01.04.2012 - 02.04.2012 60 °F
So I have just left China and I have a lot to write about. I had an amazing experience and have once again learned so much. Because my blog posts are getting longer and longer, I am going to have to split this into three sections I think. I was in the area for one week which means I will be explaining seven days, more than any other country. Be prepared for a lot of reading, if you have kept up with my blogs though, this should be nothing new. I am going to start with Hong Kong first because it is actually different from mainland China. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China and in 2047 will actually be incorporated into China. Hong Kong is also a lot different than China so I think it would be wise to break them up.
I woke up and did my usual breakfast with friends to discuss what we wanted to do for the day. For the first day in Hong Kong I was going to be traveling with Brynn and Evan. The three of us left the ship when we were cleared. Our ship was docked at another shopping mall, but was not as intense with customs as Singapore. When we got into the mall, around 9am, all of the stores were closed so there was nothing we could do but go outside into this new strange world. The ship was docked on Kowloon Peninsula right across the way from Hong Kong Island, where most of the skyscrapers were located along with Victoria’s Peak. The first stop, as always for me, was an ATM. There was the usual long line of SAS students waiting at one so I got in line too and waited my turn to withdraw some cash. When I got into the building I noticed that there were locals who had cut in front of us to get in there. This was my first experience with the Chinese ideology that they come first before anyone else. I actually say that in a mean way, but almost everywhere I went I had people cutting in front of me. If you were not crotch to butt with someone in line then it signaled to them they could be in front of you. I shrugged it off and got my money. We were right at the ferry station to catch a ride over to Hong Kong Island so we went to get our tickets. Unfortunately, I only had $100 bills and the ferry only cost $2 so I had to go back to a gift shop and start my souvenir shopping in order to pay for the tickets. I bought a couple of really cool gifts and got the change I needed. Evan, Brynn and I finally got our tokens for the ferry and made our way to the waiting station. The ride was short and not that comfortable, but was just like any other ferry I had been on before. The three of us decided to go see the world’s largest bronze Buddha, so once we got to the island we had to catch another ferry to a different island. Luckily it was right next to the dock so we didn’t have to walk far and I got directions from a tour guide so that we would not be lost on where we were going. When we got in this ferry to the other island I noticed how much nicer it was. I felt like I was on an airplane. There were lots of soft seats, televisions, barf bags, and it was all closed so that the wind and cold would not be affecting us. The ride was about 15 minutes and we played a couple of games on the ride over. Then when we got to the island, we had to catch a bus that would take us to the Buddha area. The bus was a bit more expensive than the ferry but was still a good ride. We drove for about half an hour before we got to our destination through lots of mountains, going a bit fast on a bunch of switchbacks. We finally pulled up to the bus stop and as soon as we got off we noticed that we were in our first Chinese architectural area filled with history. We could see the large Buddha statue in the distance situated on a hill. To get there we had to go down a long pathway of statues of all the famous warriors. We then came to this large circle that was flying many different flags. To the north was a monastery, to the southwest was the Buddha, and to the northeast was a restaurant. We took a few pictures in at the base of the long staircase leading up to the Buddha and then we made our ascent. With every step we took, the statue grew larger and larger. Finally we were at the top and there were lots of people taking pictures, some praying, and the rest taking in the beautiful statue and the surrounding scenery. I snapped a few pictures, and then started traveling around the enormous statue, looking at the beautiful brown and oxidization the monument had taken over the years. I was amazed at the dedication to detail and to this figure and pondered just how many people died trying to construct it as well as the amount of time it must have taken to produce something so awe inspiring. After seeing the amazing Buddha the three of us went back to the bottom of the stairs and made our way to the monastery. On our way we saw that a lot of incense was being burned. Some of the incense was as large as a rocket and I could not believe that there was this much dedication to burn something so large. We were all a bit hungry so instead of going straight to the monastery we went to the restaurant nearby. We found out, because of the practice of Buddhism, that everything was vegetarian. I am sure my brother would have liked it very much. I actually really enjoyed the food and, for my first Chinese dish, thought it was comparable to what I am used to back in the United States. We finished up our lunch and then went into the monastery. The outside was decorated in a traditional Chinese way from the Ming and Qing dynasties with lots of columns covered in carvings of dragons. Each one was perfect and looked like it took a long time to make. Inside the monastery was another large Buddha, this one was gold (at least colored) with a couple of other statues sitting next to it. It was perched up on a pedestal in a glass case. All around it were beautiful decoration and lanterns to honor the Buddha. On the ceilings there was beautiful artwork that had not been restored in a long time. I found the place to be very relaxing even with a lot of tourists. We were all finished with seeing the monument so we made our way back to the bus station so we could catch the ferry and go back to Hong Kong Island to do some exploring before the night. We got back on the bus and then eventually on the ferry were we reached the island. There were so many businesses and skyscrapers in the area it was hard to take in. Brynn got a coffee because she was feeling a bit tired and then we went to the IFC mall that was across the street from the dock. When we got into the mall, which was absolutely enormous, we tried finding a pub so that we could just sit down and have a couple of beers before we were supposed to go back to the ship to meet Grace and Sarah to go to the top of Victoria’s Peak to see the skyline at night. Instead of finding a pub, we found a two-story Mac store, lots of high-end boutique shops, and a theater. It looked like everything in here was going to be very expensive so we left and tried to ask someone where we could find a pub to have a drink. This was a difficult because no one wanted to talk to us or couldn’t because of the language barrier. We instead found ourselves walking back to the dock where we went to the coffee shop because they sold beer there. We each got a drink and then sat down in the small park and enjoyed each other’s company for a little while. There was a group of women near us that were drinking wine and after a few drinks they were already drunk and laughing up a storm. I found this amusing and after our drinks we decided to take the ferry back to the ship so that we could meet our friends and go out for the night. When we got back to the ship, Grace and Sarah were nowhere to be found. We got back a little late and we have come to accept that plans on this voyage are never set in stone. So, the three of us changed and then went out to get something to eat for dinner. We tried finding a restaurant in the mall that we were at, but there was nothing that looked good or interesting to us. Instead we decided to head out in the city and see what we could find. We eventually found ourselves inside another mall heading straight for the food court. We actually found some really good food and it was cheap so I think we were all pretty happy. I got some shrimp and noodles and then some dumplings. I guess I was really hungry because I finished my food within five minutes and was wanting more. The food was great, especially the dumplings, something I would eat much more of as I the trip continued. After our great meal we went out to get to the top of Victoria’s Peak so we could try and see the light show on the bay and take in the night skyline. We got to the dock where the ferry was located and found a taxi that could take us to the tram station to the top of the peak. Once we got there we realized it was going to be very busy. It was like waiting in line at for a theme park ride. There were people everywhere and pushing and shoving was a must. I found out that the Chinese have no concept of personal space as the entire time we were trying to get up to the tram we were being pushed, shoved, cut in line, elbowed. Everything that would pop our tradition American bubble, the Chinese were great at. We were standing in this huge crowd waiting for the tram to pull into the station. We were somehow able to get right in front to be waiting for the tram. Then the two-car train pulled in and all of the sudden there were twenty people in front of us. We knew we were going to have to work hard in order to get a seat which meant that we were going to have to do a lot of pushing and shoving. I have a video recording of the chaos, but as soon as those doors opened it was a rush to get in. I pushed old women out of the way, cut in front of men, and finally got in and sat down. I knew it was going to be okay because this is what the culture is used to, especially with such a large population in such a small area. The tram went up to the top and was a surprisingly short ride. We got to the top and found that we were yet again inside another mall, but this one had more restaurants than others, there was even a Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. inside. We had to go up six floors to get to the top and outside. Once we did there was a large blast of cold wind surrounding us. It was actually quite nice because we were finally escaping the heat and humidity going into a cooler and drier climate. We found Grace and Sarah at the top and looked out at the skyline. It was beautiful, lights were flickering, changing color and it covered the entire Hong Kong area. It was also very crowded up at the top, something that was expected so we didn’t stay long. Because we had to take the tram back down we decided to meet Grace and Sarah at a night market that was on the streets somewhat close to where our ship was docked. Evan, Brynn and I yet again waited in a long line and had to push and shove again to get onto the tram. Once we were back down at the bottom we went back to the ferry dock. I got a couple of beers from the 7-Eleven and saw my roommate with his friends sitting down pregaming before they went out for the night. I went back to the park with Brynn and Evan and drank a beer. I saved the other for the market and because there is no law about having an open container I was very excited, it reminded me a bit of Vegas. We got a taxi to the night market and the chaos of bargaining and shopping began. They had a lot of really interesting things there and I did some great bargaining, with the help of Evan of course. I got a really nice tea pot and cups, a hat, some paintings and a magnet for around $50 US. I was very proud of myself because in all of the other countries I was not that great at getting a good deal. I think that because of the experience with the other countries that I was able to get better deals than before, plus I think having a little liquid courage didn’t hurt Anyway, it was getting pretty late so we had to spend our last Hong Kong dollars because Brynn and I were going to China the next day and they use a different currency. I was able to get my last gifts and then we met up with Grace and Sarah at the market. Brynn stayed with them and continued to shop while Evan and I returned to the ship because we were pretty tired. I was still a bit tipsy when we got back to the ship and was really hungry so I went back out onto the port to the McDonald’s because it was close. I got a Big Mac, and a chicken sandwich and had to wait a little while for my food to be made. There were a lot of crew members in the McDonalds when I was there and a couple of them were pretty drunk and trying to talk to me. They hassled me about this or that and I joked with them for a little while as I was waiting for my food. I was getting a bit uncomfortable talking with them, especially since one of them was my cabin steward. It is sort of like seeing your boss outside of work in a club or bar. Once I got my food I went outside to the railing in front of the ship and ate my food. I took in the beautiful surroundings and just stared at the ship. I thought about how much I was going to miss my new home and really am not going to want to leave it. It is going to be a very hard day to pack and say goodbye for the last time to a room that has become my own. It was the same for leaving my apartment back in Colorado and I expect no less for room 4159. I returned to the ship after my fast-food meal and went to my room to get some sleep. James still had not returned and wouldn’t until early in the morning, I assume he was having a good night. I needed to get some sleep because early in the morning I was going to be leaving for China! The next couple of posts will be about my amazing experience and journey through the ancient land. I am only able to post this right now because I am almost in Japan and will have to get some sleep in order to enjoy my last foreign country on this epic voyage. Until next time…