Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hong Kong Report #1

Hi Readers! Sorry I am the worst blogger ever. This time of year is insanely busy for me (I've been working about 50 hour weeks since mid-September) and I just haven't been in a blogging mood. Don't take that personally. Anyway, I have all kinds of great Hong Kong trip photos and stories for you. To save time, I'm going to paste the emails I sent my coworkers while I was over there. But first, let's talk about the flight over there.

1. I flew from Savannah to Detroit, and barely made my international flight to Hong Kong! Running from the domestic flight area to the international flight area in the Detroit airport is not my idea of a good time. Especially when I suffer from what my mom calls "chronic train fever". I am always convinced I will miss my flight. Which, despite the logical and intellectual voices in my head, I believe is quite possibly the end of the world. (I have posted in the past about my total airport paranoia). Hey, I know no one likes a 4 hour layover, but a little more than 10 minutes would have been nice!

2. I pulled a classic inexperienced traveler mistake: I let the computer pick my seat. Which meant that my seat, for the 16+ hour flight.....was right next to the bathroom. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Can you say "total exhaustion"? Between the light in the bathroom, the smell of that blue liquid and the constant opening and shutting of the door, I didn't really sleep on the way over there. To make it even more fun, my seat was in front of the galley, so I could not recline my seat. "This is a free trip to Hong Kong. This is a free trip to Hong Kong," I kept repeating to myself, as I looked up the aisle and watched the people in first class recline on their BEDS.

My other big regret was ignoring my mother's advice to bring sleeping pills. Also dumb. I could have slept right through every disgusting meal, every swish of the toilet and all the ass-numbing boredom. Thank goodness for the individual TV screens, which give you essentially your own little mini-Netflix selection of tv shows and movies to watch on demand. HELLO this is the coolest thing ever. I watched so many movies. It really helped the time go by.

By movie #4, however, I was starting to climb the walls. You can only sit still and watch tv for so long before you need to DO something. I checked our time. Oh, great! Only 8 more hours of flight!


It was the flight. That. Never. Ended. Seriously, y'all, the flight alone is enough to make you never want to go over there. It is interminable!!!! Plus, with all the time zone changes, I left Detroit at 1pm on Saturday, and arrived in Hong Kong at 8pm SUNDAY night. And you know what? It felt like I had been on a plane for 30+ hours.

Finally, we deplaned (very quickly, I might add. We were all ready to get the heck off that giant aluminum tube!). I went through customs (kinda scary cuz you know, they are technically Communist -- gulags! EEK!), exchanged some money, and then I went to get a cab. The first cabbie I talked to was perplexed when I showed him the address for my hotel. He didn't speak any English, so I started to get nervous -- what if he took me to Timbuktu? He showed the address to another cabbie, they chatted a bit, and then decided to swap passengers. The other guy apparently knew where my hotel was. WHEW. Upon first glance of Hong Kong, I thought: It's tall, like New York. But hilly and green like the Appalachian mountains. And all the buildings light up like Las Vegas. Cool.

I finally went to bed around 10:30pm, thinking I would have no problem sleeping until my alarm went off at 7pm. That is, until my eyes popped open at 4am. WTF??

The next morning, I was picked up at my hotel by X, the librarian we hired to run the library at our new Hong Kong campus. She's from the Beijing area, so she is bilingual and understands the culture much better than I. She can also read all the signs, which is very helpful. The problem is, she speaks Mandarin, but everyone in Hong Kong speaks Cantonese -- same written language, but pronunciation and grammar are different. I guess it's like putting someone from Southern Alabama into Long Island and expecting them to just start talking! It doesn't really work that way, apparently.

We rode the subway together (my favorite thing EVER) and went to work. I won't bore you with work details, but here's an email I sent my coworkers a couple of days later:

"I miss you guys. I am very homesick, although, I have to admit, I think it's more about missing familiar American food than anything else. It's only Wednesday, and I'm already sick of Asian food! All I want is Mexican. :P You know how some Asian restaurants in the US are kind of sketchy? That's how ALL of them are here. It is a big challenge to this picky eater. Everyone here at the [school I work for] building goes out to lunch together every day. The first day we went to an Italian restaurant, if you can believe it. I was laughing at the menu, because they served green curry. It was good food, but they used very little cheese or spices. A lot of the food is on the bland side, actually. Cantonese don't use a lot of spices in their food. Yesterday we went to a Shanghainese restaurant and it was very delicious. I took photos of all the food we got. You will be proud of me -- I ate eel! They love watermelon here, as well as those bubble teas (I haven't found one I like yet, but they are ok so far). There are 7-11s everywhere, full of weird snacks and candies and drinks. I'm having fun trying them.

If you have ever been to NYC, that is a good comparison to Hong Kong. Only the whole city is built on the side of a mountain, so there are steep hills and staircases everywhere. I have yet to see a building shorter than 7 stories. There are more skyscrapers here than anywhere else I have ever been. The weather is just like Savannah, and luckily, it hasn't rained really hard yet. Just afternoon drizzles. There are people EVERYWHERE. It's like Grand Central Station, especially at night. Lots of night owls. Which is weird, because all the stores close at 7pm. I guess they are all out eating??

Most people speak a little English, and most of the signs have both English and Cantonese here. X is frustrated because I know more Cantonese than she does! But parts of it are very similar to Mandarin, so she is getting by ok. She says hi.

I love the subway, and it's very easy to find your way around it. Public transportation is very cheap here -- I had a 45 minute taxi ride from the airport and it was less than $40! I sat next to a supermodel on the subway this morning. She had to be a supermodel -- she was over 6 ft tall and skinny and gorgeous. I wish I could play Sartorialist and take photos of the women here -- they are fantastic dressers! Very very stylish. But I haven't taken any photos because I think it may make them uncomfortable. "

Ok, y'all, I gotta run. More Hong Kong stories later!