HONG KONG, CHINA Ė March 5 TO 8

 

 

HONG KONG- Part 1

(Written by Steve)

 

I donít even know how to start to describe this place. If you took Manhattan, Rio and Sydney Harbour and put them all together, maybe that would give you some sort of idea of the size. Then take a thousand boats of every size and tell them to cross the harbour as fast as they can, and then light up every skyscraper with lighting from Times Square and then you might just have half of Hong Kong Harbour. Itís gigantic, crazy, smelly, all night, crowded, wonderful and fantastic all at the same time, if that makes any sense.

We came into the Harbour just as the sun was setting but had a hard time seeing the shoreline due to the heavy smog. When we docked at around 8 at night, the light show from the buildings was spectacular. We got off the ship around 9 pm and headed up to the Night Market, which turned out to be around a 25 minute walk. If you can imagine a 10 block stretch of closed street, lined with thousands of stands that take up the entire width and length of the street. The stands sell everything from pirated DVDís, Nintendo games, clothing, watches, toys, every kind of electronic gadget you can think of. The place is packed and if you have small kids with you, you had better get them up on your shoulders to keep them out of the crowd. If someone in front of you stops to look at something, donít think it will stop the person behind you. I really like it here, itís all business and people just want to keep moving. Itís so funny to watch the Westerners deal with this type of attitude, they give the dirty looks, and the head shaking. The people here could care less about what happens in a crowd, they are on the move and just keep on going.

When our family found out we were coming close to Hong Kong they all told us to be so careful because of the SARS, Avian Flu and any other diseases they could think of. The funny thing is, before we could leave the ship we all had our temperatures taken and if we were not in the normal range we were sent back. I found it quite funny that the Chinese were as terrified about us bringing in diseases as we were about getting them here. I come from Vancouver, Canada and in the last few years our city has had SARS, Avian Flu, Mad Cow and who knows how many more. SARS and the Avian flu flooded the news last year in Canada and people were terrified of Canadian Travelers, but on the news we were told to watch out for Asian travelers. I guess it all just depends what side of the fence you are on.

On a side note, my Sister gave me the heads up on another thing my father was real concerned about. I guess I talk about Father OíShea a bit when I write these stories, and it has my father a little worried. He is wondering if I am becoming Catholic, and I am still smiling about that comment. I really miss my Dad, and its comments like that one that makes him so much fun. You see, I sit right beside Ray (Father OíShea) every night at dinner and have a great time. I donít think of him as a Priest really, he is more like buddy because he is so witty, great with our kids, loves magic and just an all around nice guy, a real treat to be around. So Dad, just concentrate on the bird flu and I promise I wonít sign any religious documents till I get home.

 

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O.K. back to Hong Kong. The first thing you will notice is a zillion people walking everywhere, and doing it very quickly. The second is a thousand double-decker buses zooming the streets with a million cars flying all over the place. You get what I am trying to tell you? It is crazy, but very cool and I have not even got to the shopping part yet (I will let Helen tell you about that).

After docking and getting a physical from the Hong Kong security officers, we headed off the ship around 10pm.We of course have to go through a mall to get to the street from the ship. The mall beside the ship has 3 levels and is 4 blocks in length and has everything a westerner wants but for Ĺ the price. We managed to fight the temptations and got out onto the street with our pals from the ship. Of course Hala (one of our friends) took us to another fantastic spot called the Night Market, and then after 1 hour of walking away from the ship, I heard those words that no parent wants to hear, when you are a long way from home. Danika looked up at me and said ďdaddy I donít feel well, my tummy is rumblingĒ It was 11:30 pm and we were about a full Ĺ hour into this market and there was no easy way out of this place to grab a cab. We had to meet with the gang from the ship at midnight, so we had to find one of them before we headed back to the ship. Letís just say we ran into one of them, found a cab and flew back to the ship. We thought we would quickly phone home and just about finished yakking, when my 4 year old started puking like Mt. St Helens. Helen was just finishing up on the phone when the little vomit machine went into action. Iíll let Helen fill you in on what our next couple of days were like. Not fun!

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Hong Kong

By: Helen

Well!That was interesting!We were so excited to see Hong Kong and were planning all these great things to see and do.The one little thing we failed to factor into our plans was The Dreaded Stomach Virus!!!I had literally just gotten off the phone with my mom and she had asked me how the kids were doing, whether they were healthy and I said, ďOh yes, so far they have been great.ĒI should have known better.Just 2 minutes later, Danika was puking on the sidewalk.We kind of thought maybe it was because she had seen some men catch a fish and the fish was bleeding and squirming and she was very upset with the whole thing.But, when we got back to the room she threw up again and we knew that it was definitely something else.During the night she threw up all over her bed and so we had to call Housekeeping and the poor guys came down, we woke them up because theyíre uniforms were half unbuttoned, and they only let one guy in with gloves and mask.I felt like some kind of alien, you could tell they were being very careful not to touch anything and they even took out her mattress.We finally got her settled with some Gravol suppositories (sorry, too much info?)and she fell asleep.The next morning the shipís doctor came to see us and by that time Nikolas was feeling a little green himself.To our surprise he downplayed their illnesses and told us it was probablyfever-induced vomiting.I thought that was kind of strange because she started vomiting before she spiked a fever.Anyway, we didnít think too much at the time but in hindsight we are guessing that he did not want to add our two kids to his long list of stomach virus victims.He told us to keep her away from the Nursery and to let her rest in the room.He did not quarantine her and now that I look back it makes me quite angry.He didnít even look at Nikolas and told us to call him the next day if we needed him.That evening the Nurse called and asked how they were doing and told us that the doctor would be in to see us first thing in the morning.We waited until 1pm and then called them and they said they were on a break off the ship, shopping Iím sure, and that they would be back at 5pm.Steve said to me, Forget that! And we got the kids dressed and off we went to see the sights of Hong Kong.

We bought Danika an umbrella stroller from the ToysRUs in the mall and that was a saving grace for our day.We decided to take a taxi to the Ladies Market, which is exactly like the Night Market but during the day.It is also a lot bigger as it includes three separate streets.One is for electronics, the second is for ladies items and the third is for sports.We spent most of the day walking along the Ladies Street and bought lots of junk.I say that because that is what it really is.Very cheaply made clothes, shoes, purses and tons of trinkets that you would find in a dollar store.Still, it is all so inexpensive and you get caught up in it all and we bought some ďGucciĒ purses, ďFerrariĒ jackets and a Hello Kitty for Dani.

We were quite hungry so we found a restaurant that looked full of both locals (good sign) and tourists.We sat down and ordered our usual, boring Chinese food:sweet and sour pork, noodles, rice and wonton soup.†† Itís amazing how scarce chicken is on any menu in Asia.It looks like pork has replaced all of the chicken dishes.Anyways, the lunch was delicious, still not as fantastic as we keep expecting but we did enjoy it all except we screwed up with the noodles again.It happened in Japan as well, we expect thin chow mein noodles and get the thick udon noodles instead.Oh well.

Everyone told us how fantastic the shopping is in Hong Kong and I have to say I was a little disappointed.Iím sure itís because we have not gone to the right areas but I really thought it would be a little better.Steve wrote that the mall beside the ship had stuff half the price of North America but I beg to differ.The mall has a lot of the high end clothing like Prada and Escada and I thought the prices were comparable.I did find some gorgeous stores on the kidís level where I bought Danika, who is the one that least needs more clothes, some outfits that are just beautiful.Some of the stores had 60 percent sales and the clothes averaged about 15-25 American dollars.We are talking good quality Oshkosh and European designer clothes.††

Steve wrote that he would leave it to me to talk about the shopping in Hong Kong.I have never been a huge shopper and my biggest thrill is getting a bargain deal on something.I feel inadequate when it comes to critiquing the shopping here because it would been unfair for me to say anything when Iím sure we did not even begin to experience what Hong Kong is all about.

This place is way more amazing than I ever imagined.When we sailed into the harbour it was this most surreal experience.First you seen the land from a distance and it just looks like any one of the many islands weíve passed on our journey.Then all of a sudden you see buildings and then more buildings, high-rises stacked along the shoreline.The smog makes them look like an illusion and then you start getting closer to Hong Kong Harbour and the boats appear and they are everywhere and it seems like they follow some sort of organized chaos.It was nighttime by the time we actually docked and the view of Hong Kong is so spectacular it is too hard to explain.From the edge of the water to the base of the mountains behind there are huge skyscrapers and they are all sorts of sizes and shapes and most of them have neon lights that are flashing or changing colours or laser beams streaming up and down and side to side.These lights and lazer beams run the full length of these buildingsand one huge round one that is huge has writing that is the full length of the building and it rotates around it.Wow, itís unreal.Hong Kong has surpassed all my expectations and I just love it here.I must come back with my sister one day and spend a week here.I love it so much I am willing to take that dreaded, what would it be, 12 hour flight here!Yes, you have that in writing!

 

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HONG KONG -

PART 2 Ė (written by Helen)

 

Our last day in Hong Kong was supposed to start bright and early but as usual we all slept in and didnít get off the ship until 11am.We missed breakfast on the ship so we headed to the nearest Starbuckís and had it there.Yes, the tall, decaf, no foam, none fat latte tastes just like the ones at home!All the baristas speak great English too.

Our ship was docked right beside the Star Ferry so we hopped on and made the 10 minute ride across.It is very reasonable as it only cost us about 2 dollars for all four of us!Once we reached Hong Kong Island we saw our bus right away that was to take us to the base of Victoriaís Peak.Steve had to run and get some change because the bus only takes exact change.The bus ride was the same price as the ferry ride.As we drove to the Peak I couldnít help but notice how beautiful Hong Kong was.Somehow I envisioned it being an ugly, dirty concrete jungle but itís not.The buildings are a mixture of old and new and there was a surprising amount of greenery around every corner.There were palm trees and huge trees that looked like massive bonsai trees, they were beautiful.

When we arrived at the base I was a little nervous about going up the tram.Itís actually a funicular and when you enter the trolley it is on a slope and when you look forward you can see this very steep track that awaits you.The trolley is on tracks like train tracks and it has a rope in the middle that hauls the trolley up the mountain.It takes about 10 minutes to get up to the top and at one point the slope is so steep that you almost feel like itís going to tip over backwards.I was holding on for dear life!The tracks run along past residential sections and past schools.We could see the kids in their uniforms out in the schoolyard playing soccer.

The tram has been in place since 1888 and the Peak Tower was renovated this year.When you make it up the 1,800 feet to the summit, the view is spectacular.The view of the harbour and Kowloon and you get a real sense of the density of the towers that line the coastline.It really is breathtaking and the lookout is huge with a two level restaurant as well.The kids wanted to go to the wax museum and Ripleyís Believe It Or Not! that were also up there, but we said no.We didnít stay long because we were really short on time so we got back on the tram and rode down the mountain backwards.The seats all face up the mountain, itís really quite bizarre.

We hailed a cab and just at that moment a lady came up to us and asked us if we needed any help translating to the taxi man.She spoke excellent English and was able to tell the driver where we wanted to go and she also told us how much it should cost in case he tried to rip us off.That was so nice of her and we thanked her profusely.We had the driver take us to Aberdeen which we heard was the site of the sampans.We got out of the cab and walked down a pier.At the end there was a bunch of these old rickety looking boats tied to the dock.I was about to turn around and walk away when one lady came running towards us and motioned for us to get on her boat.She kept saying, ď200 dollarsĒ over and over again.Much to my surprise my husband said, ďSure!Ē.I looked at him with, Iím sure, my worst ďare you out of your mindĒ look and grabbed the kids and tried to walk away.He just said, ďoh, come on, itís a once in a lifetime opportunity!Ē.So, hesitantly, I joined him on the boat with the kids and sat down.Steve gave the husband the money, he jumped off, she sat down, gunned the engine and off we went.I kind of had that feeling where things are going a little too fast and I have lost control of the situation.I looked around and I couldnít see any life jackets anywhere.The boat, quite honestly, needed A LOT of work and it really just barely putted through the water.I smiled a lot at the lady driving and she seemed so pleased to have us on her boat.I finally found the life jackets hanging in the rafters and I mentioned quietly to Steve that there were only 3 jackets and 5 of us.He smiled and said, ďthatís perfectĒ.I tried to relax and after a few minutes I realized that she actually was a very good driver and she took us to where the fishing boats were all tied up on the water and to some boats where I am guessing that some people actually live.I heard that it was now against the law to live on the sandpans like they use to so we didnít actually see anyone other than some fishermen.At one point, she turned a corner and it seemed like we were stuck in amongst the fishing boats.We thought she was turning around to go back out but we realized that she was actually trying to squeeze between two huge fishing boats.She just barely made it with mere inches on either side and when we came through she actually started clapping and cheering and well, so did we!She was very cute and we were out there for about half an hour.It was actually very interesting and the water was just filled with garbage.It was floating all around us and Iím sure some sewage was in the water too because the smell was not all that pleasant.We made it back safe and sound and Steve gave her a tip and she seemed quite happy with us.

We got into another cab and he convinced us that it would be cheaper and faster if he just drove us back to our ship instead of taking the ferry.He spoke very good English and it was a nice ride through the city and under the harbour through the tunnel.He complained about how difficult it now was to make money in Hong Kong since China took over and he was very vocal about how displeased he was with the government.When he found out how much we paid for our cruise he kept slapping Steve on the shoulder and laughing, saying he was a very good man.I think what he was really thinking was that Steve was a very stupid man for spending that kind of money on a trip.You could tell he thought we were nuts.

We were back in time to do just a little more shopping and then we sailed off towards Thailand.

As I mentioned before, we really loved Hong Kong and would love to come back and spend more time here so that we can see more sites, rather thanjust the shopping districts.I found the people to be very friendly and it is very easy to get around as a lot of people here speak English.It seems so much more Westernized than Japan and it was a little more comfortable to us.Living in Canada, I always had this sense that the world kind of revolved around us and the U.S.Being her, in Asia, has shown me that we are just a speck in the broad sense of the world.Itís amazing to see these cities with all these people.The biggest surprise for me is that they, the people and even the cities are not all that different from us.I am truly on the other side of the world and itís not that different.I donít know exactly what I was expecting but it has really opened up my eyes.Even the people on board that we have met.All are from different parts of the world and yet we all have similarities and the conversations are as if I am talking to my friends.Wouldnít it be nice if the whole world could embrace the differences and celebrate the similarities of the world?One can only hope.

 

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