BootsnAll Travel Network

Where the Hell Am I? Part 2

Photos are up on my smugmug homepage for Cambodia (with captions), China and HK (without captions.) Enjoy!

Leaving the airport in Hong Kong was as easy as getting there, and I hopped aboard the express train, which runs all night, back towards the station closest to my hotel. Unfortunately, the shuttle buses weren’t running after midnight, so I hopped in a taxi and quickly arrived at Chongking Mansions. This late at night, the place was even sketchier, and being alone I noticed it even more now. But for some reason, I didn’t feel at all threatened by the people, and they I think were more curious about me than anything. Clearly upset, I think they probably knew to leave me alone and I rode up the slow elevator in blissful silence. Mentally exhausted, I climbed into my small but comfortable bed, and turned on the TV. Cable TV can be a curse sometimes when traveling, but now it was a blessing, as I fell asleep to CNN and the evils of the world, unconsciously realizing that there were worse places to be.

I woke up with a start, not knowing where I was, or what time is was even, as rooms in Chongking mansions are notorious fire hazards without windows. Finding my watch on the floor, I groaned. It was only 6:30am. Try as I might, I couldn’t fall asleep again, so I finally gave in and got up to shower. I could have easily watched TV all day in my little room given my mood, but I knew that I couldn’t waste the day wallowing.  I got dressed and had some breakfast and more importantly, coffee. By the time I got going, it was almost 10, and I made my way to the waterfront. I wanted to go to the Museum of Art in the morning, and headed there, happily noting that it was a free entrance day. Aside from the temporary exhibit on the Etruscans, the museum was uninspiring, and I helped myself to their free internet access for a bit until heading out again. Taking the ferry across again, I made my way to the Chinese consulate. It was wasn’t open until 1, so I found some lunch and sat outside the entrance of the consulate and waited for it to open. Since I was just picking up my passport, I didn’t need a number and made my way to the counter. Luckily, my passport and visa were ready, and I paid my fee and left, all in about 6 minutes. I hurried to the train station, and went two stops to the central part of HK island, where I had a doctors appointment at 2pm. Unable to make an appointment with two of the doctors recommended by the US embassy, I somehow had managed to get the woman behind the counter at the coffee shop two days previously to recommend a doctor to me, and though fearing the worst, I made an appointment with an unknown male OB/Gyn. In Hong Kong. Recommended by a barrista.

I arrived at the office, and was relieved to find it was a very modern, and seemingly popular place. I checked in, and was ushered to the waiting room, where I waited for a total of 4 minutes before the doctor was able to see me. Dr. David Lee was a middle-aged Chinese man, who spoke good English and smiled a lot. And giggled. He was a bit strange and laughed and nodded in agreement as I explained to him the nature of my problem, ahem, and then told me to get undressed and sit on the table. His nurse, thankfully, stayed in the room during the procedure, which was the fastest exam in history and not the  most comfortable. He also decided, probably based on the fact that I was paying cash and not with insurance, that I needed a scan, and proceeded to use a new fangled device I had never seen to scan my female areas, and then handed me a nice picture to show my doctor at home. It was totally a bizarre experience, but not really bad, and relieved to learn that there was nothing wrong, I headed out into the city to do some exploring. I decided I needed a treat, and was hungry, so I headed towards a deli that was recommended by my guidebook, only to find that it was next to a Mexican restaurant, and chose that instead. As good as any tex-mex food we have at home, it was a good meal, and not too expensive for HK, which had been rapidly devouring my money. Though the exchange rate with the US dollar and the HK dollar was equal to the US-Chinese Yuan, about US$1-HK$8, things were much more expensive here, and along with Singapore, the most expensive place I had been to in Asia. While there was cheap food to be had and cheap clothes and such, I was now in such a state of culinary ecstasy that I couldn’t go back to rice and stir fried noodles, no matter how good they were. I wanted bread, and cheese and pasta and red wine, and I was paying dearly for it. Following my late Mexican lunch, I wandered past all the bars and restaurants in the Mid-levels, which were known for the partying nightlife, and down to the cheap shopping streets of Li Yuan East and West. I managed to find a couple of shirts that actually fit my size and boobs and weren’t obscene, and luckily found a cheap internet place as well, hidden in a back alley. Apparently used by Philipino women to call home to their families, this internet place was the cheapest and fastest I had found, and I settled in for some email therapy.

I emerged hours later into darkness, and looking at the time, was stunned to find it was almost 8pm. Not really hungry, but not wanting to head home so early to my little depressing room, I hopped on the Star Ferry back to Kowloon, and headed towards Delaneys, the good standbye Irish pub. SInce I hadn’t gotten my deli sandwich earlier, I ordered a Reuben sandwich and a Guiness and sat at the bar, quickly starting a conversation with a nice guy sitting next to me, who was English by birth but had lived in the States for a long time. Trying to place that accent was tough, but we quickly got to chatting about politics and the US and all that jazz, and after a few beers, he headed off for his hotel and I realized how late it was and paid up my bill and left. It was about 10, and automatically when I got home, there was no one in my hotel common room, so I went to my room and turned on the TV to find the last episode of The OC just starting. Oh Marissa! We’ll miss you and your unbelievably stylish high school wardrobe. I had also been dragging around a bottle of red Great Wall of China wine for about a week, and opened that, which for the price, was not awful. After The OC came Invasion, and I had no clue what was happening on that. For some reason, I just didn’t want to sleep, and kept watching stupid shows and news and finally set the TV on timer to try and sleep. It worked like a charm, and I was out in an instant.

I had made the decision to stay in Hong Kong one more day, and decided instead of random wanderings and spending loads of money on food and crap, I would spend money on something worthwhile, and bought an expensive ferry ticket to Macau. The ferries run about every half hour or so, and it was no problem to show up and just hop aboard, after shelling out a bit of money for a roundtrip ticket. The boat ride to Macau is only an hour, and though it started raining while I was on the boat, a pleasant and comfortable ride. We weren’t allowed out of our seats, so I couldn’t take pictures of HK, but it was cloudy and rainy and crappy, so they wouldn’t have been nice anyway through the window. We docked in Macau and referring to the guidebook my nice hotel owner let me borrow since meanie Chris took his home, I easily found a bus outside to take me into the city center. Macau, like Hong Kong, is technically part of China, but was a colony of Portugal until very recently, which is unlike HK which was part of Britain. I instantly noticed the difference, as the street names and sightseeing activites were in Portugese and CHinese. We arrived at the main square, and it instantly started raining. My beloved red Samsonsite travel umbrella, which I found for $4 at Marshalls, was snug as a bug back at my hotel. I headed for Starbucks to have some coffee and a muffin since I hadn’t had breakfast and saw no other cafes or restaurants nearby. After about an hour, the rain seemed to subside a bit, and I set off to look around. Macau is basically a walking city, so the rain really put a damper on the day as I set off, but I headed for the ruins of St. Paul’s Church and the Monte Fort, set high on the hill behind the town. The ruins were really just the front of the church, held up by scaffolding behind, and some tombs where people were buried. There wasn’t much to see, so I walked up the steep hill to the fort, which gave pretty good views of the island. The fort had old cannons, which had been fired just once in 1622 against a Dutch invasion, which seemingly ended in an instant after the cannon were fired. Also housed on top of the hill in the fort was the Macau museum, so I went in there, probably during the only time of day where it wasn’t raining, and looked around. There were replicas of storefronts and houses seen in old Macau, and an actually interesting amount of stuff to look at. For some reason, I was drawn to a video being shown of the old tradition of cricket fighting, not that I knew there was such a thing, and actually offered a detailed description of how the owners of the crickets found the good fighters and trained them. It was truly weird and interesting, and really shows you how much time people have on their hands.

As I left the museum, it was raining again, so instead of doing the walking tour in the pamphlet I had in my hand from the tourist office, I hopped on a bus to a smaller island called Coloane for lunch. Apparently, aside from the gambling, the main reason people go to this island is to eat lunch at a Portugese restaurant called Fernando’s, and I was determined to for once, eat where I was supposed to. The bus ride took about 40 minutes, and brought me to the front door of the restaurant, located on a beach front full of naturally gray sand and a smattering of people hanging around. It looked like a typical beachfront, full of shops selling towels and sunscreen, and little food stalls. But the restaurant was beautiful inside, and I was shown a table by the window facing the garden, unheard of, as usually single diners are cast aside near the toilets or kitchen. The menu was full of Portugese food and quite pricey, and I realized I wasn’t really in the mood for anything in particular. So I ordered the fried potatoes with salt cod, or bacalau, and a beer, and watched as all the tables full of business meetings and families and tourists ate. My food was brought out and after a few bites, I remembered something; I don’t really like salted cod. I know what you are thinking, Kirsten likes everything! But when I was in Portugal I had this epiphany and seemingly forgot that salted cod is dry and salty and doesn’t taste like much. It wasn’t that it tastes bad or there is something wrong with it, but for the price I just don’t see the point of it. But the bread rolls were fanstastic, and I was still on my needing bread kick, so I ate those and tried to eat as much of the fish as possible. After lunch I needed the bathroom, and was surprised to find in there little photos of what kind of toilet you would find behind each stall, Western or Asian. Very helpful I thought, and promptly took a picture of the picture, much to the bewildered amusement of the bathroom attendant.

Setting back out on the bus back to the main island, we passed by huge casinos under construction, including a Venetian which looks like it will be gigantic. Macau is a huge gambling destination, and they are starting to attract Las Vegas style instead of CHinese style casinos. We arrived back in the center, and I started my walking tour in the drizzle, heading towards church of St. Augustine, the theater of Dom Pedro and the Avendida da Republica. It was very bizarre to be back viewing churches as sights instead of temples and pagodas, and finding myself saying Obrigado to people, even if they were Chinese. I headed towards the Protestant Cemetary, and then walked around the island by the water and up to Penha Hill, towards A-Ma Temple and the Maritime museum which was already closed. The walking tour was actually really nice, and the pamphlets are free from the tourist office at the ferry terminal. It would have been more enjoyable without the rain, but it was still a good walk. I found a restaurant that I had been looking for, and after walking the nearby market streets for a while, went there for some Macau food, which seemed to be a mixture of Portugese, Chinese and African. I ordered the African chicken, which came with rice, and was nice and spicy, and had some very cheap but good red wine. Unlike HK, which has a 90% tax on alcohol and makes drinking there very expensive, Macau is a drinkers paradise with almost no tax. After dinner, I tried in vain to find some Macau postcards, and even at the ferry terminal I couldn’t find any, which I still don’t understand. Normally postcards are everywhere, and looking back, realized I hadn’t seen any around town. My ferry was leaving at 10pm back to Hong Kong, and though I still had some time, I went to the dock and waited for it. The seats were really comfortable, and I afte boarding I quickly felll asleep on the hour long ride back to Hong Kong.

I arrived at Hong Kong Island, and took the ferry back to Kowloon for home. I went straight to my hotel, and found my hotel owner and gave him his book back. Somehow, I managed to convince him to sell my an old ratty copy of the China book in his bookshelf, and a nice India one as well, for a mere bargain of HK$150. I was now set for the next week or so, where I’d have to head west to get to Vietnam. The day before, I booked myself on a bus to Guangzhou, the huge city where Chris and I flew into from the Yangze river, and while the train was faster, the bus was much cheaper, and took me close to the train station. I packed my stuff, which after three days had grown to a heap on the floor, and fell asleep quickly. My bus was leaving at 7am, so I got up and headed down the street to where it was leaving from. The bus was comfortable, and though there weren’t any other backpackers on board, there were other Westerners and tourists. We arrived at the border with China after about 45 minutes, and easily left HK. Then we went through immigration on the Chinese side, and after some puzzled looks over my two Chinese visas, I was let through. Finding my bus on the other side proved more difficult, but I finally recognized two people from my bus and followed them. The bus to Guangzhou was long and boring, and no nice scenery to look at, so I settled into my book and started to also read my India guidebook for inspiration. We finally arrived in Guangzhou 6 hours after leaving HK, and were dropped off at a nice hotel. I tried to change my HK dollars, which I had specifically withdrawn to change to Yuan so I wouldn’t need to pay more ATM fees, not thinking that it was Saturday afternoon. Everything was closed. So I had to take out more money out of the ATM anyway. I hopped in a taxi, clutching the precious paper the concierge had written a very important note: Hard sleeper to Kunming. Arriving at the train station, a different one than the one that leaves to Hong Kong, I found mass chaos. Thousands of people lined up outside, sitting on suitcases, waiting for who knows what, running to catch their trains, lugging huge bundles of luggage and stuff around. I headed inside and found much the same, though there seemed to be orderly lines to buy tickets. I found the shortest one, and after a minute tried to buy a ticket to Kunming for that evening. Somehow, I had the one girl that probably spoke English at this entire train station, and she quickly understand what I needed. I didn’t even need to show her my paper from the hotel, and she booked my a sleeper for the following night, it was full for today. Disappointed I had to stay in Guangzhou for a whole day almost, I walked to the nearby YHA, only to find they were full. They called the only other hostel in town, also full, and I was forced to check into their hotel, where not only the rooms were way out of my price range, but I also knew that I wouldn’t meet anyone that way. Resisting the urge to stay in my room, not too hard though since there wasn’t anything in English on TV anymore, I set out to explore the city. After asking direction at my hotel, it took me about 45 minutes to find the nearest subway station, which ended up being in the big train station, and another 15 to actually buy a ticket to where I wanted to go. I was clearly back in China.

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