 again, we would sample the night life in Hong Kong, which I hear is responsible for this smile on Buddha.

Happy is as happy does!

First, Kowloon.

Yes, believe it or not it is pronounced just like it looks like it should be pronounced. I have not delved into the history to find out who named it that, or why. Instead I will just assume it was where mad Cow Disease originated.

Kowlooning around!

Kowloon Is a five minute ferry ride across Victoria Harbor from Hong Kong proper. By the way, when the Chicoms take over in 35 or so years, there will be no more English names for things. No Queens Blvd. or Prince Albert’s can. Nope, all the names will change to Mandarin. This will be tough on the locals as well, because they speak Cantonese. So to get to Kowloon one can take the ferry, or go under the channel in an automobile tunnel, or take the metro in another tunnel. We purchased what they call an Octopus card which is good on all local public transportation except taxis. Public transportation, including taxis, are one of the few bargains in the SAR. The what? The Special Administrative Region, the official name for “one country – two systems” rule in existence today. After buying our card, we walked for ages, it seemed like miles, underground to get to the metro platform. The first thing you notice after your sore feet, is that there is not as much as a gum wrapper on the ground. Hong Kong is CLEAN. No one litters. The fine for littering is 5000 HK dollars. (1US$=7.80 HK$, you do the math)

keeping Hong kong clean is everyones job, not just the thousands of people who get paid to do it. You really do NOT see people litter here.

Kowloon is supposedly the bargain shopping area for greater Hong Kong.  The most famous of the various shopping destinations is called Ladies Street. This is a six block long pedestrian walkway with hundreds of booths on each side of the walkway. Once you have walked a couple of blocks you notice that every 10th booth or so is selling the same junk, And I Do mean junk.

Ladies Street Block after block of junk

Not that I like any Yankee cap, but this one on Ladies Street is the ugliest I have ever seen!

Now the only hawkers in all of HK are for tailors. There are probably more tailor shops in HK than any other city in the world. I thought Bangkok had a lot of tailors, but HK has BK beat. I hate being tall and white in Asia. The hawkers see me a block away and make a move for me. I have my radar out now. If I see a guy with a handful of business cards head toward me, I duck into a storefront, vitamin store, bathroom fixtures, lingerie, it does not matter. But they wait  for me outside. They follow me at least a block telling me I am dressed like a beggar and should have a suit made, or three, special price for three!  They pester me until I enter the hunting area of the next hawker for the next tailor.  Mary Ann, who is the best dressed librarian in Sharjah had already decided she would have a suit made in Hong kong to go with the half dozen she had made in Thailand. She had already chosen her tailor, who happened to be in Kowloon, so the day was not a complete waste.

At this point in the process, Mary Ann turned to me and said she had lost interest. Then the sales lady said something like 3 suits for the price of 1!. All I know is now we need an extra suitcase to get home.

Lantau Island.

Our next day in fab HK was spent on another group tour. we like tours. Usually we hire a private car tour, just the two of us and a hopefully all knowing guide. But in HK they are prohibitively expensive, so we ride on buses with20 or so other people. At least most of these people are so old that I feel relatively young.

Lots of old people, and us! There was one guy on this bus I refused to be anywhere near because he was sniffling sneezing and hacking. Luckily I did not catch whatever exotic disease he had!

Lantau is the home of the worls “largest- outdoor- sitting -bronze Buddha”. Of all the buddhas I have seen in my travels he s the largest. I still do not know where the largest Buddha in the worls is. I think I will find out and put him on my bucket list.

He was very big, but where is the biggest? I'll have to Google that one.

Maybe this is a better photo. I am still learning my camera, and it was a grey day. We spoke to a tourist who went the next day and he said that it was so foggy that you could not see Buddhas head!

Buddha sits on a hill over a very nice temple that is well used. Every temple sells incense for people to light and make prayers. This temple sold the largest incense sticks I have ever seen.

I hear these burn for a week. They only sell them in packs of three, for about 700 HK dollars. You must really need to pray hard!

Lantau also has an amazing aerial cable ride which takes about 30 minutes to go from Lantau all the way to Hong Kong. It passes right near the HK airport, giving an excellent view of all the planes taking off and landing. This is a very busy airport as you might expect.

I think every international carrier in the world flies to HK. Why not? It is rated as one of the top airports in the world. The thing I liked about it was that the immigration lines were well staffed and that they had a single line to stand in which fed all the stamping stations, so you do not feel like you got "in the slow line again."

It also passes over an example of typical housing ing in BK. People here live in high rise buildings for the most part. One of our guides says the typical apartment is 500 sq feet. A person does not own an apartment ,only big companies. However if  one chooses, you can rent a government subsidized apartment, but they are not as nice as these.

Buildings like these are all over HK. Crowded together. In mid town they are much dingier, and do not have the view. Our guide showed us the most expensive apartment building in HK where the apartments are 5000 sq. feet and rent for...US$21,000 a month. Plus a big dollar amount for a parking space. If you drive to work, you pay another huge monthly fee to park in a building in town. Therefore, public transportation is inexpensive and very well used. The buses and metros at rush hour are crowded as a beehive in spring. I think that the best business to have in HK must be elevator maintenance and repair.

On to Macau.

Macau was a magic name to me when I was 8 years old because that was where all the really good firecrackers were made. That was all I knew about it. Now that is not the case. The fireworks industry has gone away and is replaced by casinos. In fact Macau now makes  more money from wagering than Lost Wages, Nevada.  It is another SAR. It pays no taxes to the Chicoms. In fact there are no taxes in Macau at all, which makes it a shopping haven. It is a separate government from HK and you must pass through immigration and customs going both ways. (Just a bit of a brag…I counted my the stamps in my passport while standing in line returning to HK. When I get back to the UAE, they will have the honor of applying the 100th stamp in my precious blue book. Wow.)

Honk Kong is a very strict place. they have rules and rules and rules. They are serious about them and fine you on the spot for violating them. Littering I have mentioned. They also restrict smoking to little permitted smoking areas. You can always find them because they have groups of people puffing away. ut the weirdest rule I have run up against is the customs regulation about how many cigarettes you can bring into the country. Get this, the number is 19. One short of a pack. If anyone can explain that I will be glad to hear it.

Rules at a park in town.

Rules at a beach. Check it out...there is nothing left to do!

Macau being the gambling capital of the world,is now waging a civil war to build the largest casino. An old guy named Dr. Ho used to have the monooly on casinos in Macau. He also owns half the airport,docks, and other infrastuctures. Now, American and Australian companies are moving in.

This is your first view of Macau from the ferry. It is one of many American and Austarlian casinos in the SAR now. MGM and Wynn also have built monstrosities.

This is Dr. Ho's latest attempt at having the biggest gaudiest casino in Macau. Rumor is, it will be surpassed very soon. With all the money the Chicoms drop at the tables here, there is just no limit .

There is another type of gambling one can do in Macua. The stakes are your life, or maybe just your sanity.

From the top of this tower, you have three options. First is to walk around an un-barricaded sky walk. Next is to bungie jump off of it. Or you can just jump, attached to a rope that finally slows you down as you approach the ground. The height is 764 feet, the worlds highest bungie or free fall site. I just bough the t-shirt.

Macau was settled by the Portuguese. There is a long historyof Christain in-fighting in Macau with Dominicans, Franciscans and of course the Jesuits all trying  to reign supreme. One of the iconic structures of Macau is the remains of the church of St. Paul.

All that is left of a church built in the late 1600's. On the street next to it were two groups passing out literature, one of them was the church outlawed in mainland China"fong garonadinggong" or something like that.

 

And of course there are Buddhist temples and any tour in this part of the world will take you to a Buddhist temple. It must be in the licensing contract. Finally after visiting enough temples to start feeling outright religious, I found something unigue.

This is a singing water bowl. First you throw a coin in the bowl which is half full of water. Then you rub your palms quickly back and forth across the two handles until the water starts to actually bubble, and the the bowl sings. It is supposed to bring you good fortune. I was hoping it would help me take back some of Dr. Ho's money.

Our last stop was a casino, and thank Buddha we only got a half hour to gamble. I did not win any money…singing bowl or not. But I only had a half hour to lose. Mary Ann went to a facory outlet next door and further burdened our suitcases for the return tripwith some really nice and very inexpensive brand name clothes. If you come to this part of the world, HK is just fine. It is exciting and vibrant. But for better deals and more fun, be sure to visit Macau.

That is it for today.  My next post will cover the Hong Kong Harbor Symphony of Lights. Stay tuned. Tell a friend. Make a comment. You CAN write a sentence can’t you? I should say thank you to my regular commenters.

First Full Day in Hong Kong

Mary Ann took charge of planning the day, over a post breakfast beer.

No, she really does not drink beer at breakfast. This was our first dinner the night before. TsingTao on tap, quite the treat.

My dinner. Roast Duck, yum yum. My fortune cookie read "You have a great wife, take care of her"

She signed us up for a city tour. All in all it was a good experience. The only disappointment was when we got to “the peak” we were fogged in and could not get the best view of HK. We did however get some views from ½ way up the mountain. Also, due to the clouds and fog, my photos appear very washed out.

Mary Ann in front of a small portion of the HK Skyline.

Another small part of the HK skyline at night, from our hotel restaurant.

Junks and newer fishing boats, along with very expensive yachts serve as a foreground for the skyline of high rises at Aberdeen Harbor.

Somehow, we always end up with a good guide. Today’s was no exception. His name was Mr. Ming. He said we could just call him Dynasty. He told us many tales of lore about life in HK.

The agreement in place with Mainland China is called “one country-two policies”

The flag of HK flies next to the Chicom flag. "One country-two policies"

This agreement is good for 50 years. 14 are over, leaving 36 years before the Chicoms take total control. That might seem like a long time, but many HK people are already taking Mandarin lessons. Mr. Ming has a fiancé from northern China. She cannot come to HK yet, because it takes ages to get a passport, and up to a year after that before the Chicoms will grant a visa to visit HK.  Even worse, they want two children. The “one country-two policies” rule is in conflict with the Chicoms “one baby” law. So, after she gets a visa, she has to have one of her babes in HK, but she can only stay for two weeks, and leave the baby behind for Mr. Ming to raise.  Chinese born in HK before the Brits left carry British passports and can move freely between the island and the mainland. Mainland Chinese are not so lucky.

He made sure we knew our bus number because a year ago, an American couple got on the wrong bus. It happened to be headed for mainland China. They got stopped at the border. They had left their passports in the hotel. They did not know the phone number of their guide. Basically they were in deep dim sum. The only thing that got them sprung was the little “I am on a tour” sticker everyone wears. The Chicoms let them go, but they had to work their own way back to their hotel. I have decided to carry my passport, although I seriously doubt I will get THAT lost.

We went to a mall before the tour started and looked at a couple of electronic type toys. I want at least on lense for my new camera, and Mary Ann wants an IPod loud speaker system. We went to the Bose store. They had everything. My wallet screamed “get the hell out of here”. I really do not think there were any “deals” to be had there, so in the next few days we are going to the neighborhoods where stuff is discounted. Problem is, stuff might be knock-offs as well. We’ll be careful.

Partial shot of a 12 story mall called "Times Square" in central HK. We bought nothing, there were no deals in this mall. I looked in the Burberry shop for a raincoat. US$700. AH it is not raining THAT hard. The biggest customers are people from Mainland China.

Thanks for reading, tell a friend. Check back soon for the next chapter of our China syndrome excursion, and please make a comment. I get paid by the comment. One thousand more comments and I can actually afford a dinner in HK.

The China Syndrome

A week ago, Japan was rocked. The triple whammie was capped by a nuclear “problem” that as of this writing could still result in a meltdown, and possibly burn a hole straight thru the planet. This very unlikely event is called “The China Syndrome” in the west. In Japan they probably call it the New Jersey Syndrome.

We therefore came to China. Well Hong Kong anyway. Fragrant Harbor. Victoria’s Island. These are the names the brits used for it when they colonized it. I call it the last stand of the British Empire.  Oh, they still drive on the wrong side of the street, but it is now a Chinese city, with twists. For instance, no need for a visa. If you want to cross into mainland china, you have to get a visa, but not for the island of Hong Kong. So, we came. We will see. Will we conquer?

Actually this trip had been on our agenda long before Japan started sliding into the sea. Mary Ann will be attending a conference here for a few days, and I am along for the ride.

We could have taken a non-stop flight on Emirates Air, but as good as that airline is, and the fact that it would have saved us 3 or 4 hours in travel time, it just is not worth paying 40% more. So, we flew Qatar airlines. Qatar is one of the few airlines in the world awarded 5 star status by whomever gives out ratings for airlines. I have flown Qatar back and forth to Thailand a few times now, and I am already on step two in their frequent flyer program. That clinches the decision to spend more time in transit. There are upgrades in my future!

To go anywhere on Qatar, you either start your trip or change planes in Doha. The Doha airport is a work in progress. The terminal has no regular gates with jet ways to board the flight. You must ride a bus from your incoming flight and another out to your departing flight. That is not rare. But in Doha, the planes park miles away from the terminal. You spend a very long time on the bus. Our continuing flight took off an hour after we arrived. So, we got off the bus, ran through the terminal, and got back on the bus. Strangely, the 45 minute flight from Dubai to Doha was on a triple 7. Big, quiet and comfortable. The 7 hour flight from Doha to Hong Kong was on an Airbus 330. The Boeing product is superior in many ways. But we got to HK safe, sound and on-time.

My excellent tour organizer, my wife, found us a really nice hotel in the Wan Chei neighborhood. The room is as good as a hotel room gets, with all the amenities including excellent Wi-Fi. We partook of dinner in the hotel last night. We had Tsing Tao beer on draft, which I have never had before. We ate pork and duck. We knew we were not back in the UAE! The restaurant had many shark fin dishes, which I passed on and will continue to pass on, for many reasons.

Across the street is the Happy Valley Race track, as in PONIES! As in GAMBLING! Wednesday night is the big night and I intend to feed the ponies, as in lose money betting.

Today we are off to see the town. Maybe a city tour in a double decker bus with no driver on the top. Maybe a boat tour in the harbor. Maybe a gondola ride to the top of the highest hill in HK. Maybe a trip up another hill to see a big Buddha. I do not care. It is all up to Mary Ann. Like I said, I am along for the ride. I just hope to find a Dim Sum restaurant and maybe a British pub with warm dark nasty ale, a banger and some spotted dick. Well, maybe not the pub.

The weather is cold and rainy, but no radiation from the neighbors, at least not yet. One thing I truly find refreshing so far….I have not heard a single horn! Now THAT is rare in Asia!

Stay tuned for photos and my normal dribble about the sights and sounds around town.

One more thing…the money. It is the HK dollar. 7.80 HK $s to 1 US$. Not only is it incredible colorful, but the bank notes are issued by individual banks! My first trip to an ATM gave me back HSBC notes. I thought it was not real money, but some sort of script. I asked a little girl at a desk, “Is this real money?” She laughed at me and assured me it was. When I got change, all the notes were issued by different banks. The same 100 HK$ with three different designs. Only the color remains the same. Very weird. The coins are cool as well, shaped like a  lotus flower.

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