I woke up around 9am and was pretty excited to see Singapore…before I left…I expected Singapore to be even better than HK. My first stop was the close surrounding area. There were 3 stops on this quick tour. First a mosque, second a hindu temple and third a buddist temple. They were all on the same street…just a few blocks from my hostel. We were situated in the Chinatown section. I started strolling and the shops lining the streets were pretty old looking some even dilapidated. But the storefronts tended to be entirely open restaurants (no front wall) or small take-away shops….filled in with some tourist knick-knack shops. I wasn’t hungry at the time…so just went into the mosque first. Prayers were in session…so I just went into the foyer where there was tourist informtion about the Islamic religion. The posters were claiming that Islam knew the earth was round and the earth revolved around the sun much earlier than Europeans did…as it is recorded as such in the quran. No doubt the Muslims of the 11th-16th centuries were very intellectual and dominant as a culture…but I was thinking I would have to research the accuracy of their claims which flew in the face of what European educational institutions have taught for centuries. I jetted out of there before the prayers ended…and it was a funny feeling being in there as a Jew…definitely felt a bit uncomfortable…as I didn’t really have a sense of how much the nation of Islam tolerates and tries to educate non believers about their faith. Pus, I was the only tourist there. I think that was the only time where I felt uneasy entering a mosque…on the whole trip. Next, I walked a few blocks and on the outside was a gaggle of brightly painted human and animal figures on the roof of the building and on top of the retainer walls. At first I wasn’t sure what to make of it…but it turned out to be my first Hindu temple. It’s funny…because in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok…the hindu temple were more of the same formula…very bright statues everywhere. So I thought…I guess that is what Indian Hindu temples will look like….wrong…not even close. After pondering why this might be…I can only guess that one temple for thousands of G-ds (well…its complicated…but Hindu’s claim to be monotheistic…as in one spirit that has thousands of carnations or forms)…means you have to represent them all somehow in one place. The colorful statues….allows for this…as the G-ds are all there. And you can just choose one to focus your attention on….that is just a guess of course. I took off my shoes, begrudgingly as my feet were still hurting…and I went in. At first there was a donation to to pay….very nominal. There were something like 10 shrines where you could pray to a different G-d. They most excitement came when I was in front and a procession of men was coming toward me. The leader…out of the blue had a coconut over his head and threw it n the ground with extremem force. Pieces were everywhere and he just kept walking and singing…while the procession behind him were doing chanting and following his lead. It was quite the scene and very entertaining to watch. Looking back….Bangkok was a similar scene where and there were people leading prayers. For some reason…when I think about Indian temples…there was nothing like it…there were no elaborate ceremonies….it was more just walk into the temple…get the red dot and pray at your own speed. There may have been some prayer circles here or there just doing some singing…or if a traveling hindu guru stopped into a small town then…there was celebration. But even at the Kumbh Mela (Largest Hindu gathering in world) there wasn’t a ton of prayer being done…but more like lectures about hinduism. I walked around really in awe of all the cool statues all dolled up and took photo’s. At the time…it was all very overwhelming….with so many G-ds. I think that is probably the reason why Hinduism has never really grabbed others..is mostly because of the complexity of G-ds…but it certainly does have very positive messages. Although, I’ll talk more about the varied messages you receive depending on the Bapu (or teacher) that you choose as your spiritual leader at a later date. Wandering on…I notice there is some stores down the street and I go to check it out. I find out the stores are filled with stuff from China…oh well there goes autheticity. I also notice there is an out of place store…its a mint museum. Not really sure if it was a true museum or not but they claim to have the largest coin in the world….which essentially a big rock. I was there for 10 minutes….as you know money is my thing. A little down the street were some street vendors…and they were selling all the touristcrap that I saw in China. No wonder, because this was Chinatown! I headed back to the same street where the temples were….as I had one more temple to search out. This one was a buddhist temple. But this one was a little special because it held the a relic of the buddah’s tooth. At this point I think I had seen three or four of Buddah’s relics and there were only a few more to see (Thailand and Sri Lanka). Those places are coming up…more to come on this. Immediately, you could smell the burning inscense and there was a courtyard with a water fountain. There were two open corridors on either side of the fountain. I went through to see a remarkable sight….in front was massive statue of Buddah and surrounding this statue were hundreds of smaller buddahs…flanked on both sides of the long hall. Each of the buddah’s had just a different variation on its pose…making them unique. I headed out the back and there was a festival going on. Since it was the China town…in the middle of the square was a stage and chairs. I grabbed one with anticipation of a cool dance act or maybe a band. But it was a singalong choir…let’s just say they had spirit…but the voices were not quite marah carey…more like jim carey. All the songs had to 30+ years old…because the only ones in the audience who sang along were geriatrics. I sitting with them all…it was cute and the old people were having fun…but it was kind of sad…because there were 50 in audience and 1,000 chairs set up…so totally empty. Considering I could not read the chinese that they gave me to help me sing along…just didn’t keep me glued to me seat…so I ended up moving along. I remember looking at my triposo map and there was an attraction right near the china town square. It was a historic building and indeed it looked old…but no real reason to stop in. Indeed this is one of the issues with triposo….in that you don’t always know if it is an attraction you can visit or just something to see from the outside. So I just started wandering. I turned right and in no time I’m right in front of the Urban Planning Museum. Awesome….but it was closed…not so awesome. I was literally pearing through the glass like a lost puppy dog. I begrudgingly moved on….nothing really left to do in Chinatown so I went back to the hostel for a little bit then went for a trek downtown. It was probably noon by now and once I hit the pavement from the hostel it was hot…really hot…the type of hot where your periphery vision is entirey ocupied by scoutng for shade to walk past. I had the map from the hostel and go figure…I went in the wrong direction (kinda figured something was up when the office buildings turned into residential highrises. Not a big deal…but in soaking wet SE Asia weather it is deflating to the soul. So I turned around and started to notice some things about Singapore. First, the streets are ginormous…some as big as 10 lanes wide. Second, the number of taxi’s compared to regular cars is insane. I was told that gasoline prices were so high and public transportation is so good…there is no reason to need a car. While the metro was pretty good…they were expanding it and just from looking at the map…you could tell there were underserved placed in Singapore…tht probably relied on Buses. As I had been told the streets /sidewalks were immaculate in Singapore. I got into the city center and it was a mix of old historic governement buildings , plenty of retail and restuarants (mostly along the riverside) and some highrise buildings. I headed past the historic government buildings…and ran past the Raffles Hotel and Parliment Building. There were signs pointing toward the major river in town and the water fountain statue that makes Singapore famous. It was crazy hot and it was too crowded where people were getting waterfront pictures of the city with the fountain statue in it. So I strategically found a close overpass where I could wait for the crowds to dissipate. In 10 minutes…I was well rested from the overwhelming heat…and found my opportunity to get my pictures. As for the scene…it was very Singaporean…sanitized and kind of lacked character. A cool statue surrounded by tall office buildings (some old and new)….and a river intersection with the sands casino on one side and a modern looking opera house/theater on the other side of the river. My guess for why it all felt sanitized…is that Singapore is a small new country with no natural resources….and a giant port (thanks to the British)….and puts a large emphasis on family life. Thus, human capital is a priority (hence the office buildings) and family tourism became an important part of the economy with cultural and family attractions. Backpackers tend to go to Singapore (because its a huge city in SE Asia to get to) and they are disappointed when they find out about the prices are extremely high compared to the rest of the peninsula and places don’t stay open all that late. For me the prices were comparable to Hong Kong..so I was spared that disappointment. Also, I didn’t really do bars there…I found other things to do at night. Let’s digress….back at the statue….I wanted to find out what the cool buiding across the bridge was (the Opera/Therter house) and once I found this…it was a hit and run. This turned out great because…there was an ice cream vendor in front of the building…G-d knows these guys do amazing business in this year round heat. But what was super cool was the ice cream itself. The Ice cream came in long square blocks 3″x3″x15″….Vendors had around 10-15 flavors to choose from. and he finds the right block cuts off a 1.5″ thick slab of ice cream and sandwiches two thin wafers around it or a rainbow colored sweet bread. I was in heaven…two of my favorites bread and ice cream have finally been joined together in harmony. At first, you think this mix could not work…but it was amazing…I think the trick is that the bread is very dense so it doesn’t let the ice cream through. I enjoyed this little slice of heaven and moved on. What I found was a large green space among very old and big colonial buildings. This plaza area seemed to be the place for outdoor meeting spaces be it concerts or rugby matches. There was a kids rugby tournament going when I was there. Rugby itself is a pretty physically demanding sport…even at the younger ages. The kids seemed to have fun…but the parents were probably worse than your average over-zealous soccer mom. Parents were screaming at the kids and it wasn’t encouraging cheers it sounded angry. I guess the aggresiveness of the sport also rubs off on the parents. Spent about 20 minutes cooling down in the shade listening to this parents rage festival. Next, was the SE Asia cultural history museum. I would say this was a truly unique museum. Singapore was highlighting human cultural history for the entire region of the peninsula and the south islands. I’m guessing it was either for tourists who are only seeing Singapore and want a taste of the region roots or Singapore sees themselves as a melting pot for all these cultures (since they really only have 2-3 generation of Singaporeans since independence in the 1950’s). I think its the latter. When I get there it’s 1:30pm and I luck out….there is an English tour going off. Turns out I’m the only one on the tour. So I get to know the lady giving the tour. She was 3rd generation and her heritage was Chinese….but she spoke more like an Englishman. She told me how Chinese immigrants really are at odds with the government. Because they behave like they were in China which means pretty crudely/disorganized and they are not integrating into the culture. So many of the born Singaporeans resent this attack on their culture….which by all accounts is very rigid and organized. Oddly, my tour guide spoke of her personal dislike for these Chinese….which sounded odd as a well educated person of Chinese decent. In retrospect of meeting many Singaporeans…I get it…when you grow up in Singapore the culture instilled is almost a polar opposite to China (big vs. large, crude vs proper, loud vs. soft-spoken, organized vs. disorganized). So I can understand it..but at the time it sounded ironic. The museum itself was very nicely done…the layout and the peices (usually clothing or tools or weapons) were kind of cool. While this was worth the price of admission…there was a special exhibit of Islamic Art provided by the Khan. The exhibits were extraordinary art of scriptures from the 10th century on….its hard to imagine when the muslim world was the dominant culture..but in the middle ages 10th – 14th centuries this was surely the case. They were leading in sciences and arts. This all came through in the unbelievable painstaking fine and detailed art work exhibited. Very impressive…I went through twice…just to try and capture it all. It was here where I first started an appreciation for the art of Arabic script writing. Oddly, it is the most beautiful writing language that I’ve seen on my trip, which was a pleasant surprise. I think that was the entire intention f the exhibit is t expose people to the wonderous history and acheivements of the muslim world. With so much media focused on the poverty and terrorists in this region its hard to imagine Islam as the most vibrant and dominant culture during any time. So this exhibit shed new light for me. I read more about the Khan and turns out he is direct decendant to Prophet Muhamed…even though only 12 million people are of his sect of religion it is custom for him to receive 10% of their pay and this exhibit is an example of what he does with the money in addition to giving back in social services. Oddly, this guy grew up in England and France…which is just funny…but his education does allow for him to be well versed in making sound decisions how to allocate the money for the greater good of the people and the religion. I would say he is pretty smart utilizing legitimate institutions to humanize the history and culture of the muslim people. It is a difficult task in this day and age when the terrorist groups garner all the media attention and deflect from the positive people and impacts the rest of the Muslim world has had. As my first interaction with the Muslim world on this trip…I came away with a better impression of what lay ahead in the Middle East. It was the end of the tour and I was very happy to had some solo time with the tour guide. I came away with a much better understanding of Singapore and how it fit in the region. It was probably 3:30pm….and I ended up walking back toward the hostel. Along the way…I decided to walk along the riverfront….where all the high end evening entertainment district was. The next day was Holoween…so a stage was being built with monsters hanging from it….plus all the usual orange and black streemers hanging from lines across lamp posts. I remember during the China trip I asked what everyone was doing for Haloween and was met with disgruntled replies. “We don’t do Holoween”…or….”That is an Ameican thing”. Hmm…chatting with my UK friends on the trip….they said they do celebrate holoween…but it is a new holiday…pretty much used as an excuse to drink. They also said its pretty similar for all other British Commonwealth coutries. Well…lucky for me…I was in a commonwealth Country and I was able to celebrate. The other interesting thing of note in the entertainment district…was the number of haunted houses…I counted three…which is really good considering “It’s an American holiday”. I also was a little hungary at the time and checked out the prices f the restaurants and it was all around $15 for a meal. Instead I walked toward the train station and found a non-descript food court…all with the same facade (which was typical for SE Asia) for a quick meal. Quick in and out….It was about 5pm and maybe 2 more hours of sunlight…and the historic park (where many battles were fought) was across the street. I was very tired but decided to forge ahead. The approach is pretty steep for this hill…and had to be climbed by stairs. At the top was a pleasant walking path. I was surprised at how large the park was as it took a few minutes of strolling to find the fort area. Around the fort was a prestigious hotel and a conference center. On the top of the fort there a few interesting things…the original steel doors (but no fort around it) and a small park area. Coincidentally, there was a convention of barbershop quartet’s and other acoustical music acts. Part of the festivities was watching the acts perform on top of the fort. I saw 4 ladies singing Irish classics while no one was watching or paying any attention to them. There may have been 40-50 people just sitting on the grass…half were young teenagers. I listened for 15 minutes…while just lounging on a park bench. As I began to decend from the fort I noticed a steel door built into the hill. This was a bunker that the British built to protect from attack during WWII. I had just missed the last video tour by 30 minutes. Looking at the signs to get down…I noticed the National Museum was close by. In 15 minutes…I was there…but it was closing in 45 minutes. So I rushed myself through a few of the temporary exhibits (I remember a wedding dress and Singapore food exhibit)…before it shut down for the night. It was a really nice building…seemed new and well thought out…and the little taste wasn’t good enough The rest of the day I pretty much spent just hanging out in the hostel posting pictures onto facebook in the TV area. I did meet one person there…Athena…she was from Taiwan and was there to take dance classes, buy for her business and see the new legoland on the Malaysia side of the Singapore border. Well, we chatted for about an hour (her English was only so-so…I’m not sure if she was just laughing at my jokes because it was funny or she tried to keep me talking…because she couldn’t understand it) and then we parted ways.
Woke up late this day as I was in no hurry to go anywhere and it was aweful hot. I was somewhat regretting my scottevest jacket as a second layer over my T-shirt was truly hard to bear. Honestly..I’m not sure what I did for the next 3 hours….but I did end up at the Botanical Garden of Singapore around 3pm. I got out of the train station and it wasn’t exactly easy finding the garden. One you got there…it seemed to be pretty ordinary. There was a lake and grassy knoll t the left….there was a showing of botanical varieties…arranged around an artistically placed wires. Walking further…there were a few tourist gift shops and restaurants….finally the thicket became denser and there was a man-made waterfall and garden in the middle pathway. To the right was another lake, green grass and walking path. To the left was a short rainforest walking path. As soon as I got finished admiring the center exhibit…it started to drizzle..then 10 seconds later it started to rain…then in another 30 seconds it started to pour. I was totally caught off guard as I didn’t see rain in the weather forecast. People were scurrying for cover. I thought it would blow over soon and be back on the trail. That was mistake number one. My shirt and pants were already soaked by the time I found a tree for cover. I struggled to take my jacket and hat out from the back pocket of my Scottevest. Didn’t matter too much as I was already soaked. I could see another couple heading for my tree and I greeted them. They asked about a more permanent structure and I couldn’t recall where it was. In 1 minute they raced backwards looking for cover. I was determined to ride out the storm, thinking the tree would be sufficient. Mistake number 2…the rain was so hard that no tree could possibly make for good cover. I had been in hard rain storms…particularly in Texas in December…but Texas storms last a good 5 minutes…this storm lasted 45 minutes. A Texas storm…goes pitch black with golf ball sized hail. SE Asia rain can go pitch black then 10 minutes later be completely sunny out but raining just as hard. Totally bizzare. Obviously…I had never seen anything like this as I kept making more mistakes. The rain let up some and I went into the rainforest…thinking…what a great opportunity to be in the rainforest exhibit while it is raining. Won’t this make for good pictures! Mistake # 3…It does make good pictures…but only if your camera is waterproof. Mine is not and the first thing to go is the zoom lens as this was the first time that I received zoom lens error. The rest of the trip I would struggle with the zoom lens error…so for future reference…camera’s were not meant for rain…same as they were not meant for being underwater. Mistake #4…don’t think you are tough because everyone is under cover…while you are slogging in the rain. The reality is they are under cover for a reason..it’s safer not being wet..and you have to be very sure none of your clothes of equipment is water resistent….case in point….passports. That is right…I was in pouring rain for 25 minutes now and just realized that my passport which was in a waist belt…under a vest and a t-shirt and a pair of pants…got soaked. Passports do not do well with water. More on the passport issue later. I ended up going into a lily and tulip garden while everyone else was under cover. Isn’t this great…I caught myself thinking…the rain is glistening off the lily pads and I’m the only one seeing it and taking photo’s. Mistake #5….after the rains stopped the sun cam out and the pictures were much better…but my camera wasn’t working anymore…so I missed that opportunity. After 45 minutes of being in the pouring rain…I had lost all of my excitement and just wanted to go back to my hostel to dry off and take a hot shower. Mistake #6 I had to leave the park…while everyone who stayed under cover…was able to enjoy the park for another 1 hour before sundown. I was tired, wet and cranky….so I needed something to eat. In the subway there was a dinky quicky mart. The only hot food came from a Chinese hot bun oven. Not what I was hoping for…but it was hot and quick. Mistake #7 Don’t compare hot buns from China to Singapore’s quicky mart. There is no comparison as hot buns should be steamed (moist)..not dry from baking in the heat lamp. At least I wasn’t hungry anymore. Because the subway ride was 30 minutes of being really uncomfortable…as the subway becomes super humid after this type of rain. I’m wet and the air is humid….misery is on my mind. I get back to the hostel and first I need to take care of my passport….I think all it needs is a good blow drying. Mistake #8…..blow drying does work on the visa pages…as its just paper…but because of the intense heat the pages start to curl. So I had to push down on a paperweight to straighten it out again. There was also ink from the stamps that was bleeding on a few pages…I was just happy the water didn’t soak all the way through…as only 1/5 of the paper edge was wet. Now for the hard part the inside cover with my identification….this was the most wet and of course its the most important. I started to blow dry it…and it curled as well…putting a weight on it wasn’t really helping much. I stopped and thought to myself..what if there is a sensor or chip in there..its destroyed and I might be denied entrance into countries…so I left if a little damp. Later…I found out…my passport was issued prior to the chips being installed and the rest of the world…doesn’t really do the chips….they tend to scan passports. So I dodged a bullet there. There were two places where the passport ended up being a problem…Thailand and UAE…I’ll talk about that when we get there. I spent 30 minute working with the passport and the hair dryer…put the passport under my bag in the locker and hoped in the next few days…it would flatten out like new..before heading to Indonesia. Luckily it did…but my passport now had a floppy feel to it…like it had been in my pocket as primary ID for months…it was no longer crisp. I guess that is just expected when going on a one year trip around the world. I dried off…took a shower and took a 30 minute nap…as I had to get ready for a social event. There was a couch surfing Halloween party on the beach. I think something like 75 people signed up. I didn’t have a costume…didn’t have time for it…so off I went. In the subway I was across the way from some people speaking English…so I made a few comments and before long we were chatting. Turns out they were heading to the same party as me. There were two American girls right out of college and a Singapore guy. The girls were typical American college girls and the Singapore guy was hard to chat with at first. As I met other Singaporeans over the year…it is clear to me that 20 something Singaporeans are pretty shy at first and a little dorky…but after some alcohol they really loosen up. This was exactly the case….we had beer while going to the park and the conversation started to flow. He finished his first year in college and had to enter the army (required for all kids of 19-21). He was only one year into his service and didn’t seem interested in it at all. He was going to do computer science….and he was super into games..probably wanted to become a game developer. A super nice guy. It was a trip trying to find this place. I decided to let the more local peeps direct us. Well…we took the wrong train…which was OK…because we could stop for beers and I got a mask for halloween (it was annoying as hell…as the mouth hole wasn’t large enough to breathe). We get back on the trail for the party. When we get to the station…it’s dusk and people are going home from the park. Unfortunately this park is up against the port of Singapore and it is spread along the coastline. We also are in the middle of the park…so we are not sure if it is left or right. We follow another group heading to the same place…it was easy to figure this since they had their plastic bags with beer in it as well. It find a hill to climb and it’s now dark out. In 5 minutes we find a hotel/clubhouse…which is having a loud party. Some of us think this could be our party. So we ask…and no one knows…even after walking into the party itself. Apparently…its a wedding and no one is from there…so they were no help. We flagged down a taxi driver and he didn’t know the part of the beach we were looking for.. Finally, someone from the party had passed by on his way to get more beer. He directed us. It was another 20 minute walk before we got there. The scene was something like parks along the SD marina…by the airport. Not a beach at all…but a little green space and a few benches overlooking a bay. Then again….it was dark out and kinda hard to make out the surroundings. But I could see the party really well. First…everyone was dressed up and they were some elaborate costumes. Cavemen….green lantern…condom man…people went all out. Obviousy these were not travelers..because like me….it would have been difficult to find a costume. These were hosts….which really is telling about Singapore as a host country. So many people from other places and due to their small size…people wanted to feel like they have travelled without leaving the comfort of home. Plus, the fact Singapore is an expensive place to get a dorm…this was exactly what Couch Surfing was set up for. Give both people a nice exchange of culture and economic interest. Unfortunately, I felt a little underdressed for the occasion…but I had a beer in hand and started making the rounds. Met people from Phillipines, Japan, Americans, British and Australians. The scene was set in front of a small parking lot and there were two picnic tables where all the BYO food and drink were laid out. There was a fire pit going…there was some hip hop and trance music in the back ground. This was the most social group of Couchsurfers that I had encountered. Groups of people were making noise…having laughs and having fun. Memorable people I met included the host..who was dying to get singing around the fire…but no one seemed to follow her. I met a guy from Silicon Valley who started and sold his software company. I told him about my ideas and he suggested that I find a technical expert who can take care of production while I take care of the back-end, financing and front face interfacing. While I always knew I would need a technical guru…I hadn’t had someone who went through it tell that was the key ingredient. I beleive it 100%. Unfortunately for me the technical guy who I would need is in Russia somewhere. As the experts in the field are all there. While I did ponder on it for a few days…I decided to just put it away until I get back home. Another guy who was memorable was this small thai guy…who was just gay and acting like it…flirting with guys and being loud and a little obnoxious. I remember that most of the girls were early 20’s and it seemed they were mostly in university for a year or just an exchange program. Everyone else was just a blur…its not that I was drunk..but it was dark and people were wearing costumes…plus the conversations didn’t last that long…as most were there to party and they were young…so not all that much in common. Also, its a little harder to keep a conversation going when you don’t know much about the city…since I was only my 2nd day there. I think the lack of costume and being American (which is not exotic) didn’t help my cause. I ended up coming around to my Singapore friend a bunch…just checking…seeing his progress…he was pretty wasted and was going to see this party to the bitter end. At 1am…I decided to pack it in for the night. But this presented me with a whole new problem….how to get back home. First, I had to find my way back to the main road…and this was not an easy task based on our unsuccessful efforts to get to find the party in the first place. I just stayed on main roads until I could see a familiar abandoned (or possibly unfinished) 4 story building in the background. It was the most prominent landmark I could remember. I was on the right path and the train station wasn’t farahead….but at this hour I knew the trains had stopped. My only public transport option was a bus. And the bus stop was easy to find since the 4 lane roads were empty except for taxi’s and buses. From the other side..I noticed a bus stop and I headed that way. I passed a few stray dogs and what seemed to be a few vagrants along the way. While Singapore is not considered unsafe and the area didn’t appear unsafe….just earily unpopulated by buildings, shops, residences or anything else…I wasn’t feeling particularly good about this situation. Buses were passing by and I had no idea where they were heading (as I couldn’t make any sense of the windshield signs on the bus) Usually, I would use my cell phone to find the right bus line. But of course, my phone battery was dead. I saw a few more buses pass by with still no clue where they are going
I already mentioned I was supposed to see the scenic hill in HK in the morning…but I couldn’t get my ass up. Instead I ended up documenting more of my trip. It was probably 11am and I needed to catch the bus to get to the airport. I left the hostel and based on the map….I ended up going the wrong direction….After 20 minutes of wandering…I got frustrted and went back to the hostel. They actual left their desk to take me to the right bus stop….which was super cool of them. Can I tell you…everyone at the Check Inn hostel was super cool…they were friendly…informative…curious. But not taking too far with having attitude. I think the owner did a really good job in picking his staff and it sets the tone for the residents. Well I got on that bus and it was an hour ride…..mostly on highway and passing a bridges with water on both side of us. We got to the airport and it was kind of the middle of no where. But the airport itself was crazy….it had fun attractions where you could spend a whole day on layover and not get too bored. I had a few hours to wander…so I went to the United Airlines theater. It was basically an IMAX theater and they were showing James Bond Skyfall. Not for another 5 hours..but they did have an excellent exhibit on the history of commercial airlines…the planes that have been used and the science of aerodynamics. I noticed there was an exhibit in the back called skydeck….but no one was there to take tickets (actually there was no one in the entire place except for a concessions stand girl)…so I decided to just jump on the elevator and see where it went. 7th floor was the top…we were already at the 3rd floor…and out I went….I was on top of the terminal and it stretched out for what seemed like a mile. Better yet was the view….on the right was a bay view….in front were the runways and all the airlines bubbles (where they did repairs). To the left….was the Island of Kowloon or maybe China…(not really sure…they border each other)…but I think it was the way we came via bus which should have been part of Hong Kong province. I can see why this was a paid attraction…its one of those places you don’t usually have access to…up close. Actually, in San Diego…I realize how lucky we are to have our airport so close to the downtown. I can’t tell you how many times it takes over an hour to get from the airport to the city center. Plus, there is just something fun about the planes landing overhead and being so close to the action (except for those who are in the flight line). For me…part of the fun of this place was the possibility of get caught for paying…so that part made it a bit more exciting. I wouldn’t suggest this attraction for everyone….for those who are well traveled…it would seem like just another airport vantage point….but with some interesting background…(i.e. water and hills). It is very nice for the kids there is a lot to take in and understand about the people involved with flying commercial airlines. I spent 20 minutes up there and did come across a few maintenance guys…who didn’t seem to care about my being there. It was just one of those times where you are alone with your thoughts and there is a grand landscape which you are trying to absorb…making you feel pretty small. Well…time to sneak back into the terminal. Success….about now there was 2 hours to my flight time…so I decided to walk toward the gate. I ended getting lost a little…one thing wanted to accomplish but failed was to get to the United Club…because I had gotten a United Credit card before I left for the 50,000 points and it comes with one extra free under-carridge bag and priority boarding…plus 2 free United Club passes annually. Between being late to the airport…the airline exhibit and going to the roof of the terminal, plus it was in a different terminal all together (probably because I was taking a discount airline….jetstar). I was out of time and decided to take advantage in some other destination. As for the airline of choice….I ended up getting this flight for free (12,000 points) as I had accumulated 20,000 points during my travels to Australia. Maybe the best flight deal ever….for $1,100…I flew SD-LA-Brisbane-Melbourne-Cannes-Sydney-LA-SD. Yup..all that..it was a special deal Quantas was running during their low season (June-Sept). So must have traveled 20,000 miles and I banked those points for 3 years. I ended up getting this flight and paid only $20 (they actually let you use cash and points (I used all 8,000 I had left) at any ratio you wanted…unbeliveable!) for a flight to Bali (from Singapore). This was a major score! The flight itself was pretty good….they got me to Singapore on time….their major competition is with AsiaAir…and they are pretty comparable…but Asia Air had cuter female attendants and the seating was a little more spacious. For the price they are both great…I may have mentioned before…but flying around asia and europe on one way tix is very easy and affordable. The United States is a little less affordable and a little less accomodating…but still decent. Flying around India can be good or bad…you need to book a month in advance and stay away from Kingfischer and Spicejet. Air India is OK…and Jet Airways and xxxx are the best. The Middle East is easy and cheap to go anywhere…because Ethiad and Emirates are duking it out to connect the world with their airports. South Amerca and Africa are expensive unless you travel inside borders. So….I finally made it into Singapore and took the metro at 9pm to get to my hostel. The first thing about Singapore I noticed was that the airport was spotless….really beautiful….it was easy to get to the metro. Getting tickets for the metro was a breeze as it was click the stop you are going to on the screen. Cost wasn’t bad either…generally $1-$2 per ride. Then when I got into the station…it was all very modern…with Convenience stores and great signage. Not quite as nice as Hong Kong…but not as bad as the bland metro in Shanghai. The trains were decent…probably something like 10-15 years old…but still nice enough. The people in the trains were different than I was used to…it was extremely diverse range of skin colors. There were Indian, Chinese, Malay and Caucasian. And even colors in between like Phillipino and Indonesians. It was a Friday night…so people were heading out for the night…and there was an excited vibe. The down side to the diversity is that it smelled of BO in there. I personally think it was more because of the Indian population than anything else. I guess that was just a quick introduction to the Indian experience of which there are 7 weeks to come. Finally, made it to my stop turned on the GPS and walked out on the street. The hostel was almost literally across the street from the station…but the street was 7 lanes wide…so had to cross carefully. I made it and walked up the stairs. There was an attendant who gave me a key card. It was absolutely empty in the place at 10pm…I got settled in for the night…spent a little time in the lobby and did some writing in my room…when my roommates came in. It was 3 Phillipinos…1 teenager girl, a 20 something guy and a middle aged woman. They were a strange crew. They didn’t talk much English…and we kept our distance. I could only guess they were on holiday meeting with family or a friend. I wasn’t getting a good vibe from this hostel. It had teenagers mixed with, 60 year old men. It was the second hostel of the chain in Singapore…and it was pretty new…so maybe it was just getting its character. Actually…I was so weirded out by the place I scoped a second hostel out…just in case I needed to move. Time for bed…but yet another adventurous day on the road.
Today I had a few objectives in my head…I had to buy a few things and I needed to get away from the city. I checked Triposo and there was some coastline that had a well known market (Stanley)….seemed perfect way to kill a day. Around 10am I caught a bus heading for this part of the island. The buses in hong kong were nothing special…but there are tons of them. Be it the tram, bus, ferry, or subway…Hong Kong service schedules are terrific…always running and pretty much on time. Its really impressive actually for such a huge city to have its transportation options working so well. I remember bieng more than a little anxious about missing my stop…so I turned on my phone’s GPS to track us. The bus went entirely around the outskirts of the island and the views were spectacular…as much of the island had beaches on a inlet and the homes/buildings were built on the hillsides. Made for some truly beautiful towns..I only wished I had discovered this part of the city earlier. My stop is up ahead and I get off…its a very residential feeling in Stanley…but its all relative to the megatroplis that is Hong Kong. After a few minutes walk…you can see the market, the beach and the boat marina. It started out as a rainy day…so I had my umbrella out..the market was mostly indoors. I literally took a few rounds seeing the whole of the market. At first I saw a crafts shop that had small scissors (plus it had a dancing lady for some interest) for sewing. I needed some scissors as there always seemed to be cutting of packages, cutting wristbands…etc. So I bought it…little did I know that only 2 days later the HK Airport security would find it in my toiletries and take it away….I’ve had water taken away almost everywhere….but this was the only time an object was taken from me. I digress…I entered shops and immediately you garner attention…I think its cultural to follow the customer around..rather than let them search on their own. I found this the case in SE Asia, China and Japan. Next on my list was to get jeans…yeah..I came with a pair…but when I left Beijing…I was without jeans…I think I must have left them at Tzyy’s place. Oh well…everything is replaceable…I must have tried on 10 pair of jeans and finally found a pair that were OK. In between, I even found a collared shirt that I liked and I bought one of those too. Now I had 6 T-shirts and 1 collard sleeveless shirt. I remember trying to bargain with one of the older chinese ladies at the store and she would not budge an inch….its so hoard to determine when you can bargain or not. In China, it was pretty much everywhere…except fancy stores. In Hong Kong, I was told much less bargaining. But I expected in a marketplace where people had tons of what you were selling it should be easy bargain a little. Well..not the case with this lady…so I just ended up leaving…too bad because I only wanted a 15% discount. With my jeans…they were kind of non-descript…a straight cut and almost a purple blue jean. I wore it for a few weeks and I started to slim down….The jeans themselves began not to fit anymore. So in about 2 months I got rid of them. That’s just how life is on the road…its hard to find the light, good looking, good fit (usualy small) and reasonably priced. I was just happy not to have to wear mt columbia hiking pants all the time at night. I had one more purchase to make…I had lost the two of the three pens that I started with. These were foam tip pens…so you can write on the notepad plus you could use it on a touchscreen. I had found one of these..and it was in its own plastic case..which was suspicious. I had purchased these pens originally from Hong Kong so I suspected they would be the same. I bought it for $4…which was way overpriced…since I got 3 for $5 in the USA…but I needed the replacement and I wasn’t sure if I would come across this same pen again. Happy with the replacement that I needed I took it back to the hostel only to find that the foam tip didnt work on touchscreens…bummer! I put it away….knowing I would need the pen eventually. Actually, only 4 months later I lost my other pens….and started using this one….which I’m still using as of July…8 months later. It took me 2 hours to get done with shopping and I was tired of it. In theory it was lunch time…but the sun was out and I didn’t want to miss the sun during my hike. Along the bay…there were trails which went entirely around the bend into the next bay. It was a beautiful walk….initially gardens with flora descriptions…after 15 minutes of hiking…the path was no longer paved and it was a small trail. I was really the only person on the path except for of a couple of local english kids who passed me up. The woodlands were thick and even thought we were on the coastline it was intermittent that there was a glipse of the ocean. But when it showed there were a gaggle of catamaran race boats out out (something like 20 of them) and they were clustered close to eachother…in the distance was a famous castle….which made for really great photo’s…when the sun was hitting the water at just that right angle where the yellow color of the sun glimmers off the wide open waves. Further along the path…there was a clearing where plety of small motor boats were on probably illegally on the shoreline just parked there. A few of those boats were on the water and older gentlement were fishing. One f the boats was flipped upside down and a middle aged guy was scraping off the barnicles…making it seaworthy again. He was with his boxer dog…who he would throw a ball in the shallow seas and the dog would retreive it. It was curious how simple a life this seemed to be…secluded beach with your boat and your dog…how many people are doing just that…and what are the worries that he has. Moving forward with this hike….I mae it all the way to the apex…where the land juts out to the sea and just sat for 20 minutes to read a book and enjoy the scenary. It took about 45 minutes to jet back to the boat jetty and I was hungry at this point….thirsty too…as I didn’t bring enough water with me on my hike. That probably gets me in more trouble than anything else….not enough water….I don’t function very well when dehydrated but for some stubborn reason I will continue on without it. This was true even in SD…where I needed more water at work…when you add coffee to my day. It causes for a very bad chad. I will get headaches…get tired quickly and not a very happy personality. Well….I needed some food fast…off the jetty was a trendy shopping center and I headed straight for a market. A half liter of water went straight down in no time…I was still thirsty and I decided to try a new type of drink…it was just OK. Then I had to get some food. I can’t recall the exact food that I had…probably sushi or a sandwich…but it didn’t matter…I needed food….With renewed energy I checked the stores and hopped back on the bus to Check Inn Hostel. The bus ride was gorgeous…this time the sun was starting to set and the adjacent inlets to Stanley were in clear view. I remember thinking if I had another day I would have come back to see some of the other beach areas of HK Island. But it was my last day and Singapore was next on the list. My bus…didn’t seem to be close to my hostel….but it was close to the HK Park (where the Zoo is). I remembered the JCC and synagogue was close by….so on a whim I jumped off and tried to catch it. I walked up and there was security. I said I was Jewish and hoping to visit the JCC. He checked my ID and patted me down. Next I had to get in from the front desk. I explained to the Chinese lady that I was interested in speaking with the rabbi..to establish my Jewish ID. She tried to reach him…but he wasn’t there. I told her I was writing an article for a publication about the HK Jewish Community and she let me into the JCC and told me I could check out the kosher market too. Score! I was in….at first I explored the ground floor where the courtyard to the synagogue was…there was no one there so Ijust mosied on into the synagogue. The synagogue while very modern on the outside..it was very traditional on the inside. There were only a few homage to the storied history of the synagogue….so not much to see but the usual synagogue sights. I jetted out went back into the main structure…next was the market….the signs were pointing to the parking lot. In the parking lot I spotted an orthodox 30 soething with her 4 year old child coming from a corner…so that was where I was heading. When I got there it was pretty big….a bakery, checkout counter, cookies crackers, chips, and a butcher. Oh wait…shit…there is a whole other space with refrigerated and frozen foods and canned goods. Most definitely the largest Kosher market in Asia outside of Israel…hands down winner. The staff were really nice…as I was having a laugh with them about this place. They were Asian….but makes no difference. I would have to say it was much better than what San Diegans can get from Ralphs. After about 45 minutes of just milling about wandering wide eyed at all the kosher goods either I’d grown up with or new products that I had no idea existed. I ended up buying a few things and was off to explore beforeeverything shut down. First the pool…the whole recreatio center was based around the pool…so you could tell it was really a place for kids. The lounge area had a few leather couches and a free standing cafe for coffee and pastries. Plus the free Jewish newsletter…not enough Jews to support a newspaper. Actually the majot publication for Asian Jews is a magazine that covers all of Asia Major. Everything else seemed to be newsletters. Not much more to the fitness area of the JCC….I went up a few levels and found an unexpected Jewish Library of the Jewish Community. But…yuck it already closed…….woulda shoulda coulda…if only I had another day..I could have spent half a day here. The library was rather large and it seemed to have lots of archves from its history. Even in the hallway..there were tons of informative posters about the history of the community…its leaders and important events. It’s really impressive for a place that seems to have so much security…to keep unwanted folks out..they have developed these informational posters and have a full on library. Since the library was closed and the kosher restaurant was also close…I had pretty much seen the whole JCC. Time to go back to the hostel. I ended up doing some posting on facebook…and some thinking about seeing the sunrise on top of the HK mountain in the morning tmorrow. Well…just a heads up…I didn’t wake up in time and I was feeling lazy…so I ended up doing little the next day.
I woke up around 8am and today I was really excited abut seeing the city. I ate a few banana’s (which were free at the hostel) and saddled up for some time on HK Island. First stop was the train station. I only had a few stops to go an I could have walked it…but decided to stay fresh for the day. A couple stops later..I’m in the train station and there is a peculiar sight. There is an entire free standing wall in the middle of the station advertising for CNN and promoting (with Big screen TV) the US Elections coming in 7 days. Wow…I had no idea people cared that much about American politics. OK…so I walk out of the station and signs are pointing in many directions…I didn’t have a clear sense as to what I wanted to do first. So I just started walking. I passed the urban development center..where there is a museum that documents the history of Honk Kong’s urban planning and development. Closed for renovations until 2014….Nixed. Then the signs are pointing to xxx Park. OK….a few minutes later I’m there and it’s a grassy knoll with a few statue/monuments……hmmm….not what I was hoping for. Now I’m rolling again and another sign is pointing me to a garden that was on my checklist. Rather than a park it was more like a corporate Garden that hapened to be sponsored by the HK municipality. Actually it was a very nice garden and it was probably well used by white collar workers during their lunch break. But the size was not exactly overwhelming. I’m walkng some more and I just happen to walk by the City Hall…there are some statues in front of it and a small grassy knoll. Certainly I’m getting the impression that HK is not into wasting space. No reason to stop here except for a water break (the sun was beating down and it was already hot at 9:30am)…as there is no attraction,museum or exhibit. During the water break I decided to head for the major park in the area. I headed uphill and in 15 minutes….I was thankfully there. This was more like it….it was a well manicured garden that seemed to have lots of places to hide. At first you see art pieces and some water fountains that blend in quite well. I was looking for the Tea Museum…and after wandering and feeling well relaxed in this park setting…I found it. The museum wasn’t big but really how much is there to exhibit at a tea museum. More than one might think…they split the rooms up into different styles of Tea preparation…so they could show you the different equipment used….and they either had a video or pictogram depicting exactly how the pea preparation was performed for that style. They also had great informaton on the history f that tea style and where people are still preparing that tea today. I’m not exactly a tea drinker….but it was intriguing how many different types there were and how different it all was. It didn’t exactly change my mind about tea drinking but it was very informative about how far back and how traditional the art of tea drinking goes back. I was off to the next place…which was all of 50meters away. But took me 10 minutes to find. I went out the door looked for signs and eventually found my way back. My sense of direction was dependent on google maps and I had booted it up…the accuracy from cellular is only approximate…so until GPS kicked in I was kind of on my own. After a 1000 meter walk, I found the building. It honestly looked like a house and not an attraction….I had looked in 10 minutes prior and there was just a cafe there. I needed to actually walk inside to see the small counter that washidden for the museum. It was a different museum…they were housing a huge collection of seals. I learned that the Chinese used these seals to identify themselves to letters and even creative arts. They can be HUGE or small….but the work involved with creating these seals is very fine and intricate. On the surface it doesn’t sound very interesting…but when you see them…its really intriguing. Some of them had cool stories…others were just amazingly beautiful. I spent an hour in there slowly floating from one case to the next. Once done….I left and left the GPS off. The signs in the park were good enough. There was sign for Olympic park…hmm…very curious….in 5 minutes I’m confronted with a coliseum like amphitheater…probably could hold 1,000 people. It was obviously for the 2008 Olympics….but I didn’t know that Hong Kong held some of the events. Around the amphitheater were flags of major countries and in the front and back were the Olympic rings. Really nicely done. It was worth sitting for 5 minutes and relaxing with some water. Up and at em…back we go….back to the visitor map and up ahead was a plant and bird enclosure. The Plants on display were not exactly too exciting…many were desert plants which I’m familiar with….since living in San Diego for the last 10 years. I quickly zoomed past this exhibit and the bird enclosure was next. Had to pass by some caged birds along the outside of the enclosure and immediately I was into it…the birds exhibited were very exotic…so I was mesmerized and snapping away. They seemed to be just as interested in us….sitting on the fence…looking straight at us. Don’t worry there was plenty of space…they just chose to look out. Walked up the stairs to real enclosure and wow…it was a bird paradise. All sorts of trees everywhere…really tall ones too…as we were on a walkway about 30 feet above ground and the trees were towering above us and the birds were just going everywhere. Different species tended to hang in there section of the enclosure…but the were everywhere. Again…never been a big bird observer of lover, but I found myself putting my chin on my hands slumped over the railing…just watching. There was so much life in them..my energy had already started to fade…but there was a lot ahead…so I needed the rest. After an hour of bird watching…which honestly was a first for me…I moved on to the next attraction. My triposo app told me there was an art museum on my way to the small zoo (still in the same park). Had to cross some major street intersections but eventually found my way inside. It was more like a school that happened to have some exhibits…they were all temporary exhibits as. The ones I got to see were on the dark side (not my type of visual art)…so it didn’t take long to zip in and out of this place. I was convinced there had to be more so I took elevators to two other floors…but it was all class rooms. No go…had to move on. Crossed some more major interesections and made it to the second half of this major park. When there…it looked pretty normal at first…wide walkways, tree lined and manicured lawns…there were even some plaza’s where you could stop to lay out in the sun and enjoy the large water fountain feature of the park with beautiful statues in the. Families could stop there for a break from the sun or even finish there after a day at the zoo….as there were ice cream, food and bathroom stahls on the perimeter of the plaza. I was heading toward the zoo and I was expecting to find something like a petting zoo…small and primarily for kids. The first exhibits that I saw were the primates….they were absolutely wild. Gibbons…flying around…and Gorillas slowly going from side to side. They had a decent amount of space and they had their separate enclosures…so there weren’t any monkey fights. Zoo’s to me are such a difficult thig to explain…they are very enjoyable for people…but in the back of your head…you wonder if its enjoyable for the animals. I don’t presume I or anyone else will ever know the answer to this one…unless a real Dr. Doolittle can tell us. In the mean time, as long as the animal is was either rescued because it can’t be released into the wild or it’s not an endangered species….then I guess it’s OK for people to enjoy them in a zoo. Based on this theory…one would have to know how the animals were taken in and how they are treated…information that is not readily available. Would be interesting if someone out there has taken this initiative and rated zoo’s based on these criteria. I ended up sticking around there for a couple hours and it was 4pm already. I had to get going…but looking at my Triposo map I could see the Main Synagogue in Hong Kong was not too far away…I started to head in that direction and it was a bit of a walk. Since it was Saturday…all I could do was see it from the outside. It looked rather new and I could only see it from a distance since there was no access to it. But it was a very nice location perched near at a high point in HK…looking over the bay and Kwaloon. I could zoom in from my camera and see that the Kadoorie family had a hand in developing the site for the synagogue. Of course, this was the first I had heard of this family but certainly not the last. Their names would come up quite a bit in the HK Jewish Community. I had to come back at a later date to explore more. I took the stairs and escalator (the longest one in the world…that I was already way above it) down to where the subway is. It felt like one of the oongest walks of my life…as I was totally spent from running around the whole day.
The next morning we split at 9am and walked a bit…so a few statues…saw a few casinos…then found a coffee house in the old town. We chilled there and ended up running into Sas…my old roommate from the China trip. He was about to leave for Hong Kong…but we had a chat for 30 minutes or so. We texted Iqbal to come over…but he couldn’t get there for another hour. So Carol and I decided to keep moving and see the main tourist attraction….the xxxx Church. On the way there, we passed tourist store and tourist food store after the next. I couldn’t beleieve how many existed…not sure how they all survive. Well at the church…there wasn’t much to do…climb the stairs…read a little history….see a column where there used to be a church…kind of pointless…but it did serve as a good meet up spot for Iqbal and us. It was 1pm and after waiting 30 minutes for Iqbal to arrive…he made it…at the same time…Carol said goodbye as she was going back to HK. So it was just Iqbal and I for the rest of the day. We went to the adjacent park and went into the Macau Museum for about an hour. After that was done we headed to the Belagio Casino. We thought it would be a match of the one in Vegas…but it was a poor imitation..smaller…not as luxerious and again it was dry. Iqbal decided to play table poker and I went to see the MGM right next door. We said 2.5 hours we would meet up. I was off and the MGM turned out to be probably the nicest of all the casinos so far. They had a butterfy exhibit…where enormous hand designed and sculpted butterflies were hanging from the ceiling…really impressive. I ended up getting a coffee and just sitting in the atrium for a bit. Then I walked around and noticed they had an october fest which was over the weekends (not on a Tuesday)…there were decent cafe’s and restaurants. Finally…I noticed a lounge (fully enclosed…Vegas style) in the middle of the Casino and I sort of snuck in….no one was on guard…so it was a swanky lounge…they had a bar in the back…then two levels of seating looking at the stage area. All the while…(while I’m the only one there)…the strobe lights are on and there is an MGM themed shadow production along the back of the stage. The lion is doing its roar..then it swipes a paw…then the letters MGM come up…then a bunch of cool animations. What impressed me the most was that this was an alcoholic lounge/bar…in the middle of the casino. I played a little video poker to pass some time and left the MGM for the Bellagio. Met up with Iqbal…he was up a little and I gave him another 30 minutes to finish up. He was telling me that the Asian players were losing…but there was a russian guy (who was probably professional) who was picking up all the money. I could tell he was going back to the Bellagio…because there were so many wealthy Asians there. The only question was how many other professional players showed up early to take these Asian guys money. We headed out and were hungry (Bellagio eating was way too expensive)…outside there wasn’t all that much to choose from. We found a non-descript casino hotel…that was all Asians…and no food inside…so a block away on a shady looking street…which could have been the setting for Sega Streetfighters…we found a Chinese restaurant…they knew little English…so we just pointed to pictures of food along the wall. The food came and while it wasn’t rock star quality…it got the job done. There were certainly some authentic options which included whale meat and all sorts of pig parts. I think we avoided that stuff…but never really sure. We started walking toward the Sands hotel…and in 10 minutes we were there. The sands is a really old brand that was so outdated the owner just killed the name in Vegas. The Sands must have value in Asia…so Sheldon Adelson built a casino around it. I was expecting an old look…but actually it turnedout to be rather modern. I would expect it to get a lot of families…as the location was surrounded by family activities…putt-putt, video arcades, shopping in italian style arcade…etc. Iqbal and I took the tour and were impressed. There was stage in the middle of the casino and 3 floors of gaming that all had a view of the 1st floor stage. We sat to watch some entertainment. There was first an Asian dance team…that did hip hop mostly but also some break dance and popping. They were really good. Then there was a group of 5 ladies who danced and lip synced to 80’s 90’s and current tunes…sometimes the outfits were a bit risque….but its a casino…that’s what they do…push the boundaries. I could tell these girls were mostly prior ballerina’s as they had technical dance skills that were not always fluent. For this reason my guess is they all tried out for a Venetian show in Vegas and were cut…and offered this gig instead. We finished our drinks and left the casino. Initially…we noticed a replica of the Coliseum…not kidding…it wasn’t open yet…but they definitely were going to bring concerts to the stage…just like at Ceasar’s Palace. We both agreed it was going to a sweet venue. Then we passed by a haunted house…which again looked pretty cool. Finally we saw an arcade where we played a few games. We both thought Macau had a long way to go….to catch up to Vegas…but there was promise. I ended up saying goodbye to Iqbal..wishing him luck in the tournaments…as they stated in a week and lasted 2 weeks after that. I walked back to my hotel…picked up my bags and grabbed a taxi to get to the ferry pier. Waited for 30 minutes and an hour later I was back at Check Inn hostel. Macau was behind me and really basically found that that island is just a tourist town….the rest is old and run down….typical Chinese…that the average persons living conditions is not that great. Even as a tourist….its not that great of a place….Vegas is much better.
This morning I had to catch a ferry to Macau. I teamed up with Iqbal and xxxx and we were to meet at the ferry at 11am. I left my big bag at the hostel and brought a one day backpack…as I was coming back a day later and shoved off to the underground. A couple stations later is the ferry terminal…but it was more of a shopping mall than a terminal and there were cryptic signs to find the ferry terminal. Eventually got there with 20 minutes to spare. So I ended up getting snacks for the ride like Durian cakes….which were delicious..smooth..creamy. Durian is known as the “King of Fruits” in Asia…but its also known as the smelly fruit…the cake smelled fine…but later in the trip I had a brief encounter with the smelly fruit. I texted everyone about my wherabouts…the starbucks…easy meeting place…and right before boarding I found Carole. We went through emmigration to get stamped out of HK. As for Iqbal, he was coming with his friend Kat…and they were running late…about 2 minutes before departure…they turned up at the gate. That was a close one…We took our seats and off we went. The ferry…was more like an airplane…cabin service….various TV screens…reclining chairs squished together with a tray table. I had a window seat and was looking out the window just thinking to myself how exciting to be in a new country, new culture, new foods and world known entertainment casinos. Felt like the start of a Vegas trip. The boat trip was an hour long and on the way in…I caught a glimpse of the Sands Hotel (owned by Sheldon Adelson who also owns the Venetian in Vegas)…and a shopping strip off the water which had a Venice like feel to it. I find out later they are totally separate….and not related to the Venetian at all. First thing was to find our hotels. We decide Carole and I decide to store our luggage in Iqbal’s hotel…as we would be going out on his side of the Island…where the Venetian is. We drop our stuff off at the Best Western (directly across from the Venetian)…now if you have not been to Europe…you might guess this is a 2 star hotel…I don’t know any other hotel where the star rating goes up in Europe when compared to the USA…but Best Westerns are 3+…this one was a 4 star. Iqbal and Kat decided to relax for a bit….so Carole and I went to see the Venetian. From the outside…its a spot on match…on the inside its a spot on match. So what’s different? Size is smaller in Macau…and no alcohol being served at the tables….huh. Yes…no alcohol at tables…this was a Macau law….I guess it was a Chinese government thing too…so this a few effects. First, it was quiet…granted Chinese are not the loudest at the tables…(unlike when they are tourists)…but with no alcohol…there was a little less excitement in the air. It was a little boring actually and Carol and I sensed it….so we left for the food court. I ended up with a Portugese Chicken soup…which is very traditional…unfortunately its also traditional for soups (like hot pot) to cause gastrointestinal havic in China. Yup…I got mildly sick from the soup….but had to try the Portugese soup. I remembered it tasted good (but too oily…just like hot pot) and it was really hard to eat without a knife to cut up the whole veggies and thick chicken slices. I wouldn’t have it again. In 30 minutes we decided to jet and see the other large casino across the street. This one didn’t really have a theme…but just looked fancy inside and had ultra high end stores. The lobby had a cool sculpture and after walking around it was just another casino…nothing too exciting here. So far…the casinos didn’t live up to the Vegas comparison hype. So we went to pick up Iqbal and Kat. At 9pm Iqbal came out with us…as Kat was too tired. We hit the Venetian and we had a drink at the bar in the middle of the casino. So bizarre…they could serve in this bar but not at tables. You could take an alcoholic drink to the table but they could not serve alcohol there. We just chillaxed for an hour and then looked around at the action. We kind of split up for a few hours…I was playing machine poker…Iqbal was playing table poker (I forgot to mention that is his profession…he was actually there as there were 30 tournaments in the coming weeks..where he was expecting to do well against the more novice Asian players.) Carol was playing craps…it was about midnight and carol and I were kind of done…we had another drink and thought we would check out the live show and dancing in the corner of the casino. The show was finishing up in 30 minutes…so we just went to watch Iqbal instead. He was up for the night so we kind of knew that meant he would be staying put. Carol and I decided it was 1am and needed to get back to our hotel…so we got our bags from the Best Western and got a cab. I picked out our hotel from hotels.com and it was good enough for one night. I think it was $100 for two doubles…we split the cost and it was located in walking distance to the old historic part of town.
Today was a day where I was to explore the Eastern side of HK Island. I started walking around 9am…just following a map and eventually landed in Happy Valley. I saw the massive Race track and there was a grassy i front with statues of racehorses and even some olympic flags (might have been an equestrian sight of Olympics). This was the HK Racing Hall of Fame. So I decided to check it out…why not…I had time. It was super fancy and they went through the whole process of getting horses ready for derby day. They even did some exhibits on the best racehorses to ever come through HK. I actually had no idea Horse Racing had been around HK for 150 years. It seems where ever the Brits establish a colony…and it gets settled…there is a desire to put a Horsracing Track there. This was also the case in Shanghai. They were proud of this storied history and over the years they turned the racetrack into a huge event. I left around 10:30am and headed around the stadium. Seemed kids (including girls) were playing rugby and just getting done from practice. I would see parents coming out of the stadium with their kids. The practices happened on the green grassy parts of the fields. I headed around the stadium and the surrounding shops were even boutiquish…very odd for the USA for a track to be in a posh part of town…but that is exactly what happened here. I even walked down to the feild level for a better view and rugby practice was pretty much over. A 60+ woman who was on security duty…told me I had to vacate. It was 11am..and I wasn’t sure why..soon enough..I found out that it was race day and the 1st race is at 2pm…so they needed to get the course track ready. Heck…I even had to leave the children’s park that wasn’t even in the track…but they needed to clear it anyways. I kept on moving and now I was on a mission to find the Jewish Cemetery in HK. This was truly an adventure. All the guide books speak to the cemetaries in this area….but there is no specific directions. So…at first I’m looking from a distance at the graveyards to try and make out any Jewish Star’s. I hike uphill and walk into a building and a garage…even peered down on a mosque during services…to no avail. Walking back down…I just decide to walk into the Cemetary. It was open and I figured I would ask someone. This did not work well as a 70 year old Chinese man didn’t understand a word I said…but kept saying No…so I would explore a little. Walking on the grounds was really amazing. There were all religions buried there (except Jewish). Many graves of Brtish war soldiers who fought as early as the mid 1800’s. Then there were political figures in HK history buried there….but the gravestones were were more like monuments. After walking 30 minutes…I started to come across some Chinese writing. I also noticed on top of the hill these was a separate burial plce for the Muslims. No Jewish Cemetary yet. I jumped back on the street (across from the racetrack) and people were starting to file in for the meet. Walking further…there was another graveyard where the grounds were absolutely beautiful…Almost pristine with the flowers, shrubs and landscaping beng in perfect harmony wth the graves. I can’t recall the religion…but the goal was to achieve harmony with nature…and they definitely got an A+ on that. At this point I was tired of looking for a seemingly non-existant gravesite. So it was time to break out the smartphone. Started to google HK Jewish Cemetary..plemty of hits…but an address or directons were hard to come by..then finally on a the 3rd page of the search and someone’s personal HK Jewish experience…they described the location on a specific street in front of a nunnery…next to a buddhist school. I found the street and started heading that way. The neighborhood was a nice one(which starts to become a trend…Jewish neighborhoods…somehow are usually in a nce part of town). I’m heading uphill and losing confidence…when I see what looks like a church…so I jump into Columbo mode. I’m inside outside and all over the nunnery…I went into water closets, janitors closets, suit closets…but couldn’t find the cemetary. I read google again…and its supposed to be in the back of this nunnery. But I can’t get back there. A little rejected I head out the front door…and to the right is driveway, iron wrought gate and small jewish stars in the corners of the gate. Umm..jackpot. The gate looked closed..but I grasp it and push it open. Immediately…its obvious that I’m the only one here. I gingerly start to lookaround. In the foreground is a water fountain and a small green space to sit. There are some big treets surrounding the fountain area. Then behind this was the cemetary. there were two sections…those closer to the nunner on raised ground…and those in the main clearing. I started on the bottom and the I was amazed at how old and wel established the community was ad there were stones from early 1800’s. Some had not just a stone but a whole grave stone. The inscriptions told where theyy were from and years lived…people were from all over the diaspora…yemen, iraq, china, singapore, america, etc…I had no idea that HK was such a Jewish melting pot. But…I do like to describe HK as the NYC of Asia…so its only appropriate so many varied Jewish nationalities settled here as well. The grounds itself was situated between some huge residential skyscrapers…looking down at it. It was clear this was prime real estate and certainly the community had to fight to keep it out of harms way. Very impressed. Near the end of my strol through this hallowed grounds..a maintenance man was sweeping leaves. He said something and I just smiled walking like I had a purpose. I don’t think it was open for visitors…but I could not resist this opportunity to see an important peice of Asian Jewish Hstory. All the effort to find the place was worth it…it was a beautiful cemetary with such rich history in an exotic part of the world…I felt privaledged to have seen it. I snuck out as I snuck in and the day was not over yet. Heading back down toward the horse track…I found an international supermarket…with international customers…all the American basics were there. Ths was not an anomoly as it was the rule…most supermarkets were not at all like Chinese food fare…it was world cuisine. Another reason Hong Kong is the Asian NYC. I was still heading closer to the race track and decided I should just check it out. I went to the gate and was told to get a ticket …so I walked for 5 minutes asked the ticket office and they said this counter was only for VIP seating…others just buy at the gate. I went back to the same gate and this time the guy just waived me in. I think it was the end of the track meet and they let everyone in. The scene inside was exactly like Del Mar…on a weekend. Standing room around the outside rails and there is beer and food sales going crazy. Girls in their beer sponsored latex outfits…who surprisingly were doing quite well. When they asked people to try their beers..they actually did. At the starting gate there was hordes of people about 10 deep so it didn’t make any sense unless I could hop someones back…I booked for the finish line…whch was also where they paraded the ponies around before they jumped on the track. It was a wild mixture of Anglo-Saxons, Chinese and Tourists. The usual degenerates were out there banging away at their programs and crying for interventure from a higher authority. I didn’t end up betting but I did pick 2 horses and one came in 2nd the other came in econd last place. Just wanted to make sure that betting was not my thing. I was just taking in the vibe…which had tons of energy. From the track I ended up hitting the street again and this time it was to HK Times Square. Having seen NYC Times Square the bar was high…HK didn’t make the mark…there were some billboards and a few lights…but nothing like NYC. It was more just a shopping district…not a good one at that. I stopped in the newest shopping center in Times Square…they had an H&M but nothing else recognizable. When I walked out…there was some sort of Night before Christmas promo going on..as houses and characters from that film were on display, in front of the shopping center. Hoards of people were checking it out…even waiting in line to have pictures taken with the inatimate characters. I’m not sure…but there could be a Chinese/HK fascination with anime…which this has strange resemblance too. Not exactly my thing….so I walked on by. I somehow got out of there without doing any damage to the pocketbook and headed further to the major park in Hong Kong.I passed a few restaurants that looked really good (even one featured in xxx xxx)..but I wasn’t hungary at the time…so I ended up passing. When I got to the park…it looked rather ordinary I noticed many women (with headscarves) eating on blankets. I stayed on the periphery and somehow found myself outside the park at the top of an overpass. It had excellent views of the HK bay…so I snapped a few pics and headed back to the park. I started seeing more life…playgrounds where tons of kids and there parents were enjoying themselves. Then I could see tennis courts in the distance. I was gravitated and noticed some private instruction going on next to amateur open play. Felt just like being back at my Sunday Tennis Cluster Meetups. But I was on the sidelines just watching. I watched…more like longed to play…for 30 minutes. I ripped myself away and noticed a they had a huge tennis stadium…then a huge aquatic center….then many basketball courts (all full with pickup players on the sidelines waiting to get in)…finally 6 full size soccer games going on concurrently on the blacktop. Surrounding all of these fields are more of the headscarved women with their sitting cloth and gladlock zipped food. I kid you not..it was hard to move around this park area without stepping on one of these women. For sure this was the active park I had ever seen at one time. Later I found out that this park is known for all phillipino women who are cleaners to congregate on their day off (Sunday). Boy that is spot on because it was insanity how many were there. It must have 7pm by this time and I decided to call it quits for the day. My feet were killing me by now and I couldn’t wait to just sleep it off.
Today….I spent much of the day sleeping and just catching up on my blog. The hostel was an easy place to relax o their couches and just write. Around 5pm…I ventured out to find a Couchsurfing meetup. It was a free concert held in front of the Arts and Cultural center of Hong Kong. I met one guy (American) who was sitting and he had been working for IBM in various places around China during the last year. He was taking time off between projects and ended up in HK. Really cool guy. Then a few others showed up…and Phillipino who was taking 3 months to travel and he had a great attitude…super positive and excited. Ended up meeting the organizer of the event who was Spanish and she had once worked near the museum and liked coming to these…so she decided to post an event. The concert started and a few older artsy lookng charcters introduced the event. It just happened tht this event was sponsored by the Daniel Pearl Foundation. You may know he was a CNN correspondent who was abducted and killed..leaving behind wife, children and loved ones. His story gained WW coverage and the Foundation was born to unite the world through what Daniel loved most…music. To commemorate this…the first act was a concert violinist who…happened to be Jewish and played a few somber songs. Next was a rock band…who was not bad..finally there was a Carribbean vibe group who spoke French…I guess they were on a french island. The music was great and they were entertaining. It was an interesting night considering the forms of music were so varied…which is probably the goal. I had to leave around 8pm to catch the subway and headed to Kwaloon to meet up with friends from the China trip. This time it was Iqbal’s friends from UK…a girl from HK that had gone to university in the UK. She brought a few friends of her own and we had a group of 6 or 7 people. First we went down what can only be described as restaurant row….all these bars/restaurants where people were lounging on the sidewalk tables waiting to be seen by others. The prices on these places was commensurate with the USA fine dining. The amount of space left for pedestrians to walk by was really cramped. Just part of the culture in HK…no space for anyone…unless you are a guest. Not a huge deal….but just interesting. We settled on a Mexican place….which had a feel like Fred’s Old town restaurants. Music was loud and not exactly a lot of people there…so we stuck to ourselves. After a few beers we moved on to the next place. This time it was a small door with a bunch of steps to get into a small jazz lounge. There was girl on stage who was singing and she was just OK….so we went back to our drinking and spent another hour there. Finally…we got out of the area and walked a distance…passing by all the high fashion brands that had closed a few hours earlier. It was going to be hard to get into the grittier bars area…right close to the train station….we took a turn right and there was a bunch of bars at the end. We ended up picking one that seemed to have drink specials…the guy outside convinced us of it…but it was really a large club…that seemed to be without anyone in it. Since it was so empty…we had one drink and decided to call it a night. One consistency for me was instead of eating dinner…I ended up munching on cracker mixes all night long. At the time seemed smart to save a little money…but the next morning that icky throat from all the greasy crackers may not have been worth it. Still it was a good night meeting new friends and having fun with the China GAdventure guys. Got home something like 1:30am.
Woke up today and saw a few our fellow peeps off…but around 9am I was going to do a little exploring. Myself and Anna (from Barcelona) both wanted to see a few of the same museums….and we both had an extra day…so we headed out together. We strolled for a bit before getting to the Hong Kong Museum…which was basically the history of Hong Kong. The hardest part fo this trip was getting across the street….which required passing the building and crossing these massive overpasses…then finding the right staircase to get back on the street heading in the right direction. More so than any other place I’ve been Hong Kong has created a huge infrastructure of pedestrian overpasses. Really just explain how many cars there are in this city and how congested it is. While many places would love this well thought out urban layout…Hong Kong actually has the money to do this….so in some ways they really do lead the world in infrastructure projects. At the museum…there was a huge square where promotional terracotta warriors were standing…because the museum next door had a limited time exhibit of a few terracotta warriors. HA…we just saw thousands of them and the fee for seeing a few was something like $30..about 1/3 what we paid to see the whole thing. Irony. In the museum itself…much was natural history and even indigious peoples. It was a well done museum….which I would come to find that all Hong Kong museums are really well done. We left there pretty pleased and walked toward the train the station. Along the way we stopped at a huge park. This place was extremely well maintained…from the flowers, plants shrubs…even an aviary and flamingo space. This wasn’t a zoo…but HK has a thing for seeing animals in their parks. There was a huge public fitness center with huge swimming pools (indoor and outdoor)…fitness facilities and gyms. We wandered for an hour and soaked it in. It was something like 11:30pm and we did a bee line for our hotel. We had to be out of the hotel by noon or we were told we would be chargered for another day. It was a bit of a rush and I remember waiting in the elevator hoping it would move faster..tehan I rushed into the room and rushed out of the room and just prayed that I didn’t forget anything. I had my stuff together and hit the train station…4 stops and 15 mnutes later I was on HK Island. I stepped out of the subway and was on a huge street. Thegood news was that the hostel was on the same street….the bad news is every building is a skyscraper….so finding the right building was challenging. I walked about 15 minutes and walked right past it. Luckily I was able to put on the GPS and figured out that I went too far. I turned around and the corner of the building had a overhead sign with 20 logo’s..one was the Check Inn Hostel. I pressed the button and got rung in…a security guard was there and he looked more like a janitor. I said Check Inn and he pointed to the elevator and grunted. Really helpful. The address said the third floor so off I went. Got off the elevator and in the far back corner was a white door. I pressed the button and the door opens. It was the owner…a young guy…maybe late 20’s…who took the subway to Hong Kong Island. He was a pretty easy going guy and he gave me my room and a map. At first the place seemed to be very small…but this is Hong Kong..and we are Hong Kong island…so that feeling went away quickly. The living space was a few couches, a fridge and a flat screen TV. In the same space was two showers/toilets….while I’d seen these multi-functional spaces before…this one was terribly cramped. The shower head was literally over top of the toilet. I made the istake of bringing my toilettry bag in ineveitably it got soaked…there was no where for the shower dropettes to go but on the walls and all objects hanging from the walls got soaked. Luckily, my eagle creek toiletry bag dries out quickly. The rooms were 8 beds and I had a top bunk. Related to bunk beds…tops bunks are not preferable…but they are not too bad just as long as 1) the ladder is stable 2) the steps are wide 3) the bed and stairs don’t make lots of noise 4) There is head room (not hitting the ceiling). 5) It’s not so high….I can’t reach up and get my stuff off the bed. In this environment…I ended up keeping tomorrow’s clothes on my bed along with water…my bag was tied with a cable to the leg of the bed. My valuable items were in a small locker and all my electronics were getting charged on the universal plug adaptable surge protector. It would have been nice if a small locker/laptop stand were provided next to the bed and the universal adapter were also inside the locker. I ended up meeting Anna for lunch in between our hotels. We were hungry and found an Italian place for lunch around 2pm. It was something of a family restaurant much better quality Olive Garden…but it was a chain around town. The food was pretty good and it was nice to have a relaxing lunch not on a timetable. Afterwards, there was a market which was supposed to be in walking distance..so we headed over…I was using my Google Maps and still had trouble finding the place. Turned out it was under construction and the market was moved to a smaller location a block away. Didn’t really find it very exciting and we split for the train station. This time it was Anna’s request to see the largest escalator in the world. We headed back toward the train station and decided to try and walk it. We got as far as the convention center….which really was a beautiful place right off the shipping pier. It was huge and we were trying to get through..unfortunately they were having a gift show convention and we were denied access. We went back around and found nearly empty parking garage at the convention center. After walking to the street we were on a busy highway thoroughfare…then a minute later there was a park that sort of sprouted from no where. I think convention goers and local white collar workers would use this park mainly for lunches or a smoke break. It was well manicured and sat perched up looking at Kwalloon Island and the bay. We sat down for a bit and I really could not take too much more walking…so we found the metro subway. Of course it was only one stop to go…but I knew there was no way I could survive the escalator and elevator activities…without a break Which took us to a really cool art exhibit….but only meant more walking to do. While most would consider an escalator a non-exercise activity…this one was broken up into 10+ parts…so you were getting on and off continuously. And instead of a stair escalator…it was a flat one (like the one’s in airports)….but of course it was a steep pitch…which really made it unique…probably in the world. I don’t know we had a goal in mind..except to take it to the top. It was kind of a hot day so I needed a break. I was looking for a restaurant but everything was a little overpriced for a snack…as this was a trendy area for young professionals to have a drink after work. I decided to get a protein bar at the corner 7-11. We headed back down en route to meet our friends from the Tour in a part of town close to where I was staying. We took the train back…and waited around for 30 minutes for some of them to arrive Once a few showed up….I was in charge of picking a place. (I did a little scouting before hand). At the time what I didn’t know…was the area we were in was the red light district..so we are walking by bars and girlie clubs. I gave three choices and no one wanted to make a decision…so I chose a Mexican Place. It was pretty dead….but they had seating for 12 people and the restaurant was still open.
We ended up on the upstairs all by ourselves and we were told that the kitchen was closing. So we ended up getting some chips and salsa. Oddly, not everyone on the trip even knew what salsa was…guess its not that prevalent in places like Norway. We had a few drinks and shared appetizers and t was kind of anti-climatic…as the place wasn’t all that exciting. Actually he whole area was dead…I felt a little responsible for the fizzling night….but what could I do? It was something like midnight and we ended up going our separate ways.