Saturday, October 6, 2007

top to bottom,

Me and my friends at the horseraces,

Me in Macau with some dragon dance festivities

Me inside the venetian casino in Macau

More inside the venetian, they really made it look like venice, including gondolas! Good thing I didn't loose any money!

Monday, October 1, 2007

life lessons in hong kong

So a month has passed since my last blahhhhhg entry and I've found that instead of relating stories of my visits to Macau, monkey mountain, lantau island, victoria's peak, and various other parts of hong kong, maybe I should just relate the simple details of life in hong kong. I've put together a sort of consortium of ideas which hong kong instills in us, so before I forget any i'll make a simple list.

Taxi vs. Bus
Meal price??
Ming Bao
sleeping in mcdonalds
I just came for my suit?

First off Soup. Soup is a mainstay in China, almost every meal has some kind of soup whether it is with the meal, on top of it, or on the side. The real trick is finding a meal without soup. I love soup, don't get me wrong, but sometimes I don't want boiling hot soup on my food. The other morning I was at our local canteen, I had just ordered what I hoped to be a deliscious meal of dumplings, noodles and chicken wings. I went up to the counter and the cook started putting it together. I was so pumped that I had finally found a meal I really wanted, and after he put the three pieces of the meal I said "Ok thanks no more, no more!" While smiling at me the cook simply poured soup all over the meal. He then smiled at me and said, "Sorrrryyyyy" Moral of the story, soup is life, live it love it and slurp it.

Ledo!!!! This is usually the best way to get a taxi driver/mini bus driver to stop. It translates literally to "Here" so usually when you say Ledo the taxi driver stops. One night coming back, we got on the mini bus 54 instead of 55. After driving entirely around the island, we yelled ledo to get him to stop, however the bus driver kept driving and asking Ledo? every 10 seconds, which he found hilarious, and we found slightly nerveracking. Finally, he dropped us off reasonably close and we decided to boycott public transportation the rest of the day. In Hong Kong, know which bus to take.

Which brings us to our next point, taxi vs bus. In Hong Kong, public transportation and taxis are pretty much everywhere. If you ever need to get somewhere, there is either a bus or taxi ready at hand. There are many differences however, and of course time differences. Buses hands down are my favorite mode of transportation in Hong Kong. Most busses are double deckers, very timely, and incredibly cheap. Bus drivers however, it seems that instead of conscription into the army, hong kong has a policy of conscription into the bus drivers. Everyone is mandated to spend 2 years driving buses, if they have liscences or not. Just joking mom, but seriously, Buses are like roller coasters, stopping within 3 inches of whatever is in front of it, and going at hairpin turns at serious speeds. If you want to see hong kong, ride the bus. Taxis here in hong kong are incredibly cheap, especially when split between people, they can be even cheaper than buses. The taxi drivers however never speak any english, so know exactly where you're going, and be prepared to help with directions as well.

Gambling is all over hong kong. From arcades, where people gamble on who will win fake horse races, to mahjong halls, to the enormous race track in the center of the city, to macau, the land of casinos. Asians love to gamble, every wednesday and sunday, thousands crowd into the horse track, and more bet at substations throughout the city, on the horse races. The horse track is unbelievable, enormous and modern. I was blown away by the sheer size, at least 20 stories tall, and half of the race track wasn't visible to gamblers. Luckily I only lost about 20 HKD, equal to about 3 dollars US, but I saw one guy who was screaming at the horses while they were warming up, really bizzare. Macau was a great experience in itself, it's main attractions however, are massive casinos. I was able to make about 200 HKD for the day, but I played it pretty safe. The venetian, Asia's largest casino was one of the truly craziest buildings I've ever seen, with a replica of venice inside complete with gondola's and painted skies, it was truly a sight to behold. Needless to say, gambling is banned on my floor in my dorm, as to the rampant gambling problem everywhere.

Chingrish, my engwish is good no? No need to say more, I love chingrish learning Putonghua is funny, but not fast, so it's easier to use random words including electric if you want a haircut.

Meal Price?? Most meals are incredibly cheap here in hong kong. The one catch is the drink. Like I said earlier, soup is a mainstay here, so most asians drink the soup and tea with their meals. I however, like most westerners, do not prefer a hot drink in the tropical weather of hong kong. In America, when you order a coke, you get a free refill usually. Here that is not customary. If you order a drink, you will pay for that one, and every single refill. I did not know this, and ordered a cherry coke. This turned out to be a 58HKD expense, or roughly 9 dollars US. Remember either drink the tea, or be prepared to pay for extra.

Ming Bao is the chinese word for bread. Often the chinese mistake brett for bread, and my name becomes ming bao. I prefer Lofu, which in chinese is Tiger, but apparently ming bao is catchier.

sleeping in mcdonalds. Everytime me and my friends go to the mcdonalds near us, there is this one older man sleeping in it. We have plenty of great photos with him and he has truly become a good friend. Entering mcdonalds as a westerner is always a bit uneasy for me, it seems too stereotypically american, but i think it is the closest to becoming like the locals as possible. They love mcdonalds here.

I just came for a suit? The other night me and a friend went to meet with a friend of his who was living in hong kong to pick up his suit. It turned out to be an all out adventure including break dancing on the roof of a building. Living abroad, you never know what a night is going to turn into, or even a random trip to pick up a suit. Always be willing to meet new people and do new things, in Hong Kong anything is possible, and it's just being willing to go beyond your norms that the city truly opens up.

I hope this has helped explain a bit more of hong kong, and if not I must sound pretty crazy!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

If she insist "no" .... Melatonin for you go to sleep!

From top to bottom,
Me and Dan, a philly native and my fellow American in our lack of cultural understanding. He also doesn't understand the bus system at all and it's common to see him jumping onto or chasing after busses at random times of the day

My roommate Adrian and I, he is from 15 minutes away, and is sick nasty at badmitton. He is also going to be my new workout coach.

My 2 heroes from our tour of Hong Kong. This picture was taken at around 9:15 this morning, and these two men were beginning the day with heinekens from 7-11. This prompted the next picture...

Steffan, Markus, and mimi on the bus. Featured is one of our tsintsao, the local chinese beer which we bought immediately after seeing those 2 drinking. Needless to say it made the tour just a bit more interesting. Steffan and Markus are both from Germany, and are quite impressive in their ability to go out everynight and drink until the wee hours of the morning. Mimi is from France and doesn't understand much english, thus she spends most of the day giggling and pretending she understands us.

This was the captain of our water taxi, which floated us around the harbour at a rough speed of 1 knot. At the end of the taxi ride he asked "Did everyone have good time?" When we said yes, he pulled out a tip jar and said "Tip!" This was the only english he spoke.

Another crazy few days in Hong Kong, partying in Lan Kwai Fong, the local bar district which has over 500 bars, eating Gin Grapes, drinking at the 7-11's and of course a tour of mainland china! Here are some pictures of Hong Kong and my friends! P.S. Mom, I actually have friends.

Friday, August 31, 2007

I'm in China?

Greetings from Hong Kong, the land of busses, skyscrapers, and of course shopping!

This week has been a complete blur so I'll try my best to fill everyone in with what I've been doing. Hopefully I'll bring my camera out today and get some pictures of more places so I can give everyone a better idea of what China is really like, as it is so different it is hard to describe in words.

Getting into the airport, it finally hit me that I had in fact arrived on the other side of the world, looking around I received my first taste of asian words, mostly just exit, which is relatively simple to recognize, and written in english and chinese everywhere. I did my best to memorize that just in case I'll need any fast escapes in the future. Immigration and currency exchange was done very quickly, and soon I was outside waiting with other international students ready to get our first taste of driving in Hong Kong. In Hong Kong there are only three types of cars, BMW's, busses and taxis. Having a car is incredibly expensive in Hong Kong, because of how packed the city is, it's something like 3 million people living on the main island alone so parking and gas prices are ridiculous to keep the traffic down. They also follow the British system of driving on the left side, and I'm pretty sure they make up their own driving rules as they go. Needless to say our first ride was quite exciting. I met a couple other international students, including a german named Markus. He lives in the dorm adjacent to mine, so after putting our stuff into our rooms, we met up to get dinner. He also had a fellow german on his hall, named Steffan, who had been here for a few days, so he came with us to take a bus to get dinner at the International Finance Centre. This proved to be a bust as it was too late for any stores to be open at the IFC mall, but we met a morrocan who swore he had lived in Hong Kong 15 years ago, and was "very very good with directions." He took us on the underground metro to a local bar/red light district of Wan Chai, and so began our first night in Hong Kong.

Wan Chai is a mix of nice bars, sleazy "discos" and strip clubs. We were very unaware of this at first, but it soon became evident. We went to a disco club, where they treated us like rockstars, we had our own VIP booth, and all the Filipino girls who came to Hong Kong for vacation came and tried to flirt with us. I found it pretty funny, but we soon realized they were getting serious and we left pretty quick. After that we roamed the bar districts mingling with locals, and taking the nightlife of China in. We took a taxi home, which like all public transportation is ridiculously cheap in Hong Kong, about 3 american dollars for a ride almost anywhere, and I got my first taste of lack not having prepaid air conditioning at night. At the dorms in HKU, there is a pay as you go system, where you pay for a certain amount of credits, and you need to swipe your card in order to receive air conditioning.

The next morning, I woke up very early by the yells of the new hall members orientation camp, or o-camp as they call it. Here at HKU, the halls act as a sort of fraternity for the new students, and accordingly, they are hazed during their first week of orientation. This I found pretty funny, as they blasted My Humps at 7 AM to wake up the new kids, and made them do crazy activities all day, including carrying each other around campus and between campus and the dorms. This might not seem too bad, but in the 100 degree, humid weather that is a mainstay of Hong Kong, it gets pretty bad. I went to campus in order to get registered and begin the process to get internet, which lasted me about 3 days, and get a feel for campus. HKU was built into the side of a mountain, so it is a continuous process of climbing stairs, finding elevators, and figuring out which ground floor equates with the 5th floor of the next building. I also began to appreciate the cold shower, as it is so hot in the dorm if your air conditioner is not in use, that taking a cold shower is a welcom relief. Hong Kong is so bad about giving relief to the heat, that even my cold shower turned warm! I will put up pictures of the university soon, when I find some time to as well!

After my time on campus, I met up with my friend Tessa who I knew at Richmond, and had graduated, together we arranged to meet up at the IFC and go find food. She took me to a great local restaurant and we had a great time together. She said she was going to Wan Chai that night as it was ladies night, and told me to call her later if I ended up there.

Later that night, I had met a few more people, and including markus and steffan, we all went to Mong Kok, the cheap back street shopping district. We meandered the streets haggling to buy cell phones, and socks. Eventually we got phones for less than 40 dollars! After this, we soon realized a definite set back in Hong Kong, there are no public places to sit anywhere throughout the streets. With our legs killing us, we decided to get back on the subway, and ended up in no other place than Wan Chai! While wandering down the streets I ran into Tessa again, and she showed us a great underground austrailian bar, and we had a great time. As it was late and I forgot which bus to take back to HKU, Tessa took me to her apartment and I stayed in her brothers bed. Her apartment is in the mid-levels, and includes 4 bedrooms, a great view, a filipino housekeeper(which is very common here) and a little dog named cookie! The next morning Tessa took me to a local department store to get my bedding and pillows, and took me on trams throughout the city. We had a great time, and eventually I went back home and got all my things together and got ready for a night in Lan Kwai Fong.

Lan Kwai Fong, if that's spelled right, is a great place for bars, with mostly people my age, and filled with bars that range from irish pubs, to ritzy nightclubs with dress codes. As we were underdressed, we did not really go to the nightclubs, but we went to a bar called 1997, which remarkably only played 1997 underground hip-hop, which unfortunately was not the best year for hip-hop. We also discovered the pharmacy, where you can buy PBR and Budweiser for less than a dollar. In the pharmacy, the best sign we saw was "Melatonin, to help you sleep when girlfriend say 'no'" We wandered the bars until we found a nightclub that was cheap and had a raggae band from jamaica playing American hits, where we met up with other international students and had a great time. I also had my first experience with McDonalds, as I was really hungary and couldnt understand the street vendors. I found the mcdonalds which has a 7 HKU dollar menu, to our equivelent 1 dollar menu. Me and Markus quickly called it a night around 2, because of orientation the next day.

Friday, I woke up very early to the o-camp hazing cheers, and went to campus and got my internet working finally! This was a huggeeee deal for me, and orientation started around 10. I met another American from philly, named Dan who was the typical east coaster, and we hung out most of the day, orientation went by quickly, and at around 6 30, I went out to meet my HKU Buddy Vincent. He called and told me to meet him in Mong Kok, which I figured would be easy, but 3 bus trips later, I figured out I might want to get better directions before I go out on my own again. We eventually met up and had dinner, but I had to cut the night short, as I was incredibly tired from the day before. I came home, swiped on the air conditioner, and quickly got some sleep.

Today I'm going to try to find a mattress pad, because apparently getting drunk and passing out isn't an option for every night, and the mattresses here are much harder than in america. I'm also going to go to the gym, and see if anyones playing any sports. In Hong Kong, there is plenty of walking, but not a lot of green grass areas to play some sports. Tonight I'm going to try to meet up with Tessa and some other international students and maybe find a good bar to hang out at, or like Dan at least try to find a place to watch some american football. War Eagle.

This is the view from my dorm window!