Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Hong Kong

September 19 - 23, 2007; Hong Kong

Wednesday, September 19

Valerie: We arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday morning after spending all night on a train from Yangshuo. Riding the train was a neat experience. We bought a sleeper cabin, with four bunks and had the very tiny space all to ourselves. It was a good thing we decided to buy the extra two beds because there would have been no room for our luggage otherwise. (Our suitcases shared the top bunks.)

(Adam and our very narrow sleeping compartment.)

Thursday, September 20

Valerie: We decided to hike Victoria Peak today -- the highest point on Hong Kong island (although not the highest mountain in the territory). You can take a cable car to an observation deck (and shopping center) which is advertised as a "the peak" but isn't really because the actual peak is still about a 30-minute hike away. I thought the trail to the summit would have been relatively busy but to our surprise it was empty -- we were the only ones around. Apparently everyone opts for the easy cable car ride to the observation deck and back. The trail (which was basically a road for cars) was very steep although by now we are used to China's steep climbs. After a quick 30-minute hike we made it to the actual peak -- a small hilltop with several radio telecommunications towers. The views from here were very good, and would probably have been spectacular had it not been for the haze.

(View from the observation deck at Victoria Peak. Although we visited the peak during the day, we came back again because the views are even better at night.)

Adam: Victoria Peak is nice. The tram was constructed back in the late 19th century - at the time, it was considered a bit of a rich man's folly - but has since survived and become a way for HK's plebians to come and see the enormous mansions on the hill. The tram itself is a bit of an experience - in some sections, it goes up at a 45 or 50 degree angle. This is quite comfortable if you are seated, but as we discovered on our second trip down, very difficult if you are standing. I had to hold onto a brass railing for dear life, lest I fall on top of the people standing behind of me!

Valerie: Hong Kong's public transportation system is exceptional. The subways are completely air-conditioned and are very modern. As in DC, there are steep fines for eating or drinking on the train. Along with the subways, the city also operates numerous trams (see picture below). The trams have been operating since 1904, making it one of the oldest tramways in the world and Hong Kong's earliest mode of public transportation. The tram is similar to a very narrow bus, but it is electric and runs on a track. Hong Kong is one of only 3 cities in the world to operate a double-decker tram (but I believe it is the oldest running of the three). The picture may not show it, but the trams are very narrow -- only 3 seats across.

Adam: One of the coolest features of HK's public transport system is that it is still largely anchored by ferries. HK is actually a series of islands - Hong Kong Island being the largest, but also Lantau, Lamma, Cheung Chau, and a whole bunch of others. So there are ferry terminals all over the city which are pretty efficiently connected to the subways and buses.

Valerie: We later visited Kowloon (via a very nice ferry ride) and saw some impressive views of the Hong Kong skyline.

(Us on the pier. The Hong Kong skyline and Victoria Peak in the background.)

Adam: Kowloon is to Hong Kong (island) what Brooklyn is to Manhattan. HK island is polished with lots of expensive shops; it's clean, touristy, and considered the power center of Hong Kong - but in some areas of the city, you'd hardly know you were in Asia. Kowloon is bustling and chaotic, a real large Asian city. Although we didn't spend a lot of time over on this side of Hong Kong, it had some of the best food around (served on plastic chairs at the Temple Street night market).

Valerie: Our final stop was the Graham street market. This was just one of many of China's open-air street markets. With only a few exceptions, every city we've visited has had at least one street market.

(A food stall in the Graham street market.)

Adam: This market shows you Hong Kong's obsession with freshness. All around, there are live fish, frogs, shrimp, etc., which people pick out and which are slaughtered and cleaned in front of you. Unfortunately, the HK government finds it all a bit unseemly, and they're trying to shut the street markets down (when we went, the market was still packed at 6:00 pm on a Friday - so it's clearly not on economic grounds). Valerie and I registered our opinions by buying "Save Street Markets" shirts from a local designer.

Friday, September 21

Adam: On Friday, we got up early in the morning and took the ferry over to Mui Wo on Lantau island, where we started the Lantu trail, which traverses the entire island. We had planned on doing the first three stages of the trail, which cover two of Hong Kong's biggest mountains - Sunset Peak (~857 m) and Lantau Peak (~940 m). We had been told that this hike would only take five hours - but this can only be accomplished by a person who was running the entire thing. After six hours, we had covered only Sunset Peak, and we were exhausted. As with other trails in China, the concept of "switch-backs" hasn't quite come around, and the trail was a series of steps straight up the mountain. If you can imagine hiking up the staircase of a building three times the size of the Empire State Building, you get a sense of what this was like.

Valerie: The hike was grueling, although not as bad for me as hiking the Great Wall. It was a very different experience from our prior hikes in China. Here, there are no Chinese woman trying to sell you water. Ironically, however, when we actually needed them (because we didn't pack enough water) they were not around. There were also not a lot of tourists. On the entire hike, we ran into only 3 people - two foreigners and one local who said he hikes to the peak once a month!

(Valerie on the trail at the start of the hike. The mountain in the distance is our destination.)

Saturday, September 22

Valerie: By this point on our trip we were both a bit tired of sightseeing so on Saturday we hit the shops instead. After all, Hong Kong's number one tourist attraction is its shops. The city did not disappoint. Because of all that we bought (it is all so cheap here) we ended up needing to buy an extra suitcase and an extra duffel bag. Before we hit the streets, however, we finally had some dim sum. Very tasty although quite expensive.

Adam: We ate the dim sum at this cavernous restaurant on the second floor of City Hall, which is supposed to be the best dim sum in the city - and we don't disagree. Between the shrimp dumplings, the vegetable buns, and the BBQ pork biscuits, we had a parade of hits which did not disappoint. As for the stores in HK, we particularly appreciated some of the HK designer boutiques - HK has got a real sense of style, and we enjoyed stores like Goods of Desire and A Bathing Ape - although we couldn't really afford to purchase anything in the latter store ($100 t-shirts!)

Valerie: Our shopping extravaganza led us right by the Man Mo Temple.

(The incense coils hanging from the roof of the Temple.)

Sunday, September 23

Valerie: Our last sightseeing destination this vacation was a visit to the Tian Tian Buddha -- the largest bronze seated buddha in the world.

(It's a big buddha)

Adam: This trip was hilarious. We got up on Sunday morning determined to make the Buddha our last sight on the trip. We took a train out to Tung Chung on Lantau, which is about a 45 minute ride. We then got on a bus to the Buddha which is a half hour ride through some pretty scary looking curves, all navigated by a driver with a speed obsession and - we think - suicidal tendencies. When you arrive at the top of the 500 m mountain on which the Buddha is perched, you climb 256 steps to the base of the Buddha. By the time we finally got to the top, it was drizzling and threatening to rain a lot more, so we took 15 minutes worth of pictures, and did the entire trip in reverse. Total travel time: 3 hours -- but it was worth it.

Up Next: The big move to New York. The doog continues to chill in Miami.

Monday, September 17, 2007

"Is there a chinese woman following me?"

September 17, 2007, Yangshuo, China

Adam: The answer to the question above, posed to us by a man running down the steps at Moon Hill, was yes. In fact, one of the many women at moon hill who were trying feverishly to sell us water, coke, or postcards, was chasing after this man even as he fled from her insistent demand that he buy "just one." Amazingly, in this communist country we have found some of the most persistent capitalists around.
Valerie: We arrived in Yangshuo yesterday afternoon after a brief morning flight from Shanghai. Yangshuo, a small city in southwest China, is very picturesque, mostly because of the limestone peaks that surround the town. Today we rented some bikes and went for a ride out of town to Moon Hill. The climb up to moon hill was a bit challenging after a two-hour bike ride. We climbed 1,281 steps to the top -- this is why the Chinese are so "slim" -- they have "steps" everywhere.

(Us in front of "Moon Hill.")

Adam: It is true that the Chinese are big fans of steps. Some of the most impressive scenery we've seen in this country has been from steps. But the views from our bike ride were quite nice as well. At one point, we were riding up along the Yulong River and we stopped to take this picture in the valley created by the Karst formations.

Valerie: After our morning bike ride we went down to the docks and rented a bamboo raft for a relaxing ride down the Li River. Admittedly, at first I was worried we would not make it back, the bamboo raft did not look that "seaworthy" and much bigger cruise ships were passing us along on the river, creating large waves that rocked our little ship. But the ride was well worth it.

(View of the Karst formations from the Li River.)

(Our transportation down the river)

Adam: Afterwards we walked along the river through some pomelo plantations. One of the food highlights of Yangshuo is a dish best translated as "beer fish." It is made of river fish, beer, chilies, ginger, onions, and tomatoes, and is quite tasty. Tomorrow Valerie and I will go to a cooking course where we get to learn how to cook some of the other regional specialties.

Up Next: Back to Hong Kong via overnight train.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Slumming in Shanghai; Hanging out in Hangzhou

September 12-15, 2007; Shanghai, Hangzhou
September 12th

Valerie: For my birthday we visited the Jinmao Tower -- the tallest building in China. The observation floor is on the 88th floor -- probably because the Chinese believe the number 8 is lucky. The views were pretty great and we were even able to send postcards from the post office at the top. Pretty cool.

Adam: For Valerie's birthday, the Chinese people got confused, and gave me a gift instead: a really terrible chest cold. Thanks guys (or as they say here, xie xie!) It wasn't so bad on the twelfth, so we saw a decent amount of Shanghai before I retired to our so-called "king size room." Seriously, it was two double beds pushed together. I know we're getting the room for free, but come on people!

Valerie: For dinner we decided to splurge. We ate at one of Shanghai's swankiest restaurants -- New Heights. The restaurant is at the top of No. 3 on the Bund and offers spectacular views of the Bund as well as of Pudong. In exchange for having an early dinner, we had the best table in the house -- outside terrace with unobstructed views.
(Valerie's birthday cake. Cool sparkler!)
(Us at dinner)

(The Bund, from New Heights)

Valerie: Although Adam had been "ragging" on the Intercontinental all week - the hotel we were staying at for free because of his points - they nonetheless remembered my birthday and surprised us that night with a free cake and nice card.

(Second birthday cake of the day. Go me!)

Adam: This was nice, and it partially made up for the fact that the housekeeping staff repeatedly ignored the "do-not-disturb" sign at 8:30 in the morning and tried to make up our room while I was prancing about in my boxers. In any case, after Valerie's birthday dinner (and cake), my cold came on full strength, so the next day (Thursday, September 13), I was in bed. All day. Luckily, I managed to keep Valerie from taking too many pictures, as she is instinctively inclined to do.

Valerie: No worries, the hotel had a gym.

Fast Forward to September 14th

Valerie: After a day of bed rest, and because we couldn't book the hotel for another night, we packed up and headed to Hangzhou -- a town famous for its lake. Woo-hoo, a lake!

Adam: The lake - XiHu, or "West Lake," is a really famous tourist destination in China, despite the fact that it is an artificial lake - well, sort of - it was a swamp, which was dredged around 800 C.E. (A.D.) by an emperor who wanted a vacation spot. It retains some of that character today - despite having a population of about 6 million, Hangzhou feels like a really small town. We really enjoyed our time walking around on the wide sidewalks (whose value should never be underestimated) and eating some delicious Singaporean food.

Valerie: The best meal I've had in China so far, at Prima Taste -- a Singaporean restaurant -- and it wasn't even Chinese food. We liked it so much we went back for lunch on Saturday.

September 15th

Valerie: We had envisioned waking up early to watch the sunrise on the lake. We even set the alarm clock for 5:30am. Needless to say, we didn't wake up till 7am. We ate breakfast and headed for a leisurely stroll around the lake. We walked for about 3 1/2 hours and didn't even make it half way around the lake. It was actually smart that we ended up sleeping in because it was far too foggy to get a decent view of the sun.

(Four women on a bench by the lake)

Adam: However, getting up at 7 did allow us to avoid the hordes of tourists that had descended upon the lake by 10. So we finished walking around, ate, and headed off to the train station. Those Chinese - practical jokers they are - sold us (for the same price as a regular ticket) a standing-room ticket - leaving us on foot for the 1 1/4 hour trip back to Shanghai. They sure got us good this time!

Next: Yangshuo, and then the great smelly port (or Hong Kong, which translates to "fragrant harbor").

Tuesday, September 11, 2007


September 11, 2007, Shanghai, China

Adam: We've now been in Shanghai for two and a half days, and we've enjoyed most of our time here. We flew from Xian into Pudong International Airport, from which we took the maglev train into town. This is one of the fastest trains in the world, peaking out at 430 km/h (about 266 mph) .

Valerie: After a brief subway ride into town (the Maglev drops you off about 25 minutes from the city center), we checked into the nicest hotel either of us have stayed at -- Le Royal Meridien. It was very swanky -- plasma tv, soft bed, amazing views of Nanjing East Road (the main shopping street in Shanghai), and a rain shower.

(View from our hotel room - wow!)

Adam: Thankfully, we were not paying for it - kudos to Valerie's starwood points account! After scoping out the hotel, we walked up and down Nanjing Rd. Besides a lot of interesting shops, food stands, etc., there are some of the most persistent touts around the world - the multiple employees of the Shanghai "Watch-Shoes-DVD" Company. These guys follow you for a block, whispering in your ear "Watch? Shoes? DVD? You want to buy Rolex? Prada? Come look, my store." Something tells me that their goods are not 100% authentic.

Valerie: On Monday we visited the French Concession -- a very picturesque part of town with tree-lined streets and European architecture.

Adam: The name "French Concession" (not to be confused with the excellent movie, the French Connection) comes from the days when Shanghai was divided into various European zones, including a French and a British zone. In fact, there is an infamous park here (Huangpu park) which used to restrict from entry "no dogs or chinese."

Valerie: For dinner we stopped in at Spice Market. It was great Indian food, and the best service I've probably ever had (the chef even came out to meet us), but the restaurant was surprisingly empty -- only us and another party inside the restaurant during dinner time.

Adam: Undoubtedly, the food highlight of this city has been the delightful (and elusive) vegetarian steamed buns served by the Wu Tan Xidi restaurant (recognizable by the orange awning with the picture of the grandmother). The buns, which are filled with a mixture of spinach, mushrooms, and tofu, are excellent - but hard to find. Every time we go, we ask for "su cai bao zi" (vegetarian buns), but this has produced results only twice. Who knows, maybe Shanghai is swearing off pork - but I doubt it.

Valerie: Today we visited the Old City, including the Yu Gardens -- Shanghai's #1 tourist destination. The gardens are a nice oasis from the bustling city -- with rivers, trees, various pagodas, and ponds to see. Once you leave the gardens, however, you'll find yourself in the Yu Bazaar -- a very hectic and busy shopping center.

(Valerie and Adam at the Yu Gardens)

Adam: Valerie uses the term "shopping center" loosely. Basically, it is stalls selling the same collection of teapots, chops, chopsticks, and Chairman Mao alarm clocks that are sold all over China, albeit in a more "Chinese" looking surrounding (i.e. for the tourists). We were not impressed, so we walked over to the Bund (the area lining the Huangpu river) and hopped on a cruise boat for an hour.

Valerie: We had originally planned on taking a much longer 3-hour trip but it was probably best that we settled on the 1-hour version instead. The boat basically took us in a circle between the Bund and the Pudong side of the river. On one side you can see the historic "old" Shanghai buildings (i.e., the original customs house, the first HSBC bank building etc) and on the other side of the river is the new Shanghai skyline (i.e., the Jinmao tower -- the tallest building in China).

Adam: The "new Shanghai," also known as Pudong, is quite new. As you can see in the pictures, it is filled with incredibly tall and futuristic buildings. In 1990, it was all farmland. These guys can be efficient (when they want to).

(The Bund at sunset)

Valerie: After the cruise, we walked along the Bund and stopped in at the New Heights bar. The restaurant here is considered one of the best in the city, and the views are spectacular. We'll report on the food later -- we'll be eating here tomorrow for my birthday.

(View of Pudong from the New Heights Bar.)

Next: More of Shanghai and Hangzhou - home to the West Lake and tea plantations.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Goodbye Beijing, Hello Xi'An (or "How I learned to become an environmentalist")

September 6-8, 2007; Beijing & Xi'an, China.

Thursday, September 6

Valerie: Thursday was our last day in Beijing. We visited the Summer Palace in the morning and the Temple of Heaven Park in the afternoon. The Summer Palace was basically the emperors' version of the Hamptons -- a summer getaway from the heat and hectic city life.

(View of the Summer Palace from the lake.)

Adam: This is a really beautiful site, and I suppose it was probably a nice respite for the emperor - but for us, it was tons of crowds and a lot of sun. That being said, Valerie's picture is really beautiful.

Valerie: As surprising as this may sound, it wasn't until Thursday that we finally found some dumplings in China. This small restaurant (Niegu Jiaozi) specializes in dumplings (it's all they serve) and they are made fresh to order.
Adam: Very tasty! My favorites were the Peking Duck; Valerie's favorites were the mushroom and cabbage.

Valerie: After lunch we quickly stopped in at the Temple of Heaven Park.

(Temple of Heaven Park.)

Adam: The Temple of Heaven is where the Emperor would come to pray for a good harvest. It is shaped like a square with a dome on the top -- apparently, round shapes represent heaven, and square shapes represent earth. This is also a park where people come to practice Tai Chi and and an instrument which sounds like a cat being tortured.

Friday, September 7

Valerie: We took an early morning flight to Xi'an -- the ancient capital of China. Xi'an was the capital of China for 6 dynasties. We were warned that Xi'an is more polluted than Beijing which is hard to believe given the level of pollution in Beijing. Despite the warning, nothing prepares you for exactly how polluted the city is. It hits you like a brick. There is so much smog you can't see the buildings. Visibility here has to be around zero all the time.

Adam: On the way over, the smoke was so bad that I began to cough quite a bit. Everything is grey, and there are smoke-belching factories all around. Seriously, if I ever had any doubts about the need to fix our environment, I no longer have them. That being said, I think both Valerie and I are enjoying Xian more than Beijing. Despite the air pollution, it is a very walkable city, and there are some really nice spots in town to visit.

(The Bell Tower, downtown Xi'an.)

Valerie: One of my favorite sites so far is the Great Mosque -- a Muslim mosque in downtown Xi'an. The mosque is still functioning and it has not been overly restored like a lot of other sites in Beijing. The mosque is enclosed in a large area and there are several pagodas, including one where worshipers wash up before entering the main temple. The entire complex is very peaceful.

Adam: Afterwards, we visited the "Islamic Street" which is half Chinese market, half souk selling all sorts of dried fruits.

Saturday, September 8

Valerie: On Saturday morning we did something we've never done before -- we joined a tour group! It was, as we expected, a mistake. We signed up for the tour because that's the easiest way to see the"famous" terra cotta warriors -- Xians claim to fame. Apparently the warriors are the eighth wonder of the world. I thought there were only seven wonders?

Adam: Although we were gone for nearly nine hours, we only spent two hours at the warriors themselves. This is because the "tour" included a temple ("The Big Goose," the name says it all), a "historic village" (lots of unintelligible dirt) and a "factory" for terra cotta warriors (the China garden gnome factory). We also had lunch, which included, bizarrely, potatoes fried in sugar. Weird.

Valerie: The warriors themselves were very impressive. There are three "pits" of warriors. The first pit has approximately 6,000 of them.

Adam: The warriors were constructed during the Qin dynasty, around 200 BC. An emperor who thought quite highly of himself as a general decided that he wanted to command an army in the afterlife, so he had his minions construct, at last count, over 7000 soldiers. Unfortunately for the emperor, stone soldiers do not fight as well as live ones, and his dynasty was overthrown shortly after his death, many of the stone warriors being destroyed in the process. Overall, it turns out, the warriors were the only sight that was not a "pit" all day (uproarious laughter)! In the end, Valerie and I decided that we were tired of Xian and the smog, so, ditching our earlier plans, we decided to "bolt" and spontaneously bought earlier plane tickets for Shanghai. We'll let you know in a later post how our efforts to "return" our later plane tickets go. Expect lots of angry gesturing.

Up Next: Shanghai: boom or bust?

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Great Wall of China in Photos

Here are some photos from our hike through the Great Wall of China. For text, see our last post.

(The Great Wall at Simatai courtesy of my telephoto lens.)

(Us on the Great Wall.)

(One of the 30 watchtowers on the hike.)

The Great Stairmaster of China

September 5, 2007; Beijing, China

Valerie: Today we visited the Great Wall of China. Our trip got off to a rocky start. Although we were told that the bus (with 2 other couples from our guesthouse) would be picking us up at 6:40am, we didn't actually leave for the Great Wall until 9:30am because the trip was overbooked and we all had to wait for a second bus. Ugh.

Adam: Nevertheless, we made it out to Jinshanling in Hebei province by 11:30 to start the climb. This was not a guided tour -- our driver just showed us a map and told us to get moving so we could be down off the wall by 4.

Valerie: The hike itself was only 10km (approximately 6 miles). They tell you it takes about 4.5 - 5 hours to hike the entire trail, which includes 30 different watchtowers. At the start of the hike, you were given the option of taking a cable car to the first watchtower. We, of course, decided to take the trail instead. Go us!

Adam: And thus began the epic lumber up the wall. For those of you not in the know, the wall is not what you might think it is - it is a series of very steep walls, often reaching inclines of 60-70 degrees. Although the views are fabulous, you get pretty winded after doing a few stretches.

Valerie: The first leg of the hike (until about tower #10) was the hardest, with one section including 130 steps. Each step was about 2-3 feet high. Despite the effort it takes to reach these towers, at almost every single one there were a group of Chinese women trying to sell you water, coke, and beer. I needed 2 cokes after the 130 steps!

Adam: After the first ten towers, the hike became easier - more a series of rolling ups and downs (with a few surprise drops and jumps in between). Valerie took a ton of pictures - as she always does - and a lot of them came out really well.

Valerie: Although the hike became easier, this was still the most strenuous hike either of us had been on. But the views were so impressive that the hard work was well worth it. We hiked up with a German, Canadian, and Danish couple. We beat them all and made it to the bottom in 4 hours! We now have buns of steel.

Adam: Which became regular old buns after a dinner at the Donghuamen night market. The market is clearly geared towards tourists - but we had a good time anyways. I had a pancake filled with beef and onions, some vegetable dumplings, and a skewer of fruit that had been dipped in sugar!

Because of our slow Internet connection, we'll upload photos tomorrow.

Up Next: We visit the Summer Palace.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square

September 3, 2007; Beijing, China.

Adam: After getting a decent night of sleep (well, at least I did) we went out looking for breakfast.

Valerie: We stopped at a hole in the wall a few blocks from our hotel. Adam had fried dough; I had steamed dumplings and buns for breakfast. This is not a cereal eating city.

(Adam at Breakfast)

Valerie: We started our walking tour at the Heavenly Gate (home to Mao's portrait). The gate is one of many that lead into the Forbidden City -- home to many Chinese Emperors.

Adam: This is also the gate across from Tiananmen square - "Tiananmen" means "Heavenly Gate."

(Valerie in front of the Heavenly Gate.)

Valerie: Across the street is the actual square -- the largest public square in the world. On one side of the square is the China National Museum and on the other is the Great Hall of the People (home to the Chinese legislature). In the middle is Mao's Mausoleum and in front of it is the Heroes' Monument.

(Mao's Mausoleum and the Heroes' Monument)

Adam: Afterwards, we climbed up another gate - Zhengyang Men, also known as the "Front Gate." This is one of the other gates leading into Tiananmen square, and inside, is basically a giant tourist shop.

(Adam and Valerie at Zhengyang Men)

Valerie: The walking tour then proceeded to the Foreign Legation Quarter. This is where many of the foreign delegations were located in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Adam: At this point, we were pretty tired. So we walked up to one of Beijing's main shopping areas and found a restaurant called Goubuli - it specializes in steamed buns, or baozi in Chinese. We ordered some very tasty sucai bazoi - vegetarian buns.

(The buns)

Valerie: After lunch we headed to the Forbidden City. The City itself is much larger than I expected.

Adam: It is surrounded by a moat, which we walked along for a while, until we found the entrance.
(The moat -- it kept the commoners out.)

Valerie: Some of the buildings have artifacts and exhibitions from the various Chinese dynasties.

(Us at the entrance to the Palace Museum -- the museum inside the Forbidden City.)

Adam: But the most amazing thing about the city is its overwhelmingly large size and ornate decoration. Almost every building has gargoyles, and they're all connected by a series of marble balustrades.
(One of the many pagodas inside the Forbidden City.)

Valerie: At one end of the Forbidden City was a nice outdoor garden. The garden was peaceful and a nice place to relax after so much walking.

Up Next: More of Beijing - the Lama Temple, Behai Park, etc.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Welcome to China

September 2, 2007 -- Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Beijing

Adam: Valerie and I began our trip to China last Friday (which seems very far away now - we haven't slept much with the jet lag) at LaGuardia airport. We took a brief flight to Chicago, and then boarded our fifteen-hour behemoth to Hong Kong.

Valerie: The flight felt shorter than I expected. Perhaps because we had plenty of space -- we were sitting in the economy plus section which was much roomier than the standard economy section.
(Us waiting at LaGuardia for our flight to Chicago to board.)

(The plane. As you can tell, it's the size of a boat with wings.)

Adam: We got to Hong Kong in the late afternoon, and quickly discovered the perils of trying to pack three weeks of clothing into a backpack: it is quite heavy. Valerie turned purple =)

Valerie: Backpacks are overrated.

Adam: We went to the Temple Street night market, which is one of the cleanest Asian street markets I've ever seen. The aisle between the stalls was about 1.5 meters, and everything looked nicely maintained - nevertheless, we figured we wouldn't buy anything.

Valerie: The market was OK, but I thought they would be selling more arts and crafts (i.e., handmade or local-type items). Instead, everything was stuff you'd find at the dollar store in the States. The food, though, was very yummy and cheap.

(A picture of the food stall with outdoor seating we ate at.)

Adam: On Sunday morning, we got up early (5 am - jet lag sucks), loaded up all of our stuff into the packs, and took a train to the China Ferry terminal to get our ferry to Shenzhen. Sadly, I had misread the instructions, and it turns out that the ferry was not leaving from the China Ferry Terminal.

Valerie: We took a taxi and made it to the right station in time. Apparently we were late and it seemed like they were holding the boat for us, but when we boarded it was practically empty.

Adam: We then had about seven hours to kill in Shenzhen airport. We decided to fly from Shenzhen - one of China's special economic zones - because it is about half the price of Hong Kong. We very quickly discovered that, unlike in American airports, there is very little to do in the Shenzhen airport. So we read, we slept, we explored the entire airport (luckily, they had a branch of Aji Ichiban, my favorite Asian candy store).

Valerie: Surprisingly, they had a McDonalds, KFC, and Starbucks. It's as if we were still in the States.
(Adam in Hong Kong in front of a 7-Eleven.)

Adam: Beijing has been nice so far - dinner was tasty, and it is significantly less humid than Hong Kong, which is really sweltering.

Up Next: Five days in Beijing. We hike up the great wall, see the forbidden city, and buy suitcases.

Previously: Before heading to China, Adam, the Doog, and I took a road trip from Columbus, Ohio to Miami, Florida. It was long but fun and there are plenty of pictures from the trip which we'll upload and write about when we're back in the States.