Ni hao, readers. Sorry it has been so long since I've posted. I thought I'd have lots of time to blog during the break but I've been MIA, seeing the world.
My school flew me to Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago so I could get a new visa. I stayed for three days. When I wasn't at the visa office, I was exploring one of the most intriguing cities I have ever been to.
When I first arrived at the airport, I stood in awe of the beautiful green mountains and the sparkling ocean. It reminded me of Maui. The air was considerably warmer than Baoding, in the low 60's and slightly humid. I love humidity, as it is good for your skin. Ditching the heavy coat and putting on my fall jacket added ease and clarity.
I had booked a reservation at the Dragon Hostel in Mong Kok. On the bus, I entered the city, which transformed itself from Maui to San Francisco. Do you remember the game Taipei? Each puzzle piece has a character on its face, and they are gathered in a small pile, and you select two matching pieces that are fully uncovered. This game reminds me of Hong Kong streets, where buildings are stacked to the sky, characters glowing and buzzing, letters spelling multiple languages for this diverse environment. The sounds are intense, the street walk signs rattle and tick as though they are pushing the pace of pedestrians and taxis. The girls are little Asian dolls, you can see the experience in their eyes unlike many of the Chinese girls I see in Baoding. Their boyfriends walk along side them, holding their shiny bags for them.
Hong Kong is complex, slightly confused in its own identity. I had exchanged my yuan for Hong Kong dollars at the airport and turned my phone off since I had no reception. It is very expensive there. Alex had lent me her Lonely Planet book for the trip, a tool I was the most grateful for as it guided me throughout the city in my three days' stay.
This was my first real trip if you exclude my various runs to Beijing. I decided to go all out and do whatever the hell I wanted. I brought enough of my salary to really enjoy myself and not worry about getting stuck. Truthfully I'm not the most interested in museums and statues, for they are usually designed to appear a certain way and are directed at tourists. My favorite way of exploring a new territory requires using my sense of taste.
The first restaurant I went to was Pak Bo, a vegetarian restaurant in Mong Kok. The sign outside the restaurant said, "This is a vegetarian restaurant. Please do not bring any meat inside." Perfect. Why can't more restaurants like this exist? The dish was pretty decent, I got the sweet lilly bulb with fake pork. The staff was extremely friendly, each one took his turn catering to me as I sat there eating and reading Lonely Planet. I thanked them earnestly and went about my adventure.
I made it a point to go to bed early so I could fully enjoy the next day. I ate some sashimi at a place near the visa office, then had some of the best dumplings at a Northeastern Chinese restaurant closeby. I sat at a round table with four strangers in this busy, busy place. Once again, the staff was so friendly. The hostess at this place was a peach. After, I stepped in next door to a pub and had my first Boddington's in well over a year. I met a man who reminded me of Ray Charles. He was originally from Seattle and had been living in Hong Kong for 16 years. He was a musician who played for a living, piano primarily. His voice was throaty, smoky like the bars he probably played at. I told him I was originally from Austin and he got really excited, then pointed to his friend who was also from there. He bought me another round then gave me his card if I ever wanted to listen to him play. He put on Nina Simone on the juke for me and then I left.
I didn't have that much luck shopping, even though HK is recognized for one of the best places to buy things. Truthfully it is very difficult to shop for clothes in Asia because everything is considerably smaller. It's not just my problem, almost all westerners deal with this. At Adidas stores you will see a note on the tags that say something to the effect of "Asian-sized," so you may as well give up. It's okay though, sometimes I find luck and am able to fit into certain things but for the most part I just don't bother. I bought presents for people and myself a bottle of delicious perfume.
Later that evening I decided to branch out and go somewhere I would not normally go- an Indian restaurant. I've never been a huge fan of Indian food, but this place had a great review in the Lonely Planet and it was also a vegetarian joint. Banto (or Branto?) was the name and it was sort of a bitch to find. There was a mess of things in this hallway, you would've thought you were trying to get into someone's apartment since there was no entrance right off the street. At first I was worried I was at the wrong place. But I followed three Indian men toward the spot and walked inside.
Holy shit. This was the best meal I had in a LONG time. No joke. I had a mushroom dish I can't even pronounce and I ate every single bite, trying not to moan outloud. It was fantastic. After, it was time to find the German Biergarten, then maybe the wine bar, and I knew I wanted to find the Siberian Ice Bar so I'd have a story to tell my Russian when I got home.
The Biergarten was okay, I had a pint then a glass of German white wine. Decided to move on and find the Siberian Ice Bar since the wine bar was in a hotel and I wasn't in the mood to go that fancy...yet. It took me over an hour to find the Russian joint. I kept taking wrong turns by foot, only to discover it was in the richest, most touristy section of Hong Kong. Oh well, I had made it this far, I was determined to at least look at it. It turned out to be this small room set to -20 C full of vodka bottles. An Asian woman was in there with her sig other, wearing a huge fur coat. It didn't feel like -20. It felt like 5. This was lame. I quietly excused myself and snuck next door to an oyster bar. Had the most expensive oysters I've ever tasted and a long-desired glass of champagne. It was delicious. Exhausted from all the walking I had done all day, I took a cab back to Mong Kok and crashed out.
The next day I received my visa, yet another visitor visa with only one entry to China, so once I flew back from Hong Kong I'd have no entries left. Kind of sucky if I want to travel outside the country and return. Chinese visas are a pain in the ass.
I walked all around Soho and it felt like Europe. Brits everywhere in their business casual suits walking with cell phones attached to their ears on their lunch breaks, following with the hustle of the city. I was determined to find Life, another vegetarian restaurant in the area, for lunch. I wound up at Good Luck, a Thai restaurant, but decided on a Singha beer since the menu was loaded with meat. I then continued on my way and finally found Life.
I sat beside a couple, the woman was American and the man must have been British. I did not talk to them but I eavesdropped their conversation. The woman had THE most bland, monotone voice I had ever heard. It was so frustrating to hear her talk. Totally snobby. How does this man like being around her? She ordered celery juice (because she had been craving celery juice all day) then when she discovered there was fruit in it, this became a huge issue since the waitress did not tell her the juice had fruit in it. "We need to cancel it then," she told the waitress with her cold, uninterested stare. Celery juice? And who can't eat fruit?
After Life, I walked to the pier and took a ferry to Macao. Got my passport stamped and entered another country for a couple of hours. Macao is a bit strange. It's a popular place for tourists to go blow cash at casinos. It has its own currency but they do accept Hong Kong dollars. This was good because HK currency was all I had when I took a taxi from the airport/ferry to town. I walked around, looking at the buildings and wishing I had arrived sooner. I really wanted to see some of the Portugese ruins, as Macao's history is heavily Portugese. The sun was starting to set and it was not seeming as simple to walk around and find things to do (other than gamble) like it was in Hong Kong. So I decided to sail back. My feet were very sore, I wanted something to eat and a place to rest before I had to be up early the next morning to catch my plane. I went out for sushi & sake then walked next door and had some champagne. A British man noticed my cracked iPhone and then showed me his. We decided my crack was better since I dropped it on the Great Wall instead of some bathroom like he did.
Here are some pictures from Hong Kong.
Here are some pictures from the island of Macao.
When I arrived back to Baoding, it was nearing time for the Chinese New Year and Spring Festival. I've always been a bit of a pyromaniac, so China suits me quite well in this regard. Chinese people LOVE fireworks, far beyond any capacity I've witnessed before. It sounded like World War 3 outside on the day of the New Year. I soon discovered another thing Misha and I have in common- he's a pyro, too. So needless to say, we bought plenty of firecrackers and threw them along the street with my friend Slava. Here are more pictures.
During the week of Spring Festival, Slava, Lee and I decided to take a 12-hour train to Xi'an, China. We stayed at the traveler's hostel that is the same company as the one in Beijing I always stay at. It was really nice. I felt like I was in a treehouse. There was a dog named Terra roaming around, with the softest fur. I miss big dogs, all the dogs here are short and stubby. Terra was a golden retriever.
Once we got settled in, we walked all over Xi'an.
That last picture of me was when Lee, Slava and I were at a sushi restaurant in Xi'an. Needless to say, I was pleased as punch. Nearby at a booth were two Australian dudes. They were also staying at our hostel. One guy got super loaded, it was entertaining to watch.
During our stay, we went to see the Panda Rescue Center and the Terra Cotta Warriors. The Panda Rescue Center was far more enjoyable than any zoo. Truthfully I do not like to go to zoos because I hate seeing animals caged up for human entertainment. There were other animals, such as the Golden Monkey. I got to feed him. He was my favorite. Slava said I looked like him since he had blue coloring around his eyes and I am fond of blue eyeshadow. Here are more pics from the Rescue Center.
The Terra Cotta Warriors museum was okay. Apparently it's the Eighth Wonder of the World. Dad, aren't you proud I went to a museum?
Slava and I took a 22-hour slow train back to Baoding, everything else was booked. However, this time we had sleepers so the ride actually seemed shorter than the 12-hour seat getting to Xi'an. I highly recommend sleepers.
I'm considering another trip before school starts at the end of the month. Maybe another Shanghai attempt? Shanghai is the Manhattan of China, so I better come prepared financially. We'll see. I'll keep you posted.
Happy Chinese New Year! Thanks for reading, please leave me comments if you like.