“I want to stand as close to the edge as I can without going over. Out on the edge you see all the kinds of things you can't see from the center.” Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Hong Kong continued

The Tsing Ma bridge: 7th longest suspension bridge in the world, and the longest car and train combination suspension bridge (photo from Wikipedia).
As I mentioned in my previous post, I was sent to Hong Kong for an Investigator Meeting by Wyeth, along with the principal investigator (oncologist) of the trial at Auckland Hospital. I got to fly Business class on Cathay Pacific, which was so nice, it made me mad to know how crappy the facilities are in Economy class. It felt so great to be able to stretch out and elevate my feet, and my ass didn't go numb. My flight left at 7:30 am, and I watched 4 movies: The Boat that Rocked (really good), X-Men Origins: Wolverine (pretty good), State of Play (interesting), and The Hangover (really good). The Hangover was so funny that I accidentally choked with coffee in my mouth and sprayed it all over the screen and fabric on the seat in front of me! How gross and embarrasing! When I got to the Hong Kong airport, I noticed that there was a thermal imaging device pointed at the passengers as they walked toward the health screen checkpoint. That was cool! They were looking for people with elevated temperatures. The airport is huge and airy and clean. Lines were mostly short. I stayed at the Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay- the location of our meeting. It was nice, but it wasn't the Ritz. Most importantly the staff were super nice and spoke English well, and the bed was comfortable. The Excelsior is in a major shopping district, and shopping appears to be a very popular passtime. There are lots of small shops, and they can be very crowded with both customers and sales help. Staff will follow you around the store to watch that you don't steal something. I felt like an ugly giant, surrounded by thin and beautiful Asian women who take their appearance very seriously- hair, skin, makeup, fashion- so many shops devoted to these details. The other popular passtime seems to be eating. I found this fake food at a restaurant outside the Excelsior, and there were several more like it. They also like to advertise the food with pictures on the signs. And then, there is the direct display of the food in the window. MMM who's hungry? I really enjoyed just walking around and looking at what the shops were selling. I watched a guy in a fresh seafood shop wrap up fresh crabs, tried on a gold necklace, and snapped photos like a tourist of the shop of dried stuff. My meeting was two days, then I arranged one extra day on my own to look around. I changed hotels to JJ Hotel, after reading a lot of traveler reviews on different hotels- there are so many! The JJ Hotel was chosen for the location (not far from the Excelsior) and the price (good price on http://www.booking.com/), and also the good reviews. As I was on my own, I wanted a place that was easy to locate and safe. It was on the whole as good as the room at the Excelsior for a fraction of the cost, and the AC was colder.
After the meeting, I took the subway to the pier to get my boat tour for the "Symphony of Lights". I took the subway too far, and had to backtrack, but made it to the boat on time because the trains run every few minutes. They are very fast and I used the trains the most in my travel around Hong Kong. After the boat tour (recommended), I took the train to Kowloon to go to the Temple Street Night Market, but got there too late. Stalls were shutting down, people were sparse, and I was tired. I wandered into some sort of outdoor festival, where a play was being performed and several areas appeared to have shrines set up with lots of insense and offerings. There were a lot of old people there, and the woman I asked what is going on said she didn't speak English. I felt a bit bewildered and so headed back to my hotel. The next day, I traveled by train to Lantau Island to visit the monestary with the giant bronze Buddha. It started out badly when I mistakenly exited the subway at the the station where I meant to transfer to another train. I had to call for help and plead my case as a stupid Western Tourist so I could get back in to get onto the train without buying another ticket. I'd already paid $20 HKD and the machine didn't recognize that I'd not used the full value of the ticket. Whatever. It was totally cool because I found myself on the same train as some other meeting attendees, and they helped me find my way to the bus at the end of the train. Sadly, we had to ride the bus to the monestary because the tram that runs up there (and is shorter) was under repair and not operational. The ride was fairly scenic though, very rugged and not overly developed like Hong Kong Island. The Buddha is very cool! You walk up 200+ steps to get up to it, then you can go around the outside and inside if you paid a little extra at the bottom of the stairs. I did so and got to see the "relic" room. This is separate from the monestary itself, at the bottom of the stairs, where I had the vegetarian lunch that was really quite good. The temple is beautiful and in front there are large urns for burning giant incense sticks. There were many there praying, but it was fortunately not too crowded. I am glad I got there before it got too overcast and hot. Afterward, I intended to go to The Peak for a view, but the heat was really wearing me down and the visibility was rapidly diminishing. I took the famous Star Ferry from Kowloon back to Hong Kong, and the above was the view across the harbor at 4 pm. Yuck. The last thing on my list of things to do was visit the IM Pei Bank of China Tower. I got there and asked to go to the viewing level, and was told the bank was closed (Sunday), come back tomorrow. I said no, my plane leaves tonight, thanks goodbye, good thing there are 3 men in suits sitting in a closed bank lobby to tell me this. )I snagged the photo above from someone else's blog). Next I hopped the old electric street car back to my hotel to get my bags, and headed to the airport. I was super happy to get to the awesome airport and find the business class lounge and have a shower. I was hot and sweaty and fortunately had a change of clean clothes to put on before the flight. That was a major bonus, and I am pretty sure I'll cry when I have to fly overseas in Economy class. On the flight back to Auckland, I watched Iron Man (really good), 17 Again (good), and some other movie I forget, because I was getting sick(er). I am pretty sure I got conjunctivitis from a drop of water that landed in my face, falling from an AC unit on one of the many tall buildings.