Saturday, January 8, 2005

Hong Kong #3

Day 3
Friday 1/7/05

Woke up at O'Dark Thirty to see if I could find a Tai Chi group in the park. I was awake and wandering around Hong Kong's Tsim Tsa Tsui district at 4:30am this morning alone. In any other city I think I would have felt ill at ease, but not here. Here I just strolled around and enjoyed the cool morning air. I did find out that 4:30am is when all the girls are leaving the night clubs and heading home. There was one club, the "Paris Club" and all the go-go dancers were walking out of it as I walked by. A very smart noodle cart vendor parked her cart right in front of the club and was selling hot noodles to all the girls as they came out. Now that right there is a textbook example of"early bird gets the worm" and capitalism at its finest. There were red taxi cabs parked ALL OVER Tsim Tsa Tsui to take the girls home and there wasn't an unclaimed curb to be found at 4:30am. Anyway, I pulled up my hood and kept walking. Luckily I look enough like an asian (a 6 foot tall half asian wearing a Texas A&M baseball cap) but in any case none of the girls tried to pick me up or anything like that. I wandered around for a while, no Tai Chi folks, and went back to my room.

We grabbed breakfast at 7am and went shopping for souvenirs. As we passed the park I scoped out earlier in the morning I saw elderly folks finishing up their Tai Chi... curses... I woke up too early.

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Since our meeting wasn't until 11am we chose to go walk over by Victoria Harbour which was awesome since it's connected to the Hong Kong Walk of Stars which is dedicated to the actors and film industry of Hong Kong.

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As we walked past the Walk of Stars there was a group teaching tourists Tai Chi in English for free. Well guess where I was for the next hour.

That was absolutely awesome. We went through 10 forms (the very basics) and then we did those 10 forms over and over to the music from Once Upon a Time in China. So there I was, doing Tai Chi, in Hong Kong, to the music of one of the coolest martial arts movies ever with about 20 other people all lined up in lines and rows like what you see on the television. That was just freaking cool. After we did those forms for a while, the lesson ended with the main instructor and his wife or primary assistant doing the full Tai Chi Long Form with combat fans in their hands. That was awesome, the male instructor opened and closed his fan all through the kata and the lady instructor showed it with the fan closed and reversed (used like a club). When we finished I used what little cantonese I knew as well as my knowledge of the Kung Fu hand gesture (right hand in a fist touching the first finger knuckle to your first finger on your left hand which is held open) to say thank you to the sifu, which made him laugh and clap me on the back and say "Very good young man! Very good!." His next free demo is Monday morning at 8am... guess where I'll be at 8am on Monday?

Anyway, we went shopping and I found lots of little cheap trinkets and a few less cheap trinkets and also a few not even remotely cheap trinkets. Then we went to our meeting and we broke up late for lunch in the downstairs chinese restaurant (same place as dinner from yesterday). I ate a little of everything, Jim again just ate the rice, the beef dish, bok choy and avoided everything else. I even tried the steamed chicken foot... that was an experience. It was actually quite tasty but the texture took a little getting used to. After lunch we went back for meetings until the evening when the L's needed to do a few more meetings. The big thing today was getting the visa for us to be able to enter mainland China. We started the paperwork in the morning and them by 6pm. By then Ken and James had come back from China and had things to do so the company sent Jim and I out to see Hong Kong with Karen and Purple showing us the sights. They took us to the Peak, the highest point in the Hong Kong area. You can only get thereby hiking trail (bad idea) or by the Tram (much better). It is an amazing view from up there. I snapped some pictures then we wandered around the mall up there and then caught a ride over back to town.

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As we walked back we caught the Harbour ferry and rode it across the water. It's awesome to be in a place where the government hasn't gone crazy trying to protect people from themselves yet. That boat rocked and rolled on the waves when it was moored to the pier and you had to catch the gangway just right to get on. It was really fun. We rode across the water and there was a nice breeze, the view from the ferry was fantastic. When we got off the ship it was another adventure in timing to get back on the dock. After walking on the walk of stars at night and seeing it all lit up we trotted back into Tsim Tsa Tsui.

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We met up with everyone (Jim, me, Ken, Peter, Purple, Karen, James) for Pizza Hut and had spicy pizzas (Tabasco sauce in the tomato sauce and chilis on the toppings... it was good). We then walked back to the hotel and called it a night. My feet and back were really tired so I took a long hot bath and crashed deep.

Observations made today

  1. Street hawkers around the Peninsula Hotel will try to sell you watches, hookers, and cheap suits. So apparently if you want to avoid being bothered in Hong Kong you need to wear a suit, have a cheap rolex knockoff on your wrist clearly visible and go with your wife everywhere.

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  1. Hong Kong has people here from everywhere. At the Peak I overheard Italian, Japanese, English in the three major accents (standard midwest american, british, aussie) plus one guy that I think was canadian. I also overheard tagalog, russian, german, and french as well as both flavors of Chinese. It's funny but I can immediately hear the difference between Mandarin and Cantonese now. They sound so different.
  2. It's not quite like Thailand in the sense that prices are so cheap that you don't want to haggle. The only problem is that I can't even speak enough basic cantonese to haggle even a little bit. Still, prices here are half to one-third the cost of a similar item that you try to find in the US. The only exception are high end electronics that are only a few percent cheaper here.
  3. American chain restaurants are nicer here than in the states. Iwould be embarrassed to take somebody from Hong Kong to a McDonalds, Pizza Hut, or KFC in the US after eating in them here. There's something to be said for top notch uniforms. In the US the employees would probably destroy the uniform so I bet it would never work. I have come to understand that they get one uniform cheap, they have to take care of it or the replacement is garnished from their wages, and they're required to wear it or they can't work there. These uniforms would cost an arm and a leg from the US. The same one I see over and over again is a golfer's visor, a collared shirt, necktie and vest with slacks. Those that bus tables or that might get dirty like a cookwear a polo shirt and an apron instead of the nice shirt and vest. The necktie looks like a clip on.
  4. A lot of Americans I've known like to look down on other countries as being lesser somehow. After experiencing what Hong Kong (called the Jewel of Asia or The World City) has to offer after only a few days, I can't think of many cities that offer as much in such a small space for dirt cheap, cleaner, and with nicer people all rolled into one package. It's like being in a small Texas town where everybody is friendly but multiply that home feeling by a factor of 100 and give it a billion dollar budget and skyscrapers.
  5. Disinfectant alcohol gel based Hand Wash. If you ever come to Hong Kong bring it. I learned that ever since the SARS and chicken flu epidemics this city has developed a desire to keep their hands disinfected and clean with a vengeance. Once nice thing to offer to people is a little bit of your hand wash. You'll see them all over the place on men and women.
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