Away on a cruise

I have returned, in high spirits, but no less tired.

My extended family had been filtering in for about a week before last Sunday, for both my sister’s and my graduations were happening. With the last of them in, 17 ppl occupied our house to go on the cruise, with Evan’s family of 7 coming with us.
After project grad, I got in about 3 hours of sleep between stuff before a charter mini-bus came to pick us up. We had an enormous amount of luggage and far too many ppl, and so this apparently was our best choice (I could be really nice and put the pictures in here, but that sounds like work. Use facebook if you want to take a look at the pictures).
The other side of my family had been on a cruise mebbe 5 years ago to Alaska, and going with the same company and on a ship of almost identical design, it didn’t take long to get used to it. Named the “Rhapsody of the Seas”, the ship was certainly large enough to accommodate everyone and have variety, while still having pockets for us to reliably hang out at.
And that we did. Not entirely sure why, but the kids in our group spent an amazing amount of time playing cards in the card room. Yes. We’re on a cruise ship, and we’re engaged in ERS, idiot, and nine-down (a really cool game similar to Spades, except playable with any number of players). I’m still trying to figure out how justifiable that was (I hate knowing about sunk costs; that can be so unintuitive)
Of course, cruises are just big feasts, so meals are not to be skipped or shortened. The breakfast buffet worked out as I finally realized this year that the reason I hated eating breakfast out was because I hate bacon, sausage, and many generic breakfast foods. Instead, I got to dig in on omelets every morning. Lunch was pretty much whatever, but the dinners in the dining hall were pretty much amazing. I also discovered that I have a bad addiction to soft serve ice cream.

Our first stop was in Jamaica, and my sister Lisa and I joined my Uncle Ben and his family on a tour centered around a fruit plantation visit. Our tour guide was decent, and managed to keep us interested with good information and jokes. We first stopped at a church, which I have a couple pictures of, then at a schoolhouse.
The schoolhouse was quite something. 80 kids, 3 teachers, 1 building, and used to visitors. No apparent lighting, little equipment, and minimal space. I guess for people living in places like suburban North America (like me), it’s hard to imagine how poverty goes, but I’d imagine that being it. While one can understand that it happens, actually seeing it is a different experience.
We then went to the fruit plantation, which was actually something of a disappointment. The rain made it less hospitable, but we really didn’t get to see where ‘nething was grown or learn much about the process. We did, however, get some good samples.

Grand Cayman was nasty, nasty rain. My sister Lisa and I had intended on going para-sailing, but all of that was canceled because of the rain and winds. Instead, I walked around some of the touristy shopping stuff right along the shore.
Note “right along the shore”. I could tell from appearances that the tourist stuff ended quite soon past the water-front, but Evan and Thor apparently just went for a walk, and ended up in the residential areas soon after, with few accommodations for ‘nething. I guess I had the misunderstanding that the entire island like that was just one giant resort area, with shops and tourist stuff spread across all of it. Even, so I’d say that the shops and stuff only stood at most 10 blocks across and two back. And in that area, several jewelry shops stood. What a contrast.

Cozumel was probably one of the more fulfilling experiences. That day, I went on a trip to the Mayan ruins at Tulum with Evan’s grandparents and step-sister. Fortunately, the rain decided to let us have one clear day despite only a 40% chance of such.
The trip to get to it from the ship was about 2 hrs between a ferry and bus, but worth the trip. Tulum was some Mayan coastal fortress type-thingie, with much of the ruins intact. While they didn’t let us actually get inside or very close to the buildings, I think I got the best of it on camera (thanks Lisa for letting me borrow your higher-quality camera!).
The site was actually a little nasty. The sun was very hot, and the mosquitoes were everywhere. I wish I had taken a picture of my shirt to show you how many there were, but suffice to say, I had to sweep my shirt quite often to get rid of all of the ones that clung to it and my skin. According to the tour guide, they only come out like that on the day after rain. It rains, they thrive, and but in another day of the heat, they all die. Well, I’m not going to complain; better than viewing the site in the rain.
The ruins were coastal, of course, so we had the opportunity to go down to the beach that I took pictures of. While we didn’t, it was quite beautiful. The water was completely clear, so the blue spread all the way to the horizon and picturesque sky. Right along the shore was really cool as well. Whenever the tides came in, they’d grab some of the sand, so there’d be an area of a mix of sand and blue water. And I realize I can’t explain it very well, but it was pretty amazing. Even the pictures don’t do it justice.

So I don’t like this entry very much, because it’s kind of a summary, without either detail or insight, but I figure I have to blog about the trip. It was fun.

I’m Back…

Well, not back in H-town, but that’ll come soon enough (right around New Year, I believe). Just back to blogging. For those of you who enjoy this, you’re welcome. Else, sorry for clogging up your RSS feed.
So I just got back into Beijing today at 6 in the morning after a midnight flight from Singapore. After spending 5 days there (arrived morning of Christmas day), I think I’ve had enough of it. Great tourist place, but it was extremely rainy while we were there (not letting up until the last day), and I don’t think there’s 5 days worth of stuff to do. More like 4.
Don’t get me wrong. Singapore is a very nice place. Honestly, in a lot of ways, it feels a bit like a utopia. It’s very pretty there: just enough of everything. It’s very green, with trees and such everywhere, while still having a very modern feel, with lots of buildings and little wasted space. The buildings themselves have a mixed feel, with both preserved, older, historical buildings and many high-rises. For the most part, it lives up to its reputation for cleanliness, though I definitely saw cigarette butts, unhappy-looking hallways, and trash thrown out of sight. Even so, better than just about ‘newhere else I’ve seen. They had a big party in the streets on Christmas day, which, though a bit boring, managed to maintain very tame and of appropriate spirit.
Tourism goes nicely. There are some sights, but the real focus lies in the pocketbook and the stomach. Addressing the former, shopping is everywhere. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Unfortunately, if you don’t want ‘nething, that is mostly shot. I, for one, got nothing in Singapore. The two major points there are clothes and electronics, the former of which I care nothing for, and the latter of which I really don’t need. In the latter, the food was quite good. The local cuisine was nice, but not really revolutionary. Singapore takes very strong influences from its constituents (they repeated this about a billion times, but I don’t ‘member. Something like 75% Chinese, Another 20% of Indians and Malay, in some combination, then everyone else), and I’ve gotten my fill of Chinese food, and I really don’t like Indian food that much. Regardless, I enjoyed it.
Back to utopia: the tour guides seem to emphasize the perks of life. The welfare systems seems decently done, so that everyone should get housing with some system of mandatory income payments to housing (with employer throw-in), and cars staying modern with 10-year certificates of use. They certainly painted a happy picture of life.
Which kind of scares me. The media and entertainment have always painted a picture that the perfect is absolutely terrible, perhaps epitomized by HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”. I really haven’t looked into the issues that Singapore has, but apparently their media has had problems with free speech. There’s one thing that high government intervention will do.
Oh, and if you ever go to Singapore, don’t take a day to go to Sentosa island, unless you’re staying there as your resort. It was a total bust for our family. And not just because of the rain.

Shopping in China

I’m sure you’ve all heard about markets, whether from people (like me) who have shown you the DVDs, or 1st-hand on the streets of New York Chinatown. Lemme break it down for you:
Homogeneous products: everyone is selling the same thing. The branding isn’t distinguished between the sellers. Somehow, someone has a massive factory churning out folexes, t-shirts, and jewelry, from which all of the vendors buy their merchandise. I wish I was smart enough to be that person.
Large number of buyers and sellers: Boy, are those places crowded. Thankfully, most are smart enough to learn English to converse with the (dumb) westerners who come by, often in large numbers. Bustling place, especially now that they’ve moved inside (if I don’t comment on this at some post later in the week, comment if you care, and I’ll get to it). The shops are all very close to each other, so if you don’t like one, take two steps forward and try again.
Imperfect Information: Oh boy, is this one. It’s a market. You vs. them. Prices are usually inflated at least 200%. About 700% on some t-shirts, today. If you don’t know how much the items are worth, you’re going to pay too much, of which the sellers have absolutely no problem allowing you to do. Best hope you’ve improved your appraise and persuade skills before you come (at least 10 ranks =D). And remember: the best thing you can do is walk away.
Sellers are price-takers: This one I’m not perfectly sure about in my head, but I think I’m right. As mentioned above, the sellers are trying to get you to pay too much, but in the end, if you can get them down to what it’s worth, they know what it’s worth. And they’re going to stick to that value. If it’s too little, those are losses. If it’s too much, then the (smart) customer can walk on to the next shop.
So I ended up picking up t-shirts (not for me) and DVDs, though by no means splurging. Not like you can really splurge, with prices as they are. Back in NY, I ‘member people getting DVDs for $3-4 on the street. Definitely overpaying. Of course, the plane ticket is expensive, but when you move past that, you’re talking about much cheaper merchandise. 2 things make stuff really cheap:
1) Standard of Living: It’s just cheaper to live here. If you were here, you’d know why.
2) Exchange Rates: China had pegged the value of the RMB for quite a few years, since it’s good for international trade (mostly, I think). Ask any good econ student to explain if you don’t get it. Anyways, the exchange rate means that stuff is ridiculously cheap for us.
Here in China, it’s fair to pay about $.50 for a DVD, $1.25 if you’re looking for the real deal (as real as it gets around here ‘neways). Not bad at all.

Xi’an gets a lot juicier

So I think I’ll blame the fact that my eyes are constantly a little sore on the air ’round these parts. Didn’t even bring my contacts, and even when not tired, it’s been less than optimal.
By North American standards, China is a dirty place. The air is a nightmare for asthmatics, especially during the summer. No big surprise, of course. Developing countries (so termed by whatever higher-up international organization, whether you agree or not) tend to have a high energy usage, especially in the less friendly kinds. In China, I think coal is still pretty much all the rage. ‘Neways, the air isn’t so great. Apparently, the misty look outside is just fog, but even so, it’s not the happiest looking fog. Visibility, of course, is way down (as you’ll see in the pictures when I get them uploaded to wherever sometime later), though probably not as bad as Heathrow, according to CNN.
The water isn’t so great, either. Tip: don’t… drink… the water… good for washing your hands, taking a shower, and whatever else. Really bad for drinking and brushing your teeth. It struck me as a little surprising, since I had never left NA except for to China, though from reports, Mexico and other places are similar. Then again, even in the US, bottled water is a lot more popular than I can possibly understand, so apparently some have adapted towards not drinking tap water.

Enough on that. About the day:
Batman and Robin came to pick us up in the morning. I must give them a lot of credit: as soon as we’d leave somewhere, they’d have pulled up and gotten the door open before we had even seen them. I can’t imagine that waiting is the most amusing, and if they’re waiting, watching, that’s pretty hard-core. But the rant about the job market was in the last post.
Our first stop was a statue thingie dedicated to the monk from the story “Journey to the West”. If you don’t know about it, wiki it. It’s fairly well-known outside of China, with a lot of adaptations and such. Synopsis: a monk starts in Xi’an, goes to India to get some Buddhist texts, is protected by some dudes, most importantly the Monkey King, and comes back. Exciting, eh? Well, it’s a lot better in its non-abridged version. Regardless, they had a nice statue of him, and the pagoda supposedly built when he came back, the latter of which we didn’t visit due to the entrance fee (we’ve seen quite a few pagodas; seen one…) Short diversion, with content to match.
The next stop was a veritable mother lode for AD stuff for me. We happened to the Shaanxi Historical Museum, where I got a look and some of the stuff going back to the Neolithic times. For most of you, it probably means nothing, but a surprisingly high amount of stuff actually directly corresponded to stuff we’re doing in AD, so some nice photos and remarks will make their way into the ppt. Unfortunately, it was a history museum, not the art museum (which we passed), so it really only hit on the burial stuff and the functional art, and not as much the painting and calligraphy. Well, can’t be perfect.
Next came the Xi’an city wall, which they apparently make you pay to stand up on. Not really that exciting, but a nice sight-seeing diversion. My family managed to prove its brilliance as we couldn’t figure out which side was inside and outside of the city (they’ve built a lot on either side), though honestly, I ended up being wrong. Go me and not actually looking at the wall for the crenellation, or using any good logic.
After that the tomb for the Western Han emperor, Liu Qi. Apparently one of the other big attractions, the museum part was kind of lame, and built it up to suck. The actual dig itself, though, was pretty incredible. If you remember (or care to scroll), I mentioned that the terracotta site wasn’t particularly attractive to tourists, being out in the open air and not designed for optimal viewing. Well, this one is totally different. Going to the site, first, it’s “underground”. From what I got, they basically buried him and put him in a giant mound of dirt (almost hill-like, though a bit more pyramid than natural) with all of his stuff. Instead of terracotta soldiers, though, he had little guys, who didn’t have any clothes or armor. Or arms. Apparently they made the first two out of rotted-away textiles, and the last out of wood. Beats me. Though it’s kind of funny to see sub-50 cm soldiers with no arms. I guess they were the forerunners of fly-weight kick boxing.
Well, this one was nicely fitted with a full museum-like design. They even made us put on shoe-coverings to maintain the pristine state of it. Well, everything real was encased in glass (unlike the just open-air terracotta one), but the entire dig site was there. Behind glass. Temperature was regulated, which was cool, but it gets better. Not only could you see it, you could walk over it. They had one of those glass floors, so you could walk right over the stuff and look down into the tomb. Kinda scary, but really awesome. After that, they had dug down to the same level as the stuff, so you could look across at the dig stuff, right behind the glass. Really nifty. But you can really only see the midget army so many times before it gets old.
After that, we went back to the airport, from where we flew back to Beijing. Not bad for 2 1/2 days of sight-seeing.
It’s late, I’m kind of tired, so that’s pretty much it. More later, I guess.

Day 1… or 2…

(read the previous entry if you want to keep things in order)

So the plane got into Beijing yesterday in the afternoon, and we didn’t have too much of a problem. Thankfully, they aren’t nearly as much of a pain here as they are in the US. Security has become quite the thing, apparently. Good to know that the whole world isn’t paranoid.
Got back into the feel of Chinese traffic, again. I’ve pretty much determined that the drivers here are some of the most skilled drivers in the world. In North America, people respect traffic laws and drive safely. For the most part, no hitches, just when people are talking on their cell phones, eating, fixing the radio, putting on make-up, drinking, or dropping well-labeled hot coffee on their lap. China traffic is pretty much whatever goes. The lines don’t mean much. Pedestrians are everywhere, and their just as brave as their motorized compatriots (random note: instead of calling ppl citizens around here, they’re called “nationals”). It’s basically one giant game of chicken. Every man looking out for numero uno. From one perspective, that’s not as bad as it sounds. Yes, you’re only worried about yourself, but hitting a pedestrian or knocking bumpers is quite a pain, so they’re constantly vigilant. From another, it’s quite a nightmare. Advice: don’t try to rent a car and drive if you visit. Leave it to the taxis. They know what to do when someone cuts in front of them, or how to fit 3 cars into 2 lanes, or when the appropriate time to go is. From another, it reflects the apparent attitude of the people. That whole thing about being inconsiderate doesn’t stop after getting away from the wheel, like road rage. As far as I can tell, the only way to actually get what you want is to be a jerk, because if you’re not, no one else has any problem running all over you and taking advantage of your generosity. From trying to get off a bus to getting a table at a restaurant, being nice doesn’t really pay off.
Which is kind of sad, now that I think about it. In my romantic, hopeful view instilled by years of apparently decent moral guidance from parents and teachers, someone’s got to take a stand and do something to change things. Unfortunately, trying to change things by being the example would just totally get yourself owned. *shrugs*
Even though I had slept a lot on the plane and gotten ahead with 6 hrs of CoD, I still got ridiculously tired at about 8. Going to sleep soon after (my dad works in Beijing, so we’re camping out in his apartment when in Beijing, if you’re at all confused), I must’ve woken up at around 4, and was completely unable to get back to sleep. Not a bad thing, entirely, since we had an early flight. I’m actually typing this entry from the Hyatt in Xi’an. Plane left at 8-something, then arrived less than 2 hours later.
So pretty much the only reason why people ever come to Xi’an is to see what the self-proclaimed “eighth wonder of the world”: the terracotta soldiers. History lesson: China is known for its emperors and dynasties, stretching from 221 BC to 1911 AD, officially. The very first emperor, of the Qin dynasty, managed to unify a good chunk of China, declared a dynasty, and did stuff like connecting up chunks of fortification to create the Great Wall of China, unifying weights, language, and such, and being pretty much a dictator. His tomb, however, has garnered more attention than most of his historical accomplishments. Some time during the 20th century, some farmers dug and hit his tomb, which is filled with thousands of clay (fired clay) soldiers. Now that I think about it, I really can’t do it justice, so just go and read the wiki article on it or something.
Anyways, the next part of this entry goes onto another tangent. So after getting off the plane, we got on a bus to take us to our hotel (the Hyatt) since we had been told that it’s a lot cheaper than the taxi. After doing that, we actually ended up getting dropped off at their (tour company) HQ, from which we were expected to get a taxi over to our hotel. Rolling with the punches, we ended up picking up something of a deal: some guys on the street outside the HQ were offering something of a taxi-tour service: basically, they’d drive us anywhere, wait on us, and drive on for the day (the tour part comes that one of the two guys could give such insights. Unfortunately, only my dad is fluent in Mandarin). While a bit shady, it ended up working out quite well for a decent price.
Now the tangent: so just about everywhere you go, people are trying to sell you stuff. In the restaurants, they push the most expensive items on the menu, possibly even withholding the full menu as experienced last night (didn’t stop it from being a really good, really cheap meal anyways). At the tourist sites, just about everyone wants to give you a tour for varying prices. Even here at the up-scale, western run hotel, we had a bit of a hassle getting our rooms as they tried to get us to upgrade. Kind of interesting, though, since it really does seem to represent a bigger issue: China has a lot of people. Surprise. About 1.3 billion people have first-hand experience with it. It just starts getting ridiculous when you look at the jobs people have. Not only is there the doorman that does nothing. There’s the revolving-door pusher next to him to make sure that goes. Service in restaurants seems less than stellar at times, with a lot of people just standing around. And the army of salespeople hanging out on the streets. Maybe it doesn’t surprise you, and it doesn’t surprise me, but actually seeing the consequences of it is just something. Kinda like the difference between being told about starving children and actually seeing it (though not nearly as extreme. And I really can’t tell you about that one. Just how I imagine it goes)
So, less rambling, more story. Uh, we dropped by a bakery for lunch, which was quite good. Among the food you should try in China, you absolutely cannot miss the bakeries. Yes, dumplings, noodles, and such are all the rage, but the bakeries are pretty much to die for. Anyways, that was great, and we moved on. After a stop at some shop (our driver was on commission), we went to some hot springs emperor retreat. It, uh, had a hot spring, and the water passed through. The Xi’an incident happened there, which pretty much only matters if you’re studying for AD, and the waters supposedly have therapeutic effects. Maybe a 4/10 as far as tourist traps go. After a look around there, we got to the juicy stuff: the soldiers. If you really don’t know about it, then it’s a big deal. If you do, it was a mixed experience. Right now, it’s pretty cold around these parts, hovering right around freezing. Yes, the Canadian in me makes it tolerable, but I’m more comfortable at room temperature. Well, they don’t really bother heating any of the buildings, so pretty much constantly out in the cold. And well, after you see it, there’s not much to it. It really isn’t built up like a museum, just a site: you can’t walk around, looking at exhibits, reading the explanations, moving from the various parts. It’s all about the same, actually, but worth seeing just once in a lifetime. At the suggestion of my family, I think I’ll throw together a more in-depth powerpoint on the experience (already prepping my jokes for it), particularly for AD, but open for others, I guess. Just don’t want to bore the rest of you with something that really might not be that exciting to you.
Uh, this is pretty long, so I think that’ll be about it. I’ll try to keep this up on something of a daily basis on my experiences here, since we did carry the laptop for computer access, and getting internet is becoming less and less of a problem in today’s world.

On Travel

(Wrote this one on the plane yesterday. Looking back, I was extremely irritable right then.)

It’s interesting how just about everything seems worse when on a plane.
For those of you who haven’t been, you’re not missing anything. Trust me; you do not miss the seats that make your butt hurt, the wonderful odors of your neighbor, the constant jostling of your seat from the person behind you, the inconvenience of getting out of your seat, the barely noticeable, but constant physical discomfort either in the form of a headache or stomachache, the food I’m still too dumb not to eat, or the inability to actually focus on anything other than languishing in your predicament.
On the plus side, the chess program on the doohickey in front of me is pretty dumb. It’s the first time I’ve ever beat a computer on the hardest difficulty setting. Then again, that was only satisfying for about a moment. Now I wish it was a challenge. Put that in the right-hand column as well.
One particular conundrum I’ve found is the sleeping situation. As you likely know, one of the best ways to avoid the pains of flying is just to spend all of it in a fantasy land. In their kindness, the airlines give you pillows. Unfortunately, the seat already is designed to be flat, and therefore, as comfortable, in shape, as possible (though by no means actually comfortable). If you stick the pillow behind your head, the rest of your body is left unable to reach the back of your seat. You just kind of feel like your leaning forward. And don’t even think about sleeping on your side. I imagine that’s damn awkward for the person next to you. Hope for a window seat.

So I stayed up until we had to leave last night, in an attempt to get a jump on jet lag. Thanks to Mr. Foster, I had Call of Duty to entertain, which I did manage to beat before leaving. I did make the mistake of playing on the most difficult, uh, difficulty setting. For those of you who don’t know (which I really hope is the majority, or you’re a bigger loser than I thought), in CoD, the hardest difficulty is realistic, ie you can get hit about… twice before you go down, healing only between levels. Yup. Lots of saving my game, lots of reloading.

More to come when stuff actually happens.

Some More Thoughts on NY

If you haven’t read the below post, do so before reading this; it’ll make more sense that way. Or not. That’s cool too.
So I must say, this is honestly the first true break I think I’ve ever had, in the sense that I’ve felt I’ve needed it and used it. True, every summer break I’ve had has had the “Thank goodness that school is over; what a pain in the butt”. That’s pretty natural. But I’ve realized that until now, I’ve never really been even vaguely stressed by ‘ne of the circumstances. Big things have happened, and I’ve had to do my work at times, but it was in no way overwhelming. And I guess, honestly, this time, I don’t think I’ve been stressed out either. It’s just that the workload is a lot greater than I’m used to, but even that is relative. This is really the first time I’ve felt like I’ve taken a break: when I left, I felt like I was getting away from the usual life, and when I came back, I felt like I had truly left my usual life. It wasn’t long at all, true, but I never thought of the stresses of school in an emotional sense. I may have mentioned APUSH offhand, and I did crack my psych prep book on the planes, but it didn’t even near feel urgent. It wasn’t long enough to develop a sense of complacency in the break, and it was long enough to feel like a gettaway. And I was active the entire time. Talk about a perfect break.

On a completely different note, David came up with a new term when I was talking to him, and I want everyone to put it into jargonistic use. We were talking about something, and “safety blanket” came up. Everyone knows that a SB is a term for a backup, just in case something goes wrong. Well, I had been thinking, and when you combine that with the prevalence of someone “suing your ass” in this country, there deserves to be a new term that explains a special SB for legal action. And so we have “buttflap”, a term for a way to “cover your ass” against someone suing it. Use it.

What struck me as unusual about myself was how deep an interest I took into the spectacle of the famous in NY. I had always considered myself a relatively stereotypical nerd, uncaring for pop culture and the dynamics of “real life”, I guess you could say. But when I was in NY, I did enjoy looking at the apartment of Yoko Ono, knowing where Bruce Willis lives, and where the script of ET was written. I still wonder why the eff I care about it: trivia is just that, and it’s not even a distinct interest that I have. But on the otherhand, I’ve been getting (relative to myself) better at ‘membering moobies, particularly those I haven’t seen, and the actors/actresses who starred in. It’s a perfectly useful thing for smalltalk, but I still don’t see why I care.

My group rocked, if you didn’t catch that by now.

I’m Back…..

Wow.
I’m actually sitting on an airplane as I write this(well, actually, as of now, I’m in front of my computer reading the blog I wrote out on paper on the plane because I felt there’s WAY too much to ‘member in one sitting.)

So Hong Kong. Well, the flight over was fine if you consider a 3 hr flight followed by a 2 1/2 hr delay on a plane followed by a 15 hr flight fine… Got into Hong Kong at 9 or something at night(basically a 24 hr trip). And for all the reading material I brought, I only read(and managed to finish) 2 of the books, both of which I had already started… I know, go me. Don’t ask how I managed to kill 15 hrs past sleeping. And I didn’t sleep that much. *shrugs*

Hong Kong, which in Cantonese i’s pronounced somewhat closer to “Heung Gong”, though white ppl and white languages will never grasp it =), is a super modern, international city. It’s all high rises, offices, appartments, etc. Very crowded, 7 million ppl on a small amount of land I can’t ‘member the numver for. There, land is gold, Apparently on most of the land, it’s illegal to build houses; it must be an appartment or something. Everyone uses public transportation, as only about 10% of the population has cars. But ‘neways, geography lesson.

Hong Kong is made up of primarily 3 parts: Kowloon, Hong Kong Island, and the New Territories. HK in its entirity(sp?) is made up of some 200 islands(can’t ‘member exactly), but only about 10 are named and have public transportation to.

Kowloon is mainland HK, adjacent to China, which it is basically “owned” by(though not run; HK has its own government and everything). It has most of the hotels, residential, entertainment, shopping, etc. The main street, Nathan Road, stretches some 2 miles long, and most of the business centers on this road. Oh, note on how crowded it is: our tour guide kept mentioning how ppl lived in the “rural” areas. “Well Kevin, if HK is so crowded, how are there rural areas?” Well apparently, the “rural” areas are just as built up as the main city with appartments and shops and restaurants and stuff. Mebbe she meant “residential”. *shrugs*

Hong Kong Island is… well, the island. To get there from Kowloon, you can take the famous “Star Ferry”, the subway, or the “No More Excuses Tunnel”. Story ’bout that: so, in the old days(past the 70s or something), the only way across to HK Island from Kowloon(where most lived) was the Star Ferry. Well, it only ran during the day and shut down during Typhoons and stuff. As such, workers and kids could get an excuse from work/school by blaming it on the ferry. After the tunnel was built(working 24-7), ppl no longer had excuses for tardiness or absense. In ‘ne case, on HKI(I’m getting really lazy with these names) is the more industrial/commercial part. Along with the resort-like area. ‘Neways, from Kowloon, you can look across the (body of water which I can’t ‘member the name for) and see the Skyline of HK. It was really incredible with so many buildings and so many lights(see, in HK, there appears to be a big competition for the tallest building, so it keeps getting bigger and bigger and…). In addition, at 8:00 every night is a laser show form the buildings of the skyline. Not so spectacular, but interesting. Elsewhere on the industrial side are Aberdeen and Victoria harbors. In Aberdeen harbor are the boat ppl, fishermen for life. These are ppl who have basically never stepped off their boat. Funny story, some of the elders are so isolated from society, they actually believe if you take their picture that you might steal their soul(OMG, Willie is the devil!). On some of the boats are generators with TVs and fridges and everything. Unfortunately, with all the pollution, the fishermen have to go out farther and farther to fish, several days away. As of the 70s 80s however, HK law has required all kids to go to school, robbing away the youngest generation. Becuase of this, only the elderly are really left on the boats as the kids figure out how much easier life is on land. Apparently, it’s predicted that the boat ppl will die out in some 10 years. Sad.
Continuing, on the otherside of the island, away from the hustle & bustle of life is a resort-like area, mostly left untainted by human influence. Maintained in almost perfect greenery, it was actually pretty spiffy and an incredible contrast to the other side. There, private land can be bought, and there were actually a couple houses and some townhouses there. There were beaches and barbeques too at places like Repulse Bay(not named cuz of the quality of the water, but that pirates were once there was drove out by the British). The place wehre ppl live is called “Stanley Village”, with the famous “Stanley Market”. Nice place.
Up on HKI is Victoria Peak, formerly the highest point, before the government chopped off the top so they could build more tourist stufff up there. To get up there, there is a winding road, or the something-icular tram. Basically, there are 2 trams over 1 track(splits in the middle for a bit) that use each other as counterweights. Genius. Up there is a shopping complex, trails, touristy stuff. You can watch the lights of the HK skyline light up as the sun goes down. Quite nice. It’s also very odd, for you can literally look out one way onto a humongous city(10000X more urbanized than Houston), then walk to the otherside and see greenery and water to the horizon. Crazy.

The final part of HK is the new territories, other islands linked to HKI by a huge suspension bridge, much like the Golden Gate Bridge. There are the airport and the in-the-works Disneyland:Hong Kong.

As I said before, in HK, land is gold, so who doesn’t want to be an alchemist of old? Sort of? If you didn’t niknow, HK is naturally very mountainous. To fix this, the government has gone under the very expensive project at cutting down mountains and pouring it into the water, called “landfill”. Much of this “reclaimed land” is pu to use to build more and more, for HK is still growing and crowded. Harbors(like Aberdeen, Victoria) have shrunk significantly from landfill, and often, hotels with waterside views will often find itself obstructed by another building built in front of it from landfill. Sucks. That’s why living on higher floors is more valuable; the view is valuable, and in some places, truly enchanting.
Another odd part of the growth of HK is “Feng Shui”, literally “Wind Water”, symbolically “Luck Money”. The art is just a way of positioning things for maximum luck and money(Chinese are very superstitious if you can’ tell). Natrually, everything is built to accomodate this art. Some buildings have holes in them for it! Along with other funny designs, it makes architecture in HK truly unique. And don’t screw up, because apparently, 1 building had 1 bad angle, and it never did so well.

Weather in HK is quite similar to Houston, humid and hot, though it rains more.

Well, got your geography lesson, here’s some history. As you probably know, HK was ceded to England during the 19th century as a part of the Opium Wars agreement, only returned to China less than a decade ago. As such, there is a hilariously large British influence there. Double-deckers roam the streets. English words appear above the Chinese translations, not the other way around. They drive on the wrong(nope, it’s not just left, its wrong) side of the road, of which all still have British names like Nathan and Kimberley. Oh, and my favorite, on the subways, whenever you get on or off, a voice says, “Please mind the gap.”

So as for my personal experience, I stayed at the Miramar Hotel on Nathan, the crucial road on Kowloon, right in the middle of “downtown”, in walking distance of everything. Oh, and everyone walks everywhere. That, or public transportation for long distances. The streets are always crowded(except morning; Chinese life seems to go from about 11 to midnight. Most shops and stuff are open really late) with businessmen, vendors, families, etc. Over by us were tons and tons of shops and malls, a shopper’s dream. You could even buy legit(really) VCDs(like DVDs) for about $19 HKD(1-8 against the USD, making it about $2.5US) Everything was cheaper. Even an ice-cream cone at McD’s was about $2HK/a quarter. Food was really cheap too, for a full, real Chinese meal for my entire family could cost mebbe $25US. Oh, and teh food was to die for from buns in the morning(Pineapple custard, BBQ pork, mmm!) to noodles and wonton to fried rice… it was great. I have never had Chinese so good(10000X than in Houston; mebbe 10X better than Toronto, but that’s still a lot). ‘Neways, there were tons of vendors on the street too, wehere you could get curry fishballs on a stick or waffle balls or bubble tea, all something like $1US. Incredible. Open air markets were also plopped down right in the middle of the street with clothes galore. I ended up buying only one thing, but it was worth it. In one of the department stores, we found prescription goggles. Although I wasn’t sure of my exact prescription, I got a pair pretty close for $10-12US.

So there you go. If you want some more personalized answers and experiences, drop me a line; I’ll be sure to ignore you =). Just kidding…

Don’t really want to write right now. Not sure if ‘neone really cares though. Okay, poll.
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