Saturday, April 19, 2008

First Impressions: Hong Kong


It's a long flight and I'm just not tired. It's a red-eye. We left Paris an hour late – at 7:45 pm – and it was perfect timing to sleep after dinner was served. Except I can't sleep. I'm not sleepy. I should be. I was up early this morning to go to the hospital for the nth time. This time, Dr. Chartier wanted to remove the remaining unused balloon. He hoped that that was what was somehow blocking the passage. I was there before nine. He examined me and said that as soon as he got back from surgery he'd do the procedure; I waited until 1:30 He did it, but I still couldn't pee, so he stuck a catheter back in I took a cab from the hospital and picked up Paul at home. We loaded up our suitcases and took off. I had a late lunch at the airport.

Before taking out the computer to write, I was thinking. Thinking a lot about Dave and how much he had been looking forward to his trip to China before he died. How much he liked to travel and yet how little he did. But this trip to China, even in the poor condition he was in, was something he really wanted to do and he died before he could do it.

Anyway, our first stop on this trip is Hong Kong. It's a 12 hour flight – our midway point on the way to Australia. We had hoped that Pierre-Frederic, Nadine, and the kids would come down to Hong Kong from Wuhan for the weekend and spend some time with us. We were all looking forward to it, but at the last minute, Pierre-Frederic got stuck with a Monday appointment in Beijing and had to cancel the weekend with us. This means we're on our own. I have a hunch, we'll sleep a bit on arrival. We've got Friday afternoon, Saturday, Sunday and most of Monday there before heading to Melbourne on another red-eye, 11-hour flight.

I really should try to sleep!


Yesterday was our lost day. By the time we got to the hotel it was already 5 pm, so we decided not to rest, but to go out fairly early to get dinner. Our hotel, the Largos Hotel, is in Kowloon, the district facing Hong Kong Island. We are just around the corner from the Jordan metro station, so theoretically we could get a three-day pass and visit the city. We are a very short block from Nathan Road a major shopping street, which, as if it didn't have enough shops on the street and upstairs, has brand new luxurious shopping centers that seem to go up a few flights and then are just as deep. Our room is tiny. I'm jammed up against the wall and window and there's no room to hang anything that might need space to dry out (more about that, later). Kind of like a New York hotel room that the kids might remember from our trips with them to New York.

Both of us suffered from jetlag during the night; I thought I heard rain. There's a typhoon (Neoguri) passing not far to the west, so I supposed it was from that. When we left the hotel this morning, it was still raining, but not hard, so we decided to walk a bit instead of taking the metro.

The best place to go when it's raining is a museum and we are not far from the Hong Kong Museum of History. By the time we got there it was raining pretty hard, we thought, and we were happy to discover this museum at a snail's pace. It's a really well done museum that takes you through the geological formation of Hong Kong, the prehistoric period and the different Chinese groups that have come and gone from Hong Kong. There's more and more detail, of course, as you get closer to the present. There are paths that take you into shops, living quarters, a fishing boat, etc. If you try to listen to everything on the audio guide, you could spend more than a day there. The video sequences are excellent – easy to understand and not boring or too long. It was nearly 2 pm by the time we finished and had lunch. It was pouring.

There's no metro stop right near the museum, so we set out on foot and, once we got our bearings, continued towards the harbor, with the view of Hong Kong, opposite. I'm not posting the picture because you can barely make out the other side through the rain. We saw the clock tower, which is all that is left of the old railroad station. The Star Ferries leave from there to go over to the island and, further up, is the ocean terminal for cruise traffic. By this time, my raincoat was drenched and the umbrella was not doing much for Paul. We were both soaked through.

Kowloon Park is built on old military grounds (from the British period) and the Kowloon walled city that preceded the British taking over Kowloon. (Originally, the British had a concession for Hong Kong island only; then they added Kowloon, and in 1898, added the New Territories.) The Hong Kong Heritage Discovery Center is in Kowloon Park and we stopped there for a short break from the downpour. The staff welcomed us with paper to sponge ourselves off so we wouldn't drip too much on the floor :-)

The main exhibit of the HK Heritage Discover Center is closed. But there is a very interesting exhibit of the Urban Design Study for the New Central Harbourfront. That's a mouthful, but they are re-shaping the waterfront of Hong Kong Island facing Kowloon. It's a modern development that is creating diverse neighborhoods with housing, offices, shops, sports, culture, schools, and so on. The skyline is being dictated by the mountains just behind the city, so, even though the buildings are skyscrapers, they are not all the same height and will not mask the mountains. It's an interesting project. Paul got rally into it, of course.

From there, it was a matter of finding our way back to Nathan Road and the hotel. The rain was coming down in sheets by this time. We had walked through puddles so deep our shoes and socks were sopping wet and so were our clothes. The waterfall you see in the picture shows what I mean. We came down those stairs and took the picture from a bus shelter on Nathan Road.

The upside is that I have had the time to write this entry. We've got our clothes hung up wherever we found a spot. We're going to have to go out again to get dinner, but for the moment, we are just happy to relax and be dry. The forecast for tomorrow is more rain.

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