Tuesday, May 24, 2005
Shek O and Tai O
This past weekend I was on my own. Troy was in New Zealand so I had to entertain myself.
Saturday I went to the Shek O beach with a new friend, Anjali. We told you about us visitng Shek a few weeks ago. It's a really small village with an awesome beach.
Most beaches we have seen are very well developed. They have bathroom facilities with showers, lifeguard stations, shark nets and several swimming platforms to hang out on. Luckily we got there early enough before the crowds.The picture below is not crowded yet. By the time we left at 5pm, it was packed!
On a nearby island, called Lantau (we recently mentioned this island as well) is a really small fisihing village called Tai O. They like their "O" names. Pui O, Tsuen Kwan O, Kat O Chau...
I headed there on Sunday to see their neighborhood of stilt houses. While there, I stopped at a small cultural center and found out the village is over 1000 years old. It is the oldest village in the Hong Kong area.
I really didn't know where to go or what to do so I started wandering through the small concrete alleys. You could tell it was definitely a Sunday. No one was working, they were either hanging out drinking a beer or playing Majohng which is their favorite game to play. Don't ask what it is because I have no idea. I just know it involves tiles and the people get really loud when they play it.
I eventually came across a lady selling rides on a boat to see the stilt houses up close. For 10HKD ($1.20 USD), I took about a 10 minute ride up the water channel to see the old houses. It was very interseting to see how primitive the houses are and how the chinese village people live. When I was there, the tide was out. It would have been interesting to see the village at high tide.
When I returned back from the boat ride, I walked back through the small village. Up ahead I'm hearing a chinese lady talking in a megaphone. I'm thinking, is it some kind of demonstration or protest? No, it was a another Chinese tour group with the leader holding a flag to lead her fluorescent capped tourists through the village. It is always interesting to me that the Chinese like to tour in these huge groups - even in their own country.
After I finished my boat ride and found a different direction to walk, I came across other ladies selling more boat rides. For an extra $10 I could have done a 30 minute ride to see the pink dolphins. If I had known that in the first place, I would have gone to see the pink dolphins.
To see more pictures, visit the alblum at SnapFish.
Monday, May 16, 2005
Because Hong Kong is in the Asia/Pacific area, there are tons of countries that are really close by and easy to get to. For example, Vietnam (which we just went to - oh sorry, Lance, am I rubbing it in again?????????)
This new country we went to is fairly close so we took an hour ferry ride over on a TurboJet. This thing is cool! It's a huge catamaran type boat that basically hydroplanes across the water. We went with two new friends that we met a few weeks ago so we had a great time with them exploring this country.
Anyways, one such country is Macau which I'm sure you have never heard of. It is very similar to Hong Kong in that it was under Portuguese rule (HK was under British rule) until 1999 and then handed back to China under the "one country, two systems" rule (which is what HK is). It too (like HK) is considered a Special Administrative Region (SAR). Ooh look at me sound so smart! You would think I actually know what I'm talking about!
Anyways, it will be it's "own country" for another 43 years until it gets handed back to China (like HK). Since it is it's own country, you have to have a passport to go there. So we're good for another 90 days, since we are still "illegeal".
Macau is a very small country about 45 km east of HK and is connected to China by a tiny strip of land. It has a population of 46,000 and receives 25X that amount in tourists and visitors a year. The reason they get so many tourists is their casinois. Casinos are not allowed in HK or in China but they dominate Macau. They even have plans to build Vegas style casinos. They are actually in the process of building a Venetian, just like the one in Vegas. Every week there is some sort of article about a big developer from the US coming over to build a guargantuan casino.
Since it was under Portuguese rule for so long, the city has a very Meditteranean feel to it. The buildings and streets are dominated by the European architecture. With cobblestone streets, and pastel colored buildings, it was a very pleasant sight to see compared to the skyscrapers and dingy buildings of HK. It's also intersting that the streets and buildings have Portuguese names (very similar to Spanish for those language impaired people) while surrounded by Chinese shops and stores.
There are also two nearby islands that are connected by absolutely gorgeous bridges. I know that sounds stupid, but the bridges were really fascinating. Unfortunatly, the taxi was going to fast to take pictures. On these islands were some black sand beaches. It was here we could check out the fat Chinese men in their speedos while drinking a 25 cent beer! Gotta love that (the 25 cent beer thing, not the fat Chinese men in speedos).
The day we were there was Buddha's Birthday! This is a huge celebration around China. Wherever we went in Macau, there was some sort of indication of this celebration. Whether it be hundreds of people waiting in line to eat food that would bring them health, luck and riches (we called it Buddha food) or dragon dances with drunken Chinese men beating their drums and drinking rice wine while escorting the dancing dragons around the town for 8 hours.
After a great dinner we decided to check out the casinos. The first one we went to was the Lisbon Hotel and Casino. This was a no glitz or glitter, no guts or glory casino. Talk about people taking their gambling seriously! There was no laughing, smiling, or joking with friends. They don't even serve alcohol or have cocktail waitresses. It was also grungy and dirty. It was actually a depressing place to be. We then went to the Sands casino which had a very different feel to it. It was very open and had the glitz and glitter of a Vegas casino, but on a lesser scale. It was just a more combfortable atmosphere. They had cocktail waitresses but wore long pants, long sleeves with their shirt buttoned up to their throat. So very un-Vegas.
It was a very long day but we had a great time exploring this small country. If Troy and I ever decide to take up gambling on a serious level, we'll be back!
Saturday, May 14, 2005
Several of you have requested pictures of our apartment. I decided to do a quick video. The file is about 9MB so I suggest you have a fast connection when you try to download it. Otherwise it will just take a little while to download. Anyway, enjoy and let me know if you have any problems getting it!
Get The Video
Thursday, May 12, 2005
Hong Kong Horse Races
When you think of Hong Kong culture, visions pop into your head that involve the Buddah, parades with colorful dragons and Tai Chi. One thing you would never think of is horse racing. Chinese love to gamble but casinos are illegal though so the only thing they can legally gamble on is the horse races and a government run lotto. So when Wednesday night or Saturday afternoons come around, the Chinese go crazy with placing bets. Because of their love of horse races (and gambling), the races are a huge part of the Chinese culture. And, of course, Troy forgot his camera so we had to steal this picture from another website.
Wednesday night Troy and I were able to attend the horse races through the AWA. We paid $70 for the both of us and that got us into the horse races, dinner buffet and unlimited beer and wine! The restaurant was also on an outdoor terrace that overlooked the track so our view was amazing! Other then slow poke races with our home town rodeos, we have never really been to horse races. Seeing these magnificent animals and hear them ferociously gallop by was amazing.
We were fortunate enough to be dining with a gentleman that grew up on horseracing. He had so much knowledge that he was easily able to explain us how to bet, how the races are ran, how to make an educated guess of which horse to bet on and he was also able to answer all my plethora of questions that I constantly threw at him. “What is that guy doing? What is that car for? Why do they have polka dots on their uniforms? Why don’t the horses poop when they run?”
He also explained to us that Hong Kong has a horse named Silent Witness that has won 18 races in a row. He said this has never been done so everyone throughout the racing world is watching him. (I’m sure all of you were just dying to know that!)
Troy tried his hand at betting. One race he won about $95HKD which is about $12USD and another race he won $2HKD which is equivalent to about 40cents US. Not even enough to buy us a pack of gum if we wanted.
Monday, May 09, 2005
One thing we just can’t get over is how quick and easy it is to get away from the big city and the millions of people and all the commotion they create. A 20 minute bus ride from a subway station is the village of Shek O which is on the southeast tip of HK Island. This is a very small village right on the beach. The bus ride there will take you through areas that are absolutely breathtaking. As the road climbs over hills that take you into the clouds, you will pass surrounding land that is so green, lush and thick you would think you’re in the jungle.
We arrived in the early evening so as we walked along the beach we came across several families having a BBQ dinner along the waterfront. The people here are so laid back that it was a refreshing site to see compared to the craziness of their neighbors on the north side of the island.
As you stand on the beach there is not a single car to be heard and all you can see is the island on either side of you and the open ocean in front of you. If you were to automatically transplant someone to this beach and have them guess where they were, chances are very slim they would guess Hong Kong Island.
Walking down the small main street, there are sidewalks that are like tributaries into the heart of the village. These sidewalks would take us right past people’s doors and windows. I couldn’t help but be nosy and walk down a few of these sidewalks. In one doorway (literally, in the doorway) is an old man asleep in his rocker chair. Across the way is a young boy on his computer and further down the path is a family eating dinner. Outside of a home, we even came across several pots that were cooking over red hot coals. Basically it was their oven in front of their home. I felt like I was invading their privacy but it was just so fascinating seeing the people in their daily lives.
We had dinner at the Black Sheep restaurant. This was a very small place that served really good pizza. As we sat on the patio, we could take in the surrounding sights such as the temple next door with their gaudy gold dragons on top. Locals would walk by with their dogs or visit with friends at the café across the walk from us. One of the many things we have noticed about Chinese, is they are sooooooooooo loud! So the people across the way from us are not just visiting, but talking so loud it is at times difficult to order another beer from our waitress. Riding in an elevator with them is the worst! It can be excruciating listening to them talk at such high volumes in such a small area.
So far Shek O has been my favorite place. It doesn’t have any shopping so tourists don’t really come here. I have a feeling Troy and I will be spending many summer weekends on their beach.
Sunday, May 08, 2005
One of the many places that are available for us to explore are all the outlying islands. There are a total of 234 islands. They range from piles of rock jutting out of the sea, to huge islands that are the home to thousands of people. Lantau Island has the airport and Disneyland which will be opening in September. In past blogs we have told you about some of the hikes we have done on a few of these islands.
This last weekend we went to Cheung Chau which is a really quiet island. One of the things it is known for is not having any cars, but the few cars it does support are electric. By the way, they have the smallest ambulances we have ever seen. If you had to put Troy in one, his feet would be sticking out the back door while his head would be resting on the dashboard. (Oh what I would do to have a picture of that!!!!)
We didn’t do a hike but just walked along their paths that twist and turn all over the island. Their posted maps are horrible so we were constantly getting lost and turned around. Even Troy with his handy dandy GPS and compass watch couldn’t get us heading in the right direction. Luckily it’s a small enough island that it didn’t matter. One great thing about Cheung Chau is that it has some fantastic beaches where you can go swimming, snorkeling, and even rent wave runners and kayaks.
The island at one point is only 200 yards wide. On one side you have the quiet beaches with great views (on a clear day) of HK Island and Kowloon. The other side of the island you will find small restaurants, shops selling souvenirs and beach wear and women trying to get you to buy a vacation home.
This was also a great island to see how Chinese families live on their boats (junks). The junks are their home and are docked in the bay near the island. They usually only go to shore to get supplies. They have their boats docked really close to the shore so you can see how they live with their dogs, laundry hanging up and women preparing meals. It’s amazing to think that the Chinese have been living like this for years and years and are still doing this.
Next weekend is their famous Bun Festival. They worship a sea god who they believe will protect the fisherman from the sea and will bring them good luck with fishing. It is basically a week long celebration that ends in a weekend parade with colorful costumes and decorations. Even though we want to go, I think we will pass. It is suppose to be very crowded and you have to buy tickets (which are sold out) to get a seat in the stands to watch the parade.
Monday, May 02, 2005
Ho Chi Minh City - What a place!!
Click here for Shelly’s story on Viet Nam
I know Troy told you for his graduation present I took him to a nice dinner and to see the HK light show! Not very exciting present if you ask me. But what he didn’t know is that I planned a surprise weekend trip to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) for his graduation present!
Ok, I have to brag here. Who can honestly say their spouse took them to Viet Nam for a surprise weekend trip!!!!!!!!!! We also never thought in a million years we would be saying we went to Viet Nam for the weekend! I have a feeling we’re going to be saying that a lot with Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore…! Oh, I’m sorry, am I bragging again????
Viet Nam! WOW! Where to start! We both really liked this city. For me it was how friendly the people were. We have traveled to a lot of places where the people don’t like their picture to be taken or expect to be paid for it. Not here! The people loved to have their picture taken and were as interested in us as we were in them! Tourism has only been around for 10 years so they are still getting used to foreigners and are very intrigued by us.
There were a few things that stood out to me. One was the traffic. Unlike Shanghai where a majority of the traffic is made up of bicycles, in HCM, it is motorcycles; little mopeds or Vespa type cycles. There are hardly any stop signs or stop lights but the traffic has an almost controlled quality to it. The scariest thing was the first time we crossed the street. There is no light to stop them so we just had to go. As I tightly held onto Troy, we learned right away that you moved slowly and steadily. You didn’t want to make any sudden movements otherwise the chances of you getting hit would rise exponentially. They judge how fast you are walking and swerve around you.
It was very unnerving crossing the street with about 50 motorcycles coming toward you and knowing they are not going to stop. And then, halfway across the street you have to remember to turn and look the other way for the traffic coming from that direction! During the day wasn’t bad, but the evenings were much worse because everyone was out! By our last evening there though, we were pros at it. I was even daring Troy to cross diagonally across 8 lanes of traffic with buses coming at us full speed!
The second thing I noticed was how the women dressed. More specifically how they dressed when they drove their motorcycles. They like to have fair colored skin (they think it’s attractive and the men find it charming) so they go to great lengths to cover up every inch of exposed skin. First off, they wear a large billed hat. Then they have sunglasses with a handkerchief that covers their face from the bottom of their sunglasses all the way to their neck. They also have a long sleeve shirt or jacket and pants. If they don’t have long sleeves on they wear gloves that extend up past their elbows all the way to their armpits. They wear this in 95 degree heat and 100% humidity! All to look pretty for the boys! The things women do for men!!!!!!!!!
We did a few tours. One was to the Mekong Delta and the other to Cu Chi Tunnels. For me, the Mekong Delta was interesting because that was one of the main areas you always heard about with the war. It was kind of creepy being there and imaging boats with soldiers patrolling the river, helicopters flying around, with gunfire and explosions going off all around you. Once again, this was an area where the people were extremely friendly. They were always waving to us from their boats and posing for Troy to take pictures.
The Cu Chi Tunnels is where the Viet Cong hid out during the war. We didn’t get to see the actual tunnels but were shown a model of them 40 km away from the real tunnels. We couldn’t figure out why the government chose to build a model of the tunnels so far from the real ones. That was one question we could not get our guide to understand enough to answer. (A quick note here, the tourism companies and most tourist places are government run, so the views and opinions that were portrayed of the war were “slightly” skewed!)
At the tunnels they proudly showed us their traps they created that were in the ground during the war. They would show how a soldier would step then fall into a hole where sharp spikes would kill him. We also saw a “documentary” film at the end of the tour. It made us sick to our stomach. It showed the Vietnamese people having a peaceful life, farming, harvesting fruit, teaching their children, and just being happy. Then for absolutely no reason whatsoever, America decided to come in and bomb their villages, killing innocent adults and children. The film didn’t even bother to give a reason behind this. No other countries were mentioned, such as France, and absolutely no mention of how the north was trying to overtake the south, etc. And it was all America, America, America, bad, bad, bad! It made us very angry and sad to think that people watch this and probably believe it!
On our way to one of the tours, we made our guide stop at one of the local wet markets. I will never again complain about the sanitary conditions of HK wet markets. These were absolutely gross. On tables were mounds of butchered pork. Skin, guts, meat, all in a pile of nothingness with flies feeding on it. Because we found this interesting, Troy took a picture. An old lady behind us said to our guide that she didn’t understand why we would take pictures of something so ugly, but we would not take pictures of her beautiful knifes? So Troy, more then happy to, took her picture with her knifes.
I could go on and on and on. There were so many interesting little things that happened. One such thing was an old, skinny toothless man in the Ben Than Market asking us to buy postcards from him. What was so unusual was he spoke perfect English with a Texan accent! “C’mon man! Ya’ll know ya’ll want to buy some postcards! C’mon man!” Where the hell did he learn that?