Wednesday, August 17, 2005
We have sometimes heard about these old walled villages around the New Territories and decided to go check one out. Even though the walls surrounding some of the villages are over 500 years old the villages within have vanished and been replaced by pastel colored houses with modern day appliances.
The village we visited was built by the Tang clan which arrived in Hong Kong in 1069. Subsequent genertions continued building the walled villages which still exist today. The original function of the walls were built to protect against pirates, bandits and neighbors. The village we visited had only one entrance guarded by a chain-iron gate and each corner had watchtowers.
We have a guide book that directs us to most of the places we have explored around HK. It's very good about telling us which bus to take but not where to get off. After riding on the bus for an hour we realized we had no idea where our stop is. We decided to just ride the whole route and see what we pass to see if we could figure it out by process of elimination. It was actually a great way to see parts of HK we had yet to see.
On our return route we (ok, Troy) figured out the right stop. As we approached the village after walking a few blocks, we could see two old Chinese (what else would they be) women sitting in the doorway. As we neared the entrance, one motioned for us to insert a coin into a slot built into the wall. I had read this would happen and is just a small donation for the preservation of the village.
After we paid our $2HKD, the two ladies immediately stood side by side, pasted the biggest smiles they could muster on their faces and motioned at Troy and his camera for him to take their picture. And then comes the hand extended out for money! I told Troy this was another thing I had read would happen and that they want $10HKD. We were fine with $10HKD for the two of them but not each. They were not too happy when they realized Troy shortchanged them! After we paid them and entered the village another old lady came running up to us with a wide brimmed bamboo hat on her head. She started pointing at her hat and Troys camera indicating that he should take her picture with her hat. We would have but we only had $100HKD bills and were not about to pay her that much.
The inside of the village was nothing special. The walkways between the homes were narrow and lined with kids bicycles, shoes and small plants. The main walkway was supposed to be lined with souvenir stands but the only stand we saw had dried fish on it. Not quite what I had in mind for a sourvenir! It took us about 10 minutes to make our way through the walkways before we left.
We were not ready to go home yet, so we walked toward another village called Shui Tau Tsuen. This village was not enclosed by a wall but instead backed up to some small green hills that was also the home to many horseshoe shaped graves. This was a very quiet area and had awesome views of some nearby mountains. I kept hoping we would come across grazing water buffalo but the only thing we saw was dog poop! (But the area was still very pretty!)
As we're walking along a dirt path toward the hills, Troy comments to me that he wouldn't be too happy if I was out wandering in this area by myself. (I think Troy was referring to my excursions where I'm not too sure how I'm getting home.) He further states that he wouldn't be happy not knowing where I was. I told him "That's ok, I wouldn't know where I would be either, so we would be even!!!" Somehow I don't think that was the answer he was looking for!
Monday, August 08, 2005
Ever wondered how hot it is near the equator? Let us tell you, it's frickin hot! In fact, Singapore is just one degree north of the equator! Talk about sizzlin!!!!!!!!!!
So once again, Troy's work took him traveling. This time it took him to Singapore this past weekend. I, of course, just had to tag along. Even though Singapore was hot, the weather was not any different from Hong Kong right now. The good thing about Hong Kong is that the weather will change for the better in a month or so. Where as Singapore will just stay hot, hot, hot!
Some info on Singapore:
Singapore is an island at the tip of Malaysia. They are their own city and country of Singapore with a population of about 3.5 million. They were under British rule until 40 years ago (who has Britain not ruled??? Good grief!) The US has a fairly large military presence there right now because Singapore is where the our US fighter jets get refitted for the Iraq War. We have one or two battle ships in the harbor as well as an aircraft carrier for support (not sure which one, so don't ask).
Call us jaded.
Call us spoiled.
But we were not overly impressed by Singapore. We both agreed that it could have been any coastal city in the US. It was nice, but it didn't have much of an Asian feel to it at all. It is very westernized and everyone speaks English and all the signs are in English. It would be an incredibly easy city to live in. We figured out a lot of people travel to Singapore because of it's reputation of being so safe and clean. I think we found it uninteresting because there were not wacky street vendors selling fried squid or dirty little kids following us around, or 3000 bicycles riding down the road. You couldn't even get a rickshaw ride unless it was part of a tour. Even the skyline was nothing to brag about. There was just very little exciting and interesting (maybe "nothing new to us" is a better description) about the city.
Now don't get me wrong, it was a beautiful city. It was very clean - to the point of being sterile. People are very friendly, it was an easy city to get around and you could find any type of food you wanted anytime day or night. The city did offer some nice boat tours and of course there is the shopping. Troy and I did not partake in the shopping but people we met who have been to Singapore rave about it.
I think the most intersting place we saw was Little India. The place is exactly what the name implies. It's about 7 or 8 blocks that consists of Indian shops, restaurants, grocery stores, people, etc. The only drawback was that it was in Singapore, not in India.
The most insane thing about Singapore is their laws. They have a slogan:
"Singapore is a fine city!! You get fined for everything!"
I don't know if anyone remembers around 8-10 years ago, but an American kid got busted for graffitti and his punishment was to get caned.
That was Singapore!!!!!!!!!!!
That punishment is very much still in effect today. In fact, all crimes of vandalism is punishable by caning as well as rape and drug trafficking. Caning is performed by an martial arts expert using a 6' piece of rattan (stem of a palm tree) soaked in brine (water with large amounts of salt).
It is also illegeal to:
We definitely had some of the best food we have ever had since moving to Hong Kong. We went to an outdoor food market with stalls surround us selling everything from gigantic prawns, crab and lobster to noodles, roasted duck, sugar cane milk and beer. It never once crossed our minds to question how clean it was or how safe the food would be. We were in Singapore after all. I think the second someone got food poisoning, people would be put out of business (or at least caned).
It was a nice city but I think you would be hard pressed to occupy yourself for an entire week. It's best to leave it to a 1 or 2 day stopover on your way to Bali!
Wednesday, August 03, 2005
Sweating like a cow in Cambodia!
At the last minute, Troy and I decided to do a weekend trip to Siem Reap, Cambodia. It's funny to think that not too long ago we would spend weeks, even months, talking about a trip that was one state away. Discussing things such as airfare, where to stay, what to pack, how much money to bring. Now we're like "Hey, day after tomorrow, do you want to go to a country that we know absolutely nothing about? Should we check to see if we need Malaria pills? Nah! Should we tell anyone where we're going? Nah!"
Ok, so we did a little research to see what Cambodia was all about. (Although we did forget to check to see if we needed Malaria pills. Whoops!) Here is a brief history lesson of what we learned from our own research and also from our tour guide in Siem Reap.
I personally had always associated Cambodia with the Vietnam War but never knew why. Now I do. In 1969, American B-52's carpet bombed the country killing anywhere from 150,000-500,000 civilians. Nixon said it was targeted toward the Vietnamese and the Khmer Rouge (bad people). It also dragged the country into the Vietnam War.
Cambodia is also where the Killing Fields took place. During Pol Pots reign from 1975-79 he killed 3 million people - about 30% of Cambodia's population!!!! Most of the people that were killed were educated because Pol Pot wanted to have a classless society.
Because of civil wars and the country dealing with all the land mines planted by the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia did not open to tourism until 1998. You would think that having only 7 years to learn about tourism that the country would be a mess when it came to tourists. Not so. They have a pretty good handle on it. Everything from their phenomenal hotels to the little boys trying to get you to bargain with him to buy his bracelets.
Siem Reap is known as the home of Angkor Wat which is the largest religious monument in the world. It is a temple that was built out of stone in the mid 12th century and stands 65 meters tall. It has been cleared from the jungle and been restored and showcases the amazing talent and hard work that went in to creating these temples. Pictures don't do the temple justice when it comes to all the intricate carvings and details that are on every wall.
Some of the other temples we saw were Angkor Thom and Beng Melea. Beng Melea is still in the heart of the jungle and has not been restored at all. At places there are mounds of stone blocks that have fallen from the jungle overtaking it. Vines and roots are wrapped tightly around columns. This temple has only been open to tourists since 2002 because there were 1000's of land mines in the area. You can see small red signs that designate an area has been cleared of mines. We saw many people through out the town that had missing legs. You can only guess it's because of the mines.
One morning our guide took us to Tonle Sap lake. It is one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world when it is full during the rainy season. The lake itself was nothing special. Just a whole lot of chocolate milk surrounded by rice fields. And yes, the water looked just like chocolate milk! Diving anyone???
What was interesting about Tonle Sap was getting there. To get to the lake you drive through an area called Chougn Kneach which means "end of the area" of Siem Reap. This is where some of the poorest people live. They live in these tiny, tiny shacks that house a family of 4 or 5. They cook in the middle of the living room or outside in the road. The small kids have t-shirts on but no pants because they don't have diapers. The children don't go to school because there are not enough schools for them.
Every year, according to the rainy season, the families would move their houses to stay above the rising lake level. Then as the water recedes, they move their houses back. At the lake, the shacks were the same except that they were floating. The houses rise and fall with the lake level.
The craziest thing we saw at the lake were these kids in big kitchen pots floating in the water paddling around with an old oar. They would have a cup tied to the side of the bowl that they would use to viciously scoop out the water. I have no idea how they kept from getting hit by boats. At any given time, there are 4 or 5 motor boats passing through between the floating houses. The boats would miss the kids by mere feet. The kids didn't care, they just kept paddling away like it was the best thing! We also saw one kid floating amongst this chaos on a empty water jug!
We really enjoyed this small city although we were not too impressed with their local food. Word of advice, if you ever see a Cambodian restaurant, go somewhere else. Very bland, blah, dull food (at least what we got at the "tourist restaurants").
We had a four hour layover in Ho Chi Minh City and didn't think anything of it. Not until the guy at the international transfer counter took our boarding passes for HK, threw them away, took our plane tickets for HK and told us to come back in 1 1/2 hours. What??? We're in this crowded area with immigration, with no where to sit, no restrooms and no food. Troy notices a sign for the departure lounge and we head that way. Before we were allowed to enter, the guard took our passports from us and kept them! What???? We decided to go with it and crossed our fingers that we would get our stuff back ok. Troy was "beside himself" for a while after that because of them taking our stuff
It was a fascinating trip and we would love to go back again...maybe when the weather is a little more dry and we're not sweating like cows from the humidity!