Wednesday, December 28, 2005
New Zealand - Could it be any greener (or have any more sheep?)
You can view more of our pictures of New Zealand online by viewing our SnapFish album.
New Zealand has got to be the most beautiful place we have ever seen! Everywhere we looked it was green, green, green, grass, grass, grass, rainforest, rainforest, rainforest, sheep, sheep, sheep!!!!! We hear a lot of people talk about wanting to retire in New Zealand, they couldn't pick a better place.
Troy has been going to Auckland off and on for the past 6 months for work. I have been wanting to join him but wanted to wait until it warmed up down there. The timing finally worked out that he had to go for business meetings the week before Christmas so I joined him and we spent 10 days on the north island over Christmas.
As I was doing research of what we could do while we were there, I was bombarded with how much there is to do. There was no way I could pack all of it in in 10 days. Especially since this was a working vacation for Troy, I had to keep that in the back of my mind and not have him on a horse or kayak or mountain bike all day, everyday.
We did get to do some really cool things. As you have probably heard, Auckland is known as the City of Sails and are huge competitors in the America's Cup sailing races. We signed up for a match race aboard one of the America's Cup boats where we competed against another boat to see who could get the best time around a course in the bay. Everyone on the boat got a chance to grind (work the crank to get the big ass sail raised) continuously throughout the race. Our boat lost horribly because the staff on our boat couldn't communicate and kept fighting. It had nothing to do with our grinding skills!!
Troy and I love doing adventure tours like rock climbing, rappelling, mud slides, cave tubing, etc. There are companies all over NZ that take people out to do this sort of stuff. We absolutely had to do at least one of these canyoning adventures while here. We knew we were in for some cold water when the company we signed up with outfitted us in full, thick wetsuits, with a wetsuit jacket over the top.
After a short hike to the beginning of our canyoning "tour" we had an option to jump into a pool from a ledge about 3' above the water or from a side jump that was about 12' above the water. Troy and I, of course, chose the higher jump. But me, I thought jumping was too boring. So instead I chose to slip and tumble down the side of the hill into the freezing water. Oh, was I embarrassed. The rest of the trip, Troy was given options from one of the guides to do "special" jumps with him. I, for some reason, was not invited to participate with Troy and the guide on these "special" jumps!!!! The rest of the time was spent rappelling down cliff sides next to waterfalls, jumping into deep pools and even rapelling directly down a waterfall. I could not stop laughing with the water just pounding me and my helmet.
When we knew Troy didn't have to attend any more meetings and was safe to leave Auckland, we took a very out of the way scenic route to the bed and breakfast we were staying at the next few days. On our way, I couldn't get over how absolutely beautiful the country was. Troy even let me drive, although at every curve around the mountain I think he was about to have a heart attack because I was still getting the hang of driving on the left side of the road. For some reason he didn't like it when I barely skimmed by the guardrail or side of the cliff.
We stayed at a great little bed and breakfast that was hosted by the two nicest people. Every morning they would bring us breakfast on our own little cottage patio where after we ate we would go and say hi to their donkey, sheep and pigs.
During our time in this area we did some hikes along the coast and some horseback riding. On our hike I couldn't decide which was more gorgeous: the beautiful beach and teal blue water on our right or the rolling green hills and flowers to our left. For dinner we would drive about 15 minutes to this little town and take a small ferry across a very, very, very small harbor. You either did the ferry or drove 45 minutes to get to dinner. The distance the ferry crossed was a joke. By the time I had the change counted out for our fare we were there. It was also expensive. For the two of us round trip was $4USD!!!!! Trust me, this was very expensive. Somebody is making a killing here.
Our last destination was Rotorua which was in the heart of all the geothermal activity in NZ. Neither of us have ever been to Yellowstone so seeing the mudpools, geysers and steaming lakes was pretty cool. We didn't quite have the fresh air here as we did other places because everywhere we went was the smell of sulphur.
When we arrived in Rotorua on Christmas day we were hungry and wanted lunch. Either every place was closed or the restaurant only served lunch from noon-2pm. We missed lunch by 20 minutes. We ended up having (you'll love this) wonton noodle soup from a Chinese restaurant. It was even called the Hong Kong Chinese Restaurant. We're suckers for punishment. For Christmas dinner our hotel was having a buffet dinner. It was by far the most pathetic buffet dinner I have ever had. Not to mention that it was supposed to be Christmas dinner. But we had wine that I had bought at a winery and we were enjoying our time in NZ so it was all good!
It was a great vacation, but we are back to everyday life in HK. Oh, wait a minute... what's this in my calender... oh, I forgot! We are leaving in 5 days for a 9 day diving trip in Thailand! This lifestyle is just asking way too much of me :)
Just a few after thoughts:
NZ is still an 11 hour flight from HK. I can't imagine doing that flight from the US.
All of NZ has a population of 4 million people. During birthing season, there are 75 million sheep!
Auckland NZ is the 4th largest city in the world by area size. They have so much room, they just spread out.
One more afterthought: Troy and I were pleasantly surprised at the number of Christmas cards that we received directly in HK. I was even more surprised at the number that arrived here with just a .37 cent stamp. (It costs .80 to send a letter from the states to HK). So for those of you that used an .80 cent stamp, I apologize for you having to make an extra trip to the post office. I guess we all know now that things will get here with only a .37 stamp. Either that, or the post office just didn't care during the busy mail season!
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Burning Paper Offerings
Hong Kong has a huge population of Buddhists. Throughout the Asian region, Buddhism and Hinduism is a more widely practiced religion then Christianity. It seems that on almost every corner in Hong Kong is some sort of temple where the Buddhists can go to pray, burn offerings or burn incense to take their prayer to Buddha. The temples can be as large as taking up a 1/2 block or as small as something in the back of someones store. They are always built out of red tile or painted red because red is a lucky color. I have seen small temples built into trees and the entire tree trunk is spray painted red.
Christians believe when they die they go to heaven. I don't know where Buddhists believe they go when they die. Reason I say this is I have come to learn that when a Buddhist dies, at their funeral, the relatives burn paper "offerings" of things that they believe their dead relative will need in their afterlife. These paper offerings are anything from McDonalds to clothes to dogs and cats to soccer balls to guns (in the afterlife???) to TV's to money. All of this is made out of paper and is burned at the funeral and also either on the anniversary of when they died or on their birthday. I'm not understanding where Buddhists believe they go when they die, but they obviously go somewhere where they need TV's and food.
There is a street in the Central district in Hong Kong that sell nothing but incense, items needed to pray with and these paper offerings. Our mini bus takes us by this street all the time and I always look to see if there is something new outside. At times I will see a guy making something like a car or a person. One day he was making a chair and for some reason he didn't like how it was turning out so he took out his saw and violently chopped the chair to pieces. So unBuddhist like!
As Troy and I were taking the bus home last week, there was a 10' paper boat on the sidewalk. Troy makes the comment: "Wow, some dead guy is getting a great Christmas present this year!"
Sunday, December 11, 2005
Christmas in Hong Kong
While Troy was in Singapore last week, I was able to get a 7' tall Christmas tree into our apartment and decorated before he got home. It was a huge challenge getting it in and out of the bus, up the elevator and through my apartment door. Troy was so surprised when he got home. We won't be here for Christmas, but luckily it doesn't need to be watered, so the tree will still be here when we get home. To be honest, I haven't even seen Christmas trees for sale here although I have seen them on display in apartment buildings and department stores. Maybe the Chinese have the same problem I do getting them on the bus and up the elevator!
Monday, December 05, 2005
High Tea and Street Food
One of the trendy things to do in Hong Kong is to have "high tea" at one of the many luxury hotels. I have read these are very good but a place where you should be on your best behavior. I was hoping if I went that some of this "best behavior" would rub off on me. Troy and I decided to go to the Peninsula Hotel which is rated as one of the top hotels in the world. I imediately felt out of my element. All of the shops in the hotel lobby were shops I have never nor will ever shop in: Rolex, Prada, Gucci, Chanel, Christian Dior, Hermes... you get the picture.
When we arrived I expected to see old women in gloves, hats and their Sunday best. I was surprised to see almost everyone else there were like us (having high tea because they have never had it before) or were tourists with their guide book telling them which hotel to go to for tea.
For $50USD, we received one pot of tea (they never did refill it, cheap bastards), one pot of hot water (to weaken the tea), scones, finger sandwiches, canapes and bite size desserts. It was very good and almost worth the $50. While we were waiting for our snacks, we were given a Christmas ornament to hang onto their Tree of Hope. We were to write our own hope on the ornament before hanging it on the tree. Troy wrote a really good one "More understanding and compassion in the world!" Mine was not quite as good but had meaning to me "For Asia to stop eating cats and dogs."
That evening, we could not have had a more opposite meal. We had $2.00 wonton noodle soup at a street restaurant. I don't mean a restaurant that is next to a street and you sit at a table on the sidewalk. The restaurant is on the street as well as the tables and chairs. Each evening the staff stacks up the tables and chairs and "breaks down" the restaurant. As we're waiting for our food, we're watching mini buses drive by and large delivery trucks turn the tight corner, trying to avoid the fancy BMW that a rich expat thinks he can park wherever he wants.