Posts Tagged With: hong kong

Hong Kong

We came into Hong Kong for one reason only…to catch up with some of our favourite people, Mike and Patricia, who were holidaying here. These guys are great friends that we had not seen for over a year…and the short hop across from Vietnam to catch up was not to be missed. While we were here we would also take the opportunity to see some of the bits of Hong Kong that we didn’t see when we were here in March for the rugby 7’s.

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We left Hanoi at 7am and did the flight to Kuala Lumpur, hung out at the airport waiting for our connection then did the flight to Hong Kong arriving at about 9pm. Alas we arrived in Hong Kong amidst a furore of protests which centres on the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive. Under a new plan, Hong Kong residents would be allowed to vote for chief executive for the first time—but only from candidates approved by Beijing.

These protests are taking place across Hong Kong but are centred in two main areas, being central and Mong Kok (Kowloon side)…the violent clashes, arrests and tear gassing is happening at Mong Kok…our hotel is in Mong Kok…about 80 metres from the centre of the protests. Mike and Patricia are in a much nicer place…about the same distance the other side of the protest. So to catch up…we traverse through the middle of the demonstration each day.

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In reality there are two opposing protests happening simultaneously…this is mostly split across generational lines with the pro-democracy (students) using “occupy” tactics and shutting down the roads in the two main business and shopping districts. And the anti-occupy group which are mostly middle aged business people upset that the occupy tactics have shut down shops for over a week. The peaceful students were being confronted by frustrated business owners, the odd triad roughneck, and the ever present “rent a crowd” agitators (that exist all over the world) which in turn were met by police. During the day this is quite calm, but of an evening this turns into an entirely different prospect.

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We sat one evening having a lovely meal watching hundreds of police (tooled up) filing past our restaurant…in the direction of our hotels. We finished our meals but called an early end to our post meal sip and bunked down for the night…as we listened to the sounds of sirens, shouting and chanting etc into the wee hours. All of this had been going on since the previous weekend…and the key question was how much longer would it be allowed to continue.

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Despite all the goings on, the place was fairly calm and apart from late in the evenings we did not feel uncomfortable or unsafe. We walked calmly down Nathan road (which was a lovely pedestrian walkway thanks to protest road closures), then traversed the mid level escalators, before being caught in a monsoonal downpour. The next day headed out to the world’s oldest continually operating yum-cha restaurant for breakfast, hit the Dr Sun Yat Sen museum, checked out the maritime defence museum and generally ate and drank and enjoyed each other’s company and catching up after so long.

We then headed off on a bus to the opposite side of the island to Stanley a former pirate port and one time (1842) pseudo capital before the British moved it to the current site. A lovely day traversing over the mountains and wandering along the peninsula and having lunch by the seaside. The highlight of the day was watching Mike haggle with both the shop keeper and his own wife simultaneously.

IMG_3199In short the starting price was 200, Mike offered 120, the shopkeeper refused so Mike said he would go somewhere else…

Let the games begin

Mike kicked in with all of the long standing haggling tools of the trade such as threatening to walk away, being generally disinterested in the item, and claiming the price was just too high…

Enter Patricia…who chimed in with…but that is a good price, it is the same as that Asian guy before you paid…so…

Mike offered more, the shop keeper counter offered, Mike started to walk away…Patricia pulled Mike back and told him that he should give the shop keeper an extra 20…This happened about 3 times…Mike tried valiantly to haggle but it was 2 against 1 and every tactic he employed Patricia countered…the shop keeper was laughing…Mike was whipped…he ended up paying 180.

After we had eaten lunch he stopped at a different shop and bought something else…but by this time he had lost his mojo…he paid the sticker price, no haggling, no negotiation… He just meekly handed over the cash…a beaten man.

The next couple of days was spent being tourists, eating yum cha and having a nice little sip. We somehow managed to pick close to the clearest days (smog wise) to go to the top of Victoria peak and were able to get some relatively clear shots of Hong Kong from on high. We were warned to go early as the tram ride to the top gets packed…and boy was that good advice. We headed up early, had coffees overlooking the city, poked around at the top, had lunch on the summit and took the tram down. At this point we were met with the lines that we would have faced had we done the yum cha breakfast that we were going to do first.

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From here we headed to the nunnery and the park which had some of the most impressive bonsais and topiaries on the planet. A slow wander around the park and a great day was had by all. Cap this off with cheese, sushi, bubbles, red wine, beers and gin and tonic in their room…and all was good and time for Jill and I to traverse the midnight protestor crowd.

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We caught up with Jeanette (not sure of the spelling) a long time friend of Mike’s who has been living and working in HK for 17 years. She lives off the main island, on Lamma Island, a short ferry ride away. So on her day off (we learnt that in HK they do 6 day weeks of about 54 hours) we hit the ferry to Lamma Island for a catch up. On what was her only break for the week she was the perfect host, taking us to a great yum cha on the island. We did the one hour hike to the other side where we settled in to the breezy Oceanside restaurant for drinks and pleasant conversation. After sampling several less than auspicious ales we got a ferry back to the big island and then out to an award winning restaurant for dinner that evening.

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And our catch up was over…a last minute souvenir shop at the local markets gave Mike one last chance to redeem his haggling mojo while shopping for trinkets. He had done fairly well reducing a starting price of 180 down to a final price of 100. A short distance further on I asked how he had gone and then tried to see if I could match his negotiated price…I asked how much…and she started at 100. We exchanged looks and chose not to keep playing this game and walked away with the sound of the woman shouting lower and lower numbers at us with each step. Nothing more was said on the matter.

Mojo not restored…we continued for a last meal and a couple of beers and rued the fact that we had not seen each other for so long. Moments like this week have reminded us that friends are those people that we choose to allow into our lives. We have chosen well.

 

 

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China an overview

 

Well the time has finally come to leave China and move on to the next leg of our little adventure. I guess it is time to take stock of what we have done, where we have been and run through the highlights and lowlights of the time spent in China. We are actually not entirely finished as we will be back in Hong Kong in October and may pop into Macao for a day or two depending upon how the other plans go.

Overall our time in China has been fantastic and I would highly recommend this as a tourist destination for any of you. There are some myths about needing mandarin to travel in China which are quite frankly totally wrong. After a cumulative 7 months full time here we would be lucky to know 20-30 words and have been completely off the beaten path where no English is spoken. The Chinese people are really helpful and a couple of bits of technology gets you through most binds (see Jill’s travel tips section).

So in summary we spent –

205 – Days in China
50 – Cities slept in (more visited or day tripped)
25 – Provinces visited (of 32)
China Map

We have been discussing our best and worst bits and came up with very little on the negative side with the overall impression being ridiculously positive. The other thing we tried to do was to develop a must see itinerary for those seeking to travel here. China however is like Australia and the distances and travel times make seeing everything impossible unless you have unlimited time (there are still things that we missed out on and want to see).

The other thing that stumped us was that some of the must sees (Terracotta Warriors and 3 Gorges Cruise etc.) were some of the least impressive things that we have been to…but how can you really come here and not see them…so despite being so-so I guess they remain must sees. They were ok and it is nice to say that we have been but there is so much better to see in China and if time were limited (which it almost always will be) there are much better places to go.

The other thing was that Jill and I liked different things. She has turned into a mountain goat while here, relishing the stair climbs (that are everywhere)…while I have gone the other way cursing stairs at every opportunity. Obviously there are some things that were awesome for both of us. The Great Wall of China is an absolute must and the best spot is the Mutianyu section (about 60kms outside of Beijing). The other thing that must be done is getting into some of the provinces. Each minority of China is quite different and these differences should be experienced. So here it is…

Traditional Must Sees

The Great Wall of China
Forbidden City
Tiananmen Square
The summer palace
Gate of heavenly peace
Mao’s Tomb
Shanghai
Walled cities
Hanging Monastery
The terracotta Warriors
3 gorges dam
Tibet ?

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Most of these are easy to achieve from Beijing with limited travel times and this could be done in a two week stint if you push a little bit. The warriors is a quick pop across to Xian where the Muslim quarter is a must. Xian is a walled city but Jill’s suggestions are that Pingyao and Datong are better examples and from Datong you can also see the hanging monastery and Yúngāng Caves..head down and out through Shanghai and all of this within the two week journey.

Tibet is a whole other issue. There seems to be a global interest in Tibet given the Dalai Lama scenario but having been there we would never return. The Everest leg was nice and something we will no doubt brag about down the track but way too difficult to be worth the 2 hour photo shoot that we got. Especially given that a lot of the time it is clouded over and you don’t get a nice view (we were blessed with perfect weather). The food was terrible but the road between Lhasa and Shigatse was the highlight but it is a tough schlepp and should not be taken lightly.

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Lesser known gems

These are the things that do not immediately come to mind when you think of China but having been there and experienced them they are VERY high on both of our lists. We would do almost all of these before the last 3 on the earlier list…but they are less famous.

Guilin to Yangshou river rafting
Jiuzhaigou – Jiuzhai national park with blue lakes and waterfalls everywhere
Harbin – ice festival
Kunming – Stone forest
Kashgar – livestock market
Chengdu – panda breeding centre + giant Buddha at Leshan

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This list of places will probably not make an initial itinerary however were really nice spots to either kick back or enjoy a lesser paced time getting to know the real China or seeing sights in a less hectic manner. Nice if you have heaps of time but sadly will be missed by most.

Dali – walled city
Dandong – North Korean border
Shanhaiguan – wall meets ocean + first mountain pass
Mountains – Wutaishan, Mianshan, Taishan,
Xiahe – monastery (more Tibetan than Tibet)
Anshun – biggest waterfall in China
Hohhot – Inner Mongolia
Hangzhou – west lake
Shangri-la – mini Tibet

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After this there were a bunch of cities that we stayed in that we found to be totally charming and full of the local Chinese culture and lifestyle but not necessarily likely to get a tourist visit. We would go back to them as we had a really good time eating, drinking and mingling with the locals. Places like Xining where we relaxed after the Tibet ordeal, or Yinchuan where they had 20 quai massages and free street theatre, or Guangzhou where we lazed eating super cheap food in a street that turned into restaurantville after dark.

Myths

You need to speak Chinese – rubbish…almost every Chinese person you meet will try and help you as much as they can. If you have a smile and a nice attitude you will never go wrong. A translator app on your phone and a dictionary style app like Pleco will get you through every drama.
Don’t eat the street food – rubbish…this is the tastiest, cheapest and best food to eat in China. It is clean, and turned over so frequently that most of the time it will be made in front of you. There is tourist food with snakes, bugs and scorpions etc but these are mostly for show and photographs. The every day stuff is fine.
China is dangerous – rubbish…be aware of your surroundings, as you always should be in any country, and you will feel and be safer than you would on any Australian street.

The bad bits

The absolute epitome of all things that are wrong with China exist and are openly displayed by one group especially…The Dama. This is not to say that these traits are not widely available but the Chinese Aunties (or Dama) are the group that has embraced or inherited all that is wrong with China. They are by no means the cause of it…but when looking at the offensive behaviour that exists in China…7 out of 10 times you will see it displayed by one of these aunties.

By night they are happy middle aged women dancing in the parks and public spaces (pissing off the locals with the loud music but amusing the tourists). But during the day they are the phlegm spelunking, bodily fluid hacking, phone yelling, street blocking, child pissing, line ignoring, elbow throwing, crowd pushing group that is oblivious to and ignorant of all those around them.

In a newspaper rant the Chinese papers tried to explain the attitude claiming that … Growing up during the Chinese revolution these Dama worked hard and didn’t enjoy good life when they were young; they only tried their best to save money. Now their children have grown up. With retirement pensions, they have more free time and money to spend on their own life. This explains some of it but not all.

The older generation has some of the worst Chinese traits, the younger generation has reasonably few of them…but the Dama…the Chinese baby boomer equivalents are shockers. And they are mostly women…probably because the men had chain smoked themselves into an early grave. The middle group that is the Dama is atrocious and the worst China has to see and offer.

But the future is bright. The current generation is influenced by the poor examples set and is revolting against this. They are more polite, more aware that other people exist, and less likely to hock bodily fluids around the streets. There is still a long way to go…yelling still takes place and the ignorance of those around them remains high. Smoking will be the next hurdle to be fought as it is impossible to go anywhere without being swamped by cigarette smoke (despite no smoking signs everywhere). No meal can be eaten without half the restaurant firing up after their food.

A Snapshot

Once again we will finish on a selection of thumbnails of our favourite moments…needless to say after 7 months there are too many to try and put on our little post. If anybody is thinking of a trip here we would be happy to provide any advice or share any insights we may have that may help your planning.

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Last minute thoughts

China has recently introduced 72 hour Visa free cities…20 of them in total. This presents the perfect opportunity for stopover tasters as you head to other destinations. Guilin is one of these and was my favourite spot…72 hrs would be enough time to fly in, poke around, crash, take the raft to Yangshou, poke around, crash then return to Guilin for the flight out. This was debatably our best day and certainly one of our best days in China.

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And the adventure continues…

 

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Hong Kong and Shenzhen

The order of this post is a touch out of order as we are heading back to Xiamen for Jill to do her assignment but nevertheless on we go. We took our first flight with dragon air which is a Cathay pacific affiliate and other than huge delays due to Hong Kong weather and air traffic control it was pretty good…newish plane, smooth flight, pleasant flight attendants, nice tasting food, range of entertainment options.

Got into HK and went cruising around town, doing our usual mix of sightseeing and eating. It must be said very early on in this post that Hong Kong is incredibly expensive when compared with the rest of China. It remains about half of the Australian price but is a lot more than what we have been paying for everything on the mainland. Food is about 4-25 times more expensive depending upon which joint you hit.

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We headed over to Kowloon to get our backpacks mended (due to some damage inflicted by dodgy Indian baggage handlers) and generally just poke around. After our chores we hit Nathan road which is a major shopping district on the Kowloon side then on to the park, the mosque (interesting to note that after dark near the mosque the streets turn into markets selling vibrators and ice pipes), then down to the water for a walk along Tsim Sha Tsui, the city light show and the avenue of the stars walk.

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PAUSE – We paid a lot of money for our Osprey brand backpacks and the experience of having them mended justified the expense. Jill’s bag had violently skidded across every Tarmac in India and had a couple of minor holes from intense scuffing and my trolley handle catch was not releasing properly. Two emails each way and all sorted…no fuss no bother…no cost. The extra money buys you top quality and customer service.

The next day we headed back across to mainland China to the city of Shenzhen where we caught up with Chris Rea an old rugby friend and Laurie’s boy who had spent a long time living in Asia. We wandered the city and saw how easy life could be if you had the language skills that Jill and I are still struggling to manage (I swear that there is a switch in your brain somewhere that we just can’t find). We all headed back to HK together for the rugby the next day (rugby gets its own post).

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On day 2 we were joined by Jeff and Bec Ballinger long time friends dating back to school. The boys went to the footy while the girls apparently went to the Chi Lin Nunnery, the Nan Lian gardens, Hong Kong park, hit the computer market, and had high tea at the Azure hotel. Then we all hooked up for a lottery dinner and a few drinks at the end of the day.

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Sunday was all about the football for the boys and Bec for the early part then she bailed on us and went with Jill to see the Bruce Lee exhibit at the heritage museum the 10,000 Buddhas Monastery.

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Monday was a group day where we wandered town stopping for yum cha brunch at the oldest place in town (Lin Heung Tea House). There is a Michelin star rated dim sum place in HK that is the cheapest Michelin star restaurant in the world but alas we never got there.
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We caught up with Chris again in the afternoon and all had a farewell drink before Chris headed off to china that evening, we returned to Xiamen the next morning and Bec and Boof were due to head back to Rockhampton the day after. A great week, good times and awesome friends.

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