Thursday, June 28, 2007

Bell Ringing

There’s nothing like a bell ringing week to start a vacation. Obtaining grants feels to me a bit like winning a gambling bet, not that I have done much gambling beyond quarter slot machines, but I imagine that winning at the races or even super lotto gives one the same kind of “high”. The week started with $60,000 on Monday, ending with a total of $135,500 for the month, not a bad way to walk out the door for a 2 week break!

We’ve been planning this trip for many months and I can’t believe that we leave tomorrow. The weather site forecasts rain for the next 2 weeks in every city we will be visiting. I have told everyone to bring water shoes, water repellent clothing, umbrellas and rain jackets. Lovely… at least we will all be together, lots of bonding, though with that kind of weather, we may be totally fed up with each other by the end of the 2 weeks. I can just imagine us trudging through mud and
wetness on Chinese trails and river cruises. Not only that - it will be extremely humid and warm, as the western region of China, Yunnan Province is somewhat tropical. Fortunately, clothing for hot weather doesn’t take up much room, and my suitcase is half empty. I make up the space by throwing in my hiking boots.

There’s an excitement in the air. Julia’s mom takes us to the Caltrain station bright and early, sending us off with lots of hugs and kisses, and we arrive at SFO with plenty of time to spare. Ray has gotten some of us access to the Red Carpet Club and was able to upgrade the two of us to business class. We agree that one could easily get used to traveling this way, free cookies and all, and spent considerable time calculating how many trips he needs in order to take to retain his 1K status this year.

The liquid and gel in zip loc bags seems to be a constantly changing source of confusion for everyone. Does anyone actually remember what the mnemonic 3+1+1 actually stands for? Is a 120ml bottle actually a greater threat than a 100ml bottle? Who came up with these numbers anyway? So now, shoes are ok, bottles are not. I set off the metal detector and the only thing metallic on me are in my teeth!

The flight is uneventful and as we enter the jetway in Hong Kong, the heavy air hits us like a wall. The new airport is off on Lantau Island, quite a distance from Hong Kong proper. No longer do planes fly in to Kai Tok, between apartment buildings with a clear view of people’s television sets through their living room windows. We ride the tram, the express train, and finally a taxi to get to our hotel in what seems like a very long time. Sleep is the order of the day and I am grateful it is night time.

Hong Kong island is even more beautiful than I remember from our last visit 30 years ago. The sky is clear and blue, and the harbor sparkles. We walk through Hong Kong park and ride the Peak Tram to the top for a wonderful view of the city and outlying islands. This city certainly has glamour and I am in awe of its architecture. Much of the building is close to the harbor area and the backside of the island is pretty much undeveloped. Kowloon, across the harbor extends north up to the border of China. New Territories on the norther edge used to be wilderness but now is contiguous with the rest of Kowloon. Upon the recommendation of a local acquaintance, we find Maxim’s for dimsum. We savor every morsel and try plates we have never seen before. Good food, a view of the harbor, and togetherness, leaves me feeling very, very content, totally blessed, and not wishing for anything more.

We decide to make a trek to Lantau Island in order to see a large sitting bronze Buddha on the mountaintop. First, my favorite of rides, a ferry trip across the harbor, which brings back vivid memories from childhood. I venture down to the empty lower deck and let the breeze blow through my hair while I watch the waves swirl around the side of the boat. The ride was sure short-Ray says the harbor is shrinking from all the development that has taken place on landfill. The heavy gangplank gets lowered and we follow the mass of people up the ramp and exit toward a very old bus station. We are a bit puzzled but finally find the right bus to the middle of the island. Before we go off, I check on the time for the last bus, which is 7:30. We wander up to the park and find out.....What….. the road to Buddha is closed? Celebrating the 10th anniversary of the return of HK to China? There was a large public event planned that evening and we were out of luck. We decide to take a short walk in the area and made our way back to the bus station, only to be told that the last bus left 10 min. ago and there were no more buses to the ferry! How could that be, I argued, it is only 6:30??. Well, quite simply, the manager at the station was wrong, the bus was gone, and we were stuck. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a taxi, the only remaining one, and we grab it, reluctantly agreeing to the fare. An hour later, we were aboard the ferry again.

This $2 ferry ride was worth every penny. The sky was darkening and Hong Kong’s skyline is magnificent from a boat. To the left was the newly built bridge to Lantau Island, and to the right we passed Aberdeen, the fishing village. Beyond that was the harbor and the sparkling city lights of Kowloon and Hong Kong. This has got to be the most beautiful ocean front in the world; the view was breathtaking. We ended the evening with a nice meal at Pacific Place and fell into bed.

Ray and I quite simply operate on different time zones. I never appreciate being awakened at 5:30am to the sound of running water and the rustling of objects in his suitcase; you would think by now, after 28 years, I would be used to it. By the time the rest of us get up at 8:30, Ray has already checked his email, walked around the city, and gotten coffee at McDonalds. Eager to finally start the day, he wastes no time in showing us where the bakery Maxim's is located. What a wonderful way to have breakfast-we select an assortment of cakes, breads and tarts, and take them back to the room to feast on. Forget the diet, I tell myself and it doesn't take much convincing. We head over to the Star Ferry and across to Kowloon, spending the morning
at the Museum of History learning about Hong Kong's past. The girls choose to forego lunch in favor of the art museum and I accompany Ray and Robert to one of the best eel dishes I have ever had. So ends our short trip to Hong Kong.


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