Saturday, September 24, 2005
Mooncakes, Cows and DVD's
I was falling behind so here is a big post...
Mid Autumn FestivalThe weekend of September 17th was Hong Kong's Mid Autumn Festival. This holiday is celebrated between the 14th and 16th day of the 8th lunar moon. The festival was also marking the day when the moon is at it's brightest. We have found that the date of their holidays are based on lunar moons as opposed to actual dates or days of the month.
The Mid-Autumn Festival is a celebration of the 14th century uprising against the Mongols. During that time, the rebels wrote the call to revolt and hid them in small cakes which they then passed on. Today the holiday is celebrated with these horrible tasting Mooncakes that are exchanged among friends and family members.We had seen these Mooncakes sold everywhere so we decided to try one. While we were at the airport waiting for our plane to Xi'an we bought one. Let me tell you it was gross. We have found the Chinese idea of dessert is completely different from ours. They use a lot of ill-flavored custards, red beans in ice cream shakes and just plane nasty stuff (at least to us - but Chinese seem to like it). This Mooncake was no different as you can see from the expression on my face
The holiday is also celebrated with bright colored laterns which come in all shapes and sizes, including Buzz Lightyear and Power Rangers. We heard conflicting stories about the role of the laterns, but evidently, during the revolt, the laterns were used to signal each other. Not quite sure what a Power Ranger has to do with a 14th century uprising, but whatever! Several parks around Hong Kong were a place to gather to watch fireworks, fire dragon dances and to watch hundreds of kids with their laterns.
We chose to go to Shek O beach with our friends Chris and Stephanie. After dinner, we headed to the beach which had an awesome view of the full moon rising over a nearby cliff. There were a ton of people here, BB-Qing, swimming and playing weird Chinese games. Near us was a group of high school kids that must have been playing Truth or Dare. Every so often two girls would run over to us, tell Chris and Troy that they loved them and then run off giggling. Troy, being the gentlemen he is, returned the favor by running over to them and telling them the same thing. Sometimes he can be so embaressing :)
Tap MunMonday was a holiday and Troy decided to take the day off for a change. We headed to Tap Mun Island which I have talked about in past blogs. It was an absolutely gorgeous day with a clear blue sky. We actually were surprised the sky was so blue, because in the near distance, we could see the shoreline of mainland China. Troy thought about mooning them, but we decided that there was probably someone over there with high powered binoculars that would not have liked seeing Troy's white ass. We found a spot in the shade where we had a picnic and could see kids in the distance flying their kites while we a had phenonmenal view of the South China Sea right in front of us.
After we hung out for about 2 hours, we continued walking around the rest of the island. We kept coming across cow patties and wondered where all these cows were. As we approached a small graveyard, we saw about 7 cows, tromping around the graves while pooping all over them. That just isn't very nice.
ShenzenThis past Saturday we went up to Shenzhen. If you take the train up through Kowloon into New Territories, you soon come to the border of mainland China with Shenzhen being the first city you enter after you cross the border. Shenzhen is a very popular shopping place for expat women. As soon as you pass China immigration, there is a huge mall where you can buy fake anything! Once you get past the young girls saying "Missy, Missy, Missy, you buy watch, you buy purse, you buy DVD" you can shop to your hearts content for anything from Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Prada, Gucci purses, Rolex watches, Callaway golf clubs, Christian Dior and Tiffany jewelry. Then on top of this are endless stores selling shoes, watches, clothes, stereo and electronic equipment.
You can also buy illegeal copies of current DVD movies. This was one of the things we were after Saturday. Our friend Stephanie said to go to stall 21 and ask for Betty. At stall 21 were purses and watches. We thought we had the wrong place so we kept looking for another stall 21. When we realize we're not seeing DVD shops, we returned and asked for Betty. A girl quickly left and shortly returned with Betty who we followed to her stereo and electronic shop. She told us to sit then SLAM, SLAM, SLAM!!! The security doors that close the store at night come crashing down so no one can see inside the store. I had heard this would happened so was more amused then worried. Betty quickly set up a ladder, a guy ran up it, moved aside a ceiling tile then started handing down books of DVD's covers. As we flipped through the book and chose DVD's, Betty would radio up to the guy in the ceiling and he would pull out what we wanted. It was all very entertaining. We ended up buying a complete season of 2 TV shows (9 DVD's each) plus 16 movies for about $38 USD. Don't get all righteous on us and tell us we shouldn't buy fake DVD's and merchandise because it's illegeal and we're stealing from the movie studio's and industries, blah, blah, blah. It's basically a part of the Chinese culture and we have to partake in it!
Another thing to do in Shenzhen is to get clothes custom made. There is an area that is nothing but bolts of fabric. It is huge and overwhelming. We can get Troy custom fitted dress shirts for about $15 each (including material and tailoring). I can get suede jackets made for about $30 and custom fitted pants for $20. This is very addictive because the tailor has so many catalogs to choose clothing styles from and then you have thousands and thousands of different types of fabric to choose from.
If we keep going up there, we will be stylin' when we get home!
Monday, September 12, 2005
Terra Cotta Warriors and more in Xi'an
Click here to see more photos in our alblum on Snapfish!
This past weekend, Troy and I went and saw a truely amazing site. If you have not heard of the Terra Cotta Warriors, I am more then certain that after seeing the pictures you will recognize it.
The Terra Cotta Warriors is located in Xi'an, China (pronounced she-ann) and is about a one hour flight west of Beijing. It is known as the greatest archeological find of the 20th century and has the title of "The 8th Wonder of the World!"
Terra Cotta Warriors
The story behind this find just floored me. In March, 1974, a farmer found broken pieces of pottery figurines while digging a well. He really didn't care what he had found, he was more intersted in selling the pieces at a local market. As he and local farmers continued digging the well, they carelessly threw the pottery fragments into a nearby field. Some villagers began collecting the bricks because it was supposedly beneficial to one's health if placed in a pillowcase. A Joe Blow guy in charge of water conservancy suggested that the pieces be taken to a nearby cultural center to see if they were worth any money. You can guess the rest of the story.
The part of the story that amazed me, is that if the farmer digging the well had dug about 3' in the opposite direction, he would have never stumbled upon the warriors. His well was basically at the corner of where the warriors were buried. Not smack in the middle of the 7000 terra cotta horses and armoured soldiers, but on the very edge of it.
As we're walking through I told Troy I couldn't even imagine what it would have been like to be one of the first few archeologists on site. To keep digging and digging and digging and to find more and more artifacts. I can't fathom the excitement and adrenaline! They originally thought the excavation would be done in a few months, but soon realized it would take several decades. We learned from our useless guide (more on her later) that they have stopped excavating because the archeologists don't know how to preserve what has been unearthed. I read an article not too long ago that if something isn't figured out how to preserve everything, the warriors could turn to charcoal in 100 years.
Only, a few hundred warriors have been restored along with some of the horse and bronze carts. But most are still buried or are still being excavated. At any given point you can see an arm, or face or butt of a horse sticking out of the dirt.
We also found out that the farmer was given nothing in return for his find or his land. "Yes, we know you have made the archeological find of the century, but you have to leave now. No, we won't give you more land to farm. No, we won't give you money. But if you want, when we build a museum here, you can come back and have your picture taken with guests (e.g. president Clinton). But you have to leave now. Ba-bye, see ya, adios!"
Our guide was pretty useless. Luckily we only paid her $12USD, but she didn't tell us anything we couldn't learn from the signs. In fact, she tried to hurry us through everything. We're in the pit with the warriors and she wanted us to leave out a back exit. As soon as she realized we were not following her, she started following us. When we would enter an exhibit to read the sign about what was inside, she would keep on walking. She would only come back when she realized no one was behind her. We found out later that she can only be in the gated area for 3 hours. After 3 hours, she has to get back to guide more tourists. We were with her 2.5 hours so I think she was on the verge of stressing out.
We bought a soldier that stands about 1.5' tall. We named him Carlos. He doesn't really look like a Carlos, but none of them really do.
The museums and pits are in a gated area. As we approached the gate, there is a visible track the gates are closed upon. On the other side of that track are these people with little terra cotta warriors in their hands yelling at you, wanting you to buy stuff from them. They physically were not allowed to cross that line, but they were all over us as soon as we crossed it.
There was a guy that wanted Troy to buy a box of 4 figurines for 1 Yuan which is like .10 (he started at 40Yuan)! I know you're sitting thinking "Hell I would buy anything for .10" and I agree with you, but buying that would have brought the dogs out. At one point I had two guys that kept cornering me. They would not leave me alone. I ended up pushing them and yelling "NOOOOOOOOOO!" at them. They got the hint really quick.
There were also several locals selling pomegranites. This must have been the season and the town must have been surrounded by pomegranite orchards because there were people everywhere selling them. All along the highway, spaced every 30' or so. We at first thought they were gigantic apples until we got closer.
There was one lady at the museum that wanted us to buy a piece of raw corn that was still in it's husk from her. Troy looks at her and says "Do I look like I'm dragging a BBQ around with me?"
The first evening there, we went to dinner in the Muslum Quarter. This is an area of town where a lot of Muslums live. I expected the residents here to be dressed significantly different from the other Chinese. But it was just another crazy Chinese neighborhood. The only difference from the other Chinese neighborhoods is that they served really good and spicy food here. Every restaurant had guys out front with dozens of skewers in their hand roasting lamb, chicken or beef on glowing red charcoals. There were also some resturants where they would hand make and pull noodles with these grills that spit flame through vents like furnaces. I personally have never eaten from street vendors, but I went to town here.
At the restaurant we ate at they didn't speak English and one waiter ignored Troy like he was the devil. So we did a lot of pointing at what other people were eating or Troy going into the restaurant to point out what we wanted. It was also the cheapest meal we have ever had. 10 skewers of beef, a big bowl of garlic vegetables, grilled dough bread, two big-ass beers: $4. That's it, $4!
Ancient City Wall
The next day, we rented bikes and rode them atop of the Ancient City Wall. This wall was built over 1500 years ago during the Ming Dynasty. It is the most complete city wall to survive in China as well being one of the largest ancient military defensive systems in the world. The bike ride was nothing special. Our hands and asses were raw when we finished because the bricks were bumpy and pocked marked. It took us about 2 hours to ride the whole way around. We really enjoyed it though.
College Boys in Muslim District
That night, we went back to the Muslum district. This time instead of walking we took a Tuk Tuk. Our driver ended up taking us through all these back streets that we would have never come across on our own. We really saw how the local Chinese people live. Because he was driving down such crowded streets, he was constantly laying on his horn. I thought at any minute Troy was going to lean over and pull the wire that connects the horn.
We went back to our favorite place for dinner. Not too long after we sat, a group of 6 college boys sat next to us. The one next to me struck up a conversation and we ended up talking to them for the next 2 hours. They were an interesting group of guys. They liked to talk to us about school, America and music. They shared their MP3 with us so we could listen to their favorite Michael Jackson song. I, in turn, had to share my Ipod with them and my favorite artists - Metallica and AC/DC. They didn't like the music so much!
I found out one of the guys (Alec) was a soldier and joined the military when he was 15. He told me after middle school everyone has to take a test. If you do really well you have a choice (really?) to go to what is considered West Point. He is a soldier for life!!!!!! I was trying to get an idea if he would have to fight when he was 40 so I was trying to ask him if China went to war in 20 years would he have to fight. I don't know if he thought I meant China in war against America because he responded "I don't think this is very good topic of conversation for dinner!"
Monday, September 05, 2005
Belated Pemba Story
Shelly has written a belated but great story about our trip to Pemba Island Zanzibar in 2004. You can find it at the stories section of our website. I am sure you will enjoy it. Here is an excerpt...
“This is not good” I murmur as I look over the car seat in front of me and stare out the window ahead. My husband sitting next to me with his safari hat tilted on his head looks a little pale. As he finally acknowledges what I said he slowly nods his head in agreement. Only moments before, we had been traveling down the road through the small town of Chake Chake greedily looking forward to our dive vacation. Funny how things can change so quickly...(rest of story)
Link to Reference
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Disneyland Hong Kong Style
Disneyland has reached the final frontier of space. On September 12, Hong Kong Disneyland will open. Troy and I had the opportunity through the AWA to go to a rehearsal day on Saturday. It wasn't too bad but it was very small. It was so small it didn't even have It's a Small World!I would say it's about 1/4 of the size of the one in California.
I picked up a map just to find where the more western restaurants were. I told Troy I didn't think there was much of a chance of us getting lost or missing an attraction.
As we're waiting for the train to pull up we are waiting in line with hundreds of other passengers. As soon as the train pulls into the station all the little kids scream!!!!! You would think Mickey himself just pulled up!
As soon as we board, 1001 cameras are pulled out. They are taking pictures of everything from glass enlosed small statues to the mickey shaped windows to the mickey ears handles (Troy partcipated in that one).
Then inside they park, they go into the stores, pick up the stuffed animals and have their picture taken with them but then return them to the shelf without buying it. Or they take their picture next to paintings on the wall at attractions. "Ladies and gentlemen, the wait for the Buzz Lightyear ride is 60 minutes.It would be much shorter if you would stop taking pictures of yourself in front of a stupid wall!"
We also had to participate getting our picture taken with Mickey. Ok, I wanted mine taken with him and dragged Troy into the picture as well. He was very embaressed that he was waiting in line with me so I could get my picture taken.
Chinese have alot of beliefs. Their culture is full of them and they base their life around them. One belief is they don't like the number 4 because in Chinese it sounds like death. So you won't find 4th floors on elevators. They also try to get phone numbers without 4. Green hats are a big no no. If you wear a green hat, it means your spouse is cheating on you. There was a big controversy over whether or not Goofy's hat color should be changed. His trademark color is green. You can see why the controversy. But as you can see, it stayed green!
We were glad we went but we won't go again. It was fairly cheap - $30 a ticket and lunch was $8 for the both of us. In California we would have paid four times as much!
Thursday, September 01, 2005
A Week in the Life of Shelly in Hong Kong
Recently I have received several requests from friends wanting to know what my day to day life is like in Hong Kong. Contrary to popular opinion, I am not always a professional traveller. There are times when I stay home, such as this week.
We all know what Troys week is like: work, travel, travel,work oh and travel again.
So if you care, here is an average week for me in Hong Kong.
Get up around 7am to go to the gym. Drag Troy off his computer and e-mail to go.
Run on treadmill while watching old ladies outside do Tai Chi. Come home, eat breakfast. Read the paper. Try to not throw up breakfast after reading that farmers in China are digging up buried diseased pigs to sell at wet markets. Shower, if time check e-mail.
Out the door to run errands: drop off/pick up Troys dry-cleaning, grocery shop, pay utility bills at bank, post office to ship whatever, get picture of hanging pig snout and ears for Ryun, get visa for passport to go to China with Troy following week. Catch bus home. Late lunch with Troy at local Thai restaurant. Work on organizing dinner for several members and their spouses from the AWA.
If Troy is lucky we'll go out to dinner, if he's not so lucky I'll cook!
Gym in the morning again. Read paper about jailed Chinese journalists. Meet group of German ladies at Starbucks so they can practice their English. .
Take over a group of couches and kick out two Chinese kids. Go to SPCA to walk dogs and play with puppies! Take MTR home. Come home and take second shower of the day. Read paper then take short nap on couch (if Troy doesn't catch me).
Get call from Jill for us to meet her and friends for drinks that evening. Eat small dinner at home then go to Lan Kwai Fong for drinks, trivia and nachos. Drink too much, embaress Troy, come home.
Gym again. Read paper about China villagers attacking government offices. Go to Animals Asia to volunteer in the office (this is a charity organization trying to free Moon Bears in China. The Chinese use their bile in traditional medicine. The bears are kept in cages no larger then their bodies. They can't stand, turn around, nothing. All they can do is reach out to get their food. Everyday they are either milked for their bile, or there is a cathater in their stomach that lets the bile drip out. Very sad. Animals Asia also has other animal programs such as Dr. Dog where volunteers take their dogs to visit patients in hospitals, like I did with Malachi. They also have Professor Paws where dogs are taken to public schools to teach the kids that dogs are not horrible animals that their parents have them believing).
Come home, do research for upcoming trips Troy and I want to take. Way too many choices: Bali, Palau, Beijing...what shall it be?
Dinner. Afterwards sit out by the pool, check out Chinese men in skinny speedos, share a bottle of wine while reading. If Troy is traveling, just read and check out the Chinese men and their speedos.
Gym again. Read in paper about activist sentenced to a year of hard labor without a trial. Meet group of chatty women from the American Womens Association to have coffee at the JW Marriott. Stay for lunch. Pick up visa for passport. People watch while waiting for bus home. Watch old woman push cart full of trash up the street while buses dodge her. Watch old man rummage through garbage, find can of beer still full, watch him finish it. Take bus home.
Find place to go to dinner Saturday night with friends.
If Troy is home, take Star Ferry to try Spanish tapas restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui. Avoid dozens of men trying to get us to buy purses, watches and suits.
Gym. Read in paper about Chinese women staging a hunger strike in front of government offices. Decide if I'll go to SPCA or Animals Asia again. Have to write article for AWA magazine on Halloween. Walk along neighborhoods to find where costumes are sold. Stumble across place that sells brand of shampoo from home.
On the way home, get call from Troy that he is in coffee shop. Meet him and hang out with him for awhile. Laugh at guy asleep on couch. Find side street on way to bus that sells old Chinese junk: clocks, pictures, Buddha beads, anything and everything having to do with Mao. Bus home. Order pizza in from Dial-a-Dinner for dinner and rent a movie from local rental store
Breakfast at Starbucks. Depending on weather, either hike or check out outlying island we havne't been to yet. Walk, sweat, sweat some more, stop for lunch at local seafront restaurant. Home, shower, relax then leave to meet friends for dinner.
Go to their apartment for drinks then taxi to SoHo. Have dinner at Singaporean restaurant then gelato afterwards for dessert. Hang out in Lan Kwai Fong for more drinks and watch the young Filippino girls pick up on the Western men. Run into friends we know. Hang and talk to them for awhile.
Get up late from being out late last night. Breakfast at Starbucks again. Bus to St. Stephens Beach in Stanley. Spend the day swimming, hanging out, reading, sleeping. Listen to high school boys flirt with girls. Check out Chinese men in speedos!
There it is folks. Nothing special but that is my average week!