Starbucks. It seems every civilized place on the planet has at least one.
On any continent they are all exactly alike. The only difference is the décor on the mugs. I consider them collectibles. I have no more room on the shelves in my kitchen for them, but I still buy one wherever I go. In fact, I am a bit annoyed if the city I am in (Nairobi, Kathmandu) does not have a Starbucks. Before I travel, I Google the location of the Starbucks in the destination city. Not only do I want to add to my collection, I want to be able to get a good cup of coffee.
The same people who stood in line in front of me in Macau or London stand in line in front of me everywhere else. They all order just about the same thing. The session goes something like this.
“I’ll have a half latte, half mocha, half cappuccino with half cream and make it only half hot please.”
The barista is usually a college educated person who majored in something like Ancient Sri Lankan philosophy. They dutifully perform the chemistry experiment needed to serve the person in front of me. Meanwhile I select my souvenir mug. Then the overly picky customer sends back the coffee because it is too hot, I chat her up.
“Hey, didn’t we meet at Starbucks in Macau?”
“Oh yes we did! I remember the mocha there was very bitter.”
She shuffles away, happy with her lukewarm creation, and I step up to the counter.
Here is how my order goes.
“I’ll have a small black coffee”
“Will that be mocha or a cappuccino?
“Fresh cream from Sumatran sacred goats in that sir?”
“Black, a small black coffee”
“A grande then”
“No. Didn’t you learn anything at Harvard? Grande means big, large, and bigger than small. I want, again, now listen hard, A SMALL BLACK COFEE”
“Do you want Columbian, Kenyan, Costa Rican or our house blend?”
“If it is black, hot and you don’t ask another question, I don’t care.”
A brief roll of the eyes that say “I should have gone to grad school” is followed by “Yes sir, that will be (Insert too high a price in any currency here).”
But this is just my problem. I’m glad I did not graduate into this economy, so I still tip them.
The coffee they serve is always good, even without milk from sacred yaks. When I was in Bali, I asked for Kopi Luwak, which is made from beans that have passed through the digestive track of a type of cat, then shat, cleaned and roasted. This is the best coffee I have ever had, and a product of Bali, but not available at Starbucks in Bali.
Kenyan coffee is excellent, and Starbucks sells it all over the world, but there is no Starbucks in Kenya. Maybe milk from the sacred Zebra is not available.
Starbucks cafes are a great place to blog from. Usually the wifi is free, not always. They have comfy seats. People can spend hours in one. I know, I have.
So fellow travelers, if you ever want to meet up with me in some foreign country, I’ll met you at Starbucks!
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.
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There is another type of gambling one can do in Macua. The stakes are your life, or maybe just your sanity.
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.
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.
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.