December 20, 2001
The good news is that I’m writing to you from my computer at home sweet home. The bad news is that I’m severely jet lagged, so this e-mail may be a bit discombobulated …
Two weeks is hardly enough time to see a single country, especially one like China. Technically, I suppose Hong Kong is now a Chinese territory, but it’s about as different from Guangzhou as … well … I can’t actually think of a reasonable comparison here in the United States. A week here, a week there – just enough to get a good first taste, but not enough to adapt and really explore. Regardless, the trip was more than worth the time and money …
The adventure getting home was rather … adventurous. Poncho and I were on separate flights – they left and arrived at about the same time, so we were probably never more than 300 miles away from each other at any given time. When we arrived in Vancouver … no one was there to meet us.
Which isn’t such a terrible thing … I mean, I know Vancouver pretty well, and it WAS 9:30 in the morning … an early hour that would have required an all night drive to make. We figured we’d head to the Lion’s Pub as planned to wait things out.
At around 3 o’clock, we started to get a bit concerned. Our fears were confirmed when Nova called the pub and told me that no one was anywhere near Canada, or even on their way up there. Damn. So I called Tom – it turns out he wasn’t able to get wheels, and besides, I put the wrong number for his pager in my last e-mail. Doh.
A quick call to Amtrak sorted things out … partially. We could get as far as Seattle that night, on a train leaving Vancouver at 6:00 PM. Poncho suggested we track down Timmy, his good buddy from his days at Southern Oregon University who’s now at Evergreen in Olympia. But ol’ Timmy hadn’t been seen for a few years (he had been living in China … how ironic), so we weren’t entirely certain it would pan out.
But the phone number we had was right, and Tim was on the ball – he said he’d pick us up in Seattle, and that we could crash on his futon, no problem at all.
After arriving at the train station, we find out we’re actually going to be on a bus. I hate busses. Ugh. It’s almost amusing, though – every single time I’ve taken the “train” from Vancouver into the States, it’s always been a bus! Everyone will tell you it’s a train, until you actually arrive at the station, and they say “oops, it’s been changed into a bus.” You’d think they’d figure it out, or at least be honest with folks on the phone. Oh well. It was a ride, and I wasn’t going to complain too much.
Crossing the border while severely jet lagged, with little sleep, and after having celebrated our return to North America in a pub, was an interesting excersize. We were dirty and smelly guys with fat backpacks and we undoubtedly looked half dead or terrifyingly stoned. I think they asked me what my birthday was, and just waved me through. Eeesh.
Arriving in Seattle, Mr. Tim was happy to see us, and proceded to drag us into a little club and feed us more beer.
Coincidentally, our good buddy Chris Franz was headed down to Portland the next day, after being stranded somewhere on the Olympic Penninsula due to car troubles. To make a long story short, Poncho and I crashed out at Tim’s pad, Chris picked us up the next afternoon … and here I am, safe and sound, back at home.
And now I’m going to bed. Oi.
December 17, 2001
I’m back from a little adventurin’ in China, and tomorrow I’m hoppin’ on a plane and heading to Vancouver. China was … crazy. At least, the city we were in was pretty nuts. I’m having some issues accepting the notion that China is a communist country – everything I saw was privatized, and although there’s undoubtedly a bit of subsidising from the government, it’s essentially a basic capitalistic and entrepenurial economy with a weird quasi-republic semi-dictatorship government behind it. But enough political talk. China is far from any sort of western romantic notion of the Far East – everything I saw was f—– filthy, the people love staring and pointing at us white kids, and the security guards at our gracious hosts’ place are racist sons of bitches who threatened to call the cops and put us in Chinese Lockdown almost every time we tried to get back to where we were living. The complete lack of any sort of organized traffic system added spice to every outing, and the lack of governors on the go-cart motors made it a heck of a lot more exciting than any wussy go-cart I’ve tried in the United States. That, and the fact that the best track is in a gutted and nearly abandon mall, the carts burst into flames, throw chains, and otherwise misbehave in dangerous ways. We played a lot of pool, drank a lot of tea, gorged ourselves on REALLY GOOD chinese food (I’m not sure I’ll be able to stomach the sorry excuses we have state-side), and consumed entirely too much PBR and Kingway beer.
I like China, and I’d like to see more of it, but I don’t think I could handle living there. There’s tons more to write about, but I gotta get some shut-eye tonight before my terrifying journey back over the Pacific.
For those of you who are interested in making the road trip to the Vancouver BC International Airport to meet Poncho and I, we will be arriving around 9:30-ish AM on the 18th. Because our flights are a little whacky, we’ll either be arriving together or separately on either Cathay Pacific flight CX888, or Air Canada flight 12.
If you’re unable to make it to Vancouver by 9:30-ish in the morning, we’re going to head to the Lion’s Pub in downtown Vancouver, a couple blocks from the “Canada Place” convention center (also known as “The Sails,” near Gastown) – we’re both sick and tired of guzzling PBR and cheap Chinese brews, so a few pints of good beer and a basket of onion rings will probably keep us occupied for a while. If we’re no where to be found, we’re either in transit between the airport and the pub, or out and about because there’s only so much beer and onion rings a travel weary man can consume. Check with the bar tenders to see if we’ve left a message.
I beleive Tom is the man to talk to if you want to head north and meet us – his pager number is [deleted]. I recommend you leave lengthy, rambling voice mails. He really likes that. Heh.
Anyhow, I hope this e-mail finds you all in good health and high spirits – I’ve had a great time here, and it would suck to come home to a bunch of depressed sick people. 😉
December 10, 2001
Today wasn’t particularly action packed, but it was good none the less. I woke up early this morning, and did a bit of reading and Game Boy playing while waiting for the other fellows to arise from slumber. I spent a bit of time wrestling images off my digital camera, but to no avail – this dang computer keeps crashing. Oh well.Most of the day was spent rowing. We had the fantastic notion that it would be a lot of fun to rent a boat and visit some islands, but we ended up with a really sketchy row boat, with 4 different sized oars, and the sorriest excuse for oar-locks I’ve ever had to deal with. It’s damn near impossible to get anywhere with 4 different sized paddles, especially when they pop out of the locks every third or fourth stroke. Never the less, we managed to cross a fair amount of water and land ourselves on a deserted island … which was so strewn with trash and tangled brambles that we couldn’t really do much there anyhow. Regardless, the spirit of adventure endured: We salvaged a kite, and hacked our way into the biomass a good distance before realizing that we weren’t *really* getting anywhere, and it wasn’t for a *really* good reason. Defeated, we turned away to frantically splash our way back across the bay (at least a mile) before night set in.
Dinner was pretty standard fare. I’m actually starting to crave miscelanious fried organ and noodle dishes now, although something always catches me off guard every time I eat. Oh, and a few of you might appreciate this: The beer of choice in lots of these little places we visit is PBR. PBR! And it’s CHEAPER than it is in the United States! Amazing!
In other news: We had a little problem getting my Chinese visa – apparently they had NO idea what “self employed” meant. Grunt. After a little negotiations on the phone, Zafirlah sorted things out … with the help of about $30. We leave on Wednesday (the 12th, I think).
Phew. Well, I’m exhausted, so I think I’m going to go watch some television and relax on the couch.
December 9, 2001
Hello again from Hong Kong!
The last couple of days have been grand – we’ve been doing a bit of the tourism thing, visiting The Peak and some of the downtown shopping malls and what not. The only problem I’ve had is the computer crashing every time I try to download images from my camera.
Anyhow, the dietary excitement continues with “beef organ,” ox tail, and thinly sliced ox tongue. The tongue and tail were pretty good, but the “beef organ” worried me a bit – what the hell part of a cow is neon orange with hexagonally shaped membranous structures? Further questioned, our friend and guide Zafirlah meerly shruged his shoulders and laughed. “Beef organ!” Ack.
After a morning (well, afternoon) dim sum, we went to The Peak. It’s a 30 minute bus ride out of downtown Hong Kong, up some particularly steep and twisty roads on a double decker bus. Quite exciting. The Peak is a tourist trap of the worst sort (second only to Wall Drug) – it’s a mall on top of a mountain, complete with a Haagen-Dazs icecreamery and Ripley’s Believe it or Not “Odditorium.” Utter crap, but the view was really cool.
Then it was off to grandma’s for some good ol’ fashioned Hong Kongese cookin – two boiling pots of water, into which slices of meat, tofu, bok choy, fish/lobster/”meat” balls, squid, and shrimp-on-a-stick are inserted. It’s a sort of perpetual stew – if you want beef, you pick some raw meat off a plater and drop it in, wait a few minutes for it to cook, then fish it out along with whatever other goodies happen to be in there. Pretty decent, although we were already kind of full from Haagen-Dazs, so we ended up getting stuffed stupid … heaven forbid Zafirlah’s family would let us walk away from a table without eating our own weight in regional cuisine.
After dinner, we went off drinkin’ with some of Zafirlah’s friends in a crazy big basement bar. What can I say … the people here are light weights. When it comes to destroying an enormous amount of nearly free alcohol, I think we came out on top. I think we paid about $12 US for 4 hours of unlimited refills, and I’m pretty certain we consumed more then that. Then we headed off for a few hours of karaoke … which doesn’t work like it does in the States. We essentially rent a closet with a stereo, TV, and couch in it, and every now and then a waiter pops in to drop off food and drinks. (Un)fortunately, most of the songs were in Cantonese, so I had an easy out on the singing bit, with the exception of a little Bee Gees – Poncho and my duet seemed to have scared the hell out of them, because they never seemed to be able to get another English song on the system despite our pleading and mild threats.
So we woke up today feelin’ a bit groggy around 2pm. We headed down to the local market, picked up some “chow fun” (big steamed rice noodles with four sauces), and headed downtown for a bit of the Hong Kong Holiday Shopping Experience. It was crazy. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people buying so much stuff, crammed into narrow streets that are lit up with huge neon and backlit displays. Neat to experience once, but I don’t think its something I’m particularly keen on doing often. Anyhow, we spent a bit of time in a video arcade, I bought myself a watch (no, it’s not a fake rolex .. I’ll find one of those later), and headed out to dinner at a korean barbeque restaurant.
The korean barbeque was a heck of a lot of fun. It works like this: there’s a big hot plate in the middle of the table, and you put uncooked meats and vegies on it. Pretty simple. I have no idea why I haven’t seen it before, other than the fact that the FDA really freaks out about things like raw chicken at the dinner table. Quite delicious.
After that, a movie: Spy Games. Yeah, it’s an American movie … but it was playing at the right time, and it was a pretty decent flick. I recommend it. I think we’re going to try and catch a real Hong Kong action movie while we’re here, I mean, those movies are a huge inspiration to us all (right?), so it’s a must-do item.
Now we’re crashing out at Zafirlah’s, and I’m fighting a loosing battle with his computer, trying to make it cooperate with my camera. Grumble grumble. Oh well. We’ll see what happens …
December 8, 2001
Game Boy Advance: US$60
Pirated Games: US$4 each.
Sucking the brains out of the back of a fried pigeon head: Priceless.
Life is good over here on the other side of the planet: The weather’s pretty decent (compared to cold and rainy portland at least), the people are pretty nice (there’s a LOT of them), and the city is amazing.
Hong Kong is a pretty spectacular city, by any account. The first thing that really blew my mind was the housing situation: Everywhere you look are 34 story housing towers – hundreds of them, lined up and clustered like gigantic silos. Each one holds between 340 and 600 families, and I guess it’s the only way you can fit several million people on this island. Interestingly enough, most of the island appears to be too mountainous to build skyscrapers on, so there’s an interesting network of several mile long tunnels and nifty looking modern suspension bridges connecting everything together.
The family I’m staying with is the family of one of Poncho’s friends from school – they live on the 34th floor of one of these towers, in an apartment the size of, well, it’s quite a bit smaller than a typical high school classroom, and a little bit bigger than my bed room at home. Bedrooms are 7′ by 10′ closets (there’s two of them), the bathroom is the same size, and the kitchen is just large enough for a mini appliance stack and a counter top. The crazy part is that this apartment cost them roughly $400,000 US dollars – it’s standard fare for an upper middle class family in Hong Kong.
They’re tremendously nice people – I have the feeling I’m going to come back at least 15 pounds heavier, because they insist on stuffing us to the gills every night with fried [insert ANY meat here] dishes with [insert flavor] sauces. No, I wasn’t kidding about the pigeon brain. Zifirlah, Poncho’s buddy from school, has been taking us on tours of the city, which is great because he’s a young adventurous guy who speaks the local languages and likes to do things off the beaten path.
I get a kick out of the transportation systems here. The busses are double deckers, which makes public transportation a LOT more exciting – sitting in the front on the top deck while the driver below navigates the narrow streets at harrowing speeds is an experience that would probably cost $10 a pop at an amusement park .. yet only costs about $1.50 (US) for as much as you can handle. They have “Octopus Cards” for paying public transit fees – they’re magnetic cards (like key cards) that you put in your wallet and wave at a sensor at a bus/train station to pay your fare. I have no idea why they’re called Octopus Cards, other than the people here seem to be preoccupied with tentacled creatures.
The food is good – although they seem to have issues with identifying animals. For example, the lines between turtle and fish, and frogs and chickens, seem to be a bit blurred. For example: A creature that looks like a turtle by any account, except for having a slightly softer shell, is actually a fish. It has four retractable legs and a head, and a shell it hides inside of when you poke it. There are no gills. Yet somehow it is a fish. Funny.
On the non-meat side of things, there’s lots of cool fruits that would be COMPLETELY unrecognizable in the States. The “dragon fruit” is a neon pink color with crazy green and yellow wing things poking out of it. When you cut it open, it’s got a grey pulp with lots of little black seeds – kind of like a poppyseed muffin – and it tastes like a mild kiwi fruit. There’s also the “big pineapple” which is about the size of my torso, but contains little fist sized hunks of fruit with a big seed inside. I can’t describe how it tastes, other than saying artificial. Very weird, but pretty good!
Yesterday, Poncho, Zafirlah, and I went and applied for Chinese passports. Apparently, China is “crazy.” That’s the only description we can get out of anyone – they make weird hand jestures, roll their eyes, and say “It’s just CRAZY!” I’m looking forward to it.